Civil War: John Morgan’s foolish raid

This column covers an historic event from July 1863. So, your 150 columnist is six months late in covering an interesting event affecting Parkersburg. That’s because I was more interested in the story of West Virginia’s creation. The important story is about cavalry leader Gen. John Morgan’s raid through Ohio from mid-July to July 26, 1863. Of note is that Parkersburg had just been threatened by Gen. Grumble Jones, who avoided Parkersburg and turned south to Burning Springs.

Gen. Roert E. Lee, at the outset of the war, set up a number of cavalry units outside the regular army to serve as fast-paced units capable of quick maneuvers, quick strikes, and raids. In 1862, it was Gen. Jenkins who made a lightning strike across the state, completely surprising defensive units at each stop along the way. While effective in penetrating defenses, little lasting harm was done. Jenkins was successful in getting to his palatial home near Huntington, obviously one of his main objectives. There were no important accomplishments.

In 1863 it was Gens. Jones and Imboden who again raced across the state with little resistance. They tore up the B&O Railroad, stole hundreds of horses and cattle, and finally raided Burning Springs and burned the oilfield. They also burned Gov. Pierpont’s home in Fairmont, against Gen. Lee’s orders. This raid was considered much more effective than the Jenkins raid and effectively shutdown the B&O for a few weeks. However, there were no permanent accomplishments and no territory gained for the Confederacy. Gen. Lee understood this and started cutting back on these units because he needed them in the regular army.

Gen. Morgan, stationed in Tennessee, headed one of these units. He attempted to get permission to make a daring raid through Ohio, with questionable objectives. Morgan, known for his individuality, went ahead with the raid, contrary to his orders. Starting in Kentucky, he headed for Louisville and Cincinnati. He then diverted north toward the Ohio River and the Parkersburg area, where there were several fords which would take him into Virginia (now West Virginia). It was known that there were crossings at Buffington Island and Belleville.

On June 14, 1861, the Wheeling Intelligencer reported: “Fortifying Parkersburg. Parkersburg is being fortified. The (Parkersburg) Gazette says two small brass cannon have been placed in position upon the hill on the south side of the Kanawha. They are to be replaced by larger ones, and the hill on the north, fortified in the same way. The one of the south side is called Fort Boreman, in honor of our new governor.”

In pursuit of Morgan was a Union unit headed by Col. J. M. Shackleford under the command of Gen. Burnside in Cincinnati. Col. Shackleford raced to keep up with Morgan but was unable to catch him. The objective of the raid and the geographical destination were unknown. The whole state of Ohio was put on alert and militia units called out throughout the state as well as in West Virginia along the Ohio River. Thinking that the railroad in Parkersburg was one of the objectives, troops were sent to Parkersburg and these crossing sites from up and down the river. The telegraph wires in the area were full of wild messages trying to keep up with events and moving troop units.

Morgan did head for Buffington Island but two Union gunboats and troop units were there to greet him. In fact he attempted a crossing, but was turned back with a large loss of troops. At this point, Morgan split up his regiment and sent his commander Col. Johnson further up the river to Belleville, while he turned north with the remaining members of the regiment, with Col. Shackelford in hot pursuit. Finally, at Salinville, Ohio, Morgan and his men surrendered.

The Wheeling Intelligencer again reported on July 21, 1863-“Thirteen Hundred of Morgan’s Men Captured. Cincinnati, July 20. On Saturday Morgan’s forces were overtaken near Pomeroy by Hobson and Judah, who had formed a junction. Morgan, finding himself in close quarters, and learning that the ford at Buffington Island was well guarded, broke up his band in small squads in order to escape. One squad with six pieces of artillery made for the crossing at Buffington, but the gunboats drove them back with the loss of 50 killed and drowned. Our cavalry made a charge and captured the battery, killing a number of rebels.

“Cols. Wolford and Shackelford succeeded in capturing one lot of 565 and another lot of 275, besides numerous squads making in all over 840 prisoners, among them Col. Dick Morgan, (brother of John) and Cols. Ward and Grigby.

“Our cavalry are in pursuit of the balance of his command, which is entirely broken up and scattered in the hills. The position of our forces is such that they can’t get across the Ohio nor get much further north. Later 12 AM. Our forces are continually capturing Morgan’s men. Col. Basil Dukas captured this morning near Pomeroy. More than 1,300 men have been taken so far.”

There was much loss of life and property resulting from this raid. Union Gen Cox, in his memoirs, after the war wrote:” A glance at the raid as a whole shows that whilst it naturally attracted much attention and caused great excitement at the North, it was of very little military importance. It greatly scattered for a time and fatigued the men and horses of the Twenty-third Corps who took part in the chase. It cost Indiana and Ohio something in the plunder of country stores and farm-houses, and in the pay and expenses of large bodies of militia that were temporarily called into service. But this was all. North of the Ohio no military posts were captured, no public depots or supplies were destroyed, not even an important railway bridge was burned. There was no fighting worthy of the name; the list of casualties on the National side showing only 19 killed, 47 wounded, and 8 missing in the whole campaign. For this the whole Confederate division of cavalry was sacrificed. Its leader was never again trusted by his government, and his prestige was gone forever.”

Again, as had happened so many times, the citizens of Parkersburg were put on alert and put under martial law, intensifying their paranoia about raids. The Unionists hoped that Morgan would be captured or leave without an attack. The local Confederate sympathizers hoped that the raid would be successful in liberating them from their Union “rulers.” A small number of defeated and discouraged Morgan men escaped across the Ohio at Belleville and found their way back south. Legend is that several Belleville citizens helped them escape with food and clothing.

All in all the Morgan raid, while generating a lot of excitement, was a complete failure and caused Gen. Lee even more apprehension of using such out-of-control cavalry units.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave McKain is director of the Oil and Gas Museum and is chairman of the area Civil War Roundtable which is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Contact him at