Morgan’s Raid: Ready to cross the Ohio River into Indiana

Trish Turner

Messenger Staff 

Most everyone who has lived in Meade County for a while knows about John Hunt Morgan and his raid into Indiana that started in Brandenburg. There is more to the story other than what some historians consider as Morgan frivolously entering Yankee territory in hopes of advancing the southern cause. A couple of weeks ago, Gerry Fischer from the Meade County History Museum took me on a short road trip to discover more about Morgan’s Raid. The first thing I learned was that when the raid took place in 1863, Main Street was not connected to West Broadway as it is today. The route that Morgan’s men took to Main Street and the Ohio River was down Decatur Street, which connected to Main Street. At the top of Main Street where it now meets High Street was an active quarry, which you can still see remnants of today. Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan began his trek towards Brandenburg on June 11, 1863. He left Alexandria, Tennessee with 2,460 men, which was composed of eight regiments of cavalry from Kentucky and one from Tennessee. They took with them two 3-inch Parrot rifles and two 12-pound mountain howitzers. Leading his two brigades were Colonel Basil Duke, who was Morgan’s brother-in-law, and Colonel Adam Rankin Johnson. The two colonels were seasoned veterans, and most of the men in the brigade were as well. The reason for the movement of Morgan’s troops northward was to alleviate a situation that had developed in Tennessee. Lt. Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee was at Tullahoma in south-central Tennessee. Facing the Confederates was the larger Army of the Cumberland under Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans. A smaller and separate Confederate force under Maj. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner held eastern Tennessee. Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Department of the Ohio, pressed against Buckner’s army. Under this dual threat, neither Confederate Army could afford to reinforce the other. At this time General Morgan presented his idea of a raid northward through Kentucky as a diversionary tactic to draw some of the Union Army to follow him instead of keeping a stranglehold on the Confederate army in Tennessee. The journey northward took Morgan’s troops longer than expected due to heavy rains and mountainous terrain. It was no small feat to hoist the heavy cannons through towering escarpments and rain swollen rivers. As Morgan neared the town of Brandenburg on July 7, he sent two officers ahead to secure boats for crossing the Ohio River into Indiana. Gerry Fischer drove me down to the Brandenburg riverfront and explained how things would have looked there in 1863. There were no locks and dams along the river at that time. On some parts of the river you could nearly walk across in periods of dry weather. The steamboats, keelboats and flatboats of the time were able to navigate the river easily. It was not until the early 1900’s that the river was modified by the installation of locks and dams, which allowed for barges and other ships to navigate the river without difficulty. At the time of Morgan’s Raid in 1863 the part of the Ohio River that flowed past Brandenburg was only about a half mile wide. The town had a wharf boat tied up to the riverbank because the fluctuating water levels of the river made traditional wharfs impractical. The civilian steamer the John B. McCombs pulled up to the wharf boat about 2 PM on July 7 and Morgan’s men quickly commandeered it. Shortly after that a larger steamboat, the Alice Dean neared the town as it was heading upstream to Louisville and when it appeared that it was not going to land there the Confederates steered the John B. McCombs out to the Alice Dean and forced it to land at the Brandenburg wharf boat. Morgan’s men placed their two Parrot guns on East Hill above Brandenburg with a clear view of any activity on the Ohio River or beyond. The next morning, July 8, a dense fog hovered over the Ohio River, cloaking activities on the Indiana side. The movements of Morgan’s men in Brandenburg had not gone unnoticed by residents of Maukport and the rest of Harrison County. The Indiana Home Guard worked through the previous night to place an old cannon on a bluff across from Brandenburg and had hidden it amongst haystacks. Several members of the Home Guard were on the Indiana shore, camouflaged within shacks, or covered with branches. As Morgan’s men were attempting to cross the Ohio River they were engaged in a small battle. The strategically placed Parrot guns that Morgan’s men had placed on the hills the day before homed in on the Indiana troops and scattered them toward the cover of a wooded ridge some five hundred yards from shore. Shortly thereafter the Union gunboat Springfield came down the river and began firing on Morgan’s’ troops. The Union sailors fired three rounds into the town of Brandenburg. One round went into the Meade Hotel, one hit the dock killing two horses, and the third hit short of the Alice Dean which was then in midstream. Again, Morgan’s Parrots answered. Morgan’s artillery fought the Springfield for over an hour, until the gunboat’s ammunition was exhausted, and it retreated upriver toward New Albany. The Springfield returned about 5:00 p.m., along with two smaller boats as escorts. Morgan’s Parrot guns were once again put into use and the ships soon retreated towards Louisville. The rest of this story about Morgan’s Raid will be told in a future article entitled The Other Side of the River: Morgan’s Raid into Indiana. I will chronicle the events that occurred in Indiana when Union troops tried to stop Morgan’s advance northward. This will include an account of the Battle of Corydon. On July 9-10, 2022, you are invited to come down to the Ohio River in Brandenburg to witness a Civil War reenactment commemorating the 159th anniversary of John Hunt Morgan’s crossing of the Ohio River. The event will include a reenactment of Morgan’s Raid on Saturday, a Sunday battle, and much more. On Saturday the camps are open to the public from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. with living history exhibits. Artillery demonstrations will take place at 10:00 a.m. The Raid on Mainstreet reenactment occurs at 2:00 p.m. On Saturday you can catch some concerts by the Kentucky Home Guard Band, Cull Hollow, and Fresh Cut Grass. The cannon night fire will take place on the soccer field at 10:00 p.m. On Sunday the camps are open to the public from 10:00 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. The final battle reenactment is at 2:00 p.m. During the weekend there will be booths open with displays from the Meade County History Museum and other organizations. A variety of food trucks will be set up down by the riverfront. There will also be sutlers selling Civil War period items. During the Civil War a sutler was a person who followed an army and sold provisions to the soldiers. To find out more about the Civil War Days go to the Brandenburg Civil War Reenactment Facebook page. A bonus during this year’s reenactment will be the arrival at the Brandenburg landing of the American Duchess riverboat on Saturday. This is a fitting homage to the Alice Dean riverboat used during Morgan’s Raid. Remnants of the Alice Dean still lie nearby beneath the Ohio River after having been burned and sunk by Morgan’s men. You will learn more about that in my next story.

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