—John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail —
On the morning of July 19, 1863, Confederate Brigadier General
John Hunt Morgan learned that the Union redoubt guarding
the ford had been abandoned in the night. Colonel Basil Duke
was ordered to send a force south to try to preserve the element
of surprise while Morgan and the bulk of his troops prepared to
cross the river. A Union force under Brigadier General Henry
Judah, meanwhile, had disembarked from riverboats at Portsmouth
and were marching east through Pomeroy and Racine.
As the sun rose, the valley was so thick with fog that the opposing
forces did not realize they had moved to within 50 yards of each
other. A sudden breeze swept through, and after staring at each
other for a few seconds, the Confederates fired a devastating volley
into the Union troops, who were forced to retreat. Major Danie
McCook, patriarch of the "Fighting McCooks" who contributed
six sons to the war, was mortally wounded in the volley.
Confederate artillery fired on the reorganized and advancing
Union troops, who pressed their enemy until the Confederate
guns were captured. Duke, who realized how crucial the guns
were to his position, made several vain attempts to recapture them.
Facing his untenable position, Duke began to withdraw north.
[Map on left]: The Battle of Buffington
Island began at 5:30 am when General Judah's Union advance guard unexpectedly collided with the battle line of Colonel Duke's 5th
and 6th Kentucky Cavalry near the Williamson house, located 0.2 mile south
of here. Duke's men broke the Union line, captured an artillery piece, and advanced
as far as the first bend in the road. A counterattack under Judah slowly pushed
the Confederates back toward Portland. After heavy fighting, the Confederates
retreated further north when, around 6:15 am, Duke's artillery was captured on
a low knoll 400 yards southwest of the state memorial. At about the same time,
General Hobson's Union cavalry attacked Colonel Johnson's Confederates along
modern County Road 31, and Lieutenant Commander Fitch's gunboat USS Moose bombarded the Confederate positions. General Morgan's cavalrymen faced triple threats.
[Top right]: The Williamson House served as a temporary field hospital for both Union and
[Bottom right]: Fog obscured the Confederate and Union troop positions until the opposing sides were a mere 50 yards apart. As a result, the opening volley by the Confederate artillery was especially devastating.
Text: Edd Sharp & David L. Mowery
Illustration: Bev Kirk