December 27, 1862. December was a momentous month for John Hunt Morgan. Fresh from a signal victory over Federal forces at Hartsville, Tennessee, on the 7th, Confederate cavalry leader Morgan was promoted to Brigadier General on December 11th. On December 14, Morgan married Tennessee belle Martha "Mattie" Ready. Morgan's forces encamped near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was one of the best equipped and best led cavalry forces in the Confederate Army. Composed mostly of Kentuckians, Morgan's division now consisted of two brigades of seven regiments, with seven artillery pieces and a detachment of scouts. The men were armed mostly with English Enfield rifles, and they normally operated as mounted infantry, using their horses for transportation and dismounting to fight on foot (although they did make mounted charges on occasion, such as when they overran the Federals at Hartsville).
Confederate General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Southern forces in the Murfreesboro area, considered that the Federal forces arrayed against him were operating on an extended supply line from Louisville, and he ordered Morgan to take his force into Kentucky and disrupt this supply line. Morgan's main targets were bridge trestles on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad (see 13b Morgan Shuts Down the L. & N), as the tracks crossed various streams south of Louisville. The most promising targets were two huge wooden trestles on the tracks crossing Muldraugh's Hill, just north of Elizabethtown. Morgan's force left their camps near Alexandria on December 22 and were in Kentucky by the 24th. They skirmished at Glasgow, losing some men who were mortally wounded, and captured a huge supply wagon bound for that place, full of Christmas goods, which made a merry holiday for the Southern troopers.
On December 26, Morgan's forces burned the L & N bridges over Bacon Creek and Nolin Creek as they moved up the railroad north of Munfordville, and captured the Federal soldiers in the wooden stockade forts there. They camped that night a few miles south of Elizabethtown. On the morning of December 27, Morgan moved his forces against Elizabethtown. The town was defended by some 650 men of the 91st Illinois Infantry regiment, under the command of Lt. Col. Harry S. Smith.
In an audacious bluff, Lt. Col. Smith sent Morgan a message as he approached, advising him that he had Morgan surrounded and demanding Morgan's surrender. Morgan replied that, in fact, the Union force was surrounded and that he would order an attack unless the Federals surrendered immediately. Lt. Col. Smith declined, stating that it was his business as a United States Officer to fight.
Morgan had several Elizabethtown natives in his forces, including Capt. William Bell, Joe Gray, Henry Brown, Joe Haycraft, James Montgomery, Frank Wintersmith and Sgt. Richard Wintersmith and was thus well-informed on the layout of the town and its approaches. Morgan's forces advanced up both sides of the road with the 1st Brigade on the right and the 2nd Brigade on the left (see 13c Make a Street Fight Out of It). The 10-pounder Parrott rifle of White's Battery was placed in the road itself. Palmer's Battery was positioned on this hill, commanding the entire town. General Morgan made his command post on this hill.
Upon the Federals' refusal to surrender, Morgan immediately opened fire on the town with Palmer's four pieces and the Parrott rifle in the road. The 8th and 9th Kentucky Cavalry regiments dismounted and moved against the wooden stockades and buildings at the edge of the town. Mounted men had been thrown out to either flank to surround the town. One of Corbett's 12-pounder mountain howitzers, affectionately know as "Morgan's Bull Pups" due their diminutive size, was placed where the railroad tracks crossed the road, with a company of the 9th Kentucky Cavalry to support it.
The artillery concentrated their attention on the headquarters building where they could see the Federal flag flying and they severely fire damaged several buildings in the town. Today, you can see a cannon ball from that fight imbedded in a wall (see 13a - The Cannonball). After a battle of about 45 mintues, with no artillery support and greatly outnumbered, the Federal soldiers wavered and sent up a white flag (one account stated that this "flag" was actually a ladies undergarment pressed into service).
One of Morgan's staff officers rode into town waving a white handkerchief and although Lt. Col. Smith was not ready to surrender; his men had given up the fight. (Smith himself, who had taken cover in a cellar, was said to have been incensed when he learned that his men had surrendered without his permission, to which one of his men replied, "Well, I don't guess they knew you were hiding in the cellar, or they would have come and asked you.") Morgan captured 652 prisoners, along with their rifles and supplies. Morgan and his men went "shopping" in town for supplies of clothing and hats, paid for with Confederate money.
The next day, December 28th, Morgan attacked the stockade guarding the two large wooden railroad trestles (see 13b Morgan Shuts Down the L & N), on Muldraugh's Hill, at Sulphur Fork and Broad Run (tributaries of Clear Creek). The defenders surrendered and Morgan's men burned the trestles, each of which was over 500 feet long and 50 feet high. During the next couple of days, Morgan's men also tore up and burned the railroad at several places, destroying the bridge and stockade at Boston (Nelson County), and captured and destroyed several caches of commissary and military stores. Following a brisk skirmish at the Rolling Fork River (northeast of Elizabethtown) and a daring bypass of the Federal forces gathering in Lebanon, Morgan turned back toward Tennessee. In all, Morgan's forces had destroyed six railroad bridges and captures 1,877 prisoners and many military supplies, against a loss to his own command of 2 killed and 24 wounded (none were killed or severely wounded at Elizabethtown).
Morgan was back in Tennessee by January 3, 1863, having accomplished his mission of destruction along the L&N Railroad, which remained closed for five weeks. However, the disruption did not have the desired effect on the Federal forces at Murfreesboro, whose supply stockades in the area were already sufficient and they repulsed an attack by the Confederate Army in a battle fought from December 31, 1862 to January 2, 1863. Nonetheless, the courage of General Morgan and his men was rewarded by a vote of thanks from the Confederate Congress in May 1863 in recognition of the Christmas Raid.
13a - The Cannonball
General John Hunt Morgan's famous Christmas Raid brought him to Elizabethtown on December 27, 1862. The main objective was to burn two huge L & N railroad trestles located on Muldraugh Hill just north of the town. By accomplishing this, General Morgan hoped to relieve Confederate General Bragg's army in Tennessee by stopping the flow of food, forage and the materials for making war to Union General Rosecrans opposing him. Before he moved to Muldraugh Hill, General Morgan wanted to remove any Union force in the area that may threaten his plans. Two days after Christmas, 1862, General Morgan appeared on the brow of the hill where the City Cemetery is now located with seven pieces of artillery. He sent word to the 91st Illinois Volunteer Infantry to surrender all 652 soldiers garrisoned in the town. After surrender was refused, the bombardment began about noon. In twenty minutes, 107 shots were fired with some Federal soldiers taking refuge in the buildings around the courthouse square. Many of the cannonballs found their mark in these buildings killing and wounded several Union soldiers.
One cannonball hit the Depp Building located on the corner and lodged in the wall just under a third story window. After the surrender of the town, Morgan moved on to his main objective on Muldraugh Hill. The town quickly went to work patching the damage inflicted by the missiles and repaired their property as best they could. The cannon ball from the Depp Building was removed and placed in the structure's attic.
(This information was provided by Annie Nourse, 1932) "Many years later, the entire block was destroyed by fire - the cannonball was lost in the midst of burnt timber. I asked the owners of the (Depp) building to give the ball to me; both kindly consented. I then gold the boys that I would give $.25 to the one who found it and brought it to me; a lively scramble immediately ensured, digging in the pile of hot bricks for some time without results. That afternoon, a man brought the ball out to me and demanded $5.00 for it; I refused saying the ball was already my property, after some hesitation he decided to hand it over for $.50. Years after, I restored it to the bank (the building that now stands on this corner). They had the cannonball put in the same spot, as near as possible (in the new building), where it found its mark in 1862."
13b - Morgan Shuts Down the L & N
Destruction of the Sulfur Fork and Broad Run Trestles
The main objective of the Christmas Raid of 1862 was to destroy the Union supply line that ran via the L&N Railroad through Kentucky into Tennessee. On the morning of December 28, 1862 Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan moved his men north five miles following the railroad from Elizabethtown to the trestles on Muldraugh Hill wrecking the tracks as they went. The railroad had constructed two huge structures over Sulphur Fork and Broad Run; they were 500 feet long and 90 feet high and 500 feet long and 80 foot high, respectively. The trestles were about a mile apart and the Federals were in the process of constructing defensive positions consisting of earthworks and artillery platforms. However, at the time that Morgan arrived the positions were not complete and the defenders had no artillery.
The commander of both positions on Muldraugh Hill was Lt. Col. Courtland Matson. When he saw Morgan arriving in force he called all of his 560 men to Sulpher Fork in an effort to turn Morgan back. Matson held out for eight hours due primarily to the patience of Morgan. Morgan repeatedly demanded Matson's surrender. On the second attempt, Morgan offered to take the Federal commander out of his position to view the hopelessness of his situation. To this Matson replied, "It was his and his men's duty to fight and that they would do so until the last." At 3:00 p.m. Morgan began shelling the position and the surrender occurred about an hour later. Morgan then burned the trestles and the unfinished stockades.
Morgan had captured the 71st Indiana for the second time in the war. Realizing that, Morgan instructed "Lightening" Ellsworth to climb a telegraph pole and tap out a note of thanks to the Governor of Indiana for the "oilcloths and raincoats" but Morgan suggested the next time, that the Governor should send them directly - without the men.
Rail traffic resumed February 1, 1863 and eventually this impressive earthwork called Fort Sands was completed and equipped with artillery. The trestles were never threatened again.
13c - Make a Street Fight Out of It
In December 1862 Gen. John Hunt Morgan was sent by the Confederate command to shut down the L&N Railroad, thereby cutting off one of the Unions major supply lines. Morgans target was one of the railroads most vulnerable points, the trestle at Muldraugh Hill, five miles northeast Elizabethtown.
On December 27, 1862 Morgans cavalry attacked Elizabethtown, which was defended by some 600 men of the 91st Illinois under the command of Lieut. Col. H. S. Smith. Because Morgan outnumbered the Union defenders almost five to one, Smith felt that his best chance lay in occupying the buildings in and around the town square. He hoped to be able to hold out against Morgan until other Federal forces could come to his aid.
Urban Warfare When Smith refused to surrender Morgans artillery opened fire and battered the town with both solid shot and canister. Morgan then ordered detachments under Col. Basil Duke and Col. William C. P. Breckinridge into town where they would make, as Morgan phrased it, "a street fight out of it." The Confederates moved into town, fording the freezing waters of the swollen Valley Creek, as artillery shells screamed overhead. The fighting was soon street-to-street and building-to-building. The Federal troops, divided among many buildings, were unable to concentrate their fire or coordinate their defense and were soon overcome. Lt. Col. Smith, who was slightly wounded, attempted to maintain command and control, but had no way of communicating with his scattered troops.
One by one, surrounded and overcome pockets of Federal troops hoisted a white flag of surrender. Troops nearby, seeing the surrender flag in one building, believed a general order of surrender had been issued and they, too, surrendered. After several hours Smith realized he no hope of holding Elizabethtown until help arrived. Smith surrendered to Morgan, freeing the Confederates to advance and destroy the trestles on the L&N the following day. The captured Union soldiers were paroled and sent marching to Louisville.
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