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[584] at Stevenson. From its proximity to the enemy's lines of investment around Chattanooga, and his facilities for detaching heavily from his masses, it was apprehended that the enemy would make unusual efforts to prevent the transfer of its possession, as a failure on our part to establish new communications involved a fact of no less magnitude than the necessity for the early evacuation of Chattanooga, with the abandonment of much of our artillery and trains.

To return to the column: it pushed on down the valley until arrested by an irregular fire of musketry, proceeding from the hill next the railroad, as it passes through the central ridge before described. As it was densely covered with forest, we had no means of ascertaining the number of the enemy, except by feeling. Howard's corps being in the advance, he was directed to throw a brigade to the right to turn the position, and a regiment, supported by the balance of another brigade, to the left, for the same purpose. No sooner had the brigade on the right deployed, than the enemy took to his legs and fled across the creek, burning the railroad bridge in his flight.

We lost a few men here, as well as from the shelling we received from the batteries on Lookout Mountain, whenever our column was exposed to them. The central ridge of hills afforded partial cover from these batteries. These, however, caused no serious interruption in the movement of the column, which, about six o'clock P. M., halted for the night, and went into camp a mile or more up the valley from Brown's Ferry. Here we learned that a pontoon-bridge had been thrown across the river, and that General Hargen's brigade held the heights on the south side of it.

Geary's division being in the rear, and being anxious to hold both roads leading to Kelly's Ferry, he was directed to encamp near Wauhatchie, three miles from the position held by Howard's corps. Pickets were thrown out from both camps on all of the approaches, though no attempt was made to establish a communication between them. The commands were too small to keep up a substantial communication that distance, and I deemed it more prudent to hold the men well in hand than to have a feeble one. In my judgment, it was essential to retain possession of both approaches to Kelly's Ferry if practicable, as it would cause us inconvenience to dispossess the enemy if he established himself on either.

Before night, Howard threw out three companies in the direction of Kelly's Ferry, to intercept and capture, if possible, the enemy's sharpshooters, who had been engaged in firing across the river into our trains, and had, in fact, compelled them to avoid that line entirely. A regiment was also sent toward the point where the Chattanooga road crosses Lookout Creek, and about twelve o'clock had a little skirmishing with the enemy. An hour after, the muttering of heavy musketry fell upon our ears, from the direction of Geary. He was fiercely attacked, first his pickets, and soon after his main force; but not before he was in line of battle to receive it. Howard was directed to double-quick his nearest division (Schurz's) to his relief, and before proceeding far, a sheet of musketry was thrown on him from the central hills, but at long range, and inflicting no great injury. This was the first intimation that the enemy was there at all.

Directions were immediately given for one of the brigades en route to Geary (Tyndale's) to be detached, and assault the enemy in the hills on the left, and the other brigade to push on as ordered. Meanwhile, Howard's First division, under Steinwehr, came up, when it was discovered that the hill to the rear of Schurz's division was also occupied by the enemy in force, and Smith's brigade of this division was ordered to carry it with the bayonet. This skeleton but brave brigade charged up the mountain, almost inaccessible by daylight, under a heavy fire without returning it, and drove three times their number from behind the hastily thrown up intrenchments, capturing prisoners, and scattering the enemy in all directions. No troops ever rendered more brilliant service. The name of their valiant commander is Colonel Orlan Smith, of the Seventy-third Ohio volunteers. Tyndale, encountering less resistance, had also made himself master of the enemy's position in his front.

During these operations, a heavy musketry fire, with occasional discharges of artillery, continued to reach us from Geary. It was evident that a formidable adversary had gathered around him, and that he was battering him with all his might. For almost three hours, without assistance, he repelled the repeated attacks of vastly superior numbers, and in the end drove them ingloriously from the field. At one time they had enveloped him on three sides, under circumstances that would have dismayed any officer except one endowed with an iron will and the most exalted courage: Such is the character of General Geary.

With this ended the fight. We had repelled every attack, carried every point assaulted, thrown the enemy headlong over the river, and, more than all, secured our new communications for the time being, peradventure.

These several conflicts were attended with unusual interest and satisfaction, from the violence of the attack, the great alacrity displayed by the officers and men in springing to their arms on the first indication of the presence of the enemy, and the glorious manner in which they closed in on him for the struggle.

I regret that my duty constrains me to except any portion of my command in my commendation of their courage and valor. The brigade despatched to the relief of Geary by orders delivered in person to its division commander never reached him until long after the fight had ended. It is alleged that it lost its way, when it had a terrific infantry fire to guide it all the way, and also that it became involved in a swamp where there was no swamp or other obstacle between it and Geary, which should have delayed it a moment in marching to the relief of its imperilled companions.

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Geary (7)
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