Ashland Clash Makes it Mark- Civil War in Lexington

            "Lexington's Ashland, the Henry Clay estate, is most well known as the home of the four-time presidential candidate who won national and even international fame as a leader with particularly effective skills as a creator of compromise on major issues impacting the young United States. There is more than a little irony in a story a group of Civil War students are committed to adding to the Ashland legend - the story of a battle at the home of Clay, whose last decades of service to his country were focused on trying to prevent that war. Known mostly in Lexington as a successful attorney, but recognized nationally as a top Civil War author and historian, Kent Masterson Brown has led the effort to fund the monument at the site where John Hunt Morgan's men made a surprise dawn attack on Union soldiers, who assumed that the Union victory at Perryville a few days early had driven any threatening Confederates out of the Bluegrass.

The stone monument will include an interesting summary of the skirmish, as Brown tells it: While Confederate armies were retreating from Kentucky after the battle of Perryville, Colonel John Hunt Morgan operated behind the pursuing Union army. With 1,800 men made up of Colonel Basil W. Duke's Second Kentucky Cavalry Regiment, Colonel Richard M. Gano's Third Kentucky Cavalry Regiment, William Campbell Preston Breckinridge's Cavalry Battalion and a two-gun section of artillery under Sergeant C. C. Corbett, Morgan's command rode from Bryantsville through Lancaster to Richmond and then crossed the Kentucky River at Clay's Ferry in an effort to surprise and seize Lexington in order to divert the Union troops pursuing the main Confederate armies.

Scouts having reported that two Union battalions were camped in a woodlot behind the Henry Clay mansion and other units were in town, Morgan divided his command. Gano's Third Kentucky and Breckinridge's battalion, with the artillery, proceeded toward 'Ashland' by way of the Richmond Road; Morgan, with Duke's Second Kentucky, took byroads to the Tates Creek Pike and approached 'Ashland' from the south, while directing two companies toward town to arrest any movement of enemy cavalry there.

At dawn, October 18, 1862, Breckinridge's dismounted troopers attacked the Ohioans from the Richmond Road at left, with Gano's regiment, mounted, forming behind. Corbett's artillery opened fire in this direction from Breckinridge's left. At the same time, Duke's Second Kentucky arrived here, dismounted to the right, and opened fire upon the Ohioans' rear. The Ohioans broke in confusion; those not killed were captured. The fact that four officers - a captain and three lieutenants - had slipped away to enjoy the hospitality of the Phoenix Hotel for the night probably added to the panic of the disorganized Ohioans. Although other Union officers' reports on the loss noted the four officers 'awol' status, Kent Brown finds no record of any disciplinary action.

The rest of the story

Properly wanting the monument at Ashland to honor those who were killed or wounded in the battle, the monument won't include a few further details that Kent Brown shares as ""the rest of the story."

Two companies of Major Oliver Robie's Fourth Cavalry Regiment had been encamped downtown - one sleeping in the open area around the Phoenix Hotel and the livery station across Main Street and the other having commandeered the courthouse a block away. The situation in hand at Ashland, Morgan's troops were sent downtown to join the men sent ahead to hold the Union at the Phoenix and the courthouse. The Union soldiers around the Phoenix were quickly rounded up, but things were less peaceful at the courthouse. At first, the Union troops inside refused to surrender, and so Corbett's two cannons were soon trained on the ""seat of justice."" Despite being strongly pro-Union and a colonel of the Home Guard, Lexington Mayor Caleb Thomas Worley saw that a fight would be both unsuccessful and ruinous to the courthouse. Also the owner of the Phoenix, Worley then successfully persuaded the Union soldiers to surrender.

Realizing his vulnerability since his victory would quickly bring Union reinforcements, Morgan paroled all 290 captured Union officers and men; his command then left Lexington that afternoon to return to Tennessee. Morgan's cousin, Major George Washington Morgan, was mortally wounded and he died later, having been taken to the Morgan home, Hopemont, on Gratz Park.

This article was originally published in Business Lexington, and is used with permission. Ed Houlihan, the author, was at the time President of the Lexington History Museum, Inc.

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