Morgan's raiders romantic but ruthless in waging war
There was a lot of glamour and romance associated with the legend of John Hunt Morgan, but there also was a lot of "harsh, gritty reality to it as well."
That was the assessment offered by James M. Prichard, research room supervisor for the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives in Frankfort
and featured speaker at the Bluegrass Heritage Museum's Second Thursday program on Oct. 12.
Much that Morgan, one of the Confederacy's most colorful officers, did towers above that of other Civil War figures, Prichard said in discussing an
1862 Kentucky campaign he said had been seldom written about.
Morgan, then a colonel, and his men were ordered to leave middle Tennessee and to join Gen. Kirby Smith's forces in the Bluegrass, the speaker said,
and entered Lexington on Sept. 4. Less than two weeks later, Union Gen. George W. Morgan abandoned his position at Cumberland Gap and began an
arduous retreat through the mountains of eastern Kentucky, Prichard said.
Smith, facing troop buildups along his front and concerned about the threat of a full Union division of 8,000 at his rear, ordered Morgan to lead a
force of 800 to 1,000 men, largely recruits, to intercept the Gen. Morgan. A number of the recruits were from Clark County, the speaker said.
John Hunt Morgan concentrated his forces at Richmond on Sept. 20 and marched to Irvine on Sept. 21 while the Union general advanced to Manchester
and began moving toward Proctor on the Kentucky River. The Confederate colonel got there first and burned the large steam flourmill so that when
the hungry Union soldiers reached the river the next day they found the much-needed source of food in ruins, Prichard said.
The federal division changed course and headed northeast toward Hazel Green in Wolfe County, the speaker said, with John Hunt Morgan in hot pursuit
and picking up recruits from Brig. Gen. Humphrey Marshall's "Army Eastern Kentucky" en route.
Morgan's Confederate troops hit the Union forces on Sept. 26, with two dismounted companies scattering the federal rear guard and their cattle herd.
Following the skirmish, Morgan, Maj. W.C.P. Breckinridge and their escort barely escaped death or capture when cornered by a Union regiment. However,
Morgan yelled "Tell Breckinridge to advance! Major Jones, open your guns," and the Union forces fell back to meet the assault, allowing Morgan to escape.
At West Liberty, the Union commander halted two days to allow his troops to prepare for an anticipated assault which never came. Finally the hungry,
ragged Union troops resumed marching northward toward the headwaters of the Little Sandy River, Prichard said.
As they did, John Hunt Morgan's men worked to delay them in the rugged region between West Liberty and Grayson, burning bridges and cutting trees to
block the narrow mountain roads. On Sept. 29, Breckinridge's men staged a large-scale ambush as the Union forces approached present-day Sandy Hook,
Upon leading his Confederate forces into Grayson, Morgan received orders to cease operations and to return to the Bluegrass, Prichard said, noting most
accounts of Morgan's mountain campaign stop there. However, he found the situation reversed as large numbers of Union Home Guards swarmed around the
Some 400 men of the Home Guard struck as the Confederates advanced across Tygarts Creek the morning of Oct. 2, the speaker said, adding that Morgan,
like many commanders on both sides, held "bushwhackers" in contempt. Earlier, while camped at Irvine, Morgan had issued a proclamation saying
bushwhackers would be regarded as outlaws and shot whenever found. He also had promised to "lay waste to the entire neighborhood" if any of his
troops were fired on while passing through the country.
Prichard said Morgan and his men burned some 40 homes along the road from Grayson to Olive Hill. Among those who lost their homes, he said, was
State Sen. William C. Grier who later wrote about his encounter with Morgan and his men. According to Grier, Morgan ordered his home torched,
declaring "You find your loyalty to your abolitionist pretty expensive, don't you?"
Morgan's command arrived in Lexington on Oct. 4, ending the mountain campaign, Prichard said, noting Morgan and his men believed their effort had
failed because of the lack of infantry support. Prichard added that a study of the records indicates that Smith was willing to permit the Yankee
force to escape as long as they did not threaten the state's interior. In Smith's mind, the speaker said, the operation against the Union forces
of Gen. Morgan was a "mere sideshow."
While John Hunt Morgan and his few hundred raw recruits often brought the retreating Union column to a complete standstill, his glory would come
elsewhere and the mountain campaign the least known of his military exploits, Prichard said.
Morgan, Prichard said, was a risk taker, citing his raid into Ohio the next year, which he said exceeded orders. It was a desperate gamble and
Morgan's division was shattered, the speaker said. Morgan, who was killed in a minor skirmish in Greenville, Tenn., in September 1864, was beloved
by many of his men, Prichard said, but grabbed all the glory.
Clark County farmer John Venable will discuss old hand tools at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at the museum, 217 S. Main St., in conjunction with the opening
of a new exhibit on agriculture.
Copyright:The Winchester Sun 2006
Submitted by: David Tucker
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