The following article is provided by author and historian Bryan S. Bush. To learn more about Bryan and his books visit his web site,
After the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky on October 8, 1862, Union General Don Carlos Buell was relieved of command and replaced with William S. Rosecrans. Rosecrans renamed the Army of the Ohio and changed the name to the Army of the Cumberland. With his new Army, Rosecrans pushed into Southern territory. In order to keep his army fed and well supplied, he needed to keep the Louisville & Nashville Railroad operating at full capacity. Rosecrans made sure that the Louisville & Nashville Railroad was heavily defended with stockades at the tunnels and bridges.
Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy”, was a Kentucky native and knew the Louisville & Nashville Railroad well. He decided that the best place to disrupt Rosecrans supply line was at a pair of one hundred foot high trestles that ran for about five hundred feet. They were located below Louisville, Kentucky, just north of Elizabethtown, and ran through Muldraugh’s Hill. After consulting with Confederate General Braxton Bragg, commander of the Army of Tennessee, Bragg gave Morgan permission for his raid.
On December 22, 1862, Morgan left Alexandria, Tennessee with 3,100 cavalrymen and seven pieces of artillery. The effective force was divided into two brigades, the first brigade was under the command of Col. Basil Duke of the Second Kentucky Cavalry and the second command was under the command of Col. W. C. P. Breckinridge of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry. Four pieces of artillery; two twelve pounder howitzers and two six pounder guns of Palmer’s battery were assigned to Col. Duke. Col. Breckinridge’s brigade had one three inch Parrott Rifle commanded by Captain White and two mountain howitzers under Lt. C. C. Corbett.1
When Morgan’s men left Alexandria, four hundred of his men had no arms and performed duty as horse holders. There were no sabers among any of the men. The men in ranks were equipped with one or two Colt army pistols, a few had cavalry carbines, a large number of the troopers carried double barreled shotguns. Most of the men carried long barreled Enfield, Austrian, or Belgian rifles, which were used mostly by the infantry. The average of Morgan’s men were between 18 to 35 years old. Every cavalrymen carried his own ammunition, two extra horseshoes, twelve nails, one blanket in addition to the saddle blanket, and an oil cloth overcoat.2The men carried three days cooked rations.
By December 24, Morgan’s men had traveled ninety miles and was within six miles from Glasgow. As the men entered the town, they encountered the advance guard of a battalion of the Second Michigan Cavalry, Company C, under Lt. Darrow. A skirmish broke out between the forces and Morgan lost Captain W. E. Jones of Company A, Ninth Kentucky Cavalry and a private in Breckinridge’s regiment were mortally wounded, and Lt. Samuel O. Peyton, of Duke’s regiment was seriously wounded and about seven of his men taken prisoners. The Second Michigan Cavalry lost one man killed, one wounded, and sixteen captured. Not only did Morgan’s men manage to capture sixteen men from the Second Michigan, they also managed to capture a number of Christmas turkeys.
On December 25, Christmas Day, Morgan passed through Glasgow and took Bear Wallow turnpike toward Munfordville, Kentucky. About ten miles from Green River, Morgan’s scouts reported that a battalion of cavalry was drawn up and awaiting Morgan’s approach. The battalion of Federal cavalry were two companies each of the Fourth and Fifth Indiana Cavalry, under the command of Col. Isaac Gray. Fifty of Morgan’s advance guard rode forward and when then approached within two hundred yards from the Federal line, Captain Quirk of Morgan’s scouts, halted the men, dismounted and advanced on foot. Reaching the top of the rise in the lane with a high fence on either side, the Federals opened fire, which Quirk’s men returned from the fence corners. The Federals had set an ambush and the or Fifth Indiana or 12th Kentucky Cavalry, depending upon which report you read, rushed up to an adjoining rail fence and began to fire upon Morgan’s men. Several of Morgan’s men were wounded, including Captain Quirk. The erupting battle stampeded Morgan’s horses, leaving Quirk’s scouts on foot. Five members of Morgan’s men were captured. The rest of the scouts jumped over the fence and ran for a scrub oak thicket, which was located one or two hundred yards across a field. By this time, the leading regiment of the main column of Morgan’s men arrived, rounded up the stampeded horses, and rescued the scouts. The scouts and the regiment charged the Federals and after a few minutes the Federals were surrounded and forced to surrender. Union Col. Edward Hobson, commanding the Munfordville, only reported one killed, two prisoners, and several horses killed, with no loss to the 12th Kentucky Cavalry.
On the chance that the Federals might have guessed that Morgan was going to attack the trestles, he decided that Lt. Col. John B. Hutchinson and the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry should attack the Bacon Creek Bridge, while the rest of his regiments would approach Elizabethtown. The Yankees had constructed a massive stockade within a hundred yards of the Bacon Creek Bridge. The entire length of the bridge could be covered by rifle fire. Hutchinson arrived and ordered the Parrott gun, which had been captured at Hartsville, Tennessee, and a mountain howitzer to fire at the stockade, while he sent a detail to fire the bridge. Several fires were started on the bridge, but the incessant cold rain put out the flames. Hutchinson himself tried to put lighted brands on the railroad, only to be shot away by the Federal sharp shooters. Hutchinson severely shelled the stockade, but the stockade held out. A number of the shells burst within the stockade and some of the shells penetrated the walls and an old barn, which had been left within the earthworks. The barn was blown apart, with many of the timbers falling on the Federal soldiers within the stockade.3 Morgan arrived and sent a flag of truce and demanded an unconditional surrender. Captain James, who commanded the stockade, finally decided to surrender. Ninety three men of the Ninety First Illinois Infantry surrendered. Hutchinson made sure that the telegraph lines were cut and the poles torn down. For a few days, Rosecrans Nashville base was cut off from Louisville. Hutchinson also made sure that the tracks were torn up for several miles. Col. Basil Duke arrived at Nolin and sent a flag of truce to the commander of the stockade. The commander agreed to surrender if Col. Duke would show him the number of pieces of artillery. Col. Duke showed the Union commander his two mountain howitzers, which Col Duke temporarily borrowed, but when Col. Duke pressed him to comply with his part of the agreement, the Union commander hesitated, and said he would return and consult with his officers. While the Union commander returned to his officers, Col. Duke made sure that he saw the artillery was planted closer to the stockade and his riflemen in position to have a better command of the ground. The Union officer came back to Col. Duke and surrendered. Col. Duke took the stockade at Nolin without a fight and captured three officers and 73 privates of the Ninety First Illinois Infantry. The stockade and bridge were destroyed.
By December 27, Morgan’s advance regiments were within six miles of Elizabethtown. Morgan had been informed that seven or eight Federal companies were stationed at Elizabethtown. When he arrived at the town, a message arrived, scrawled in pencil on the back of an envelope, which read:
To the commander of the Confederate forces:
Sir: I demand an unconditional surrender of all your forces. I have you surrounded, and will compel you to surrender. I am, sir, your obedient servant, Col. H.S. Smith.
To Morgan’s amusement, he replied that the positions were reversed and Morgan had Smith surrounded and called for Smith’s surrender. Smith wrote back that as an officer in the Union forces he would fight and not surrender.
Morgan ordered Col. Duke to deploy his command to the right and Col. Breckinridge to deploy his command to the left of the town and to throw skirmishers forward to discover the positions of the enemy. The Yankees had taken possession of several brick houses on the outskirts of town and Morgan soon realized the Yankees decided to make a street fight. Morgan placed his artillery in position on a hill a little to the left of the road, which completely commanded the town and sent Captain C. C. Corbett, with one mountain howitzer, to attack the town on the right. According to Basil Duke, the Parrott gun was placed in the pike and Palmer’s four guns “roared out from the hill on the left of the hill six hundred yards from the town, where General Morgan himself was superintending the fire.”4 Captain Palmer’s artillery struck every house occupied by the Union soldiers. According to Col. Duke, Palmer concentrated his fire upon the building where “the flag floated and the enemy seemed thickest, and moved his six pounders into the very edge of town.”5 While under heavy fire from the houses, Captain Corbett ran his howitzer into town. Lt. Col. R. G. Stoner, commanding Breckinridge’s regiment, charged into town. After Morgan shelled the town for about half an hour, the town surrendered, including 652 Union soldiers, including 25 officers.
On December 28, Morgan approached his major objective: the two wooden trestles at Muldraugh’s Hill, each protected by a stockade. Morgan divided his ranks into two lines. Morgan sent a truce party to offer the Yankees a chance to surrender peacefully. The offer was refused and Morgan began a simultaneous artillery barrage on the two stockades. Col. Duke’s brigade moved against the upper trestles and Col. Breckinridge’s brigade moved against the lower trestle. After almost three hours of bombardment from the Confederate artillery, the 71st Indiana Infantry ran up white flags and both Union stockades surrendered. Morgan captured 650 prisoners. After the surrender of the Union troops, the Rebels burned the two trestles. After the capture of the Union prisoners, Morgan’s men were equipped with the .577 Enfield rifles.
Morgan and his men accomplished their mission. General Morgan reported that: “he had the satisfaction of knowing that the object of the expedition was attained, and the railroad was rendered impassable for at least two months. These two trestles are the largest and finest on the whole road, being, each of them, some sixty feet in height and from 300 to 350 yards in length. Neither of them had ever before been destroyed during the war. Seven hundred prisoners, including 27 officers, were captured, and a large and valuable amount of medical, quartermaster’s and commissary stores were destroyed.” Morgan’s estimate was conservative, rebuilding the bridges and trestles and restoring service on the L&N would not start until mid March 1863.
Now that Morgan’s mission was accomplished, he had to figure a way to get his men back into Tennessee. Union Col. Edward Hobson was hot on Morgan’s trail. To make matters worse, the weather had become extremely hazardous. Freezing rain, ice and sleet pummeled Morgan’s men. On December 29, Morgan sent Col. R. S. Cluke’s regiment, with one piece of artillery, to attack and burn the bridge over the Rolling Fork; Col. D. W. Chenault’s regiment of the 11thKentucky Cavalry and one piece of artillery were to burn the stockade at Boston and three companies of Col. Breckinridge’s regiment and one mountain howitzer were to attack New Haven. Morgan gave his orders and the regiments moved out towards their objectives. Just Morgan’s rear regiments were crossing the Rolling Fork, a large Union force comprising of five regiments of infantry and cavalry, under Col. John Harlan, came up and began to shell the ford. Morgan sent Col. Duke, who was in the rear, to send a courier to Col. Cluke, ordering him to rejoin the command and hold back the enemy until the entire command had crossed the ford. Col. Duke and Breckinridge places seven companies in position, with five in reserve. The Union force was repulsed several times, until a Union artillery shell severely wounded Col. Duke. Col. Duke fell unconscious from his horse, blood flowing from the side of his head. Duke’s men thought that their commander was dead. Captain Tom Quirk, who had been assisting Duke, ran forward and lifted the apparently lifeless body upon his horse, guided the horse into the stream and carried Col. Duke and himself safely across the river to the opposite bank. Quirk managed to find a carriage at a farm house and filled the carriage with feather mattresses and blankets.
Meanwhile, Col. Breckinridge took over command and maintained his position until Col. Cluke’s regiment had crossed the river. Morgan ordered Col. Cluke to fall back. While the battle was raging at Rolling Fork, Col. Chenault managed to capture and burn the stockade at Boston. The force sent to burn the stockade at New Haven was not successful. The Yankees at the Rolling Fork bridge were within hearing range of the Confederates and heard that Col. Duke was dead and Col. Hobson reported to President Lincoln that Col. Duke was dead.
When Morgan and Col. Duke arrived in Bardstown, Col. Duke was taken to Dr. Cox’s two story brick house and up the stairway to the north end room where he was laid on a thick pallet on the floor. Dr. Thomas Allen, surgeon of the 2nd Kentucky attended Duke. The wound was on the right side of the head, a piece of skin and bone behind the ear was gone. As Dr. Allen washed the wound, Col. Duke opened his eyes and said cheerfully: “That was a pretty close call.”
The next morning Morgan rode out of Bardstown, Col. Duke rode in a feather bedded buggy. By mid afternoon, Morgan’s men were in Springfield. Morgan approached Lebanon, but the town had become a concentration point for eight thousand Union troops. To make matters worse, Morgan reports came in stating that ten thousand Federals were between Glasgow and the Cumberland River crossings. Quietly, Morgan and his men rerouted through Campbellsville, avoiding Lebanon.
While marching around Lebanon, the weather had turned bitterly cold and the freezing rain turned to sleet. A strong wind made the conditions ever worse and icicles began to form on the horses bridles and halters. The men’s mustaches and beards even had icicles hanging from them.
On New Years Eve, December 31, 1862, Morgan spent the day at Campbellsville. The next day, Morgan’s men marched toward Columbia, Tennnessee. On that same day, Confederate General Braxton Bragg and Union General William Rosecrans were fighting a major battle at Stone’s River, Tennessee. By January 1, the Battle of Stone’s River had ended with Bragg pulling out of Murfreesboro and heading towards Tullahoma.
On December 5, Morgan’s men rode into Smithville. During Morgan’s Christmas Raid, he had managed to capture 1,887 Union soldiers and destroyed at least two million dollars worth of Union property, with only two dead and 24 wounded. Morgan’s command returned well armed and better mounted than when they had left. Union Major General Horatio Wright, commanding at Cincinnati, was trying to deliver one million rations to Rosecrans army, but Morgan had managed to destroy the railroad preventing any supplies by rail. Wright tried to send the supplies by river, but the river was too low to transport the badly needed supplies. Wright was afraid that Rosecrans army would starve. Because of the damaged to the railroads, Rosecrans was forced to send out forage expeditions to gather food for his men. His army would not be able to move out from Murfreesboro for six months.
Although Morgan’s raid was a great success, his raid drew his cavalry away from Bragg, when Bragg needed every man on the battlefield to fight General Rosecrans at the Battle of Stone’s River. Morgan’s men, along with Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s three thousand men, who had been sent to destroy the railroads in the rear of Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s army in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi, might have been just enough men to help turn the tide of battle and turn a indecisive battle for Bragg into a Confederate victory and could have altered the war in the Western Theater.■
Duke, Basil, History of Morgan’s Cavalry, 1867.
Wyeth, John, Allen, Morgan’s Christmas Raid, 1862-1863, Robert Lanier, editor, Photographic History of the Civil War: Armies and Leaders New York: Random House Publishing, 1983, 1997.
Brown, Alexander, Dee, Morgan’s Raiders, New York: Konecky & Konecky, 1959.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. XX Dec. 22, 1862-January 2, 1863-Morgan’s Christmas Raid, No. 9-Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan, Commanding Expedition. No. 5-Report of Col. Edward Hobson, 13th Kentucky Infantry, commanding at Munfordville, including skirmishes at Glasgow, near Green’s Chapel, at Bear Wallow, and at Bacon Creek, Ky.
Gambone, A.M., Morgan’s Christmas Raid, Atlas Editions, MCMXCV.
1Basil Duke, History of Morgan’s Cavalry, 1867.
2Wyeth, John, Allen, Morgan’s Christmas Raid, 1862-1863, Robert Lanier, editor, Photographic History of the Civil War: Armies and Leaders (New York: Random House Publishing, 1983, 1997) 144.
3Basil Duke, History of Morgan’s Cavalry, 1867.
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