1864 Attack on Frankfort

Historical Marker #2416 in Frankfort commemorates the June 1864 Confederate attacks on Frankfort by elements of John Hunt Morgan's cavalry.

In the fall of 1862, Frankfort had been captured by the Confederates—the only Union state capital to fall during the war—and was held for a month. When the Union forces advanced on Frankfort from Louisville on Oct. 4, 1862, the Southerners retreated south. Four days later, the Battle of Perryville was fought in Boyle County. Unable to capitalize on their battlefield success at Perryville, the Confederates left the state via the Cumberland Gap.

The following summer, Morgan raided the state and crossed the Ohio River into Indiana and Ohio, where he was captured and imprisoned. Morgan eventually escaped and made his way to southwest Virginia, where he reorganized a cavalry force and pondered ways to recapture his former glory.

In June 1864, Morgan once again brought his cavalry into Kentucky. On June 8, they captured Mt. Sterling. Two days later a contingent under Captain John Cooper was sent to scout Frankfort and attack its fortifications. Before dark an attempt was made on Fort Boone, which was defended by town militiamen that included Governor Thomas E. Bramlette and state Attorney General John Marshall Harlan. Frankfort native and then state Inspector General Daniel W. Lindsey took overall command of the city's defenses.

After a sharp fight, the Confederates withdrew when night fell. The following day, June 11, an attempt was made on the State Arsenal and a demand was made for the city's surrender. Col. George W. Monroe of the 22nd Kentucky Union Infantry, at home on furlough, refused the demand. The Confederates traded shots across the Kentucky River with Unionist defenders posted at the arsenal. Unable to persuade the arsenal to surrender and unable to cross the river, the Confederates withdrew to the west. On June 12, part of the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry arrived and took over the defense of the city from the militia and state officials.

While Frankfort's defenders were battling, Morgan's main force was fighting at Cynthiana. After initial success, Morgan's men were routed and scattered back to southwest Virginia. Frankfort was safe, but improvements to the town's defensible positions were made soon thereafter. While the 1864 raid on Frankfort held little strategic importance, if the townspeople had not turned out to defend the capital city, it is likely that the Confederates would have burned much of the town's important buildings and records.