American Civil War: Morgan's Raid

John Hunt Morgan during the Civil War
Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan, CSA. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Morgan's Raid - Conflict & Dates:

Morgan's Raid was conducted from June 11 to July 26, 1863 during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Armies & Commanders



Morgan's Raid - Background:

In late spring 1863, with Union troops conducting the Siege of Vicksburg and General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia embarking on the Gettysburg Campaign, General Braxton Bragg sought to distract enemy forces in Tennessee and Kentucky. To accomplish this, he turned to Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan. A veteran of the Mexican-American War, Morgan had proven himself a capable cavalry leader during the early part of the war and had led several effective raids into the Union rear. Assembling a select force of 2,462 men and a battery of light artillery, Morgan received orders from Bragg directing him to attack through Tennessee and Kentucky.

Morgan's Raid - Tennessee:

Though he happily accepted these orders, Morgan harbored a desire to carry the war into the North by invading Indiana and Ohio. Aware of his subordinate's aggressive nature, Bragg strictly forbade him to cross the Ohio River as he did not wish Morgan's command to be lost. Assembling his men at Sparta, TN, Morgan rode out on June 11, 1863. Operating in Tennessee, his forces began moving towards Kentucky late in the month after Major General William Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland began its Tullahoma Campaign. Seeking to aid Bragg by disrupting Rosecrans' supply lines, Morgan crossed the Cumberland River on June 23 and entered Kentucky on July 2.

Morgan's Raid - Kentucky:

After camping between Campbellsville and Columbia on the night of July 3, Morgan planned to push north and cross the Green River at Tebb's Bend the next day. Moving out, he found that the bend was guarded five companies of the 25th Michigan Infantry which had constructed earthworks in the area. Attacking eight times through the day, Morgan was unable to overwhelm the Union defenders. Falling back, he shifted south before crossing the river at Johnson Ford. Riding north, the Confederates attacked and captured Lebanon, KY on July 5. Though Morgan captured around 400 prisoners in the fighting, he was crushed with his younger brother, Lieutenant Thomas Morgan, was killed.

Advancing towards Louisville, Morgan's raiders fought several skirmishes with Union troops and local militia. Reaching Springfield, Morgan dispatched a small force to the northeast in an attempt to confuse the Union leadership as to his intentions. This detachment was later captured at New Pekin, IN before it could rejoin the main column. With the enemy off balance, Morgan led his main body northwest through Bardstown and Garnettsville before reaching the Ohio River at Brandenburg. Entering the town, the Confederates captured two riverboats, John B. McCombs and Alice Dean. In direct violation of his orders from Bragg, Morgan began moving his command across the river on July 8.

Morgan's Raid - Indiana:

Landing east of Mauckport, the raiders drove off a force of Indiana militia before burning Alice Dean and sending John B. McCombs downstream. As Morgan began moving north into the heart of Indiana, the state's governor, Oliver P. Morton, frantically put a call out for volunteers to oppose the invaders. While militia units quickly formed, the commander of the Department of the Ohio, Major General Ambrose Burnside, moved to shift Union forces to cut off Morgan's lines of retreat south. Advancing up the Maukport Road, Morgan overwhelmed a force of Indiana militia at the Battle of Corydon on July 9. Entering the town, Morgan paroled the militiamen before seizing supplies.

Morgan's Raid - Ohio:

Turning east, the raiders passed through Vienna and Dupont before arriving at Salem. There they burned the railroad depot, rolling stock, as well as two railroad bridges. Looting the town, Morgan's men took cash and supplies before departing. Pressing on, the column entered Ohio at Harrison on July 13. That same day Burnside declared martial in Cincinnati to the south. Despite recent celebrations in response to the Union triumphs at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Morgan's raid caused widespread panic and fear across Indiana and Ohio. Passing through Springdale and Glendale, Morgan remained to the north of Cincinnati in an effort to avoid Burnside's men.

Continuing east, Morgan dashed across southern Ohio with the goal of reaching West Virginia and turning south into Confederate territory. To accomplish this, he intended to re-cross the Ohio River using the fords at Buffington Island, WV. Assessing the situation, Burnside correctly guessed Morgan's intentions and directed Union forces to Buffington Island. As Union gunboats moved into position, columns led by Brigadier Generals Edward Hobson and Henry Judah marched to intercept the raiders. In an effort to block the ford prior to their arrival, Burnside dispatched a local militia regiment to the island. Reaching Buffington Island late on July 18, Morgan elected not to attack this force.

Morgan's Raid - Defeat & Capture:

This pause proved disastrous as Union forces arrived during the night. With Lieutenant Commander LeRoy Fitch's gunboats blocking the river, Morgan soon found his command nearly surrounded on a plain near Portland, OH. In the resulting Battle of Buffington Island, Union troops captured around 750 of Morgan's men, including his executive officer, Colonel Basil Duke, and inflicted losses of 152 killed and wounded. Morgan was able to escape with around half of his men by slipping through some nearby woods. Fleeing north, he hoped to cross the river at an undefended ford near Belleville, WV. Arriving, around 300 men successfully crossed before Union gunboats arrived on the scene. While Morgan elected to remain in Ohio, Colonel Adam "Stovepipe" Johnson led the rest to safety.

Reduced to around 400 men, Morgan turned inland and sought to escape his pursuers. Resting at Nelsonville, the Confederates burned boats along a local canal before riding northeast. Passing through Zanesville, Morgan still sought to cross into West Virginia. Pressed by Brigadier General James Shackelford's Union cavalry, the raiders were attacked at Salinesville, OH on July 26. Badly routed, Morgan lost 364 of men in the fighting. Escaping with a small party, he was captured later that day by Major George W. Rue of the 9th Kentucky Cavalry. Though many of his enlisted men were taken to Camp Douglas near Chicago, Morgan and his officers were incarcerated at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, OH.

Morgan's Raid - Aftermath:

Though the entirety of his command was lost as a result of the raid, Morgan captured and paroled around 6,000 Union soldiers prior to his capture. In addition, his men disrupted Union rail operations across Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio while also burning 34 bridges. Despite being captured, Morgan and Duke felt the raid was a success as it allowed Bragg to retreat safely while tying down thousands of Union troops which otherwise could have reinforced Rosecrans. On November 27, Morgan and six of his officers successfully escaped from the Ohio Penitentiary and returned south.

Though Morgan's 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 the 1863 campaign. In the summer of 1864, he 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.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Morgan's Raid." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). American Civil War: Morgan's Raid. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Morgan's Raid." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 22, 2021).