Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Thunderbolt: The Mystery of John Hunt Morgan

John Hunt Morgan

       Did Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan die in the War Between the States? Believe it or not, there are those that believe he escaped death in Kentucky and lived under an alias the rest of his life. So what is the story of the death of General Morgan?

Williams House in Greeneville, Kentucky

       On September 4, 1864, General Morgan spent the night in the widow Catherine Williams home in Greeneville, Tennessee. She was a distant relative of his wife Martha Ready. He spread his troops too thin to guard the approaches into town and only had his staff with him at the home. Because it was raining, he allowed his headquarters guard stay inside the house. All of this would cost him his life. A teenager named Jimmy Leady rode sixteen miles to the camp of Federal General Alvan Gillem and informed him where Morgan was staying the night. 
       The next night, Gillem's forces surprised Morgan and two companies began to surround the house in an attempt to capture him. General Morgan sprang from bed, pulled on a pair of Federal cavalry pants and some slippers. He was wearing a white muslin shirt. He grabbed his belt and holsters and raced downstairs. With a Colt revolver in each hand, he told Mrs. Williams  goodbye and stated, "The Yankee's will never take me a prisoner again."

Morgan was asleep in this bed just moments before his death

       Morgan and some of his staff raced through the garden and hid beneath Saint James Episcopal Church. He handed one of his pistols to Captain James Rogers of his staff and asked him to assist him in making their escape. Rogers informed Morgan that it was useless as they were surrounded. Morgan replied, "We must do it if possible." 
       When the Federals broke the door open and began to search the church, Morgan and his staff ran into Mrs. Williams vineyard and hid. Morgan's troops attempted to rescue him several times but were driven back by the Federals. Mrs. David Fry spotted Morgan in the vineyard and  informed the Federals of his location. Federal soldiers arrived on the scene and Morgan was soon surrounded. 
      "Don't shoot; I surrender!" Morgan yelled. The Federals began to scream, "Kill him! Kill him!" General Morgan threw up his hands and screamed, "Oh my God!" The Federal soldiers then opened fire. A bullet struck him in the back and passed through his heart. Death was instant. The man credited with killing Morgan was Private Andrew Campbell of the 13th Tennessee Union Cavalry. He then shouted, "I have killed the damned horse thief."
       Campbell took the body to the edge of town and threw it into a ditch full of water. The local Unionist soon arrived and began to dance around the body. They soon stripped Morgan's body down to his underwear. When members of Morgan's staff asked General Gillem not to treat Morgan's remains like that of a dog, Gillem replied, "Aye Sir, and it shall lie there and rot like a dog!"
       Later, Captain Rogers and another staff officer were allowed to retrieve the body and carry it back to Mrs. Williams house. They had to have a Federal cavalry escort because the mob dancing around the body refused to let them have the body. His body was embalmed and they found one bullet wound. His face had been scratched from the mistreatment by the Federals and the mob. 

Michael Grissom's book

       I was reading about Morgan's death not long ago when I remembered a story I'd read in the book Southern By The Grace Of God by Michael Andrew Grissom. I'd read this book in the early nineties, but still remember this particular story because it made such an impression on  my mind. 
       While in Oklahoma, Mr. Grissom was attempting to organize a local Sons of Confederate Veterans camp. One fellow claimed to be a direct descendant of General John Hunt Morgan. The story goes that on the morning when Morgan was surprised there was much confusion. It is true there was quite a bit of confusion that foggy damp morning. Morgan was supposed to have swapped coats with a staff officer that morning. Although hit in the side, Morgan managed to escape, but his staff officer was killed. He eventually made his way north to Illinois to find a lady named Maggie Critzer who he'd met before the war. 
       Reaching Maggie, he changed his name to John Hunt Cole, married the lady and together they lived with her family. Several men recognized Cole as John Hunt Morgan and a fight was started. Morgan killed two of the men. Having been discovered alive, he took Maggie and fled to Kansas. They later moved to Missouri where Maggie died in 1879. Cole then married Carolyn Reardion. Cole began to practice medicine and it was noted what an excellent shot he was with a pistol. 
       In 1892, Cole moved into Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) and a visitor would often arrive after dark. The man would visit Cole until just before daylight when he would again leave town. According to Cole's descendant's, this man was General Morgan's brother. In 1899, Cole came down with pneumonia and believing he was about to die, he told his son John Morgan Cole and his wife Carolyn who he really was. When his son asked him why he hadn't admitted this before since there was no longer any danger of him being sent to prison, Cole replied that he was still legally married to Mattie Ready of Tennessee and it would also bring dishonor to his family. 
       The story is rather long and adds a lot of evidence to suggest that John Hunt Cole was really John Hunt Morgan. One coincidence is the tombstone of Cole. His birth date is the same as John Hunt Morgan's, only the death dates are different of course. 

Tombstone of John Hunt Cole

       Also, there is a photograph of John Hunt Cole as an older gentleman. Many people say the two men look alike. Of course, claiming to be someone famous back in those days was quite common. There were numerous men who claimed to have been John Wilkes Booth and there's even a mummy of one of these men in a private collector's possession today. Brushy Bill Roberts swore that he was actually Billy the Kidd. There were rumors that Jesse James was not shot by Robert Ford, but escaped, remarried and had children long after he was supposedly dead. There are actually people today that claim to be descendants of John Wilkes Booth, but the son or daughter of Booth was born long after the war and his death. The Cole/Morgan story does have some convincing arguments. 

Are these the same men?


  1. I am a decendant of John Hunt Cole who was looking into some of his legacy, the story that I have heard passed down is about how he told hit true identity to his children and grandchildren while he was on his death bed

  2. I am the great grandson of Doctor Cole and Carolyn Reardion.It has been said I resemble Gen.Morgan.The Cole family and I would like to know our family back ground beyond Doctor Cole but it ends at Doctor Cole. IT is said Carolyn and the Doctors 4 boys did not live to adulthood but my Grandfather was the youngest and livd to his 50s. Would like some follow up info.

    1. All I can add to the story is that my family owns the land that is on the east side of Darrel and June Coles home place in Tussy, Ok and I spent many Sundays on their porch listening to and looking at their research into the Morgan/Cole connection. I must admit I was pretty skeptical when they first started, but the evidence seemed to keep mounting and over the years I came to the conclusion that one of two things could be true: A) Doctor Cole really was General Morgan or B) Doctor Cole was a liar and fabricated the story. Darrel and June are both gone now, but I really hope someone in their family keeps up the research. Quite a bit of it was done pre-internet

    2. Do you know of a watch in the Cole family that belonged originally to one of John Hunt Morgan's sisters living in Kansas when she died? vincekoers@aol.com

  3. Really enjoyed this. The only history I knew of this was what my Grandmother taught me,