The Wave of Morgan’s Raid Crests – Panic and Rumors Continue

July 18, 1862 (Friday)

John Hunt Morgan

The terror, panic and complete frenzy that Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan has whipped up in Kentucky had slowly begun to abate. Morgan and his 900 riders had been on the road since July 4th, heading north from Knoxville, Tennessee. Across the ensuing two weeks, the Rebels had captured Tomkinsville and routed the Federals at Celina, before moving even farther north.

The Union officer in command at Louisville, General Jeremiah Boyle, had done his fair share of overreacting. By the 15th, three days after the panic had gripped him, he was able to collect himself. “I am persuaded Morgan has not over 1,000 men and two brass howitzers,” wrote Boyle to General Don Carlos Buell, commanding the Union Army of the Ohio at Huntsville, Alabama, nearly 300 miles south. Boyle had repeatedly called for reinforcements not only from Buell’s Army, slowly en route to Chattanooga, but from the governors of Ohio and Indiana. Now, however, Boyle had concluded that the local secessionist population had “lied for Morgan and magnified his forces.” Boyle and Buell both suspected that the raid would amount to little more than the “loss of individuals and destruction of property.”

Bust of General Jeremiah Boyle

Boyle’s figures were so accurate because he had sent a spy to join up with the raiders. But, aside from this one man, the General concluded that “only the low and evil will join him.” Convinced that Morgan would escape, he was also convinced that he could not be driven out except by cavalry, of which he had none.1

Two days later, however, Morgan hit again. He had originally set his mind to attacking Lexington, but discover it too heavily garrisoned. Instead, he aimed for Cynthiana, thirty miles northeast. While the small town sat along the Kentucky Central Railroad, Morgan’s true goal was to trick the Federals into believing that he was on the way to Cincinnati. In truth, he had already determined to return to Tennessee – after a few more stops.

Between Morgan’s raiders and the town of Cynthiana was the Licking River. There was a bridge on the main road, with a ford nearby. Two additional fords were located about a mile above and below the main crossing. After brushing aside a few pickets, Morgan divided his force, sending units across all three fords.

The Federals held the town with about 340 troops and one brass cannon under the command of Lt. Col. John J. Landram. They had stationed themselves in houses, shooting from windows and thresholds2

Cynthiana covered bridge.

With their single piece of artillery, Landram’s Federals lobbed two shells into Morgan’s guns, which forced them to be moved out of the action. It was a small victory, however, as Landram soon discovered that, due to Morgan dividing his force, Cynthiana was surrounded.

Landram did not give up. He ordered the canon to fire grape and canister down the streets, now teaming with Morgan’s raiders. The fighting was intense as both sides thrusted and parried from block to block. But there was little he could do against the swarms of Rebels, whose numbers he believed to be as high as 3,000. Nearly out of ammunition, he rallied his troops at the railroad depot, resupplying them with more rounds to carry on the fight.

Cynthiana Rail Depot, cira 1910.

Then fell a lull, during which Lt. Landram rode into the streets to figure out where Morgan’s main force was positioned. One of the Rebel officers saw him and demanded his surrender. “I never surrender!” replied Landram before putting two bullets in the Confederate’s chest and riding for cover.

This new small victory emboldened Landram, who decided that it was time to take the forty or so men he had under his immediate command and charge the Rebels at the Licking River bridge. Morgan had crossed his artillery and Landram thought he stood some chance at taking it. But a resurgence in the melee soon convinced him that he had already done more than his duty required and made to retreat.

He, and about thirty who remained, took off in a southeasterly direction, realizing that they would have to cut their way out. A small band of Rebels greeted them in a nearby field, and soon Landram and his crew had routed them. The time it took to route them was unfortunately all the time Morgan’s men needed to bring on their pursuit.

Finally realizing there was nothing they could do, Landram ordered his dwindling force to scatter. It was now every man for himself. Landram and only a few more got safely away. Morgan’s men rounded up the rest. Union casualties were around seventy, while Morgan suffered about forty killed and wounded.3

"But honeypie, you're not safe here..."

The Rebels left town and arrived at Paris by sundown. After a restful night, Morgan’s raiders were greeted by reports of Union cavalry, 1,800-strong, moving against them from the direction of Lexington. The Federal pursuit was slow, which allowed all of Morgan’s troops and supply wagons to easily move south on towards Winchester, which they reached at noon. After a bit of a rest, they continued on through the evening and night, arriving at Richmond around 4am.4

With Morgan’s attack on Cythniana, General Boyle was again in a panic. Rumors had been circulating that General John C. Breckinridge was heading into Kentucky with 8,000. He had not believed it at first, but now anything was possible. Other reports had Morgan’s force numbering upwards of 3,000. Boyle claimed not to believe such figures, but had nothing else to go on. As the day wore on, his dispatches to General Buell became more and more disjointed and it was clear the Boyle was beginning to put real faith in the various rumors.

More than likely fed up with Boyle’s persistent telegrams, Buell did all but refuse to send any detachments from his army north, through Tennessee and into Kentucky. “The condition of things here [in Alabama] requires the services of every soldier than can be mustered and perhaps more,” wrote Buell to Boyle. “No detachments should be sent from here except in case of the greatest necessity.”56

Map of Morgan's travels, thus far, through Kentucky.

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 1, p741. []
  2. Morgan’s Cavalry by Basil Wilson Duke, Neale Pub. Co., 1906. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 1, p756-759. Landram’s Report. []
  4. Morgan’s Cavalry by Basil Wilson Duke, Neale Pub. Co., 1906. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 1, p744-745. []
  6. For fans of the comic book and TV series The Walking Dead, the story begins in Cynthiana, Kentucky. Rich and Shane were on Cynthiana’s police force, and Rick woke up in the Cynthiana hospital at the start of the series/zombie outbreak. What? You didn’t think I was only into the Civil War, did you? []
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