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Monument to storied Confederate raid into Ohio has uncertain future

The saga of "Morgan's Great Raid"

Monday, July 21, 2003

By Mike Bucsko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

LISBON, Ohio -- On the rise of a hill about five miles southeast of here sits a granite monument in a rural roadside rest area that has been all but abandoned by the state of Ohio.

The monument marks the end of an event 140 years ago that struck fear and terror in folks from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh -- the 1,000-mile raid by Confederate Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan and about 2,500 cavalry troops through Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.

John Hunt Morgan
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But on the sunny summer Sunday afternoon of July 26, 1863, he surrendered what was left of his command -- 346 weary men and about 400 horses he'd collected along the way -- at a crossroads between the Columbiana County hamlets of Gavers and West Point, roughly 60 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

Morgan and his men had spent about 20 hours in the saddle each day for nearly a month before he surrendered near the Crubagh farm. The site, once marked by a so-called "Surrender Tree" under which Morgan reportedly relinquished his command, marked the northernmost point in which a Confederate command pierced Northern territory during the Civil War.

In this year of momentous Civil War anniversaries -- Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Vicksburg among them -- Ohio is revisiting Morgan's "Great Raid" in other counties as part of the state's bicentennial.

But the surrender wasn't included in a small-scale re-enactment that took place over the weekend nor will it be part of a large-scale event planned for September in which hundreds of Confederate and Union re-enactors will retrace Morgan's trail and re-enact the Battle of Buffington Island.

The monument to Confederate Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan's surrender remains almost hidden from view to drivers in an abandoned rest area along State Road 518 near Lisbon, Ohio. (Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

So in the rolling hills of rural Columbiana County, the monument to Morgan's surrender remains almost hidden from view to drivers along State Road 518. Erected in 1909 and dedicated a year later, it was moved 45 years ago to the rest area from its original location about 200 yards east when the state failed to secure rights to the property where the surrender occurred.

Just over four years ago, the Ohio Department of Transportation closed the rest stop as part of a statewide program to abandon rest areas without septic systems, said Joel Hunt, an ODOT spokesman in Columbus.

The "Surrender Tree" was cut down in the early 1900s. For years, a large piece of the trunk remained at the Carnegie Library in East Liverpool. When the library decided to get rid of it, Timothy R. Brookes, an East Liverpool attorney and Civil War author who presents talks about Morgan's surrender, intervened. He was able to save it and have it displayed at nearby Beaver Creek State Park.

An order is ignored

Morgan had just turned 38 when he started out on what became known as his "Great Raid." Born in Huntsville, Ala., Morgan moved as a boy to Lexington, Ky.

By mid-1863, Morgan, a slaveowner and Mexican War veteran, had established a reputation as an accomplished raider with a disdain for following the orders of superiors. It was Morgan's disregard of an order by his commanding officer, the irascible Gen. Braxton Bragg, that brought him over the Ohio River in the first place.

Bragg, at Morgan's urging, permitted the cavalry commander to take a detachment of 2,500 troops into the border state of Kentucky to help recruit volunteers and distract Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside from his planned invasion of eastern Tennessee.

Bragg specifically instructed Morgan not to cross the Ohio, but Morgan had other plans from the beginning. He intended to cross the Ohio and remain close to the northern shore in the event he needed to bolt back quickly into Kentucky.

In short order, Morgan ripped through Kentucky. By July 8, Morgan's raiders were poised to cross the Ohio River into Indiana at Brandenburg, Ky.

Morgan's incursion into the North, coming as it did on the heels of General Robert E. Lee's northern invasion, caused panic among the citizens of Indianapolis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other cities. Pittsburghers threw up fortifications as word of Morgan's advance reached the city.

Morgan ransacked the countryside and disrupted telegraph and railroad lines as he moved north. He fought a minor battle with local militia in Corydon, Ind., the day after he crossed the Ohio River. He also learned that day of Lee's defeat at Gettysburg and shortly thereafter he was informed of the fall of Vicksburg.

The downturn in the South's fortunes further emboldened Morgan to carry on his northern raid.

The beginning of the end for Morgan's raid occurred 10 days after the Corydon battle when Morgan's troops were roundly defeated at the Battle of Buffington Island in Ohio as they tried to cross the Ohio River. Union troops came up in Morgan's rear as a federal gunboat blocked a ford in the river to his front.

The encounter was a disaster for Morgan. He lost about half of his command, including the capture of two of his brothers and his brother-in-law, Col. Basil Duke. Another 300 Confederate troops were lost further up the river as they tried to cross near Parkersburg, W.Va.

Fearful citizens prepare

Yet anxiety among the population of Columbiana County increased with every mile Morgan traveled. Exaggerated reports of his force circulated from the beginning of the raid, so that northern citizens heard stories of Morgan heading their way with as many as 10,000 troops.

"Every little town around here thought that Morgan was coming here for them," Brookes said.

A local man, R.M. Crabbs, telegraphed Pittsburgh and notified Maj. Gen. W.T.H. Brooks of Morgan's presence in eastern Ohio. Brooks, who had been given command a month earlier of the newly formed Department of the Monongahela, put 400 cavalry troops on a Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad train to Wellsville.

The day before the surrender, residents of New Lisbon, as Lisbon was then known, started to mobilize after they heard that Morgan was in Salineville in the southwest corner of Columbiana County.

"Next morning, every body that had a gun pistle or a old ax might be seen on the road to town," resident Henry Brinker wrote in a letter a week after the surrender.

The final armed skirmish of the raid occurred about 8 a.m. July 26 near the border of Carroll, Columbiana and Jefferson counties when Brig. Gen. James Shackelford, who had followed Morgan from Kentucky, positioned cannons on a hill in a cemetery to stop Morgan.

As Morgan's weary troopers dragged themselves and their tired mounts through the Ohio countryside, the New Lisbon militia was on the move. The local "home guard" grabbed an old cannon from the Mexican War that had been displayed outside the courthouse and dragged it to block the road to town from the south.

About 11 a.m., word reached town that "the rebels had cut our men all to peaces and were coming right to town," Brinker wrote. Though the report proved false, it was apparently enough to put a fright into the volunteers in the militia.

When Morgan's men approached the militia members at the cannon on the road to town, the rebels were allowed to pass unhindered by turning east on the road toward West Point.

The reason? "Our men were afraid to stand them a battle so they let them pass on," wrote Brinker.

Contemporary accounts recalled that some armed citizens, in their rush to leave town, ran into a ditch and those behind them followed in order, one of top of the other. At the blocked road to New Lisbon, militia members bolted and sought shelter behind bushes, trees and other hiding spots.

As Morgan and his remaining troops turned east, the 7th Kentucky Cavalry under the command of Maj. George Rue was riding up the Little Beaver Creek to try and cut them off.

Morgan decided it was time to give in.

A confusing surrender

Never one to let an opportunity for self-preservation pass, Morgan ran into one of Lisbon's militia commanders, Capt. James Burbick, along the road.

Morgan convinced Burbick to allow him to surrender his command as long as Burbick would take the sick and wounded Confederates and allow Morgan and his officers to be paroled so they could return home to Kentucky.

Whatever slight hope Morgan might have had of returning to Kentucky was soon dashed as Rue's troopers gathered in his front and rear. Morgan sent a flag of truce with one his officers, Maj. Theophilus Steele, to inform Rue that Morgan had already surrendered under the favorable terms to Burbick.

"Who the hell is Capt. Burbick?" Rue asked Steele.

Then he told the Confederate officer, "You go back and tell Morgan to surrender or fight and be damned quick about it."

"Morgan surrenders," Steele replied.

But that wasn't the end of the surrender.

Shackelford arrived at the scene an hour later and also talked surrender terms with Morgan. When informed of Burbick's parole of Morgan and his officers, Shackelford said it was "not only absurd and ridiculous, but unfair and illegal."

With the end near, Morgan played his last card and told Shackelford to allow the Confederates to fight their way out.

"Your demand," replied Shackelford, "will not be considered for a moment."

The question of exactly to whom Morgan surrendered swirled around for many years.

Shackleford to the end of his life continued to take credit for capturing Morgan, since Rue was under his command. Rue did the same.

After the surrender, Morgan and more than 60 other officers were imprisoned in the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus.On the night of Nov. 27, 1863, Morgan and six others escaped from the Ohio prison when they tunneled from their cells to an air chamber below and climbed over a 25-foot wall with the help of a homemade rope and grappling hook. Morgan and another escapee, Thomas Hines, hopped a southbound train to Cincinnati and made their way back south.

Morgan was home with his wife, Mattie, in Danville, Va., in time for Christmas dinner.

Morgan continued his raiding activities, sometimes recklessly.

He was shot to death on Sept. 4, 1864, in Greeneville, Tenn., by a Union soldier, Pvt. Andrew J. Campbell, after he disregarded Campbell's order to surrender and ran away.

Rumors have persisted for years that Morgan left behind a cache of gold buried somewhere in Columbiana County or thereabouts before the surrender. Each year, fortune hunters come looking for it, said Gene Krotky of the Lisbon Historical Society.

"So every spring you'd have the metal detectors out there looking for Morgan's Gold," Krotky said. "They've never picked up a diary or anything showing that Morgan collected gold. But that becomes part of the local lore and people just get carried away."

The Ohio Department of Transportation plans to place historical markers, 63 in all, along the nearly 550 miles of Morgan's raid through the state. But the future of the granite slab and its bronze plaque that mark the surrender site is in question.

The state will have public meetings next month to give local citizens a chance to offer opinions about what will happen to memorial if the rest area is closed and razed. The likely result will be that the memorial will be turned over to the local municipality, Madison Township, Hunt said.

Mike Bucsko can be reached at mbucsko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1732.

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