The Battles of Cynthiana

Historical Marker #2312 commemorates two battles that John Hunt Morgan fought in Cynthiana during the Civil War.

In the summer of 1862, Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan launched his first major raid into Kentucky. The famed "Thunderbolt of the Confederacy" hoped to disrupt Union army communications and to recruit in his native state. After leaving Knoxville, Morgan and his 800 troopers reached Cynthiana on July 17. It was a town strategically located on the Kentucky Central Railroad and the Licking River.

Morgan had met little resistance on this raid, but that changed when he reached Cynthiana. Attempting to cross the Licking River Bridge, Morgan's raiders encountered nearly 400 enemy soldiers and Unionist home guard (local militia). These men had positioned themselves across the river in houses and had posted artillery to contest the bridge crossing. When Morgan's attack commenced, one company braved enemy fire and waded across the river. When these Confederates became pinned down, other rebel troops crossed downstream and outflanked the Unionist defenders, who ultimately surrendered.

Morgan captured more than 300 horses, destroyed Cynthiana's railroad depot and nearby railroad track, and wrecked a Union camp. Morgan's success on this raid and his reports exaggerating the state's Confederate sympathies convinced Confederate commanders to invade Kentucky later in the year. This larger invasion culminated with the October 8, 1862, Battle of Perryville.

Nearly two years later, Morgan again attacked Cynthiana in what proved to be his last Kentucky raid. Morgan's men advanced into the state from southwestern Virginia. On June 11, 1864, they met resistance from Union soldiers and home guard at Cynthiana. When the Unionists took cover in buildings, the Confederates ignited several of the structures. Union reinforcements arrived by train, but, after a sharp fight, they surrendered. Morgan remained in town. The next morning, more than 2,000 Union troops led by General Stephen G. Burbridge drove off Morgan's command. Many Confederates were captured, but Morgan escaped. Less than three months later he was killed at Greeneville, Tennessee.