Morgan on to Ohio

Historical Marker #1413 in Bullitt County commemorates Confederate General John Hunt Morgan's raid into Ohio.

Morgan's "Great Raid" in the summer of 1863 lasted more than forty-five days and covered nearly one thousand miles. The raid met with challenges, successes, and failures as the Confederate horsemen moved through Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio, where Morgan and a number of his raiders were captured on July 26, 1863.

Morgan's raid was aided by his expert telegrapher, George "Lightning" Ellsworth. Born in Canada in 1843, Ellsworth quickly became fascinated with the new communication device. Before the Civil War he worked as a telegrapher in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, and Indiana.

According to Ellsworth's memoirs, early in the war he became aware of Morgan's exploits by reading newspaper articles about the intrepid cavalryman. He eventually traveled to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he met Morgan and offered his services. Ellsworth enlisted in the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry as a "high private" and immediately went to work, often using a pocket telegraph key. Ellsworth tapped into Union wires, "countermanding any orders that might be issued by the enemy" by telegraph, and "furnishing Federal commanders with spurious telegrams as to our whereabouts, strength, etc."

During the "Great Raid" Ellsworth furnished Morgan with vital pieces of information gleaned from the telegraph wires. For instance, at Lebanon Junction in southern Bullitt County, Kentucky, Ellsworth tapped into the lines and learned that Union forces were only a day's ride away, that Louisville citizens were forming home guard companies, and that Louisville was fortifying in anticipation of an attack. That information helped Morgan confirm his decision to cross the Ohio River further to the west at Brandenburg, Kentucky.

During the Indiana phase of the raid, Ellsworth's exploits became well known, causing all telegraph reports to be viewed with suspicion. Unlike Morgan, Ellsworth avoided capture in Ohio. He crossed the Ohio River on July 19, 1863, and eventfully made his way to Abingdon, Virginia.

Ellsworth finished out the Civil War as a Confederate spy and eventually settled in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he died in 1899.

Images

Confederate General John Hunt Morgan

Confederate General John Hunt Morgan

General John Hunt Morgan. Courtesy the Library of Congress View File Details Page

Lebanon Junction, Kentucky

Lebanon Junction, Kentucky

Lebanon Junction, Kentucky. Ellsworth captured vital telegraph information here. This information helped Confederate General John Hunt Morgan cross the Ohio River. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Ohio River at Brandenburg, Kentucky

Ohio River at Brandenburg, Kentucky

This early twentieth century postcard shows the Ohio River at Brandenburg, Kentucky, where Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan and his men crossed in the summer of 1863. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Civil War autograph book, Kentucky Historical Society

Civil War autograph book, Kentucky Historical Society

This leather-bound book contains the autographs of more than fifty of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan's men who were captured in the "Great Raid" and imprisoned in the Ohio State Penitentiary. Courtesy the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

William Burchfield Parole Form, Kentucky Historical Society

William Burchfield Parole Form, Kentucky Historical Society

This parole form was for William Burchfield, one of Morgan's Confederate raiders. Burchfield was captured in Ohio during Morgan's "Great Raid." Courtesy the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Sheet Music, "Morgan's Grand March."

Sheet Music, "Morgan's Grand March."

Idolized by many, this song, "Morgan's Grand March," was named in honor of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. Courtesy the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Tim Talbott, “Morgan on to Ohio,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed July 24, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/161.

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