Corydon loves being conquered
When Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan rode up with 30 armed men on horseback, Randy Conder was waiting in a lawn chair with some snacks and a cold beer. Conder knew the general as Morgan Raque of Corydon, ‘a friend of mine.’
That was early afternoon, last Friday. The now celebrated Morgan’s Raiders had a strikingly different reception 142 years earlier to the day.
After crossing the Ohio and burning the riverboat Alice Dean two days before the Battle of Corydon, Morgan’s men found hastily abandoned farm houses along the way and faced sporadic enemy fire.
Corydon again honored its place in Civil War history last weekend with two reenactments of that battle. Corydon and Gettysburg share the distinction of being the only officially recognized Civil War battles fought on Northern soil.
But before the battle, Morgan had to get there. And as the Confederate horses trotted north in the hot sun, Conder and company cheered them on from a shaded lawn on Otterbein Road.
Morgan’s Raid Preservation Ride was new this year, featuring reenactors retracing the exact route taken by Morgan on his way from Morvin’s Landing on the Ohio to Corydon.
Along the way, several reenactors portraying the Home Guard skirmished with the raiders, but they were nowhere to be found when Morgan’s hungry men brashly told Louise Cavins to hand over her livestock.
‘Pay this lady for the chickens you stole,’ the general commanded.
‘Fifty Confederate. That’ll spend anywhere,’ one of the soldiers said as he handed her a genuine imitation Confederate bill.
After lunch at the Ed and Marian Pearcy farm, a couple of staged dramas, and a few more miles, Raque and company made camp in a field off Union Chapel Road.
His men must have slept well, because they were in rare form when they entered Corydon and delivered what several organizers said was their most flamboyant raid since, well, perhaps since Morgan delivered the real thing.
Cannon fire sounded the raiders’ arrival in town just after noon.
It had been two years since Jerry Isaacs of Leitchfield, Ky., a cocksure Confederate cavalryman, taunted Corydon’s men and terrorized its women.
‘Look at all you brave ones standing there with your hands in your pockets. You gonna let your women do your fighting,’ he said.
It wasn’t much later that he was flogged with an umbrella by Danna Trammel of Winchester, Ky., in a big hoop skirt. Isaacs whirled while being buffeted and took an awkward tumble off his mount.
It was all part of Isaacs’ act, but there was one casualty during the event. Ron Orange of Scottsville, Ky., known also as The Sneakin’ Deacon, caught a spur and took a tumble from his horse and suffered a bruised shoulder, but he was still up to pilfer a bolt of cloth from a local business and search the crowd for ‘a new wife.’
Eventually, Col. Louis Jordan, played by Brian Bush, a Louisville author of historic books, sought terms of surrender from Raque’s Morgan.
‘Well, he did agree to parole my men, and he promised no more fusion of blood. I do believe he is raiding some of the businesses, but I do not have the men to stop him,’ Bush said while in character for an interview during the mayhem.
About a half-hour after the first cannon shot, the Confederate Battle Flag again flew over Corydon to the cheers of the crowd.
The Blaine H. Wiseman Visitor Center hosted a record 750 people during the sacking of Corydon, and Sean Hawkins, community development manager for the convention and visitors bureau, placed the total attendance for all events at about 2,500.
The Battle of Corydon was acted out later that day and again on Sunday at Hayswood Nature Reserve with a record 261 registered reenactors.
‘They use the same scenario every time,’ said Bill Brockman, one of the event’s organizers. History provides the reenactors’ script.
A small group of Confederate scouts stumble upon a considerable force of organized Harrison Home Guard troops and are quickly greeted with a volley of musket and cannon fire.
The Confederates return in waves of increasingly large numbers, supported by thunderous cannon fire that shakes the valley and sends huge billows of white smoke into the air.
With their firearms discharged, both sides draw sabers and their organized lines disintegrate into chaotic mounted combat. Finally, as the Home Guard begins to be pushed back and the Confederates move their artillery forward and advance in greater numbers, a contingent of Confederate Cavalrymen appears from behind a dense stand of trees, outflanking the Home Guard and forcing their surrender.
Raque accepted the surrender this year before a partisan crowd ‘ interestingly, the Confederates had overwhelming support. In fact, in an interview before the event, the popular figure said most local reenactors prefer to be Confederate soldiers rather than Union troops.
Feedback from the reenactors is already rolling in, including a letter to The Corydon Democrat from James Chapman Jr. of Fredericksburg, Texas, who wrote, ‘It was in our estimation a rousing success, and well worth the 1,200-mile trip.’
Hawkins said, ‘I think it was an outstanding event. It was a terrific way to celebrate our history and heritage. And I think it will be back.’
An attempt has been made to hold the event every two years, but there is discussion of making the reenactment and related events an annual affair.
The Battle of Corydon was short. Four hundred Home Guard troops and about 50 citizens ‘ the only hope to stop the raiders after reinforcements failed to arrive ‘ stood against a force of more than 2,000 led by Gen. Morgan.
Morgan’s advance company suffered most of the casualties that would be lost in the battle. Realizing the opposition was larger than expected, Morgan outflanked the Home Guard, prompting a quick surrender.
During the epilogue following the battle, a reenactor said, ‘During the Civil War, 623,000 soldiers died. Of the 623,000, everyone of those was an American. They died for what they believed. We do this for them.’