Submitted by C.J. Johnson
John Hunt Morgan, along with J. E. B. Stuart, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and John S. Mosby, are often thought of as the premier cavalrymen of the South, blessed with the best fighting abilities. Sometimes called “The Thunderbolt of the Confederacy,” Morgan was well-known for his raids into Union-held areas during the War Between The States.
After serving in the Mexican War, Morgan was a Kentucky businessman. However, when war became apparent in 1861, he and his “Lexington Rifles” company crossed into Tennessee and joined the Confederate side. They were involved at Shiloh.
Afterwards, according to civilwar.org, Morgan was “attached to Joseph Wheeler’s division in Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Morgan was far from ‘attached,’ however. That summer, Morgan began to lead the kind of swift, daring raids that characterized Confederate cavalry leaders during the war.”
His first raid was a 1,000 mile ride in Kentucky – “destroying railroad and telegraph lines, seizing supplies, taking prisoners and generally wreaking havoc in the Union rear. His raid made national headlines and helped cement the fearsome reputation of the Southern cavalryman. Morgan led equally successful endeavors in October and December, which eventually forced some 20,000 Union troops to be detached from the front to guard communication and supply lines,” as described by the Civil War Trust website. It had been hoped that his successful Kentucky raids would help bring the state of Kentucky into the Confederacy.
Of his four raids into Union territory, his last raid, in July 1863, was his best known and his most ambitious. The Confederacy had just suffered tremendous losses at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. The Union now had control of the Mississippi River. Although General Braxton Bragg specifically instructed Morgan not to cross the Ohio River into Indiana and Ohio, that is exactly what John Hunt Morgan proceeded to do, with a force of just over 2,400 men and a light artillery battery.
Morgan’s intention was to distract Union General Rosecrans and force him to move troops away from Chattanooga. History.com offers this description of the “Great Raid.”
“Morgan reached the river on July 8, using stolen steamboats to ferry his force across to Indiana. For the next two and a half weeks, Morgan rampaged through Indiana and Ohio, feigning toward Cincinnati, then riding across southern Ohio. His force met little resistance, and scattered local militias who faced them.
With Union cavalry in hot pursuit, Morgan headed for Pennsylvania. For more than a week, Morgan and his troops spent 21 hours per day in the saddle. At Pomeroy, Ohio, Morgan lost over 800 men when the Yankees caught up with him and captured a large part of his force. He and the remaining members of his command were forced further north
Union General Ambrose Burnside was Morgan’s undoing. He anticipated Morgan’s movements. Burnside seemed to continually prevent Morgan from finding a way to cross the river.
According to the Ohio Historical Society, “On July 26, Morgan’s raid ended. Union cavalry, led by Major George Rue, got ahead of Morgan and his men. They placed themselves across the road that Morgan was using and demanded that Morgan unconditionally surrender. Morgan knew he could not escape and surrendered his force, now down to about 350 men.”
When all was said and done, only 400 or so of Morgan’s men got back to the South safely.