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  • CSA Brigadier-General John Hunt Morgan

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    CSA Brigadier-General John Hunt Morgan (June 1, 1825 – September 4, 1864) was a Confederate general in the American Civil War.  In April 1862, he raised the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry Regiment, fought at Shiloh, and then launched a costly raid in Kentucky, which encouraged Braxton Bragg's invasion of that state. He also attacked the supply-lines of General William S. Rosecrans. In July 1863, he set out on a 1000-mile raid into Indiana and Ohio, taking hundreds of prisoners. But after most of his men had been intercepted by Union gunboats, Morgan surrendered at Salineville, Ohio, the northernmost point ever reached by uniformed Confederates. The legendary "Morgan's Raid", which had been carried out against orders, gained no tactical advantage for the Confederacy, while the loss of his regiment proved a serious setback.

    Morgan escaped, but his credibility was low, and he was restricted to minor operations. He was killed at Greeneville, Tennessee in September 1864. Morgan was the brother-in-law of Confederate general A.P. Hill.

    Early life and career:

    John Hunt Morgan was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the eldest of ten children of Calvin and Henrietta (Hunt) Morgan. He was an uncle of geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan and a maternal grandson of John Wesley Hunt, an early founder of Lexington, Kentucky, and one of the first millionaires west of the Allegheny Mountains. He was also the brother-in-law of A.P. Hill and of Basil W. Duke.  He was said to be a direct descendant of Revolutionary War general and hero Daniel Morgan, whose own great grand-uncle was perhaps history's most successful privateer, Henry Morgan.

    Morgan's home was built in Lexington, Kentucky was built in 1814. Currently a historic landmark, and guided tours are available upon request. Morgan's family is also known for "John Wesley Hunt who became a leading landowner and businessman in Kentucky and one of the wealthiest men in the western part of the country. His business empire included interest in banking, horse breeding, agriculture and hemp manufacturing. Among his business associates were Henry Clay and John Jacob Astor." Which contributed for much of the family's long term wealth.

    Morgan's paternal grandparents were Luther and Anna (Cameron) Morgan. Luther Morgan had settled in Huntsville, but a downturn in the cotton economy forced him to mortgage his holdings. His father, Calvin Morgan, lost his Huntsville home in 1831 when he was unable to pay the property taxes following the failure of his pharmacy. The family then moved to Lexington, where he would manage one of his father-in-law's sprawling farms.

     Morgan grew up on the farm outside of Lexington and attended Transylvania College for two years, but was suspended in 1844 for dueling with a fraternity brother. In 1846, Morgan joined the Fraternal Order of Freemasons, at Daviess Lodge #22, Lexington, Kentucky. Morgan desired a military career, but the small size of the US military severely limited opportunities for officer's commissions.

     In 1846 Morgan enlisted with his brother Calvin and uncle Alexander in the U.S. Army as a cavalry private during the Mexican-American War. He was elected second lieutenant and was promoted to first lieutenant before arriving in Mexico, where he saw combat in the Battle of Buena Vista. On his return to Kentucky, he became a hemp manufacturer and in 1848, he married Rebecca Gratz Bruce, the 18-year-old sister of one of his business partners. Morgan also hired out his slaves and occasionally sold them. After the death of John Wesley Hunt in 1849, his fortunes greatly improved as his mother, Henrietta, began financing his business ventures.

    In 1853, his wife delivered a stillborn son. She contracted septic thrombophlebitis, popularly known as "milk leg"—an infection of a blood clot in a vein, which eventually led to an amputation. They became increasingly emotionally distant from one another. Known as a gambler and womanizer, Morgan was also known for his generosity.

    Morgan remained interested in the military. He raised a militia artillery company in 1852, but it was disbanded by the state legislature two years later. In 1857, with the rise of sectional tensions, Morgan raised an independent infantry company known as the "Lexington Rifles," and spent much of his free time drilling his men.

    Like most Kentuckians, Morgan did not initially support secession. Immediately after Lincoln's election in November 1860, he wrote to his brother, Thomas Hunt Morgan, then a student at Kenyon College in northern Ohio, "Our State will not I hope secede. I have no doubt but Lincoln will make a good President at least we ought to give him a fair trial & then if he commits some overt act all the South will be a unit." By the following spring, Tom Morgan (who also had opposed Kentucky's secession) had transferred home to the Kentucky Military Institute and there began to support the Confederacy. Just before the Fourth of July, by way of a steamer from Louisville, he quietly left for Camp Boone, just across the Tennessee border, to enlist in the Kentucky State Guard. John stayed at home in Lexington to tend to his troubled business and his ailing wife. Becky Morgan finally died on July 21, 1861.

    In September, Captain Morgan and his militia company went to Tennessee and joined the Confederate States Army. Morgan soon raised the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry Regiment and became its colonel on April 4, 1862.

     Morgan and his cavalrymen fought at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, and he soon became a symbol to secessionists in their hopes for obtaining Kentucky for the Confederacy. A Louisiana writer, Robert D. Patrick, compared Morgan to Francis Marion and wrote that "a few thousands of such men as his would regain us Kentucky and Tennessee."

     In his first Kentucky raid, Morgan left Knoxville on July 4, 1862, with almost 900 men and in three weeks swept through Kentucky, deep in the rear of Major General Don Carlos Buell's army. He reported the capture of 1,200 Federal soldiers, whom he paroled, acquired several hundred horses, and destroyed massive quantities of supplies. He unnerved Kentucky's Union military government, and President Abraham Lincoln received so many frantic appeals for help that he complained that "they are having a stampede in Kentucky." Historian Kenneth W. Noe wrote that Morgan's feat "in many ways surpassed J.E.B. Stuart's celebrated 'Ride around McClellan' and the Army of the Potomac the previous spring." The success of Morgan's raid was one of the key reasons that the Confederate Heartland Offensive of Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith was launched later that fall, assuming that tens of thousands of Kentuckians would enlist in the Confederate Army if they invaded the state.

    Morgan was promoted to brigadier general (his highest rank) on December 11, 1862, though the Promotion Orders were not signed by President Davis until December 14, 1862.  He received the thanks of the Confederate Congress on May 1, 1863, for his raids on the supply lines of Union Major General William S. Rosecrans in December and January, most notably his victory at the Battle of Hartsville on December 7. 

    On December 14, Morgan married Martha "Mattie" Ready, the daughter of Tennessee United States Representative Charles Ready and a cousin of William T. Haskell, another former U.S. representative from Tennessee.

    Morgan’s Raid:

    Hoping to divert Union troops and resources in conjunction with the twin Confederate operations of Vicksburg and Gettysburg in the summer of 1863, Morgan set off on the campaign that would become known as "Morgan's Raid". Morgan crossed the Ohio River, and raided across southern Indiana and Ohio. At Corydon, Indiana, the raiders met 450 local Home Guard in a battle that resulted in eleven Confederates killed and five Home Guard killed.

    In July, at Versailles, IN, while soldiers raided nearby militia and looted county and city treasuries, the jewels of the local masonic lodge were stolen. When Morgan, a Freemason, learned of the theft he recovered the jewels and returned them to the lodge the following day.

    After several more skirmishes, during which he captured and paroled thousands of Union soldiers[citation needed], Morgan's raid almost ended on July 19, 1863, at Buffington Island, Ohio, when approximately 700 of his men were captured while trying to cross the Ohio River into West Virginia. Intercepted by Union gunboats, less than 200 of his men succeeded in crossing. Most of Morgan's men captured that day spent the rest of the war in the infamous Camp Douglas Prisoner of War camp in Chicago, which had a very high death rate. On July 26, near Salineville, Ohio, Morgan and his exhausted, hungry and saddlesore soldiers were finally forced to surrender. It was the farthest north that any uniformed Confederate troops would penetrate during the war.

    On November 27, Morgan and six of his officers, most notably Thomas Hines, escaped from their cells in the Ohio Penitentiary by digging a tunnel from Hines' cell into the inner yard and then ascending a wall with a rope made from bunk coverlets and a bent poker iron. Morgan and three of his officers, shortly after midnight, boarded a train from the nearby Columbus train station and arrived in Cincinnati that morning. Morgan and Hines jumped from the train before reaching the depot, and escaped into Kentucky by hiring a skiff to take them across the Ohio River. Through the assistance of sympathizers, they eventually made it to safety in the South. Coincidentally, the same day Morgan escaped, his wife gave birth to a daughter, who died shortly afterwards before Morgan returned home.

    Though Morgan's Raid was breathlessly followed by the Northern and Southern press and caused the Union leadership considerable concern, it is now regarded as little more than a showy but ultimately futile sidelight to the war. Furthermore, it was done in direct violation of his orders from General Braxton Bragg not to cross the river. Despite the raiders' best efforts, Union forces had amassed nearly 110,000 militia in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio; dozens of United States Navy gunboats along the Ohio; and strong Federal cavalry forces, which doomed the raid from the beginning. The cost of the raid to the Federals was extensive, with claims for compensation still being filed against the U.S. government well into the early 20th century. However, the Confederacy's loss of Morgan's light cavalry far outweighed the benefits.

    Late career and death:

    After his return from Ohio, Morgan returned to active duty. However, the men he was assigned were in no way comparable to those he had lost. Morgan once again began raiding into Kentucky. However his men lacked discipline, and he was unwilling or unable to control them, leading to open pillaging along with high casualties. The raids of this season were in risky defiance of a strategic situation in the border states that had changed radically from the year before. Union military occupation of this region, long denied to major Confederate armies, had progressed to the point that even highly mobile raiders could no longer count on easily evading them. Northern public outrage at Morgan's raid across the Ohio River may well have contributed to this state of affairs.

    His "Last Kentucky Raid" was carried out in June 1864, the high-water mark of which was the Second Battle of Cynthiana. After winning a minor victory on June 11 against an inferior infantry unit in the engagement known as the Battle of Keller's Bridge on the Licking River, near Cynthiana, Kentucky, Morgan decided to take a chance the following day on another contest against superior Union mounted forces that were known to be approaching. The result was a disaster for the Confederates, resulting in the destruction of Morgan's force as a cohesive unit, only a small fraction of whom escaped with their lives and liberty as fugitives, including the General and some of his officers.

    After the flashy but unauthorized 1863 Ohio raid, Morgan was never again trusted by General Bragg. Nevertheless, on August 22, 1864, Morgan was placed in command of the Trans-Allegheny Department, embracing at the time the Confederate forces in eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia. Yet around this time some Confederate authorities were quietly investigating Morgan for charges of criminal banditry, likely leading to his removal from command. He began to organize a raid aimed at Knoxville, Tennessee.

    On September 4, 1864, he was surprised by a Union attack and was shot in the back and killed by Union cavalrymen while attempting to escape during a raid on Greeneville, Tennessee.

    Morgan was buried in Lexington Cemetery. The burial was shortly before the birth of his second child, another daughter.


    Brigadier-General John Hunt Morgan was born at Huntsville, Ala., June 1, 1825, but was reared in Kentucky from the age of four years, upon the farm near Lexington to which his parents removed.  He was the eldest of six brothers, of whom all bore arms for the Confederacy.  It is said that he was a lineal descendant of Daniel Morgan, of Revolutionary fame.

    His first military experience was at the time of the war with Mexico, when he had the rank of lieutenant in Capt. O. P. Beard's company, General Marshall's cavalry, and in later years he was captain of the Lexington Rifles.  During the period following the Mexican war he devoted himself with success to manufacturing.

    On April 16, 1861, he telegraphed President Davis: "Twenty thousand men can be raised to defend southern liberty against northern conquest.  Do you want them?"  But he was not encouraged to immediate action.

    In September he was arrested by Home Guards while conveying jeans cloth southward from his factory, and imprisoned for three days; and in the latter part of that month he joined the Confederate forces at Bowling, mustered in November 5th.He became a colonel in the summer of 1862, when he organized the Second cavalry at Chattanooga.  Then, in July, he won fame by his first Kentucky raid.  In August he covered the front of Bragg's army concentrating at McMinnville, Tenn., with victorious engagements at Gallatin and Hartsville.

    During Bragg's occupation of Kentucky, part of his men advanced to the Ohio river at Augusta.  On October 18th, he captured several hundred Federals at Lexington, after a severe fight.  On the return to Tennessee he was given command of a cavalry brigade, composed of his own regiment and the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh Kentucky cavalry.

    On December 7th, he won a brilliant victory at Hartsville. On the 11th he was commissioned brigadier-general.  Then followed his "Christmas raid" in Kentucky, which, with his previous exploits, elicited a resolution of thanks from Congress.

    His cavalry division was now formed, the First brigade including the Second, Fifth, Sixth and Ninth Kentucky and Ninth Tennessee regiments; the Second brigade, the Third, Eighth, Eleventh and Tenth Kentucky.  Taking position on the right of Bragg's army in middle Tennessee, he fought the enemy at Vaught's Hill, Milton, Liberty, and Snow's Hill, March 19th to April 3rd, and on May 10th defeated the Federals in southeast Kentucky, at the battle of Greasy Creek.

    On June 27th, as Rosecrans advanced to force Bragg from Tennessee, General Morgan started out from Sparta, to draw off the Federal strength by an invasion of the Northwest.  It happened that his heaviest fighting was in Kentucky.

    Colonel Chenault, Major Brent, and many other brave men fell at Green River bridge, July 4th, and at Lebanon young Thomas H. Morgan was killed.

    After a circuit through Indiana and Ohio around Cincinnati, he attempted to recross the Ohio river at Buffington island, July 19th.  But after a spirited battle, Colonel Duke and part of his command were captured, and Morgan, with the remainder, forced to continue eastward.

    On the 26th, Colonels Grigsby and Johnson, with 300 or 400men, forded the river, and Morgan himself was halfway across when he saw that most of his men must be captured, and returned to share their fate.

    He and his officers were treated rather as criminals than military prisoners, and confined, with the usual indignities, in the Ohio State prison.  But before the end of the year he had escaped with six companions, and passed through Kentucky and Tennessee to the Confederate lines.

    In January, 1864, he was given authority to reorganize his command, and in the following month, at his own request, was ordered from Decatur, GA, to Abingdon, Va.  There he had the duty of defending the salt works and lead mines, soon threatened by formidable columns under Crook and Burbridge.

    He checked Crook at Wytheville in May, and then made a raid in Kentucky to compel the retreat of Burbridge.  On June 8th he took Mt. Sterling and 400 men, and on the 11th captured General Hobson and 1,800 men at Cynthiana.

    But Burbridge was in close pursuit, and Morgan was badly defeated on the 12th.  Overwhelmed by misfortune, he yet demonstrated his great nature by renewed efforts to defend his territory.

    The enemy having penetrated Bull's Gap in August, he was advancing on that post with about 1,000 men when attacked at Greeneville, Tenn., at daylight, September 4th, by Gillem's cavalry.  While escaping from the house in which he had passed the night, he was shot and killed.  His body, shamefully treated at the time, was afterward interred with honor in the cemetery at Lexington.


    Inventory Number: CDV 224