The Historical Art of John Paul Strain
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John Paul Strain - Historical Artist
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THUNDERBOLT

Hartsville, Tennessee
December 7, 1862

To Fairfax for Christmas

After accomplishing little in the Kentucky Campaign of 1862, General Braxton Bragg had fallen back over Cumberland Gap and settled in East Tennessee. He sought and received permission from Richmond to shift his operations to middle Tennessee and center on Murfreesborough.

To prevent Federal General Rosecrans, whose army lay at Nashville, from foraging north of the Cumberland River, Colonel John H. Morgan had been ordered to disrupt the Federal lines of communications. Learning of an isolated Union force at Hartsville, Tennessee, Morgan determined to capture it. Two brigades of infantry, with the assistance of General Joseph Wheeler's cavalry, would create a diversion by feigning an attack towards Nashville as Morgan struck out for the detachment of Federals.

His force would consist of 1,400 men under his command with Colonel Basil Duke, Morgan's brother-in-law, as his second. Two infantry regiments, the 2nd and 9th Kentucky Infantry would also take part in the raid. Both regiments were from the 1st Kentucky Brigade. The 2nd Kentucky had been recently exchanged after being taken prisoner at Fort Donelson, and the 9th was led by Morgan's uncle, Colonel Thomas H. Hunt. Cobb's battery of artillery, two small howitzers, and two rifled Ellsworth guns from Morgan's own command would also be taken along. Colonel Morgan himself would assume the roll as temporary Brigadier General.

On snow-covered roads this mixed force of cavalry, infantry and artillery started the trek to Hartsville. Waiting for them was a Union brigade numbering about two thousand men. At Castalian Springs, nine miles further on, were two more Federal brigades and an additional 5,000 men. Beyond that was the remainder of a Federal division. Morgan would have to hit hard and quickly to be successful.

The infantry had been made a promise before the march, that they would ride part of the way. The cavalry would give up their mounts and march while the infantry rode. Beyond Lebanon the cavalrymen turned their horses over to the foot soldiers. But it soon became apparent what a bad arrangement this was. The infantry had gotten their feet wet while marching through the snow. After riding a short time, their feet were nearly frozen from the inaction in the stirrups and the men wanted nothing more than to get down and walk. By this time the cavalrymen's feet were wet, and when they remounted, it was their turn to suffer from the cold. All found it difficult to return the horses to their proper owners when it got dark. In the words of one who was there, "the infantry-men damned the cavalry service with all the resources of a soldier's vocabulary." This absurd arrangement would not be used again soon.

Crossing the Cumberland River on the night of the 6th, Morgan positioned his forces to cut off all avenues of retreat from Hartsville. With his remaining men he fell on the Federal brigade drawn up to receive his attack. A stubborn fight of an hour and a half resulted in a complete Confederate victory.

Almost before the fighting ended Morgan began his withdrawal from Hartsville. In his report dated December 9, l862 he reports that his command "defeated and captured three well-disciplined and well-formed regiments of infantry, with a regiment of cavalry, and took two rifled cannon . . . taking about 1800 prisoners, 1800 stand of arms, a quantity of ammunition, clothing, quartermaster's stores and 16 wagons." The results exceeded his expectations. Now with eight thousand Federal soldiers just eight miles off, he had to move quickly away with his spoils. Sending cavalry to delay the Federals that were marching to the assistance of their comrades, he made for the Cumberland River. The show of force delayed pursuit long enough to "give me time to pass the ford with infantry, artillery, and baggage-wagons." Ending his report of the Hartsville raid with a flourish he wrote: Three federal regimental standards and five cavalry guidons fluttered over my brave column on their return from this expedition.

Personal Notes:

Colonel Morgan was famous as a behind-the-lines guerrilla fighter. He and his men often wore dark blue or black overcoats so that they would be undistinguished as Confederates. Morgan's exploits behind enemy lines became legendary and Southern newspapers referred to him as "The Thunderbolt of the Confederacy" because of his lightning-fast unexpected attacks. In this raid Morgan had the opportunity to command a large force of men and show his strengths as a battlefield commander. The 14-star First National flag was a flag Morgan carried throughout the war. The large center star represented the State of Kentucky. The other flag with the cross was Col. Hunt's regimental flag. Both flags are still in existence today.

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