“Ten thousand craters in eruption would scarcely equal that of Chickamauga”
Updated: Feb 2
Morgan’s Detachment at the Battle of Chickamauga-Part 1
It can be reasonably inferred that General John H. Morgan's old division ended its active service in July 1863 when most of the troopers were captured at either the Battle of Buffington Island or Salineville, Ohio. However, this is not entirely true; in the aftermath of the Great Raid, elements from Morgan's division made their way across the Ohio River and into West Virginia. From there, the men embarked on an incredible journey culminating in one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles: Chickamauga.
We began this fascinating story early on July 19, 1863. To try and get his men across the Ohio River before Federal forces under Generals Henry M. Judah and Edward H. Hobson caught them, Morgan tasked Colonel William Ward of the 9th Tennessee Cavalry with securing the crossing near Buffington Island, Ohio. In turn, Ward ordered each company to detach roughly 10-12 men each to be sent across the river. After they assembled, approximately 110 in all, they were told to dismount and form two companies, the first under Captain John D. Kirkpatrick from Co. C, and the second company under Captain John W. Sission from Co. H. Soon, the men boarded four small skiffs and made their way across the river. Once on the West Virginia side, they hid along the bluffs and among bushes awaiting the rest of their comrades (I). Unfortunately, once the last elements of the Tennesseans were across the river, the USS Moose and Imperial arrived and began to shell the Confederate positions on the Ohio side of the river (II).
In what would be known as the Battle of Buffington Island, Morgan's worn-out command was routed from the field and forced to escape from the area or surrender to the Federals. Many, worn out from their long and arduous journey, surrendered after putting up a fight, but several managed to escape with their commander north toward another ford.
By late afternoon of the 19th, Morgan, and what remained of his command, reached Reedville, Ohio, twenty miles north of Buffington Island, where an undefended ford was discovered. Morgan ordered his second brigade commander, Colonel Adam R. Johnson, to lead the men across the river. However, just as Confederates began to cross, the USS Moose arrived down the river below and began to shell the Southerners. Further, Federal cavalry arrived and began to fight the Confederates. Chaos and fear ran among the men and several drowned in the water. Morgan realized the peril he and his men were in and collected what remained of his force and raced inland into Ohio. Across the river, Johnson looked back at what he saw and became overwhelmed by the situation (III). However, he collected what remained of Morgan's cavalry on his side of the river, 300-350 men, and moved into the interior of West Virginia. Johnson's force comprised every company and regiment in Morgan's division. The only complete companies to make it across were Company F of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry, which was interestingly made up of Mississippians under Captain N.M. Lea and Company L of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry under Captian John A. Cooper (IV).
For three weeks, Johnson's worn-out command crossed the mountains of West Virginia, suffering everything from fatigue to little food. Private John Weathered of the 9th Tennessee Cavalry recalled, "We went the most secret route we could to keep from being captured. We went three days over with nothing to eat - our feet blistered the first day's march so that most of us had to cut our shoes to pieces, and we had to sew and tie rags around our feet." (V). By late July, the Confederate troopers made it into friendly territory and reached Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Johnson summarized the moment, "When we came in sight of fields harvested wheat and green waving corn, I am sure each one of us felt as much pleasure as did Moses when he first viewed the promised land." (VI).
Politics of command
Just as Morgan’s men ended one challenge, a new one emerged within the halls of the Confederate Congress. After reaching Greenbrier County, Johnson left for the Confederate capital at Richmond, where a storm began to brew to decide what to do with Morgan’s men. Once in the city, Johnson booked a room in the Spotswood Hotel, and almost as soon as he was settled in, visitors called on Johnson. The first to visit with him was Kentucky Senator Eli Metcalfe Bruce, who wanted to gauge Johnson’s opinion on what to do. Bruce mentioned that many officials wanted to either reorganize what remained of the cavalry division into an infantry battalion or keep them in the cavalry. Bruce stressed that if the men were formed into an infantry battalion, he doubted many would stay in the service. One of those in favor included one of Morgan’s officers who also escaped, Colonel J. Warren Grisby of the 6th Kentucky Cavalry. The most prominent was General Braxton Bragg, who was fuming that Morgan disobeyed his orders not to cross the Ohio River and also for losing a division of seasoned cavalrymen.
After receiving the information, Johnson motioned to try and take what remained of the men and move into western Kentucky, where he could reactivate his operations there as he had done in 1862. After much discussion, Bruce convinced Johnson to think the matter over and make a firm decision the next day. After meeting several other Kentucky officials and Congressmen who all advocated for the preservation of Morgan’s old command, Johnson decided to give his answer at 9 o’clock the next morning. The following day, Johnson met the Kentucky delegation and was determined to keep Morgan’s cavalry alive and reorganize the men into a cavalry force.
After the meeting, Johnson moved to his next meeting with Confederate General Samuel Cooper to discuss the future of Morgan’s command. During the meeting, Cooper, Johnson, and Bruce discussed the probability of keeping Morgan’s men mounted. At first, Cooper was hesitant to remount the command due to the strained nature of the Confederacy and its mounted arm. Still, after a few minutes of the discussion, Bruce stepped in and announced that if Johnson could reorganize the command, the Kentucky delegation would raise funds to help mount and reequip the men. Cooper relented and gave Johnson the go-ahead. Johnson, in return, promised to raise 500 men. After the first meeting, Johnson was pushed to meet with Colonel Preston Johnson and President Jefferson Davis, who, much like Cooper, was hesitant about whether the remounting process could be achieved. After convincing both men, Johnson was given further support for his efforts. The only major condition Johnson wanted was that his men were no longer under the command of Bragg. As such, Johnson requested to be put under the command of Department of Eastern Tennessee commander General Simon Bolivar Buckner, which was given. After receiving his orders, Johnson assembled Morgan’s command at Morristown, Tennessee (I).
While Johnson was moving from Richmond, Virginia, to Eastern Tennessee, orders were issued to the men still in Greenbriar County to move toward the Dublin Depot in Pulaski county, Virginia (I). Once in sight, the men boarded train cars and traveled south toward Morristown, where they disembarked and moved toward their campsite. The camp was located along the Nolichucky River and provided a perfect place for the men to rest and recuperate from their long journey (II). To reach more of Morgan’s scattered command, mainly those who were left behind at the start of the Great Raid and on detached service, Johnson issued orders in the Knoxville papers calling all of Morgan’s men to come to Morristown (III). Men soon flocked to the area from everywhere, the furthest coming from Alabama, all holding unique stories about how they got there and where they had been (IV). Over several days, Johnson collected over 500 men in all different states of condition. Further, most of the officers within the camp, excluding Johnson and Lieutenant Colonel Robert M. Martin, held the rank of captain and below (V).
Getting the men into the camp proved easier than the next phase: mounting. To keep the men in the cavalry, it was up to the men and Johnson to find mounts which proved difficult in a region already war-torn and strapped for animals. To help, Johnson announced that the War Department required all men coming into camp to bring mounts, and for those who could not, the colonel scoured the local region and paid for several animals. Even Senator Bruce came in to help with the funds. After enough men were remounted, their first assignment was issued. By August 1863, bushwacking began to take a toll on the wagon trains moving in the department. As such, Buckner assigned Johnson to help squash this form of rebellion in the region. Johnson’s men soon achieved their goal at the loss of one killed and five wounded (VI).
After several days, enough men were assembled to formally reorganize. Johnson created two battalions to help keep some symbolic tie to the old division. The first Battalion represented the first brigade of the division and was under the command of Captian John D. Kirkpatrick of the 9th Tennessee Cavalry. His battalion included what remained of the 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 14th Kentucky cavalries and his own 9th Tennessee and formed roughly six or so companies at various amounts of strength. The second Battalion, of course, represented the second brigade and included what remained of the 7th, 8th, 10th, and 11th Kentucky cavalries. After organizing four companies, the Battalion was placed under Captain John B. Dortch, formally from the 7th Kentucky Cavalry. Once both battalions were formed, the entire command was developed into a single unit known as Morgan’s detachment or command (VII).
Absorption into the Army of Tennessee
After Morgan’s shattered command reformed, much larger events began to transpire outside the camp. Further to the south, Union General William S. Rosecrans started to take large swaths of land in northern Georgia, resulting in the fall of the city of Chattanooga. As such, Bragg absorbed Buckner’s forces into the Army of Tennessee to bolster his numbers and face the oncoming threat (I). This included Johnson’s force. Since most men had no horses, many were forced to march on foot, but all were ordered toward Calhoun, Georgia. By early September, the command arrived at Calhoun. Once there, Morgan’s men received pay, and for some it was the first in fourteen months. They also received clothing and, most importantly, mounts (II). Since actual horses were much harder to come by, many men were mounted on mules. Pvt. Weatherred recalled, “We reached Calhoon, Georgia 3 or 4 days later where we were mounted on wagon mules and furnished saddles and bridles….” (III).
Though the men were finally mounted, a new challenge arose from Bragg. Since the reorganization of Morgan’s old command, Bragg was trying at every chance to try and form the once mounted men into an infantry force. Now under his direct control, he tried to get the unit dismounted, but larger forces stepped in to dissolve any chances of them being infantry. This was in part due to their new commander Nathan B. Forrest. After reaching the Army of Tennessee, Morgan’s detachment was placed in Forrest’s corps of cavalry, more specifically in Colonel John S. Scott’s Brigade (IV).
After re-equipping the mounted detachment, only roughly 240 men under the command of Lieutenant Robert M. Martin left Calhoun and moved to join up with Forrest personally. Martin, usually called Bob Martin, was an able commander; he saw the previous service with Johnson and Forrest from the early years of the war in Kentucky and Tennessee. Johnson, in the meantime, stayed with the dismounted men at Ringgold. Martin’s command, which included the two battalions, moved next toward Lafayette and then toward Dalton, where they linked up with Forrest and his escort. (V).
Continued in Part Two.
I. Jack Masters, “War Time Diary of John C. Weatherred-9th Tennessee Cavalry” jackmasters.net, Internet, par. 32; 36, http://www.jackmasters.net/9tncav.html
II. Horwitz, Lester V., “ The Longest Raid of the Civil War”, Farmcourt Publishing, Inc., 1999 pg. 214-215
III. Idb. pg. 237; Adam R. Johnson, “ The Partisan Rangers of the Confederacy”, United States, G.G. Fetter Co., 1904 version, E-Book, Google Books.com, digitized April 7, 2015, Editor William J. Davis, pg. 148-149. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Partisan_Rangers_of_the_Confederate/QQhIAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0
IV. Horwitz, pg. 212; Duke, Basil, W., “ History of Morgan’s Cavalry”, Neale Publishing Co. 1909, E-book, Internet Archive.org, digitized Oct. 6, 2014, Emory University, Robert W. Woodruff Library, pg. 341. https://archive.org/details/35812648.3150.emory.edu/page/n363/mode/2up?q=Lea+
V. Masters, par. 37
VI. Johnson, pg. 150
Politics of command
I. Johnson, pg. 151-154
I. Masters, par. 40
II. Gathright, Josiah, B., “After the Great Raid” pg. 446,-Johnson, “The Partisan Rangers of the Confederacy.”
III. Cantrill, James B. citation, Duke, “ History of Morgan’s Cavalry” pg. 376- note James B. Cantrill was from Co. E of the 5th Kentucky Cavalry and escaped from Buffington Island with Johnson, his notes on Morgan’s detachment provide an insight into the command at Chickamauga.
IV. War of the Rebellion pt. 4, Vol. 30, pg. 554, digital, Cornell University. Notes: A detachment of men at Gadsden, Alabama, under Second Lieutenant Frank P. Langston, 5th KY Cav. Co. K transferred possibly 30 or so men to Lieutenant Ben White Co.K 10th Ky Cav. to Morristown on Aug. 25, 1863. This detachment included men formally from Co.G of the 1st Ky Cav and, at the reorganization, became Company C of Kirkpatricks Battalion; Kentucky Adjutants General Report pg. 518- 519
V. Johnson, pg. 446
VI. Johnson, pg. 155
VII. Duke, pg. 376; Johnson, pg. 446; Powell, David A., “Failure In the Saddle” Savas Beatie LLC, 2010, pg. 250
Absorption into the Army of Tennessee
I. “Battle of Chickamauga” American Battlefield Trust, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/chickamauga, Accessed, December 31, 2022.
II. Duke, pg. 377
III.Masters, par, 42-43
IV. Johnson pg. 156-157; Powell, pg. 100-101; O.R. pt. 2, Vol. 30, pg. 20-Note: officially, Morgan’s detachment was placed into Col. John S. Scott’s brigade of Pegram’s Division as dated on August 31, 1863. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077699878&view=1up&seq=22&q1=Morgan%27s%20Detachment.
V. Powell, pg. 101; O.R. pt. 2, Vol. 30, Forrest report- pg. 524; Johnson, pg. 156-157; Duke, pg. 377- Notes: After leaving Calhoun, the detachment went to Lafayette, then to Dalton, and ended at Tunnel Hill. It is more than likely that both battalions joined Forrest at Dalton, Georgia; all accounts of men from both battalions report being engaged on September 18, 1863. Though Johnson, on pg. 157 reports that Martin took one battalion and he retained the others; however, he may have meant Martin took the mounted portion and retained the dismounted.