Raiders Retreated Through
Wirt, Calhoun

General John Morgan


The disheartened Confederates of the Morgan raid who had succeeded in crossing the Ohio River at Buffington under the leadership of Colonels Adam Johnson and J. Warren Grigsby, were in no mood for rejoicing over the outcome of their foray through Northern territory. This night of July 19, 1863, their commanders took charge of the week-long withdrawal across the newly formed state of West Virginia.

"Sad and dispirited, we marched to Belleville, some 14 miles," Capt. S. P. Cunningham, Morgan's assistant adjutant general, told a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper reporter on August 1, almost two weeks after the Buffington encounter.

"We impressed guides, collected together some 300 men who had crossed, many without arms, having lost them in the river and marched out toward Claysville. After leaving the Ohio at Belleville on that night, we marched to near Elizabethtown in Wirt county," said the officer.

Basil Duke, Morgan's brother-in-law and second in command on the expedition, records that "two fine companies" of the Nineteenth Tennessee led by Captains Kirkpatrick and Sisson, got across the Ohio at Buffington earlier that Sunday, while two companies of Duke's own old regiment, the Second Kentucky, under Captains Lea and Cooper, succeeded in crossing within the next day or two.

In addition to the organized units, about three or four hundred stragglers from the various regiments managed to cross singly or in groups, and were rounded up by Johnson and Grigsby.

For the first part of the flight, their route roughly paralleled the course of the Little Kanawha River, later striking south toward Confederate territory.

Several years ago Donald Starcher of Parkersburg disclosed his recollection that his grandfather, Floyd Starcher, used to tell how some of the retreating cavalrymen came to the Perry Starcher farm on Yellow Creek in Calhoun County in the evening.

Here they rested for the night, many of the tired young horsemen bedding down on the hay in the Starcher barn. Floyd Starcher, then a boy of thirteen, to the end of his life would never forget how he had seen and talked with John Morgan's feared and fabled men.

Ride Through Braxton--From Steer Creek Johnson led his men across central West Virginia to Sutton, where wide-eyed Braxton Countians watched the tattered four ride through the tiny village before taking the Gauley Bridge road to Birch Creek.

With the aid of the ferry they forded the Gauley River, toiled up Gauley Mountain to the settlement of Hinkles and descended to cross the Cherry River climbing the Greenbrier road to Cold Knob, they wound down the mountain to Trout. The watchful fugitives bypassed "a heavily blockaded road," now the Midland Trail, between Gauley Bridge and Lewisburg.

"Tired steeds prevented rapid marches, and six days were consumed ere we reached Lewisburg, near which we left Col. Grigsby with a detachment of 475 men," Cunningham told the Richmond scribe.

"From the crossing of the Ohio to our entrance into Greenbrier our men lived on beef alone, without salt and without bread. Yet the only wish seemed to be for the safety of Gen. Morgan and his command."

Remarkable Officer--But the men who escaped at Buffington were in the steady hands of twenty-nine-year-old Adam Johnson, one of the truly remarkable men of the war. The son of a Kentucky physician who was a staunch Unionist, and the brother of Federal army officers, Johnson had for several years before the war lived in Texas, where he became an adherent to the southern viewpoint.

As a very young man, Johnson had charge of a Pony Express station, during which time he was frequently engaged in battling with the Comanches. When the war began, Johnson became a scout for Gen. Nathan B. Forrest, the Tennessee cavalry leader, leaving his sixteen-year-old bride in the home he established for her. Later he headed the Partisan Rangers, Tenth Kentucky. In the summer of 1864, Johnson would lose both eyes from a shot through the temple, and would be taken prisoner, but after the war would succeed in spite of his blindness in recouping his fortunes in his chosen Texas, where he lived to a highly respected old age.

But now his only concern was to get his men safely back into the Confederacy: "Believing they would soon have a force in pursuit of us, I moved the men as rapidly as possible across the mountains, and traveling by unfrequented roads, we reached Green Briar county, Va.

"When we first came in sight of fields of harvested wheat and green, waving corn, Johnson remembered 40 years later, "I am sure that each one of us felt as much pleasure as Moses of old when he first viewed the Promised Land."

Hoped For Leader's Escape--In Richmond, Cunningham spoke for the rest of Johnson's troops in declaring that all during the retreat through West Virginia they hoped Morgan might somehow escape his pursuers in Ohio because he "had three brothers with him of so close a resemblance to the General that any one of them might have been palmed off on Shackleford (the Union general who chased Morgan across four states) as the veritable chieftain.

"But we fear," Cunningham told the Richmond interviewer, "the Federal report of his capture is too true. It is gratifying to note that he passed entirely through the state of Ohio."

Besides the Tenth Kentucky, the Partisan Rangers led by Johnson, J. Warren Grigsby's Sixth Kentucky Cavalry was one of Morgan's few units to get back almost intact from the Ohio raid. Their leader reached Richmond ahead of Johnson, and to President Jefferson Davis and Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, argued heatedly in favor of the advantages of a plan to dismount Morgan's men and make them into infantry.

Davis was inclined to reflect some of the animosity of Morgan's commanding officer, Gen. Braxton Bragg, heading the Confederacy's western armies. Bragg contended that Morgan's Ohio raid was unauthorized by the Confederate high command and was determined to make things as unpleasant as possible for his remaining troops.

Morgan's Men Report--Johnson, with Cooper's sanction, and permission to reorganize the command as "Morgan's Men," named Morristown in East Tennessee as the rendezvous. Within sixty days, more than twelve hundred horsemen reported, many of them, of course, men who for one reason or another, had not been able to go on the Ohio foray.

The powerful General Forrest was able to prevent Bragg from taking any repressive measures against Johnson and the reorganized command. By great effort, Johnson got his entire command mounted, and reported to Gen. Simon Buckner, division commander, with Bragg's army, shortly after the Battle of Chattanooga in September. In this fiercely-fought encounter, Morgan's men fired the first and the last shots.

Meanwhile, John Morgan, held in captivity in the Ohio penitentiary in Columbus, had begun to consider ways and means to escape from the northern bastille and rejoin his troopers.

Source: The Parkersburg News. Sunday, March 15, 1970, as written by Geraldine Muscari.


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