General John Hunt Morgan, with 4,000 cavalrymen, set out from Alexandria, Tennessee to capture and destroy bridges and telegraph lines on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in Kentucky. His goal was to cut off Union communication and supply lines. The Rebels made camp a few miles south of Upton on Christmas night 1862. They had already had success at Glasgow and Bear Wallow, near Cave City. On the 26th, some of the soldiers captured and burned a large railroad bridge at Bacon Creek (now Bonnieville).
John Allan Wyeth, 17, recalled how Upton was taken.
"As we struck the railroad at Upton, we saw several Union soldiers walking along the track, each with his gun on his shoulder. Under orders, we spurred our horses rapidly forward. Captain Tom Quirk, pistol in hand, shouted to them to surrender, at the same time firing over their heads. Before anyone else could shoot, the men threw up their hands."
"Attached to the generals staff was a telegraph operator, an attractive, quick-witted, clever young man, apparently about 25, named Ellsworth, better known in the command as "Lightning."
Earlier in the war, Ellsworth had tapped a telegraph line, but the crude bypass caused a ticking sound that aroused suspicion. When questioned by a Union operator down the line, Ellsworth instantly replied, "OK, lightning," which meant a storm was interfering with transmission. The Union soldier bought it and unknowingly supplied Ellsworth with valuable strategies, and eventually his nickname.
At Upton, Lightning tapped into the telegraph line and Morgan concocted a succession of exaggerations for the Unions benefit. "I sat on the end of a crosstie within a few feet of General Morgan," Wyeth wrote, "and heard him dictate messages to be sent to General Boyle in Louisville, making inquiries as to the disposition of the Federal forces in Kentucky and telling some awful stories in regard to the large size of his own command and its movements."
The guise enabled Morgans men to march merrily up the L & N toward Nolin, where another bridge awaited. Destroying rail line and culverts "just to keep in practice," the Rebels arrived only to discover a Morgan detachment under command of Col. Basil Duke had already taken the Nolin garrison in less time than the battle at Bacon Creek. With the wooden bridge ablaze, the intoxicating confidence of victory allowed Morgans men time to fashion some "neckties," a trademark of the generals campaigns. Soldiers would heat sections of rail line, then bracing them against a tree, would bend the line into a horseshoe rendering them useless to repair crews. By dusk, the biting sleet from Christmas night had given way to clearing skies. Though still quite cold, troops were warmed by a day of unqualified successes as they made camp just a few miles from their next target, the largest town on the march and one protected by more than 600 entrenched Union soldiersElizabethtown.
WMTH CORPORATION PO BOX 51153 BOWLING GREEN, KY 42102 PHONE (270) 792-5300 FAX 721-0004