This Day In History: Infamous Confederate Raider Escapes From An Ohion Prison (1863)

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On this day in 1863,  a notorious Confederate guerrilla leader  John Hunt Morgan and several of his men break out of the Ohio state prison. They later managed to escape back to the Confederacy.

Morgan was born in 1824 and raised in the backwoods of Kentucky, where he learned to hunt and shoot. He was an excellent marksman and rider. Morgan served in the Mexican War (1846-48). After the war, he set up a successful business in Kentucky. He was very much pro-slavery and was an opponent of the Abolitionist movement. When Kentucky did not secede as expected with the rest of the South he moved to Alabama and formed a guerrilla band. He became a hero in the south when he made a series of raids on Northern territory in 1862 and 1863. He achieved the rank of Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. During these raids isolated Union posts were attacked, railroads sabotaged and supply stores seized and destroyed.  These raids did not really impact on the Northern army but they did much to boost Southern morale and Washington was forced to draw several thousand men from the front, in order to prevent further raids.  The Northern public was very concerned by the raids and the Press gave them extensive coverage.

On one raid Morgan was careless and he made some mistakes. He took a large group of guerrillas on horseback and rode through Kentucky, Indiana, and into Ohio. He was attempting to cross the Ohio River but he was ambushed by a larger Northern force. Morgan escaped from this ambush but he lost many men. The Union send cavalry units in pursuit and they managed to corner Morgan in North Eastern Ohio. Morgan was captured by Union cavalry  at Salineville on July 26, 1863. Morgan’s capture was a real morale booster for the North and his capture was celebrated in Ohio. He and his men were sent to several Northern Prisoner of War camps. In November of 1863, he and his soldiers were sent to Ohio State Prison (some of the group are shown in the image above).  Morgan and his men decided to escape and they burrowed out of the prison by digging a hole in a prison cell and crawling through a ventilation grill. Then after a journey of several weeks and possibly aided by Confederate sympathizers in Ohio and Kentucky he made his way back to Alabama. He became an even bigger hero after his escape from prison. Morgan returned to his old career as a raider and conducted several raids on Tennessee. In 1864 Morgan was killed in a raid near Greeneville, Tennessee in 1864. Morgan was one of the most effective guerrilla leaders on the war but he like the other raiders was more of a nuisance to the North than a real challenge.

1200px-General_John_Hunt_Morgan_Memorial_in_Lexington,_KY
Monument to Morgan in Lexington, Kentucky
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