PORTLAND, Ohio — Meigs County will be the site of this weekend’s annual ceremony honoring the memory of Ohio’s only Civil War battle — the Battle of Buffington Island.
The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday with the introduction of Peter Hritsko, commander of the Ohio Department Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, by James Oiler and Scott Britton, of the Cadot-Blessing and Gen. Benjamin Fearing camps of the SUVCW.
The ceremony will consist of wreath-laying by various veterans organizations with a firing salute rendered by members of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and the playing of “Taps.” The featured speaker will be David Mowery, president of the Buffington Island Preservation Board and author of “Morgan’s Great Raid” depicting Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s famous raid through Ohio and culminating at Portland with the Battle of Buffington Island.
The Battle of Buffington Island was the most significant engagement in what many in Ohio call Morgan’s Raid. Morgan began his famous ride by hand-picking nearly 2,500 Confederate cavalrymen and artillerymen and set off from Sparta, Tenn.
On June 11, 1863, Morgan’s intent was to divert forces away from the rebel armies gathered in the west and interrupt Union communications everywhere he went. He and his men conducted a number of raids and small skirmishes on tows and garrisons in a ride that would take them more that 1,000 miles in 46 days.
On July 2, 1863, while two great armies were battling in the hills surrounding Gettysburg and another two great armies were engaged at Vicksburg, these raiders entered Kentucky as they headed north toward Louisville, Ky. On July 8, Morgan crossed the Ohio River into Indiana at Brandenbrug, Ky., near Cincinnati. Along the way, these men raided towns, stores and private homes, stole much-needed horses to replace their worn out ones and caused great anxiety among the citizens around the state.
As he continued north and east across the state, he encountered more and more militia and regular townspeople who began to harass his forces and make life difficult. Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside organized Union troops and militia units to prevent Morgan from escaping back to the South. Burnside sent forces under generals Shackleford, Hobson and Judah in hot pursuit.
On July 18, after a long day of fighting with various Meigs County militias and citizens, Morgan arrived at Buffington Island with intention of using the ford back to friendlier territory. Worn out from a hard day of riding and fighting, Morgan decided to rest and take on the militia the next morning, which allowed Gen. Judah’s pursuing forces to catch up to Morgan and the battle began at approximately 6 a.m. July 19, 1863.
Fighting raged across the fields along the river for most of the day, but as Morgan began to cross the river, the Union gunboats Moose and Alleghany Belle shelled the Confederates and prevented their crossing. As more Union forces arrived, Morgan was finally surrounded and ordered to surrender. At about 3 p.m., Shackleford granted Morgan one hour to surrender, but they used that time to fortify their position instead. The battle continued until nightfall when Morgan, along with about 400 men, escaped while the rest of his force surrendered. He again tried to cross the river between Reedsville and Hockingport, around Belleville, but was again turned away by the Union gunboats and cavalry.
While some of his men did reach the southern shore, others drowned and Morgan was forced to turn north. Union forces continued to pursue Morgan until, finally, on July 26, he and his men were captured just north of East Liverpool in Columbiana County. During this battle, two future U.S. presidents participated in the battle — Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley.
From best estimates, approximately 3,000 Union forces and 1,800 Confederate were engaged and this ended the only battle of the Civil War to take place in Ohio.