A Civil War Mystery Did a Meade County Rebel and John Hunt Morgan Win the Battle of Chickamauga?

A Civil War Mystery

 

Did a Meade County Rebel and John Hunt Morgan Win the Battle of Chickamauga?

 

By

 

Gerald W. Fischer

 

Author’s Note:

     There is an untold story about John Hunt Morgan’s “Great Raid,” and how it was aided by a Meade County, rebel captain, a gun runner with stolen arms, and their redoubtable band of Confederate raiders.  Morgan’s raid is often considered by many to be of no major importance indeed, it is often labeled as an exercise in futility perpetrated by a vainglorious General to create headlines while scaring Hoosiers and Buckeyes.  Some insist that Morgan’s raid led to the demise of the Confederate army.  In fact, Morgan’s raid kept the Confederate army in the field almost two years longer, and directly led to what is arguably the greatest Confederate victory of the war.  A little known fact about this raid is the part played by a group of local Meade County Confederate guerrillas that delayed the Union army ordered to stop John Hunt Morgan from crossing the Ohio River.  Although some of the evidence is circumstantial, the historical record and the course the Union army took to wipe out and kill these Meade County men are indisputable facts.  Our story begins with geographically diverse events near Tullahoma, Tennessee and in the cities of Louisville and Brandenburg, Kentucky.

 

 

  People in the north said the south was blessed to have General Braxton Bragg leading a Confederate army, most of those in the south that were peers, subordinates or superiors of General Bragg would argue that the Confederacy was cursed with him.  Bragg had one important defender, and that was Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who fought in the Mexican War with Bragg, and was rescued by him.  The bond between Davis and Bragg kept the general in the army.  Bragg was so accustomed to retreating after losing a fight, when he finally won a victory at Perryville, Kentucky he did what he did best and retreated to Tennessee.  After threatening Louisville and Cincinnati with his 16,800 Confederates, on October 8th, 1862 he met Don Carlos Buell’s, Union army of 55,396 men at Perryville, Kentucky.  Only one corps of Buell’s army was actively engaged, about 20,000 men, and they were beaten in part, by Joe Wheeler’s 1,200 Confederate Cavalry.  Ironically, 10 months later Wheeler gave the final approval for Morgan’s great raid.  While it is doubtful Bragg could have won against the full 3 corps of Buell’s army, he did win a tactical victory, but by retreating it turned into a strategic defeat.  Union casualties were substantially higher. 

 

    In the spring of 1863 Bragg found himself in Tullahoma, with his now 44,411 man army of Tennessee, and his 14,000 man cavalry outnumbered opposing Union General Rosecrans, by 7000.  Rosecrans had a total force of 61,217 men.  Rosecrans wanted to wait to attack Bragg until he could get reinforcements from Generals Judah, Burnside, Burbridge, and Hobson.  Between them a force variously numbered between 15,000 and 30,000 men could quickly be transported by rail and more than double Bragg’s strength.  Bragg wanted to withdraw to Chattanooga or Chickamauga to a better defensive position, but feared to do so while Rosecrans was in front of him.  Rosecrans, Bragg thought, would wait to attack until he was reinforced.  Those reinforcements could now be on the way.  What was he to do? 

 

     John Morgan was a man of action, and being under siege for weeks did not suit him.  He was assigned to Bragg, and was under Bragg’s command subject to General Joe Wheeler’s approval.  Wheeler, a hero of Perryville, was given command of all Confederate Cavalry.  Morgan approached Bragg with a plan.  If he could take 2,500 men he could make a raid toward Louisville, and draw away the reinforcements that could support Rosecrans.  Judah and Burnside would have to divert their army to Louisville to protect the city.  Hobson would have to leave half of his force behind if he had any chance to catch Morgan, and Rosecrans, without reinforcements, would be too timid to attack Bragg as he made his withdrawal.  Since Bragg would still have a significant advantage of 5,000 more cavalry than Rosecrans, he could afford to let Morgan make his raid.  The die was cast.

 

     Although Bragg only allowed 1,500 men to make Morgan’s raid, Wheeler allowed a few hundred more, and Morgan thru some shenanigans managed to leave with about 2,600 men.  Morgan lost 250 men more or less at Tebbs Bend, 125 men at Springfield and Bardstown, and sent 130 men on a feint toward Louisville from Lebanon Junction, entering Brandenburg with about 2,080 men.  The rest of the raid is a history we all know.  It was the longest raid of the war, it went further north than Gettysburg, and drew Judah, Burnside, Burbridge’s, and Hobson’s forces away from Rosecrans allowing Bragg time to withdraw.  This was a diversionary raid and, in that regard, was entirely successful.  Morgan would have crossed back to Kentucky east of Cincinnati, but couldn’t because of heavy rains and flooding.  Having little choice, he kept up the raid until he surrendered, but by then his objective had been met.  It is true that he lost his entire command except for a handful that escaped down river and the 13 that later escaped Federal Prison with him and Thomas Hines.  There is no doubt that loss of trained cavalry hurt the Confederacy, but the loss of his command was calculated into the formula to save Bragg’s army. The loss was deemed acceptable by the Confederacy, and the army of Tennessee not only was saved, but also fought well into 1865, winning its biggest victory against Rosecrans at Chickamauga Creek in September of 1863.

 

    Meanwhile, closer to home, one man left the Federal Home guard in Louisville and another deserted in Brandenburg, Kentucky.  James Gorsuch was a Federal turned Rebel, from Portland.  He robbed the Portland armory of their Lincoln rifles, stole a boat, and carried the arms south to the Confederacy.  He is reputed to be the first man from Kentucky to run guns south.  In 1862 Captain William Kendall Shacklett left the Brandenburg Federal Home Guard, and joined the Confederate army at Big Springs.  Gorsuch and Shacklett joined together to form a guerrilla band.  They operated in the Big Spring, Meadeville, Guston area.  That section was a hot bed of Confederate sympathy.  In 1862 the Home Guard armory at the Meade County Courthouse was robbed of its rifles.  Likely Shacklett and Gorsuch perpetrated the crime.  Shacklett, affectionately called Billy by his friends and neighbors began recruiting his Confederates.  Some of the men in that force were Tom Tobin, Jarrett, John Cain, Seelye, Jess Taylor, John Wimp, Dan and Billy Shacklett, Dick Hedges and Duke.  These men were active in July of 1863, when Morgan came into Brandenburg.

 

     When Morgan crossed into Kentucky, Hobson was about 24 hours behind him, but Morgan fought at several places along his route allowing Hobson to make up time.  When Morgan began ferrying his men to the north shore of Indiana, Hobson was just hours behind him.  He had come up from the south east, and was heading north toward Elizabeth Town and thence to Brandenburg.  Hobson’s force was roughly equal to that of Morgan.  Many people say that he got a bad case of Morganitis meaning he was afraid, but that is just not true.  Hobson was a hero of the Mexican War, and was not afraid of a fight.  Indeed, his advance guard did engage Morgan’s rear guard at the intersection of Broadway and Main Streets, where a brisk midnight firefight broke out.

 

     Hobson’s main force was traveling north of E-Town toward Big Springs, when they reached the town of Meadeville, about 5 miles to the north where they were held up for seven hours.  History does not record who held up Hobson, but I surmise it was the guerrillas of Shacklett and Gorsuch.  These men with their 30 to 50 rebels likely cut down trees and laid ambuscades creating night time havoc for Hobson and his already fatigued men.  The seven hour delay was barely enough time for Morgan to get his men across the river, because Morgan had sent the boats back one last time to ferry his rear guard when Hobson’s advance guard attacked.  The only thing besides the delay that helped save them was the heavy fog that rolled in and obscured the fight so the rear guard could steal across the river.  Morgan crossed over July 9th, and10th, 1863.

 

     The Union authorities were so angered by Hobson’s impediment at Meadeville, that nineteen days later, on July 29th, 1863, Union Captain Joseph Hare with 100 men of the 34th Kentucky Mounted Infantry, attached to the 24th Michigan Infantry, with two negroes and pack mules marched to Meadeville making a surprise attack on Billy Shacklett and James Gorsuch at a place known as the Sheep Shed.  William and Dan Morgan Shacklett as well as their cousin John Wimp and compatriot James Gorsuch were killed.  Men named Duke, Garrett or Jarrett were also killed.  Reports vary, but someplace between 7 and 11 guerrillas met their end.  Dan Morgan, Jarrett, Duke, and John Wimp were murdered after surrendering.   Because he had a revolver placed under his nose and fired into his skull while lying unconscious or dead on the ground, James Gorsuch may also have been murdered.  One of the men was murdered near Garnettsville while cursing his captors he was shot dead from his horse.  Billy was mortally wounded in the battle and died later that night in the Barnes house with his wife Anne and daughter Juliet at his bedside.

 

Afterword:

     On September 18-20, the Battle of Chickamauga was fought.  Because of Morgan’s diversionary raid Bragg was able to redeploy his army improving his defensive position.  When General Rosecrans army was finally forced to confront Bragg, he found that General James Longstreet had reinforced Bragg.  Confederate Generals James Longstreet, Braxton Bragg, and John Bell Hood carried the day.  Although Union General George Thomas made a valiant stand, earning him the title “The Rock of Chickamauga,” Rosecrans and his men fled the field chased by Bragg’s ragged Rebel soldiers.  This humiliating rout of the Union army ended not only Rosecrans Tullahoma campaign, but also his career.  He was relieved of command and it was handed over to Thomas.  This was a sweeping Confederate victory, and likely would not have happened if Hobson was not held up for those 7 critical hours at Meadeville, Kentucky.  Morgan’s raid did what it was supposed to do, and the full effects of it culminated in the victory at Chickamauga.  Could the mystery of the delay that prohibited Hobson from catching Morgan be because of a patriotic Meade County Confederate named William Kendall Shacklett?  You bet it could!  GWF