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Owen Historical Society News: Owen men served John Hunt Morgan

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By Bonnie Strassell

He stood six feet tall. His finely chiseled face was framed by curly brown hair, and according to an admirer, his gray eyes “reflected strength of character.”
One Northern newspaper branded him “the king of horse thieves, a bandit, a freebooter, no better than a thug,” while in the South he was admired as “the thunderbold of the Confederacy.” Most Owen countians supported his cause, embraced his ideology and offered him sanctuary whenever he visited the area.
John Hunt Morgan was born in Alabama and his family moved to Kentucky when he was six. He attended Transylvania University and when the Civil War broke out offered his services to the Confederacy.  Morgan became famous for his raid  in 1863 behind Union lines into Indiana and southern Ohio. His expert telegraphers tapped wires and sent misinformation concerning the location of his troops, thus permitting his nearly 3,000 cavalry men to plunder Union supplies and wreck havoc and confusion among the Union army. After capture Morgan and a few of his men dug a tunnel under their prison cells and escaped. He was later captured and slain at Greenville, Tennessee.
A number of Owen countians served under John Hunt Morgan. Sidney Brown told stories to his grandson of several incidents while riding with Morgan.
In one area, Brown was sent to a dwelling where it was verified a woman was hiding corn. Brown was commanded to demand part of the woman’s corn. The woman met him with a kettle of boiling water and told him she would toss it on him if advanced further.
Knowing better than to disobey orders, Brown informed her he only wanted part of her corn but if she poured boiling water on him he would have to shoot her.
Realizing her predicament, the Indiana woman stepped aside and Brown retrieved part of her corn supply.
In one of the battles, Sidney Brown received a wound  in his thigh and a silk handkerchief was pulled through it  to remove debris and clean out the fragments of the rifle ball.
Owen countian Levi Doty, who died in 1881, also rode with Morgan.
When his unit was attempting to cross the Ohio River to escape Union gunboats at  Buffington’s Island, Doty was captured. As he was retreating with his company, Levi ran across a Northern officer who had fallen on the field mortally wounded.
Not willing to leave the Yankee to die amidst the chaos of the battlefield, Doty carried him to a fence corner and placed a bundle of wheat under his head.
When John Hunt Morgan made his escape from prison, he found  sympathy among a great number of Kentuckians who offered him food, horses, and a place to rest. One such Confederate sympathizer was John J. Alexander of Owen County.
About 1868, John built a stately gray brick house about three miles from Wheatley on the Wheatly-Moxley road.
The bricks used in its construction were made on the farm. Directly to the rear of the house stood an old cabin.
In the early morning hours on a cold December day in 1863, John Hunt Morgan stopped and rested  at the Alexander home.
 for a few hours.
Morgan was traveling across Kentucky after his escape from prison to rejoin the Confederate lines.
As the Alexanders welcomed this much-loved hero, lunch was prepared.
The worn-out Confederate office rested for a few hours in a chair and propped his feet in front of the huge fireplace to warm them.
When John Hunt Morgan was killed in Tennessee, many Kentuckians mourned him. His body was returned and buried in Lexington.
The J.J. Alexander home no longer stands on the land. Its bricks have either been taken away or their pulverized dust has sifted down through the dirt and settled in the ground from which they were formed.
John Hunt Morgan, Sidney Brown, and Levi Doty are also gone but their lives, their stories, and their place in the history of Owen County remain as a testimony of the stalwart, honorable men who fought in the War Between The States.
Our WWI exhibit is open and waiting for you to visit. Please take an opportunity to stop and view pictures of Owen County soldiers and artifacts from this war that was to end all wars.
We are open the third Monday of the month and the first, second, third, and fourth Thursday.
If you need to do research or want to tour the museum and we are closed, please contact president Larry Dale Perry who will be available to assist you. You can reach him at 502-514-3599.
Our sincere thanks to Ina Prather who has donated a quilting frame to the museum.
It is over 100 years old and we plan on displaying this treasured family heirloom in a future Owen County quilt exhibit.
We should be receiving the reprint of Mariam Houchens’ History of Owen County, Kentucky in the next few weeks. If you would like to order a copy please call us at 502-484-2529. The cost for pre-ordering the book is $33.