As Morgan’s men drew nearer the Ohio River, a change in attitude swept over the ranks. Hunger, exhaustion, and the anticipation of returning home mingled with the uneasy fears that the Union troops were still all too close and that the next bullet fired by a bushwhacker or Ohio militia member might not miss.
“Athens, [July 18, 1863.]
I have obtained the following from the military committee:
We sent out yesterday at 4 p.m. 100 men with axes, under Lieutenant Long, Seventh Ohio Cavalry, with 50 scouts, to impede Morgan’s progress; also 250 armed men from our county to their support. We have had dispatches from our front this fore-noon, saying that Morgan was moving on line of road through Rutland to Pomeroy. Our forces expected that they would move to get on his front in case he moved to go up river. Colonel Gilmore’s forces moved from here this morning at 3 a. m. on the line of our force. Will have 50 mounted men here waiting our orders, and we are all the time at our headquarters, and will forward any dispatches you may wish to any point desired.
M. M. Greene,
Chairman Athens County Military Committee.”[i]
The morale of the Raiders had faded. Only the promise of returning to the South propelled them onward toward the river.
“There is a land where cotton grows,
A land where milk and honey flows,
I'm going home to Dixie; Yes; I am going home
I've got no time to tarry, I've got no time to stay,
'Tis a rocky road to travel, to Dixie far away.
I've got no time to tarry, I've got no time to stay,
'Tis a rocky road to travel, to Dixie far away.”[ii]
At every possible location, the Ohio militia had blocked the roads with fallen trees and destroyed bridges. Thus, the engineers among the Raiders, known as sappers and miners, found themselves in constant demand.
Saturday, July 18th, 1863. Weather pleasant. We fed our horses well and saddled up. We moved early passing through the little village of D. where we saw a company of sappers and miners from our command with axes and shovels. The planks had been removed from the floor of a little bridge in the village by some home guards and hid so we had to go some distance to get by. We rode lively till about twelve o’clock when we came to a place in the road that was blockaded with trees cut across the road which brought us to a halt.”
~Curtis R. Burke, 14th Kentucky Calvary, Co. B [iii]
Burnside was pushing harder than ever for Morgan’s capture. Constantly pestering his field commanders by telegraph, he obsessively “micromanaged.”
“Cincinnati, July 18, 1863.
Captain Barringer, Parkersburg:
Keep the boats on your side of the river, and let nothing pass below for the present. Send messenger to Conine, asking him to scour the country well, and urge the blockading of the roads from Big Hocking to Athens. Will telegraph Colonel Wallace.
A. E. Burnside,
“July 18, 1863.
Commanding Officer or Operator at Hamden:
Send following dispatch to General Hobson by swift courier:
Push your command to the utmost of its capacity. If you can overtake Morgan with half your force, I am satisfied you can whip him. Judah ought to have been in front of Morgan, but stopped at Centreville last night. Left there this morning at 5 in pursuit. Send message by this courier.
A. E. Burnside,
P. S. General Hobson no doubt passed through Jackson this morning.”[v]
“Cincinnati, July 18, 1863.
General Manson: Portsmouth:
Have any of your command gone up the river? Am I to understand that Judah was at Centreville last night with his whole force, and was to leave there this morning at 5? Did you leave any of your command with him? Telegraph all you know of the position of the enemy. It was reported at Pomeroy that he was at Rutland at 2 this morning.
A. E. Burnside,
Union troops advanced on the Raiders from the west and south.
“Saturday, July 18 .
John said to be moving towards Gallipolis. Feed at Keystone furnace. Travel all night till broad day light and passed through Manchester, Vinton, Winchester, Rutland & Chester.”
~ Charles W. Durling, Company G, 45th Ohio Infantry[vii]
“Gallipolis, July 18, 1863.
A part of Morgan’s forces camped 15 miles from here last night. He is supposed to be in neighborhood of Pomeroy. General Scammon, with a portion of his command, left here early this morning. Three gunboats above. Re-enforcements, infantry and artillery, en route from the Kanawha. I can hold this place. Hobson and Judah about 10 miles behind Morgan. He will likely be surrounded tomorrow, if line is closed between Hamden and Athens.
A. A. Hunter,
Captain, Commanding Post.
Pomeroy, July 18, 1863
I marched all night from Portsmouth, and continued to Centreville yesterday. Morgan’s Advance got to within 4 miles of me ignorantly, then fell back, and made for Keystone Furnace, Rutland, and Chester. I pushed on to this place, 30 miles, where I arrived two hours since. Hobson is on this side of Rutland. All information assures me that Morgan passed Chester some three hours since, for Buffington Island. So certain, that I sent word to Hobson to push on all that can keep up in track of enemy, via Chester. I move in less than one hour to Buffington, via Racine, my best road. Moving thus, Morgan is in a trap, from which he can’t escape. I think I will be able to telegraph you his defeat tomorrow morning, should he have taken the route I am almost certain he has. A prisoner, who has been with Morgan all day, and released and came on foot from Chester, tells me that Morgan thinks Hobson has given out and given up pursuit. He does not know my position. He thinks he can manage the gunboats with his 10-pounder pieces. Scammon has gone from here to Buffington. I have sent boat to Gallipolis for rations for Hobson and myself.
H. M. Judah,
Gunboats and Union transports plied the Ohio River delivering troops and supplies.
“Parkersburg, July 18, 1863.
One of my messengers just in, and reports Morgan at Chester, 26 miles from here, and 5 miles from Pomeroy, at 4 p.m. Four hundred militia went down to Buffington, with artillery, yesterday. Lieutenant Conine is at Little Hocking Bridge, with 1,200 men. I have no steamboat; expecting one down hourly, from Pittsburg, drawing 30 inches, The ferry-boat, drawing 26 inches, is at Blennerhassett’s Island, helping off steamer Eagle, which draws 36 inches. Stores all in Parkersburg, on Virginia side. Can use floats, if necessary, to help artillery or men.
A. V. Barringer,
Captain, and Commissary of Subsistence.”[ix]
Yet, Morgan seemed almost cavalier and completely heedless to the difficulties laying before him. Alas, crossing the Ohio into West Virginia would prove to be a far more difficult matter than simply splashing across a shallow ford.
Early on the morning of July 18th, the Raiders regrouped at Pomeroy. The area swarmed with Union troops and local militia.
“In passing near Pomeroy, there was one continual fight, but, now not with the militia only, for some regular troops made their appearance and took part in the programme. Colonel Grigsby took the lead with the Sixth Kentucky, and dashed through at a gallop, halting when fired on, dismounting his men and dislodging the enemy, and again resuming his rapid march. Major Webber Brought up the rear of the division and held back the enemy, who closed eagerly upon our track.”
~ Brigadier-General Basil Duke[x]
“General John Hunt Morgan led a force of 2,000 Confederate cavalrymen into Meigs County on July 18, 1863, during a forty-six day raid north of the Ohio River. After a skirmish with the 23rd Ohio Infantry, the Confederates paused to drink and replenish their canteens with cool spring water found in Rocksprings. Nearby, Isaac Carleton, a Meigs County native, was shot and wounded by a Confederate soldier.”[xi]
Finding the Ohio River swollen by recent rainfall to the north, the Raiders discovered it would not be possible to cross the river, normally shallow at this time of year, without a ferry or boat. They were forced to keep moving down a narrow canyon with Union troops firing at them from both sides.
"Every bridge had been destroyed, and at every pass and ravine the road was blockaded and defended by troops in concealment. A large number of 'blockaders' were captured and compelled to clear away the obstructions that many of them had assisted in making. Poor fellows, they felt their time had come, so badly were they frightened. Oftentimes the boys would dismount, and go in pursuit of these bushwhackers and command them to halt, but on they ran....never stopping until the boys laid violent hands upon them, holding them fast by main force. Even then they would strive hard to get away, just as some wild animals would do."
~ Lieutenant Peddicord
“We were within a few miles of Pomeroy, O. on the Ohio River where we intended going. The blockade was in a place where the road run between hills, besides it was defended by a strong force of home guards and bushwhackers to prevent our clearing away the obstructions. While we were waiting orders a lot of us went to a large white house on our right and got as much milk, bread, preserves, molasses, honey, etc. as we could eat and took some to the balance of the boys. The people had run off from home. Where people stayed at home and behaved themselves we did not disturb the house, but where people run away from home we rated them as home guards or bushwhackers, and took everything in the way of something to eat in the house. We waited about an hour and finding that we would lose too much time in clearing out the obstructions we turned back nearly a mile and took a road to our tight. The road was in a bottom or valley following the course of a branch [creek]. As usual the dust flew in clouds. We did not go far before the advance guard was stopped by a volley from home guards on a high bluff of rocks in a fork in the road. A ridge on our left sheltered us. We dismounted to fight. The enemy’s firing sounded as if it was nearing the fence on top of the ridge. So we hurried up to get the fence first. On reaching the fence we were surprised to find a deep wide valley with the left fork of the road between us and the enemy. We were ordered not to waste our ammunition as they were too far off to do any execution. Their spent balls passed over us once in a while. We fired a shot a piece at them to get the old loads out and load fresh again. Co. C and D. with assistance of [Colonel Adam “Stovepipe”] Johnson’s regiment dismounted and took up the hill on the right and flanked the party at the bluff driving them off. The right hand fork of the road led to the river but it was strongly blockaded. I could see the black clouds of smoke rising from the gunboats and transports on the other side of the hills in front of us. I was surprised to find that we were so close to the river. We mounted our horses and took the left fork about five hundred yards and dismounted to fight again. We nearly reached the enemy’s old position on the bluff when we were ordered back to our horses, the firing had ceased and we moved on the road still following the course of the branch with high hills and ridges on either side. The road was of gravel and a very good one. The rumor was that we were going some distance up the river to cross into Virginia. I began to wish that Gen. Morgan would take us to the river so high up that the gunboats could not get at us. We were bothered a great deal by the bushwhackers firing on us from the hills. In several places I saw them walking leisurely along firing and loading. I heard of several persons being wounded by them. We came to a place where the bridge was destroyed. The planks were taken off and hid and the balance burnt. The branch on both sides of the bridge was filled with fallen trees. The water was two or three feet deep and not running. Our only chance was to fill the branch up and make a solid bridge. Our regiment was dismounted to help the sappers and miners. We carried logs, rails, rocks, and dirt, throwing them in the branch till the pile was well out of the water then took the planks of the old bridge and made a good floor on ours. We cut the bank a little and the bridge was completed to the satisfaction of Gen. Morgan who was present. We had worked like Turks making some citizens living near work also. We mounted and moved on. Every mile or so we would come to places where trees were cut across the road. The advance guard would sing out ‘Sappers and miners to the front! Pass it back!” The sappers and miners would pass us in a jump and go clearing the road. We would hardly stop but pick our way around the obstacle and dash ahead to the next blockade. Sometimes the sappers and miners would be called in front before finishing their last job. We made all the citizens we could catch help clear the road. In this way the command did not have to wait. At last we got ahead of the blockades and double quicked five miles to the town of Chester, Ohio. We halted in the street and dismounted to rest. We opened a store and found a lot of provisions cooked in boxes and baskets that had been cooked for home guards who were to collect to blockade the roads, but we made good use of all the good things. I got two hats, a few yards of cotton and calico, a new curry comb and brush, a hand full of nutmegs, and a few other little tricks. The command coming up, we mounted our horses and moved a square down the street and halted a few minutes. One of the boys went into a grocery and brought us out some hard cider. Then we rode hard till dusk when we halted and dismounted to fight. We were told we were within a half mile of the Ohio River. The advance guard went ahead. We received no orders to move forward so we laid around by our horses and all came near going to sleep.”
~Curtis R. Burke, 14th Kentucky Calvary, Co. B [xii]
By late evening, they reached Buffington Island. Morgan’s scouts informed him that it would be too dangerous to attempt a crossing in the darkness as the ford was guarded infantry who had entrenched themselves in an earthworks and installed artillery.
“The General and staff passed us. We mounted our horses and rode quietly down a lane and halted within a hundred yards of the river. We were ordered not to unsaddle or make any noise. We dismounted and sat or lay in the fence corners holding our horses. Everything was quiet except a shot now and then from the advance guard and a scout from the regiment who were after home guards. Three or four squads of prisoners passed us to the rear. A thick fog arose and the night grew very chilly.
~Curtis R. Burke, 14th Kentucky Calvary, Co. B [xiii]
Morgan postponed the crossing until morning, allowing his weary men to rest. His sympathy for the condition of his men exhausted would prove their undoing. Union gunboats were making their way toward Buffington Island.
“From the 9th until the 19th through Indiana and Ohio was almost a continual skirmish day & night with Soldiers, Home Guards, & Citizens. We marched very hard and fast, breaking down our horses and procuring fresh ones. On the night of the 18th of July we reached the Ohio River at Buffington Bar and found a wide, deep and unfordable river, rapidly rising. We could not cross in the Stygian Darkness by which we were surrounded, and sinking down upon its shores, exhausted nature found repose in sleep.”
~ Captain Thomas M. Coombs[xiv]
“Deciding to wait, Morgan ordered Warren Grigsby's 6th Kentucky, D. Howard Smith's 5th Kentucky, and Captain Byrne's battery to approach within four hundred yards of the earthwork. At the first light of dawn these units were to storm the Yankee defenders. In the meantime scouts moved out in both directions along the river, searching for other possible fords. One of these parties found a number of leaky flatboats about a mile and a half upstream, and as best they could in the darkness set about caulking the seams. Junior Officers and sergeants making a hasty check of ammunition supplies found that some men had no more than two or three rounds left. But no one worried too much about that; Virginia and safety lay across the ford.
Here and there musicians with guitars, banjos, and fiddles - confiscated from luckless Ohio merchants along the way - began playing sentimental tunes. In the darkness the musicians drew together, and a few of the boys came to listen. Soon they were singing and playing "My Old Kentucky Home," then "Juanita," and "The Hills of Tennessee." To show off his dexterity a fiddler played a fast version of "The Arkansas Traveler," and some of the listeners tried to dance a mock reel on the wet stubble of the wheat field in which they were camped.”[xv]
Morgan slept comfortably that night, secure in the belief that the greatest risks were behind him. He was confident that his scouts had, in pre-raid planning, determined optimal crossing points. So secure was he that no videttes were posted that night.
While the leadership refused to acknowledge it, the average Cavalryman knew the hour for escape was at hand.
“In passing near Pomeroy, Ohio on the 18th of July, we had to fight at every cross road and every joint where the Blue Boys could find a good position to fight us and they were regular, who had come up by boats to Pomeroy from Cincinnati and had come out on every road from Pomeroy to fight us. After passing this the road ran through a deep ravine for 4 or 5 miles. We were fired on from the hills about all the way through. About 1 p. m. we reached Chester where we stopped for about two hours. This stop brought us to the Village of Portland on the Banks of the Ohio; a short distant above Buffington Island about 8 p. m. and the night was very dark and we remained all night holding our horses by the bridle reigns. Sleeping and talking and saying to one another often we would wake up at intervals through the night. That if we stay here until morning we will be surrounded and many of us will be captured.”
~ John Weatherred, 9th Tennessee Cavalry [xvi]
“ I was detailed about midnight with nine others under Lieut. [K. F.] Peddicord to cross the river in a couple of skiffs, and hunt for boats to cross the command in. We went to the river and the fog was so thick that we could not see ten feet in front of us. We could not see how wide the river was or anything about it. We had a citizen with us but he did not give us any information that was satisfactory. We stumbled around there for awhile and the Lieut. Postponed the project till day light. We were chilled through. I could hardly have put a cap on my gun, and we were glad to return to our horses. The boys made a few small rail fires, but were soon ordered to put them out for fear that the Yanks would see them and send a gun boat up and shell us. We could hear the boats puffing away on the river below us. I laid three rails near a deadened fire and slept about ten minutes."
~Curtis R. Burke, 14th Kentucky Calvary, Co. B [xvii]
[i] “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p. 769.
[ii] Emmett, Daniel Decatur and Grafulla, C. S. "I'm Going Home to Dixie."
[iii] Journal of Curtis R. Burke.
[iv] “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p. 769.
[v]“ Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p. 770.
[vi]“ Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p. 771.
[vii] Diary of Charles W. Durling.
[viii] “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p. 770.
[ix] “ Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p. 769.
[x] Duke, Basil W. “History of Morgan’s Cavalry,” 1867, pages 445-446.
[xi] Marker #6-53: Morgan's Raid Route, Ohio Historical Society.
[xii] Journal of Curtis R. Burke.
[xiii] Journal of Curtis R. Burke.
[xiv] The Diary of Captain Thomas M. Combs.
[xv]“ Morgan, the Hope of the West: Jackson to Buffington Island” http://www.civilwarhistory.com/Morgan/mogam.htm
[xvi] The Wartime Diary of John Weatherred.
[xvii] Journal of Curtis R. Burke.