Please consider becoming a member of one of the newest battlefield groups in the United States, the Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation.
It is the mission of the recently formed Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation, to preserve, interpret, and increase awareness of Cynthiana’s Civil War story. There are opportunities on the far horizon to preserve battlefield ground, and in the interim more interpretation through tours and signage will help the battlefield visitor understand both engagements more fully. The Foundation welcomes new members and donations via their website (cynthianabattlefieldsfoundation.org). Help become a part of a true grassroots movement in the Bluegrass.
Not familiar with the Cynthiana story? Then read on!
Cynthiana and surrounding Harrison County, Kentucky, located just sixty miles south of Cincinnati along the Kentucky Central Railroad, was the scene of two engagements during the Civil War. During the early summer of 1862, John H. Morgan led his small band of Kentuckians, Georgians, and Texans on a raid that had a direct impact on the Kentucky Campaign later that same summer and fall. Morgan led his men to Cynthiana in mid-July, the town called later as the “best Rebel town in our Native State.” Indeed, of the initial eight infantry companies raised in Harrison County in 1861, six went south to join the Confederacy. The northern portion of the county, being of small hardscrabble farms and consisting of terrain that was not conducive to horse breeding, supported the North. The citizenry of Cynthiana proper was a mixture of sympathies, while the southern portion of the county, with its more open and rolling terrain allowing larger farms, mostly supported the South.
The 1862 battle saw Morgan’s men go up against a few hundred home guards supported by small detachments from the 7th and 18th Kentucky Infantry Regiments. The fighting took place within town, with Morgan’s main command trying to force its way across the Licking River at and near the covered bridge on the south edge of town while other parts of his command were dispatched to the west and east to surround the Union troops. This tactic allowed the Confederates to surround the Federal forces, and resulted in fighting at the rail depot as well as near the court house (which still stands today).
The 1864 battle is composed of three distinct and separate phases: a town fight early in the morning of June 11th (with similar results to the 1862 battle), a later morning battle that same day a mile north of the town near Keller’s Bridge, and a third engagement to the east of town on the early morning of June 12th. In the first two phases the Confederates faced mostly Ohio “Hundred Days Men” from the 168th and 171st Ohio National Guard with some home guard and Kentucky volunteer support from the 47thand 52nd Kentucky Infantry Regiments. In the final phase Morgan faced seasoned units totaling 2,400 men under the command of the controversial yet effective Stephen Burbridge.
Those who are not serious students of the war may not be aware of the two battles that took place in town and the surrounding areas, or the noticeable qualitative difference of Morgan’s 1862 soldiers as compared to his 1864 force. In 1862 Morgan led a smaller force, but the troops were more disciplined and he had his brother-in-law, Basil Duke, to assist with operational planning. After the Great Raid in the summer of 1863, many of these experienced troopers were in Northern prisoner of war camps, including Duke and other important officers.
When Morgan went to Joe Johnston in early 1864 to obtain the core of his remaining experienced troopers for his new command, Johnston balked and would release them, and quality of troops that Morgan recruited was far inferior to his 1862 and 1862 soldiers. This lack of quality and discipline led to bank robberies, stealing from local citizens (many of whom were sympathetic to the Southern cause), and even burning Cynthiana’s business area which resulted in the loss of thirty-seven buildings (3.7 million in 2016 dollars). The raiders’ complete collapse on June 12th dealt by the Federals under Burbridge showed that Morgan was perhaps more focused on glory than adhering to the dictates of military order, and perhaps more desirous of reuniting with his wife than conducting a successful campaign.