Morgan’s Third Kentucky Raid

Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan commanded a band of partisans belonging to General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Morgan planned to raid the Federal garrison at Hartsville, 35 miles northeast of Nashville. His force consisted of some 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.

Morgan’s men began crossing the Cumberland River on the bitterly cold night of December 6. The next day, they descended on Hartsville and attacked the 3,000-man garrison under Colonel Absalom B. Moore. The Confederates inflicted 300 casualties within an hour while losing just 125. According to Colonel Basil W. Duke, one of Morgan’s lieutenants, “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.

John Hunt Morgan | Image Credit:

A week later, Morgan married Mattie Ready in the social event of the year. It was said that Mattie, while living in a Federally-occupied town in Kentucky, heard troops speak disparagingly of Morgan and defiantly told them that she would one day marry him. When Morgan learned of this, he rode to the town to meet her, and after a courtship, Mattie’s prediction came true.

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 lavish parties that followed made this the main event of the Christmas season, even if they did hinder military discipline.

Another week later, Morgan set out to conduct the third raid of his home state of Kentucky. He led 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. 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 to recover from their initial confusion and assembled to pursue Morgan. The Confederates skirmished outside New Haven on the 30th, and near New Market on New Year’s Eve. Though Morgan had accomplished his primary goal, the raid continued into the new year.


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