"Our Laws, The Commands of Our Captain"
1857 - 1861
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County Volunteer Militia
Four years before war came to America in 1861, a 32year-old textile manufacturer founded a militia company of infantry in his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky. His name was John Hunt Morgan, a former Lieutenant of the 1st Kentucky Cavalry during America's war with Mexico. The militia company, of which he became Captain, was comprised of about 60 young men whose ranks were filled with prominent citizens and businessmen. They wore green frock coats and gold-braided trousers with white cross-belts. Their blue, plumed hats, called shakos, bore brass insignia of a federal eagle over the letters "L R". Drilling twice weekly at their armory, which was located at the corner of Main and Upper Streets, they called themselves the "Lexington Rifles". At the entrance to the armory was a framed sign with large lettering that proclaimed their motto to all who entered:
Laws, the Commands of Our Captain”
CAPT Morgan, who had a reputation as a disciplinarian, would freely assess fines for violations of regulations, including once fining himself 25 cents for tardiness. This discipline proved itself in the Company's magnificent display of drill order, which endeared them to spectators, and helped to make them the darlings of Lexington society. Of this militia company, "The Lexington Observer & Reporter" wrote:
are certain that a finer body of men never shouldered a musket —
On August 30, 1859, six weeks before John Brown attacked the Federal Arsenal at Harper's Ferry in Virginia; Beriah Magoffin was inaugurated as the Governor of Kentucky with attendant martial spectacle. Drawn in an open carriage by four white horses, Governor Magoffin was escorted into the capitol city of Frankfort by several militia companies of cavalry; an artillery unit drawing four brass cannons; and the Lexington Rifles, led by CAPT John Hunt Morgan and 1ST LT Thomas B. Monroe, Jr.
Rifles, c. 1860
kentucky state guard
March 1860 - September 1861
John Brown’s raid on the Federal Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia,
Americans across the South began to address the dangers to society that were
presented by the threat of attack. In order to defend against similar
incursions by rebellious groups such as Brown’s, the Commonwealth of Kentucky
organized a State Guard on March 5, 1860 that was to be comprised of local
militia units. To head the new Kentucky State Guard, Governor Beriah
Magoffin appointed Simon Bolivar Buckner, a graduate of West Point, as Inspector
General with the rank of
Major-General. Buckner held this position from May 5, 1860 until
July 23, 1861, when he resigned his commission to join the Confederate Army with
the rank of Brigadier-General.
In counties across the Commonwealth, the Kentucky State Guard grew to 132 separate militia companies. With 60 men ready for duty, the Lexington Rifles were one such company and it was commissioned into the State Guard by Governor Magoffin on May 9, 1860. On the same day, he also commissioned the Lexington Chasseurs, a rival militia company that was commanded by CAPT Sanders D. Bruce, the brother of John Hunt Morgan's first wife, Rebecca Bruce Morgan. During the war, Bruce commanded the 20th Kentucky (U.S.) Infantry and the 22nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Divison of the Army of the Ohio.
April - September 1861
to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their
just powers from the consent of the governed, –
That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the
right of the people to
alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation
on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem
most likely to effect their safety and happiness."
While the flames of secession grew around her in 1860 and 1861, Kentucky remained neutral with a desire to preserve the peace. When the tyrant Lincoln rejected a conciliation effort by the Confederate government in April 1861, the first shots for Southern Independence were fired. The artillery duel that took place at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina propelled events quickly on a national scale, with the likelihood of further hostilities growing daily. Even so, Kentucky clung to her neutrality in the coming conflict between North and South.
The illusion of neutrality belied the hundreds of young Kentuckians who were traveling across state borders to volunteer for Confederate service in Virginia and Tennessee. To counter this, Federal authorities established recruiting centers within Kentucky’s borders, thereby violating the state’s neutrality. The split of allegiances in the Commonwealth tore apart the ranks of the Kentucky State Guard, effectively causing the disintegration of the 1st Infantry Regiment.
Elements of the regiment that had Union sympathies reorganized from April - June 1861 primarily as the 1st and 2nd Kentucky Infantry Regiments. These regiments were mustered into Federal service on June 4 and 13 at Camp Clay, Ohio. Elements of the regiment that had Secession sympathies, minus the Lexington Rifles, reorganized in July 1861 as the 1st Kentucky Brigade (to be known in post-war years as The Orphan Brigade). They were mustered into Confederate service at Camp Boone, Tennessee.
CAPT John Hunt Morgan
By September 1861, with the strategic Battles of Manassas and Wilson’s Creek having been fought, both Confederate and Federal forces moved into Kentucky to outmaneuver each other. U.S. BRIG-GEN Ulysses Grant moved from Missouri to occupy Paducah, while C.S. MAJ-GEN Leonidas Polk countered with a move from Tennessee to Columbus.
Meanwhile, GEN Albert Sidney Johnston, the overall Confederate commander in the West, ordered BRIG-GEN Buckner, the former commander of the Kentucky State Guard, to march a division of Kentuckians to Bowling Green. There, the headquarters for the Central Army of Kentucky was established and a proceedings begun to form a new state government. With these actions, it was obvious that Kentucky had now become a potential battleground.
GEN Albert Sidney Johnston MAJ-GEN Leonidas "Bishop" Polk
exodus to camp charity
With tensions mounting within the state, Governor Magoffin had issued orders to disarm those State Guard militia units that were sympathetic to the Confederacy. The Lexington Rifles were among those units to receive orders from the pro-Union state government to return their rifles to the State Guard Armory in Frankfort. However, in a clever act of deception, CAPT Morgan sent the shipping crates to the state capitol weighted down with stones, instead. With their rifles safely concealed, the Lexington Rifles then took an oath:
"To Stand By Our Arms Till Death!"
the crates were later opened in Frankfort and Morgan's ruse was discovered, Federal
forces moved into Lexington with orders to arrest him and the Lexington
Rifles. Morgan then informed the
Company that the time had come for them to leave the city and join the
Confederate Army. Late on
September 20, 1861, with their rifles hidden in hay wagons and with a few members
remaining behind in their armory building to fool Federal sentries with the sounds of normal activities, the Lexington Rifles
secreted themselves out of the city. They
were led by CAPT
Morgan on a 150-mile journey to Bowling Green, where BRIG-GEN Buckner’s
Army of Kentucky was headquartered.
their westward journey, the
Lexington Rifles arrived in the vicinity of Bardstown, where they established
a camp near Bloomfield. They called it
Camp Charity because
of the friendly citizens who refused payment for the supplies which they brought
contributed. Here, each man readied himself for the task ahead, believing
that he was a defender of his home and charged with the sacred duty to oppose any foe.
By September 26, the Lexington Rifles were joined by other new recruits, bringing their numbers to about 200. Together, they left Camp Charity and marched south toward the Confederate defensive line along the Green River. With four years training experience at drill and tactics, their knowledge lent professionalism to their march. It was during this march that the Lexington Rifles exchanged their first shots of the war with Unionist Home Guardsmen, who were easily scattered.
induction into confederate service
When the Lexington Rifles arrived at Munfordville on September 30, they were joined by CAPT Morgan’s brother-in-law, Basil W. Duke, who arrived from Missouri. There, the unit served as advance pickets for COL Roger Hanson’s infantry force along the Green River. After a few days, they moved a mile south to Woodsonville on the opposite bank of the river, where a training camp had been established. During this period of training, and prior to their official induction into Confederate service, the Lexington Rifles became known to the other companies at the camp as "Morgan’s Company".
1LT Basil W. Duke
With 80 enlisted men and 4 officers reporting for duty, Morgan's Company was mustered into the cavalry service of the Confederate States on October 27, 1861. The induction took place on the steps of the Green River Baptist Church in Woodsonville, where the oath of enlistment was administered by MAJ William Preston Johnston of the 2nd Kentucky Infantry. Elections for officers of the Company were held soon thereafter, with John Morgan being chosen as its Captain. Basil Duke, James West, and Van Buren Sellers were elected to serve as Lieutenants.
Wm. Preston Johnston
In 1862, the Green River Baptist Church was desecrated and burned to the ground by Lincoln's hirelings during the Battle of Munfordville. All that remains are the foundation and church steps that are adjacent to the cemetery and the remains of Fort Craig in Woodsonville.
James West, 2nd Lieutenant of Morgan's Cavalry Company, was killed in action at
the Battle of Shiloh, 1862.
Historical Marker and the ruins of the Green River Baptist Church
morgan’s cavalry squadron
In the days following the October 27th induction of Morgan's Company into Confederate service, other under-strength companies that were present at Woodsonville petitioned to join Morgan's command. Horses were acquired from the artillery, and on November 4th the entire force was ordered by BRIG-GEN Simon B. Buckner to proceed to Bowling Green where the Confederate Army of Kentucky was headquartered.
Upon their arrival on November 5th, the force was consolidated into a cavalry squadron, with Morgan's Company (the former Lexington Rifles) being designated as Company A. The men of the other under-strength companies were combined to become Company B and Company C of the new Squadron. Company B was assigned to CAPT Thomas Allen of Shelbyville, who remained in command until the following June when the Squadron became the nucleus for formation of a regiment. CAPT James Bowles of Louisville, who had commanded the pre-war "Kentucky Rangers" militia in the State Guard.
Thomas Allen was appointed Regimental Surgeon when the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry was formed in 1862. His brother, John Allen, replaced him at that time as Captain in command of Company B.
James Bowles rose to the rank of Colonel in the C.S. Army during the war. In 1864, he was a Lieutenant-Colonel and second-in-command to Colonel Duke of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry. Upon the death of John Hunt Morgan in September 1864, Bowles was promoted to full Colonel in command of the regiment when Duke was promoted to Brigadier-General in charge of a Brigade.
After formation of the Squadron at Bowling Green, Morgan was given orders to embark on patrols throughout the Green River area. To accomplish this, Morgan proceeded to Glasgow Junction (present-day Park City) in Barren County, where he established his Squadron Headquarters at the unfinished construction site of a stagecoach stop known as Bell's Tavern. From this location, Morgan conducted mounted patrols, operating along a 30-mile line from Munfordville east to Greensburg, and conducting raids against the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
Note: The original tavern building, which was at the fork of three roads – the Glasgow Road, the Bardstown Road, and the Louisville & Nashville Pike – had been destroyed by fire in 1858. When a spur from the L&N RR was opened to Glasgow in 1859, the hamlet of Three Forks became known as Glasgow Junction. The construction of a larger stone structure, that was meant to replace the original Bell's Tavern, was left unfinished due to the war.
In early December, Federal forces began to move south along the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. As the Federals consolidated their strength in the area, Morgan’s Squadron moved out from Bell's Tavern on December 4 with 105 men. Their intent was to attack the enemy supply line the next day by destroying the railroad bridge at Bacon Creek Station (present-day Bonnieville), 7 miles north of Munfordville. Although the destruction of the bridge on December 5 was a minor affair, news of the attack reached newspaper correspondents in the North. This resulted in the first notoriety for the Squadron in the national press, which thereafter referred to them as "Morgan’s Raiders".
Historical Marker and the Bacon Creek Bridge on the L&N R.R.
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