“I was at work that morning. Someone came riding like mad
Over the bridge and up the road—Farmer Rouf’s little lad.
Bareback he rode; he had no hat; he hardly stopped to say,
“Morgan’s men are coming, Frau, they’re galloping on this way.”[i]
Why was it taking so long for Morgan’s Raiders to reach Buffington Island? Why did it seem to take several hours, sometimes more than a day, for the column to pass a town? There are multiple reasons which, when viewed in combination, explain the impeded pace of Morgan’s Men as they crossed southern Ohio.
The Ohio militia, aided by able bodied citizens, were blocking roads with fallen trees and removing planking from bridges. This meant that the Raiders would have lost time at each instance they were forced to clear roads, ford a river, or splash through a stream. Futhermore, the Raiders were forced to carry axes to chop through the barricades erected in the roadways.
“July 17. Today we find our road badly blocked and “axes to the front” is now the common command. We have today passed through many little Dutch towns with which this country abounds. Tonight we halt near Pomeroy. The enemy are in considerable force in front. We attacked them and drove them from our front, and then moved rapidly in the direction of Buffington, where we intend to cross.”
~ Lt. Col. James B. McCreary, 11th Kentucky Cavalry CSA[ii]
As the men were traveling by horseback, the progress they could make each day was far slower than that of a modern unit traveling in motorized transport vehicles.
“It was thought best to vary the rate of march during a raid, whenever possible, to relieve the tedium occasioned by a sustained gait. Often the canter was temporarily substituted for the predominating gait, the trot, and sometimes a limited gallop would be employed for short periods. The minimal rate of travel over most terrain was slightly less than three miles per hour; any slower speed, except when riding over rough and broken land, was considered undesirable.
Usually the raiding column would halt for a ten-minute rest period every hour or two, with stops coming more frequently in unfavorable weather (unless, of course, the raiders were being closely pursued by enemy forces). Longer halts for midday and late afternoon meals were dictated by circumstances. The horsemen encamped for at least a portion of the night, for it was difficult if not impossible to sustain, a cohesive movement in total darkness.”[iii]
Skirmishes and bushwhackers also hindered the progress of the Raiders. As the Raiders became concerned that every thicket and fence row might hide armed men, progress was slowed by wariness.
“Although extreme danger seldom materialized, cavalrymen in unfriendly territory could never be certain that a bushwhacker was not hiding behind the nearest tree, with his rifle cocked and aimed. To combat all of these hardships, a raider needed an enduring spirit, a high degree of adaptability, implicit faith in his commander's judgment, and, ideally, a professional soldier's stoicism.”[iv]
Morgan’s Advance Guards were occasionally able to fool Ohio Militia members into the believing that the Raider’s members of the Union cavalry. However, on July 17, 1863 there were skirmishes at Berlin, Centreville, and Hamden.
“We rode along near the railroad for some distance. It was lined with burning cord wood. All the cowgaps and bridges were burning also. We got in advance but not without raising a terrible dust, and incurring the displeasure of acting Brigadier General Basil Duke. We came to a halt near a little town on a branch of the Cincinnati and Marietta railroad. We dismounted to fight. Our advance vidette Thomas Murphy had been dangerously wounded by a shot from some bushwhackers as soon as he entered town. In counting off I came out number three. Our boys deployed forward. A piece of artillery came to the front. We took the horses in the woods on our left. We saw some home guards in a point of woods. Three or four shells was thrown at them, but the order was countermanded. We moved through the town without further trouble.”
~Curtis R. Burke, 14th Kentucky Calvary, Co. B[v]
“Cincinnati, July 17, 1863
Capt. A. A. Hunter, Gallipolis:
After a skirmish with the militia at Berlin, the enemy have got away on the road to Pomeroy or Buffington. Cannot you send mounted messengers to cross the roads they must take, and order tout the citizens to blockade the roads in their advance? Do this instantly and use every exertion to have Morgan delayed: a very short check will enable our forces to overhaul him. Send copy of this to some reliable persons at Pomeroy, say Major [R. S.]Curtis, formerly of the Second Virginia Cavalry; also a copy to Captain Fitch, of the gunboats. If the citizens will exert themselves, he will be checked long enough to let our men catch him.
J. D. Cox,
“Hamden, July 17, 1863
General: The rebels have made a demonstration against my forces. We have driven them back, killing 2. We hold the roads and heights adjacent. The Second Ohio Volunteer Cavalry passed through Piketon, at 8 o’clock, in pursuit. In one hour I can telegraph [result of] pursuit.
Ben. P. Runkle” [vii]
Berlin, July 17, 1863 – 2 p. m.
The enemy renewed his attack on my front, and in double my numbers, out flanking me on my right and left. They had several pieces of artillery, part rifled; shelled my position, and made demonstration to surround me. After the militia heard the shells and my men had been driven out of town, it was as much as I could do to hold my position, and impossible to take the offensive. I would not move the undrilled militia at all. We detained them over three hours, killed 4, and this was all I could possibly do. The enemy withdrew on the Wilkesville and Pomeroy road. The Second Ohio Cavalry did not arrive. Colonel Gilmore, with 1,000 men, failed to arrive, leaving but 1,500 men. They burned the furnaces. I wait orders.
Ben. P. Runkle,
For the first time, Morgan was conducting warfare outside of the South. He no longer had the advantage of being intimately familiar with the terrain as he had been when conducting raiders into his native Kentucky. Dependence on the reports of his scouts, lack of maps, and being led at times by less than willing local guides slowed the pace of the column.
“Since most of the raiders would he given little or no advance information about the objectives of their operation, they were constantly plagued, to some degree, by uncertainty and doubt.”[ix]
Completely out of contact with Southern leadership in Richmond, Morgan had no official reports of Northern movements and often relied on newspapers for critical information. This heavy reliance on newspaper reports, as in the case of the reports of the depth of the Ohio River, proved disastrous.
“On July 17, The Daily Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the Ohio River was only thirty inches deep at Buffington. Even if a boat was able to make it through, it wouldn’t be able to maneuver too well.”[x]
Conversely, Burnside demanded constant reports from his general and commanders and was not above sending multiple telegraph messages when he felt he wasn’t being provided with the information he craved.
“Cincinnati, July 17, 1863.
Col. August V. Kautz, Commanding Advanced Guard, Piketon:
Colonel Runkle, with 2,000 to 3,000 militia, is at Berlin, about 6 miles northwest of Jackson, and General Judah, with cavalry and artillery, is between Gallipolis and Jackson. Leave message for Colonel Runkle to hurry up.
A. E. Burnside,
“July 17, 1863.
Colonel Runkle, Berlin:
Send messenger and copy of this dispatch back to General Hobson to hurry up and overtake Morgan tonight. If he can get his artillery and 1,500 men up, he can whip him, I think. Judah ought to be on the enemy’s flank by this time. You can join Hobson with any mounted force you have. Morgan ought to be caught.
A. E. Burnside,
Finally, the very nature of the Cavalry column and the large number of men Morgan was traveling with was slowing progress.
“As a rule, the column marched in a particular order.
Scouts, who knew the territory well, rode far in advance of the main body, usually several miles ahead on the ‘point’ of the column. Quite often these men were disguised as civilians or enemy soldiers, which made them liable to execution as spies if unmasked and captured, but usually enabled them to travel in relative safety.Some cavalry leaders preferred to send their scouts into a designated territory a week or more in advance of the raiding force, if such time was available.
Confederate commanders such as John Hunt Morgan often employed this tactic, with gratifying results. These ‘advance men’ would ascertain the state of affairs along the route to be traveled and would report to the main force at prearranged locations, to guide the raiders, at regular intervals, along their way.
Behind the scouts on point came the Advance Guard of the raiding column, which ordinarily consisted of a small band of soldiers, usually one or two companies from a single regiment. The size of the advance guard, which rode perhaps a half mile in front of the main column, would vary according to the extent of the enemy forces liable to be encountered along the way. As with the scouts, the advance guard had to consist of men who knew the lay of the land, who were capable of thinking and acting quickly under pressure, and who could speedily warn the raiding force if any trouble developed at the point. An especially observant officer was needed to take charge of the advance guard.
Following the advance guard came the Main Body of the raiding force. Usually several regiments followed one after another with narrow gaps among them. The commander of the raiding column rode in the midst or to the rear of this body, escorted by aides and couriers.
Any artillery and supply wagons present also traveled in the middle of the column; such a position made them readily available to the commander and also afforded protection to the teamsters and train guards, as well as to the gunners who rode mounted alongside their cannon.
On either side of the main body, usually a mile or less away, rode several companies of Flankers. These soldiers were directed to alert the main force to enemy units moving along perpendicular roads and to curtail stragglers from the main body; they presented the raiding leader with a wide front along which to engage any opponents who might appear ahead.
The Rear Guard, usually several companies from the last regiment in the line of march--covered the route of the entire force. Here, again, an able officer was required to oversee the fulfillment of a number of demanding duties. These included rounding up stragglers, fending off pursuers, and putting finishing touches to the destruction of bridges, rail lines and supply depots that the main column had seized. The rear guard had to be able to move in any and all directions to handle its assigned tasks. Like the point, advance guard, and flankers, the rear guard was changed often to keep such a heavy burden of responsibility from resting too long on the same shoulders.”[xiii]
Unlike most raiders who traveled fast and light, stripped of all but the basic necessities, Morgan was traveling with over 2,000 men and carrying his sick and wounded in buggies and wagons. His men, in turn, had loaded themselves with “the spoils of war” and were carrying items such as bolts of cloth, stockings, and shoes. Morgan had not only broken Bragg’s Order by crossing the Ohio River, he was breaking the general rules for successfully conducting a raid!
The Union troops were quickly closing upon Morgan’s rear, making up time every hour.
“Friday, July 17
Morgan takes the lead. We bring up the rear. Pass through Jaspur, Piketown, Beaverton and camp at Jacksonville. Camp in fair ground. Evening quite cool.”
~ Charles W. Durling, Company G, 45th Ohio Infantry[xiv]
Seemingly headless, the Raiders worried more about mosquitoes and flies than the rapidly advancing Union troops.
“At dawn on the 17th, the raiders entered Jackson and spent a few hours raiding the local shops for needed goods. One item of peculiar interest to the raiders was a mesh, veil-like fabric that they draped over their hats to combat the pesky flies and mosquitoes of summer. As the rebels rode down Broadway and Main Streets, townsfolk said they look like some Arab sultan’s harem.”[xv]
Exhaustion and hunger took their toll upon the saddle weary Raiders.
“ At Piketon and at Jackson, Ohio, the home Guards had delayed Morgan’s advance, and we picked up some of his stragglers, In the literal sense of the word, these men were not stragglers, but were mostly men who were so worn down and utterly exhausted that further effort was impossible. When found, these men were always asleep – not in a gentle doze, but apparently dead. We would have to shake them, and roll them about roughly to awaken them. Often they would reply to questions, but in a dazed sort of a way, and evidently yet asleep. When finally we got them awake, they showed the greatest consternation and alarm, and asked how it all happened, that they could go to sleep among ‘Morgan’s Men’ and wake up to find themselves prisoners in the hands of Hobson’s Union Cavalry. They always wanted to know what had happened in the meantime and what had become of Morgan.”
~Captain Theodore F. Allen, 7th Ohio Cavalry [xvi]
“Friday, July 17, 1863. Weather pleasant. We fed our horses well again, but found little for ourselves. We saddled up and moved on. In an hour or two a detail was made from each section in our company to get something to eat for the men. I was one of the detail. We went ahead to the vidette who would not let us pass so I visited the houses as I came to them in the rear of the vidette. A couple of us went to a house and found no person at home, but a couple of little children. We looked into the cupboard and found some milk and a little bread. Then we got into a large jar of honey and ate as much as we wanted. We saw the lady of the house coming and covered up the honey again. When she came in we asked her to cook some bread for us. She willingly went to work saying she was a butternut or a copperhead as the abolitionists called them. The command had nearly all passed and my bread was just put in the oven. I told the other fellow that I could not wait for the bread and he agreed to wait for it. I caught up with my regiment just before entering Jackson, Ohio. We halted awhile in town I made my report with a hand full of bread. Some got more and others none.”
~Curtis R. Burke, 14th Kentucky Calvary, Co. B[xvii]
Once more, Morgan made at attempt at misdirection, splitting his force. One group moved toward Wilkesville and the other toward Vinton. Crossing the Ohio River was still his foremost goal. Morgan, relying on newspaper reports, was unaware that the Ohio River was rising. Heavy rains in the West Virginia mountains had caused the Ohio River to reach almost six feet in the area of Buffington Island.[xviii] At this depth it would be impossible to move wagons and artillery across the river without the aid of a ferry.
Meanwhile, both Northern and Southern citizens called for reports of Morgan’s Men. Even the “New York Times” covered Morgan’s movements.
“MORGAN’S GREAT RAID
He is Moving Eastward –Cincinnati to be Released from Martial Law
Cincinnati, Wednesday, July 15
Morgan’s rebel forces this afternoon were within twelve miles of Hillsboro, Highland County, Ohio. He is supposed to be moving eastward.
This city will be released from martial law tomorrow.”
~"The New York Times”, July 17, 1863
As Morgan moved eastward, feelings of uneasiness were spreading among his men.
“Soon after[we passed] the houses of some butternut citizens who gave as all the milk, bread, butter, etc. they could raise. They were in favor of Vallandingham for their next governor. The horse pressing detail was still attending to business. We halted an hour before sun down and camped in a lot on the right side near a stable and house. The people had run off and left the house. We found plenty of corn for our horses. The boys got into the house cleaning it of everything fit to eat. I found a comic picture of Jeff Davis hanging from the gallows. The picture was framed and hanging over the mantel piece of the sitting room. One of the boys found a picture of Abe Lincoln in a magazine and cut it out and pasted it over the picture of Jeff Davis, so as to represent Lincoln hanging instead of Davis. I guess the family raised a howl when they saw it. We made out supper off of milk, bread and preserves. Some of the boys out too far from camp was fired on and six or seven of us took our guns and walked across the field a few hundred yards and seeing some citizens hailed them. They did not answer but started to run. We fired a shot or two at them and returned to camp. Several of us went to a little branch that run through our camp and took a good wash. We unsaddled and made our beds down on the grass. I was glad that we were going to have a good night’s rest, but something told me that we ought to ride all night, which would take us to the Ohio River and once across we would be safe. Several of the boys remarked that we ought to keep moving although they were in need of rest. Nothing disturbed us during the night, and I slept fine.”
~Curtis R. Burke, 14th Kentucky Calvary, Co. B[xix]
“ Camp Marietta, July 17, 1863.
I have sent about 200 infantry, two pieces of artillery, and 50 mounted scouts to guard the ford at Buffington Island; also 145 infantry, to guard the boats at Mason City. I am about to forward 750 infantry toward Chillicothe, to assist our forces in that direction.
W. R. Putnam,
Colonel, Commanding Post.”[xx]
[i] Constance Fenimore Woolson, “Kentucky Belle.”
[ii] Diary of James B. McCreary.
[iii] Longacre, Edward G. “Mounted Raids of the Civil War” Introduction.
[iv] Longacre, Edward G. “Mounted Raids of the Civil War” Introduction.
[v] Journal of Curtis R. Burke.
[vi] “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p.765.
[vii] “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p.766.
[viii] “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p.767.
[ix] Longacre, Edward G. “Mounted Raids of the Civil War” Introduction.
[x] Lester V. Horwitz, “The longest Raid of the Civil War,” Chap. 28, p 159.
[xi] “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p.764.
[xii] “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p.767.
[xiii] Longacre, Edward G. “Mounted Raids of the Civil War” Introduction.
[xiv] Diary of Charles W. Durling.
[xv] Murray, Jim. “ John Hunt Morgan Visited Southern Ohio in 1863,” The Southern Ohio Traveler, May 1995.
[xvi] Allen, Theodore F. “In Pursuit of John Morgan,” Sketches of War History 1861-1865, Papers prepared for the Commandery of the Sate of Ohio, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States 1896 -1903, p. 233.
[xvii] Journal of Curtis R. Burke.
[xviii] Smith, Myron J. “Gunboats at Buffington, West Virginia History,” Vol. XLIV, No 2, p. 105.
[xix] Journal of Curtis R. Burke.
[xx] “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p.766.