December 9, 2011

Better Know an Enemy: John Hunt Morgan

General John Hunt Morgan (Source)

Name: John Hunt Morgan (bio)
Birth: June 1, 1825 in Huntsville, Alabama
Notable Events: Many significant raids in Kentucky in 1862,  Led major raid into Ohio during the summer of 1863
Death: September 4, 1864, shot dead during Union cavalry raid in Greeneville, Tennessee

Around this time in late 1861, one Confederate officer entered the consciousness of the men of the 79th Pennsylvania and the rest of the Union regiments slowly crawling their way down the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.  Captain John Hunt Morgan, leader of an irregular company of Confederate cavalrymen, began a series of daring raids in the area that confounded the Union advance and made picket duty in rural Kentucky a lot more interesting for soldiers in McCook's Division.

With the success of his raids in Kentucky through 1862 and the national attention they received, Morgan's rank in the Confederate army rose so that he became the colonel of a cavalry regiment and then a brigadier general, eventually leading a raid deep into Ohio (which ended in the capture of him and his command) in the summer of 1863.  Through 1862, Morgan's operations often intersected with the 79th Pennsylvania's operations, and resulted in the Lancaster County Regiment spending much of the year running around the back roads of Kentucky and Tennessee trying to protect infrastructure and supplies from Morgan. 

Officers of Morgan's Cavalry, photographed while imprisoned at the Western Penitentiary in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania (now Pittsburgh), after their capture in July 1863 in Ohio (Source)

Morgan even gained enough notoriety that his name became a verb in the Lancasterians' lexicon, as in many of the wounded members of the 79th Pennsylvania in field hospitals after the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, were "morganized" when Morgan's cavalry captured and paroled them in October 1862 [INQ, 10/29/1862].  A large detail of the 79th Pennsylvania was captured by Morgan while building telegraph lines in May 1862, and Captain William G. Kendrick of Company A even got to eat dinner with his captor, but that's another story for another time.

If you're interested in learning more about Captain Morgan and his strategy and tactics in late 1861 and early 1862, you can read an 1867 book entitled History of Morgan's Cavalry by his brother-in-law, Basil W. Duke.  Pages 94-109 cover this time period, and shed light on a couple aspects of the 79th Pennsylvania's experience at this time:
  1. McCook's division had no cavalry or no effective cavalry and was basically blind at this time.  This meant the men of the 79th Pennsylvania spent many of their days on company-sized scouting expeditions with 100 or 200 men going out a couple miles into the countryside to investigate rumors or see what they could find.  Also, any shots heard in the distance or rumor had to be taken seriously as there was no way to tell if it was just a couple Confederate cavalrymen causing trouble or the whole Confederate army marching up the road.  
  2. Both sides relied on civilians as a system of information and alarm.  Morgan even played a sort of repeated cat-and-mouse game on his raids with civilians who would see him and dash back to Union lines. 

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