Our History & Our Heritage by Bill Kiefer

About three weeks ago I mentioned that I spent the Independence Day Holiday watching several inspiring offerings on television. One of those happened to be the movie “Gettysburg.” I have watched the movie at least six or seven times in my life. As well I have read the novel “The Killer Angels” upon which it is based. I have seen other films on the battle, usually documentaries. I have also read several books on the battle and have toured the battlefield on several occasions. I have searched for records of my great-great Grandfather who I believed served with the First West Virginia Cavalry of Pleasanton’s Cavalry Corps, the regiment was part of the first Brigade of the Third Division commanded by General Judson Kilpatrick, whose men mockingly referred to him as “Kill cavalry.” Most of the Regiment was at Gettysburg. The movie concludes with Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863. The objective of the charge, which was briefly, oh so briefly, attained was a copse of oak trees on the crest of Cemetery Ridge in the center of the Union line. Then as quickly as it was attained the Rebels were repulsed and began taking their shattered units back across the mile of open ground which they had crossed in the attack. The point they reached has often been referred to as “The High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It is a romantic title, describing an event which lasted a historical nanosecond, in an age which though bloody, still proclaimed chivalrous ideas.

But was it as far North as Confederate forces came? Well yes, up to that point in the war. And it stayed that way for about three weeks. For our reference the latitude of Gettysburg proper is 39 degrees 49 minutes 42 seconds, North.

However, later that July, One hundred fifty-eight years ago, a confederate general named John Hunt Morgan  started a campaign that ended near here, and I believe that in terms of geography Morgan got further north than Lee’s forces did at Gettysburg.

 Morgan was born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1825. Owing to the failure of his father’s business the family relocated to Lexington, Kentucky where his maternal grandfather had significant business and land interests. He was raised on one of the grandfather’s farms and when he became of age he entered Transylvania University in Lexington. Unfortunately he was removed from the school after two years when he participated in a duel. Two years later, he enlisted in the US Army as a private to fight in the war with Mexico. He was made a lieutenant by the time he reached Mexico and saw combat at the battle of Buena Vista. After the war he returned to Kentucky and became a hemp manufacturer. However, while somewhat successful in business, he still had an interest in things military. He started an artillery unit for the Kentucky state militia in 1852, which the state disbanded in 1854. As war loomed he formed an infantry unit the “Lexington Rifles.” He was not originally a secessionist. In fact he was opposed. However, his brother joined the Confederate forces in Tennessee. After Morgan’s wife died in July 1861, he and his Rifle Company went South and joined up.

Not content with his infantry posting, Morgan raised the Second Kentucky Cavalry Regiment in April 1862, in support of the Confederacy, and became the unit’s Colonel. This is significant in that Kentucky was known as a “border state,” one which permitted slave holding, but which did not leave the Union. Others were Maryland, Delaware and Missouri each state had citizens which served in the armies of the North or the South. By some accounts West Virginia was a border area if not a border state. For example both the Union Regiment the First West Virginia Cavalry and the Confederate unit the Shriver Greys were organized in Wheeling in 1861.

The first engagement for the Second Kentucky was Shiloh a major battle in the Western Theatre. There the Regiment was part of the Confederate Army’s reserve force under the ultimate command of Major General John C. Breckenridge who had served as the Vice-president of the United States from 1857 to 1861. He was also one of the four candidates for the Presidency in the 1860 election. He finished third in the popular vote with 18%, but second to Lincoln in the electoral vote. Breckenridge was also a cousin of first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln.

In any event he led a major cavalry raid in 1862 across the state of Kentucky. He captured more than 1,000 union soldiers, confiscated numerous horses, and destroyed large quantities of supplies, in this three week endeavor. The raid lasted three weeks and led to serious panic all across the state.

The success of Morgan’s 1862 raid, led him to attempt an even bigger movement on July 8, 1863 when with 2,500 men he crossed the Ohio River into Indiana. Today one can follow Morgan’s route through Ohio by following the 557 mile marked route named “The John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail,” from Harrison, to the site where Morgan surrendered at West Point in Columbiana County. He had a victory at the battle of Croyden in Indiana. This was followed by a major defeat near Pomeroy, Ohio, whereat he lost about half his force. He continued to the Northeast eventually arriving at Carroll County. Though constantly pursued by Union forces he stopped at Carrolton and had dinner with a certain Mrs. Allison and a Mrs. Campbell who were his cousins. It is noteworthy also that Mrs. Campbell was the mother of William Hunter Campbell a civilian participant in the “Greta Locomotive Chase” who suffered execution by hanging. (I did write a column on the raid several years ago.)

Heavily outnumbered Morgan’s troopers fought valiantly at Salineville. He and a few of his men escaped and eluded capture until travelling a further eight miles to the Northeast, where they finally were captured near West Point. The latitude for that point is 40 degrees, 41.83 minutes North. That is nearly one full degree north of Gettysburg. Thus the terminus of Morgan’s Raid was the true “high water mark of the Confederacy”