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.

Images

Confederate cavalryman John Hunt Morgan

Confederate cavalryman John Hunt Morgan

Confederate cavalryman John Hunt Morgan fought two separate engagements at Cynthiana. Courtesy the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Painting, the 1862 Battle of Cynthiana

Painting, the 1862 Battle of Cynthiana

This painting depicts the 1862 Battle of Cynthiana, which pitted John Hunt Morgan's Confederate cavalry against Unionist home guard. This painting, commissioned by the American Hotels Commission, was probably a WPA project. Courtesy the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Henry Rifle, used by a Cynthiana home guardsman

Henry Rifle, used by a Cynthiana home guardsman

This Henry repeating rifle was owned by Henry Harrison Harding (1831-1915), who was a member of the Cynthiana home guard. Courtesy the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

1861 Union Broadside

1861 Union Broadside

This broadside, issued in September 1861, mentions the Kentucky Central Railroad and Camp Frazer, both of which were damaged by John Hunt Morgan's cavalry during the 1862 Battle of Cynthiana. Courtesy the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

The Licking River at Cynthiana

The Licking River at Cynthiana

John Hunt Morgan's Confederate cavalry crossed the Licking River to attack Unionist home guard. Courtesy the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Talbott, “The Battles of Cynthiana,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed April 26, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/99.

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