PORTLAND — During the annual memorial service at Buffington Island Battlefield there is a laying of wreaths, the firing of cannons by reenactors, introductions and speeches, all in observance of the only major battle of the Civil War to take place on Ohio soil, the battle that ended the incursion of Brigadier General John H. Morgan and his troops.
Not only is the day important in remembering the battle, it also honors those who fought on the battlefield, and in the towns and villages along Morgan’s route. It helps us to remember Ohio’s place in the conflict and the contribution of people on both sides of the Ohio River in abolishing slavery and defending the Union at a time it was being torn apart by conflicting values and ideals.
As taps played at the conclusion of the solemn service, the coming together of both Union and Confederate representatives illustrates that brothers and sisters who became enemies could become united once again.
A brief history of Morgan’s Indiana-Ohio Raid:
Morgan and 2,500 Confederate cavalrymen and artillerymen began their march in Alexandria, Tennessee on June 11, 1863, and in the following 25 days traveled 958 miles before arriving at Buffington Island,where they planned to cross the Ohio River into Virginia.
Morgan’s instructions were to divert Union forces away from the Confederate armies gathered in Tennessee, and to stay in Tennessee and Kentucky. Having earlier expressed a desire to continue, Morgan disobeyed orders and crossed into Indiana and then into Ohio, procuring supplies by raiding stores and home, and confiscating horses.
There were a few skirmishes and minor battles along the way, but nothing to stop their progress through Ohio until they began to encounter more Union militia. Word spread that the Raiders were coming, and townspeople began to prepare to defend themselves, making it more difficult for the Raiders to replenish their supplies.
Morgan’s troops continued to push east, but seemed to always be on the lookout for a river escape route.
In “Morgan’s Raiders” by Neil Elvick, it is noted that military leaders thought the force in Gallipolis was sufficient to prevent him from attempting a crossing.
They were apparently correct, as most of Morgan’s troops moved on. A small contingency, probably a foraging party, came though the villages of Vinton and Porter in Gallia County and on into Middleport in Meigs..
When the main party arrived in Meigs, they decided to cross the river at Pomeroy into Mason instead of journeying further upriver as planned. Local militia from Gallia and Meigs prepared for their arrival by falling trees and tearing up bridges to block his path. Militia were posted along the route, and according to “Pioneer History of Meigs County” by James M. Evans, “Near Pomeroy they (Morgan) made a stand. For four or five miles his road ran through a ravine, with occasional intersections from hill roads. At all these crossings he found a local militia posted, and from the hills above him they made his passage through the ravine a perfect running of the gauntlet. On front, flank and rear the militia pressed and closed eagerly upon his track.”
Unable to gain river access at Pomeroy, Morgan continued toward Portland, stopping briefly in Chester while his troops rested and he searched for a guide.
Morgan and his troops, tired from fighting and riding, arrived at Buffington Island late in the day, and decided to rest and begin the crossing the next morning. This pause allowed pursuing cavalry forces and gunboats to join the Marietta Militia that was in place guarding the ford.
A two hour battle began at 5:30 am. Sensing defeat, Morgan, along with about 1,100 men, escaped while the rest of his force surrendered.
He later attempted a crossing near Reedsville and Hockingport, across from Belleville, West Virginia. He was again met with Union forces and gunboats, and forced to turn west and then north. Pursued by Union troops, Morgan and 364 of his men were captured on July 26, 1863, near West Point in Columbiana County.
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Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.