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Introduction to the Richard C. Morgan Letter
By George Rugg
Richard Curd ("Dick") Morgan was born on 13 September 1836 in Fayette County, Kentucky, the son of Calvin Cogswell Morgan (1801-1854) and Henrietta Hunt (1805-1891). Henrietta Hunt's father was one of the wealthiest men in Kentucky; Dick Morgan was raised on a Hunt family property near Lexington managed by his father (whose Alabama business had failed in 1831). One of six brothers to join the Confederate army, Morgan served on the staffs of general officers John Breckenridge and A. P. Hill before returning to his native state to raise what would become the 14th Kentucky Cavalry (February 1863). As colonel of the 14th Kentucky, he participated in one of the spectacular exploits of the war, a 700-mile raid through Indiana and Ohio led by his oldest brother, Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan. Dick Morgan was one of 700 Confederates captured by the Federals on 19 July 1863, following a fight at Buffington Island, near Portsmouth, Ohio. He remained in Union captivity until August 1864, when he was exchanged. Following the war Morgan worked for the railroads as a civil engineer, and was involved in the hemp business. He died on 28 September 1918.
The letter in question was written by Morgan on 25 August 1863 from the Ohio State Penitentiary at Columbus. where he was then imprisoned. Morgan arrived at the penitentiary, a longstanding (and presumably secure) facility with individual cells, on 1 August 1863. He was one of some 68 Confederate officers captured on the raid to be held there; among his fellow prisoners were John Hunt Morgan himself, two additional Morgan brothers, and a brother-in-law, Col. Basil W. Duke. Precisely why Morgan and his command were sent to the Ohio state pen rather than to a military prison has been the cause of some speculation. It was certainly an unusual measure, and provoked more than a little outrage both among the prisoners and across the South, since it suggested that the Confederates were being held as common felons, ineligible for the process of parole and exchange that had been agreed on by the combatants. Initially, the Confederate government was told that the men were being held "in close confinement" as hostages for a group of Union officers (led by Col. Abel D. Streight) captured during a cavalry raid in Alabama and now in Richmond's Libby Prison (OR, Series II, Volume 6, p. 160). But it seems likely that this was something of a smokescreen, and that Union General-in-Chief H. W. Halleck was determined that Morgan remain in custody for the duration of the war, and so be denied the possibility of returning to Confederate service, either by exchange or escape. The fact that Morgan's command had looted liberally from the citizens of Ohio during the raid provided another premise for civil incarceration in that state. Much of this was rendered moot when, on the night of 27-28 November 1863, John Morgan and six others succeeded in tunneling out of their cell block and escaping over the penitentiary wall. The remaining prisoners at Columbus, including Dick Morgan, were sent to the military prison at Fort Delaware in March 1864.
Morgan's letter was directed to his sister-in-law, Martha ("Mattie") Ready Morgan (1840-1887), who had married John Hunt Morgan the previous December. It was written in response to what was apparently the first letter of Mattie Morgan's to be received at the prison. (John Morgan wrote regularly to his wife from the time of his imprisonment, and his surviving letters reveal his great anxiety at not hearing from her, not least because she was pregnant with their first child. Writing on 10 August, he says: ". . . Get a great number of letters from our Friends in Ky., but would sacrifice every pleasure and comfort to get one single line from 'My Lovely Mattie.' It would be a treasure . . . ." (Horwitz 2001, p. 350). In his own letter to Mattie, Dick Morgan writes of the "pleasure plainly demonstrated" by John Morgan on receipt of his wife's letter. He goes on to describe the prisoners' circumstances and the privileges accorded them, and provides news of family members and acquaintances, in prison and out. His statement that "we are better off than any other Confederate prisoners now in confinement in the U S." probably has some merit, given the conditions that tended to prevail in the military prisons. In addition to the Morgan brothers and Duke, the letter mentions Confederate generals A. P. Hill (another brother-in-law) and Simon Bolivar Buckner (who had forwarded Mattie's letter to Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside of the Department of the Ohio).
The Richard Morgan letter was acquired by the Hesburgh Libraries from Historical Collectible Auctions of Burlington NC (auction of 30 November 2006, lot 89). Acquisition funded by Robert and Beverly O'Grady.
Official correspondence relating to the Columbus imprisonment may be found in Official Records, Series II, Vol. 6, passim. Among the books on Morgan relevant to the study of this letter are: Basil Duke (History of Morgan's Cavalry, Cincinnati 1867; Cecil Fletcher Holland, Morgan and his Raiders: A Biography of the Confederate General, New York, 1943; and Lester V. Horwitz, The Longest Raid of the Civil War, Cincinnati 2001.
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|MSN/CW 5050-01||Letter||August 25, 1863||Columbus, Ohio||Richard Curd Morgan|