Unionist Informants and the Death of John Hunt Morgan
On September 3, 1864, Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan, then in command of the Confederate District of East Tennessee and West Virginia, was killed by Federal cavalry at Greeneville, Tennessee. Three Federal regiments surprised Morgan's troopers at night and shot Morgan in a garden outside the house where he had been sleeping. Morgan was a dramatic and heroic figure, and his death was a sensational event that quickly became surrounded by legends. Many Confederates asserted that Morgan had been betrayed, while many Unionists claimed credit for leading Union cavalry to Morgan's location.
One of these was loyalist James Leahy, a twelve-year-old farm boy. Leahy asserted that he had met some of Morgan's men on the road near Greeneville and that they had stolen a bag of meal that he was carrying home. Angry at his loss, Leahy claimed that he had sought out Major General Alvin C. Gillem and informed him that Confederate cavalry were at Greeneville. Gillem then mounted the expedition that led to Morgan's death. James A. Ramage, one of Morgan's biographers, accepted Leahy's story as valid and noted that after the war Gillem took Leahy to Nashville and paid for his education. 1
But Leahy's story did not go uncontested. Sarah Thompson, a loyalist woman from Greeneville, asserted that it was she who provided the critical intelligence to Union officers. Thompson's story was quite dramatic. She claimed that after the Federal invasion her husband had served as a Union courier and had been captured and executed as a spy by some of Morgan's men in 1864. A few months after this event Morgan and some his cavalry rode into Greeneville, came to Thompson's house, stole a quantity of food, and insulted her. In retaliation she rode to Bull's Gap and persuaded Union cavalry to ride to Greeneville, setting off the engagement that took Morgan's life. After the war Colonel John Brownlow (First Tennessee Cavalry), Lieutenant Edward J. Brooks (Tenth Michigan Cavalry), Lieutenant John Johnson (Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry), Provost Marshal General Samuel P. Carter, and President Andrew