As published in the Murfreesboro Post, Mike West, Managing Editor Writer
Wednesday, December 10, 2006
In the days before Christmas 1862, little Murfreesboro was the scene of one of the most glamorous and romantic moments of the Civil War.
The war-time wedding of dashing Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan and socialite Martha “Mattie” Ready was an event straight out of Martha Mitchell’s fictional “Gone With the Wind.”
The 22-year-old bride was described as an “elegant model of the trim-figured Southern belle with dark brown hair, fair complexion, rosy cheeks and gray eyes sparkling with intelligence and strength.”
The 37-year-old groom stood “arrow-straight at 6 feet tall, weighed 185 pounds. He had curly sandy hair and gray eyes.”
Morgan was a charmer.
Early in the Civil War, Carrie Pyncheon of Huntsville wrote in her diary, “Before the town was occupied by the Yankees, I spent an evening with Captain Jack [John] Morgan, our second Marion. He was so mild and gentle in his manners that I would not have taken him for a soldier but for his boots and spurs, so unwarrior-like did he seem.”
The ‘Marion’ mentioned by Pyncheon was the “Swamp Fox,” Gen. Francis Marion in yet another link to the American Revolutionary War.
While the setting wasn’t Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara, the ceremony was certainly impressive with the top brass of the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the cream of Kentucky’s Rebel aristocracy in attendance at the home of former U.S. Congressman Charles Ready Jr.
The nuptials, arguably, were the most talked about during the Civil War and legend soon eclipsed history. Naturally, delving fact from fiction is most difficult 144 years later.
Following the unconditional surrender of Fort Donelson on Feb. 16, 1862, it was slightly more than a week before Nashville fell to Union troops without the firing of a shot.
Gen. Albert Sidney Johnson, a West Point graduate, was in overall command of Confederate troops in the Western division. Hearing of Grant’s resounding win on the Cumberland River, Johnson acted to save his remaining troops by falling back to Murfreesboro with Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest as rear guard.
Within a week, Johnson had reorganized Confederate units from Nashville and Fort Donelson at Murfreesboro. Gen. George B. Crittenden’s forces were added as well following their loss at the Battle of Mill’s Springs in Kentucky on Jan. 16, 1862.
Late February found the gallant ‘Captain Jack’ and his 2nd Kentucky Cavalry serving as scouts in the Murfreesboro area. The unit was attached to Gen. William J. Hardee’s command.
“The season of the year was the worst possible in that latitude. Rain fell, sometimes sleet, four days out of seven. The roads were bad enough at best, but under such a tramping of horses and cutting of wheels as the march produced, soon became horrible,” wrote William G. Stevenson, who made the long march from Kentucky to Murfreesboro.
Col. Charles Ready Jr., a former U.S. Congressman, was the first of his family to meet Morgan at his camp outside Murfreesboro sometime near the end of February 1862.
James A. Ramage gave an account of the meeting in his book, “Rebel Raider: The Life of General John Hunt Morgan.” Morgan was already well-known for his raids behind Union lines at places like Gallatin where in August 1862 his men burned a railroad bridge, killed 80 Union soldiers and captured 200 more.
After meeting him, Ready invited Morgan home for dinner, sending word “the famous Captain Morgan was coming. Tell Mattie that Captain Morgan is a widower and a little sad. I want her to sing for him.”
Morgan’s wife, Emily, had died July 21, 1861 following a lengthy illness. That same fall, Morgan and his men joined the Confederate army. Lt. Basil Duke, his second in command, was his brother-in-law.
When time permitted, Morgan became a frequent visitor to the Ready’s home.
Mattie’s sister, Alice, described a visit by Captain Jack in a March 3, 1862 diary entry.
“Morgan is an extremely modest man, but very pleasant and agreeable, though one to see him would scarcely imagine him to be the daring reckless man he is. An immense crowd collected at the front door to see him, and two or three actually came in and stood before the parlor door,” she wrote.
At other times, the couple exchanged notes via military courier. Family tradition holds that they became engaged March 19, 1862.
Soon, Federal troops were to occupy Murfreesboro for several months until they were rousted during Nathan Bedford Forrest’s July 13, 1862 raid, making life easier for the Readys and the community’s other leading families.
The legend goes that during that first occupation, a Federal soldier asked Mattie her name.
“It’s Mattie Ready now, but by the grace of God one day I hope to call myself the wife of John Morgan,” was her response.
On Nov. 20, 1862, diverse Confederate units serving in the Western Theater were reorganized as the Army of Tennessee under the command of Gen. Braxton Bragg and were again based in Murfreesboro. It was then that Morgan gave Mattie what was called at the time an early wedding present.
On Dec. 7, 1862, Morgan led some 1,300 Confederate troops across the Cumberland River and launched a surprise attack on a Federal garrison at Hartsville. More than 1,800 of the Union troops were captured. Despite ice and sleet, the Confederates recrossed the river with prisoners and supplies, which were taken to Murfreesboro.
A few days later, Confederate President Davis visited Murfreesboro by train from Chattanooga. He reviewed the new Army of Tennessee; ordered that a division be dispatched to Vicksburg, Miss., and announced several promotions.
Davis promoted Morgan to brigadier general and a gala was held Dec. 13 at Oaklands. The following morning, the president and his aide, Gen. GWC Lee, took the early train to Chattanooga, thus missing Morgan’s wedding that evening.
The wedding was held in the parlor of the Ready home just off Murfreesboro’s Square. Charles Ready owned the property now occupied by Bank of America. A state historic plaque still marks the spot. The Ready family’s town house was a large two-story structure facing East Main Street with an ornamental garden.
Ready, a prominent Middle Tennessee lawyer and planter, had served as U.S. Congressman from 1853 to 1859. He was elected as a Whig.
The wedding party included Mattie’s brother Horace, an officer on Hardee’s staff, and Col. George St. Leger Grenfell served as groomsmen. Grenfell, a British soldier of fortune, claimed to have fought in the Crimean War, Sepoy Mutiny and against the Barbary Pirates. He resigned from the Confederate Army in 1864 and joined in a plot to take over Chicago and form a Northwestern Confederacy. He was arrested and sentenced to join Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, Edmund Spangler, Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen in prison in the Dry Tortugas. The other state prisoners were convicted in connection with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Mattie was attended by her sister Alice.
Generals Braxton Bragg, William Hardee, Benjamin Cheatham, Roger Hanson and John Breckinridge were in attendance, along with Breckinridge’s wife, Mary. Breckinridge was the former vice president of the United States.
Bishop Leonidas Polk, with his vestments covering his general’s uniform, performed the ceremony.
An elaborate dinner followed with regimental bands serenading the bridal party. Bonfires were lighted and the troops cheered the newlyweds.
All too soon, Morgan would be back in the business of raiding behind Union lines.
For further reading:
“Rebel Raider: The Life of General John Hunt Morgan,” James A. Ramage.
“The UnCivil War: Irregular Warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865,” Robert A. Mackey
“Morgan’s Cavalry,” Basil Duke
“Battle and Leaders of the Civil War.”
“The Army of Tennessee,” Stanley F. Horn
Shirley Farris Jones of Murfreesboro has done extensive research on General John Hunt Morgan, including work for arts John Paul Strain, who painted “Morgan’s Wedding” as part of a series.