December 21, 1862 – Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan embarked on his third Kentucky raid after a successful operation and a marriage earlier this month.
On December 6, Morgan’s Confederate partisans, detached from General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, advanced on Hartsville, 35 miles northeast of Nashville. They consisted of nearly 2,000 men in four infantry and two cavalry regiments. Their advance was screened by a Confederate infantry feint toward Lavergne on the Nashville-Murfreesboro road, and Lebanon northeast of Nashville. That night, Morgan’s men began crossing the Cumberland River in bitter cold.
The next day, Morgan descended on Hartsville and attacked the 3,000-man garrison under Colonel Absalom B. Moore of Illinois. The Confederates inflicted 300 casualties within an hour while losing just 125. According to Colonel Basil W. Duke of Morgan’s force, “The white flag was hoisted an hour and a half after the first shot was fired.” Moore surrendered 1,762 men, along with all their supplies and equipment. Morgan’s men then returned to Bragg’s army at Murfreesboro.
A week later, Morgan married Mattie Ready at Murfreesboro. Bragg and all his ranking officers attended the ceremony, which was performed by Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, an ordained Episcopal bishop who wore his vestments over his military uniform. The guest list was so large that the marriage had to take place in the town courthouse. The parties that followed made this the main event of Christmas and the social event of the year, even if it did hinder military discipline.
Another week later, Morgan set out for his home state of Kentucky, leading about 2,500 men out of Alexandria near Carthage, Tennessee. Morgan planned to cut the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, the principal supply line for Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland. To do this, Morgan intended to destroy the two enormous railroad trestles over Muldraugh’s Hill, near President Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace and current site of Fort Knox.
Skirmishing occurred at various points as Morgan’s troopers crossed the Cumberland and entered Kentucky on the 22nd. They rode through Glasgow on the 24th, and crossed the Green River on Christmas Day. The troopers clashed with Federals at Green’s Chapel and Bear Wallow, taking hundreds of prisoners.
The Confederates camped near Elizabethtown, north of Munfordville, on the 26th, and they launched a surprise attack on the Federal garrison there the next day. Morgan captured the entire 600-man force at Elizabethtown, and his men started wrecking track on the Louisville & Nashville. Taking Elizabethtown gave them a clear path to Muldraugh’s Hill.
The troopers captured the Federal garrison at Muldraugh’s Hill the next day. They then burned the 500-foot-long, 80-foot-high railroad trestles as planned. This wrecked Rosecrans’s supply line via the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. Morgan’s troopers skirmished with Federals at Bacon Creek before continuing eastward.
Morgan began heading back toward Tennessee on the 29th, capturing Boston and clashing with Federals at Springfield and New Haven. Federal forces in the area began assembling after their initial confusion to pursue Morgan. The Confederates skirmished outside New Haven on the 30th, and near New Market on New Year’s Eve. The raid continued into January, with Morgan having already accomplished his mission.
Brooksher, William R./Snider, David K., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 511-12; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 238, 246-47; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 8, 83-84; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 236, 242-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 293-94, 299-301; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 552-53; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 85-88, 90-91