Mattie Ready Morgan: The hardships of war

As published in the Murfreesboro Post, Shirley Farris Jones, December 26, 2008

Mattie Ready and John Hunt Morgan. Library of Congress

Mattie Ready and John Hunt Morgan. Library of Congress

Part 2 of a series

Mattie Ready Morgan loved her husband deeply and despite the hardships of war tried to be with him whenever and wherever she could.

One week after the wedding, Gen. John Hunt Morgan rode off on the Christmas Raid into Kentucky in search of much-needed horses and supplies. Mattie accompanied him as far as she could — to Alexandria — and together they watched the grand parade of Morgan’s troops, which had never looked better. Everyone admired the handsome couple and their obvious affection for one another. The next day, Dec. 22, 1862, the newlyweds were separated when Morgan and his men rode north into Kentucky and Mattie returned to Murfreesboro.

The second day of the raid on Dec. 23, 1862, John wrote Mattie that he hoped it would be finished within six days,

“And then my precious one I shall try and get back to you as fast as possible and then my pretty one nothing shall induce me to again leave you this winter. How anxiously I am looking forward to the moment when I shall again clasp you to a heart that beats for you alone. Do not forget me my own Darling, and you may rest assured that my whole thoughts are of you. Farewell my pretty wife, my command is leaving, I must be off.”

The raid was a great success, and John and Mattie hoped that it would help to dispel speculations that marriage came first, career second.

Col. George St. Leger Grenfell had participated in the wedding but said later that he had attempted to prevent it, as he felt that marriage would cause John to become cautious and less enterprising. And Mattie’s family had instructed her, “You must remember your promises, not to restrain the General in his career of glory, but encourage him to go forward.”

She promised, but she did not know what a profound influence she would have on his life and career. He was her hero; her knight in shinning armor. Following the raid he wrote, “The greatest pleasure my expedition has afforded is the knowledge that our great success will gratify and delight you.”

After the war Basil Duke stated that Mattie “certainly deserved to exercise over him the great influence she was thought to have possessed.” There were hints that Mattie slowed Morgan down, took away his strength and courage, and sent his career on a downward spiral. The wedding came at the peak of his career, one day after his promotion to brigadier general. But instead of encouraging him to settle down to regular cavalry service, the relationship with Mattie seems to have added to the psychological pressure to continue independent raids, even to the point of recklessness and insubordination.

Mattie returned home to Murfreesboro just in time for the Battle of Stones River on Dec. 31, 1862-Jan. 2, 1863. The Ready family, like the rest of the townspeople, was spared none of the horrors as a major battle raged around them.

Two weeks later, following the Battle of Stones River and Bragg’s retreat from Middle Tennessee, Mattie, accompanied by her lovely sister Alice, was forced to take flight from home. The Ready house was used by Union Gen. Rosecrans for his headquarters in Murfreesboro. Charles Ready Jr., as well as his son-in-law, Dr. William C. Cheatham of Nashville, who was married to Mattie’s eldest sister, Mary Emma, had both been arrested previously by the Federals for their participation in the Rebel resistance. And Mattie, being married to the notorious Gen. John Morgan, would not have helped the situation had she chosen to stay. When Mattie left Murfreesboro, she did not know that she would not see her parents again until after the war had ended. And her sister, Mary Emma Cheatham, would die during this time. Even correspondence, or communication of any kind with her family, would be very limited.
So, Mattie left home, and under escort by members of General William J. Hardee’s staff, Mattie and Alice reached the army at Winchester. Three weeks after the wedding, on Jan. 6, 1863, Mattie wrote from newly established headquarters in Winchester:

“Come to me my own Darling quickly. I was wretched but now I am almost happy and will be quite when my precious husband is again with me. I can bear anything Darling when you are with me, and so long as I have your love — but when separated from you and I know that you are surrounded by so many dangers and hardships as you have been on your last expedition I become a weak nervous child. Have I not lived a great deal, love, in the last three weeks? When I look back now at the time, it seems three years. But in each hour I have passed through, there has always been one dear face ever before me… I have so much to tell you, and so very much to hear from you. Although I have heard nothing from you since you left Glasgow, I knew you had accomplished what you had in view — but oh I was so anxious for your safety. I had some dark days, dearest, and when the battle was raging around me in such fury, and everybody from the commander-in-chief to the privates were praying for Morgan to come, I thanked God in the anguish of my heart that it was not for me to say where you should be. There was one continual inquiry at the front door — ‘When will Genl. Morgan be here?’… Genl. Bragg established his head Quarters at this place. We reached here today … and although an entire stranger to the people I am with, they received me, as the saying is, with open arms, because I am your Wife. We are comfortably, but very plainly accommodated. Alice is with me. Papa & Mama remained at home with Ella. I almost dread to hear from them. I am so impatient for tomorrow to come. When the Courier arrived Cols. (unknown) & Johnston of Genl. Bragg’s staff were calling upon us. Came with an invitation from the Genl. for us to join his Hd. Qts. but Gen. Hardee had a prior claim. I sent the papers giving an account of your expedition, or part of it, to Gen. B. Everybody is anxious to hear from you, and to see you, but none a thousandth part as much as your little wife. I am at Mrs. McGee’s, just in the suburbs of the town, so you will know exactly where to find me. I love to write to you, Dearest, and your sweet letters always make me happy. It grieved me that I could send you no word of love from my pen while in Kty. Both — because it would have been a relief to pour out my heart to you, and then, Darling, I feared you would forget me. You left me so soon … Good night, my Hero. My dreams are of you. Your affectionate, Mattie.

One of Gen. Morgan’s first priorities was to bring Mattie to his new headquarters in McMinnville. He wrote, “am determined to have you near me. Cannot bear the thought of your being away from home and my not being with you.” Once she came, Mattie declared: “My life is all a joyous dream now, from which I fear to awaken, and awake I must when my Hero is called to leave me again. My husband wants me to remain with him, and of course I much prefer it. They say we are a love sick couple.”

This devotion to each other was reflected in John Morgan’s military leadership. After long and strenuous marches, when even the strongest men were exhausted, he would ride another 50 miles to be with her. Mattie diverted his attention, and he lost his single-minded devotion to the Cause. One night, anticipating attack from the enemy, he wrote, “Aitho I fully expected to be attacked today, still my thoughts were of you and not of war.”

Twenty-five miles from the hardships at the front of battle, John and Mattie extended their honeymoon into the spring. Nearly every afternoon they made an elegant appearance, riding horseback into the country— she in a beautiful black riding habit, hat, and veil, he in a blue roundabout jacket with brass buttons, blue pants tucked into shiny cavalry boots with spurs, and black felt hat fastened up at the side. A correspondent for the Richmond Enquirer observed that Mattie’s “full-blown figure was certainly apropos to the sterling manhood of Morgan. She loves him very ardently, and I doubt not that the affair was entirely one of the affections. They take long strolls every afternoon, and the evidences of attachment … are delicate and dignified upon both sides.”

Mattie’s influence extended even further. For the first time in his life, John Morgan became interested in religion. Mattie had given him a prayer book for a wedding present, and from a camp away from her one night he wrote: “The dear prayer book that you gave me ‘my dear precious One’ is before me & I shall read Evening Prayer, 21st day. So my Angel you see what a good influence you exert upon me and I am so much happier.” His mother was also quite pleased to learn that “because of Mattie’s example and advice he had become a ‘much better man’”. He was adamant that his newly found faith sprang from his love for Mattie and was subordinate to that love. He further wrote: “I shall read your letter again before I close my eyes. What great pleasure it affords me to read your dear sweet words of Love. I know every word you utter comes from your dear good Heart. Have more confidence in that than I have in the Book now before me.”

With Middle Tennessee under Federal occupation and Mattie choosing to remain with John behind Confederate lines, arrangements for Mattie’s escape in case of enemy attack were always first and foremost in his mind. John provided an ambulance and wagon and kept her informed on the most feasible escape route.

She kept her bags packed for immediate evacuation. On April 19, 1863, Colonel Robert Minty, who commanded the 1st Brigade of Michigan cavalry, burst through picket lines and into Morgan’s headquarters at McMinnville. Two officers were seriously wounded while creating a diversion to give Morgan time to put Mattie in the ambulance and send her racing out of town. John and his headquarters escort escaped on horseback across the fields. Mattie was captured but immediately released.

This was a foretaste of what was to become habitual for Mattie — flights before the enemy, lonely vigils, brief intervals with her husband. In the summer of 1863, during the Confederacy’s “farthest north” raid, General Morgan was captured and imprisoned in Columbus, Ohio. He wrote to her two or three times a week in terms of cheer and confidence, but his concern for her steadily increased. During this time the “happy” days were over for Mattie. She and Alice became wartime refugees — in Knoxville, in Augusta, Georgia, in Knoxville again and finally in Danville, Va. Mattie wanted to be as near Richmond as much as possible in order to do everything she could to speed up the parole of her beloved husband. When they heard that their brother, Horace, was wounded at Chickamauga, Alice hurried off to take care of him. Alone and desperately anxious, Mattie grew seriously ill. Her baby daughter was born prematurely and lived only a short time.

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