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Battle of Elizabethtown remembered

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By Amber Coulter

With Christmas fast approaching, this week also marks another important date in the history of Hardin County.

This week is the 150th anniversary of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s Christmas raid on Elizabethtown that launched 100 cannonballs into the city.

The raid has been called his most successful of the several raids he launched against Kentucky during the Civil War, said Christopher Kolakowski, director of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership at Fort Knox.

Fresh from his second marriage and a promotion from colonel to brigadier general, Morgan asked Gen. Braxton Bragg, commander of the Confederate Army in Tennessee for permission to work in Kentucky against the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.

The railroad was the lifeline between the main federal supply base in Louisville and the forward federal supply base in Nashville, and it was supplying Union troops fighting Bragg’s soldiers.

Morgan got permission and began a campaign to stop the trains, which included burning bridges, tearing up railroad tracks, blowing up trains and knocking down water stands that allowed stem-powered engines to continue on their routes.

The Union Army had set up garrisons to defend key places along the railroad, including one in the Elizabethtown area. Another was put at what is now Fort Duffield after Morgan’s raid, Kolakowski said.

“In some ways, it’s a tough nut to crack, but in other ways, Morgan has a lot of opportunities to strike,” he said.

One of the places affected during the raid was Elizabethtown, which he captured Dec. 27, 1862. To the sizable number of pro-Confederate residents, the capture would have been considered a liberation, Kolakowski said.

Morgan offered the 91st Illinois Volunteer Infantry a chance to surrender.

That offer was refused, and Morgan’s forces fought Union troops into the center of the city, pounding them into submission, Kolakowski said.

“The residents of E’town very quickly realized what was happening and got as far away from that as they could,” he said. “I would, too.”

Injured soldiers and Morgan’s troops taking spoils from local houses and shops caused further disruptions to life in Elizabethtown,” Kolakowski said.

“It was a very important event here during the Civil War, just from a personal standpoint,” he said.

During December 1862, Morgan’s estimated 2,000 men entered Kentucky, captured more than 2,000 federals soldier and caused about 10,000 soldiers to chase him unsuccessfully.

They destroyed about 30 miles of the railroad and burned two key bridges while losing fewer than 1,000 troops.

Union forces opposite Bragg had to stop fighting until supplies arrived again in late January, Kolakowski said.

“It’s a very successful raid, and when he rejoins the Army after the Battle of Stone’s river in early January, he can justifiably feel very proud of himself,” he said.

Remembering the Civil War is important because it was a defining moment for families and the nation, Kolakowski said.

“If you’re going to fully understand who we are as a nation, who we are as a people, you have to understand the event from 1861 to 1865,” he said.

Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or acoulter@thenewsenterprise.com. Stories from the Heartland appears Mondays in The News-Enterprise.