Monday, March 11, 2013

Smith: "MORGAN'S CAVALRY: 1861-1862"

[Morgan's Cavalry 1861-1862 by Lanny Kelton Smith (Author, 2012). Gray cloth - limited to 271 copies, 45 maps, tables, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:529/645. ISBN:978-1-56837-427-7 $60]

General John Hunt Morgan is one of the most celebrated and controversial Confederate cavalry raiders. To obtain a well rounded picture, it might be useful to divide the "Thunderbolt of the Confederacy"'s Civil War career into two phases: early Morgan (1861-62) and late Morgan (1863-64: he was killed on September 4, 1864). At the beginning, Morgan's relatively small mounted commands conducted a series of raids in Kentucky and Tennessee, doing disproportionate damage to Union garrisons, supply depots, and rail networks. From 1863 onward, he became increasingly reckless and the quality of his ever more undisciplined commands never approached the fine division he utterly wrecked in Ohio during the Great Raid in July. It is the earlier golden period of Morgan that is the subject of Lanny Smith's Morgan's Cavalry 1861-1862.

An oversized volume with over 500 pages of narrative, the amount of descriptive detail contained in Morgan's Cavalry 1861-1862 is astounding. The list of raids, skirmishes, and battles covered in the book, and the lengths the author goes to to address them, are exhaustive. Morgan started small, his company entering Confederate service in October 1861. Based at Bowling Green, this initial force grew to three companies and the operations conducted from there (e.g. foraging, attacking enemy pickets, bridge burning, intelligence gathering) presaged what was to come later and at a larger scale. In February, Morgan screened the evacuation of Nashville, frequently clashing with Union forces in the surrounding area. After Shiloh, Morgan was detached and given the freedom to engage in the irregular type operations he did best. He was also promoted to colonel.

But all was not victory and glory, and, in a harbinger of things to come, careless security allowed Morgan to be surprised and badly beaten at Lebanon in May 1862. His First Kentucky Raid in July, with its impressive victory at Cynthiana, was a success. It also, mistakenly as it turned out, raised Confederate hopes of obtaining mass public support and recruits in Kentucky. Winning additional laurels at Gallatin and Hartsville Road in Tennessee, Morgan was next ordered to Lexington, Kentucky, where his command was divided. Basil Duke's detachment operated at the front and Morgan himself shadowed the Union garrison that had escaped Cumberland Gap.

In December, with Union forces reestablished around Nashville, Morgan achieved one of his greatest military feats, the defeat and surrender of the large enemy garrison at Hartsville. With it came a promotion to brigadier general, and a larger command. The "Christmas Raid" later that month was equally successful, resulting in a large prisoner haul, destruction of vast enemy stores, and the burning of two strategically important railroad trestles at Muldraugh's Hill. Unfortunately, for Morgan, his men, and the western Confederacy, it would be all downhill from there.

All of the operations mentioned above, and a host of other smaller raids, aborted missions, and skirmishes, are presented in minute detail in Morgan's Cavalry 1861-1862. The Hartsville and Christmas Raid histories, especially, are presented in essentially book length and scope. Morgan's career progression from guerrilla leader to general commanding an effective cavalry division is ably recounted.  The unit organizational histories are equally impressive in their depth. In addressing the additions to Morgan's force at each stage, the Union units opposing them are not neglected. For a Confederate command study, the presentation of Union and Confederate perspectives in the battle narrative is unusually balanced, and the capsule biographies of unit leaders similarly attentive to both sides.

Participant accounts are utilized throughout and skillfully woven into the narrative. Although relying foremost on primary sources, the content, unlike Smith's earlier two volume Stones River study, depends almost entirely on published material. The maps, while numerous, mainly trace march routes, with the battlefield drawings more schematic in nature. My most significant concern is with the editing. Quality control problems, especially in the area of proofreading, are common to self-publishing (and, unfortunately, more and more in mainstream publishing!) but the massive number of typographical errors of all kinds in Morgan's Cavalry is doubly unfortunate given how highly I otherwise wish to recommend the book.

Morgan's Cavalry 1861-1862 is not for everyone. Readers whose taste range generally does not include micro-scale military historical works can consult a number of useful books and articles, but those that do appreciate such things will find in Smith's tome an unprecedented treatment of John Hunt Morgan's early Civil War career.

There is no website associated with the book, but you can contact the author at: Cost is $60 (plus $6 Shipping), payable by Check or Money Order.


  1. Drew, I received my copy about a month ago. Definitely a must have for the micro-tactitions interested in western cavalry operations. The would compare the detail to the level found in Haffendorfer's They Died By Twos And Tens, although not as many maps. I am hoping for a second volume before stopping back at Cynthiana as to better understand both battles.

    Chris Van Blargan

    1. Hi Chris,
      It sort of reminded me of Twos and Tens, too.

      re: Cynthiana, I corresponded with William Penn a few years ago about his plans to publish a new edition of his book Rattling Spurs and Broad-Brimmed Hats: The Civil War in Cynthiana and Harrison County, Kentucky. It sounded like he was serious about it, but you never know.


    2. Bill Penn did indeed update his previous work, called Kentucky Rebel Town. Excellent study. I lead tours at Cynthiana (with Bill's blessing) and can state it is an in-depth local Civil War history that covers both battles at Cynthiana in great detail.

    3. Darryl,
      Yes it is. I reviewed it here as well:


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