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.