September 4

This Day in History

Civil War

Sep 4, 1864:

Confederate cavalry leader John Hunt Morgan is killed

John Hunt Morgan, the feared Confederate cavalry leader, is killed during a Union cavalry raid on the town of Greenville, Tennessee.

An Alabama native, Morgan grew up in Kentucky and attended Transylvania University before being expelled for poor behavior. He served under Zachary Taylor in the Mexican War (1846-48) and became a successful hemp manufacturer in Kentucky afterwards. Morgan was a strong sympathizer with the Southern cause in the 1850s, and moved to Alabama when Kentucky did not secede from the Union.

After joining the Confederate army, Morgan quickly became a colonel in the cavalry. He fought at Shiloh, Tennessee, and soon became famous for his cavalry raids. In one year, starting in July 1862, Morgan made four spectacular raids on Union-held territory. In the first raid, Morgan rode 1,000 miles around Kentucky, disrupting Yankee supply lines and capturing some 1,200 Union soldiers. His force, consisting of as many as 1,800 troopers, traveled light and lived off the land. By December 1862, Morgan's raids had successfully diverted some 20,000 Union troops in order to secure supply lines and communications networks.

Morgan's fourth raid was the most dramatic, but ended in disaster for him. Leaving Tennessee in July 1863 with 2,400 men, Morgan headed again for Kentucky. This time, he continued northward into the Union states. Morgan's force swept through southern Indiana and Ohio before heading back to the Ohio River, but Union troops blocked his passage back to Kentucky, and Yankee cavalry chased him into northeastern Ohio. He and the remnants of his force were trapped, and they surrendered at Salineville, Ohio, on July 26.

Morgan and his officers were incarcerated at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus. In November 1863, he and some of his men tunneled out of the prison and escaped to the South. He returned to duty and commanded the Department of Southwestern Virginia.

At the time of his death, Morgan was preparing for a raid on Knoxville, Tennessee. Alerted to his presence, Union cavalry attacked his headquarters at Greenville. Morgan was shot and killed while trying to join his men.

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