Part 2 of a series
As the saying goes, “news travels fast.” It was no different back in the summer of 1863. It was July 8 and the last of Morgan’s men were crossing the Ohio River into southern Indiana. Their footprints were still wet as word of their arrival reached Indianapolis. The next few days saw hundreds of men travel to Indiana’s capital to bolster the city’s defenses. On July 8 the 102nd-114th Indiana regiments were formed in Indianapolis.
Morgan successfully crossed the Ohio River with just over 2,000 men. He wasted no time in pushing his forces towards Corydon, Indiana’s former capital. The raiders appeared on the road just south of Corydon around 11:30 in the morning on July 9. Corydon’s citizens had been up all night making preparations to defend the town. Their plan was to hold the raiders at bay until reinforcements from New Albany, IN, arrived. Colonel Lewis Jordan and his Indiana Legion of 400 men were charged with protecting Corydon.
Unfortunately for Jordan and his men, the desperately-needed reinforcements never show up. To make matters worse, the legion was under trained and vastly outnumbered by the war-hardened raiders.
After just one hour of fighting, Morgan’s men flanked the defenders and forced them to abandon their positions. As Jordan and his men fell back into the besieged city, he realized that continued attempts at defense could only end in slaughter. When he hoisted the white flag of surrender, the raiders took that as a sign to flood the city and capture as many Union soldiers as they could find. The captives were paroled as soon as Morgan’s men finished sacking the city. Only a small number of Jordan’s men were able to escape into the woodlands unnoticed.
While a good number the raiders thought it wrong to pillage and plunder Kentucky towns, they held no qualms about those in Indiana; they were in enemy territory now. Morgan’s men ransacked stores and homes and burned down a mill – only stopping when they were offered money. When Morgan and his raiders left Corydon that evening, the unfortunate citizens had to deal with the loss of thousands of dollars worth of cash, horses, cattle, and other goods.
After the attack on Corydon, Morgan’s raiders traveled north and broke into two groups. One made a feint towards Indianapolis while the other headed east. They were scheduled to meet up near Vernon, IN on July 11.
When they reached Vernon, Morgan discovered a town of roughly 2,000 Union soldiers ready to defend. He sent a dispatch to the man in charge, Colonel Williams, and demanded immediate surrender. Williams, awaiting the arrival of Brigadier General John Love, declined. Morgan repeated his message. This time, Colonel Williams kidnapped the dispatcher and held him prisoner until the Brigadier General arrived. He then sent a message to Morgan stating that he had no intention of surrender and that if Morgan intended to stay and fight he would have a long day ahead of him. Williams also asked Morgan to allow him time to evacuate Vernon’s women and children before attacking. Morgan promised to wait 30 minutes before opening fire. However, at the end of the hour no attack had come. Morgan knew he would suffer severe losses if he tried to fight the defenders at Vernon. As the women and children rushed away from Vernon, so did Morgan’s men.
Next they marched south towards Dupont, IN where the raiders once again started pillaging and plundering. Although they weren’t even in the city for a full day, Dupont suffered more damage than almost any other Indiana town during the war. The Confederates destroyed the Madison & Indianapolis railroad lines, burning the depot, a warehouse, a twelve car train, and two bridges. In a frenzy of violence, the raiders also ransacked Dupont’s stores and took anything they wanted. For example, Frank Mayfield’s pork house lost close to 2,000 hickory-cured hams (that was enough for each raider to have his own!).
Ripley County, IN was their next destination. When they arrived in Versailles, the county seat, Morgan’s brother Colonel Richard Morgan forced his way into the courthouse and demanded they give him everything in the county safe. Word of the raiders had traveled faster than the men themselves, so most of the money from the safe had already been buried. The county treasurer did leave $5,000 in the safe to appease the raiders, but when Colonel Morgan took the money he noticed some bags in the safe. When asked, the county deputy informed him they were money purses from a few of the town’s widows. Colonel Morgan responded by saying, “Keep them safe. I never robbed a widow before.” The Colonel, as a free mason, also advised his men not to harm anyone in that organization. But not everyone was spared: when Reverend Horsley of Pierceville refused to halt, he was shot and killed. Unfortunately the raiders didn’t know the reverend was deaf.
Morgan’s men headed from Versailles towards the Ohio border, passing through a town called Sunmansville. No battle happened there, but I like to mention it because I was born and raised in the area. The house in which I currently live sits about a mile and one half from where Morgan and his men camped on the evening of July 12. The town is now called Sunman and the schoolhouse Morgan’s men slept in that night is still standing today (it has been converted into a five bedroom house).
When the Confederates heard that Union troops were massing in the Sunmansville area, Morgan woke his men early the next morning and fled. By that evening, July 13, they had crossed the Little Miami River back into Ohio, never again to return to my home state of Indiana.
The tale of Morgan’s raid eventually became a bedtime story for Indiana’s children. When I was a kid, my family told me there was a Confederate treasure buried somewhere in the woods behind our house. Some of my distant relatives claimed that two of Morgan’s raiders once stopped by and asked if they could search the woods for some gold they had buried here years before. They never found the treasure. Of course my relatives used a Ouija board to verify the story and were convinced my father would be the one to find the treasure. Since my family hasn’t become rich from stolen gold, I don’t have much faith in the tale. However, the story does show that even though Indiana was terror-stricken for five days while Morgan’s raiders burned, ransacked, and looted their way through the state, it did spark a fascination that would last for generations to come.