Thursday, October 30, 2008

Partisan Rangers

April 21, 1862

Jefferson Davis approved an act to authorize commissioned officers to form bands of Partisan Rangers.

As these groups practiced “hit and run” guerilla warfare, one could envision the roving bands of Partisan Rangers as somewhat akin to the Privateers sanctioned by the British Throne to harass the Spanish Armada during the 16th Century.

Stealthy bands of Partisan Rangers began to pillage areas in which Union troops sought to obtain food and horses. Emboldened by their success, they looted supply depots delightedly distributing captured stores of Federal food and materials to thankful Confederate troops. Occasionally, Partisan Rangers harassed or directly engaged the Union troops. When the action grew too dangerous, the Partisan Rangers mysteriously disappeared into the countryside with the aide of sympathetic civilians. Thus, Partisan Rangers proved an asset to the Confederacy as they diverted the attention and manpower of Union troops from their primary goal of fighting Confederate troops.

John Hunt Morgan, an experienced Mexican War veteran who had organized the escape of the Lexington Rifles from Kentucky, seized the opportunity to regroup his men and organize them into a Partisan Ranger band. Morgan much preferred the freedom of leading his own missions to the stifling boredom of taking his orders from superiors.

“The raiders who joined John Hunt Morgan in Kentucky at the beginning of the war belonged to the aristocracy. They descended from planters who had originally settled Virginia and North Carolina and now had created a new nobility in the Bluegrass state. Four years before the war they became known as the Lexington Rifles. At the start of the war they were sworn into the Confederate army as the First Kentucky Cavalry.” [i]

Meanwhile, average soldiers of both North and South were painfully discovering that the reality of war was far from the excitement promised by propaganda campaigns and veteran’s tales. Soldier's life was far from the romantic adventure many young volunteers had expected. When they weren't marching along dusty roads, sloughing through ankle-deep mud, suffering in sweltering heat of summer, or freezing in the snow storms of winter, they endured the tedium of camp life: continuous drilling, digging ditches, cutting wood, building shelter, and eternally foraging for sufficient food.

“April 1862, Cumberland River
Where is all that romance in camp life that you read about in so many novels...But where, where, is the romance, the pleasure of war? You can put it all in your eye."

~ Stephen Keyes Fletcher, 33rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry

July 8, 1862

John Hunt Morgan launched his first raid into Kentucky leaving a wake of burnt railroad trestles, cut telegraph wires, and ruined Union supplies.

“Morgan’s men believed in something that they risked their lives for. It was a heritage of courage, dedication, perseverance, self-sacrifice, and love of country, as they saw it.”
~ Sam Flora, President of the Morgan’s Men Association

Tales of Morgan’s adherence to the code of chivalry and gallant conduct during the raids captured the imagination of the Southern citizenry. Morgan enhanced the myth himself in letters to his friends.

“I was amused at the Yankee ladies. Poor things, they were going down to Nashville to see their friends. They crowded round me crying: ‘Oh, Capt. Morgan what are you going to do with our trunks? What are you going to do with us?’ I give you my word Mrs. French – the trunks came first. They doubtless had in them some of those three story Yankee Bonnets to astonish Nashville with.

One pretty girl – she had been only lately married – her husband was with her – a Federal officer in poor health – this pretty girl grasped my hand in both her’s [sic] sobbing, ‘Oh, Capt. Morgan what will you do with my husband? I could not resist such a sweet face. I said, ‘Madame, I do not know whether I am doing you a kindness or not – but if you desire it – your husband shall accompany you home.’ She kissed my hand and thanked me a thousand times – my hand Mrs. French, that had not been washed for two days – and was as black as it could be besides with firing that train.” [iii]

Newspapers across the county carried tales of Morgan’s exploits. Notoriety pleased Morgan who envisioned himself as a Southern champion.

“When the Civil War broke, Morgan and his ‘terrible men’ were ready. Morgan was a regular officer, and took orders (when he felt like it) from his superiors, but the North persisted in regarding him as an irregular, capable of every atrocity from horse-stealing to killing the wounded. Biographer Swiggett says Morgan obeyed the rules of civilized warfare, but admits his men were fond of ambushing Federal pickets, of suddenly displaying a flag of truce to get themselves out of a tight corner. Braxton [Bragg] West Pointer, who was Morgan's nominal commander, disliked him, disapproved of his aims and methods. But Morgan's gallantry and success in raiding through Kentucky and Ohio soon made him a bogeyman to the North, a hero to the South. One of his tricks was to capture a telegraph station, send fake messages to foil the enemy. Once he wired to his disgruntled pursuer: "Good morning, Jerry! This telegraph is a great institution. You should destroy it as it keeps me too well posted.”[iv]

The heat of the summer was playing havoc with both armies. One of Morgan’s great assets was having men within the unit who personally knew the land, the waterways, and the location of hidden springs.

"During the summer of 1862, Kentucky was going through one of its worst droughts ever. Both armies were looking for water sources.”[v]

July 16, 1862

"Lexington and Frankfurt ... are garrisoned with Home Guard. The bridges between Cincinnati and Lexington have been destroyed. The whole country can be secured and 25,000 to 30,000 men with join you at once.”
~ John Hunt Morgan’s Telegraph Message to General Edmond Kirby Smith

John Hunt Morgan reported to General Edmond Kirby Smith that 25,000 to 30,000 Kentuckians were prepared to join the Confederate forces.[vi] This report appears to have been one of Morgan’s many exaggerations to his superiors. The Achilles’ heel of Morgan’s leadership was his own unrestrained personality. His egotism, over confidence, and shameless ambitions would lead the Kentucky Cavalry to disaster time and time again.

Disaster in battle was becoming well known throughout the Confederacy. Southern ministers began to refer to casualties and defeats as a requisite “Baptism in Blood.”

"All nations which come into existence at this late period of the world must be born amid the storm of revolution and must win their way to a place in history through the baptism of blood."
~ Episcopal Bishop Stephen Elliot

July 22, 1862

The Dix-Hill Cartel came into effect. The Union and Confederate governments reached agreement in regard to the exchange prisoners by modeling a plan after an earlier cartel arrangement used between the United States and Great Britain in the War of 1812. Their cartel agreement established a scale of equivalents to manage the exchange of military officers and enlisted personnel. For example, a naval captain or a colonel in the army would exchange for fifteen privates or common seamen, while personnel of equal ranks would transfer man for man.

Meanwhile, John Hunt Morgan campagianed his superiors for a full scale invasion of Kentucky, promising the support of the citizenry and thousands of eager volunteers.

“The feeling in Middle Tennessee and Kentucky is represented by Forrest and Morgan to have become intensely hostile to the enemy, and nothing is wanted but arms and support to bring the people into our ranks, for they have found that neutrality has afforded them no protection.”
~ General Bragg, August 1, 1862

August, 1862

John Hunt Morgan began a second raid into Kentucky.

“I, in my justifiable attacks on Federal troops and Federal property, have always respected private property and persons of union men. I do hereby declare that, to protect Southern citizens and their rights, I will henceforth put the law of retaliation into full force, and act upon it with vigor. For every dollar exacted from my fellow-citizens, I will have two from all men of known Union sentiments, and will make their persons and property responsible for its payment. God knows it was my earnest wish to have conducted this war according to the dictates of my heart, and consonant to those feelings which actuate every honorable mind, but forced by the vindictive and iniquitous proceedings of our Northern foes to follow their example in order to induce them to return to humane conduct, I will for the future imitate them in their exactions, retaliate upon them and theirs the cruelties and oppressions with which my friends are visited, and continue this course until our enemies consent to make war according to the law of nations.”
~John Hunt Morgan, The Vidette, August 19, 1862

August 14, 1862

Heeding Morgan, Confederate Generals Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith invaded Kentucky.

“The extraordinary sight of 1,000 cavalrymen as they roared into tiny Scottsville, Kentucky was enough to convince young Isaac N. Hunt to join Morgan’s Raiders. After an impassioned speech by Gen. John Hunt Morgan at the Scottsville Hotel, Hunt joined up. Convinced of the sincerity of Morgan’s message that the men of Kentucky should join the Confederate cause, Hunt left his family home and rode off. As a private in Company C, 3rd Kentucky Cavalry, the teenager fought for more than one year until he was captured and sent to Camp Douglas.” [vii]

“Bragg was a poor choice [to command the Army of Tennessee], said critics of [Jefferson] Davis. Davis sent him to the Army of Tennessee because he was an old friend, and the President had faith in his abilities. He was no commander, even though he seems to have been a good organizer. But Bragg, to Davis’ way of thinking, was the best man he had for the Tennessee assignment.”[viii]

August 16, 1862

Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin resigned from office and was replaced by James F. Robinson. Robinson served out the remainder of Magoffin's term of office.

Kentucky swarmed with invading soldiers.

“Then there were days when a cluster of tents was pitched in a nearby field, and everyone moved heaven and earth to take these gray clad men all the food and clothing that could possibly be spared from our own scanty store, for these were ‘our boys’; our own ‘Johnny Rebs,’ and we'd all gladly go hungry and cold to aid them. We were ready to live and die for Dixie.”
~ Ella Johnson

“They are having a stampede in Kentucky. Please look into it.”
~ Telegraph from President Abraham Lincoln to Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck

August 29 - 30, 1862

The Battle of Richmond, Kentucky was fought in three phases. Union forces under General William B. Nelson suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of Confederate General Edmond Kirby Smith and were forced to retreat in chaos and disarray. Approximately 4,000 of the retreating men were taken prisoner.[x]

“Of the 6,500 Union troops who went into battle, some 4,300 were taken prisoner and more than 1,000 were either killed or wounded. The Confederates, who were some 6,600 strong, lost only 128 men -- 118 who were killed and 10 listed as missing in action.

The battle was fought in three phases -- at Kingston, Duncannon Lane and in the Richmond Cemetery -- during a time when Madison County was in the throes of a severe drought. The temperature was some 96-100 degrees in the shade as crops withered in the fields and livestock were short on water all along Old State Road from the southern border of Madison County at Big Hill to the county seat in Richmond.”[xi].

The battle showcased the strength of the Confederate cavalry and opened a pathway north for the Confederate invasion of Kentucky. John Hunt Morgan and his Raiders envisioned this newly opened path as their gateway to greater glory and acclaim.

[i] Thomas, Edison H. "John Hunt Morgan and his Raiders,” Chap. 1 and 2, 2-3, 19-20.
[ii] Fletcher, Stephen Keyes. "The Civil War Journal of Stephen Keyes Fletcher," ed. Perry McCandless, Indiana Magazine of History 54, no. 2 ,June 1958, p.161.
[iii] Ramage, James A., “Rebel Raider” chap. 8, p.86
[iv] Swiggett, Howard, Bobbs, Merrill. “Raider and Terrible Men” Time, August 20, 1934.
[v] Bush, Bryan S. “The Civil War Battles of the Western Theatre” 1998, p. 37.
[vi] Ramage, James A. “Rebel Raider” chap. 11, p. 119.
[vii] Pucci, Kelly “Camp Douglas: Chicago’s Civil War Prison,” 2007 p.84.
[viii] Vandiver, Frank E. “Rebel Brass,” 1956.
[ix] Johnson, Ella. “Grandma Remembers,” 1928.
[x] CWSAC Battle Summaries: Richmond,
[xi] The Battle of Richmond Association. “A Brief History of the Battle: A great Confederate victory”

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