Morgan Pushes Direct for the Ohio – The Confused Federal Pursuit of the Raider

July 24, 1863 (Friday)

Though it’s rare that I do this, here is an incredibly approximate Google Map of Morgan’s ride through Ohio from the 19th to the 24th. Obviously, he didn’t take most modern roads, but at least you can get a feel for where he was.

John Hunt Morgan
John Hunt Morgan

John Hunt Morgan had been on the run for five days since escaping from the trap set at Buffington Island, Ohio only to be caught mid-river, attempting to cross the Ohio into West Virginia. Three hundred of his men made it to relative safety, but Morgan and approximately 900 more were forced by Federal gunboats to stay in Ohio. Since then, they were hunted like dogs by Ohio and Pennsylvania militia, Federal cavalry and infantry.

After being caught mid-river on the 19th, the next day, Morgan and the remainder of his already exhausted band tried to cross again at Hockingport. Here, Union infantry – a brigade under Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes established a line of battle on the West Virginia shore making any Rebel contemplating a crossing to think again. In all, Col. Hayes reported that he captured over 200 prisoners.

Morgan then turned inland, riding for a day and a half without rest, he and his raiders passed to the southwest, perhaps trying to recross or perhaps just alluding capture. At Vinton, they turned north, skirting Athens, Ohio to the west. By the time they reached Nelsonville, after fifteen miles northwest of Athens, Morgan’s men were beginning to straggle – capture be damned. As they picked their way through the thick wilderness, ever pulling east towards the Muskingum River, it must have seemed as if Morgan had no plan larger than to avoid battle and capture.

Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford B. Hayes

That wasn’t far from the truth. On the 22nd, when his band arrived near the Muskingum, twenty miles south of Zanesville, Morgan called for a council of war. While in discussion, the Federal pickets began skirmishing with Morgan’s own. With bullets zipping by, barely missing the officers, Morgan decided that if they could cross the little river, they’d double back and head for Blennerhassett Island, just downriver from Parkersburg.

For the remainder of the march to the river, dust clouds could be seen by not only Morgan’s column, but from the several Federal columns closing in on him. Each column, Confederate and Union, knew where the others were at all times. By dusk, he reached Eaglesport on the Muskingum and was virtually surrounded by Federals on three sides and a large mountain on the other – or so says Basil Duke, one of Morgan’s lieutenants, who had been captured at Buffington several days before. He was relating stories told well after the fact.

Lew Wallace
Lew Wallace

The truth might be much less dramatic. Union General Shackelford’s men were indeed behind Morgan, but not so close as to cause concern. There was however, a Yankee force in Zanesville commanded by Col. W.C. Lemert of the 86th Ohio Infantry. It would be up to him to stop Morgan from crossing the Muskingum River. Rumors had placed Morgan near Eagleport (where he actually was), but also at Duncan’s Falls (also called Blue Rock) ten miles closer to Zanesville.

Lemert, however, was too late. He had feared that Morgan’s men would turn towards Zanesville and kept his own troops from marching at once to the fords at Duncan’s Falls and Eagleport. He wanted to leave at midnight, but didn’t get on the road until 3:20am (on the 23rd).

When they arrived at Duncan’s Falls, just after dawn of the 23rd, they found no enemy. Upon reaching Eagleport, Morgan had already crossed through the night. All that faced the Rebels were loose bands of equally exhausted militia. General Shackelford was still closing in, but Lembert’s men, through the 23rd, gained Morgan’s rear as the Rebels slowly advanced northeast.

Morgan rides through Washington, Ohio
Morgan rides through Washington, Ohio

That same morning, General Ambrose Burnside, commanding the Federal Department of Ohio, through which Morgan was raiding, kept close tabs on his unwanted guests. He figured that Morgan would try to cross the Ohio River somewhere between Marietta and Wheeling – a rather huge stretch of river – though he admitted that the Rebels might cross to the north, at “Steubenville, or even higher up.”

Throughout the day, Burnside did his best to assure everyone from Governor Tod to the colonels commanding the militia that General Shackelford was in hot pursuit, that soon, he would relieve them of the Rebels. By 5pm, Col. Lembert informed Burnside, “Morgan is pushing direct for the Ohio.” If true, that would place his prospective crossing near Wheeling.

In that respect, some good news was trickling in. General Lew Wallace (future author of Ben-Hur) had been sent with his brigade from Parkersburg, West Virginia, up the river to block Morgan’s crossing. That afternoon, Burnside received word that Wallace had interposed himself between Morgan and the Ohio. Even better, Shackelford was a mere five miles behind the Rebels.

Even in such a pursuit, Morgan’s men had to rest. On the morning of this date, they set up a very makeshift camp in the public square in Washington (now Old Washington, Ohio). With the morning came no new clarity. Morgan did not rest long in Washington, but moved swiftly toward Cadiz, en route to Steubenville on the Ohio. For a time, Burnside and the Fedreals in general were completely bewildered by Morgan’s movements.

“We have news of Morgan’s approach to Cadiz,” wrote Burnside to Governor Tod, “but since then have another dispatch from Barnesville [to the south], saying he was approaching Hendrysburg, on National road.” For the while, Burnside concludined that he believed Morgan “will make for the Ohio at Hendrysburg” via the National Road and Wheeling.

Incredibly vague map.
Incredibly vague map.

Morgan may have considered this for a time, but quickly doubled back for Antrim, where his band got a bit of rest. They then continued east toward Cadiz, thus throwing Burnside into a fog of confusion. Before the close of day, Morgan’s raiders would cross a railroad near Hopedale and completely destroyed the station, some rolling stock and a bridge.

That night, President Lincoln joined in the conversation, asking Burnside: “What, if anything, do you hear further from John Morgan?”

At 11pm, Burnside sent his reply. “Just now we have conflicting reports as to Morgan’s whereabouts. On report places him within 10 miles of Cadiz Junction, and the other between Antrim and Hendrysburg. Shackelford is close after him, and we will try to have forces in his front, whichever report is correct.”

With Morgan and his increasingly small force continuing to befuddle Yankees throughout northeastern Ohio, only dawn’s light might dissipate this Rebel haze.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 23, Part 1, p633, 638, 642, 677, 792-793, 796; Ohio in the War by Whitelaw Reid; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 1 by Jacob Dolson Cox; History of Morgan’s Cavalry by Basil Wilson Duke; John Hunt Morgan and His Raiders by Edison H. Thomas. []
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4 thoughts on “Morgan Pushes Direct for the Ohio – The Confused Federal Pursuit of the Raider

  1. If I’m not mistaken, you have misidentified one of your photographs as Rutherford B. Hayes. I believe it is actually a photograph of Hayes’s cousin, Edwin L. Hayes, who also served the Union during the Civil War. They do bear a family resemblance. When Edwin L. Hayes died in 1917 at the age of 97, the NYT obituary called him the “oldest living Civil War general.” In any case, I really enjoy the great amount of effort you put into these daily articles.

    1. That is entirely possible. Keep in mind that I got ALL of my information about Rutherford B. Hayes from the Mystery Science Theater sketch about him:

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