Updated: Jul 22, 2021
On July 4, 1863, a small band of 40 men from the 8th Michigan and 79th New York played a pivotal role in the battle of Tebbs Bend. In May 1863, the 8th Michigan under Colonel Ralph Ely and the 79th New York Highlanders under Colonel Morrison were stationed at Tebbs Bend. During their stay asked General Jeremiah Boyle, the overall department commander of Kentucky, if the men could rebuild the destroyed bridge, which was burnt by Morgan’s men during the Christmas raid of 1862 to 1863. By Late May and early June, both regiments had been ordered away from the area, tasked with going to the siege of Vicksburg.
Before leaving, Gen. Boyle order a detachment of 40 mixed men from both units to finish repairing the bridge. The detachment was under the command of 1st Lieutenant Michael A. Hogan of Company G, 8th Michigan, and Lieutenant Thomas Campbell of Company I, 8th Michigan. By June 13th the detachment received reinforcements from the 25th Michigan Infantry. Colonel Orlando Moore and Hogan, being built with different characters, clashed with each other. Benjamin Travis later wrote in the story of the 25th Michigan that “Hogan was a brag and of great self-importance…”.
On June 28th, at around 9:00 in the morning, the wooden bridge the detachment had built, sudden collapsed and washed away. Due to the rain over the past few days the Green River rose, and its wicked current broke the structure. Lt. Hogan had to rebuild the structure again, and this time forced Moore, through Gen. Boyle, to send all the carpenters to himself. The two continued to butt heads. During the preceding days, the detachment continued to build more on the bridge. Col. Moore, in the meantime, built breastworks and felled trees at “the Narrows” of Tebbs Bend; in preparation for Morgan paying a visit to the area. Sure enough, Morgan showed up on the night of July 3, 1863.
On the night of July 3rd, Col. Moore with 210 men of the 25th Michigan moved their camp and crossed the ford just below the bridge. During this night time move, Moore sent several men from the 25th across the bridge, creating the illusion of reinforcements to the enemy. Across the Bend, towards Lemons Bend, was a slowly forming force of about 200-400 Rebels under the command of Colonel Roy S. Cluke of the 8th Kentucky Cavalry, and a detachment of the 10th Kentucky Cavalry (Partisan Rangers) under the command Lieutenant Colonel George Washington Owen. Cluke, guideded by locals from the area in Morgan’s cavalry, was tasked with watching the road leading into the bend from the west. The Confederates left after midnight and made it into position in the pre-dawn hours of July 4th, several hundred yards from the road. After posting pickets, Cluke allowed his men to rest.
In the meantime, Col. Moore, after moving all of his wagons across the river, decided to detach 20 men from Company E, under the command of Lieutenant Benjamin F. Travis, to help with the defense of the bridge and ford area. Travis later wrote, “Col. Moore had ordered me, that when through moving the camp, to remain with twenty men and guard the ford below the bridge from a possible attack.” Realizing that an unknown Confederate force had moved in close proximity, Moore wanted to sure up his only easy escape route if the need arose. After getting into position Travis heard, in the early morning hours, rifle shots on top of the bluff. The total force at the bridge and ford by now was 60 men. Travis with 20 and Hogan with 40.
Though outnumbered by their Confederate counterparts, just a couple hundred yards away, the men had a few advantages. Being along the bluffs on the south side of the river Hogan and Travis’s men held the best defensible position between the two forces. Hogan arrayed his men in such a way that it allowed them to cover the entire area. In the early hours of July 4th his men built a stone wall across the new bridge. Travis later wrote, “I was within a few rods of these men during most of the battle, and when I left to join the fighting line, there were not more than ten or twelve of them concealed behind a stone wall they had placed across the road way at the south end of the bridge.” After placing men behind the stone wall, Hogan then placed the rest of the thirty men in the thick, tree covered bluffs above, either behind simi-breastworks or trees. In the days before the battle, Hogan’s men also cut down several trees on the north side of the river, thus giving them a perfect field of fire. Hogan’s force on the bluff could cover both the bridge and ford at the same time.
One interesting point to be made is that Hogan’s men had already been through a similar situation like this before, but on the opposite side. Hogan’s force, being veterans of Antietam in September of 1862, crossed the Burnside bridge and undoubtably saw how the Confederates used the terrain to their advantage.
During the lull at the bridge, a Sergeant Merrill of the 25th, was sick and confined to the Sublett house. Hearing the battle up above he raced towards the ford and was captured by Cluke's pickets. This small event had a great impact on the battle. By 9:30 am the fighting at the main battle was reaching its climax, and Moore with only about 150 men, holding out against 1,000 Confederates, recalled Travis’s small force. This left Hogan with his 40 men to defend the bridge and ford.
For the next few minutes Hogan and Cluke both sat idle, while the fight between Moore and Morgan continued. At around 10:00 am, the firing up above ceased. Cluke, with no information that Morgan's main attack had been repulsed, concluded they had won the battle. Thinking that hundreds of retreating Yankees would be streaming towards the bridge and ford, Cluke decided to attack.
With an advance company, Cluke rushed for the ford. Suddenly hidden rifles on the opposite bank opened fire. In the ensuing skirmish, two or three of Cluke’s men were killed or wounded. Cluke would not get the chance he wanted in fully crossing the river. Within a few minutes of the skirmish the Confederate officer, uninformed of the true size of the Federal’s to his front, decided to pull back. In doing so, he finally received word of the defeat and rejoined Morgan’s men. Col. Moore in his official report stated, “the detachment of forty men under Lieut. Hogan, 8th Michigan Infantry, held the river at the ford near the bridge, and repulsed a cavalry charge made by the enemy, in a very creditable and gallant manner”.
In total, the casualties at the bridge were very light. The Federals suffered one casualty, Lieutenant Thomas Campbell, who was wounded and captured earlier in the morning by Morgan’s men close to Campbellsville. For the Confederates, there is no true definitive number of casualties, Cluke’s force probably lost five to six men either killed wounded or captured once the guns fell silent. Travis later wrote about Hogan and his victory, “Boasting soon afterword’s that the colonel was indebted to him for the victory…''. Despite Hogan’s cockiness, his men did stop a potential entrapment of Federal forces in the battle of Tebbs Bend.
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Travis. Benjamin F. “Story of the 25th Michigan”. E-Books, Google Books. Kalamazoo Publishing Company. 1897. Accessed 20 December 2020.
Todd, William. “The Seventy-Ninth Highlanders New York Volunteers in the War of Rebellion”. E-Book, University of California Libraries. Brandow, Barton and Company Press. 1886. Accessed 20 December 2020.
McKnight, William M. “Blue Bonnets O’er The Border: the 79th New York Cameron Highlanders”. White Maine Books Publishers. 1998.