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OKI Wanna Know: Who wanted to honor Confederates in Ohio?

A sign on Sharon Road in Glendale points the way toward a John Hunt Morgan historic marker.
Bill Rinehart
One of Morgan's targets was the railroad tracks at Glendale. There's a marker near the train depot, in the Village Square.

Our feature OKI Wanna Know is a chance for you get an odd little question answered, or go deeper into a topic. This week, WVXU's Bill Rinehart looks into the placement of historical Civil War markers in the area.

Andrew from Madisonville says he's noticed signs for the John Hunt Morgan heritage trail. He says they're relatively new, and he's wondering who thought it was a good idea to put up markers commemorating a confederate general's attack on the Union?

John Hunt Morgan led troops on horseback behind Union lines to disrupt communications and supply lines. In his book Cincinnati in the Civil War, David Mowery wrote about the biggest raid, which started near Corydon, Indiana.

"He entered Ohio at Harrison, on July 13, 1863, and came around Hamilton County, essentially following the route of modern-day I-275, and then exiting through Clermont County near Miamiville," Mowery says. "From there he continued east to the southeast corner of Ohio."

Mowery says the goal of the raid was to draw Union forces away from a planned invasion of eastern Tennessee. He says Morgan was successful in that, but he also helped create a whole new kind of warfare.

"He understood the value of cavalry and realized that leading cavalry units was something he could take to the next level by turning them into what we call today special operations command," Mowery says. "Which we pretty much fight most of our wars today with special operations, but in the Civil War there was no such thing."

The markers for the Morgan Trail went up 150 years after the raid, around 2013. Mowery was a member of the group that pushed for them. He says historians, Civil War enthusiasts, and others wanted to see the route memorialized. He says people had been trying for more than 100 years.

"But because of either funding problems, or because of the tensions still between ex-Confederate soldiers and Union soldiers, particularly the governments of Indiana and Ohio did not want to see the route marked."

Mowery says after 20 years of collaboration, the Ohio Civil War Trail Commission put up signs pointing to the route Morgan's men took, and erected a number of interpretative markers. He says there are some in Kentucky, a couple dozen in Indiana, and 56 in Ohio.

"We're not memorializing one side or the other. We're memorializing both. So we have to keep in mind it's also remembering the Union soldiers that were part of this, not just the Confederate soldiers," Mowery says. "We're also remembering the civilians, those who were affected by the raid."

Mowery says the trail includes a stop in Deer Park, at the home of the Schenck family. As they did all along the route, Morgan and his troops came to the farmstead and demanded food and fresh horses. Mowery says they were met by a woman wearing a nurse's uniform, and she told them:

"I'll bring you food as long as I can bring it to you outside, because I have sick child in the parlor who has smallpox," Mowery says. "The soldiers looked around. They saw white sheets over the windows and the door. Back in the Victorian era, white sheets on the windows and doors meant 'quarantine, keep out.' So they believed her."

A Morgan marker with a two story house behind it in Deer Park.
Bill Rinehart
The site of the Schenck's successful deception in Deer Park is marked. The sign is readable from the sidewalk.

Inside the house, behind the sheets were two prize stallions, and John Henry and Clara Jane Thompson and their two children. The Thompsons had escaped slavery in Kentucky, and were hiding at the Schencks. Morgan's forces left none the wiser after about 40 minutes.

Lester Horwitz learned his home in Loveland had also been raided. His research turned into a book in 1999:The Longest Raid of the Civil War. Horwitz says it's a story that not many people know much about.

"I don't think the Morgan Trail honors the riders. I think it's the people along the trail, and that's a big area," Horwitz says. "These people, their lives were jeopardized. In many cases, people lost their lives, lost property and these are things that should not be forgotten."

Horwitz says people still stop at his house to see a piece of history.

Morgan's Raid ended with the Battle of Buffington Island, on the Ohio River, southeast of Athens. He escaped the Union trap but was later captured near West Point, Ohio, only to escape imprisonment and make his way back to Tennessee where he was killed in action just over a year later.

If you have a question for OKI Wanna Know, we'd love to hear it! Simply fill out the form below and we may reach out to you.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.