The Absurd and Ridiculous Surrender of John Hunt Morgan

July 26, 1863 (Sunday)

Here again is the GoogleMap I made showing the very very approximate routes of Morgan and his pursuers.

Though it seemed as if the whole of Ohio had concentrated upon the capture of John Hunt Morgan, in truth, only two Federals officers were, upon this morning, ready to pounce. General James Shackelford had followed Morgan’s Cavalry from Kentucky, through Indiana, and across Ohio. The night previous, he caught up with Major George Rue of the 9th Kentucky Cavalry, who led the way. While both, of course, wanted to capture Morgan, it was Rue who insisted that it be he who did the capturing. Shackelford was more than delighted to acquiesce.

John Hunt Morgan kind of went out like a chump.
John Hunt Morgan kind of went out like a chump.

From Knoxville, Ohio, Rue rode north to Hammondsville, a distance of six miles, which he covered by dawn. Shackelford caught up to him, but their pursuit ended when they could find no trace of Morgan. Pausing, they sent scouts in every direction. With time quickly slipping away, Rue and Shackelford decided to continue north in the direction of Salineville, about eighteen miles away. When they had ridden about five of those miles, a panicked scout came in and told them that Morgan was approaching Hammondsville – they would have to turn back.

Neither Shackelford nor Rue believed it, but sent a company back to Hammondsville to suss it out, while they continued on. A few minutes later, another scout came in and informed them that Morgan was actually ahead of them, at Salineville.

While Rue and Shackelford rode north, there was yet another Federal force that was tracking Morgan. Major Way of the 8th Michigan Cavalry had been in pursuit since attacking the Raiders in Lebanon on the 5th of July. Through reconnaissance and forced marches, Way and his regiment had discovered Morgan’s camp at Bergholz the previous night. From there, Morgan had ridden north, pursued by Way, toward the same down Shackelford and Rue were riding.

An incredibly bad photo of Major Rue.
An incredibly bad photo of Major Rue.

But at 8am in Salineville, Way caught up first. As Shackelford and Rue were trying to figure out the location of Morgan and his Rebels, Rue attacked. The fighting was heavy and as severe as it could be with 500 or so desperate Raiders pitted against 250 exhausted Federal troopers could be. After more than an hour, Morgan’s force disintegrated, and scattered in every direction. Way claimed to have killed twenty and wounded fifty more, though he probably exaggerated a bit. He did, however, capture a good many prisoners – perhaps even the quoted 200 (though it’s unlikely).

Whatever the precise figures, Morgan’s Cavalry, which had left Tennessee with 2,400 troopers, was now reduced to about 350. Morgan himself, however, escaped Way’s net and rode on northeast in the direction of West Point. While Way rested, and Shackelford gave chase, Rue doubled back, hoping to loop around and cut Morgan off before he reached the Ohio River.

Then a series of strange events transpired. Morgan knew that he had no choice to but to surrender. By this time, all the crossings of the Ohio were covered and, this far north, he wouldn’t be crossing into West Virginia, but Pennsylvania. He also knew that with the influx of prisoners taken at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the Federals might discontinue the practice of exchange. Morgan wanted to surrender “upon terms.” To do this, he wanted to offer his sword to an officer of militia, figuring that he could convince them to parole him on the spot; that he would never be actually taken prisoner.

The northerly road that Morgan and his small band of Rebels were taking led them in the direction of New Lisbon [now simply called “Lisbon,” since it’s apparently no longer so new]. The citizens of New Lisbon had gathered together the previous evening and thought it would be a fine idea to stop Morgan.

General Shackelford
General Shackelford

Led by Judge Cornelius Curry, the New Lisbon Guards drew up a line of battle (if it could be called such a thing) at the small crossroads village of Gavers, equidistant between Salineville and New Lisbon. They even dragged out an old Mexican War cannon for the surprise.

When Morgan approached, he sent out a flag of truce with a message stating that if the New Lisbon Guards would not fire upon them, Morgan’s Riaders would pass through their area and not destroy any property. Judge Curry, accompanied by James Burbick, a member of the Guards (and probably some kind of make-shift “officer”), met with General Morgan. After a bit of a conference, Curry, on Burbick’s nudging, agreed to let Morgan pass, giving him directions to the Ohio River that bypassed New Lisbon “by keeping to the lower road here.” Almost immediately, the Rebels were off.

But there was another thing. When Judge Curry turned around, James Burbick was gone. Some reports (including Burbick’s) claim that Curry knew exactly where he went, while others (including Curry’s) claim full ignorance. Somehow or another, Morgan asked Burbick to ride with him. Burbick agreed, but only if his friend, “Lieutenant” Maus, could come along. Since Maus seemed more or less willing (though he may have been a prisoner), Morgan said it was fine, and all rode east.

After a few miles, however, Morgan became uneasy. To the south, he spotted a cloud of dust moving as if it would cut him off to his front. This was, no doubt, Major Rue’s column approaching to do just that.

Today's phoned-in map showing Morgan's route.
Today’s phoned-in map showing Morgan’s route.

When the dust cloud came nearer, the Rebels halted, and the Federals formed line of battle. Morgan dispatched a messenger to the Union line demanding that Rue surrender to the Raiders. Rue, in return, send the messenger back, demanding Morgan’s unconditional surrender, under threat of fire if refused.

With this, Morgan turned to Burbick and told him that he wanted to surrender to him. “He said he had been traveling for forty days, and had a fight every day, and would surrender to me arms, equipments, and horses if I would let them go home,” reported Burbick shortly after. “I agreed to do so.”

Morgan then, to be clear, asked Burbick if he would let his entire Rebel force go. Burbick paused a moment and then admitted that he really didn’t “understand the nature of a surrender.” Morgan insisted that it really didn’t matter – he could surrender to anyone he chose. In that case, Burbick accepted.

Under a flag of truce, another Rebel messenger rode to Rue’s line. He explained that Morgan had already surrendered to someone named “Captain Burbick.” Rue had no idea at all who this “Captain Burbick” fellow was, and rode forward to find out.

Rue approached Burbick and asked him just what the hell was going on. How had Morgan surrendered? To whom? Burbick, new to the idea of a surrender, explained it all to Rue, who asked in reply what number of troops Burbick had with him.

“I told him,” reported Burbick, “I had no force; that I was only a guide, piloting him (Morgan) through the country.”

Rue was not even a little amused by this. He considered Burbick and his friend Lieutenant Maus to be Morgan’s prisoners to whom he “surrendered” at the most opportune time imaginable – for Morgan, anyway. Major Rue wasn’t about to let John Hunt Morgan just leave, and decided to wait under General Shackelford arrived.

When Shackelford showed up, he dealt personally with Morgan, while Rue handled the other prisoners. Morgan explained to Shackelford that he had already surrendered to Captain Burbick and that the terms allowed he and his men to walk.

“I stated,” reported Shackelford, “that we had followed him thirty days and night; that we had met and defeated him a number of times; we had captured nearly all of his command.” Morgan acknowledged all of this, but insisted he had surrendered to Captain Burbick and had been paroled.

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Shackelford told Morgan that he “regarded his surrender to the militia captain, under such circumstances, as not only absurd and ridiculous, but unfair and illegal.” He refused to recognize it. Morgan, in a fit of rage, demanded to be put back on the field so they could fight it out. Shackelford refused this as well, informing Morgan that he was his prisoner. With nothing else to do, Morgan was caught.

There would, of course, be some contention over the supposed surrender to Burbick, but the actual contention would turn out to be between General Ambrose Burnside and Ohio’s Governor Tod. While Burnside wanted Morgan and his men to be treated as prisoners of war, Tod believed the Raiders to be Southern civilians – not part of any official Confederate force. In the end, Tod won, and the prisoners were transfered to the state penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. This, as all would soon discover, was an incredibly bad idea.1



  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 23, Part 1, p635, 643, 668-669, 674, 809-813; History of Morgan’s Cavalry by Basil Wilson Duke. []
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The Absurd and Ridiculous Surrender of John Hunt Morgan by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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