“Ugly Kind of Music”: The Battle of Corydon—July 9, 1863

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Though the Union gave chase to General John H. Morgan and his men through Kentucky, they were unsuccessful in preventing the Confederate Cavalryman from crossing into Northern territory. On July 8, 1863, in the early morning hours, Union General Edward Hobson stood on the banks of the Ohio River in Kentucky and watched as the last of Morgan’s men disappeared into the woods of Indiana.

Making their way north, the Rebel Raiders first made camp near Frake’s Mill, located near present day Laconia, Indiana, about eight miles from the Ohio River. The Confederates skirmished with the Indiana Legion nearly the whole way until night fell, before the Yankees retreated to Corydon, Indiana. Capturing numerous Union prisoners along the way, the Rebels took the captured soldiers to a school house near another local mill, Lopp’s Mill. While at the schoolhouse, someone fired upon the Rebels who believed the shooter had been in Lopp’s Mill. In an act of punishment, Morgan ordered Lopp’s Mill to be set on fire, despite the desperate pleas from Phillip R. Lopp, the mill’s owner. It turned out that the shots fired at the Raiders came from a man, Mr. Overton, who took aim at the soldiers outside of the mill. Mr. Overton escaped before the Confederates located him. Unfortunately for Lopp, the incident led to the destruction of his mill and livelihood; however, the state of Indiana would later reimburse him for his losses in the amount of $2,861. As for the prisoners, Morgan released them after they pledged to return home and not take up arms again against him and his men.

In another example of mistaken retribution, the bulk of the soldiers in the Indiana Legion had stopped their retreat about 4 miles from Corydon near the home of Reverend Peter Glenn. As the Rebels approached, they were fired upon. John Dunn of Company D, 5th Kentucky, was killed in the assault. The Raiders believe that the shot that killed Dunn came from Glenn home, prompting the Confederates to open fire on the residence, severely injuring Peter’s son, John. At nearly the same time, the order to burn the home was given; Confederates entered the Glenn home and quickly set the beds and bookcases a blaze. In an attempt to save his home, Mr. Glenn began putting the fire out, before a Raider shot him in the side. Staggering from the injury, Peter escaped his burning home, slumping down in the shade of a nearby tree, before succumbing to his wound. There is still confusion as to where the initial shots came from. Peter’s wife, Catherine, stated that her husband was not to blame and that he did not even own a gun. However, his grandson, Charley, claimed that as he was hiding in fear, his grandfather told him not to worry as he had already killed one of the raiders. In yet another turn of events, at least one report by Colonel Lewis Jordan stated that the burning of the house was not done because of shots fired, but rather that the Confederates knew Reverend Glenn’s stance on the abolishment of slavery and lured him from his house under a flag of truce before shooting him dead. The morning of July 9, 1863, brought a bloody and violent introduction of the Raiders in Indiana.

About four miles away, in Corydon, Indiana, people had begun to raise the alarms, alerting those in the county that Morgan was on his way. Those in the surrounding area who were able and willing rushed to Corydon, with what weapons they had. The Indiana Legion had already begun to build a defensive line south of the town. Unfortunately for the defenders, this line was highly flawed. Stretching for nearly 2,000 feet with each end anchored by a road, the elevation made it impossible to see what lay in front of them. W. B. Ryan of the Indiana Legion stated, “Our position was unfortunate, because the brow of the hill obscured our field of vision so that it was impossible to see the enemy until he was upon us.”

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The Yankees heard and felt the Raiders approaching long before they laid eyes on them. From Mauckport Road, the bulk of the Confederates made their way straight towards the Union defenses. To the west along Laconia Road, a company of Morgan’s advance guard finally made their appearance. Try as they might, the Rebels were unable to break through the line. The Spencer Guards, under the command of Captain George W. Lahue, repulsed the Confederate attacks three times, before Confederate reinforcements arrived.

There were 450 home guardsmen, including the Spencer Guardsmen, defending the small Indiana town from the 2,200 Rebel Raiders. The Ellsworth Rifles also took part in the defense, commanded by Major Thomas McGrain, Jr., positioned near Amsterdam Road at the western point of the defensive line. This area, unlike that nearer the center of the line, was relatively unprotected with large open fields laying before them. However, with the uninterrupted view, as soon as the Confederate came into sight, the Yankees opened fire, armed with new Henry Rifles. The Ellsworth Rifles, along with a modge-podge of roughly 30 volunteers and local farmers, held the Raiders back for nearly 15 minutes. However, Morgan and his men quickly outflanked the Indiana Guard, overwhelmingly outnumbering them. Overall the defense of Corydon, lasted around 25 minutes, as the Confederates continued to press the defensive position at the center while also flanking each end. The 2nd Kentucky moved on the right while the 9th Tennessee advanced on the left.

Confederate Colonel Adam R. Johnson ordered his Parrott guns to fire on the Union defenses. The inexperienced northern soldiers quickly fell back from their line; some describing the barrage as the most “ugly kind of music.” Many of the retreating soldiers were captured, as they could not outrun the mounted Confederates in the distance to the town. Those not captured tried their best to warn others in the town and establish a new defensive line. The Rebels continued raining shell and shot from their artillery down on the Yankees. Shortly before 1:00 PM on July 9, 1863, the raiders had all but taken Corydon. Union soldier Levi Saffer, wrote of his capture:

When we were ordered to lay down our arms, I was standing on the bank of the Little Indian Creek. The water was about two feet deep and very muddy. I just dropped my gun into the creek. I found it there at ten o’clock the next morning. . . . Our guns were scarcely out of our hands when two or three villainous looking wretches began exploring our pockets. I was not in a very pleasant humor, and I resented this indignity in terms more personal than any civil code would sanction, and in languages not found in the Bible.

After Morgan and his men fired two shots into the small town—neither of which caused much damage—Colonel Jordan raised the white flag and surrendered. There were at least eight confirmed Union losses and 11 Confederate by the time the battle ceased.

Entering the town, General Morgan established his headquarters at Jacob W. Kintner’s Eagle Hotel. While at eating the hotel, he learned of the defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

Morgan’s Raiders would not spend much more than a few hours in Corydon. The cost incurred by the townspeople would total nearly $15,000.00. The raiders pillaged the town taking what they wished from the stores and homes. They spared three mills from the same fate as Lopp Mill, 8 miles to the South. This was not out of the kindness of their hearts, rather the Raiders demanded a $500 dollar ransom from each mill owner or else their property be set ablaze.

It seemed as though the raiders were unstoppable and despite the destruction that lay in their wake, some in Indiana were pleased to see the cavalry arrive. As the Confederates stopped to water and rest their horses, shouts could be heard: “Glory to God. Morgan’s come.” Southern Indiana was ripe with Copperheads and southern sympathizers.

Late in the evening of July 9, Union Commander Hobson, finally ferried his men across the Ohio River and into Indiana, intent on pursuing the raiders. General Burnside was also preparing in Louisville and Cincinnati for the coming fight. Nevertheless, over the next four days, the raiders would continue to terrorize southern Indiana as they made their way closer to Ohio.

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