Confederate Brigadier-General John Hunt Morgan sought to relieve Federal pressure in Tennessee by embarking on another raid on Federal supply lines in Kentucky. He proposed invading Indiana and riding east through Ohio and Pennsylvania before joining with General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army, then still at Gettysburg. But Morgan’s superior, General Braxton Bragg, 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 before entering 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 Brigadier-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 no more 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 advanced on the Federal garrison at Lebanon, where Morgan again demanded surrender. The garrison commander said, “If it was any other day he might consider the demand, but the 4th of July was a bad day to talk about surrender, and he must, therefore, decline.”
A Confederate attack ensued, in which brutal fighting took place from house to house within the town. 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, and 79 others were 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, but he resolved to continue moving east through Indiana and Ohio anyway. But 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. Seizing telegraphic dispatches, Morgan learned for the first time how much hysteria he was causing and how many men were being raised to stop him.
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. Morgan destroyed a vital bridge as 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. This involved wreaking havoc on the northern railroad network. However, the raid was losing its momentum as tens of thousands of volunteers joined militias to stop Morgan’s invasion.
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