New Book Focuses on Great Raid

A few readers of this website have wondered why they haven’t seen any new material here for several weeks. Rest assured we’re still working hard on the script for our screenplay, Thunderbolt Raiders.

At the same time, though, we are rebuilding this site, with much more color and pictures. But we have some important news that can’t wait until the site work is finished.q

There is a great new book about Confederate general John Hunt Morgan and his comrades. “Morgan’s Great Raid: The Remarkable expedition from Kentucky to Ohio” has been published just in time for this summer’s sesquicentennial of that raid.

The Civil War News (CWN) asked Lee Bailey, co-writer of the site, to review the book. Below is his review, starting with an introduction by CWN book editor Ed Bonekemper:

Morgan’s Great Raid: The Remarkable Expedition from Kentucky to Ohio. By David L. Mowery. Illustrated, photos, maps, bibliography, index, 192pp., 2013, History Press,, $19.99 softcover.

Gen. John Hunt Morgan is not one of the Confederacy’s best-known leaders. But author Mowery makes a case that he should be because he set the standard for modern warfare with his cavalry raids and in the 1863 Great Raid through Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. That raid probably prolonged the war and definitely panicked hundreds of thousands of Northern citizens and public officials and worried the Union military clear up the commander in chief, Pres. Abraham Lincoln.

Author Mowery is a native of Cincinnati,a city where 100 years ago residents spent agonizing days and nights worried that Morgan, lauded by the Southern press as “The Thunderbolt of the Confederacy” would lay waste to their town. The author has studied Morgan and his exploits most of his life. He has written about the raid elsewhere and marked the John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail in Ohio. the preface and epilogue of this book are a paean to Morgan.300px-Morganmap

In the third paragraph of the preface he wrote, “The swift movement of infantry and artillery deep into enemy territory with as much stealth and deception as possible are common characteristics of today’s warfare…the blitzkrieg, Operation Iraqi Freedom and even Operation Neptune Spear are appropriate examples.”

Mowery certainly looked deeply for information to bolster his praise of Morgan, including a citation of a 2002 book, “From Drake to Desert One” by Samuel L.Southworth that “lists Morgan’s Ohio Raid is one of the top eighteen greatest land-based military raids in world history since the time of Sir Francis Dranke’s raid on Cadiz in 1587.”

Aside from the preface and epilogue focusing on Morgan’s place in history, the book itself is a fine recounting of the Great Raid of 150 years ago. Mowery gives details on some skirmishes not generally reported. Readers looking for names of specific Union and Confederate elements will find them here. The Indiana and Ohio militias are given their due, as are the Navy gunboats that patrolled the Ohio River, preventing the Confederates from returning to the South.

Morgan had fought in the Mexican war of 1848, but was not a career soldier and cared little about military protocol. Indeed, he flagrantly disobeyed orders to stay within Kentucky when he hijacked two river boats and took his 2,400 men across the Ohio into Indiana.

Drawing of Morgan's Raid

Drawing of Morgan’s Great Raid

His new tactics included use of the telegraph to spread disinformation. George “Lightning” Ellsworth, a Canadian who had joined his command, had an uncanny ability to identify other telegraphers by the way they tapped out their dots and dashes. He would imitate them, sending out false information about the Thunderbolt Raiders troop strength and whereabouts to confuse Union troops.

As they rode day and night, plundering Indiana and Ohio, the Raiders horses became exhausted, so Morgan had small groups of his men fan out, trading tired mounts for fresh horses or simply stealing them. Pursuing Union troops also needed fresh mounts, but with most having been taken by the Confederates they had difficulty catching up. Despite losing most of his men in the Battle of Buffington Island in Southeast Ohio, Morgan and fewer than 400 of his men rode on, dodging Union Troops and trying to find a ford across the Ohio river.

Then Union Major George W. Rue had an idea. He proposed rounding up the best Army horses and cavalrymen in Cincinnati, putting them on a train and getting ahead of the fleeing rebels. Rue and his 375 men were able to do just that, cutting off Morgan’s last escape route. Morgan surrender to Major Rue, ended a raid of more than 1,000 miles.

Ohio treated Morgan and his offices as common horse thieves and locked them in the maximum security Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. Four months later he and six officers escaped. Morgan made it back the Confederacy, but was killed in a skirmish in Tennessee less than a year later.

Lee Bailey is a member of the Civil War Trust, the Ohio Historical Society and the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable. A veteran journalist, he is now writing a screenplay in collaboration with another veteran journalist, John Hambrick, about Gen. Morgan, titled “Thunderbolt Raiders.” The film is set at an actual 1913 reunion of the Morgan’s Men Association, with flashbacks to the war.

About Lee Bailey


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