"Our Laws, The Commands of Our Captain"
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seeking a new command
Just after the new year, the General Morgan and his wife, Mattie, traveled from
Carolina to Richmond, Virginia, where Morgan was to seek authorization for a new
command. The War Department, however, was resistant in granting this.
The Secretary of War, John Seddon, promised him nothing in the face of threats
to court-martial him for his disobedience to orders in having taken his previous
command – a command which the Confederacy could have ill afforded to loose --
across the Ohio River.
and Mrs. Morgan
public, however, loved General Morgan. On
January 7, he and his wife, Mattie, triumphantly entered Richmond to the
tumultuous hails of the populous. People were wild with enthusiasm for the
General, and they greeted him with presents, poems written in his honor, and
requests for his autograph and locks of his hair. Upon entering the city,
he was feted at the Richmond City Hall, where he was greeted by Richard Hawes,
the Provisional Governor of the Confederate State of Kentucky, and Generals
J.E.B. Stuart and A. P. Hill. The Richmond Enquirer reported that General Morgan
spoke to the crowd:
“Fellow citizens, I thank you for this reception and
hope that my future career will prove that I am not unworthy of the honor you
have done me.”
General Braxton Bragg, having been replaced as commander of the Army of Tennessee, was now serving in Richmond as military advisor to the President. Bragg’s animosity remained towards Morgan because of his previous disobedience to orders. And, even though Bragg was not successful in pressing a court-martial against the immensely popular Morgan, it was apparent that Morgan would not be awarded a new command right away. Realizing this, General Morgan left Richmond to visit his cavalrymen in Georgia. In his place, he left two representatives – Col. Adam “Stovepipe” Johnson and an old British mercenary friend, George St. Leger Grenfell – to press the political aspects of obtaining authorization to raise a military force.
Military dept. of southwest virginia
February, Morgan arrived in Decatur, Georgia to visit his old command.
He was shocked to find deplorable conditions in the camps, with the men
suffering from lack of supplies of every sort.
There were shortages of arms, rations, horses, and equipment, and the men
were dressed in tattered uniforms. An
effort was then undertaken to refit the cavalry, using their own self-styled
“Quartermaster Department”. Everyone’s
personal talents were used during this period to return the cavalry to effective
strength. The men performed well as tailors, ferriers, blacksmiths,
gunsmiths, and foragers in re-supplying their needs.
seeking a new command, Morgan returned to Richmond in the spring to press the
War Department for an assignment. This
time, he was given command of the Military Department of Southwest Virginia.
In April, he ordered Colonel Johnson to march the men north from Decatur
to Wytheville, Virginia, for defense of the lead mines and the salt mines at
Saltville. Soon thereafter, he established
his headquarters at Abingdon.
During May, a full-strength regiment of cavalry, the 4th Kentucky, commanded by Col. Henry Giltner, was assigned to the Department. This brought the force total to around 2,000 men, one-third of whom were dismounted. With the re-assignment of the faithful Colonel Johnson to western Kentucky, General Morgan began to re-organize his command. He split the men from his old command into two battalions – Major J. D. Kirkpatrick was given command of the First Battalion, while Major Jacob J. Cassell, the former Captain of Company A, was given command of the Second Battalion. Second Battalion consisted of about 200 men from the old 2nd Kentucky, and both battalions were under the command of Lt.-Col. Robert Alston, serving as “regimental” commander.
morgan's last kentucky raid
Responding to reports that the Federals were maintaining massive herds of horses in the bluegrass state that he wished to procure for his cavalry, and wishing to see his ancestral home in Lexington again, General Morgan planned another raid into Kentucky. He again reorganized his force, this time into three brigades, replacing Lt.-Col. Alston with Col. D. Howard Smith as commander of the Second Brigade. Lt.-Col. Alston was re-assigned to a command of dismounted men in the Third Brigade under Col. Robert Martin. On May 31, Morgan led his men westward from Abingdon, bound for Pound Gap and Kentucky.
depredation of mt. sterling
Morgan’s Brigades entered Mt. Sterling on June 8 after a short engagement with a Federal garrison there. Once in the town, the men of Giltner’s 4th Kentucky went wild in the streets, looting stores and homes of food, clothing, and valuables. At one point, citizens notified General Morgan that his men had also robbed the local bank of their personal funds. Furious at hearing this, Morgan demanded that those responsible be found and brought forth. However, the men who had robbed the bank deserted the command with the $72,000 they had stolen. Considering the time that a proper investigation would have taken, and anxious to see Hopemont again, Morgan ordered the columns forward to Lexington.
last visit to hopemont
Arriving in Lexington after dark on June 9, the cavalry seized Federal outposts and garrisons within the city. While General Morgan visited Hopemont for the last time, his men set fire to military warehouses and the depot in the town. tables were raided and the badly needed horses were confiscated. By the time they were ready to leave Lexington on June 10, all of the men of Morgan’s command were mounted on the finest horses of the bluegrass, many of which were thoroughbreds. They then traveled to Cynthiana to secure an escape route to eastern Kentucky, knowing that Federal forces were in pursuit.
second battle of cynthiana
was defended by the 168th Ohio Infantry under the command of Col. Conrad Garis,
and a garrison of Harrison County Home Guards under Col. George Berry.
Morgan divided his force and surrounded the town prior to his dawn attack
on June 11th. His primary attack
was again at the covered bridge, as it had been in 1862.
Morgan sent Bowles’ 1st Battalion and
Kirkpatrick’s 3rd Battalion forward, while the Cassell’s 2nd Battalion
attacked the right flank. When the outnumbered Federal forces retreated to hide inside buildings in
the town, the Confederates set them ablaze to flush them out.
Approximately 30 buildings were burned before the defenders finally
surrendered. Casualties reported
from this engagement included 10 Federal soldiers killed and 300 captured.
the time that Cynthiana came under attack, another Federal force, the 171st
Ohio, arrived by train. However,
the 171st Ohio, under the command of General Edward Hobson, was forced to
disembark about a mile north of town because the Confederates had burned a
bridge. The Ohioans had initially
intended to support Garis’ command, but arrived too late.
the Confederates learned of the arrival of this force, they met them in line of
battle in a farm pasture on the west side of town. Hobson retreated north to a position where he was enclosed by
a horseshoe-shaped section of the Licking River.
After three hours of fighting, and with his command surrounded, Hobson
surrendered. Casualties reported
from this engagement included 13 Federals killed, 54 wounded, and 700 captured
to be attacked the next morning of June 12 by Gen. Stephen Burbridge, Morgan’s men slept
in line of battle about a mile east of Cynthiana. The line extended from Claysville Pike south across
Millersburg Pike. When Burbridge
arrived from Paris with 2,200 men, he attacked and flanked the Confederates in
an aggressive movement. This
determined assault caused Morgan’s force to fall back, some of it in disarray.
Many Confederates who were attempting to cross the Licking River were
shot down or captured as they scaled the steep banks.
escaped, fighting through squads of cavalry, and made their way down the
Claysville Pike to the safety of Virginia.
Casualties from this engagement included 8 Federals killed, 17 wounded,
and 280 missing. Morgan’s
casualties were listed as 80 killed, 125 wounded, and 450 captured.
dept. of s.w. virginia & e. tennessee
On June 22, the War
Department expanded General Morgan’s military district to include east
Tennessee. The area of
Morgan’s responsibility was relatively quiet during the summer of 1864, with
most military activity being centered around Grant’s illegal siege of
Petersburg, Virginia and Sherman’s unholy drive through Georgia.
survivors from the Kentucky Raid straggled into the Department’s headquarters
at Abingdon, Morgan acquired men from the fragmented brigades of Generals John
C. Vaughn and William “Grumble” Jones.
Even though he commanded fewer than 3,000 men in total, General Morgan
endeavored to build a Division by dividing his force into three sections and
listing them as “Brigades” in the organizational structure.
Major Cassell’s 2nd Battalion, the men of the old 2nd Kentucky,
remained assigned to Smith’s Brigade.
suspension of command
August 30, 1864
the summer, General Morgan suffered much criticism from his officers concerning
his unwillingness to properly investigate the $72,000 bank robbery at Mt.
Sterling on June 8. The frustration
felt by his men at the inaction, coupled with the untimely personnel transfers
for many of the witnesses, prompted Lt-Col. Alston and others to submit charges
to the War Department against the General.
Rather than defending himself by explaining his decisions, Morgan
compounded the suspicions of his complicity in the robbery (some believed he may
have personally ordered the crime) by continuing his unconcerned attitude.
This only encouraged his old enemies in Richmond, including General
Braxton Bragg, who wished to finally bring the exalted cavalry chieftain to
August 30, General Morgan was suspended from command by the War Department,
which also ordered a court of inquiry to convene in Abingdon on September 10 for
the purpose of hearing all the charges. One
the same day, Brigadier-General John C. Echols was assigned to replace Morgan in
command of the Military Department of S.W. Virginia & E. Tennessee.
return of colonel basil duke
General Echols could arrive to take command, reports were received of enemy
movements threatening the Department’s southwestern defenses at Bull’s Gap. Decisively, Morgan ordered the command to saddle and move
toward the threat in eastern Tennessee. If
General Echols did not arrive in time to relieve him, Morgan would join his men
Only hours before Morgan’s departure on a train bound for Jonesboro, Tennessee to join his men, Colonel Basil Duke arrived in Abingdon. Incarcerated since his capture at Buffington Island in July, 1863, he had been unexpectedly exchanged weeks earlier at Charleston, South Carolina. Colonel Duke had spent over a year in captivity at the Ohio State Penitentiary and at Camp Johnson military prison in Maryland. Even though Duke wished to accompany the men on their march to Tennessee, Morgan ordered his brother-in-law to stay in Abingdon with his wife, Henrietta, who was Morgan’s sister.
the murder of general morgan
Morgan’s train arrived in Jonesboro on September 2, the General joined his men
south of town. His 1600-man force
consisted of Colonel Giltner’s 4th Kentucky Regiment, Vaughn’s Tennessee
Brigade under Col. William Bradford, and Col. Smith’s Battalions.
The 2nd Battalion was commanded by Capt. James E. Cantrill.
September 3, Morgan and his men arrived in Greeneville, Tennessee. With
an ominous storm approaching out of the mountains, he established his
headquarters at the largest home in town –
the Williams House –
before disposing his forces to cover every route. He placed a battery of artillery on a hill overlooking the
town, posted Giltner to the northwest, Smith to the southwest, and Bradford at a
fork of the Newport and Warrensburg pikes.
night, Morgan and his staff enjoyed a warm fireside inside the Williams
House while the rest of the cavalry were enduring a hard night of high winds and
torrential rain. Although
Morgan’s staff – Majors Harry Clay, C. W. Gassett, and Charles
Withers – were in good spirits, the General was stoic and reflective before
The next morning, all in the Williams House were awakened by the sounds of gunfire nearing the town. Federal cavalry was overrunning the pickets, which Morgan had so carefully posted the day before. At the sound of the gunfire, Morgan and his staff immediately arose and dashed for their horses, which were stabled across the street. They had arisen so quickly that they hardly had time to dress. General Morgan had donned only his trousers and boots and was still wearing a nightshirt when he attempted his escape.
The Williams House
the street filling quickly with Federal cavalry, it became apparent to the men
that they would be unable to reach the stable.
While Confederate pickets were engaging the enemy, Morgan and his staff ran to a nearby church for concealment.
However, they were soon discovered and a decision had to be made by the
unarmed men inside. Major Withers
chose to surrender, but Major Gassett and General Morgan chose to run.
Major Gasset escaped, but General John Hunt Morgan, the legendary
“Thunderbolt of the Confederacy” and founder of the Lexington
Rifles, was shot in the back and killed.
The cowardly murderer who claimed to have killed General
Morgan was a former Confederate turned traitor riding as a member of the abolitionist
13th Tennessee Cavalry.
his death, and in violation of military protocol and the laws of human decency,
General Morgan’s body was unceremoniously laid over a Yankee’s saddle and
disrespectfully carried off as a war prize to the Federal commander, General
Alvin Gillem. After Morgan's identity was confirmed, his body was returned to the Williams House to be
prepared for burial. A few hours later, the General's body was recovered by men of his
command and laid in a coffin for transport by wagon back to Rheatown.
reorganization of the command
Following the attack on Greeneville, Colonels Smith, Giltner, and Bradford ordered a withdrawal to Rheatown, where General Morgan’s body was taken. When the news of Morgan’s fate was learned, a shadow of stunned disbelief came over the men who had followed him on his many wartime exploits and adventures. They could hardly believe that he was gone. Even so, the men knew the war would continue and it was for them to look forward to a new leader. Into this void came the timely exchange of Basil Duke, and upon hearing the sad news, he traveled to Jonesboro to be with Morgan's men. At Jonesboro, Colonel Smith graciously relinquished the last remnants of Morgan’s cavalry to Duke's command. This amounted to fewer than 300 men who were in a poor state of readiness. With Duke’s presence, however, the spirits of the men improved; one trooper writing:
heard this morning that Colonel Duke is in command.
If so, we are all alright.”
Late in September, Colonel Duke was promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General, with Lt-Col. James Bowles receiving his promotion to full Colonel. By October, General Echols, commander of the Military Dept. of S.W. Virginia & E. Tennessee, consolidated many of Morgan’s former units and reorganized the remnants for maximum efficiency. General Duke was given command of a Brigade of three Battalions. The men of the old 2nd Kentucky were again placed under the command of Major Thomas Webber and were designated as the 4th Kentucky Special Cavalry Battalion, even though they privately referred to themselves as the 2nd Kentucky.
defense of the mines
By November, General Duke’s Brigade consisted of 578 officers and men who were ready and willing to march into east Tennessee to counter Federal movements threatening the lead and salt mines in southwest Virginia. Duke moved the Brigade southwest from his headquarters at Abingdon to engage the enemy at Bull’s Gap, where on November 13 he conducted a night attack in the rugged, mountainous terrain of Tennessee. Duke’s Brigade managed to capture 300 prisoners along with artillery, a wagon train, an ambulance, and much needed medical supplies. However, this was at an expense which the Confederacy could ill afford. Many men were lost who were irreplaceable at this late stage of the war. Major Webber, alone, lost half of the 28 men whom he led in a charge.
Following this successful first engagement as a commanding General, Duke ordered a return to his headquarters in Virginia, where they spent much of their time during December fighting off enemy patrols in the vicinity of the lead and salt mines. On December 21, Federal forces under the command of General Stephen Burbridge, who had been Morgan's opponent at Cynthiana in June, succeeded in breaking through Confederate defensive lines. The attack upon the salt mines at Saltville, Virginia resulted in much destruction before Duke could reinforce its defenders. Duke’s Brigade drove back the attack and pursued Burbridge back through the mountains to Kentucky.
Choose from the following hyperlinks to view the illustrated unit history.