Sunday, December 28, 2008

CROSSING THE OHIO: Brandenburg, Kentucky

The Alice Dean was used to ferry Morgan’s Men across the Ohio River and then set ablaze so that pursuing Union troops would be unable to use it as well.

The USS Elk was sent to stop Morgan from crossing the Ohio River.

"This rebellion will be the ruination of thousands of men. They have become hardened to everything. Neither cares for God nor man and I among the rest but I still feel for my fellow man. I have not forgotten the kind words and sweet invitation that has been offered to me even from my loving wife. Still I have become hardened more than ever I did in my life. Still I am a believer of everything that is good."

~ William S. Craig, 116th Illinois Infantry

On Tuesday, July 7th, Morgan's advance guard, including Captains H. Clay Meriwether and Samuel Taylor, reached Brandenburg, Kentucky on the Ohio River forty miles below Louisville. They first captured the J. T. McCombs when it docked at Brandenburg to deliver mail. The Raiders took control of the steamer with having to fire a shot and brought it to middle of the river where they halted conspicuously. Hoisting a distress signal above the motionless vessel, the Raiders were able to lure in a second steamboat, a brand new passenger boat, the Alice Dean. The two captured steamers were waiting for Morgan’s main column when they arrived at Brandenburg. Stories abound about the capture of the steamers. Tales abound reporting the excellent treatment of the passengers, and the return of their money and personal belongs.

Yet, if Morgan’s men were behaving as ideal models of the romantic Southern Cavalier, their leader was not. In selecting not to halt his column at the Ohio River, John Hunt Morgan deliberately broke Bragg’s orders.

“Go ahead and raid Kentucky. Capture Louisville if you can. But do not, I repeat do not cross the river. Stay in Kentucky. Go anywhere you want in your home state, but I command you to stay south of the river.”

~ General Braxton Bragg’s communication to Morgan

Bragg, greatly dismayed with Morgan, declared,

“Morgan never returned from a raid without his command broken and dissipated, with more lost than gained from the undertaking.”

Morgan’s insatiable ego drove forward without a moments regard to his duty to the Confederacy. Personal greed clouded his reason. Morgan’s foremost goal was to regain the acclaim and attention which had so lavishly been bestowed upon him earlier in the war. So driven was Morgan, that he completely disregarding his superior’s orders and his own men’s reactions to his increasingly reckless behavior.

“I have no quarrel with those people. I am perfectly willing to fight for my home land and my rights, but making war on civilians in the north, I cannot do so.”

~ Private Patton Troutt

Upon reaching Brandenburg, Confederate officers brought three barrels of whiskey out of E. C. Ashcroft’s hotel. Setting the barrels upon the sidewalk, they drank to their success and then allowed the passing soldiers to fill their canteens.[iv]

“When the column reached Brandenburg, early in the morning of July 8, General Morgan was delighted to find two good steamboats lying at the wharf, the transports having been secured by two of his most adventuresome captains, Sam Taylor and Clay Meriwether, who had been sent in advance for that purpose.” [v]

Just after 9:00 A. M., Morgan ordered the first of his regiments to board the steamboats.

Through the dense morning fog, there came a cry from the opposite shore.

“Shut down the steam on the McCombs and send over the steamer Alice Dean or I will blow you to Hades in five minutes.”

~ Colonel John Timberlake, 81st Indiana, calling out from the Indiana side of the Ohio River

“Oh Hell, old man, come over and take a drink.”

~ Morgan’s Raiders on the Kentucky side, still enjoying their whiskey

Timberlake, true to his word, ordered his men to shell the Raiders. The first shot landed amidst a group of men killing one of them. The second struck the McCombs. Captain E. P. Byrne’s Kentucky Battery turned two parrot guns toward the Indiana shore. Their first shot splashed down into the river. The second and third took out a log cabin and scattered the Indiana militia into the wooded hills.[viii]

“Wednesday July 8th, 1863. Weather Cloudy. We fed our horses early and had a slight shower of rain. The bread detail brought in some bread and meat. A shell from the Indiana side of the river passed over out camp and small arms could be heard at the river. We saddled up to shift our position out of range. The lady living next to us was very much scared by the shell and cried out, ‘Oh is this war? Are you going to have a battle?’ We moved into a woodland hollow and dismounted to rest.”

~Curtis R. Burke, 14th Kentucky Calvary, Co. B

By 5:00 P.M. the 1st Brigade was safely across the Ohio. However, circumstances worsened as the 2nd Brigade embarked.

“July 8. The great Ohio River, the dividing line between the North and the South, is reached. The command is crossing. Here I met Capt. Heady. The enemy are pressing us in the rear, and their gunboats keep up a steady fire on the two stern boats, in which Morgan’s command is crossing. Thoughts, hopes and anxieties chase each other in wild succession through my mind, but my Regiment is again guarding the rear and vigilance is the price of liberty. At 12 o’clock tonight, it being moonrise, the enemy pressed upon us and drove our pickets in, but again fell back.’

~ Lt. Col. James B. McCreary, 11th Kentucky Cavalry CSA[x]

Hobson had reached Garrettsville but, for unknown reasons, selected to order his men to make camp rather than pressing onward into Brandenburg.

“Wednesday, July 8
Start toward Elizabethtown. Change direction. Go through Garrettsville. Camp one mile beyond town. Rebs reported to be crossing Ohio river into Indiana. Lot of citizen prisoners taken at Garrettsville.”

~Charles W. Durling, Company G, 45th Ohio Infantry

In a laborious process lasting seventeen hours, Morgan’s 2, 500 men, their horses, equipment, wagons, and artillery were ferried across the Ohio River. To secure their crossing, Morgan ordered one cannon to be placed on East Hill and a second on West Hill above the river in Brandenburg.

“I took a canteen and walked a short distance to town for water, then went down where our artillery was planted. It was planted by the side of the Courthouse, a square brick building and pointed up steam toward a Yankee gunboat which was standing still just around a be[n[d in full view but out of close range. The Courthouse was on very high ground next to the river making a beautiful position for artillery. The artillerymen were sitting around their steel pieces waiting for the gunboat to come closer. The gunboat looked to me like a steamboat boxed up and painted black with portholes. All this time the captured steamboats Alice Dean and Ben McCombs in our hands, were busy ferrying the command across to the Indiana shore. I then returned to the regiment. One of the boys was telling about the home guards that morning planting a steel piece on the Indiana side of the river and trying to recapture the steamboats and prevent our crossing, which caused the firing that first stirred us up. The home guard Colonel mounted a stump and cried out, ‘I demand you to surrender and bring those boats over here in the name of the United States and the State of Indiana!’ Some of our boys on the wharf answered, ‘Oh hell old man come over and take a drink.’ The home guards then let loose with their muskets and fired their steel piece at one of the boats, but the shell struck the water short of their mark, but our artillery then drove them away from their piece before they could fire more than twice. Then two boat loads of our troops crossed and drove them clear off. A couple of our brass pieces was sent up the river on the Kentucky side to watch for Yankee transports. As fast as the regiments got across they went up the river on their side also to look out for transports. When my regiment’s turn came to cross we moved down into town and halted. I tried to get a new pair of boots at a store but failed. We moved down to the boats to go aboard when the gunboat suddenly dropped down stream and commenced shelling us. Our boats dropped down stream out of range and our regiment left town again. The stragglers nearly causing a stampede as they crowded past us. We formed in the woods behind the town out of sight.”

~Curtis R. Burke, 14th Kentucky Calvary, Co. B[xii]

After more than half of Morgan’s command had completed the crossing process, U. S. S. Springfield, took action.

“Suddenly checking her way, she tossed her snub nose defiantly like an angry beauty of the coal pits, sidled a little toward the town, and commenced to scold. A bluish-white, funnel-shaped cloud spouted from her left hand bow and a shot flew at the town, and then changing front forward, she snapped a shell at the men on the other side.”

~ Brigadier-General Basil Duke

The gunboats Elk and Grey Eagle also joined the battle for a short period then withdrew toward Louisville as the Captain of the Elk felt his certain that Morgan’s Parrot guns were about to sink his ship.[xiv]

“A short artillery duel occurred, however, when the Indiana Home Guard appeared on the north side of the river and opened fire with a 6-pounder artillery piece. This drew an immediate response from Byrne's Battery on the Kentucky side of the river, which cleared the piece from the opposite shore. When a gunboat, the "U.S.S. Elk", appeared and began shelling Morgan’s men on both sides of the river, it drew another response from Byrne's Battery, which was posted on the bluff overlooking the river. However, the gunboat suddenly and unexpectedly withdrew from combat, allowing the entire command to cross safely to the Indiana shore.”[xv]

The opportunity to halt Morgan’s advance across the Ohio River had been missed.

“Our artillery soon drove the gunboat out of sight around the bend, then we returned to the wharf again. The boats came up and we were crowded on the two boats besides part of the artillery. I expected every minute that the gunboat would come around the bend and shell us again before we could get across, but we landed safely and a barrel of crackers was issued to us. I was put on detail to help pull the artillery up the bank. We pulled the pieces and casons up about twenty-five yards with rope. I saw the home guard steel six pond parrot gun that we captured. It was just like our two steel pieces. It had no cason the ammunition had been brought there in a chest on a wheelbarrow. A house stood near. I was very thirsty and went in to get a drink. I was surprised to find the people gone and everything in complete disorder [as] if a set of men had been paid by the day to scatter bedding cloths, dishes, etc. over the house and yard. They could not have made it much worse. I went to the cistern. The top had been torn off and the cistern dipped dry. It was getting dark and the cannon pulling detail was dismissed. We found our regiment in a wheat field and got our horses. Then the regiment moved to a [corn] crib near by and fed. I learned that when the gunboat run us out of Brandenburg it was done to draw our attention and let two of their transports loaded with infantry have a chance to land a few miles above on the Kentucky shore and get in our rear to attack us, but our brass pieces and men we had hid on the shore kept them from landing and drove them off. I took a short nap on top of the plank fence. Then we were ordered to mount. We went six miles on the Corydon road passing through several of our regiments camped and we camped in a deep grass lot. Col. Dick Morgan camped out with us. Bushwhackers were reported ahead. I made my bed down in the grass and slept very well. The dew fell heavy during the night.”

~Curtis R. Burke, 14th Kentucky Calvary, Co. B[xvi]

Bushwhacking was a commonly acceptable form of guerilla warfare. Civilian men in rural areas would lie in wait amoung the bushes and take aim at passing enemy troops.

“Cincinnati, July 8, 1863.

General Boyle:
The following has just been received from New Albany:
Morgan’s force, from 3,000 to 5,000 strong, have crossed the river at Brandenburg. They captured one gun, 50 Home Guards, and killed 4. A Boat has just come up for re-enforcements. This is reliable.

Thos. W. Fry,
Surgeon, U. S. Army.

I have sent one gunboat and a battery this afternoon. At what point on the river is Hobson? Has he the means of crossing? I can scarcely believe that Morgan has crossed the river with his whole force. Hobsonshould not be deceived. The following has just been received from Cairo:

I have six gunboats on the Ohio, above and below the captured boats, closing in on them. I hope they are taken before this. Will keep a bright lookout.

A. M. Pennock,
Fleet Captain, and Commanding Station.

A. E. Burnside,

“Garnettsville, July 8, 1863 – 5 p.m.
(Via Bardstown Junction, 9:10 p. m.)

Capt. A. C. Semple, Assistant Adjutatnt-General:
Captain: We are at this place with cavalry force. John Morgan has crossed the greater portion of his command into Indiana. Learn from reliable authority that he has captured 2 pickets at Brandenburg. His object may be to use them in that vicinity, after he gets through with the people of Indiana. We have pursued with all haste; have lost no time; and it is evident that he has failed in doing as much damage in Kentucky as he expected. Cannonading at the river. We will advance in a few minutes.

E. H. Hobson,

“The Union forces, under General Hobson, were now massing in the rear of Morgan. Morgan arrived in Brandenburg, and secured two steamboats to transport his men across to Indiana .Once Morgan had crossed, he burned the Alice Dean, and let the McComb go. It took General Hobson’s force twenty hours to cross the river into Indiana, because it took that long to obtain transports for his men. Once Hobson crossed the river, he resumed the chase.”[xix]
“Indianapolis, July 8, 1863

General Boyle:

Dr. Fry telegraphs General Noble that Morgan is at Brandenburg, with 4,000 men and artillery, which the gunboats cannot disperse; and that 400 have crossed into Indiana, making for Corydon. This is probably exaggerated, but demands our prompt attention. Have you troops to send up New Albany and Salem road?

O. B. Willcox,

Cincinnati, July 8, 1863

General Wilcox, Indianapolis:
You will see that all the Home Guards are armed at once, and other preparations made to repel any attack which Morgan may attempt. Communicate with me frequently during the night, and keep me fully informed of any news you may hear.

A. E. Burnside,

The Raiders set fire to the Alice Dean and it sank at the mouth of Buck Creek near the Indiana shore. Why the J. T. McCombs was not burned remains a matter of much speculation. While some historians claim that Colonel Basil Duke knew the captain of the mailboat and thus worked out a deal to save it, others claim that Shackleford “sent her up to Louisville for transports.”[xxi]

“The race is not to them that’s got
The longest legs to run,
Nor the battle to that people
That shoots the biggest gun.”

~ A Texan version of a passage of Scripture. George Dallas Mosgrove reported that Johnson’s Brigade sang it to Hobson’s pursuing cavalry.

Arriving on the opposite shore, the Raiders proceeded to loot the town of Mauckport, which was about two miles down the river from the point of their crossing.

“As we started, a gun boat up the river fired on us which made us think we were not very safe, before we landed. River about 3/4 of mile wide and there was a regiment several hundred strong on the Indiana shore who fired on us as we crossed, we returned the fire all that were in a position to shoot. They fired at us with a cannon, made it hail against the boat, as this boat landed we jumped ashore and forward in line in about 5 minutes and charged them, they ran into the bushes back from the river and got away. We captured a former prisoner. The 2nd Ky reg. was with us. We captured their cannon. Our Parrott gun had by this time or soon after silenced the gun boat and it had steamed toward Louisville. We formed in line of battle 1/2 mile from river on Indiana shore in about 2 hours our horses were with us. The two regiments remained on guard until near night then we all went into camp 3 or 4 miles on the road to Corydon, Indiana said town being about 15 miles from Brandenburg. This was first nights sleep we had had for sometime. We had plenty of feed for our horses and ourselves. The command all got across the river by a little while after dark.”

~John Weatherred, 9th Tennessee Cavalry[xxii]

“Elizabethtown, July 8, 1863

Brigadier-General Boyle:

I arrived here half an hour ago, only twenty hours behind Morgan, notwithstanding my detention at Green River. My force is 1,200 cavalry, including some little attached artillery. My horses are about broken down. I am replacing the worst from the citizens, but it is slow work, and delays me. I have not a pound of rations, but will continue the pursuit if you will send me at once by a special train subsistence and supplies for six days for 1,200 men and four 8-mule teams. Please reply if it can be done, and when I may expect the train. Can you inform me where Hobson and Shackelford are, and inform them, if possible, of my intention to follow Morgan? Please send this also to General Hartsuff. I have directed my infantry and artillery to be shifted from points east of railroad to Cave City and Bowling Green, fearing Morgan’s return in that direction. Manson will remain at Munfordville, if still there.

H. M. Judah,

Morgan’s column stopped for the night. A good portion of his men spent the night encamped at Frakes Mill, about seven miles north of the Ohio River.

“Thursday, July 9
Resume march. Feed and get breakfast. Get to Brandenburg 11 A.M. Last of rebs only ten minutes ahead of our advance guard. Ferry guarded by six gun boats. Get over a little after dark. Camp.”

~ Charles W. Durling, Company G, 45th Ohio Infantry[xxiv]

“Following his trail, we reached Brandenburg just in time to see Morgan’s rear guard disappear over the river bank, going north into Indiana. His rear guard stopped long enough to wave their hats to us and bid us good-bye. The steamboats they had used in crossing were at that moment bursting into flames, and burned to the water’s edge, tied fast to the Indiana shore.”

~ Captain Theodore F. Allen, Seventh Ohio Cavalry [xxv]

Governor Oliver P. Morton, receiving word of the Raiders arrival, ordered all able-bodied male citizens in the counties south of the National Road to form into companies and arm themselves with such arms as best they could to repel the invasion.[xxvi] Across the verdant country side, nearly every man, whether young or old, responded to the call. Colonel Lewis Jordan of the Sixth Regiment, Indiana Legion found himself in command of the 450 inadequately trained civilians brandishing an astonishingly dissimilar assortment of arms and proudly bearing the title of the Harrison County Home Guard. Still, Jordan hoped to delay Morgan until Union reinforcements could arrive.

"It was not expected at the start that so small a force could whip Morgan, but it was expected we could punish him some and impede his progress so that somebody else more nearly equal his strength could catch him and do him justice."

~ Simeon K. Wolfe, Harrison County, Indiana [xxvii]

Adding an eerie, almost surreal glow to these bizarre scenes were several plumes of flame shooting thirty to fifty into the air. Men had been drilling for oil on bottom land near Brandenburg but found instead a great supply of natural gas which they then set aflame.[xxviii]

“July 9. This morning I am left with half of the Regiment one mile from the river as a rear guard, and at daylight the Yankees moved down upon me. It was a critical and trying moment. By the interposition of Divine Providence, a heavy fog suddenly, and whilst hot skirmishing was going on, enveloped friends and foes, and the Yankees halted.

Under this fog, I crossed my command over the river. As I moved up the hills of Indiana, the enemy moved down the hills of Kentucky. We are now fairly into Yankee Land. What the result will be God only knows.”

~ Lt. Col. James B. McCreary, 11th Kentucky Cavalry CSA[xxix]


[i] Letter from William S. Craig to his wife. William was born in Nicholas Co., KY but moved to Illinois at age 15.
[ii] Starr, Stephen “Colonel Grenfell’s War” 1971, p. 44.
[iii] Horwitz, Lester V. “The Longest Raid of the Civil War,” Chap. 9, p.43.
[iv] Brandenburg Methodist Church, “The Brandenburg Story,” 1963, p. 18.
[v] Mosgrove, George Dallas. Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XXXV, Richmond, Va., January-December. 1907.
[vi] Ford, Mark. “The Brandenburg Story” July 13, 1963, p. 13.
[vii] Taylor, David L. “ Bowie Knives & Pistols” 1993, p. 38.
[viii] Ryan, Corp. W. B. Account, Corydon Republican, July 15, 1909.
[ix] Journal of Curtis R. Burke.
[x] Diary of James B. McCreary.
[xi] Diary of Charles W. Durling.
[xii] Journal of Curtis R. Burke.
[xiii] Duke, Basil W. “History of Morgan’s Cavalry,” 1867, pages 432 -433.
[xiv] Funk, Arville L. “Morgan Raid in Indiana and Ohio” 1971, p. 5.
[xv] Lexington Rifles, “1863: crossing the ohio river: Brandenburg, Kentucky – Mauckport, Indiana, July 8, 1863”
[xvi] Journal of Curtis R. Burke.
[xvii] “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p. 705.
[xviii] “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p. 707.
[xix] Bush, Bryan S. “The Civil War Battles of the Western Theatre”, 2000, p. 172.
[xx] “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, p. 708.
[xxi] Dunn, Jacob Piatt “ Indiana and Indianans” 1919 p.620.
[xxii] The Wartime Diary of John Weatherred.
[xxiii] “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Part I –Reports, pages 708-709.
[xxiv] Diary of Charles W. Durling.
[xxv] 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, pages 227-228.
[xxvi] The American Civil War: The Battle of Corydon,
[xxvii] Wolfe, Simeon K. and Porter, Attia. "The Battle of Corydon," Indiana Magazine of History 54, no. 2 ,June 1958 p. 138.
[xxviii] Conway, W. Fred. “Corydon – The Forgotten Battle Of The Civil War,” 1991, p. 151.
[xxix] Diary of James B. McCreary.

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