- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

Ask a Civil War student to name famous Southern raiders, and three names surely will lead any list: John Singleton Mosby, Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan. All were courageous and resourceful leaders and had the unswerving respect of their men. They were the kind of men about whom songs were written (Morgan's exploits inspired at least two ballads) rough and ready, it must be admitted, but good for Rebel morale.

"The John Hunt Morgan Song" has mocking laughter in every line. The lively little song, written by William A. Collins and George W. Work, salutes a man they admired and derides the luckless farmers who had to endure Morgan's visits when he took steel and flame north of the Mason-Dixon line, sometimes in defiance of Gen. Braxton Bragg's orders:

"John came in excellent style, to be sure; / With banner and brand came he. / His clattering hooves made a terrible roar, / And his cannon numbering three."

Hit 'em, hurt 'em and hightail it seems to describe Morgan's way of raiding coming suddenly out of a black night and as quickly disappearing into its concealing depths. He undoubtedly brought fear to many scattered little communities in states that had known no battles.

"The Hoosiers were scared, so entered the race: / What a rowdyish set were they. / And the Buckeyes mounted to join the chase, / As Johnny galloped their way."

The chorus, a musical shout of defiance, is laced with contempt, making one wonder whether Morgan ever heard the song and, if so, what he thought of it:

"Ho! Gather your flocks and sound the alarm, / For the Partisan Rangers have come. / Bold knights of the road, they scour each farm, / And scamper at tap o' the drum. / How are ye, telegraph?"

Morgan had a habit of tapping into telegraph wires, enabling him to obtain valuable information about Union troop movements. He must have given Federal Gens. John Carlos Buell and William Rosecrans anxious moments, and he certainly gave many a sleepless night to civilians determined to remain loyal to the Union.

Of English and New England ancestry, Morgan was born June 1, 1825, in Huntsville, Ala., but became essentially a Kentuckian. He already had "smelt powder" during the Mexican War, and when South and North locked horns, he joined the cavalry, eventually reaching the rank of brigadier general.

He saw action at Shiloh before embarking on the raids into Union territory that made him famous; his Partisan Rangers suffered minimal losses.

In July 1863, he ventured deep into Ohio, even riding through the outskirts of Cincinnati, but on July 26, his luck ran out. He was captured at New Lisbon with 364 officers and men and sent to the Ohio State Penitentiary at Columbus.

He was an eagle who refused to be caged, however, and what happened is told in another song of unknown origin, "How are You, John Morgan?"

"A felon's cell was then prepared, at David Tod's request, / And in Columbus Prison he shared the convict's shaven crest."

Tod had been governor of Ohio since 1862 and was determined to stamp out guerrilla activity in his state.

His delight in the incarceration of Morgan proved short-lived: Morgan tunneled his way out, possibly bribing guards, and fled south, taking six fellow officers with him.

"John Morgan's gone, like lightning flies, through every state and town," the song continues, ending: "And at no very distant day to lead a new command."

Morgan was appointed commander of the Department of Southwest Virginia, and by April 1864, he had resumed his daring raids into Northern territory.

His career ended suddenly and violently on Sept. 4, 1864. Trapped in Greenville, Tenn., he attempted to escape and was shot and killed.

Morgan was unfortunate; both Forrest and Mosby outlived the Civil War. The former tarnished his reputation with historians by founding the Ku Klux Klan.

He died in 1877. Mosby died in 1916, having lost favor with many Southerners by loyally supporting President Ulysses S. Grant. No matter. Each was a hero in his time.

The songs are heard rarely now. The legends live on, however.


Peter Cliffe lives in Hertfordshire, England. He is a retired administrator for a multinational corporation who became a student of the Civil War while stationed here.


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