John Hunt Morgan’s Kentucky Raid

July 4, 1862 – Confederate Colonel John Hunt Morgan led 867 cavalry partisans on a raid into Kentucky to harass the supply line for the Federal Army of the Ohio.

John Hunt Morgan | Image Credit:

Morgan left Knoxville, Tennessee with battle-tested troopers from Texas, Georgia, and Morgan’s home state of Kentucky. Their target was Gallatin, Tennessee, to cut the Louisville & Nashville Railroad and slow the Federal advance on Chattanooga.

By the 7th, Morgan’s troopers had completed a 104-mile ride west across the Cumberland Plateau. They had fended off Unionist guerrillas in the eastern Tennessee mountains before gaining recruits in the largely pro-Confederate town of Sparta, Tennessee. With their force now increased to about 1,100 men, the partisans turned north toward the Kentucky state line.

Morgan’s force reached Celina near the border the next day. During the night, the Confederates rode to within five miles of Tompkinsville, Kentucky, which was occupied by about 400 men of the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry. The Pennsylvanians were known for their harsh occupation of Lebanon, having vulgarly insulted the women there by telling them the only way they could maintain their virtue was “to sew up the bottoms of their petticoats.”

Early on July 9, Morgan split his command, sending one part to attack the garrison from the north while he stayed with the part that would attack from the south. The southern wing attacked first, firing on the Federals with rifles and artillery from about 300 yards. The Federals, led by Major Thomas J. Jordan, tried escaping north into the woods, but Morgan’s northern wing blocked them.

Jordan’s men broke through the northern line and fled toward Burkesville, with the Confederates close behind. They eventually surrounded Jordan and forced him to surrender. Morgan reported, “The enemy fled, leaving about 22 dead and 30 to 40 wounded in our hands. We have 30 prisoners and my Texas squadron are still in pursuit of the fugitives.” Morgan’s troopers seized “a valuable baggage train, consisting of some 20 wagons and 50 mules… also some 40 cavalry horses, and supplies of sugar, coffee, etc.”

The Confederates lost just one killed and three wounded. Morgan paroled all the prisoners except Jordan, who was shipped to prison in Richmond. His partisans continued on toward Glasgow that afternoon, as nearby Federals began hearing rumors that Confederate horsemen were in the state. Brigadier General Jeremiah Boyle, commanding at Louisville, notified Colonel John F. Miller in Nashville that up to 2,000 Confederates were on the loose in Kentucky and asked Miller to send a regiment to Munfordville.

Morgan captured the Federal supply depot at Glasgow the next day. He issued a proclamation hoping to inspire Kentuckians to “rise and arm, and drive the Hessian invaders from their soil”:

“Let every true patriot rise to the appeal! Fight for your Families, your homes, for those you love best, your consciences, and for the free exercise of your political rights, never again to be placed in jeopardy by the Hessian invader.”

The Confederates approached Lebanon on the night of the 11th, driving off the Federal defenders and forcing the town’s surrender around 10 p.m. Boyle asked Major General Don Carlos Buell for reinforcements: “All the rebels of the State will join him (Morgan) if there is not a demonstration of force and power sent in cavalry. The State will be desolated unless this matter is attended to.”

Boyle initially reported that his Federals had routed Morgan at Lebanon, but then he learned the truth and began panicking:

“Morgan passed around and escaped and burned Lebanon; is moving on Danville and toward Lexington. I have no cavalry and but little force. The whole State will be in arms if General Buell does not send a force to put it down… Morgan is devastating with fire and sword.”

He sent another message:

“It is certain Morgan cannot be caught without cavalry. He will lay waste large parts of the State. He is aiming at Lexington. I have no force to take him. If Buell would save Kentucky it must be done instantly. I know of what I speak.”

Residents of nearby Lexington and Louisville, and even Cincinnati, Ohio, and Evansville, Indiana, began panicking, due to either Morgan’s advance or Boyle’s frantic messages. Boyle asked Cincinnati Mayor George Hatch to “send as many men as possible by special train without delay.” The governors of Ohio and Indiana called on the War Department to send troops to stop Morgan, but Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton said the department required “more definite knowledge before it can act intelligently.”

Meanwhile, Morgan’s Confederates continued their raid, operating near Harrodsburg and Cynthiana, and skirmishing with Federals around Mackville. He reached Georgetown on the 15th, where he issued another proclamation:

“Kentuckians! I come to liberate you from a despotism of a tyrannical faction and to rescue my native State from the hands of your oppressors. Everywhere the cowardly foe has fled from my avenging arms. My brave army is stigmatized as a band of guerrillas and marauders. Believe it not. I point with pride to their deeds as a refutation of this foul aspersion. We come not to molest peaceful individuals or to destroy private property, but to guarantee absolute protection to all who are not in arms against us. We ask only to meet the hireling legions of Lincoln. The eyes of your brethren of the (Confederacy) are upon you. Your gallant fellow citizens are flocking to your standard. Our armies are rapidly advancing to your protection. Then greet them with the willing hands of 50,000 of Kentucky’s brave. Their advance is already with you. Then, ‘Strike for the green graves of your sires! Strike for your altars and your fires! God and your native land.”

However, few Kentuckians joined Morgan because they feared Federal reprisals after Morgan left. Some even joined the Federals to help drive Morgan out of the state.


References; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 193; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 570; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 179-81; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 186-87; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 237-40; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 21-24, 26; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q362


    1. According to “History of Morgan’s Cavalry” by Basil W. Duke, Morgan’s force included the 8th Texas Cavalry, also known as Terry’s Texas Rangers, led by Colonel Benjamin F. Terry. I just recently started reading Duke’s first-hand account, so I’m learning as I go.

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