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Independence Day 1863: The Battle of Tebbs Bend

The beginning of July 1863 Confederate General John Morgan and his 2500 strong cavalry force was over two weeks into their raid of Kentucky in an attempt to divert Union forces in the area and compromise Union supply lines. Kentuckians were seeing Morgan and his men around every bend causing moments of panic or celebration depending on one’s loyalty. In 1863, as today, Morgan was viewed as either a hero of the Confederacy or a heartless raider who terrorized the innocent and lacked the honor of a gentleman. Regardless of your opinion on the man, his legacy and image can be seen all across our Commonwealth and his exploits have risen to the status of folklore.

While the effectiveness of Morgan’s raids can be debated, the events of July 4th, 1863 show how a determined force that was outnumbered five to one was able to deny Morgan’s chosen route to Louisville. What would become known as the Battle of Tebbs Bend took place in Taylor County, KY between two hundred men of the 25th Michigan Infantry and 1000 of Morgan’s Cavalry supported by four artillery pieces. The 25th Michigan, led by Col. Orlando Hurley Moore, was tasked with protecting the Columbia turnpike, a vital supply line connecting Louisville to the Union forces throughout the region. A loss of this turnpike could have easily compromised Union campaigns and forced the diversion of more forces to curtail Morgan’s advancement north.

Map_Of_Tebbs-Bend
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In the early morning of the 4th Morgan intended to cross the Green River at Tebbs Bend but met the 25th Michigan dug into earthworks near the crossing, ready to contest any attempted advance. Morgan chose to divide his force in an attempt to flank the impromptu garrison and overwhelm the small force manning it. Around 7am, after his artillery had wounded two Union soldiers, Morgan sent representatives under a flag of truce to offer Moore terms of surrender. Moore acknowledged the significance of the day and refused to surrender his men or position stating, “Present my compliments to General Morgan, and say to him that, this being the fourth day of July, I cannot entertain his proposition.”  Upon the resumption of hostilities, Moore directed his riflemen to target Morgan’s artillerymen and their fire soon drove Morgan’s artillery from the field before it was able to have any significant impact on the battle. Morgan then ordered 400 of his troopers to dismount and attack the Union position’ under the command of Col. Adam R. Johnson they were easily able to push through the 25th’s forward line of rifles but were unable to overrun Moore’s main force in their earthworks. Morgan added additional cavalry support to his attack from the 5th Kentucky under Col. Basil W. Duke to no effect. After over three hours of fighting Morgan’s men had advanced and been repulsed eight separate times by the determined defenders at Tebbs Bend. Morgan again sent representatives to speak with Col. Moore with the request that Morgan be allowed to collect his dead and wounded and withdraw from the field. Moore quickly accepted this offer and Morgan withdrew south along the Green River only to fight the next day at Lebanon.

By noon Morgan had lost 35 killed and 45 wounded while Moore suffered 6 killed and 23 wounded. Today the battlefield is home to a Confederate monument erected in 1872 and was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historical Places in 1997 with the battlefield itself following in 1999. After the fall of 1862 these raids and skirmishes involving a relatively small number of forces defined the Civil War in Kentucky. Small battlefields and places directly tied to the war surround Kentuckians on a daily basis and are just waiting to be examined and appreciated.

 

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