In the Footsteps of a Legend
Tour to offer a glimpse into trail of
Civil War’s John Hunt Morgan
Many stories have been told of people’s
interaction with him as he traveled the area
(July 2013) – On June 11, 1863, Confederate Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan would begin his 1,000-mile advance across Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. In what would come to be known as the Great Raid, Morgan led his cavalrymen north in a brutal test of endurance that would result in the only Civil War battles fought north of the Ohio River.
On July 8, the raiders would enter Indiana, crossing the river in two captured steamboats. For six days the raiders rode through southern Indiana, commandeering supplies. Although the raiders were in the state for less than a week, Morgan and his men would leave a lasting mark in the memories of those who found themselves in his path.
Richard Skidmore, a coordinator of the John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail, explains the importance of Morgan’s Raid, saying, “It was the only significant military event in Indiana during the American Civil War.”
This raid touched the lives of ordinary citizens, and while their stories Confederates stealing hams and children’s ponies might bring a smile to the faces of modern Indiana residents, at the time this incursion would shatter the illusion of security of those who thought themselves safe from the war.
Historic Hoosier Hills president Ken Knouf reflects on the abiding interest in the raid saying, “Just the idea of 2,000 Confederate cavalrymen still resonates. Every family seems to have a Morgan story.”
On July 13, Historic Hoosier Hills will present a bus tour following the path of Morgan’s Raiders in southern Indiana. The $40 tour will meet in Hanover, and then go through Dupont, Lexington, Deputy, Blotcher and Vernon. Those interested are encouraged to sign up early since slots are limited to the first 30 people. The tour will take place exactly 150 years and a day after the raiders passed through the area.
“Some of the route we go is basically gravel road,” notes Knouf, “much unchanged in the 150 years.” The trail passes by houses that were standing at the time of the raid. Highlights of the tour include a loop through the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, formerly the Jefferson Proving Ground, that is normally restricted to the public. There, tour participants will see the 1930 marker commemorating the site where three of Morgan’s men, straggling behind the main column, were captured by Union officers who just happened to be home on leave.
Tour participants will also be treated to a re-enactment by the Vernon Greys unit on Vernon’s defense against Morgan. “We follow really the exact route,” says Knouf, “It’s a wonderful day tour. I think people will really get an appreciation for John Hunt Morgan.”
Skidmore served as a coordinator of the original project that began 20 years ago to have the area route marked with interpretative signs, allowing visitors to take a self guided driving tour across Indiana. Over the years, the project has expanded to include brochures, guidebooks and CDs to supplement the route.
Skidmore says, “That was part of the mission of this trail. It was always known that the raiders were here and that they were there, but there was nothing to connect these sites.” By clearly marking the route area, communities became more conscious of their shared history. He hopes that the Commemorative Tour will get people interested in exploring further and notes that the event only covers “one day of the six day raid.”
While the tour provides a natural draw for Civil War enthusiasts, Knouf believes that anyone with an interest in the history of the area would enjoy it. He says the tour will also help give people a broader appreciation of the communities’ past. He adds that the day is sure to provide “nice landscape, some good food, and good camaraderie”
Skidmore agrees that anyone with an enthusiasm for history will be well rewarded by the tour and particularly invites “people who have heard the Morgan folklore through their families.”
Knouf briefly shares one of his favorites tales from Dupont, saying, “There a raider saw a girl in a window and hollered that he would come back to marry her. And he did!”
The trail is sure to bring these stories to life in a new way and give people an even greater understanding of what their ancestors endured. Knouf speculates that while there are many oral traditions of families having horses stolen by the raiders, some of those who lost their animals may have come out of the deal fairly well. “You have this troop riding Kentucky horses,” he says, and when their fine mounts became worn out by the grueling raid, they were left behind.
“They left the thoroughbreds and took the drafts,” he notes.
While the elegant riding horses may not have been well suited to working in the fields, it is hard to imagine any good horse at the time going unused for long. Skidmore finds that he does laugh a bit at the proliferation of Morgan stories throughout the area saying, “I heard once that every Morgan story you tell, you should proceed it with ‘As the story goes.’ So many people thought they saw Morgan himself,” he explains, but he points out that some of those sightings may actually have been of other raiders.
“People were enthralled with Morgan,” he said.
Knouf agrees saying, “Everyone said they saw Morgan’s men.”
• For more information, visit: www.hhhills.org.
Back to July 2013 Articles.