Rolling Fork — John Hunt Morgan’s Second Raid into Kentucky
In December 1862, General John Hunt Morgan began his “Second Raid” into Kentucky. The best, concise description of this raid that I have seen is by Tim Asher (PDF). He also describes an incident that shows the friendship of Col John Harlan, brigade commander and Colonel from the 10th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, and Colonel/General Basil Duke, a confederate cavalry commander. This friendship is significant because Harlan and Duke are on opposite sides of the flag during this skirmish on the Rolling Fork.
Tim Asher’s information
“To this point the raid was a brilliant success acted out with little opposition. However, things were about to change. Union General Rosecrans had an intuition that Morgan would strike into Kentucky and when he was certain that the raid was underway, he wired his commanders with an accurate estimate of Morgan’s troop strength and promised, “ We’ll catch and kill those rascals yet.”
Any experienced cavalry commander understands that once his position was determined behind enemy lines, he had only a certain number of days until the overwhelming numbers of the enemy closed off his retreat and cornered him. Needless to say at this time, General Morgan’s work was not going unnoticed by the Federal Army commanders. On Christmas day, Union General Rosecrans took time out from planning his offensive against General Bragg to devise a trap for Morgan. In Murfreesboro, Rosecrans organized what is known as a “Hammer and Anvil” tactic. This operation called for a Union force (the “Hammer”) to locate and chase Morgan onto waiting Union troops (the “Anvil”) in southern Kentucky as he tried to retreat to the safety of Tennessee. For the “Hammer”, Rosecrans selected Col. John Harlan and his 2,300-man infantry accompanied by a battery of artillery. This is the same John Harlan who let Duke escape his handcar of Federals just outside of Elizabethtown in September 1861. Harlan was the commander of the second brigade, first division of Gen. George H. Thomas’ command. Before the war, Harlan was attorney in Louisville and a graduate of Centre College and Transylvania University where he had been a classmate of Duke in Law School. After the war, Harlan was destined to occupy a seat on the US Supreme Court. But for now, he was sent into Kentucky after Morgan and his old friend Basil Duke.
The “Anvil” in southern Kentucky was composed of two commands: one in Lebanon and the other in Glasgow. In Lebanon, Rosecrans called on Col. Wm. A. Hoskins and reinforced him with troops from Danville and Columbia bringing his strength to around 3,300 men. These reinforcements added an artillery battery and a small group of cavalry to Hoskins force. A little further to the west of Lebanon, the road to middle Tennessee ran through Glasgow and would be blocked there by Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds and his 5,000-man division sent from Thomas’ corps that including twelve pieces of artillery and 600 cavalry. The trap was set and Rosecrans was sure that Morgan would walk right into it. Rosecrans believed that he had a perfect plan to capture or kill Morgan. However, not everyone shared Rosecrans’ optimism. Gen. Speed Fry was a division commander in Gallatin who after reviewing the plan spotted a flaw. Fry suggested that it would be better if cavalry were sent after Morgan. Rosecrans shrugged off this suggestion and replied that he wanted infantry to run Morgan down. History tells us that Speed Fry was right; sending infantry after cavalry would prove fatal to Rosecrans scheme. On December 27 Rosecrans’ plan was put into motion as Harlan (the Hammer) boarded a train in Gallatin, Tennessee that took him to Munfordville as far as the track was clear. Here Harlan and his men left their transportation behind and began the long march to catch Morgan’s horsemen somewhere in Hardin County. After marching all day and night, Harlan arrived in Elizabethtown and found out that he was too late to save either the town or the trestles. However, he was elated when informed that Morgan was encamped a mere 10 miles up the Bardstown Road (now US 62) on the Hardin County side of the rain-swollen Rolling Fork River. Finally, it appeared that all of Harlan’s frustrating delays would be overcome and the hardships of a forced march would be rewarded by the capture of Morgan. Harlan knew that Morgan would not stay in one place for very long and determined that resting the men was out of the question as he pressed his bone weary soldiers on another ten miles to catch up with Morgan at the Rolling Fork. In spite of Harlan’s haste, Morgan was one move ahead of his Union purser as he had already moved the main body of his force across the river and was up to mischief in Nelson County. Morgan had sent Cluke’s to destroy the bridge over the Rolling Fork at Lebanon Junction and Stoner’s KY to attack a garrison at New Haven with the main body moving to Boston to destroy the rail road and seize the town. These units carried artillery with them to make the work quick and easy as possible.
Only a couple hundred men remained before Harlan on the west side of the Rolling Fork River. In fact, Morgan’s officers were assembled in the Hamilton Hall House to conduct the court marshal of Lt. Col. Huffman who was accused of violating the surrender terms established for the Federals at Bacon Creek. The proceedings concluded at about 11:00 o’clock in the morning acquitting Huffman, when Harlan’s cannons surprised the Confederates. At this time, Morgan was operating on the other side of the river in Nelson County so Duke assumed command and quickly threw up three companies as a defense: one to the center, one to the right and one to the left. All were sheltered from Harlan’s fire by a natural depression provided by the river and trees. With Harlan’s guns giving notice of his arrival and his slow and deliberate probing of Morgan’s force, Major Bullock and his five companies, who had been sent by Morgan to destroy the Rolling Fork River Bridge, had time to rejoin Duke at the river. The Confederates desperately wanted to dash though the ford just a few hundred feet before them leaving their foot sore pursuers at the river but, Harlan’s guns had completely cut them off. Duke now had approximately 800 men lodged between a bend in the river and Harlan’s force. All hope of Duke’s cornered troopers escaping began to evaporate as Harlan continued his assault of cannon and then ordered his infantry forward to press the Confederates hard. But then when it appeared that capture was inevitable, without reason, Harlan paused and pulled back. It seems that Harlan had reconsidered his aggressive tactics after assessing the situation and coming to the conclusion that Duke must posses an overwhelming force due to the fact that he was not using his artillery. The fact was that the artillery was scattered out among Morgan’s various commands now working in Nelson County. This hesitation by Harlan was all that the quick thinking Duke needed to wiggle free from his trap. He immediately sent three companies to the right against a battery positioned on a small hill that was pouring a murderous fire on the Confederates. This silenced the Federal guns for about 15 minutes giving Duke time to send the balance of the Confederate force though a new ford just discovered. With the combination of the temporary capture of the battery to the right and the other federal batteries being forced to use precious time to redirect their fire to the new point of Confederate retreat, Harlan would watch his prize disappear through the swift running water of the Rolling Fork. However, just before the last Confederates crossed the river one of Harlan’s cannon found its mark exploding a shell in a group of horses being held for the dismounted Confederates. Fragments of this shell killed several horses and struck Duke in the head rendering him unconscious. Private John Wyeth witnessed Duke being struck and later commented that, “I had no doubt that (Duke) had been instantly killed.” The lifeless body of Duke was placed by some of his men the pommel of Capt. Tom Quirk’s saddle who dashed thought the strong current to safety. The battle came to a close as the unconscious Duke was carried from the field followed by the remaining skirmishers and Pendleton’s men who had occupied the federal battery all making their way through the ford and now racing toward Bardstown. Morgan’s rear guard had escaped certain capture or death at the hands of a Federal force three times it size with only three men wounded and none killed. After the battle Harlan’s exhausted and demoralized men had planned to camp on the battlefield but when Harlan was made aware of the damage to the Rolling Fork Bridge, he marched his men there to set up a defensive position incase Morgan decided to double back to complete his work. From this point on, the “Hammer” was no longer a factor in Rosecrans’ plans to capture Morgan. It was now up to the “Anvil” in Lebanon or Glasgow.
The following are the Official Records of the Morgan’s Second Raid into Kentucky. I have selected the important references to the 10th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry.
BOWLING GREEN, KY.,
December 26, 1862--8.15 p.m.
COLONEL: Delayed to-day by condition of road; loads too heavy for engines. One engine became entirely useless at South Tunnel, and one train delayed there until engine came from Nashville. All the trains will be here by 9 o'clock. You have been advised, as I learn by Colonel Hobson, of the success of the rebels at Bacon Creek stockade, and the destruction by them of 2 miles of road. Not believed here <ar29_135> that Morgan has any force south of Green River, and the impression is that the track is all right as far as Cave City and Munfordville, but no certain facts are known upon which to base the opinion. Shall I go on in the cars to-night, under these circumstances, or wait until daylight General Manson says he has positive information that the track was right last night at Cave City, but knows nothing definite as to track beyond that point.
JOHN M. HARLAN.
Colonel, Commanding Second Brigade
Col. J.P. GARESCHÉ.
MUNFORDVILLE, December 29, 1862.
GENERAL: Came up with Morgan to-day--mouth of Beech Fork, on Rolling Fork, 10 miles from Elizabethtown, on Bardstown road. I formed in line, advanced skirmishers, who engaged the enemy's skirmishers with great spirit. Part of Morgan's men had crossed the river before we arrived, and were driven across with some Confusion. Many had to swim; many fled up the river to Boston Ford, beyond pursuit. Think Morgan is aiming for Bardstown, and designs to destroy Shepherdsville Bridge, if possible. He destroyed the trestle-work; he did it before I arrived, and I learn that he has destroyed Rolling Fork Bridge, but not certain; will know in a few hours. I had a lieutenant and several men wounded. 2 killed; number of rebel horses were killed by our artillery. If Rolling Fork Bridge is not destroyed, I will go there to-night and save it. I would have saved the road, I think, but for delay occasioned by engines on the road. Skirmishers behaved well.
JOHN M. HARLAN, Colonel, Commanding.
ROLLING FORK BRIDGE, December 30, 1862. GENERAL: On the night of the 26th, I left Gallatin, with orders to come to Cave City and drive Morgan from the railroad. When I reached Bowling Green, I received additional orders to come on to Munfordville, and drove him from that vicinity. As he followed the line of the railroad, I continued the pursuit, and came up with him yesterday morning at 10 o'clock, near Johnson's Ferry, about 5 miles above this point. When my artillery opened, two of his regiments and two pieces of artillery were within a half mile of the bridge here, and about to make an attack. The noise of my guns induced them to move back up the river, and abandon the attempt on this bridge. My close pursuit of him saved this bridge. A part of his force crossed 1½ miles higher up the river, above the mouth of Beech Fork. Two hundred went up the river toward New Haven. After driving them across the river, I rested until 12 o'clock p.m., and then came to this place, reaching it at daybreak. My men were worn out and their rations exhausted, and in the swollen state of the river it would have been difficult for my infantry to cross. I feared, besides, that Morgan would whip around and make an attempt on this point. I am in doubt as to what I should do, and desire you to communicate with me at once. I think the time has come for Morgan either to retreat in the direction of Glasgow or Somerset, or to move on into Central Kentucky. <ar29_136>…………
JOHN M. HARLAN, Colonel, Commanding Second Brigade.
Brig. Gen. J. T. BOYLE.
MUNFORDVILLE, HART COUNTY, KY.,
January 5, 1863… On the route from Munfordville to Elizabethtown no enemy was seen; but upon my arrival at Elizabethtown, on the morning of the 29th, I learned that Morgan had destroyed the trestle-work on the very day upon which I left Munfordville, and had, the previous night, encamped 10 miles from Elizabethtown, on the Rolling Fork, where the Elizabethtown and Bardstown road crosses that stream.
I marched immediately in that direction, ordering the cavalry to go far in advance. When I had gone about 5 miles from Elizabethtown, information reached me that the rebels were, in fact, at the place supposed, and would probably soon cross the river. A section of South-wick's battery was ordered to join the cavalry, and, in conjunction with it, to detain the rebels at the crossing until the infantry arrived. When Colonel Shanks arrived within a mile of the crossing, he discovered, in the plain below (our road from Elizabethtown was on a high ridge of Muldraugh's Hill), a body of rebel cavalry, upon whom he ordered the <ar29_139> artillery to open, which was promptly executed, resulting in the rapid dispersion of the rebels. The infantry were ordered up double-quick. I went to the front in person, and from a high hill I saw quite distinctly a very large body of cavalry formed in line of battle near the river. Their officers were riding along their line, apparently preparing to give us battle.
Knowing that Morgan had a larger force than I had, I proceeded cautiously, and yet as expeditiously as the nature of the ground and the circumstances admitted. My men were formed in two lines; skirmishers were thrown out from both infantry and cavalry, covering our whole front, and were ordered to advance and engage the enemy, the whole line following in close supporting distance. The firing commenced on the part of the rebels, on our left; it was promptly and vigorously responded to by my skirmishers and the artillery. After a while the rebels were driven away, and they then made some demonstrations to occupy an eminence upon my right. To meet this movement the Tenth Indiana (Colonel Carroll) was ordered to occupy that eminence, from which four companies were ordered to clear the woods on the right of my line. The Fourth Kentucky, Colonel Croxton; Fourteenth Ohio, Colonel Este; Seventy-fourth Indiana, Colonel Chapman, were ordered to form on the left of the Tenth Indiana. A section of the battery was ordered to occupy the eminence, and the Tenth Kentucky, Lieutenant-Colonel Hays, ordered to support it. This left the Thirteenth Kentucky, Major Hobson, on my left, supporting the section of the battery stationed there. The firing now became general all along the right of our line of skirmishers; but the rebels, after an obstinate resistance, broke and fled precipitately in every direction. Some struck out into the woods; some went up the river as far as New Haven; some swam the river with their horses. Farther pursuit that evening was impracticable, and I may say impossible, in the exhausted state of my men, they having left Munfordville Sunday morning and come up with the enemy the succeeding day at 1 o'clock--43 miles distant.
The casualties in my command were as follows, viz: Lieut. Henry W. Pollis, of Southwick's battery (Company C, First Ohio Volunteer Artillery), fell at his post, mortally wounded. He died the succeeding day. He was a promising young officer, and his loss will be severely felt. Private Louis W. Finney, Company I, Tenth Indiana Volunteers, was also mortally wounded, and died the 30th. Private John C. Osborn, Company A, Tenth Indiana, slightly wounded. Thomas J. Burton, Company F, Fourth Kentucky Volunteers, was killed instantly.
The number of killed and wounded among the rebels I have not had an opportunity to ascertain, because, for the most part, they fought under cover of a thick, heavy woods, and we marched away from the scene of conflict shortly after its conclusion, for reasons hereinafter stated. It is certain, however, that among the wounded was General Basil W. Duke, commanding a brigade under Morgan, and who is believed to be the life and soul of all the movements of the latter; and near where he was seen during the engagement 10 dead horses were found within a space of 20 feet square, the work of the section of Southwick's battery on the left. Some of the citizens in the vicinity informed me that the rebel wounded were taken off and some of their dead thrown into the river; whether this is true or not I will not pretend to say.
I do not suppose that the engagement which my command had with Morgan's forces could properly be called a battle, the main bodies of the respective forces not being engaged. It was simply brisk skirmishing, exhibiting the utmost willingness, even anxiety, on the part of all the officers and men under my command, though outnumbered by the enemy in every respect, to engage him at all hazards; and, on the part of the rebel chieftain and his men, an entire unwillingness to meet them upon any fair terms. Every circumstance on the occasion indicated to my command that the enemy were disposed to give us battle in force, yet nowhere, along the whole line, was there to be observed any, even the slightest, faltering by either officers or men.
To Colonel's Este, Chapman, Carroll, Croxton, and Shanks, Lieutenant-Colonel Hays, Major Hobson, Captain Southwick, of the battery, and to all their brother officers, I return my thanks for the promptness and cheerfulness with which, on the line of march, they executed all my orders…
I claim, for my command, that it saved the Rolling Fork Bridge, and most probably prevented any attempt to destroy the bridge at Shepherdsville, thus saving from destruction property of immense value, and preventing the utter destruction of the line of railway, by which our army, near Nashville, was mainly supplied. And I submit whether the attack upon Morgan's forces, the timely arrival of my command at Rolling Fork, did not prevent a raid upon other important points in Kentucky. It is very certain that after my command drove the rebel chieftain across the Rolling Fork, in such a precipitate manner, he abandoned the railroad, and very soon thereafter fled from the State, hotly pursued by other forces.
… your obedient servant,
JOHN M. HARLAN, Colonel, Commanding Second Brigade.
Capt. ED. C. DENIG,
Assistant Adjutant-General, First Division.
HEADQUARTERS FIRST DIVISION,
Gallatin, Tenn., January 11, 1863.
Respectfully forwarded. Colonel Harlan, for the energy, promptness, and success in pursuing and driving rebel forces from railroad, is entitled to the gratitude not only of the people of Kentucky, but of the whole Army of the Cumberland. He is, in my opinion, entitled to special notice from the commanding general, and anything he can say or do for him will be thankfully received. SPEED S. FRY, Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.
January 1, 1863--11 p.m.
Rebel General Morgan crossed Cumberland River, cut off Nashville at Gainesborough, and appeared in front of Munfordville on 25th December. Colonel Hobson, Thirteenth Kentucky, drove part of his force, killing 9 and capturing 16. Morgan crossed Green River above Munfordville, and moved in direction of Elizabethtown, burning bridge at Bacon Creek and Nolin. He destroyed trestle-work at Muldraugh's Hill, and moved for Rolling Fork. Colonel Harlan, of Tenth Kentucky, commanding brigade, overtook at Rolling Fork and attacked him, killing and wounding a number and capturing a captain and some privates. Colonel Duke (rebel) died of wounds, and one of our lieutenants of artillery. Colonel Harlan crossed, pursued, and attacked him at Rolling Fork, Salt River Bridge. This is first instance, I believe, of infantry waiting and attacking cavalry. Morgan fled before Harlan to Bardstown, and from there attempted to escape between Lebanon and Campbellsville. Colonel Hoskins, Twelfth Kentucky, commanding there, attacked him this morning, killing a number and capturing 90 men, his caissons, and ammunition wagons. Morgan is flying precipitately. General Reynolds marched from Glasgow yesterday for Greensburg, and may intercept him. Colonel Halisy, Sixth Kentucky Cavalry, killed. Our casualties not yet reported. Morgan has paid dearly for what he has done. I have sent boats up Green River to Bowling Green, whence railroad is in order to Nashville, with provisions for Rosecrans' army. Also sent boats up Cumberland. With control of gunboats on Cumberland, can easily supply General Rosecrans' army. General Rosecrans occupies Murfreesborough.
J. T. BOYLE,
His Excellency ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States.
HEADQUARTERS MORGAN'S DIVISION,
Smithville, Tenn., January 8, 1863
…The following morning (December 29) I sent Colonel [R. S.] Cluke's regiment, with one piece of artillery, to attack and burn the bridge over the Rolling Fork; Colonel [D. W.] Chenault's regiment [Eleventh Kentucky Cavalry], and one piece of artillery in advance, to burn the stockade and trestle at Boston, and three companies of Breckinridge's regiment and one mountain howitzer, to attack at New Haven. Having completed these dispositions, I set my command in motion. Just as the rear regiments were crossing Rolling Fork, a large force of the enemy-- <ar29_157> consisting of cavalry, infantry, and several pieces of artillery, which had followed us from Elizabethtown----came up and began to shell the ford at which the troops were crossing. I immediately sent orders to Colonel Duke, who was in the rear, to send a courier to Colonel Cluke, ordering him to rejoin the command as rapidly as possible, and to hold the enemy in cheek until the entire command had crossed the ford. Colonel Duke, assisted by Colonel Breckinridge, placed seven companies from different regiments in position and held five in reserve. With this force he several times repulsed the enemy's advance, and very nearly succeeded in capturing two pieces of the enemy's artillery, when he fell from his horse, severely wounded by a shell. Colonel Breckinridge then took command, and maintained the position until Colonel Cluke's regiment had crossed the river, when I ordered him to tall back, which he accomplished in good order and without loss.
In this affair only 3 men were hurt, on our side--Colonel Duke, Captain [V. M.] Pendleton [Company D, Eighth Kentucky Cavalry], (who was struck by a ball while gallantly leading a charge on the enemy's artillery), and a private slightly wounded. The enemy lost several officers and men killed and wounded.
Meanwhile Colonel Chenault had captured and burned the stockade at Boston. He rejoined me that night at Bardstown. The force sent to burn the stockade at New Haven was not successful, and did not rejoin the command until the following night at Springfield…
JOHN H. MORGAN,
Col. GEORGE WILLIAM BRENT, A. A. G. and
Chief of Staff, Army of Tennessee.