PORTLAND, OHIO — The Civil War came to Ohio in July 1863. While the state had provided numerous troops, they had not been called on to fight in their home territory. That changed when Confederate Brigadier General John H. Morgan, attempting to divert Union forces away from Confederate armies gathered in Tennessee, began his now famous raid through Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio.
The boldness of Morgan required that Union troops be sent to stop his eastern progress. What began in Tennessee as a raid across the border of Kentucky, continued to Indiana and Ohio. Morgan seemed to be able to move freely and rapidly through the area, continuing to requisition fresh horses and supplies from the towns and villages along his route.
After entering Southern Ohio, Morgan saw his chance to move his troops into friendly territory across the Ohio River. Western Virginia had split from Virginia in March, but there were still enough Confederate sympathizers to ensure Morgan safe passage. Like the nation, what would become the state of West Virginia was still divided, even though a majority of voters had supported statehood.
Things didn’t go as planned for Morgan; he had encountered increasing resistance after entering Ohio, and now, Union troops were close pursuit.
Morgan reached Buffington Island on July 18. His troops were exhausted after fighting their way through Gallia and Meigs Counties, and he decided to wait until morning to lead his troops across the river. The ford where Morgan planned to use as his escape route was guarded by the Marietta Militia, and he must have felt that rested troops would have a better chance at a successful outcome.
This break gave Union forces the opportunity to catch up with Morgan. At 5:30 a.m. on July 19, 3,000 Union cavalrymen, artillerymen, infantrymen, and sailors and two gunboats successfully engaged 1,800 Confederate cavalrymen and artillerymen near the Ohio River in Portland.
Although Morgan and some remaining troops escaped, they were eventually captured, ending what is officially called Morgan’s Indiana-Ohio Raid.
On Saturday, a ceremony was held at Buffington Island Battlefield Memorial, a four-acre memorial park near the bank of the Ohio River, to remember the battle and honor the fallen.
The ceremony was hosted by Cadot-Blessing Camp #126 Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), and included an introduction of guests by their commander, Jim Oiler. Ohio Department SUVCW Commander R.A. Davis commended all those who work for the preservation of the Buffington Island Battlefield.
“I want to commend all who work for the preservation of the battlefield,” Davis said. “And I am here today to also commend and honor the people who fought and died here during the Battle of Buffington Island.”
Davis said the SUVCW is dedicated to preserving the history and legacy of heroes who fought and worked to save the Union, and the legal successor to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). The SUVCW was organized in 1881 and chartered by Congress in 1954
“The GAR was established in 1866 to care and support Union veterans. It was a powerful political force in the United States that can be credited with establishing the veterans pension system and veteran’s assistance.”
After the Laying of Wreaths, Sam Wilson gave a brief history of the battle, and encouraged joining the Foundation’s efforts by becoming a member and visiting their Facebook page.
“We welcome everyone who is interested in preserving this important piece of Ohio and the nation’s history,” Wilson said.
The Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation over sees the Memorial, and has announced plans to purchase additional land in their effort to preserve Ohio’s largest Civil War battlefield, that includes 1,230 acres of bottomland surrounding the village of Portland. Buffington Island is associated with the battle due to its proximity, but was not part of the battlefield. Today, the island is protected as part of the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
For more information on the battle, a kiosk at the site provides visitors with an outline of the battlefield, and the nearby Portland Ohio Civil War Museum located in the former Portland Elementary School, includes artifacts and history of the battle. Several books have been written by David Mowery, former Foundation Director, including Morgan’s Great Raid: The Remarkable Expedition from Kentucky to Ohio. Online resources include: buffingtonbattlefieldfoundation.org, www.battlefields.org, ohiohistorycentral.org, www.suvcw.org and Buffington Island Memorial Foundation’s Facebook page.
Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. She can be reached at L.Faudree.Hart@gmail.com.