John Hunt Morgan’s First Victory in Kentucky

July 9, 1862 (Wednesday)

Thomas Jefferson Jordon

Thomas Jefferson Jordon had, thus far in the war, had an interesting career. A lawyer from Central Pennsylvania when Fort Sumter was fired upon, he became the aide-de-camp of General William Hugh Keim, who was recruiting volunteers for the early war effort. When the 6th Massachusetts was fired upon in the streets of Baltimore, it was Jordon who personally carried word of the riots to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott.

At the Battle of Falling Waters he saw his first action, but soon his terms of enlistment were up. He, of course, reenlisted and was commissioned a Major and helped raise the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Jordon was placed in command of the third battalion. The 9th Pennsylvania was attached to General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, but didn’t follow the army to Shiloh or Corinth, remaining in Kentucky guarding supply lines, railroads and telegraphs.1

By the beginning of July, Jordon, still a Major, was in command of most of the regiment, encamped at Tomkinsville, Kentucky. His scouts had informed him that a large body of Rebel cavalry was gathering on the south bank of the Cumberland River near Celina, twenty miles south in Tennessee.

Not knowing how strong this “large body of the enemy” actually was, Major Jordon decided to attack it with his 230 men before it grew any larger. On the night of the 7th, Jordon set out with his force from Tomkinsville, crossing the Cumberland River twelve miles north of Celina. However, when his band reached the town at dawn the next day, they found it empty. Jordon asked around, but none of the townspeople seemed to have any idea of Rebels anywhere around. Not quite believing in their complete ignorance, Jordon and the 9th Pennsylvania mounted up and rode back to their camp at Tomkinsville.

They arrived after dark, but still cautious, Jordon established a strong picket line on the road to Celina, just in case the good folks of that village had been less than honest.2

Meanwhile, Confederate Col. John Hunt Morgan had been on the road since the 4th of July, riding from Knoxville, Tennessee with his 900 Confederate raiders. Their plan was to head north into the heart of Kentucky, well behind Union lines. The ride had been more or less uneventful at first. Several bushwackers had taken potshots at the passing rabble, but caused no real damage.

Two days after starting, they were in Sparta, and by the evening of the next, near Livingston. On the morning of the 8th, they were again heading north. The mid-day brought them to a small village along the Cumberland River named Celina.

There, they learned that they had just missed the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry. They also learned that the Federals were camped twenty miles north in Tomkinsville. Morgan sent a few scouts to follow the Union troopers, while he prepared his men to attack and capture the entire garrison.

Well after dark, Morgan was ready. His rangers crossed the Cumberland and made their way to within five miles of Tomkinsville, where he split his command, sending half around the town to attack from the north, while he attacked from the south.3

As morning broke across Major Jordon’s Union camp, the men busied themselves tending their horses and fixing their breakfast. To the south, however, Jordon heard the sound of gunfire steadily increasing and coming closer. He immediately ordered the horses to be saddled, but it was too late. Within a minute, the Confederates under Col. Morgan were less than 300 yards in front of them.

Rather large map of Morgan's Raid and very approximate positions of Federal troops.

The Rebels deployed, but didn’t charge. Jordon saw that he was wildly outnumbered, but stood his ground as Morgan’s two pieces of artillery opened upon his men. The Federals returned fire with their carbines and were holding their own the best they could.

Because he was so outnumbered, the Rebels easily wrapped around his flanks. With the artillery getting their range, Jordon saw that it was time for the 9th Pennsylvania to make their escape. They wheeled around and began their retreat through the woods in their rear.

It was in the woods, however, that the rest of Col. Morgan’s force was hiding. With Rebels in their rear and their front, Jordon ordered a charge through the woods, which broke the Rebel line, and allowed his men to escape on the road towards Burkesville. Jordon threw out a rear guard, as the rest of his command made their way east.

Before long, Morgan and his raiders were riding hard on their trail. Jordon tried to join his rear guard 200 yards behind him, but when he arrived, he saw it had been overrun. The guard was left in command of Lt. Sullivan of Co. E, who was, as Jordon put it, “in the act of being murdered by some 20 of the enemy, who had surrounded him.”

Deciding it was high time to leave, Jordon turned to find himself face to face with half a dozen Rebels. He tried to fight his way through, but his pistol was no match for their shotguns. With no other choice but death, he surrendered himself. At least nineteen other Pennsylvanians surrendered to Morgan’s men, who had killed four and wounded seven.4

According to Morgan, Jordon’s count was low. “The enemy fled, leaving about 22 dead and 30 to 40 wounded in our hands,” Morgan reported. “We have 30 prisoners and my Texas squadron are still in pursuit of the fugitives.” Along with however many Federals were captured, Morgan also got “a valuable baggage train, consisting of some 20 wagons and 50 mules … also some 40 cavalry horses, and supplies of sugar, coffee, etc.” During the fight, Morgan’s men suffered only four wounded. One, however, was Colonel Hunt, who commanded 350 partisan rangers from Georgia who had rode north specifically to serve under Morgan. With a shot in the leg that shattered the bone, it was thought that the wound was serious, but not mortal. A few days later, however, Hunt was dead.5

By 3pm, the Union prisoners were paroled and Morgan was on his way north to Glasgow, which he and his men reached after midnight. The next day, they would rest.6

Thus far, Morgan’s Raid had gone on relatively unnoticed by Federal troops in the area. Now, however, they were beginning to wake up. General Jeremiah Boyle, commanding in Louisville, wired Col. John F. Miller, in Nashville, that 1,500 – 2,000 Rebels under Col. James W. Starnes were raiding into Kentucky. They were at Glasgow and General Boyle wanted a regiment sent by rail to Munfordville.

Col. Miller sent a Michigan Regiment, but also heard that John Hunt Morgan was in Sparta with 4,000 troops. Of course, both Federal officers were talking about the same 900 Rebels under Morgan, but for the time being, it seemed there were as many as 7,000 Confederate partisans running rampant behind Union lines. The fun, it seemed, had just begun.7

  1. Biographical information taken from a post by Eric Wittenberg’s Rantings of a Civil War Historian blog. I generally do not use online sources, but since this was from Eric Wittenberg, you can trust it fully. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 1, p754-755. Jordon’s Report. []
  3. Morgan’s Cavalry by Basil Wilson Duke, Neale Pub. Co., 1906. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 1, p755. Jordon’s Report. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 1, p766-767. Morgan’s Report. []
  6. Morgan’s Cavalry by Basil Wilson Duke, Neale Pub. Co., 1906. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 1, p753-754. Miller’s Report. []
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John Hunt Morgan’s First Victory in Kentucky by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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