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furnished are not altogether irregular and prejudicial to good order
and proper discipline? If these parties believe my conduct culpable, is
it not their plain duty to prefer charges against me and bring me before
a court-martial? And if failing to adopt measures suggested alike by
law, justice and propriety, they pursue a course which tends to weaken
my authority, impair my reputation and embarrass my conduct, have I
not the right to expect that their action shall be condemned and them-
selves reprimanded? Indeed, sir, discipline and subordination have
been impaired to such an extent in my command by proceedings such
as I have described that an officer of high rank quitted a responsible
post, without leave and in direct disobedience to my orders, and repaired
to Richmond to urge in person his application for assignment to duty
more consonant with his inclinations. It is, with all due respect, that I
express my regret that his application was successful.

Permit me again, sir, to urge earnestly, that the investigation, which
can alone remove the difficulties which I now experience, shall be
immediately ordered.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

John H. Morgan.
To Hon. James A. Seddon, Secretary of War.

On the 28th or 29th of August, General Morgan left
Abington, and taking command of the troops at Jonesboro
on the 31st, immediately prepared to move against the


enemy. Our forces had again been driven away from their
positions at Bull's Gap and Rogersville, and had fallen back
to Jonesboro. After two or three days' delay for refitment,
etc., General Morgan marched from Jonesboro with the in-
tention of attacking the enemy at Bull's Gap. If he could
drive them from that position, by a sudden and rapidly ex-
ecuted movement, he would, in all probability, cut off that
force at Rogersville and either force it to surrender or com-
pel it to retreat into Kentucky. In the latter event, the
enemy's strength would be so much reduced that all of east
Tennessee, as far down as Knoxville, would be for some
time in possession of the Confederates. General Morgan's
strength, including the portions of General Vaughan's bri-
gade, was about sixteen hundred and two pieces of artillery.
The men were badly armed and equipped and had been much
discouraged by their late reverses, but reanimated by the
presence of their leader, whom they loved all the more as
misfortunes befell them, they were anxious for battle.

A small frame house upon the left side of the road lead-
mg from Jonesboro to Greenville was pointed out to me
subsequently as the spot where General Morgan received
(as he rode past the column) the last cheer ever given him
by his men. Reaching Greenville about 4 P. M. on the 3rd
of September, he determined to encamp there for the night
and move on Bull's Gap the next day. The troops were
stationed on all sides of the place, and he made his head-
quarters in town at the house of Mrs. Williams. The
younger Mrs. Williams left Greenville, riding in the direc-
tion of Bull Gap at the first rumors of the approach of our
forces, to give, we have always believed, the alarm to the

The Tennesseeans of Vaughan's brigade (under Colonel
Bradford) were encamped on the Bull's Gap road, and were
instructed to picket that road and the roads to the left.
Clark's battalion of Colonel Smith's brigade and the artil-
lery were encamped on the Jonesboro road, about five hun-
dred yards from the town. The remainder of Colonel
Smith's brigade was encamped on the Rogersville road.


Colonel Giltner's command was also stationed in this quar-
ter and the two picketed all the roads to the front and right
flank. The town, had all instructions been obeyed and the
pickets correctly posted, would have been perfectly pro-
tected. The enemy gained admittance unchallenged,
through an unaccountable error in the picketing of the roads
on the left. It is said that the enemy, who left Bull's Gap
before midnight, quitted the main road at Blue Springs,
equidistant from Greenville and Bull's Gap, and marched
by the Warrensburg road until within one mile and a half
of the town.

At this point a by-road leads from the Warrensburg to
the Newport road. The pickets on the Warrensburg road
were not stationed in sight of this point, while on the New-
port road the base of the pickets was beyond the point where
the by-road enters and there were no rear videttes between
the base and town. The enemy (it is stated) took this
little by-road, and turning off in front of one picket came in
behind the other. At any rate, about daylight, a body per-
haps of one hundred cavalry dashed into Greenville and
were followed in a short time by Gillem's whole force. It
was the party that came first which killed General Morgan.
His fate, however, is still involved in mystery. Major Gas-
sett, of his staff, states that they left the house together and
sought to escape, but found every street guarded. They
took refuge once in the open cellar of a house, expecting
that some change in the disposition of the Federal forces
would leave an avenue for escape, or that they would be
rescued by a charge from some of the troops at the camps.
They were discovered and pointed out by a Union woman.
Gassett succeeded in effecting his escape. General Morgan
made his way back to the garden of Mrs. Williams' house.
Lieutenant X. Hawkins, a fearless young officer, charged
into town with fifteen men and strove to reach the point
where he supposed the general to be, but he was forced
back. General Morgan was killed in the garden — shot
through the heart. It is not known whether he surrendered
or was offering resistance.

402 morgan's cavalry.

His friends have always believed that he was murdered
after his surrender. Certain representations by the parties
who killed him, their ruffianly character and the brutality
with which they treated his body, induced the belief ; and it
was notorious that his death, if again captured, had been
sworn. His slayers broke down the paling around the gar-
den, dragged him through and, while he was tossing his
arms in his dying agonies, threw him across a mule and
paraded his body about the town, shouting and screaming
in savage exaltation. No effort was made by any one ex-
cept Lieutenant Hawkins to accomplish his rescue. The
three commands, demoralized by General Morgan's death,
became separated and were easily driven away.

Thus, on the 4th of September, 1864, in a little village of
east Tennessee, fell this almost unequaled partisan leader.
But not only was the light of genius extinguished then and
a heroic spirit lost to earth — as kindly and as noble a heart
as was ever warmed by the constant presence of generous
emotions was stilled by a ruffian's bullet.

As the event is described the feelings it excited come back
almost as fresh and poignant as at the time. How hard
it was to realize that his time, too, had come — that so much
life had been quenched. Every trait of the man we almost
worshiped, recollections of incidents which showed his su-
perb nature, crowd now, as they crowded then, upon the
mind. When he died the glory and chivalry seemed gone
from the struggle and it became a tedious routine, enjoined
and sustained only by pride and duty. Surely men never
grieved for a leader as Morgan's men sorrowed for him.
The tears which scalded the cheeks of hardy and rugged
veterans who had witnessed all the terrible scenes of four
years of war attested it and the sad faces told of the aching
hearts within.

His body was taken from the hands which defiled it by
General Gillem, as soon as that officer arrived at Greenville,
and sent to our lines under flag of truce.

The troops again returned to Jonesboro, the enemy re-
turning after a short pursuit to Bull's Gap. Immediately



Operated in by Geii. Morgan's Brigade,

Brig. Qen. B. W. DUKE,

Winler of ]8G4-'ti5.

z^zz IndiCdtea Oen. Duke's route.
^^mm Indicates Federals' routa.






Upon learning of General Morgan's death, General Echols,
then commanding the department, ordered me to take com-
mand of the brigade composed of his old soldiers — the rem-
nant of the old division. I found this brigade reduced to
two hundred and seventy-three effective men, and armed in
a manner that made it a matter of wonder how they could
fight at all. There were scarcely fifty serviceable rifles in
the brigade, and the variety of calibers rendered it almost a
matter of impossibility to keep on hand a supply of available
ammunition. They were equipped similarly in all other
respects. Every effort was at once instituted to collect and
procure arms, and to provide suitable equipments. General
Echols kindly rendered all the assistance in his power, and
manifested a special interest in us, for which we were deeply
grateful. Our friends at Richmond and throughout the
Confederacy seemed to experience fresh sympathy for us
after General Morgan's death.

In this connection it is fitting to speak of a gentleman to
whom we were especially indebted, Mr. E. M. Bruce, one of
the Kentucky members of the Confederate Congress. It
would, indeed, be unjust as well as ungrateful to omit men-
tion of his name and his generous, consistent friendship.
Not only were we, of Morgan's old command, the recipients
of constant and the kindest services from him, but his gen-
erosity was as wide as his charity, which seemed boundless.
His position at Richmond was such as to enable him to be of
great assistance to the soldiers and people from his State,
and he was assiduous and untiring in their behalf. The
wealth which his skill and nerve in commercial speculations
procured him was lavished in friendly ministrations and
charitable enterprises. An intelligent and useful member of
the Congress, a safe and valuable adviser of the administra-
tion in all matters within the province of his advice, he was
especially known and esteemed as the friend of the soldiery,
the patron of all who stood in need of aid. At one time he
maintained not only a hospital in Richmond for the sick and
indigent, but a sort of hotel, kept up at his own expense,
where the Kentucky soldiers returning from prison were ac-


commodated. It is safe to say that he did more toward
furnishing the Kentucky troops with clothing, etc., than all
of the supply department put together. The sums he gave
away in Confederate money would sound fabulous; and,
after the last surrender, he gave thousands of dollars in gold
to the Kentucky troops who lacked means to take them
home. His name will ever be held by them in grateful and
affectionate remembrance.

My command remained encamped near Jonesboro for
nearly two weeks. The commands of Vaughan, Cosby
(that formerly commanded by General George B. Hbdge)
and Giltner were also stationed in the same vicinity, all
under command of General John C. Vaughan.

Upon the 15th of September, I received my commission
as brigadier-general. During the time that we remained
near Jonesboro the brigade improved very much. Fortu-
nately several of the best officers of the old command, who
had escaped capture, were with it at the time that I took
command. Captains Cantrill, Lea and Messick, and Lieu-
tenants Welsh, Cunningham, Hunt, Hawkins, Hopkins,
Skillman, Roody, Piper, Moore, Lucas, Skinner, Crump and
several others equally as gallant and good, and there were
some excellent officers who had joined the command just
after General Morgan's return from prison. The staff de-
partment was ably filled by the acting adjutants, Lieuten-
ants George W. Hunt, Arthur Andrews, James Hines, and
Daniels. These were all officers of especial merit.

Colonels Ward, Morgan and Tucker, and Majors Web-
ber and Steele had been exchanged at Charleston, and their
valuable services were secured at a time when greatly
needed. The gallant Mississippi company, of my old regi-
ment, was there, all, at least, that was left of it; and Coop-
er's company, under Welsh, as staunch and resolute as ever,
although greatly reduced in numbers. All the old regi-
ments were represented.

Daily drills and inspections soon brought the brigade into
a better state of efficiency and the men longed to return to
the debatable ground and try conclusions with the enemy

morgan's cavalry. 405

which had boasted of recent triumphs at their expense. An
opportunity soon occurred. In the latter part of Septem-
ber, General Vaughan moved with all of these commands
stationed about Jonesboro, in the direction of Greenville.
One object of the movement was to attempt, if cooperation
with General John S. Williams, who was known to be ap-
proaching from toward Knoxville, could be secured, the
capture of the Federal forces at Bull's Gap. General Wil-
liams had been cut off, in middle Tennessee, from General
Wheeler, who had raided into that country. His command
consisted of three brigades. One, under command of Col-
onel William C. P. Breckinridge, was the brigade of Ken-
tucky cavalry which had won so much reputation in the re-
treat from Dalton and the operations around Atlanta. In
this brigade were Colonel Breckinridge's own regiment, the
Ninth Kentucky, and Dortch's battalion. Another of these
brigades was a very fine one of Tennessee troops under Gen-
eral Debrell, an excellent officer. The third, commanded by
General Robertson, a young and very dashing officer, was
composed of "Confederate" battalions — troops enlisted
under no particular State organization. General Vaughan,
learning of General Williams' approach, dispatched him a
courier offering to co-operate with him and advised that
General Williams should attack the rear, while he
(Vaughan) w^ould attack in front.

Passing through Greenville at early dawn upon the sec-
ond day after we left Jonesboro, the column marched rapidly
toward the gap. My brigade was marching in advance. It ,
was at this time three hundred and twenty-two strong and
was organized into two battalions, the first, commanded by
Colonel Ward and the second by Colonel Morgan. About
four miles from Greenville, Captain Messick, whose Com-
pany A of the second battalion was acting as advance guard,
encountered a scouting party of the enemy fifty or sixty
strong. Messick immediately attacked, routed the party
and chased it for several miles, taking eight or ten prisoners.
Pressing on again in advance, when the column had over-
taken him, he discovered the enemy in stronger force than

406 morgan's CAVAI.RY.

before, advantageously posted upon the farther side of a
little stream about two miles from Lick creek. Halting his
command here, Captain Messick accompanied by Lieutenant
Hopkins galloped across the bridge and toward the enemy
to reconnoitre. Approaching, despite the shots fired at
them, to within forty or fifty yards of the enemy, they were
then saluted by a volley from nearly two hundred rifles.
Thinking it impossible, or impolitic, to procure "further in-
formation," they rapidly galloped back. Upon the ap-
proach of the column this party of the enemy fell back to
Lick creek, where it met or was reinforced by some two or
three hundred more. Lick creek is some three mlies from
Bull's Gap. There were no fords in the vicinity of the road
and it was too deep for wading except at one or two points.
A narrow bridge spanned it at the point where it crossed the
road. On the side that we were approaching there is a wide
open space like a prairie, perhaps half a mile square. Thick
woods border this opening in the direction that we were
coming and wooded hills upon the left — running down to
the edge of the creek.

Perceiving the enemy show a disposition to contest our
crossing, my brigade was at once deployed to force a pass-
age. A portion of the second battalion was double-quicked,
dismounted, across the open to the thickets near the bank of
the creek. One company of the second battalion was also
sent to the right, and took position near the creek in that
quarter. The greater part of the first battalion was sent, on
foot, to the left, and, concealed by the thickets upon the hills,
got near the creek without attracting the attention of the
enemy. Lieutenant Conrad was ordered to charge across
the bridge with two mounted companies. As he approached
it at a trot a battalion of the enemy galloped down on the
other side (close to the bridge) to dispute his passage. The
dismounted skirmishers, who had taken position near the
creek, prevented Conrad's column from receiving annoy-
ance from the remainder of the Federal force.

When within so short a distance of the bridge that the fea-
tures of the Federal soldiers at the other extremity were

morgan's cavalry. 407

plainly discernible, Conrad suddenly halted and threw one
company into line, keeping the other in column behind it,
and opened fire upon the enemy, which was returned with
interest. Just then Lieutenant Welsh carried his company
across the creek on the extreme left, followed by Lea (the
water coming up to the men's shoulders) and attacked the
enemy in flank and rear. This shook their line. General
Vaughan, at the same time, brought up a piece of artillery
and opened fire over the heads of our own men. Conrad
seized the moment of confusion and darted across the bridge
with the company which was in column, and the other fol-
lowing. It was then a helter-skelter chase until the enemy
took refuge in the gap.

General Vaughan marched on, but hearing nothing of
General Williams and knowing the strength of the position,
did not attack. He had a brass band with him which he
made play ''Dixie," in the hope that it would lure the enemy
out ; but this strategic banter was treated with profound in-

General Williams had marched on the north side of the
Holston river to Rogersville and thence to Greenville, where
we met him upon our return next day. His command was
about two thousand strong, but a part of it badly armed and
his ammunition was exhausted. It turned out that his ad-
vent in our department was most opportune and fortunate.
With him was the Ninth Kentucky, which had done arduous
and brilliant service during the past year.

We remained at Greenville several days, and then
marched to Carter's Station. This withdrawal was occa-
sioned by information of the approach of Burbridge, from
Kentucky, with a heavy column. His destination was sup-
posed to be the salt-works, and General Echols judged it
expedient to effect a timely concentration of all forces in
the department. The system of procuring information
from Kentucky, the most dangerous quarter to the depart-
ment, was so well organized that it was nearly two weeks
after the first intimation of danger before Burbridge en-
tered Virginia. Giltner's brigade had been moved very

4o8 morgan's cavalry.

early to Laurel Gap, or some position in that vicinity, be-
tween the salt-works and the approaching- enemy. Leaving
General Vaughan with his own brigade at Carter's Station,
General Echols ordered General Cosby and myself to Bris-
tol. General Williams who, with great exertion, had re-
armed his command, moved a few days subsequently to the
salt-works, where the "reserves" of militia were now, also,
collecting. Simultaneously with Burbridge's advance, the
enemy approached from Knoxville (under Generals Gillem
and Ammon), marching over the same ground which we
had traversed shortly before.

General Vaughan was attacked and was compelled to
divide his brigade, the greater part remaining at Carter's
Station, and a part being sent, under Colonel Carter, to
Duvault's ford, five miles below on the Wetauga, where the
enemy sought to effect a passage. Upon the night after the
first demonstration against General Vaughan, General
Cosby and I were sent to reinforce him, and, marching all
night, reached the position assigned early the next morning.
General Cosby was posted where he could support most
speedily whichever point needed it, and I was instructed to
proceed directly to Duvault's ford. Upon arriving there, I
found Colonel Carter making all the preparations within
his power to repel the attack which he anticipated. About
9 A. M., the enemy recommenced the fight at Carter's Sta-
tion ; and toward i or 2 P. M. made his appearance again
upon the other side of the river, opposite our position. The
firing by this time had become so heavy at Carter's Station
that I feared that General Vaughan would not be able to
prevent the enemy from crossing the river there, and became
anxious to create a diversion in his favor. I thought that
if the force confronting me could be driven off and made to
retreat on Jonesboro, that confronting General Vaughan
would also fall back, fearing a flank attack, or it would, at
least, slacken its efforts. The steep and difficult bank just
in our front forbade all thought of attack in that way upon
an enemy so superior in numbers, but there was a ford
about a mile and a half below, from which a good road led

morgan's cavalry. 409

through level ground to the rear of the enemy's position. I
instructed Captain Messick to select fifty picked men, cross
at this ford, and take the enemy in the rear and requested
Colonel Carter to cause one of his battalions to dash down to
the brink of the river, as soon as the firing commenced, and
cross and attack if the enemy showed signs of being shaken
by Messick's movement.

Captain Messick had crossed the river and gotten two or
three hundred yards upon the other side, when he met a
battalion of Federal cavalry approaching, doubtless to try
a flank movement on us. They were marching with drawn
sabers, but foolishly halted at sight of our men. Messick
immediately ordered the charge and dashed into them. The
impetus with which his column drove against them made
the Federals recoil, and in a little while entirely give way.
Stephen G. Sharp, of Cluke's regiment, rode at the color-
guard and shooting the color-bearer through the head,
seized the flag. While he was waving it in triumph the guard
fired upon him, two bullets taking effect, one in the left arm,
the other through the lungs. Dropping the colors across his
saddle, he clubbed his rifle and struck two of his assailants
from their horses, and Captain Messick killed a third.
Twelve prisoners were taken, and ten or fifteen of the enemy
killed and wounded. Messick, pressing the rout, whirled
around upon the rear of the position. Colonel Carter or-
dered the Sixteenth Georgia to charge the position in front,
when he saw the confusion produced by this dash, and the
whole Federal force went off in rapid retreat, pursued by the
detachment of Captain Messick and the Georgia battalion
for four or five miles.

Shortly afterward the demonstration against Carter's Sta-
tion ceased. Lieutenant James Roody, a brave and excel-
lent young officer, lost a leg in this charge. Stephen G.
Sharp, whose name has just now been mentioned, was per-
haps the hero of more personal adventures than any man in
Morgan's command. He had once before captured a stand-
ard by an act of equal courage. He had made his escape
from prison by an exercise of almost incredible daring.
With a companion, named Hecker, he deliberately scaled the


wall of the prison yard and forced his way through a guard
assembled to oppose them. Sharp was shot and bayoneted
in this attempt, but his wounds were not serious and both
he and his companion got away. When, subsequently, they
were making their way to Virginia through the mountains
of Kentucky, they were attacked by six or seven bush-
whackers. Hecker was shot from his horse. Sharp shot
four of his assailants and escaped. His exploits are too
numerous for mention. Although the wounds he received
at Duvault's were serious, he survived them to marry the
lady who nursed him.

On the next day, we received orders from General Echols
to march at once to Saltville, as Burbridge was drawing
near the place. In a very short time the energy and admin-
istrative skill of General Echols had placed the department
in an excellent condition for defense. But it was the oppor-
tune arrival of General Williams which enabled us to beat
back all assailants. When we reached Abingdon, we
learned that General John C. Breckinridge had arrived and
had assumed command. After a short halt, we pressed on
and reached Saltville at nightfall, to learn that the enemy
had been repulsed that day in a desperate attack. His loss

Online LibraryBasil Wilson DukeMorgan's cavalry → online text (page 35 of 38)