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John Hunt Morgan Show Brings the Civil War to Life at Falcon Rest

The Civil War comes to life in a new interactive show at the Falcon Rest mansion in McMinnville, Tenn. Known as "the Victorian mansion where history is fun," Falcon Rest has become well known for its interactive, history-based shows that make stars of the people in the audience. "The Honeymoon Ball of General John Hunt Morgan" follows that tradition.

Based on actual events in McMinnville in the spring of 1863, the show combines a ball welcoming the Confederate general and his new bride to town, given by local poetess Lucy Virginia French, with the invasion of Union troops attempting to capture them.
A dashing Confederate cavalry officer from Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan was famous on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line for lightning raids against Union supplies and forces that earned him the nicknames "Thunderbolt of the Confederacy" and "Swamp Fox of the South." In mid-1863, he began a raid that would take his troops into Indiana and Ohio, farther north than any other Confederate force would advance during the Civil War.

His happiest days during the war were probably spent in downtown McMinnville. In December 1862, Jefferson Davis promoted Morgan to Brigadier General in Murfreesboro. The next day the 37-year-old cavalryman married 21-year-old Mattie Ready of that city. When Federal troops took over Murfreesboro a few weeks after the wedding, Morgan and his young bride took up residence at the downtown McMinnville home of her relative, Dr. J.B. Armstrong.

During an idyllic three months of relative calm, the couple enjoyed riding in Warren County's mountains and visiting with the locals, most notably famous poetess Lucy Virginia French and her husband John. Virginia even threw a ball that winter to welcome the Morgans to town.

The honeymoon ended in mid-April 1863 when Union troops invaded McMinnville to capture the elusive Morgan. He and Mattie managed to escape, but the town remained under Union control throughout the rest of the war. Thereafter, Morgan's Raiders started their sweep through Union territory, possibly conceived during his stay in McMinnville. It was designed to divert Federal troops in Tennessee, enlist recruits in Kentucky, and take the war to the North in an effort to erode the citizens' will to continue. In 24 days, Morgan passed through 52 towns in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, captured nearly 6,000 prisoners, and damaged 10 million dollars worth of public property before being captured.

"We normally think of the Civil War in terms of major battles, but the real story is the people and the way it affected their lives," said George McGlothin, the creative director and lead actor at Falcon Rest.

"I've known about Morgan's honeymoon in McMinnville and about Virginia French's fame as an authoress for a long time," McGlothin said. "However, it wasn't until I began researching this show that I realized how significant McMinnville was in the war and how many first-person accounts of that period are available to reconstruct it. People will be amazed how much Civil War history there is here."
A primary resource was Virginia French's diary. An amazing record by of daily life in rural Tennessee from 1861-1865, it tells of her encounters with generals from both the Union and Confederate armies. Morgan's viewpoint was provided by the memoirs of Basil Duke, his brother-in-law and second in command. The autobiography of Col. John H. Savage, who led McMinnville's Confederate regiment during the Battle of Stones River, told the story from a local soldier's point of view.

Falcon Rest's staff play Morgan and French, while audience members take on a rich cast of characters drawn from actual people living in McMinnville or soldiers who were involved with Morgan at the time. Among the guests will be a young Clay Faulkner, who would later build the Falcon Rest mansion.

"As is true with our other interactive shows, we give everyone information about their characters but no lines to remember. There's no pressure to participate, so folks are free to interact as much or as little as they like in character," said McGlothin. "Audience members with two left feet don't have to worry, either. The setting is the ball described in Virginia's diary, but this is a show -- not a dance -- and no one will be called on to waltz."

Costumes for the audience are entirely optional as well. "Casual dress is fine," McGlothin added, "as long as people come dressed with the right accessories: a sense of humor and a good imagination." Even in the midst of a war, the Morgans' days in McMinnville were happy ones, so the show weaves humor in with history. A delicious meal, inspired by Virginia French's description of the menu for the ball, is included.

A tour of the Falcon Rest mansion and shopping in the Victorian Gift Shop complete the adventure.

Performances of "The Honeymoon Ball," as well as Falcon Rest's "Vaudeville-style History Show," "Murder at the Mansion," and "Ghost at the Mansion" may be scheduled any time at lunch or dinner for groups. For more information, visit online at or call 931-668-4444.

McMinnville is in the center of the Nashville/Chattanooga/Knoxville triangle.


For additional information contact
Charlien McGlothin, General Manager
Falcon Rest Mansion


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2645 Faulkner Springs Rd. | McMinnville, TN 37110 | 931-668-4444 |