Adams County, Ohio Military History
Civil War: Morgan's Raid
Of the many stirring scenes and thrilling accidents occasioned by the Civil War, none so aroused the patriotic spirit of our people, or produced so much excitement and spread such consternation in their homes, as did the raid of Morgan's Confederate Cavalry through this county in July 1863. This dashing cavalryman had crossed the Ohio at Brandenburg KY on 08 July with a force of about 2,500 all told, and entered upon "his most famous raid" through southern Indiana and Ohio, which awakened the people of those regions to the alarms, if not the horrors, of war. This daring raid was undertaken chiefly for the purpose of relieving General Bragg, then near Tullahoma TN, from a threatened concentration of the forces of Burnside, Judah and Rosecrans against him, and which would have overpowered and destroyed his army as then situated. General Morgan urged that the scare and the clamor in the states he proposed to invade would be so great that the Administration would be compelled to furnish the troops that would be called for, and, as these would of necessity be supplied from Judah's or Burnside's forces, the needed relief of Bragg's army would be immediately obtained. General Bragg dissented, and ordered Morgan to make the raid through Kentucky, granting permission to go "anywhere north of the Tennessee"; but as Indiana and Ohio are north of that river, Morgan began perfecting plans to put in execution his long cherished desire to invade the North. His plans, briefly, were to make a feint against Louisville, then cross the Ohio, threaten Indianapolis, then Cincinnati, swing his forces round that city, and then raid the southern counties of Ohio to Buffington Island, then recross the Ohio and join Lee's forces then threatening Pennsylvania. And, astounding as these plains were, they would have been successfully executed but for an hour's delay in reaching the ford on the upper Ohio River, notwithstanding an unprecedented rise in the Ohio River, at that season of the year, which enabled the transports to land troops at that point to contest the crossing. A portion of his command did make the crossing and escape through the country to the Confederate lines. Morgan's command, consisting of the first and second brigades of cavalry with a few pieces of light artillery, was but a little more than a "mounted guard" in military terms, yet to our raw militia it was a great army, and drew after him from first to last some 50,000 pursuers.
To prepare the more timid of our people for a thorough fright, it had been rumored for a year or more that General John H. Morgan's cavalry in overwhelming force was preparing to invade Ohio. The "home guards" had, time and again, been called out to defend the towns along the Ohio River against contemplated assaults from Morgan's forces. The little tin-clad gunboats kept constant patrol along our river front, and frequent false alarms were sounded "just to steady the nerves" of the expectant citizens. The bloody encounter of a detachment of Morgan's cavalry, under the fiery Colonel Duke, with a body of militia at Augusta KY, lent color to the rumor of Morgan's contemplated invasion, and kept our people on the tiptoe of expectancy for months before his actual coming. So when the invading forces did cross the Ohio, and successfully pass Cincinnati where was concentrated a large force under Burnside, and the head of the marauding column pointed eastward up the river, our people began to realize something of the blight cast by an invading army, and to feel their utter helplessness as to means to thwart the invaders in their course. Again rumor, with her many tongues and countless eyes , heralded in advance of the invaders, such awful scenes of fire, murder, and rapine, as rumor only ever beholds.
Looking back now over the line of travel of the invaders, and noting in the light of history the depredations really committed, it is astonishing how insignificant was the injury done. There was one dwelling, a few railroad bridges, and a park of government wagons burned; and only one non-combatant killed in the 300 miles raiding from Corydon IN to Piketon OH.
It is true that many village stores were pillaged, seemingly for diversion, certainly not, in most instances, for gain. "Calico was the staple article of appropriation," says Duke, "each man who could get one, tied a bolt of it to his saddle, only to throw it away, and get a fresh one at the first opportunity. They did not pillage with any sort of method or reason; it seemed to be a mania, senseless and purposeless. One man carried a bird cage with three canaries in it for two days. Another rode with a chafing-dish, which looked like a small metallic coffin, on the pommel of his saddle, until an officer made him throw it away. Although the weather was intensely warm, another, still, slung seven pairs of skates around his neck, and chuckled over his acquisition. I saw very few articles of real value taken. They pillaged like boys robbing an orchard. I would not have believed that such a passion could have been developed, so ludicrously among civilized men. At Piketon OH, one man broke through the guard posted at a store, rushed in trembling with excitement and avarice, and filled his pockets with horn buttons! They would, with few exceptions, throw away their plunder, after awhile, like children tired of their toys."
The most serious inconvenience occasioned our people by this raid was the loss of their best horses. The raiders were hard pressed by General Hobson with three thousand cavalry, and in order to out-distance their pursuers, picked up for the purpose the best horses along the route. And to add to this loss, the good horses that had been secreted from the raiders, were seized the next day when brought in from their hiding places by Hobson's soldiers. In almost every instance where a horse was taken by either Morgan's or Hobson's men, one was left in its stead, sore-footed and worn down, but otherwise generally a good horse. And the people would not have been greatly dissatisfied with these exchanges had they been permitted to retain the horses left with them. But no sooner were the sore and tired-out animals recruited by those in whose care they had been left, than the ever-officious, and too often unscrupulous, provost marshal came and claimed all such horses as the property of the government, and took them away. This act of injustice, for but few of these horses were branded and really belonged to the government, left many a man in the midst of harvest and with crops to cultivate, without a team or the means of procuring one. In some few instances when the persons stood for their rights against the cupidity of the provost marshal, they were permitted to retain as their own the horses left with them. And, some there were, who believing that the "greatest thief gets the most booty," picked up the better horses abandoned by the armies, and made off with them to distant localities beyond reach of the provost marshal, and there disposed of them.
In his History of Morgan's Cavalry, General Duke graphically describes the panic the approach of the invaders produced in the communities through which they passed. He says:
A great fear had fallen upon the inhabitants. They had left their houses with doors wide open and unlocked larders, and had fled to the thickets and caves of the hills. At the house at which I stopped, everything was just in the condition the fugitive owners had left it a few hours before. A bright fire was blazing upon the kitchen hearth, bread half made up was in the tray, and many indications convinced us we had interrupted preparations for a meal. The chickens were strolling before the door with a confidence that was touching but misplaced.
From Williamsburg, Clermont County, Colonel Dick Morgan with about 500 men made a movement towards Ripley, Brown County, where the "home guards" were assembled from all the surrounding country to repel the attack of Morgan and prevent his escape across the river at that point. This was only a feint on the part of the raiders, and served their purpose admirably, they meeting with no opposition through Brown and Adams Counties. Colonel Morgan passed by the way of Georgetown, Russellville and Decatur, entering Adams County at Eckmansville. Here a sad occurrence took place. A foolish, hot-headed resident of Eckmansville, Dr. Van Meter, fired at a squad of the raiders. and then hid himself from sight. An old man named William Johnson was near the point from which the shot had been fired, with an ax on his shoulder, which glistening in the sun was mistaken by the raiders for a gun, and supposing him to be the assailant, they fired upon him and instantly killed him. When the raiders learned their mistake, they made dire threats against the little village and its inhabitants, declaring they would bum every house in it, unless their assailant was pointed out to them. Rev. David McDill, now of Xenia, was accused of knowing the offender and his hiding place, and was threatened with death if he did not divulge his whereabouts. But he steadfastly refused, was made prisoner, put astride a "lonesome mule" and taken as far as Locust Grove, when the next morning he was released and permitted to return to his home. Dr. Van Meter escaped summary punishment through the Scotch stubbornness of his friend Rev. McDill.
Another version of this anecdote by Mr. Patton, a former resident of Eckmansville, states that a lone cavalryman rode into the village on the Russellville Road, and discovering Dr. Van Meter with a musket in his hands, ordered him to surrender, which Van Meter refused to do. Both fired at the same moment, and William Johnson, being within the range of their shots, was struck by a ball and killed. It is doubtful which killed him.
From Eckmansville, the raiders passed to Cherry Fork, Youngsville, Harshaville, Dunkinsville and Dunbarton, where they encamped on the night of 15 Jul and joined the main body under General Morgan and Basil Duke, second in command, who had taken their forces from Williamsburg through Mount Orab, Sardinia, Winchester, Harshavile, Unity, Dunbarton and Locust Grove. At Winchester, General Morgan and his staff dined and spent some time resting in the town. (See history of Winchester Township in this volume.
Our people were wrought up to a high pitch of excitement, and many ridiculous things were done. At West Union a tree was felled across the road at the foot of the hill below Rock Spring to prevent the raiders from entering the town, although their nearest approach to the town was at Unity.
One excitable matron tied up some bed clothes in a feather bed and deposited the bundle behind the gooseberry bushes in the garden. Another fled to a near-by corn field with a Seth Thomas brass clock, and hid it in a small ravine.
An over-anxious watcher of some horses hid in a thicket, thinking he could get a better view of the surrounding country by climbing to the top of a large growth sapling nearby, who, observing some horsemen at a distance, became panicky upon reflection that he might be mistaken, for a sharpshooter, let go his hold, and tumbled to the ground, some thirty feet, nearly breaking his neck in the fall.
History records the fact that a terrified matron in a town forty miles from the rebel route, in her husband's absence, resolved to protect the family carriage horse at all hazards, and knowing no safe place, led him into the house and stabled him in the parlor, locking and bolting doors and windows, whence the noise of his dismal tramping on the resounding floor sounded through the livelong night like distant peals of artillery, and kept half the citizens awake and watching for Morgan's entrance.
From A HISTORY OF ADAMS COUNTY, OHIO
from its earliest settlement to the present time including character sketches of the prominent persons identified with the first century of the county's growth and containing numerous engravings and illustrations
Nelson W. Evans and Emmons B. Stivers [1900, West Union OH]