Morgan’s Raid: The Northern Penetration

July 13, 1863 – Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan embarked on another Kentucky raid, but this time he crossed the Ohio River and invaded the North.

John Hunt Morgan | Image Credit:

Morgan planned to relieve Federal pressure in Tennessee by disrupting the enemy’s supply lines in Kentucky. He originally proposed invading Indiana and riding east through Ohio and Pennsylvania before joining with General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, then still at Gettysburg. But Morgan’s superior, General Braxton Bragg, would only authorize a Kentucky raid and prohibited him from crossing the Ohio River.

On July 2, Morgan set out with 2,460 men in 11 cavalry regiments and a section of rifled guns. They struggled to cross the swollen Cumberland River and entered Kentucky near Burkeville. Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland at Tullahoma, Tennessee, had notified Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding the Federal Department of the Ohio at Cincinnati, that Morgan was heading his way.

Burnside dispatched Federal cavalry forces under General Henry Judah, but they did not react quickly enough to stop Morgan’s advance. Elements of the two forces clashed as Morgan tried crossing the Green River on the 3rd. Morgan sustained heavy losses before riding off to find another place to cross.

The next morning, Morgan demanded the surrender of a garrison on the north bank of the Green. The Federal commander replied, “It is a bad day for surrender, and I would rather not.” Morgan attacked but was repulsed, losing 80 killed or wounded out of less than 600 men. The Federals sustained less than 30 casualties, with most only wounded. Morgan withdrew to find a different crossing, moving through Campbellsville and camping near Lebanon for the night.

Morgan’s raiders attacked the Federal garrison at Lebanon after it also refused to surrender. Brutal fighting took place from house to house within the town, and the Federals finally gave in after being pushed back to the railroad station. The Confederates took over 400 prisoners and valuable medical supplies. Morgan’s youngest brother Tom was killed in the fight, with 79 others either killed or wounded. Morgan burned the town in retribution for his brother and then moved on.

The Confederates cleared out Bardstown and captured a train on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. They feinted north and east while the main force rode west through Garnettsville and Brandenburg. The troopers seized the steamers John T. McCombs and Alice Dean at Brandenburg, which they used to cross the Ohio River on the 8th.

The troops that Burnside dispatched to oppose Morgan did not arrive in time to stop him from entering Indiana. Morgan’s crossing blatantly violated Bragg’s orders not to go any farther north than Kentucky, but Morgan believed he could not fully divert Federal attention without invading the North. Panic spread among the nearby residents, as many feared that anti-war Copperheads would join Morgan’s raid.

Morgan’s forces reached the former Indiana capital of Corydon on the 9th, having covered an unprecedented 90 miles in 35 hours. The Confederates dispersed a large militia force, losing nearly 400 men in the process, and looted the town. Their practice of destroying everything in their path and robbing local treasuries ensured that they would get no Copperhead support.

During the pillage, Morgan ate at a local hotel and received news that Lee had been driven out of Pennsylvania. This thwarted Morgan’s plan to link with him. He resolved to continue moving east through Indiana and on into Ohio nonetheless. However, straggling and civilian opposition hindered the Confederate advance. Colonel Basil W. Duke, one of Morgan’s top commanders, later recalled:

“The country was full, the towns were full, and the ranks of the militia were full. I am satisfied that we saw often as many as 10,000 militia in one day, posted at different points. They would frequently fight, if attacked in strong position, but could be dispersed by maneuvering.”

Part of the reason for such an intense pursuit was, as Duke recalled, “The (Confederate) Provost guard had great difficulty in restraining the men from pillaging, and was unsuccessful in some instances.” It soon became “impossible to stop a practice which neither company nor regimental officers were able to aid him in suppressing. This disposition for wholesale plunder exceeded any thing that any of us had ever seen before. The men seemed actuated by a desire to ‘pay off; in the ‘enemy’s country’ all scores that the Federal army had chalked up in the South…”

On July 10, Morgan moved through Palmyra to Salem, less than 40 miles from the state capital of Indianapolis. Alarmed citizens gathered at the Bates House to hear Governor Oliver P. Morton read the latest dispatches, and over 60,000 men heeded Morton’s call for volunteers. Fearing that Indianapolis would be heavily defended, Morgan veered east at Salem and moved through Vienna before stopping at Lexington, where he spent the night at a luxurious hotel.

By Sunday the 12th, many of Morgan’s men had straggled and fallen out due to exhausted horses, and some were captured by pursuing civilians and militia. Nevertheless, the bulk of the force reached Sunman, 15 miles from the Ohio-Indiana border. The raiders crossed into Ohio the next day and entered Harrison, just 20 miles from Cincinnati. Federal officials declared martial law and blocked the river crossings.

Now that the armies of both Lee and Bragg were retreating, Morgan’s objective changed from destroying communications and supplies to preventing Burnside’s Federals from moving on Knoxville. However, the raid was losing its momentum as tens of thousands of volunteers joined militias to stop Morgan’s invasion.



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;; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 300, 303, 305-06, 308-09; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 677-80; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 322-29; 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. 375-76, 381-83, 385

One comment

Leave a Reply