Confederate Brigadier-General John Hunt Morgan had embarked on a raid through Kentucky to disrupt Federal supply lines. He violated direct orders not to cross the Ohio River when he led his raiders into Indiana and then eastward into Ohio.
Morgan initially targeted Cincinnati for attack, but because the city was the headquarters of Major-General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Department of the Ohio, Morgan feared it would be heavily defended. So part of his force demonstrated at Hamilton, north of the city, while the rest bypassed it in a grueling night ride starting on July 14 and ending early next morning. Colonel Basil W. Duke, one of Morgan’s top lieutenants, recalled:
“It was a terrible, trying march. Strong men fell out of their saddles, and at every halt the officers were compelled to move continually about in their respective companies and pull and haul the men who would drop asleep in the road–it was the only way to keep them awake. Quite a number crept off into the fields and slept until they were awakened by the enemy.”
Increasing Federal resistance compelled Morgan to move east of Cincinnati to try re-crossing the Ohio back into Kentucky. Federal troops and local militia in pursuit on land and water began closing in. Confident that the threat had passed, the Chicago Tribune reported on the 16th, “John Morgan’s raid is dying away eastward, and his force is melting away as it proceeds. Their only care is escape and their chances for that are very slight.”
Morgan passed Pomeroy, 150 miles east of Cincinnati, where he clashed with Federal troops for the first time. He next stopped at Chester to wait for the increasing number of stragglers to catch up. Morgan knew that a Federal cavalry force under Brigadier-General Edward Hobson was pursuing from the west, but he did not know that another cavalry force under Brigadier-General Henry Judah was approaching from the south. Also, a fleet of gunboats patrolled the Ohio to prevent Morgan from crossing.
Morgan hoped to cross the Ohio into West Virginia at Buffington Island, but his troopers did not get there until nightfall, and by then rains had swollen the river and 300 Federal troops guarded the fords. Morgan resolved to fight his way through the next day, unaware that gunboats led by the ironclad U.S.S. Moose under Lieutenant-Commander Leroy Fitch were “keeping boats both ahead and in his rear, guarding all accessible fords.”
The Confederates moved to attack on the morning of the 19th, but the Moose fired two rounds that sent many of them running, leaving their artillery behind. Judah’s cavalry then attacked from the south, surprising Morgan and pushing back his advance guard. Hobson’s troopers came next from the west, and the combined Federal force nearly surrounded Morgan’s raiders.
The Confederates formed a line shaped in a right-angle to fight off both Hobson and Judah while under fire from the gunboats. Duke and Colonel Adam “Stovepipe” Johnson led the defense as Morgan and about 700 men slipped away to the north. Duke and Johnson tried to follow, but the gunboats closed in and blocked their path with heavy fire that “shelled most of them back, killing and drowning a good many.” The Federal horsemen then attacked and routed the remaining Confederates.
The Federals killed or wounded 120 raiders and captured 700, including Duke and Morgan’s brothers Richard and Charlton. Johnson and 300 raiders escaped by swimming across the river. The prisoners were taken to Cincinnati, and most were then shipped to Camp Douglas, a Confederate prisoner of war compound, in Chicago. Hobson and militia from Ohio and Pennsylvania continued pursuing Morgan and the remnants of his command.
Morgan moved northeast along the Ohio in search of another river crossing. He tried at Hockingport, but a Federal brigade led by Colonel (and future U.S. President) Rutherford B. Hayes stopped him, taking another 200 prisoners. After another two days of constant riding and exhaustion, Morgan resolved to try crossing the Ohio at Blennerhassett Island, near Parkersburg. Burnside received word that Major-General Lew Wallace’s brigade was waiting for Morgan there, with Federal pursuers just five miles behind the raiders.
After a brief rest on the 24th, Morgan confused the Federals by suddenly veering east toward Cadiz. They then destroyed the railroad yard at Hopedale. President Abraham Lincoln telegraphed Burnside, “What, if anything, do you hear further from John Morgan?” Burnside replied, “Just now we have conflicting reports as to Morgan’s whereabouts. One report places him within 10 miles of Cadiz Junction, and the other between Antrim and Hendrysburg. (Brigadier-General James) Shackelford is close after him, and we will try to have forces in his front, whichever report is correct.”
Morgan’s surviving troopers rode northward along the right bank of the Ohio River. While seeking an escape under close pursuit, Morgan fought near Steubenville and Springfield. Each skirmish weakened Morgan’s already depleted force. The Confederates were backed into a cliff near New Lisbon on the Pennsylvania border, from which there was no escape. Morgan and his remaining 364 men, exhausted and surrounded, surrendered.
Morgan initially surrendered to a militia captain with the understanding that he would be paroled and sent home, but Shackelford soon arrived and informed Morgan that he and his men would be held in confinement. A Federal officer credited the gunboats on the Ohio for playing a key role in Morgan’s capture, writing that the “activity and energy with which the squadron was used to prevent the enemy recrossing the Ohio, and to assist in his capture, was worthy of the highest praise.”
This marked the first and only Confederate invasion of Indiana and Ohio. Since their unauthorized raid began, Morgan’s Confederates had traveled over 700 miles, cut railroad lines at 60 points, destroyed 34 bridges, incurred nearly $10 million in property damage, captured some 6,000 Federal troops, diverted 14,000 more from other assignments, and prompted the raising of 120,000 militia. The raiders averaged 20 hours a day in the saddle after crossing the Ohio River. However, while the raid made sensational headlines in newspapers and temporarily diverted Federal attention from Tennessee, many (including his superior, General Braxton Bragg) considered it an unnecessary waste of Confederate soldiers.
Burnside wanted Morgan and his raiders treated as prisoners of war, but Ohio Governor David Tod insisted they be treated as outlaws and confined in the Ohio State Penitentiary at Columbus. Morgan and some of his men escaped from that prison in November and returned to Kentucky, where he resumed wreaking havoc among the Federals.
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