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Teacher Travels John Hunt Morgan's Raid Route

The Smithsonian Associates Civil War E-Mail Newsletter, Volume 10, Number 2

Ever wonder what teachers do on their summer vacation? Paul Beckwith teaches science at Angola Middle School in Angola, Indiana. He and his father followed the John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail, along the path of Morgan's Great Raid during the Civil War, July 8-13, 1863.

He was kicked out of college. He was the tour guide in command of 2,500 travelers. He was told by the company that under no circumstances to cross north of the Ohio River. He carried no provisions. He had no maps. After departing McMinnville, Tennessee, he completed his tour at West Point, Ohio, a mere nine miles from Pennsylvania and just seventy miles from Lake Erie, with only 250 of the original tour group. Some of the expedition were jailed, some were injured, some were killed.

The tour guide was Confederate General John Hunt Morgan who, depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon Line one resides, was either the "Thunderbolt of the Confederacy," or the "King of the Horse Thieves." In twenty-four days Morgan led the longest cavalry raid of the Civil War. He was captured after riding 1,100 miles. Some days twenty hours were spent in the saddle. Horses were "traded" and it is calculated that 15,000 horses were swapped.

My Great Grandmother Mary was seven years old when Morgan's Men came galloping up a dusty lane near Salineville, Ohio to her family farm owned by my Great-Great Grandfather James Criss. The Raiders got the bread they demanded, let their horses tramp and graze in their clover field, but were not pleased. The well was dry, and they found no fresh horses, as they were hidden in a ravine. A can of quince preserves was taken from the pantry. Morgan surrendered the next day.

Besides General John Hunt Morgan, four Morgan brothers, Richard, Charlton, Calvin, and Thomas rode with the 2,500 men of the nine regiments on the Great Raid of 1863. I rode with my father on the Great Ride of 2009.

We departed McMinnville, Tennessee and drove north to Sparta, home of Lester Flatt, half of the banjo duo from The Beverly Hillbillies. Like Morgan, we read the daily papers. That's how he found out about Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. Morgan also burned some buildings and bridges. Scanning the headlines 146 years later, we read of an arson of the Celina, Tennessee Town hall just the very night before as we ate lunch at the Gone County Café, home of the Friday Night All You Can Eat Catfish, in the home of the Smith County Fair, host of the Clay County Fair Mule Pull. We took this recent arson as a Morganism. There would be more along the trail.

We entered Kentucky, a border state during the Civil War, and where Morgan went from pursuer to pursued.

We arrived at Tebb's Bend Visitor Center. We had skirted Eastern Standard Time and Central Standard Time, and we pulled in ten minutes until closing. I washed dishes at a restaurant. I know how happy I was when a customer ordered ten minutes before closing time. I was a janitor at a laundromat. I know how happy I was when somebody started a washer ten minutes before closing time. That didn't keep the superintendent of this Army Corps of Engineers Property, Gary Curry, from handing me the key to the log cabin that had served as a Confederate hospital during the Battle of Tebb's Bend. He assured me that forensic studies of the ash wood floor on the second story determined the stains to be blood.

We completed our first day of the ride at Bardstown, Kentucky, where the Liquor World sign proclaimed 165 types of bourbon in stock. We ate at the Old Talbott Tavern. When a restaurant has hosted Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, William Henry Harrison, General George Rodgers Clark, King Louis Phillipe of France, and Jesse James, they have the right to have Old in their name. Abraham Lincoln slept there as a thirteen year-old boy when his parents traveled to the area to settle a land dispute. Stephen Foster stayed here while he penned My Old Kentucky Home. The place has been around since 1779. The deep window castings, heavy timbers, built-in cupboards, and thick Flemish Bond stone walls are reminiscent of the inns of Warwickshire, England. But I wouldn't know that from personal experience. I was too busy washing dishes and cleaning toilets. We ate Kentucky Browns, a dish made of sugar-cured ham, smoked turkey, toast points, all swimming in Mornay sauce and smothered with melted cheddar cheese, bacon and tomatoes. With the place steeped in Kentucky legend and lore and the temperature of the local delicacy magma boiling, a Kentucky Bourbon Ale was the choice.

The next morning allowed us time to visit the Patton Museum at Fort Knox. (After gawking at a sprawling assembly of heavy metal with tanks from every conflict from World War I to a recently captured Iraqi tank, tanks from the United States, France, Britain, Russia, Japan, Germany, anti-tank weapons, and yes, a display of Polish and Romanian assault rifles.) We continued on to Brandenburg, where it took us minutes to cross the forbidden river by the same bridge Morgan had to commandeer two steamboats and watch for seven hours while men and horses were shuttled. As one Raider wrote in his 1863 journal, we too had entered "Yankeeland."

The best-marked part of the ride, and the section that we followed on the most accurate path, was in the Hoosier State. There is a map, a guide book, a CD, and signs at nearly every turn. We walked the site of Indiana's only Civil War battlefield, south of Corydon. 2,500 seasoned cavalry routed 450 home guard. The farmers and merchants were easily flanked. Our ride followed gravel roads, single track lanes, century old iron trestle bridges, and swift swollen streams chocolate milk muddy. (Another Morganism.) We altered our course because of high water. Morgan did a similar change in passage, as he attempted several times to cross back south by fording the Ohio River, but was unsuccessful.

In 1863, John S. Harnard owned the Canton General Store. Hearing the alarm of Morgan's advance, church bells, whistles, Paul Revere types, and telegraph messages if Raiders hadn't cut wires, Harnard locked the door. The Raiders got the key, unlocked the door and emptied the shelves. The door wasn't locked when we got there and we paid for our sodas. The proprietor even posed for a photograph on the wooden bench made from planks from the Salem Road.

When Morgan's men rode, the mass of riders may have taken two or three hours for their column to pass. At Versailles, three girls took turns peering out a second story window at two outsiders that snapped photographs of the Ripley County Courthouse. This rubber necking was Morganism #3.

We passed through sleepy Milan at dusk. The place was not that quiet back in the summer of 1863, nor during the high school basketball season of 1954 as the Indians won the state tournament, creating the story behind the movie Hoosiers. At the Jefferson Proving Grounds we heard the song of a bobwhite and took this as a sign to retire.

We slept along the banks of the Ohio River at the Riverside Inn at Lawrenceburg with a view of the levy, a cornfield, and the Seagram's Distillery.

New Alsace once boasted two brass bands, four dance halls, two breweries, fourteen saloons, Klump's Tavern, and Tony Blettner's Tavern, dating from 1863, and is still open in 2009--just not at 9:00 in the morning.

After leaving Harrison, Ohio, we took the Interstate 275 bypass around Cincinnati, having both agreed that if it had been there in 1863, Morgan would have used it too.

We picked up the trail again roughly following Ohio State Route 32, known as the Appalachian Highway. We parked at Jasper and climbed the steep hill to the Methodist Church to find Joseph McDougal's grave. He was a schoolmaster, church deacon, and married with five children. He was shot by Confederates. We found his tombstone, but historians still have not found the reason why he was pulled from a line of prisoners to be executed.

We had lunch cafeteria style at the Olde Wayside Inn along Zane's Trace, the original road between Maysville, Kentucky and Wheeling, West Virginia. The Inn has been serving travelers since 1804, some winners, some losers. Andrew Jackson ate there in 1829 on his way to his presidential inauguration, while Mexican General Santa Ana ate there in 1836, after his defeat by Sam Houston.

Our accommodations for the third night were at the Meigs Motel, a sign for deer processing and taxidermy next to the registration window and a man eating his dinner off a pickup truck tailgate in the parking lot. Pomeroy's Courthouse is unique. Built into a river bluff cliff, it has three different floors, each of the three stories with a ground level entrance. A grand view from the Wild Horse Inn of Pomeroy's new $65 million bridge completed our day.

Fifty-plus miles of Meigs County is bordered by the Ohio River. We drove past acres of staked tomato and melon fields, barges, three across and five long, loaded with coal. The site of an ancient Indian mound was the place where the only Civil War battle in Ohio occurred. Buffington Island was the spot where Morgan figured he could cross the river to safety. Among the Union casualties was a 65 year-old soldier.

The Chester Courthouse is the oldest standing courthouse in the Buckeye State, circa 1820. The next door Chester Academy, 1840, was being rededicated on the morning of our visit. Here the members of the historical society and Daughters of the American Revolution provided a wealth of Morgan's Raiders information.

We drove past the Pencil Sharpener Museum and New Straitsville, home of the Moonshine Festival. Coming into Corning, we noticed a crowd gathering. "It's either a fist fight or an auction," my Dad said. It was Morganism #4. After passing through the village, the lady who ran the gas station/town hub told me it was a memorial service for a Marine. 146 years later, soldiers still die. I watched the flashing lights of the sheriff patrol cars close the main street as I flipped the long metal lever and watched the dial rotate on the gas pump. No pushing buttons or digital read out.

Morganism #5 (and I have a witness and photographs) happened just up the road in the next hamlet of Moxahala. During Morgan's Raid, the locals would chop down trees across the road to impede the Confederates' progress. A work crew had cut down a large tree and we were stuck for a while.

Morgan would take a local citizen with him for directions, dumping him off at the next town. At Old Washington along the National Road, we asked a man for directions to the cemetery where three Confederates are buried, but we didn't force him into the van and kick him out at the next town. Morganism #6.

We climbed the road to the perfectly named Mount Pleasant. Some of the towns we visited looked worn and faded. Some towns looked like a little bit of work would restore them. Others, sadly, are dilapidated. Mount Pleasant, with the long summer day fading was resplendent.

We hit the road that morning at 7:00. It now was approaching 9:00 PM. 14 hours in the van and it wasn't interstate with the cruise control on. We would need the flash from our cameras to take photographs of the Morgan Surrender Monument. This leads me to my final Morganism. Even though we had credit cards, air conditioning, cup holders, and nobody chased us and shot at us, and even though we made a journey that we will always remember, there comes a point on any road trip when all that you want to do is to go home, see your sweetheart, and sleep.

Many thanks to Mr. Beckwith, as well as, Kendallville, Indiana, for permission to reprint this article.