The Death of John Hunt Morgan

September 4, 1864 – A Federal private ended the life of one of the Confederacy’s most legendary raiders.

John Hunt Morgan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Since escaping from Ohio State Penitentiary last year, Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan had raised a new cavalry command to raid his home state of Kentucky once more. Now commanding the Confederate Department of Southwestern Virginia, Morgan moved out from Wytheville in hopes of securing horses for the cavalry.

No horses were taken, but Morgan’s new, undisciplined raiders found time to rob at least two banks and loot Mount Sterling. Confederate authorities scheduled an inquiry to look into this matter, but before it convened, Morgan learned that Federal troopers were patrolling Bull’s Gap. Despite being ordered not to move, Morgan led 2,000 men into eastern Tennessee to intercept them.

The Confederates arrived at Greeneville on the 3rd, where Morgan set up headquarters at the mansion of Catherine Williams. Scouts warned him that Federal troopers were nearby, but he disregarded the reports. In fact, a Federal force under Alvan Gillem was just 18 miles away when Gillem received word that Morgan’s troopers were at Greeneville. Gillem reported, “I immediately resolved not to wait for him but to endeavor to surprise and attack his forces in detail before they could be concentrated.”

The Federals arrived outside Greeneville near dawn the next morning and pushed the Confederate pickets back. Since the people of Greeneville had mixed sympathies, somebody might have told the Federals that Morgan was at the Williams mansion. They rode into town and surrounded that residence.

Morgan and Captain James T. Rogers hurried out of the mansion before the Federals arrived. Rogers recalled, “He handed me one of his pistols, and said that he wished me to assist him in making his escape. I told him it was almost useless, as we were entirely surrounded. He replied, saying that we must do it if possible.” Morgan said, “The Yankees will never take me prisoner again.”

Morgan and Rogers separated, with Morgan meeting up with a brown-clad soldier whom he thought was a comrade. But the soldier was Federal Private Andrew J. Campbell, who demanded his surrender. No Confederates saw Morgan again until he was brought out into the street, dead. Rogers later acknowledged that the Federals preferred to take Morgan dead rather than alive, but he wrote, “If General Morgan surrendered before he was shot I do not know it.” Private Campbell later reported:

“I, in a loud tone, ordered him to halt, but instead of obeying he started into a run. I then repeated the order, and at the same time brought my gun to my shoulder so as to cover him, when seeing that he still disregarded me, I deliberately aimed at and shot him. He dropped in his tracks and died in a few minutes. But I did not know at that time, nor even had the least idea of, who it was I had shot.”

Basil W. Duke, one of Morgan’s longtime lieutenants (though not with Morgan at the time of his death), wrote after the war:

“His friends have always believed that he was murdered after his surrender. Certain representations by the parties who killed him, their ruffianly character and the brutality with which they treated his body, induced the belief; and it was notorious that his death, if again captured, had been sworn. His slayers broke down the paling around the garden, dragged him through and, while he was tossing his arms in his dying agonies, threw him across a mule and paraded his body about the town, shouting and screaming in savage exaltation.

“Thus, on the 4th of September 1864, in a little village of east Tennessee, fell this almost unequaled partisan leader. But not only was the light of genius extinguished then and a heroic spirit lost to earth–as kindly and as noble a heart as was ever warned by the constant presence of generous emotions was stilled by a ruffian’s bullet.”

But Morgan’s exploits would live on in poems and folklore.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12480-500; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 566-67

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