In early July of
1863 America's Civil War had reached its climax. On July 3 the Battle
of Gettysburg had been decided and the tide of war had turned in favor
of the North. On the next day, July 4, following a horrendous forty-seven
day siege, Vicksburg finally fell into Union hands. It would be the year
1948 before Vicksburg would again celebrate the 4th of July. But although
history would show that the tide had turned, the outcome was still very
much in doubt to those who were taking part, and on the day before these
two momentous events took place, another military adventure began, which
would cause concern to the residents of the northern states of Indiana
and Ohio. On July 2, Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate
cavalry commander on the Tennessee-Kentucky border, led 2,500 troops
across the Cumberland River and headed north. He broke through Union
lines. Over the next few days Generals Hobson and Judah assembled a 2,500
man Federal Force for the long chase.
Morgan’s men reached the Ohio River at Brandenburg,
Kentucky, just west of Louisville, on July 8, and they crossed over into Indiana.
Hobson’s men crossed the river the next day. Now, deep in enemy territory,
Morgan began to experience the disadvantages of being the invader. He began to
be harassed by local militia, and even ordinary citizens. But he left a trail
of destruction for his pursuers. He burned bridges, destroyed rail lines and
foraged for food and horses. On July 10, Hobson was five miles behind Morgan.
He was being slowed by Morgan’s tactics, and was especially hampered by
being unable to obtain fresh horses. Food, however, wasn’t a problem as
it was reported that the local populace kept the troops so well fortified they
complained of being overfed.
Morgan crossed into Ohio on July 13. By that time he
had lost 500 of his troops to Hobson’s pursuers and to local militia. He
then crossed through what are today Cincinnati’s northern suburbs, and
then headed southeast again towards the Ohio River, and reached Ripley on the
14th. By this time escape back into friendlier Confederate territory seemed to
be uppermost on his mind, but he decided to not attempt a crossing here, and
instead would head for Buffington Island in Meigs County, where fording could
be done in water only two feet deep. General Judah had given up the land chase,
and had boarded steamboats in Louisville and was heading upstream, hoping to
head Morgan off.
On the 15th Morgan’s men set out for Buffington
Island. Brigadier General J. D. Cox, sent this message to the mayor of Gallipolis: “The
militia of Gallipolis may remain in that vicinity. If Morgan should be heard
of as positively moving in that direction, they must be used to fell timber into
the roads and remove planking of bridges, so as to delay him till our troops
can overtake him. Show this to the militia commanders as authority. We do not
think Morgan will get across the Scioto; but if he does, the directions above
should be spread every where and carried out by the militia and people.”
Morgan did cross the Scioto, and later that day he was
in Jackson, just outside Gallia County. Military communiqués on that day
show Federal commanders trying to guess where Morgan will go. One mentions that
the force in Gallipolis is sufficient to prevent him from trying to cross there.
General Judah’s men have arrived and are protecting the main road into
Gallipolis. On the 17th there seems to be a strong suspicion that Morgan will
head for the Buffington Island crossing in Meigs County. That indeed is what
the main body of Morgan’s men did, but a smaller group separated and headed
into Gallia County. This was probably a foraging party, looking for supplies
and food. They came through the villages of Vinton and Porter. The main body
passed through Middleport, in Meigs County. Morgan passed just north of Pomeroy
on the 18th and pushed slowly on toward Portland, on the river. He had wanted
to cross the river on this day, but his advance had been slowed considerably
by the delaying tactics of the local militia and private citizens. They had taken
their axes and tools and felled trees to block roads, and they had destroyed
bridges. Anything at all they could do to slow Morgan down.
General Judah had moved his troops up from Gallia County,
and Hobson was coming from behind. There were gunboats on the river. The following
morning Morgan found himself surrounded. Morgan’s Raiders were defeated
in the Battle of Buffington Island, and 700 of his troops were captured, and
an additional 120 killed or wounded. About 360 of Morgan's men found escape routes across the Ohio further north and got safely across the river. Morgan and about 700 of his men escaped capture and and first headed west to Vinton County and then northeast until his army was finally captured in Columbiana County. A 1000 man force continued on the chase. Military dispatches
on the 24th indicated that troops had been dispatched by rail to Bellaire, Belmont
County because they expected Morgan to try and cross the Ohio River there. Morgan,
however, skirted Belmont County, probably because of this force, but then continued
due north and two days later, he was captured on July 26 at the village of West
Point in Columbiana County, more than 1000 miles from where his raid had started.
On July 19, a detachment of Morgan’s men who had become separated, were caught by Federal troops as they tried to ford the Ohio River at the northern Gallia county village of Cheshire, and after a short battle, were forced to surrender.
Another 40 or 50 of Morgan's men passed just west of Gallipolis and then down the river to near Crown City, where they attempted to cross over to Jenkins Ware House on the West Virginia side. (This probably references a building on the farm of Confederate General Albert Jenkins which was situated in that location.) Just then the Clay Township militia, led by Jacob Riggs surprised and captured almost all of them. A few managed to get across the river.
The 7th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, in which many Gallia
County men were serving, participated in the pursuit of Morgan’s men. The
following is quoted from a short sketch about the 7th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. “In
July it followed John Morgan into Ohio and took part in his capture, and in September
returned to East Tennessee, where it met disaster in the Holsten Valley, losing
over one hundred men.” The 7th Ohio Cavalry is also mentioned in the final
pursuit of Morgan just before he reached Buffington Island, and after the battle
the 7th OVC escorted some of the prisoners off the battlefield.
An interesting aftermath to this episode occurred in
November of the same year. Although the majority of his captured troops had been
sent to Camp Morton in Indianapolis, and Camp Douglas in Chicago, Morgan and
his close associates were incarcerated at the Ohio state prison in Columbus.
On November 27, he escaped along with six of his companions, and returned to
the South to resume the war as a cavalry leader. One of the captives had been a stone mason and another remembered the underground adventures from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables and developed a plot to tunnel from their confinement chamber to an adjacent air chamber. They then made their escape. Morgan, himself, then bought and used a train ticket to Cincinnati and then hired a boy in a rowboat to take him across the river to Kentucky1.
Although there were skirmishes on the nearby Kanawha
River in what was to become West Virginia, this was the only direct military
action that took place on Gallia County soil during the Civil War. The end of
the war in 1865 must have been an enormous relief for the entire country. Ohio
and the rest of the North for the most part had escaped the direct effects of
the war as far as actual confrontation with enemy troops, but considering lost
sons and husbands and disrupted lives, the war had taken a terrible toll.
1Horwitz, Lester V. The Longest Raid of the Civil War. Cincinnati, OH: Farmcourt Publishing, Inc., 2001. 356.