PORTLAND — While commemorating the only significant Civil War battle fought in Ohio, the Battle of Buffington Island, the contribution of the Ohio River to the defeat and capture of Morgan’s Raiders is often overlooked.
As members of the Ohio Department Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, the Ohio History Connection, and the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation gathered for the annual memorial service on Saturday, 157 years had passed since the battle that led to the defeat of Confederate Brigadier General John H. Morgan.
What has become his famous Raid began in Tennessee, on June 11, 1863, with approximately 2,500 troops. The raiders continued through Kentucky and Indiana before entering Ohio at Harrison. As the confederate troops moved through Ohio, Union troops were called to intercept.
Many things have changed in the Portland area, but it is still mostly rural. In this predominantly agricultural region of Ohio, the 1,200 plus acres where the battle was fought are mostly corn and vegetable fields. The river that provided a natural barrier preventing Morgan’s escape, still flows, although significantly wider and deeper than in 1863.
Before the installation of dams on the Ohio, river crossings were common in summer when water levels were at their lowest, and revealed sand bars and fords. Morgan had sent scouts ahead to locate the best spots for escape across the river, and Buffington Island was at the top of the list. What Morgan had not accounted for were unusually heavy rains upriver, and the arrival of Union gunboats.
On July 19, 1963, with Union forces closing in, Morgan and his men were trapped. They had only to cross the river to reach friendly soil, but their path was blocked and after several hours of fighting casualties included 6 killed and 20 wounded Union troops and 57 killed, 63 wounded, and 71 captured Confederates. A day later another 570 of Morgan’s men who had scattered to areas in eastern Meigs County, northeast Gallia County, the Virginia shore of the Ohio River surrendered.
With the assistance of the mighty Ohio, and of course some Union reinforcements, Morgan and company were finally defeated.
According to the Buffinton Island Preservation Foundation, best estimates are that “approximately 3,000 Union cavalrymen, artillerymen, infantrymen, and sailors and 1,800 Confederate cavalrymen and artillerymen were engaged at Buffington Island. Morgan, along with about 1,100 men, escaped while the rest of his force surrendered. He again tried to cross the Ohio River near Reedsville and Hockingport, across from Belleville, West Virginia, but was again turned away by the Union gunboats and ground forces. While 330 of his men did reach the West Virginia shore, others drowned, and Morgan was forced to turn west and then north. Union troops continued to pursue Morgan until finally on July 26, 1863, he and 364 of his men were captured just west of West Point in Columbiana County.”
Wanda Langdon, president of the Auxiliary of the Ohio Department of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, along with her husband Kerry Langdon, Department Council member of the State of Ohio Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, said Buffington Island is an important piece of Ohio, and United States history.
The Langdons live in Cincinnati and have traveled to Buffington Island the past several years for the service.
“The memorial services help to recognize those who took part,” Langdon said. “For those of us who are ancestors of Civil War soldiers, we take all those battles to heart.. including Buffington Island.”
She stressed that it is always important to learn and understand our history, and said the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War was organized to take care of the returning veterans, and continues to remember and honor those through their efforts.
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Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.