The Second Kentucky Cavalry regiment was formed from the remnants of John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry squadron, "The Lexington Rifles" soon after the battle of Shiloh, in early 1862. A native of Alabama, but raised in Kentucky, Morgan was a tall, glamorously attired cavalry officer with French imperial-styled whiskers. His penchant for good Kentucky horseflesh kept him well mounted throughout the war.
John Hunt Morgan received his early combat education under the tutelage of the notorious Champ Ferguson. Morgan saw his first action in the ranks of Ferguson’s Cumberland Mountain guerillas. He often rode as a scout along the Kentucky-Tennessee border. It was here, in the early war, that Morgan first came to know the tactics for which he and his men would become famous.
The Second Kentucky’s ranks included farmers, planters, and the First Families of Kentucky, but also a colorful cast of characters. A fiery British soldier-of- fortune, Lt. Col. George St. Leger Grenfell declared, "If England is not at war, then I will go find one!" A wily Canadian-born telegraph operator, Pvt. George "Lightning" Ellsworth could, after moments of listening in, mimic any operators style (hand) and thus mislead pursuing forces. Muster sheets included a band of Kentucky outlaws led by the notorious bushwacker, Capt. Champ Ferguson. He, in tern, joined Morgan as a scout after first promising not to kill any Yankees taken as prisoners. Also reported among the Second Kentucky’s ranks were Black Mississippi Confederates whom were recruited by John Hunt Morgan, as he felt they were "loyal and fierce fighters".
This cavalry unit was noted for being as good fighting dismounted as they were on horseback. The Second Kentucky was most noted for its skill at house-to-house fighting, discipline under fire, and maintaining rearguard actions. John Hunt Morgan would always affectionately regard them as his "Regulars".
Throughout 1862-63, Morgan’s cavalry conducted a series of bold, and sometimes reckless raids through Tennessee and Kentucky. Unnerving Northerners, he launched a final, daring raid across Indiana and Ohio. Morgan moved rapidly on these famous rides, cutting general supply lines, tearing up railroads and bridges, destroying large quantities of enemy supplies, and rounding up thousands of Federal prisoners. They monitored pursuing enemy forces by tapping into telegraph lines, avoiding unnecessary combat, and dispersing to elude capture.
Morgan’s famous Ohio Raid of July 1863 was the longest Confederate cavalry raid of the war, covering more than 1100 miles in about three and a half weeks. However, on this foray, he and most of his troopers were surrounded and captured. Morgan was imprisoned in the Ohio State Penitentiary. Not long after being locked away, he and some accomplices tunneled out and escaped back to Dixie. It was the Second Kentucky, attached to General Nathan Bedford Forrest, that fired the opening and closing shots of the battle of Chickamauga.
Morgan was a superb cavalry officer and an expert leader. His raids had mixed results, but they undeniably disrupted Federal operations in Kentucky and Tennessee. News of his daring exploits provided a much-needed boost to Southern morale in the Western Theater.
John Hunt Morgan was killed by hostile fire in a minor action in 1864. In preparation for an attack on Federal forces at Knoxville, Tennessee, Morgan halted his command overnight in nearby Greenville. It was there, on September 4, 1864, he was surprised and murdered by vengeful enemy cavalry after surrendering.
Morgan’s brother-in-law and second in command, Basil W. Duke, assumed leadership of the remnants of "Morgan’s Men", and as the war came to a close, he took his command, including the Second Kentucky (re-designated as the Second Kentucky Special Cavalry Battalion) to link up with Gen. Robert E. Lee. In route, and upon hearing of Lee’s surrender, Duke’s command instead went to Charlotte, North Carolina, joining Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s army. While Johnston negotiated surrender with Gen. Sherman, Duke’s command elected to join President Jefferson Davis, thus making up the bulk of Davis’, (along with the Confederate Treasury’s gold) mounted escort. As Federal forces were closing in, Davis dismissed his escort and continued on with a small bodyguard detachment. Upon Davis’ capture, it was discovered that 11 of the 12 troopers in his bodyguard were of the Second Kentucky.
Basil Duke and his cavalry command entered Woodstock, Georgia on May 8, 1865. Before surrendering to a larger force of Federal cavalry, these Confederate cavaliers gathered into ranks for one last formation of "Morgan’s Raiders".
Footnote: During its four years of service, the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry, of which General John Hunt Morgan was the first Colonel, lost sixty-three commissioned officers killed and wounded; Company A of that regiment, of which Morgan was the first Captain, losing during the war seventy-five men killed. It had on its muster roll, from first to last, nearly two hundred-and-fifty men.
Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his wife
Lieutenant Colonels James W. Bowles and John B. Hutcheson
Majors G.W. Morgan and T.B. Webber.
It served in Morgan's Brigade and was active in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio.
The composite rosters of this unit contain the names of 2601 men.
Sifakis - The Compendium of the Confederate Armies