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Morgan's Second Kentucky Raid - The Skirmish at New Haven

Introduction

I had driven through New Haven, Kentucky once on the return from a weekend trip to Tebbs Bend and Munfordville. It was raining, and I made a stop at the quickie mart for some gas. I wanted to drive home via New Haven as I knew that the town was a location that the Thirty-Second Indiana had occupied for a short time in 1861. I did not realize then that it was also the scene of a skirmish during John H. Morgan's Second Kentucky Raid.


Looking toward the Rolling Fork of the Salt River and showing the extremely faded interpretive sign. The skirmish took place on the opposite side of the river.

On a recent trip to central Tennessee with my wife, I decided that driving the back roads would be more enjoyable than using the interstate highway system. We made New Haven a place we would drive through to satisfy my curiosity as by this time I knew a bit about the skirmish, and also knew that there was also a cooresponding interpretive panel. We located the marker, and made the now required stop at the quickie mart, before resuming our southbound exploration to central Tennessee.


As you can see by the photos, the sign is in dire need of replacing. It is part of the John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail in Kentucky series of interpretive markers, and some of the other markers I have seen in this series are also looking poorly. Not certain who is the entity that installed these signs and who is supposed to be maintaining them, but they need some TLC!


The Confederates

On December 23, 1862, Morgan launched his second raid into Kentucky, also known as the Christmas Raid. After his successful foray at Hartsville earlier in the month (see HERE), Morgan and his command were feeling confident in their ability to not only raid, but also to meet the Federals on equal terms. For this raid Morgan had just under 4,000 men, the largest force he would command during the war. This number of troops was unwieldy as a single brigade, so Morgan would create two brigades, one led by Morgan's brother-in-law Basil Duke and the other by William C. P. Breckenridge. Duke's brigade consisted of the Second, Seventh, and Eighth Kentucky Cavalry Regiments, along with Palmer's four-gun artillery battery (two 12-pounder howitzers and two 6-pounder guns). In Breckenridge's command were the victors of Hartsville - the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Kentucky Cavalry Regiments, the Ninth Tennessee Cavalry, and two "batteries" of artillery. The latter were White's Kentucky Battery of one 10-pounder Parrott and Corbett's Kentucky Battery of two 12-pounder mountain howitzers.


The Federals

One company of Illinois troops from the Seventy-Eighth Illinois Infantry defended the railroad bridge over the Rolling Fork. The Seventy-Eighth had been formed in Quincy on September 1, 1862. The regiment was initially assigned to the Army of the Ohio's Thirty-Ninth Brigade before being detached as guards for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. By the time of the action at New Haven the Illinoisans were serving in the Thirty-Fourth Brigade (as a point of reference this had been George P. Webster's brigade at the Battle of Perryville). The colonel of the regiment was William H. Benneson, a pre-war attorney who had practiced for a short period of time with Stephen Douglas. Benneson was born in Delaware on New Year's Eve, 1818, the youngest of nine children. Benneson would graduate from Delaware College then teach in Virginia while studying law. In 1843 he would move to Illinois. In 1849 Benneson "caught the gold fever," engaging in mining for three years. He would return to Illinois and resume his law practice. Illinois governor Richard Yates would commission Benneson to lead the Seventy-Eighth. After New Haven he would continue to serve until ill health forced him to resign in September, 1863. Benneson would live until 1899 and is buried in Quincy.


John K. Allen

The ninety Union defenders of Fort Allen were from Company H of the Seventy-Eighth. They were equipped with .69 caliber rifled-muskets. Commanding Company H was John Knotts Allen from Dallas, Illinois. Thirty-seven at the time of his enlistment, Knotts resigned his commission in March 1864, filed for a pension in May, and died in November with five children at home and a sixth born the following year.


Assisting Captain Allen were First Lieutenant George T. Beers (a native of New York) and Kentucky native Second Lieutenant Samuel Simmons (both had moved to Illinois prior to the war). Beers would later take over command of Company H after Allen's resignation, and would be killed at Bentonville, North Carolina, in 1865.



The Skirmish at New Haven

On December 29th Morgan had sent three detachments to destroy various portions of the Lebanon Junction Railroad which would not only disrupt the flow of supplies and troops along that line, but also hinder any pursuit from the Federals. The detachment sent to New Haven consisted of three companies from William C. P. Breckinridge's Ninth Kentucky Cavalry. Attached to the command was a M1841 twelve-pound mountain howitzer from Captain C. C. Corbett's battery. Arriving later in the evening of the 29th, the Confederates decided to wait until the next morning before moving against the Federals at New Haven. Before moving against the stockade the Confederates demanded the surrender of the Federal garrison. Captain Allen's garrison occupied a small stockade at the west end of the Lousiville & Nashville Rail Road bridge (this line was a spur that split at Lebanon Junction from the main line of the L&N). The Union garrison, about ninety men strong, were outnumbered more than two to one by the 220 Confederates now facing them to the west.




Colonel Benneson was in New Haven when the Confederates attacked. Benneson "respectfully declined" the Confederate demand for surrender. The fighting began with Confederate artillery fire 1000 yards northeast of the stockade (first position on the map). The Confederates shelled the Federal troops for over an hour moving their gun several times to get closer to the Union defenders. When the Confederates had closed to within 800 yards, the Illinois men of Company H opened fire. The Federal fire drew in the Confederate cavalrymen, who in turn dismounted, leaving their horses behind the Howell House (second artillery position on the map), then deployed and returned fire. After thirty minutes, the heavy fire from the Federal infantry drove off the main attack. The Confederates tried once more this time they attempted to flank the stockade by coming down the north side of the railroad embankment, Union fire again drove the Confederates off. The Confederate troops withdrew taking their dead and wounded with them. The fighting Illini suffered no casualties, but the Confederate artillery fire damaged several buildings in New Haven, including both of the town's taverns. Confederate losses were reported as two killed and ten wounded.



Report of Col. William H. Benneson, Seventy-eighth Illinois Infantry, of skirmish at Hew Haven, Ky.

Hdqrs. Seventy-eighth Regiment Illinois Vols.,

New Haven, Ky., January 10, 1863.

Sir : In obedience to the order of General Gilbert, requiring a report of the late affair between the troops of my command at this place and a body of the enemy, I have the honor to report as follows:

The enemy appeared in the vicinity of the stockade at this place on the evening of the 29th ultimo, and displayed a force much superior to my own, but the extent of his numbers I could not ascertain. The weakness of my command, consisting of one company (H, Seventy-eighth Illinois Volunteers) only, numbering 80 guns, and the strict orders I was under to keep within 300 yards of the stockade, and act on the defensive alone, prevented me making any reconnaissance to ascertain his strength. In anticipation of an attack from him the next morning, the stockade and its environs were cleared for action, and every precaution taken to secure the safety of my men as far as possible under the circumstances.

About 9 o’clock the next morning (December 30), after a formal demand for the surrender of the post, and refusal, the enemy, with one piece of artillery (a 12-pounder howitzer), but with a force smaller than he displayed the evening before, emerged from the timber on the northwest of our position, advanced along the south side of the railroad to within 1,000 yards of the stockade, and there took his first position.

In the meantime the forces of my command were disposed as follows: Lieutenant Beers, with one-fourth of the command, occupied the rifle-pits on the northwest side of the stockade; sentinels were placed without the stockade at divers points, commanding views of all surroundings not visible from the stockade itself. The balance of my force, under Captain Allen, were distributed within the stockade, so as to detect the advance of the enemy from any and all quarters he might see proper to attack us.

The enemy bombarded us for some time from his position first taken, as above stated; then changed his position to a point some 200 yards south of his first, threw a number of shells, and changed position again to a point still farther south of his last one, and at the distance of 700 yards from the stockade. He also, at the same time, dismounted a portion of his forces and deployed in the corn-field, situated between the meadow in which he first planted his artillery and the stockade, and sent another portion of his forces to the north side of the railroad, and down the wagon-road leading to the ford at the railroad bridge, with the evident design of occupying if possible the north bank of the railroad, near the ford.

To prevent the accomplishment of this object by the enemy, Lieutenant Simmons was sent, with a few men, to the threatened point, but on reaching it found the enemy in hasty retreat, from the fire of the single sentinel who had been placed there prior to the commencement of the action.

In the mean time the enemy, having thrown a number of shells from his third position, was proceeding to take a fourth, still nearer to us. His forces, deployed in the corn-field, had advanced to within 600 yards of the stockade, and opened upon us with small-arms.

At this juncture we commenced a rapid fire upon the enemy with all our disposable force. The damaging effects of our fire were immediately apparent. The cannoneers abandoned their cannon, and only returned to remove it out of our range. The forces in the corn-field receded from their advanced position. In a few minutes the rout became general, and the enemy, moving at a rapid pace and in a disorderly mass, disappeared from view in the timber from which he had emerged prior to the attack.

The enemy received some punishment, but to what extent we do not certainly know, as he carried his killed and wounded from the field with him. From information obtained since the affair, we have reason to believe he lost 3 killed and 10 or 12 wounded. My command received no damage whatever. The stockade remains uninjured. The affair lasted one hour and a half.

I cannot speak in too high terms of the conduct of my officers and men during the attack. Though not one of them had ever been under fire before, they behaved like veterans.

In concluding this report, I should do injustice to my own feelings should I omit to acknowledge the very great obligations I am under to Captain Allen, Lieutenants Beers and Simmons, and my adjutant, Lieutenant. Green, for their efficient support prior to and during the affair.

Very respectfully,

WILLIAM H. BENNESON,

Colonel, Commanding.

George K. Speed,

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Louisville, Ky.


Morgan's report of the unsuccessful affair at New Haven is scant on details, which is a common practice when conveying less than ideal facts:


The following morning I sent Colonel Cluke’s regiment, with one piece of artillery, to attack and burn the bridge over the Rolling Fork; Colonel Chenault’s regiment, and one piece of artillery in advance, to burn the stockade and trestle at Boston, and three companies of Breckinridge’s regiment and one mountain howitzer, to attack at New Haven.


Meanwhile Colonel Chenault had captured and burned the stockade at Boston. He rejoined me that night at Bardstown. The force sent to burn the stockade at New Haven was not successful, and did not rejoin the command until the following night at Springfield.


Sources

  • American Civil War Research Database

  • Lemons, Charles - A Very Good Camping Place: New Haven Kentucky in the Civil War 1861-1865. Lulu, 2011.

  • Smith, Lanny K. - Morgan's Cavalry 1861-1862. 2008.

  • The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Volume XX, Part I - Reports.

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