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Morgans Raid:
The Battles of Cynthiana


Last Updated: 30 May 2005

The History of the First & Second Battles of Cynthiana


Used with permission from Rattling Spurs and Broad-Brimmed Hats: The Civil War in Cynthiana and Harrison County, Kentucky, (William A. Penn, 1995).

Introduction: Although Rattling Spurs and Broad-Brimmed Hats is temporarily out of print, William A. Penn may be contacted at Pennwma@aol.com or, 423 Mill Road Dr., Midway, KY, 40347, (859-846-4128) and he would like to correspond with anyone with questions about or information pertaining to the Civil War in Harrison County, Kentucky. For the next printing of his book, Mr. Penn is looking for unpublished diary entries, letters, maps, or photographs about this subject. He especially is trying to locate a photo of Provost Marshal Col. George W. Berry, from Berry, KY, and maps of the battles by participants.

Correction Note: Corrections to Rattling Spurs and Broad-Brimmed Hats(William A. Penn)
P. 85: "About 3 P.Mů" should read, "About 5 P.Mů"

Confederate Units at First Battle of Cynthiana - July 17, 1862


Colonel John Hunt Morgan
Staff:  Lt. Col. Basil W. Duke
Lt. Col. St. Leger Grenfell, Adjutant to Col. Morgan
Gordon E. Niles, Adjutant
Captain Thomas Allen, Surgeon
Boswell Partlow Yates Gorham, Surgeon*
Company officers: A - Captain Jacob Cassell
B - Captain John Allen
C - Captain James Bowles
D - Captain John B. Castleman
E - Captain John Hutchinson
F - Captain Thomas B. Webber
G - Captain McFarland


TEXAS CAVALRY, CSA (155 soldiers)
Colonel Richard M. Gano
Company officers: A - Captain Hamilton
B - Captain Huffman
C - Captain McMillan


Lt. Col. F. M. Nix, commanding six companies.


Also with Morgan was one company of Tennessee Partisans, number unknown, making the total estimated CSA troops at 875.


Union Units at First Battle of Cynthiana - July 17, 1862


Lieutenant Colonel John J. Landram, USA, commanding (under Colonel Leonidas Metcalfe, who was not present).
18th Kentucky Volunteers, USA (detachment) 18
Captain J. B. McClintock, Home Guards 60
Captain Lafe Wilson, Harrison County Home Guards 60
Captain John S. Arthur, Newport, Kentucky Home Guards 50
Captain J. J. Wright, Home Guards, Cincinnati, O. 40
Captain Pepper, Bracken County Home Guards 35
7th Kentucky Cavalry, USA, Major William O. Smith, commanding (detachment) 75

Captain W. H. Glass, Cincinnati, Ohio, with artillery squad and one brass 12-pounder

Total estimated USA troops at Cynthiana


Confederate Units at Second Battle of Cynthiana - June 11-12, 1864


First Brigade - Colonel H. L. Giltner
Fourth Ky. Cavalry - Col. Tandy Pryor
Tenth Ky. Cavalry Battalion - Col. Trimble
First Ky. Mounted Rifles Battalion - Major Holliday
Second Ky. Mounted Rifles Battalion - Col. Tom Johnson
Tenth Ky. Mounted Rifles Battalion - Major Tom Chenoweth
Sixth Confederate Battalion - Lt. Col. George Jessee


Second Brigade - Colonel D. Howard Smith
First Battalion Cavalry - Col. Bowles
Second Battalion Cavalry - Capt. Kirkpatrick
Third Battalion Cavalry - Major Cassell


Third Brigade - Colonel Robert Martin
First Battalion - Lt. Col. Robert Alston
Second Battalion - Major Diamond


Union Units Commanded by General Burbridge - June 12, 1864


First Cavalry Brigade: Col. Israel Garrard
9th Michigan Cavalry - Col. George S. Acker
7th Ohio Cavalry - Lt. Col. George G. Miner
16th Kentucky Cavalry, First Battalion - Capt. Bachman


Second Brigade: Col. D. A. Mims
39th Kentucky (501 men)
11th Michigan Cavalry (357 men)


Third Brigade: Col. Charles S. Hanson
12th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (784 men)
40th Kentucky Mounted Infantry (425 men)
37th Kentucky Mounted Infantry (detachment) - Major Tyler
52nd Kentucky Mounted Infantry (detachment) - Major Tyler
First Kentucky Artillery, Co. C ( with one section of mountain howitzers) - Lt. McReynolds


Fourth Brigade: Col. John Mason Brown

45th Kentucky Mounted Infantry


The 13th Kentucky Cavalry and 47th Kentucky Infantry, assigned to Burbridge are not mentioned in the official reports of the June 11-12, 1864, engagements at Cynthiana. A detachment of the 47th Kentucky was detached to Hobson as noted earlier, and both they and the 13th Kentucky Cavalry were apparently on an assignment elsewhere, probably as bridge guards, and did not participate in the Cynthiana battle. OR listed as shown above troop strength of some units several weeks before the Cynthiana engagement.

The First Battle of Cynthiana
July 17, 1862

The story of the First Battle of Cynthiana began in early July of 1862 when John Hunt Morgan, then Colonel of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry of the Confederate States of America, began what came to be known as The First Kentucky Raid. Entering the Commonwealth from Tennessee, he moved north toward Lexington, reached Georgetown, beyond Lexington, and, after a brief pause, moved on to Cynthiana.

We learn about the Battle of Cynthiana from the book, "The Bold Cavaliers." by Dee Alexander Brown (1959).

"A battle was certainly overdue for the 2nd Kentucky, but after John Castleman reported early on the morning of July 17 that Lexington was defended by three thousand Federal troops, Morgan definitely decided that his home town was not the place to challenge combat. Instead, he proposed to his officers that they strike to the north and destroy Federal stores reported to be concentrated at Cynthiana, then swing south through Paris and Winchester, drawing a half circle around Lexington. At Winchester, they could choose from a number of routes back intto Tennessee.

To screen the main movement toward Cynthiana, Captain Castleman was ordered to lead D Company in a daring diversionary march down to the outskirts of Lexington. Castleman was to make every effort to create an impression that D Company was the entire raiding force of the 2nd Kentucky. He was to avoid close enemy contact and take no prisoners. Whereever possible, he was to cut telegraph wires and destroy railroad bridges, and some time on July 18-the following day-he was to bring his company into Winchester and rejoin the regiment.
(p. 86-87)

While Company D was distracting the Federals outside Lexington, some of the veteran companies of the 2nd Kentucky, twenty-five miles away at Cynthiana, were engaged in their bitterest fighting of the war.

About three o'clock in the afternoon, the regiment's advance flushed out a Federal picket guard, chasing them back to the Licking River and the narrow covered bridge which led into the town. Colonel Morgan knew the terrain well, and had already planned his attack. As usual, he sent Gano's Texans in a sweeping hook around one end, the other arm of the pincers on this occasion being Captain McFarland's Company G. They were to cross at fords a mile or so above and below the covered bridge and get in the rear of Cynthiana.

While these wing companies were galloping away, companies A and B moved to the right of the road, E and F to the left. These men dismounted while C Company held its position back down the pike, prepared to charge as soon as the bridge was cleared. William Breckinridge's inexperienced recruits, Company I, remained in the rear as reserves.

Here again, as at Lebanon, Tennessee, this was to be a fight largely between Kentuckians. The Union defenders of Cynthiana, under Lieutenant Colonel John J. Landrum, consisted of Kentucky infantry and cavalry units and one artillery piece, a twelve-pounder howitzer manned by a company of firemen from Cincinnati. The firemen had their howitzer set up in the Cynthiana square, and they opened up on the 2nd Kentucky while the men were taking positions on either side of the bridge. Tom Berry, who was preparing to charge the bridge on foot with Quirk's scouts, said afterward that the Cincinnati firemen 'went to work with that gun as if they were trying to put out a fire.'

It soon became apparent to Morgan's men that they could not take the bridge by frontal assault. In addition to grape and canister flying through the air from the howitzer, heavy rifle fire was now pouring from buildings just across the Licking River.

While E and F moved up to the riverbank on the left, Quirk's scouts and A Company dropped down into the stream, and holding rifles and ammunition above their heads, the men began swimming across. Bullets spattered around them like rain. Some men were hit, some drowned, but most of them gained the east bank and dug in. For a few minutes it looked as if they could not hold their position, with Landrum's defenders concentrating upon their little bridgehead, but B Company quickly shifted upstream and opened with flanking fire on A Company's most dangerous assailants.

At this moment, Captain James Bowles' Company C came charging down the pike, St. Leger Grenfell's scarlet skullcap bobbing as he raced with the leaders. They hit the bridge with a thundering of hoofs on board planking and dashed headlong up the main street toward the enemy howitzer. And while the Federals were off balance from the shock of this mounted charge, Morgan's dismounted companies swarmed through the bridge tunnel, each company moving in a different direction through the town. Company A, which had borne the brunt of the assault, charged up the bank from the river, ammunition virtually exhausted. Tom Quirk, noticing a Union soldier taking close aim on Ben Drake, downed the man with a stone.

Meanwhile Gano's Texans and G Company had swept in from the rear, and the Cincinnati firemen seeing Morgan men approaching 'by every road, street and bypath ... were compelled to abandon their piece.'

'Old St. Lege,' as the boys now called their British comrade, led a second mounted charge against the last enemy stronghold, the railroad depot. Eleven bullets pierced his clothing, his talismanic cap, and in some places his skin, but his attack ended the fighting, and he required no surgeon to patch his wounds. 'I cannot too highly compliment Colonel St. Leger Grenfell,' Basil Duke wrote in his report of the action, 'for the execution of an order which did perhaps more than anything else to gain the battle. His example gave new courage to everyone who witnessed it.'

Duke also noted that Company A 'covered itself with glory.' These former Lexington Rifles, veterans of Green River, Shiloh, and Lebanon, also suffered the most casualties. Private William Craig, first to swim the Licking River, was the first to die, as he mounted the bank. Sergeant Henry Elder, one of the five who drove the hay wagons from Lexington, was too badly wounded to be moved. Tom Berry of the scouts also had to be left behind. All the officers of A Company, except Third Lieutenant Samuel D. Morgan, were wounded.

Lieutenant Colonel Landram, the Federal commander, made his escape on a fast horse. Returning to Cynthiana after the 2nd Kentucky withdrew, Landram reported: 'I can give no accurate account of the rebel dead, Morgan having taken off eight burial-cases from this place and his men having been seen hauling off their dead toward Lexington after the fight....Since Morgan left, thirteen of his dead have been taken from the river.'

Colonel Morgan reported only eight killed and twenty-nine wounded (the thirteen dead later recovered from the river were probably considered as missing). His estimate of enemy casualties was 194 killed and wounded. As for the damage done to military supplies, he listed the capture of three hundred cavalry horses, a large number of small arms, and the destruction of commissary and medical stores, tents, guns, and ammunition. 'Paroled prisoners were sent under escort to Falmouth where they took the train for Cincinnati.' John Morgan always made it easy for paroled Federal soldiers to find their way home.

The July sun was still high when the 2nd Regiment marched out of Cynthiana, back over the same covered bridge which they had won at such high cost earlier in the afternoon. With their coffined dead on wagons and their wounded in buggies, they moved cautiously toward Paris.
(pp. 90-93)

For a more concise time line of events, please click here.

The Second Battle of Cynthiana
June 11-12, 1864

June 11, 1864 - Covered Bridge:

Gen. Morgan [he had been promoted], with 1,200 men of the Second Kentucky Cavalry and no artillery, began his last raid into Kentucky. Entering Kentucky through Pound Gap, the Confederates traveled to Mount Sterling and, after an engagement with a Union garrison, moved on to Lexington and Georgetown. Morgan's cavalry then traveled to Cynthiana to confuse pursuing Federals (Union troops) and to gain access to eastern Kentucky escape routes.

Morgan arrived three miles from Cynthiana on the Leesburg Pike at dawn, June 11, 1864. Cynthiana was defended by Col. Conrad Garis with 300 men of the 168th Ohio Infantry Volunteers. Harrison County Home Guards under Col. George W. Berry provided additional manpower.

Similar to his July 1862, attack plans, Morgan divided his men at Wornall Lane into two units to surround Cynthiana. Col. Smith traveled through Lair Station to the east side of town, and Morgan, with Col. Giltner, approached the town from the south on the Leesburg Pike.

The primary attack was at the covered bridge where the Union and Confederate soldiers faced each other across the river. The Union troops first retreated to the depot, and then fled toward Pike Street where they sought the protection of buildings. At the depot Col. Berry was mortally wounded. Hiding in buildings, including the Rankin Hotel [still standing at 111 E. Pike St.] the Federals fired at the Rebels closing in on them.

To flush the Union soldiers from the buildings, a Confederate set fire to the Rankin Hotel stables. The flames rapidly spread west along Pike Street to adjoining Main Street buildings. A total of 37 structures received damage. The Confederates converged on the 168th Ohio remnants who then surrendered after using the courthouse for protection. Except for the wings, the courthouse appears today as it did during the Civil War. A Federal staff officer, Edmund Wood, hid in the clock tower undetected overnight after the covered bridge attack. From this vantage point he could see the buildings burning on East Pike Street and South Main Street. He said the courthouse square was piled with merchandise taken from the stores.

Casualties from this engagement included 10 Union soldiers killed and the capture of most of the 300 Union troops. Confederate losses were not given for this skirmish separately.

June 11, 1864 - Keller's Bridge:

At nearly the same time that Morgan made his dawn attack, the 171st Ohio National Guard under Gen. Edward Hobson arrived by train about one mile north of Cynthiana at Keller's Bridge, which had been burned by a Confederate squad on June 8. Hobson planned to support Col. Garis, but arrived too late. Soon after Hobson's men arrived, the sounds of the attack by Morgan at Cynthiana could be heard.

Some of the Confederates chasing the remainder of the 168th Ohio toward Keller's Bridge stumbled upon the Union reinforcements and reported back to Morgan. The Confederates met Hobson in line of battle in the pastures of the farm that lies on the west side of the Licking River, southwest of the railroad cut. Hobson retreated north across the railroad cut to the adjoining hill above Keller's Mill, leaving the deep railroad cut between the two forces. [If one stands at the railroad crossing on the Keller Dam Road facing northwest, the initial fighting took place on the farm on the left. The Federals retreated across the railroad cut in front of you to the hill on the right where Hobson surrendered.] This rural area has not changed much since the Civil War.

Hobson's position was now enclosed by a horseshoe-shape section of the Licking River. About noon, after three hours of fighting, Morgan finally arrived with reinforcements, having crossed the river at the Keller's Mill Road and crossing the river at a ford below the dam. Completely surrounded, Hobson had no choice but surrender. Many of the Union muskets were burned on the surrender site. Being low on ammunition, the Confederates could have taken advantage of the Yankee weapons. The Union prisoners were marched out on the Claysville Pike and held overnight.


Union - 13 killed, 54 wounded and 700 captured. [Confederate losses were not listed for this engagement separately].

June 12, 1864 - Millersburg Pike:

Morgan's men slept in line of battle the night of June 11, expecting to be attacked the next morning by Gen. Stephen Burbridge. Burbridge was then in Paris, and was trying to cut off Morgan's eastern Kentucky escape route.

Morgan placed his men about one mile east of Cynthiana in a line extending from the hills near Claysville Pike, south across the Millersburg Pike on each side of the house of John W. Kimbrough, Poplar Hall [still standing next to the hospital], and the vicinity of the present Battle Grove Cemetery; Col. Smith was deployed on Magee Hill overlooking the New Lair Pike near the present Harrison County High School property. Battle Grove Cemetery, established in 1868, has long been recognized as being on the main site of the battle.

Burbridge, with 2,400 men composed of Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio units, formed a line of battle on each side of the Millersburg Pike facing Morgan's dismounted cavalrymen. The attack was signaled near dawn by the firing of a cannon. Morgan's center and left wing were driven back at or near the site of the present cemetery, and the Confederates then turned and ran for their horses after being flanked on the north by Union cavalry. Col. Smith, separated from the main Confederate line a small distance south, held Morgan's right line somewhat longer behind a stone wall. Both a determined Union frontal attack and a cavalry flanking movement from the south forced Smith's last resisting men to retreat. [An existing stone wall could be at or near the site, but most stone walls have been destroyed since the Civil War, making it more difficult to locate the actual site].

The fleeing Confederates attempted to cross the Licking River at both the covered bridge and the point on South Church Street where it crosses the railroad on a narrow piece of land below a bluff. Here a number of Confederates were captured, wounded or killed attempting to cross at the river's steep banks. Many of the soldiers who managed to cross the Licking River to the Lucius Desha farm [behind post office] had to fight their way through squads of Union soldiers who were attempting to cut off the Confederate retreat. Fleeing on many different roads leading west and south toward central Kentucky, the Rebels eventually made their way back to Virginia. Morgan, with several hundred of his men, escaped on the Claysville Pike. Following the parole of Union prisoners held there since the previous evening, the Confederates outpaced the Union cavalry and reached the safety of Virginia.


Union - eight killed, 17 wounded and 280 missing (probably part of the paroled prisoners). Morgan did not report casualties for this specific engagement, but Union officers estimated 300 killed, 300 wounded and 400 captured. The Union estimates appear high, for Morgan reported for the entire June 1864 Kentucky raid 80 killed, 125 wounded, and 450 captured and missing, most probably from the Cynthiana raid.

Citizen arrests

Ever-watchful Federal soldiers threatened to arrest Confederate sympathizers for any act that could be interpreted as aiding or giving assistance to the Confederacy. Existing treason laws were supplemented by various presidential and military proclamations and general orders that suspended the writ of habeas corpus in certain cases and made citizens subject to martial law.

In Harrison County, arrests were often by the 18th Kentucky posted at Cynthiana under Col. Landram. Citizen arrests peaked in the fall of 1862 when Union forces in Kentucky reacted to the Confederate invasion of Kentucky by Bragg and Smith. During the Civil War, at least 60 Harrison County citizens received various prison terms - some up to three months. Although most were not formally charged, the citizens generally were accused of recruiting, spying or associating with Confederate soldiers. The arrested citizens were taken to various locations, including Louisville Military Prison, McClean Barracks, Cincinnati, and most often, Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, where about 37 were held.

The first arrests occurred on Sept. 30, 1861, soon after the 35th OVI arrived in the county. Major J. R. Curry, judge, Perry Wheritt, county court clerk, William B. Glave, sheriff, and A. J. Morey, editor of the Cynthiana News were imprisoned at Camp Chase. All had probably publicly voiced pro-Confederate opinions and, being in positions of leadership, were the first to be silenced. All eventually were released, but they now knew that anyone remotely supporting the Southern cause would face arrest. The Cynthiana press was successfully shut down during the war and did not resume publication until October 1865. Arrests were not limited to men: Mrs. Minerva Rees, dressed as a male, was caught carrying messages destined for Southern friends and was held two months at McClean Barracks.

State Representative Lucius Desha, the father of Jo and Ben Desha, and his son-in-law, John H. Dills, were both arrested and charged with treason for recruiting for the Confederacy after they accompanied a group of 30 Harrison County men to Virginia who feared military arrest. Desha returned to Kentucky but was implicated when Dills and some of the other men joined the Confederate army. Both were acquitted after Federal trials, however Desha was held at Camp Chase 100 days in 1862. Desha's home still stands next to Eastside school.

Other Civil War sites

The Church of the Advent Episcopal, 120 N. Walnut, was the scene of fighting during Morgan's 1862 raid when Landram's men resisted the attack from the Falmouth Pike of Col. Nix. The original Falmouth Pike entered North Main Street where it now ends at the railroad next to the present-day viaduct. The original road can still be seen, now abandoned, and went north from the railroad crossing behind a post-Civil War brick farm house [owned by Jess Burrier] to the present-day St. Edwards Cemetery, where it intersected the now-abandoned Keller's Mill Road. Dr. Joel C. Frazer owned the farms on both sides of this part of the Falmouth Pike during the Civil War and his home is still standing near the water tower [the Swinford home]. The first two miles of the Old Lair Pike was not a public road until after the Civil War. Travelers during the Civil War took a portion of the Ruddles Mills Road, now abandoned, that connected Magee Hill to the Old Lair Pike. It was this road and the New Lair Road that Col. Smith was protecting during the June 12, 1864, fight with Burbridge. A Civil War period church structure that was replaced by the present Cynthiana Christian Church was used as a hospital during Morgan's raids. The building at 126 South Main St. is said to have been Morgan's headquarters. Buried at the Confederate Monument at Battle Grove Cemetery are a few soldiers from Morgan's raids and others from the 1862 Augusta, Ky., skirmish. Although many soldiers were buried at the old city cemetery on North Main Street, the Federal dead were moved to military cemeteries and the only known remaining soldier buried there is Lt. Rogers, a Confederate. The Crown Jewel Mill building [behind Papa John's] was used by Rebel soldiers to shield themselves from Union bullets during the first battle.

War claims

The owners of the buildings that were burned by Morgan's men during the June 1864 raid petitioned the Congressional Committee on War Claims for damages totaling $231,500, but the appropriation bills did not pass.


After the war ended, the Harrison County soldiers who survived battles, prisons and disease returned to their farms and shops. The burned-out downtown was gradually rebuilt. Upon resumption of the newspaper in 1865, the editor pleaded for an end to the dissension that divided "old Harrison" during the war. Although most citizens probably resumed their prewar lifestyles, two former Harrison County soldiers, on opposite sides during the war, ended up fighting a duel. In 1866, Jo Desha and a Union veteran, Alexander Kimbrough, had a scuffle and later fought one of the last known duels in Kentucky.

In subsequent decades both blue and gray veteran organizations held reunions at Cynthiana, and newspapers reported that these former enemies could now march together in parades. The time had come to forgive and forget the horrors of "the War" that had so occupied their lives from 1861 to 1865.

- William A. Penn

Battles of Cynthiana
© 2003 The Battle of Cynthiana Committee
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