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When the Confederate general John Hunt Morgan raided into Kentucky, he gave Northern Kentuckians some of their most suspenseful moments during the Civil War. The great alarm was during his first Kentucky Raid in July 1862, when he struck the Bluegrass and appeared to be marching toward Newport and Covington. By then Morgan, world famous, was moving behind Union lines, where resistance was weak and where he seemed almost invincible. Morgan was born in Huntsville, Alabama, and grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. He was manufacturing uniforms when the war began. On the Green River in Kentucky and around Nashville, Tennessee, his success with irregular warfare thrilled the Southern people, and they identified with him as a chivalrous knight, a cavalier from a romantic novel come to life. Southerners call him “Marion of War,” for Francis Marion of the Revolutionary War, and he was the model for the Confederate Partisan Ranger Act, authorizing guerrilla warfare behind enemy lines. Morgan never intended to be a folk hero, but he stand today as on of the greatest guerrilla commanders in history. Tactics that he employed are used today by special military forces. He sent scouts in every direction, detached squads to burn railroad bridges, and practiced intelligent preparation of the battlefield by sending companies to threaten strongholds he had no intention of attacking. One of the first to use the telegraph, he confused the enemy with the imitative communications deception. George “Lightning” Ellsworth tapped Union telegraph lines and sent messages that lured railroad trains into ambush and made it seem that Morgan's men were threatening when actually they were miles away. The London Times heralded Morgan's use of the telegraph as one of the first innovations of the war. Morgan's raids diverted Union forces from the front and caused the Union Army to expend a great deal of effort in false alarms. Describing how the raiders traveled light, the Louisville Journal noted: “They carry nothing but their arms, which are first class, and their blankets-no haversacks, or any other encumbrance, and live upon the country through which they pass.”1)
Morgan's Escape through Boone County
Historical marker #2394 in Boone County commemorates a daring prison escape made by Confederate cavalryman John Hunt Morgan. In November 1863, Morgan escaped from the Ohio State Penitentiary and crossed into Boone County, Kentucky.
On July 31, 1863, after being captured while raiding into Indiana and Ohio, Morgan, Colonel Basil W. Duke, and sixty-eight officers under their command were confined in the Ohio State Penitentiary at Columbus. From five o’clock in the evening until seven o’clock in the morning they were locked in their cells with no means of communication with each other. They were not permitted to have any visitors, unless Union General Ambrose Burnside approved it, and then only in the presence of a guard. Their correspondence underwent censorship and the prisoners were not permitted to see any newspapers, or in any way receive information about what was going on in the outside world.
Many escape plans were suggested, discussed, and rejected because they were impractical. One morning in late October, Captain Thomas H. Hines was treated rudely by the deputy warden and made up his mind to not eat or sleep until he had devised some means of escape. By 9:00 that night, he had come up with the plan that would free them from prison. The next morning, he went to Morgan’s cell and presented him with the plan. The rebel commander approved.
The plan was to dig a tunnel, starting in Hines’s cell, through the concrete floors and walls to the outside of the prison. The work began on November 4, and was expected to take a month to complete. They dug through the concrete with steel table knives they had obtained through some of their associates. On the night of November 27, 1863, they escaped from the Ohio State Penitentiary. Hines and Morgan separated as they left the prison and met at the train station, buying two tickets to Cincinnati. Fearing they would be captured when the train arrived in Cincinnati, they jumped from the train on the outskirts of the city, near Ludlow Ferry, on the Ohio River.
They rode the ferry across the river to Kentucky and received a warm welcome when they arrived at the residence of Mrs. Ludlow. Sympathetic Boone County residents, as well as Big Bone Baptist Church, provided them with food, shelter, and supplies. They were in Boone County on November 28 and 29 and rode into Gallatin County the following night.
Morgan’s escape from Ohio proved to be one of the most daring prison escapes of the Civil War.2)