Morgan’s Men Association Honors its Namesake

John_Hunt_Morgan_portraitIt was nearly 100 years ago, October 18, 1911, when 10,000 people crowded downtown Lexington, KY to watch the unveiling of a statue.

On August 27, 2011 a much smaller group gathered to celebrate the statue’s centennial and the horse-mounted man it depicts, General John Hunt Morgan, CSA.

Most in attendance were members of the Morgan’s Men Association, comprised mainly of descendants of cavalrymen who rode with Morgan during the Civil War.

Their ancestors formed the Association in 1868, when Morgan’s body was brought home to Lexington from Richmond, VA where he had been interred in 1864, after being shot to death by a Union private who had once been a Confederate sergeant.

The Association met annually well into the 20th century, until almost all of them had died.3

In 1988, Lexington resident Sam Flora, a descendant of one of Morgan’s men, reconstituted the Association. The organization now includes associate members, who have no blood ties to Morgan’s men but appreciate the memory of Morgan and the mystique he holds.

The statue was first proposed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a heritage group, which raised $7,500 in private donations. That amount was matched by the State of Kentucky.

The final product, by Italian-American sculptor Pompeo Coppini, is considered to be one of the most accurate depictions ever of a soldier on a horse. But there’s one anatomical mistake: Black Bess, a mare, became a stallion! Coppini’s machismo trumped his meticulous sensibilities and he couldn’t bring himself to mount the Thunderbolt of the Confederacy astride a mare, so he turned Morgan’s favorite steed, into a stud horse!th

If not for this error, however, University of Kentucky students would have been deprived a peculiar activity. For decades, students have sneaked into the grounds of the Lexington History Museum and painted the school’s blue and white colors on the bronze horse’s nether regions.

As part of the centennial event, the Military Order of the Stars and Bars presented its annual Gen. Basil W. Duke Literary Award to Lexington attorney-historian Kent Masterson Brown for his editing and modernization of “One of Morgan’s Men: Memoirs of Lt. John M. Porter of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry.”

Brown spent several years working on Lt. Porter’s memoir, written in the 1870s, to provide historical context and to clarify details. His work was published this year by University Press, which shared the Duke Literary Award.

Basil W. Duke was Morgan’s second-in-command, brother-in-law and successor. After the war he wrote two book s about Morgan and his men, and became a leading political figure in Kentucky, a confidante of Theodore Roosevelt and a magazine editor. Duke’s character is the protagonist in our developing screenplay, “Thunderbolt Raiders.”

The statue’s centennial observance was just part of a busy weekend for the Morgan’s Men Association. It included tours of the Hunt-Morgan home and the Lexington cemetery where Morgan, Duke and many members of their families are buried.

The Association announced tentative plans to meet in 2012 in Middle Tennessee, where the Thunderbolt Raiders spent much time during the war. The 2013 reunion will be in Ohio, observing the sesquicentennial of the Great Raid north of the Ohio River.

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