Confederate Colonel John Hunt Morgan left Knoxville, Tennessee with 867 cavalry partisans from Texas, Georgia, and Morgan’s home state of Kentucky. Morgan’s goal was to ride into Kentucky to harass supply lines for the Federal Army of the Ohio. Their initial target was Gallatin, Tennessee, where they cut the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. This stopped supplies from getting to the Federals advancing on Chattanooga.
By July 7, 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 rode out early on the 8th and by midday reached the border village of Celina. There Morgan learned that 400 men of the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry held Tompkinsville, Kentucky, 18 miles away. 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.” Morgan resolved to attack and capture this garrison.
Early next morning, Morgan split his command by sending one wing to attack the garrison from the north and staying with the other wing, which would attack from the south. The southern wing attacked first, firing on the garrison with rifles and artillery from about 300 yards. The Federals, led by Major Thomas J. Jordan, tried escaping north into the woods, where they found Morgan’s northern wing blocking them.
Jordan’s men broke through the northern line and raced 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 to hear 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. The town was unguarded, and most residents were happy to see the Confederates’ arrival. The ladies prepared rations for the troopers, while Morgan issued a proclamation aimed 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 troopers left Glasgow around 9 a.m. and rode on to Bear Wallow, where one of the men tapped the telegraph line linking Louisville to Nashville. This enabled Morgan to learn where the largest concentrations of Federals were in Kentucky. The Confederates continued on and rode through the night until they came to within 15 miles of Lebanon late on the morning of the 11th. Morgan directed a portion of his force to destroy sections of the Lebanon railroad to prevent the Federals from getting there.
Retreating Federals had failed to destroy the bridge over the Rolling Fork River, thus allowing Morgan’s men to cross and arrive outside Lebanon near nightfall. The Confederates drove off the Federal defenders and forced the town’s surrender around 10 p.m. They took all the supplies they could carry and destroyed what they could not. After tapping the telegraph line once more, they rode out around 2 p.m. on the 12th.
Before even learning of Lebanon’s fall, Boyle sent a panicked message to Major General Don Carlos Buell, commanding the Army of the Ohio, asking for reinforcements and warning, “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’s panic subsided when he received a false report that his Federals had routed Morgan at Lebanon. But his panic quickly returned when he learned the truth, and he sent a frantic message: “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 then 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 hysterical 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 men continued their raid, arriving at Harrodsburg, less than 30 miles from Lexington, on the morning of the 13th. The men destroyed bridges on the Kentucky Central Railroad to break the link between Lexington to Cincinnati, as well as bridges that linked Lexington to Louisville. Morgan planned to feint toward Frankfort before turning and striking at Lexington. Early next morning, the Confederates rode to within 15 miles of Frankfort, capturing Lawrenceburg before camping at Versailles.
The partisans moved out on the 15th and stopped at the railroad town of Midway. They tapped the telegraph line there and learned that the raid was causing heavy panic among the Federals, most of whom believed that Morgan would next attack Frankfort. The Confederates rode on and reached Georgetown that night, where Morgan 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.”
Despite the fact that Georgetown and the surrounding county were largely pro-Confederate, few Kentuckians joined Morgan because they feared that Federals would return after Morgan left and exact revenge. Some even joined the Federals to help drive Morgan out of the state. Morgan’s troopers rested at Georgetown on the 16th before resuming their raid.
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- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville. New York: Vintage Books, 1958.
- Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), Civil War A to Z. New York: Ballantine Books, 2002.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983.