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American Civil War: John Hunt Morgan

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American Civil War: John Hunt Morgan

Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan, CSA

Photograph Source: Public Domain

John Hunt Morgan - Early Life:

Born June 1, 1825, in Huntsville, AL, John Hunt Morgan was the son of Calvin and Henrietta (Hunt) Morgan. The eldest of ten children, he moved to Lexington, KY at age six following the failure of his father's business. Settling on one of the Hunt family farms, Morgan was schooled locally before enrolling in Transylvania College in 1842. His career in higher education proved short as he was suspended two years later for dueling with a fraternity brother. With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846, Morgan enlisted in a cavalry regiment.

John Hunt Morga - In Mexico:

Traveling south, he saw action at the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847. A gifted soldier, he won promotion to first lieutenant. With the conclusion of the war, Morgan left the service and returned home to Kentucky. Establishing himself as a hemp manufacturer, he married Rebecca Gratz Bruce in 1848. Though a businessman, Morgan remained interested in military matters and attempted to form a militia artillery company in 1852. This group disbanded two years later and in 1857, Morgan formed the pro-South "Lexington Rifles." An ardent supporter of Southern rights, Morgan often clashed with his wife's family.

John Hunt Morgan - The Civil War Begins:

As the secession crisis loomed, Morgan initially hoped that conflict could be avoided. In 1861, Morgan elected to support the Southern cause and flew a rebel flag over his factory. When his wife died on July 21 after suffering from several health problems, including septic thrombophlebitis, he decided to take an active role in the coming conflict. As Kentucky remained neutral, Morgan and his company slipped across the border to Camp Boone in Tennessee. Joining the Confederate Army, Morgan soon formed the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry with himself as colonel.

Serving in the Army of Tennessee, the regiment saw action at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862. Developing a reputation as an aggressive commander, Morgan led several successful raids against Union forces. On July 4, 1862, he departed Knoxville, TN with 900 men and swept through Kentucky capturing 1,200 prisoners and wreaking havoc in the Union rear. Likened to American Revolution hero Francis Marion, it was hoped that Morgan's performance would help sway Kentucky into the Confederate fold. The success of the raid led General Braxton Bragg to invade the state that fall.

Following the invasion's failure, the Confederates fell back to Tennessee. On December 11, Morgan was promoted to brigadier general. The next day he married Martha Ready, the daughter of Tennessee Congressman Charles Ready. Later that month, Morgan rode into Kentucky with 4,000 men. Moving north, they disrupted the Louisville & Nashville Railroad and defeated a Union force at Elizabethtown. Returning south, Morgan was greeted as a hero. That June, Bragg gave Morgan permission for another raid into Kentucky with the goal of distracting the Union Army of the Cumberland from the upcoming campaign.

John Hunt Morgan - The Great Raid:

Concerned that Morgan might become too aggressive, Bragg strictly forbade him to cross the Ohio River into Indiana or Ohio. Departing Sparta, TN on June 11, 1863, Morgan rode with a select force of 2,462 cavalry and a battery of light artillery. Moving north through Kentucky, they won several small battles against Union forces. In early July, Morgan's men captured two steamboats at Brandenburg, KY. Against orders, he began transporting his men across the Ohio River, landing near Maukport, IN. Moving inland, Morgan raided across southern Indiana and Ohio, causing a panic among the local residents.

Alerted to Morgan's presence, the commander of the Department of the Ohio, Major General Ambrose Burnside began shifting troops to meet the threat. Deciding to return to Tennessee, Morgan headed for the ford at Buffington Island, OH. Anticipating this move, Burnside rushed troops to the ford. In the resulting battle, Union forces captured 750 of Morgan's men and prevented him from crossing. Moving north along the river, Morgan was repeated blocked from crossing with his entire command. After a brief fight at Hockingport, he turned inland with approximately 400 men.

Relentlessly pursued by Union forces, Morgan was defeated and captured on July 26 after the Battle of Salinesville. While his men were shipped to the Camp Douglas prison camp in Illinois, Morgan and his officers were taken to the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, OH. After several weeks of incarceration, Morgan, along with six of his officers managed to tunnel out of the prison and escaped on November 27. Proceeding south to Cincinnati, they managed to cross the river into Kentucky where Southern sympathizers aided them in reaching Confederate lines.

John Hunt Morgan - Later Career:

Though his return was lauded by the Southern press, he was not received with open arms by his superiors. Angry that he had violated his orders to remain south of the Ohio, Bragg never fully trusted him again. Placed in command of Confederate forces in eastern Tennessee and southwest Virginia, Morgan attempted to rebuild the raiding force that he had lost during his Great Raid. In the summer of 1864, Morgan was accused of robbing a bank in Mt. Sterling, KY. While some his men were involved, there is no evidence to suggest that Morgan played a role.

While working to clear his name, Morgan and his men encamped at Greeneville, TN. On the morning of September 4, Union troops attacked the town. Taken by surprise, Morgan was shot and killed while attempting to escape from the attackers. After his death, Morgan's body was returned to Kentucky where he was buried in Lexington Cemetery.

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