During the winter of 1861-1862, the Union and Confederate western armies developed a sort of stalemate within Kentucky. With the Green River being a natural barrier between the two, both sides conducted numerous cavalry operations along the river and the nearby bridges and crossings. In December 1861, Captain John H. Morgan was to slip across the Green with roughly 100 men to destroy the railroad bridge across Bacon Creek, at Bonnieville. The bridge, already repaired once by the Federals, was an important avenue for the Union advance coming south from Upton toward Munfordville.
On December 5, Morgan crossed the Green River with his squadron of Kentuckians, sending a handful into Munfordville to prevent word of their presence from reaching the Union camps and pickets. His men found two armed Unionists, apparently recently returned from the Union camps. Morgan wrote in his report, "When they got into the town saw several men armed, 2 whose names were Berry Eaton and Luther Shackleford, who it seems had just returned from [the] Federal camp, where they had been to take a Southern-rights man, whom they had captured. My advance guard discovered them and ordered them to give up their guns. They dismounted, one immediately turning both barrels of his gun at my men, who returned the fire without doing any execution. The 2 men who were left in town caught one of the horses, which is now in my camp."
After passing Munfordville, Morgan reached his target at Bacon Creek. He reported that upon reaching the bridge that it was in "perfect order, with the exception of one rail." The bridge, having recently been destroyed, was nearly rebuilt with only one portion left until total completion. According to The Tennessean, Morgan "saved them the trouble" and "his men gathered rails and such combustible material as they could procure and piled them against the bridge. They then set fire to it, and in a brief time, it was in ruins." Shortly after the burning commenced, Morgan was happy to report that all five bridge columns were "completely burned, with the exception of one which was in the creek. The bridge is a complete ruin."
The destruction of the Bacon Creek Bridge ensured a slower march for the men under General McCook, whose advance was only a mere 5 miles north at Upton. To prevent a speedy reconstruction of the bridge, the Kentuckians threw the construction tools belonging to the civilian crew from Louisville into the stream. The Tennessean gloated that the glow from the flames was surely seen by McCook's forward units, much to the chagrin of those who had recently repaired the bridge.
On Morgan's return to Southern lines, he reported an incident involving a wagon loaded with consumer goods belonging to a man of questionable loyalties. Morgan related that "The wagon was claimed by Mrs. Ritter, who had purchased the goods with which it was loaded. Mrs. Ritter is believed by the people of that neighborhood to be an employee of the enemy. Upon my return, finding that a portion of the goods were to be delivered in Bowling Green, I released the wagon. One of my horses becoming exhausted, left it at Ritter’s, and mounted the man upon one of his." Though Morgan merely switched the horses, could it be argued that this one of the early instances of his horse thievery? I know a few friends who would agree!
Besides one man wounded from the "accidental discharge of his gun," Morgan's short raid was accomplished without the loss of a man, and an early picture of how he would operate in his later exploits. The Tennessean called the raid a "daring feat" while Louisville's Courier-Journal was more disappointed in Morgan even having the opportunity to be so bold, calling the event "portentous." That paper reported on December 19, "Captain Morgan's visit was rather unexpected, but, in order to advise General McCook of his presence in that neck of the woods, a card, with 'Compliments of John H. Morgan, CSA' was sent to him."
Derrick Lindow is an author, historian, teacher, and creator of the WTCW site. His first book, published by Savas Beatie, will be released in Spring 2023. Go HERE to read more posts by Derrick and HERE to visit his personal page. Follow Derrick on different social media platforms (Instagram and Twitter) to get more Western Theater and Kentucky Civil War Content.