Buffington Island Battlefield
MORGAN'S GREAT RAID
Brigadier General John H. Morgan began his famous raid by hand-picking nearly 2,500 Confederate cavalrymen and artillerymen and setting off from Alexandria, Tennessee, on June 11, 1863. Morgan’s intent was to divert Union forces away from the Confederate armies gathered in Tennessee. He and his men lived off the citizenry, destroyed military infrastructure, and fought minor battles and skirmishes at many small towns and garrisons along their path that would take them 958 miles in 25 days. On July 2, 1863, while two great armies were battling in the hills surrounding Gettysburg and another two great armies were engaged at Vicksburg, these raiders forded the Cumberland River at Burkesville, Kentucky, as they headed north towards Louisville through Union-held territory. On July 8, Morgan's troopers crossed the Ohio River into Indiana at Brandenburg, Kentucky, southwest of Louisville. By July 13, Morgan and his men entered Ohio at Harrison.
Along the way, these men raided towns, stores, and private homes, confiscated much needed horses to replace their worn-out ones, and caused great anxiety among the citizens in the Northern states he entered. As the raiders continued east across Ohio, they encountered more and more Union militia and townspeople who began to harass Morgan's force and make life difficult.
Union Major General Ambrose Burnside organized Union troops and militia units to prevent Morgan from escaping back to the South. Burnside sent Union cavalry forces under Brigadier Generals James Shackelford, Edward Hobson, and Henry Judah in hot pursuit. He also coordinated with Lieutenant Commander LeRoy Fitch's U.S. Navy gunboats, which steamed up the Ohio River toward Portsmouth, Ohio.
On July 18, 1863, after a long day of fighting with various Meigs and Gallia County militias and citizens, Morgan arrived at Buffington Island with the intention of using its ford to return back to friendlier territory on the opposite side of the Ohio River. Worn out from a hard day of riding and fighting, Morgan decided to rest his men and wait until next morning to take on the Marietta Militia guarding the ford, which allowed General Judah’s and General Hobson's pursuing cavalry forces, as well as Commander Fitch's gunboats, to catch up to Morgan during the night. The battle began at approximately 5:30 a.m. on July 19, 1863. Fighting raged across the fields along the river for two hours, but as Morgan began to ford the river, the Union gunboats USS Moose and Allegheny Belle shelled the Confederates and prevented their crossing. As more Union troops under Brigadier General Eliakim Scammon arrived, Morgan was forced to retreat northward.
Morgan, along with about 1,100 men, escaped while the rest of his force surrendered. He again tried to cross the river near Reedsville and Hockingport, across from Belleville, West Virginia, but was again turned away by the Union gunboats and ground forces. While 330 of his men did reach the West Virginia shore, others drowned, and Morgan was forced to turn west and then north. Union troops continued to pursue Morgan until finally on July 26, 1863, he and 364 of his men were captured just west of West Point in Columbiana County.
From best estimates, approximately 3,000 Union cavalrymen, artillerymen, infantrymen, and sailors and 1,800 Confederate cavalrymen and artillerymen were engaged at Buffington Island, the largest battle of the Civil War to take place in Ohio and the other Eastern Midwest states. The Battle of Buffington Island cost the Union 6 killed and 20 wounded, while the Confederates lost 57 killed, 63 wounded, and 71 captured. Within twenty-four hours of the fight, another 570 of Morgan's men surrendered to Union forces at various places in eastern Meigs County, northeast Gallia County, and along the West Virginia shore of the Ohio River.