Ohio State Prison Break
The Escape of Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan

     The daring raid of Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan came to an end just west of the Pennsylvania state line in Wellsville, Ohio on July 26, 1863. His command slowly broken apart during its extensive ride, surrendered to Brigadier General James Murrell Shackelford and delivered to Nathaniel Merion, warden of the Ohio State Penitentiary as that no other facilities were available to secure such a valuable raider.
     Morgan, along with six of his junior officers would spend just shy of four months there, successfully breaking out and escaping sometime during the night or early morning of November 27, 1863. Several affidavits witnessed by Frederick J. Fay of Franklin County, Ohio ten days later revealed some interesting changes in the prison just prior to the Confederate escape. It had been routine that the prison, jointly watched by both military and civilian personnel, had assigned their sentries with the cleanliness of the inmate's cells. These orders allowed the cells to be continually monitored for any such attempts at digging and foiled any schemes of escape. Warden Nathaniel Merion on or about the 4th of November had passed along instructions for all sentries to cease from cleaning the cells, one of the directors had determined the rebels would keep their own cells clean..
     The routine of evening lock up occurred precisely at 4:30 pm and remained so until the cells were re-opened at 6:00 am the following morning. On the afternoon of the 27th of November, General Morgan had switched cells with his brother Colonel Dick Morgan, also surrendered during the raid; the colonel returning to General Morgan's cell with his back to the door and adorned in parts of his brother's uniform. Colonel Morgan's only response to the turnkey, Milo H. Scott was a simple "Yes, sir" when asked if he was alright prior to locking the door. The tunneling had begun three weeks earlier in the colonel's original cell.
     The day after the break, Governor David Todd made a personal request of the War Department that they approve of a $1,000 dollar reward for Morgan's capture. The acting Secretary of War, Peter H. Watson not only approved of the reward money in a written response, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton wrote Columbus four days later authorizing an increase of $5,000 dollars as an added incentive.

     Of the seven escapees, two captains had been recaptured but refused any information on the Confederate brigadier. It was lead to believe after some misgivings of a departure into Canada however, that a passing railroad car may have assisted in carrying him back into Kentucky.
     The transfer of responsibilities during that 3rd of November meeting from civilian to military caretakers may have resulted in a questionable managerial decision. In spite of the watchman checking the cells by lamp every two hours throughout the night, and any echo from the chamber triggering a rapid response from the guard room, Morgan and his junior officer managed to vanish. The price on his head would be of no service, and, if but for a short time, the Yankees would hear from him once again.

Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2004

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwars.net