Wanted: John Hunt Morgan

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Wanted John Hunt Morgan

The Civil War is filled with tales of adventure, and perhaps one of the more interesting is the escape by Confederate General John Hunt Morgan from an Ohio prison on November 27, 1863.  After his surrender following his Great Raid through Indiana and Ohio in June-July 1863, go here to read about it, Morgan and  his officers were sent to the Ohio state penitentiary due to overcrowding in prisoner of war camps in Ohio.

At the prison the Confederates were housed in the newly constructed East Hall with a partition being constructed to separate the prisoners of war from the criminals.  Eventually 68 Confederates would be housed there.  The Confederates were not required to wear prison uniforms and allowed to receive packages.  Morgan was determined to escape from the outset of his captivity.  When he heard that his pregnant wife was ill he redoubled his efforts to find some way out.

Opportunity dawned with a decision on November 3 that the Federal government would assume responsibility for the Confederates.  No longer would their cells be cleaned, and inspected, by a prison guard each day.  The Confederates learned from a prisoner about a ventilation chamber under the ground floor cells.

A few days digging got them through the cell floor into the air chamber.  They then began to tunnel through a wall of the chamber and up to the prison yard.  A smuggled newspaper gave them the schedule for the Little Miami Railroad that ran by the prison.

Shortly after midnight on a rainy November 28, 1863, Morgan and six of his officers made their break, going into the air chamber, through the tunnel, out into the prison yard and then scaling the wall.  The escape of Morgan and his men was not discovered until just before dawn.  Two of the escapees were recaptured on December 2.

Morgan and three of the other Confederates went to a train station and took a train to Cincinnati.  Making their way to the Ohio, Morgan and one of his men paid a boy to row them across in his boat to Kentucky.  A native of the blue grass state, Morgan breathed easier although he was still in Union territory.  Within a few weeks he was back behind his Confederate lines, now a hero to all Confederates, along with the four other men who succeeded in escaping.

He was reunited with his beloved wife shortly before Christmas 1863.  The marriage of Mattie Morgan, a great beauty, and General John Hunt Morgan was one of the great love stories of the Civil War.  They had 630 days of marriage before his death in battle in 1864.  Mattie gave birth to Morgan on November 27, 1863, the same day of John Hunt Morgan’s escape.  Tragically baby Morgan died the next day.   At the time of his death Mattie was pregnant again.  She gave birth seven months after his death to another daughter, Jonnie Hunt Morgan. She would live until 1888 and was regarded as very like her father in daring and kindness.  Mattie would remarry in 1873 to a Judge and have five more children.  Jonnie was regarded by them as a beloved big sister.  Jonnie died soon after her marriage to Rev. J. W. Caldwell of typhoid fever, that great killer of the nineteenth century.

 

Mattie Morgan

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9 Comments

  1. I wouldn’t say it was “a matter of perspective.” I would say it was under dispute. The underlying dispute was whether the Confederate states had a right under the Ninth and Tenth Amendment to secede. The issue was not resolved by politicians, so the nation had to undergo five years of war to decide the issue.

    It was not until Lee surrendered at Appomattox that the issue was decisively resolved against secession. So until April 9, 1865, John Hunt Morgan had the right to try and escape from prison.

  2. “I would say it was under dispute.”

    Indeed. A dispute over perspectives. But this is simply semantics, so it’s not worth belaboring; without differing perspectives there would be no dispute, without the dispute there would be no war, and without the war there would be no prisoners. Don is correct in his reiteration that it has always been the duty of every POW to attempt escape. “Ours is not to reason why . . .”

  3. First, Americans fought for their independence from Great Britain based on their belief in Mankind’s God-given right to self-determination, and Southern Americans chose to exercise this same God-given right when they voted to secede from the malfunctioning Union. They did nothing wrong. Secession was/is not illegal.

    Second, John Hunt Morgan was a Confederate officer, and should have been imprisoned on Johnson’s Island, a prison for Confederate officers, but was instead imprisoned in the Ohio Penitentiary because he was considered an “outlaw” by the Ohio authorities.

    Third, John Hunt Morgan was not killed in battle, but was assassinated by a cowardly Yankee who shot Morgan in the back.

  4. “First, Americans fought for their independence from Great Britain based on their belief in Mankind’s God-given right to self-determination, and Southern Americans chose to exercise this same God-given right when they voted to secede from the malfunctioning Union.”

    You mix up a right to revolution with a right of secession. There is no right to secession under the Federal constitution. As to the right of revolution, the slave holders’ rebellion did not meet the factors set forth by Mr. Jefferson in the Declaration.

    “Second, John Hunt Morgan was a Confederate officer, and should have been imprisoned on Johnson’s Island, a prison for Confederate officers, but was instead imprisoned in the Ohio Penitentiary because he was considered an “outlaw” by the Ohio authorities.”

    You are correct that Morgan should not have been put into a state penitentiary, but incorrect as to why he was put there. It was due solely to overcrowding in the Ohio prisoner of war camps. The civil authorities in Ohio were eager to get Morgan and his men transferred to Federal custody and were in the process of doing so at the time of Morgan’s escape.

    “Third, John Hunt Morgan was not killed in battle, but was assassinated by a cowardly Yankee who shot Morgan in the back.”
    As with most aspects of Morgan’s life, the facts surrounding his death are a matter of controversy:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1864/10/02/news/john-morgan-the-facts-about-his-death.html

  5. I was not trying to be a smart alec when I rejected the phrase “a matter of perspective.” In my opinion, it reeks of relativism. Saying that it all depends on one’s perspective, implies that two opposite positions can both be right. I prefer the phrase “a matter of dispute.” The Confederates sincerely believed in the righteousness of their cause, and the belief was reasonable. Only in retrospect can we say that they were on the wrong side of history.

  6. Perspective means simply “point of view.” It can be relative, but only when there is another to juxtapose it; the dispute comes when it’s decided that they cannot both coexist. My atheist neighbor and I get along very well. Although someday it will be proven beyond any doubt which of us is correct in our perspective on God, our perspectives, while quite mutually exclusive, are not of a contentious enough nature to form the need for dispute.
    .
    In the case of the Civil War, the persective on freedom was not only mutually exclusive between North and South but mutually mortal; it led to armed conflict. Thus, the combatants for each, armed with the “righteous fervor” of his own cause, did what he believed correct based on his perspective of the war and his place in it. The dispute was a condition. The perspective was the motivator.
    .
    That said, then, your conclusion is perfectly correct. “The Confederates sincerely believed in the righteousness of their cause, and the belief was reasonable. Only in retrospect can we say that they were on the wrong side of history.” So I think we agree, and it is only a matter of semantics – or our persectives on them – that provide grounds for dispute, and I’m willing to allow them to coexist. You say tomato.

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