The Civil War was a time of uncertainty, especially for those living in the recently established Confederate States of America. Happiness was a brief interlude from the reality of the horrors and deprivations inflicted upon a people trying to protect their homeland. For some it was a bittersweet time of both joy and sorrow. Such is the story of Martha Ready of Murfreesboro, Tennessee and John Hunt Morgan of Lexington, Kentucky.
Martha Ready Morgan was born near Murfreesboro on June 21, 1840. She was the sixth of eight children, and the second of four girls, born to Colonel Charles Ready, Jr. and Martha Strong Ready.
Affectionately known as “Mattie”, she was described as being a “very attractive young woman of medium height, with a shapely figure, a fair, creamy complexion, large blue eyes, and dark hair.” She attended the very prestigious Soule College in Murfreesboro and the Nashville Female Academy during the 1850’s where it was noted that young ladies could receive "traditional Southern education for women in cultural studies and social graces.”
Col. Ready was a very successful Murfreesboro attorney, twice mayor of the city in 1832 and then again in 1849-1853, and a very influential member of the Whig party. He served Tennessee as a United States representative before the Civil War and a judge afterwards. While in Washington with her family, Mattie was known to be a favorite among society. She was “the first girl in Washington to wear a curl on her forehead, which was soon imitated by a hundred others,” and was described as being one of the “prettiest daughters of Old South society and a fashion trend-setter at eighteen.”
She had many suitors, both in Washington and at home. Thirty-six-year-old Illinois Representative Samuel Scott Marshall was among the most persistent in Washington and wanted to marry her. Although considered a very good choice, she declined the offer simply because she did not love him, and three years later, this same man would come calling at her door in Murfreesboro as an officer of an invading army.
The Ready family was among the earliest and most prominent Rutherford County families. They were well educated, had extensive land holdings, owned many slaves, and in every way were representative of the aristocratic antebellum society of the South. The 1840’s and 1850’s were prosperous times for the people of Rutherford County and would reach a peak in economic, educational and social areas not to be experienced again until after the turn of the century.
The Readys were known to be strong supporters of the Confederacy and offered both support and hospitality to the officers encamped in the area, including the dashing cavalryman from Kentucky, Captain John Hunt Morgan, who arrived in Murfreesboro in late February of 1862.
John Hunt Morgan was born in Huntsville, Ala. on June 1, 1825. The first of 10 children of Henrietta Hunt and Calvin Morgan, John was named for his millionaire maternal grandfather, John Wesley Hunt of Lexington, Kentucky.
Although Calvin Morgan tried various ways to become a successful businessman and provide adequately for his family, failing business ventures finally forced him to relocate the family to Lexington when John was six, thus becoming dependent upon the Hunts for their livelihood and affluent lifestyle. John Morgan had inherited by birth the status of aristocracy. Very handsome, he was six feet tall with a strong and attractive athletic body and exhibited excellent horsemanship.
As a young man, he was very bashful and did not feel comfortable speaking before a group. His college career at Translyvania University proved quite disappointing and he was suspended for dueling in 1844. John entered the military in 1846, after two frustrating years of trying to “find himself”, and was elected second lieutenant of Company K of the Kentucky Volunteers in the war against Mexico. He was then promptly promoted to first lieutenant of Kentucky’s Mounted Volunteers 1st Regiment.
He distinguished himself as a hero in the battle at Buena Vista, and although his enlistment was up, the war over, he wanted desperately to continue his military career. He had gained self-confidence through his experiences of war and enjoyed being welcomed home as the conquering hero. He had acquired one year of military experience, although discipline was lax and contempt for authority prevalent. This would shape his future military actions.
Morgan settled down in Lexington and entered into business with his friend, Sanders Bruce. The Bruce family lived across the street from Hopemont, Morgan’s ancestral home, and was considered an established manufacturing family, wealthy, successful, and respected. Perhaps it was only natural that John Morgan should then marry Sanders’ sister, Rebecca Bruce. He was 23 and she was 18, on their wedding day, Nov. 21, 1848. In 1853, after five years of marriage, she gave birth to their first and only child, a son, who was stillborn.
From that point on, for the duration of her life, Becky would remain a victim of poor health, despite trips to various doctors and places in a fruitless attempt to find a cure for her afflictions. Becky, suffering from both the pain and humiliation of not fulfilling her role as wife and mother, turned to her mother for emotional support and to religion for comfort. After existing several years as an invalid, confined to bed for many months, she finally died on July 21, 186l.
During this time, Morgan’s behavior was typical of so many Southern gentlemen of his time ~- with Becky and his relatives, he was always respectful, yet Morgan never denied himself any of the worldly pleasures. He was known as a favorite among women, as well as a gambler and libertine.
Morgan’s brother-in-law and best friend, Basil Duke, expounded the Southern code of ethics when he pointed out that Morgan never attempted to be secretive or hypocritical about his diversions, and he never did anything “which touched his integrity as a man and his honor as a gentleman.” Duke later wrote: “Like the great majority of the men of his class -- the gentlemen of the South -- he lived freely, and the amusements he permitted himself would, doubtless, have shocked a New Englander almost as much as the money he spent in obtaining them. ... General Morgan, with the virtues, had some of the faults of his Southern blood and country.” Meanwhile, John’s business ventures, many of which were dependent upon the institution of slavery, flourished.
By the late 1850’s, the Southern system of honor was wholly identifiable in the character of John Morgan, and he had established his identity and respectability as Captain of the Lexington Rifles, and entered into the romantic social life of antebellum Lexington. When all of this was threatened, John was more than ready to go to war. Kentucky found itself a state divided, unable to choose between North and South, and therefore took the position of peace and neutrality. Morgan, however, aligned himself with other Southern sympathizers in the state, and the Lexington Rifles were among the first volunteer companies to join the State Guard, a newly created pro-Southern state militia organization, in 1860.
In September of 1861, the Lexington Rifles left to join Confederate forces, and shortly thereafter Morgan began his own type of warfare against the enemy that had driven him from his home. He entered into it with both intensity and enjoyment, which is apparent from his raids along the Green River. After Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston’s defensive line in Kentucky collapsed early in 1862, Morgan’s command became part of the thin screen thrown out to protect Johnston’s army from Union divisions under General Buell in Nashville.
On Feb. 27, 1862 Morgan moved his headquarters near Murfreesboro. Shortly thereafter, Col. Ready was visiting the army camp, met Captain Morgan and invited him to dinner. He sent a slave home with word that “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.” In a diary entry of March 3, 1862, sister Alice describes a visit by Captain Morgan to the Ready home the previous evening: “... 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” Although his stay in Murfreesboro was brief, the 36-year-old Captain Morgan made quite an impression on twenty-one year old Mattie.
Following an expedition to Gallatin, Morgan returned to Murfreesboro to find a Union cavalry regiment conducting a reconnaissance outside the town. He sent Mattie a note asking whether the town was clear of Federals.
She hurriedly penned a reply: “They are eight miles from here. Come in haste,” and handed it to a courier who returned to Morgan, 10 miles to the north. A few hours later, in the early morning, Morgan appeared. He and Mattie talked until daylight and family tradition holds that they became engaged on that March 19.
At dawn John bade good-bye to Mattie by forming the soldiers on the square and leading in the singing of “Cheer, Boys, Cheer.” Mattie was known for her spirit. One day, in the late spring of 1862 while Murfreesboro was under Federal occupation, she overheard some Union soldiers making ugly and unkind remarks about Morgan. She stepped in and gave the Yankees a royal scolding. When one of the soldiers asked her name she replied, “It’s Mattie Ready now! But by the grace of God, one day I hope to call myself the wife of John Morgan!”
After a brief courtship, John Morgan presented Mattie with one of the most unusual wedding presents in history. Following a battle with Union forces in Hartsville on Dec. 7, 1862 more than 1,800 Federal soldiers were captured. That army of discomfited “boys in blue” came to be known as Gen. Morgan’s wedding present to his bride.
The wedding of Mattie Ready and John Hunt Morgan was held at the Ready home near the Courthouse on the square in Murfreesboro on Sunday evening, Dec. 14, 1862. The Ready House was described as having been built in the 1850’s, and being a two-story wooden structure facing East Main Street along the whole block where Bank of America is currently located.
The house actually occupied the second lot along East Main Street; the first lot was an ornamental garden with twin magnolia trees right across from the Courthouse. Inside the house was a large hall with flanking parlors. One of these parlors served as the scene of the wedding. According to family records Mattie wrote in later years, “Mama and Papa’s room was downstairs and the children’s upstairs.” Windows from the upstairs rooms opened onto Main Street. Col. Ready’s law office was in the east room on the ground floor.
This grand home was the scene of much gaiety and hospitality -- and headquarters for both armies during the war. The wedding was one of the great social occasions of the Confederacy. Groomsmen were Mattie’s brother, Horace Ready, an officer on Gen. William J. Hardee’s staff, and Col. George St. Leger Grenfell, an English soldier of fortune. Gen. Leonidis Polk, Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana, nephew of former United States President James K. Polk and commander of a corps of Bragg’s army encamped around Murfreesboro, performed the ceremony. Mattie, although raised in the Presbyterian Church, had become an Episcopalian just prior to her marriage, as that was the faith of the Morgan family.
Generals Bragg, Hardee, Cheatham and Breckinridge, including the headquarters staff, were all in attendance. President Jefferson Davis, in Murfreesboro the day before the wedding when he had promoted Morgan to brigadier general, was not.
In an Aug. 31, 1912 issue, General Basil Duke of Louisville recalled to a News-Banner reporter his memories of that great celebration. “...All the officers of high rank who could reach Murfreesboro had assembled for the wedding -- General Bragg among them. Distinguished civilians were present in great numbers. The house was packed with people to its full capacity ... and decorated with holly and winter berries--the lights from lamps and candles flashed on the uniforms and the trappings of the officers, and were reflected in the bright eyes of the pretty Tennessee girls who had gathered. ... The raven-haired, black-mustached Morgan, in his general’s uniform, looking like a hero of chivalry, the bride, a girl of rare beauty, tall, dark-haired, and blue eyes, with a creamy complexion and perfect features, and standing before them, to perform the ceremony, in his full military uniform, Bishop Polk, himself a general of the Confederate Army, and Bishop of the Episcopal Church. ...Miss Ready’s bridal dress was one of her best ante-bellum frocks, for it was not possible at that time to purchase material for a trousseau. ... General Duke was certain that the bride could not have worn anything more becoming. He remembers that she wore a bridal veil. ... General Morgan’s attendants were as dashing a set of young soldiers as any bride could wish at her wedding. Two or three regimental bands had been provided for the occasion.
They were stationed in the house and on the porch, and there was plenty of music. Outside in the streets thousands of soldiers were assembled, who by the lighted bonfires, celebrated the wedding proper style, cheering Morgan and his bride. After the wedding there was a great supper served in the Ready mansion where the wedding party and invited guests feasted ... turkeys, hams, chickens, ducks, game, and all the delicacies and good dishes a Southern kitchen could produce were on the board, while Colonel Ready’s cellar still had a sufficient stock of wine to provide for the many toasts proposed to the happy couple.
After the wedding supper, the bands were called in and the gallant soldiers and Tennessee belles danced to their heart’s content. Family legend holds that the general and his bride spent their first night of married life together at “The Corners,” which was the home of Mattie’s grandparents, Charles Ready, Sr., in Readyville. The next evening, Monday, Dec. 15, 1862, the day after their wedding, a grand ball was held at the Court House in honor of John and Mattie. The ball was sponsored by the First Louisiana and the Sixth Kentucky regiments. Candles illuminated the large hallways of the three-year-old Courthouse and behind each candle a bayonet reflected the light on the festive scene. A pyramidal chandelier of bayonets and candles hung from the ceiling and trees of greenery and jars of flowers decorated the dance hall.
Unfortunately, the good times would not last for long.