July 4, 1862 (Friday)
John Hunt Morgan, the thirty-seven year old leader of Rebel cavalry, had risen quickly through the ranks. Prior to the war, he had spent a short time in college, but it wasn’t long before he was asked to leave due to his behavior. Finding the military during wartime more suitable for his disposition, he joined the 1st Kentucky Cavalry during the Mexican War, fighting with distinction at Buena Vista. When he returned home, he established himself in Kentucky as a proper Southern businessman growing hemp and owning slaves.
All the while, he kept his military connections, supplying the Lexington Rifles militia unit with all they needed. When the Civil War was heating up, Morgan proudly flew the flag of session atop his factory, even though his state of Kentucky, at first, remained neutral. When it was clear that Kentucky was throwing in their lot with the North, Morgan went South, joining the Confederate cavalry in October of 1861. By the Battle of Shiloh, in April of 1862, Morgan had raised an entire regiment, which he took into combat.1
Following the bloodletting of Shiloh, Morgan established a base in Chattanooga for recruitment, and traveled to Corinth to obtain guns from the Army of Mississippi. His fame had grown to the point that in May two companies of Texas cavalry rode all the way to Corinth specifically to join with Morgan. Later, 300 men of the 1st Kentucky Infantry, their terms of enlistment having expired, made their way from the Peninsula to Chattanooga to do the same.
Col. Morgan set about drilling his men, most of whom had seen battle in the ranks of the infantry. He taught them from
Maury’s Skirmish Tactics for Cavalry, which was the go-to guide for fighting against Indians in the west. As it was meant for small squads and companies of men, Morgan had to adapt it to fit a regiment or more. This turned his cavalry into mounted infantry, discarding the saber for the Enfield (or whatever rifle they could find).
This eschewed the necessity to teach infantrymen every facet of cavalry tactics, while taking advantage of their experiences in the infantry. The men quickly caught on. Soon, they were joined by 350 partisan rangers from Georgia, also eager to fight alongside the famous Morgan.
It was around this time that the small brigade received two 12-lbs. howitzers from Richmond. While not as small as mountain howitzers, they were of a size that only required two horses to pull the guns and their limbers. They were given to the 2nd Kentucky, who adopted them as their own, naming them “bull pups.”
“The men were comfortably clad,” wrote Basil Wilson Duke, commander of the 2nd Kentucky, following the war, “but their clothing was uniform only in its variety.” According to Duke (and apparently Morgan), this was just fine. “The morale of troops depends, in a great measure, upon pride,” reasoned Duke, “and personal appearance has something to do with pride. How awful, for instance, must it be to a sensitive young fellow, accustomed at home to wear good clothes and appear confidently before the ladies, when he is marching through a town and the girls come out to wave their handkerchiefs, to feel that the rear of his pantaloons has given way in complete disorder.” Duke conceded that this was more a problem for the infantry than the cavalry.
With britches secure in the saddle, by the beginning of July, Morgan and his 876 Kentuckians, Georgians and Texans, were ready to begin their first large scale raid into the heart of Kentucky. In the morning of this date, Morgan and his raiders started from Knoxville in Eastern Tennessee, heading first to Sparta, 100 miles west. From there, they planned to turn north, setting their sites upon Lexington and Paris, Kentucky.2