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Chapter 33: the East Tennessee campaign.

About the 1st of November it was rumored about camp that I was to be ordered into East Tennessee against General Burnside's army. At the moment it seemed impossible that our commander, after rejecting a proposition for a similar move made just after his battle, when flushed with victory and the enemy discomfited, could now think of sending an important detachment so far, when he knew that, in addition to the reinforcements that had joined the Union army, another strong column was marching from Memphis under General Sherman, and must reach Chattanooga in fifteen or twenty days. But on second thoughts it occurred to me that it might, after all, be in keeping with his peculiarities, and then it occurred to me that there are many ways to compass a measure when the spirit leads. So I set to work to try to help his plans in case the report proved true.

After a little reflection it seemed feasible that by withdrawing his army from its lines about Chattanooga to strong concentration behind the Chickamauga River, and recalling his detachment in East Tennessee (the latter to give the impression of a westward move), and at the moment of concentration sending a strong force for swift march against General Burnside.-strong enough to crush [481] him,--and returning to Chattanooga before the army under General Sherman could reach there (or, if he thought better, let the detachment strike into Kentucky against the enemy's communications), something worth while could be effected.

Presently I was called, with Lieutenant-General Hardee and Major-General Breckenridge, the other corps commanders, to learn his plans and receive his orders. He announced his purpose in general terms to send me into East Tennessee, then paused as if inviting the opinions of others, when I stated that the move could be made, but it would be hazardous to make a detachment strong enough for rapid work while his army was spread along a semicircle of six miles, with the enemy concentrated at the centre, whence he could move in two or three threatening columns, to hold his line to its extension, and give his real attack such power that it must break through by its weight. Then I suggested the operations herein just mentioned.

He ordered the move to be made by my two divisions, Alexander's and Leydon's artillery, and Wheeler's cavalry and horse artillery. We had the promise of a force, estimated from three to five thousand, that was to come from Southwest Virginia and meet us, but that command was to start from a point two hundred miles from our starting, march south as we marched north, and meet us at Knoxville. General Bragg estimated General Burnside's force south of Knoxville at fifteen thousand. I repeated the warning that the move as ordered was not such as to give assurances of rapid work, saying that my march and campaign against the enemy's well-guarded positions must be made with care, and that would consume so much time that General Grant's army would be up, when he would organize attack that must break through the line before I could return to him. His sardonic smile seemed to say that I knew little of his army or of himself [482] in assuming such a possibility. So confident was he of his position that I ventured to ask that my column should be increased to twenty thousand infantry and artillery, but he intimated that further talk was out of order.

General Grant had in the mean time joined the army and assumed command on the 22d of October, and it was known that General Sherman was marching to join him.

On the 20th of October General Burnside reported by letter 1 to General Grant an army of twenty-two thousand three hundred men, with ninety-odd guns, but his returns for November show a force of twenty-five thousand two hundred and ninety and over one hundred guns. Eight thousand of his men were on service north of Knoxville and about Cumberland Gap.

To march, and capture or disperse this formidable force, fortified at points, I had McLaws's and Hood's divisions of infantry, Colonel Alexander's and Major Leydon's artillery, and four brigades of General Wheeler's cavalry. Kershaw's, Humphreys's, Wofford's, and Bryan's brigades constituted McLaws's division. Hood's division, which was commanded during the campaign by Brigadier-General M. Jenkins, was made up of Jenkins's, Anderson's, Benning's, Law's, and Robertson's brigades. General Wheeler's cavalry was organized into two divisions of two brigades each,--General John T. Morgan's Alabama and Colonel Cruse's Georgia brigades, under Major-General W. T. Martin; Colonels G. G. Dibbrell's Tennessee and Thomas Harrison's Texas brigades, under Brigadier-General Frank Armstrong. This made about fifteen thousand men, after deducting camp guards and foraging parties. The remote contingent that was to come from Southwest Virginia was an unknown quantity, not to be considered until it could report for service.

As soon as the conference at Headquarters adjourned [483] orders were issued for Alexander's artillery to be withdrawn from Lookout Mountain, and General McLaws was ordered to withdraw his division from the general line after night. Both commands were ordered to Tyner's Station to take the cars for Sweetwater on the 4th.

Control of the trains was under General Bragg's quartermaster, who had orders for the cars to be ready to transport the troops on their arrival, but the trains were not ready until the 5th. The brigades arrived at Sweetwater on the 6th, 7th, and 8th. Alexander's batteries were shipped as soon as cars were ready. To expedite matters, his horses and wagons were ordered forward by the dirt road; the batteries found cars, the last battery getting to Sweetwater on the 10th. Jenkins's division and Leydon's batteries were drawn from the lines on the 5th and ordered to meet the cars at the tunnel through Missionary Ridge. They reached the station in due season, but the cars were not there. After waiting some days, the battery horses and horses of mounted officers were ordered by the wagon road. Tired of the wait, I advised the troops to march along the road and find the cars where they might have the good fortune to meet them, the officers, whose horses had been sent forward, marching with the soldiers.

General Bragg heard of the delay and its cause, but began to urge the importance of more rapid movements. His effort to make his paper record at my expense was not pleasing, but I tried to endure it with patience. He knew that trains and conductors were under his exclusive control, but he wanted papers that would throw the responsibility of delay upon other shoulders.

On the 8th and 9th the infantry marched as far as Cleveland, about thirty miles, where the train-masters gave notice that the trains could meet them, but it was not until the 12th that the last of the brigades reached Sweetwater. [484]

While waiting for transportation, I wrote some of my friends to excuse my failure to stop and say good-by. The letter written to General Buckner was returned to me some months after, endorsed by him as having important bearing upon events as they transpired,--viz.:

Wednesday, November 5, 1863.
My Dear General,--
I start to-day for Tyner's Station, and expect to get transportation to-morrow for Sweetwater. The weather is so bad, and I find myself so much occupied, that I shall not be able to see you to say good-by.

When I heard the report around camp that I was to go into East Tennessee, I set to work at once to try and plan the means for making the move with security and the hope of great results. As every other move had been proposed to the general and rejected or put off until time had made them inconvenient, I came to the conclusion, as soon as the report reached me, that it was to be the fate of our army to wait until all good opportunities had passed, and then, in desperation, seize upon the least favorable movement.

As no one had proposed this East Tennessee campaign to the general, I thought it possible that we might accomplish something by encouraging his own move, and proposed the following plan,--viz. : to withdraw from our present lines and our forces in East Tennessee (the latter to be done in order to give the impression to the enemy that we were retiring from East Tennessee and concentrating near him for battle or for some other movement) and place our army in a strong concentrated position behind Chickamauga River. The moment the army was together, to make a detachment of twenty thousand to move rapidly against Burnside and destroy him; and by continued rapid movements to threaten the enemy's rear and his communications to the extent that might be necessary to draw him out from his present position. This, at best, is but a tedious process, but I thought it gave promise of some results, and was, therefore, better than being here destroying ourselves. The move, as I proposed it, would have left this army in a strong position and safe, and would have made sure the capture of Burnside,--that is, the army could spare twenty thousand, if it were in the position that I proposed, better than it can spare twelve, occupying the lines that it now does. Twenty thousand men, well handled, could surely have captured Burnside and his forces. Under [485] present arrangements, however, the lines are to be held as they now are and the detachment is to be of twelve thousand. We thus expose both to failure, and really take no chance to ourselves of great results. The only notice my plan received was a remark that General Hardee was pleased to make, “I don't think that that is a bad idea of Longstreet's.” I undertook to explain the danger of having such a long line under fire of the enemy's batteries, and he concentrated, as it were, right in our midst, and within twenty minutes march of any portion of our line. But I was assured that he would not disturb us. I repeated my ideas, but they did not even receive notice. It was not till I had repeated them, however, that General Hardee noticed me. Have you any maps that you can give or lend me? I shall need everything of the kind. Do you know any reliable people, living near and east of Knoxville, from whom I might get information of the condition, strength, etc., of the enemy . I have written in such hurry and confusion of packing and striking camp (in the rain and on the head of an empty flour barrel) that I doubt if I have made myself understood. I remain

Sincerely your friend, J. Longstreet, Lieutenant-General. To Major-General S. B. Buckner, Commanding Division.

Three months thereafter General Buckner returned the letter with the following:


Morristown, Tenn., February 1, 1864.
It seems to me, after reading this letter again, that its predictions are so full a vindication of your judgment of the movements then ordered, that it should remain in your possession, with a view that at some future day it may serve to “vindicate the truth of history.” I place it at your disposal with that view.

Truly your friend, S. B. Buckner, Major-General. To Lieutenant-General J. Longstreet.

I asked at general Headquarters for maps and information of the country through which I was to operate, for a [486] quartermaster and commissary of subsistence who knew of the resources of the country, and for an engineer officer who had served with General Buckner when in command of that department. Neither of the staff-officers was sent, nor a map, except one of the topographical outlines of the country between the Hiawassee and Tennessee Rivers, which was much in rear of the field of our proposed operations. General Buckner was good enough to send me a plot of the roads and streams between Loudon and Knoxville.

We were again disappointed at Sweetwater. We were started from Chattanooga on short rations, but comforted by the assurance that produce was abundant at that point, and so it proved to be; but General Stevenson, commanding the outpost, reported his orders from the commanding general were to ship all of his supplies to his army, and to retire with his own command and join him upon our arrival. In this connection it should be borne in mind that we were recently from Virginia,--coming at the heated season,--where we left most of our clothing and blankets and all of our wagon transportation; and by this time, too, it was understood through the command that the Richmond authorities were holding thunder-clouds over the head of the commander, and that General Bragg was disposed to make them more portentous by his pressing calls for urgency.

Thus we found ourselves in a strange country, not as much as a day's rations on hand, with hardly enough land transportation for ordinary camp equipage, the enemy in front to be captured, and our friends in rear putting in their paper bullets. This sounds more like romance than war, but I appeal to the records for the facts, including reports of my chiefs of quartermaster and subsistence departments and General Alexander's account of the condition of some of the battery horses and ammunition.

Our foraging parties were lively, and we lost but a day [487] and part of another in gathering in rations for a start. Anticipating proper land transportation, plans were laid for march across the Little Tennessee above its confluence with the greater river, through Marysville to the heights above Knoxville on the east bank, by forced march. This would have brought the city close under fire of our field batteries and forced the enemy into open grounds. A guide had been secured who claimed to be familiar with the country, and was useful in laying our plans. But when our pontoon bridge came up it was without a train for hauling. So our plan must be changed.

Fortunately, we found a point in a bend of the river near the railroad at which we could force a crossing. At dark the cars were rolled up to that point by hand, and we learned that the Little Tennessee River above us was fordable for cavalry. General Wheeler had been ordered to have vedettes along the river from Loudon to some distance below Kingston, where a considerable body of Union troops occupied the north bank. He was ordered with his other troops to prepare for orders to cross the Little Tennessee at its fords, ride to Marysville, capture the enemy's cavalry outpost at that point, ride up the east side of the river to Knoxville, and seize the heights overlooking the city; or, finding that not feasible, to endeavor to so threaten as to hold the enemy's forces there to their works, while we marched against the troops of the west side; but when he found his service on that side ceased to be effective or co-operative with our movements, to cross the river and join the main column.

As just now explained, the failure of wagons for our pontoon bridge forced us to cross at Loudon, and to make direct march upon Knoxville by that route.

Weary of the continual calls of General Bragg for hurried movements, it seemed well to make cause for him to assign another commander or to move him to discontinue his work at a paper record; so I wired to remind him that [488] he assured me before sending me away that he was safe in his position, and that he was told before my leaving that the command was not strong enough to excuse any but a careful, proper campaign; that he had since been informed that all delays of our movements were due to his inefficient staff corps, and that we were dependent upon foraging for our daily rations for men and animals. It began to look more like a campaign against Longstreet than against Burnside.

As General Burnside's orders were to hold Knoxville, he decided to act on the defensive. Leaving the troops in the northern district of his department in observation of that field, he withdrew his division on the south side of Tennessee River as we marched for Loudon, took up his pontoon bridge, and broke up the railroad bridge.

Orders were issued on the 12th for the general move of my cavalry by Marysville, the infantry and artillery along the railroad route. Pains were taken to have the bridge equipments carried by hand to the river, and skirmishing parties put in the boats and drifted to the opposite bank. The troops in rear were marched during the night to the vicinity of Loudon and held in readiness in case the enemy came to oppose our crossing. The bridge was laid under the supervision of General Alexander and Major Clark, our chief engineer, at Huff's Ferry, without serious resistance.

A few miles east of London the Holston 2 and Little Tennessee Rivers come together, making the Tennessee River, which flows from the confluence west to Kingston, where it resumes its general flow southwest. The Holston rises in the mountains north and flows south to the junction. The Little Tennessee rises in the mountains east and flows west to the junction. The railroad crosses the main river at Loudon, thirty miles from Knoxville, and runs about [489] parallel to the Holston River, and near its west bank. West of the railroad and parallel is a broken spur of the Clinch Mountain range, with occasional gaps or passes for vehicles, and some other blind wagon-roads and cattle-trails. West of this spur, and near its base, is the main wagon-road to Knoxville, as far as Campbell Station, about seventeen miles, where it joins the Kingston road, passes a gap, and unites with the wagon-road that runs with the railroad east of the mountain spur at Campbell Station. South of this gap, about eleven miles, is another pass at Lenoir's Mill, and three miles south of that another pass, not used.

A detail of sharp-shooters under Captain Foster, of Jenkins's brigade, manned the first boats and made a successful lodging, after an exchange of a few shots with the enemy's picket-guard on the north bank. They intended to surprise and capture the picket and thus secure quick and quiet passage, but in that they were not successful. The north bank was secured, however, without loss, and troops were passed rapidly over to hold it, putting out a good skirmish line in advance of the bridge-head. As we advanced towards Loudon, the part of General White's Union division that had been on the opposite bank of the river was withdrawn to Lenoir's Station.

During the 13th and 14th the command was engaged in making substantial fastenings for the bridge and constructing its defences. General Vaughn's regiments and a battery of Major Leydon's (with broken-down horses) were assigned to guard the bridge.

On the afternoon of the 14th the enemy appeared on our front in strong force, drove our skirmish line back, and seemed prepared to give battle. As we were then waiting the return of our foraging wagons, we could only prepare to receive him. Some of the provisions looked for came in during the night, and we advanced on the 15th, finding that the enemy had retired. The force that [490] came back to meet us on the 15th was part of White's division (Chapin's brigade) sent by General Burnside, and General Potter, commanding the Ninth Corps, sent General Ferrero with his division. The move was intended probably to delay our march. It was Chapin's brigade that made the advance against our skirmishers, and it probably suffered some in the affair. We lost not a single man.

General Wheeler crossed the Little Tennessee River at Motley's Ford at nightfall on the 13th, and marched to cut off the force at Marysville. He came upon the command, only one regiment, the Eleventh Kentucky Cavalry, that was advised in time to prepare for him. He attacked as soon as they came under fire, dispersed them into small parties that made good their escape, except one hundred and fifty taken by Dibbrell's brigade. Colonel Wolford brought up the balance of his brigade and made strong efforts to support his broken regiment, but was eventually forced back, and was followed by the Eighth and Eleventh Texas and Third Arkansas Cavalry and General John T. Morgan's brigade. The next day he encountered Sanders's division of cavalry and a battery, and, after a clean cavalry engagement of skilful manoeuvres on both sides, succeeded in reaching the vicinity of the city of Knoxville, but found it too well guarded to admit of any very advantageous work.

On the 15th our advance was cautiously made by Hood's division and Alexander's artillery leading; McLaws's division and Leydon's artillery following. All along the route of the railroad the valley between the mountain and the river is so narrow and rough that a few thousand men can find many points at which they can make successful stands against great odds. Our course was taken to turn all of those points by marching up the road on the west side of the mountain. A few miles out from our bridge we encountered a skirmishing party near the lower gap of the mountain, which, when pressed back, passed [491] through the gap. General Jenkins continued his march — leaving a guard at the gap till it could be relieved by General McLaws--to Lenoir's Station.

The enemy was looking for us to follow through the lower gaps and attack his strong front, and was a little surprised to find us close on his right flank. He was well guarded there, however, against precipitate battle by the mountain range and narrow pass and the heavy, muddy roads through which our men and animals had to pull. Arrangements were made for a good day's work from early morning.

Our guide promised to lead part of our men through a blind route during the night by which we could cut off the enemy's retreat, so that they would be securely hemmed in. Generals Jenkins and McLaws came up during the night. The former was ordered to advance part of his command to eligible points at midnight and hold them ready for use at daylight. The guide was sent with a brigade to the point which was to intercept the enemy's retreat. McLaws was held on the road, ready for use east or west of the ridge. Jenkins was ordered to have parties out during the night to watch that the enemy did not move, and report. As no report came from them, all things were thought to be properly adjusted, when we advanced before daylight. In feeling our way through the weird gray of the morning, stumps seen on the roadside were taken to be sharp-shooters, but we were surprised that no one shot at us, when, behold! before it was yet quite light, we came upon a park of eighty wagons, well loaded with food, camp equipage, and ammunition, with the ground well strewn with spades, picks, and axes.3 The [492] animals had been taken from the wagons to double their teams through the mud. General Potter had sent the division under General Hartranft back to the Campbell Station Pass to occupy the junction of his line of retreat with the Kingston road and the road upon which we were marching, and was well on the march with the balance of the Ninth Corps, Ferrero's division and his cavalry, before we knew that there was an opening by which he could escape.

Our guide, who promised to post the brigade so as to command the road in rear of the enemy, so far missed his route as to lead the brigade out of hearing of the enemy's march during the night.

Hart's cavalry brigade that was left in observation near Kingston had been called up, and with McLaws's division advanced on the roads to Campbell Station, while General Jenkins followed the direct line of retreat on double time, and right royally did his skirmishers move. He brought the rear to an occasional stand, but only leaving enough to require him to form line for advance, when the enemy again sped away on their rearward march at double time. General Jenkins made the march before noon, but the enemy had passed the gap and the junction of the roads, and was well posted in battle array in rear of them. General McLaws was not up. He was not ordered on double time, as it was thought to first bring the enemy to bay on the east road, when some of his infantry could be called over the mountain on the enemy's flank. General Ferrero, who covered the retreat, reported that it was necessary to attach from sixteen to twenty animals to a piece to make the haul through the mud.

The retreat was very cleverly conducted, and was in time to cover the roads into Campbell's Station, forming into line of battle to meet us. Jenkins's division, being in advance, was deployed on the right with Alexander's [493] battalion. As soon as the line was organized the batteries opened practice in deliberate, well-timed combat, but General Alexander had the sympathy of his audience. His shells often exploded before they reached the game, and at times as they passed from the muzzles of his guns, and no remedy could be applied that improved their fire.

As General McLaws came up his division was put upon our left with the other batteries, and Hart's brigade of cavalry was assigned in that part to observe the enemy's, farther off. It was not yet past meridian. We had ample time to make a battle with confident hope of success, by direct advance and the pressing in on the enemy's right by McLaws's left, but our severe travel and labor after leaving Virginia were not to find an opportunity to make a simply successful battle. As the rear of the enemy was open and could be covered, success would have been a simple victory, and the enemy could have escaped to his trenches at Knoxville, leaving us crippled and delayed; whereas as he stood he was ours. How we failed to make good our claim we shall presently see.

McLaws was ordered to use one of his brigades well out on his left as a diversion threatening the enemy's right, and to use Hart's cavalry for the same purpose, while General Jenkins was ordered to send two of his brigades through a well-covered way off our right to march out well past the enemy's left and strike down against that flank and rear. General Law, being his officer next in rank, was ordered in charge of his own and Anderson's brigades. General Jenkins rode with the command, and put it in such position that the left of this line would strike the left of the enemy's, thus throwing the weight of the two brigades past the enemy's rear. I rode near the brigades, to see that there could be no mismove or misconception of orders. After adjusting the line of the brigades, and giving their march the points of direction, General Jenkins rode to his brigades on the [494] front to handle them in direct attack. I remained near the front of the flanking brigades for complete assurance of the adjustment of their march, and waited until they were so near that it was necessary to ride at speed, close under the enemy's line, to reach our main front, to time its advance with the flanking move. The ride was made alone, as less likely to draw the enemy's fire, the staff riding around.

As I approached the front, the men sprang forward without orders to open the charge, but were called to await the appearance of the flanking move of our right. But General Law had so changed direction as to bring his entire force in front instead of in the rear of the enemy's left. This gave him opportunity to change position to strong ground in rear, which made other movements necessary in view of the objective of the battle. There was yet time for successful battle, but it would have been a fruitless victory. Before other combinations suited to our purpose could be made it was night, and the enemy was away on his march to the fortified grounds about Knoxville.

The demonstration of our left under General McLaws was successful in drawing the enemy's attention, and in causing him to change front of part of his command to meet the threatening.

In his official account General Jenkins reported,--

In a few minutes, greatly to my surprise, I received a message from General Law that in advancing his brigades he had obliqued so much to the left as to have gotten out of its line of attack. This careless and inexcusable movement lost us the few moments in which success from this point could be attained.4

Apropos of this the following memorandum of a staff-officer is interesting and informative: [495]

I know at the time it was currently reported that General Law said he might have made the attack successfully, but that Jenkins would have reaped the credit of it, and hence he delayed until the enemy got out of the way.

This has been called a battle, by the other side, but it was only an artillery combat, little, very little, musket ammunition being burnt. The next day the enemy was safely behind his works about Knoxville, except his cavalry under General Sanders and his horse artillery left to delay our march. McLaws's division reached the suburbs of the city a little after noon, and was deployed from near the mouth of Third Creek as his right, the enemy holding a line of dismounted cavalry skirmishers about a thousand yards in advance of his line of works. Alexander's artillery was disposed near McLaws's deployment. Jenkins got up before night and was ordered to deploy on McLaws's left as far as the Tazewell road, preceded by Hart's cavalry, which was to extend the line north to the Holston River. General Wheeler came up later and was assigned to line with Colonel Hart.

The city stands on the right bank of the Holston River, on a plateau about one and a half miles in width and extending some miles down south. At Knoxville the plateau is one hundred and twenty feet above the river, and there are little streams called First, Second, and Third Creeks, from the upper to the lower suburbs of the city,--First Creek between the city and East Knoxville, or Temperance Hill; Second Creek between the city and College Hill; Third Creek below and outside the enemy's lines of defence. The plateau slopes down to the valley through which the railway passes, and west of the valley it rises to the usual elevation. The Confederates were posted on the second plateau, with their batteries of position. The line of the enemy's works, starting at its lower point on the west bank of the river, was just above the mouth of Second [496] Creek, lying at right angles to the river. It ran to a fort constructed by the Confederates, when occupied by them years before, called Fort Loudon, above the Kingston road, and about a thousand yards in front of the college. East from that point it was about parallel with the river, reaching to Temperance Hill, to Mabry's Hill, and to the Holston, below the glass-works. An interior line extended from Temperance Hill to Flint Hill on the east, and another on the west, between the outer line and Second Creek. Dams were built across First and Second Creeks, flooding and forming formidable wet ditches over extensive parts of the line. Abatis, chevaux-de-frise, and wire entanglements were placed where thought to be advantageous for the defenders.

The heights on the northeast across the river are much more elevated than the plateaux of the city side, and command all points of the west bank. These were defended at some points by earthworks well manned. From the lower point of the enemy's line the Confederates extended to his right at the river, conforming to his defensive lines. The part of our line occupied by the cavalry was a mere watch-guard.

Our move was hurried, and our transportation so limited that we had only a few tools in the hands of small pioneer parties, and our wagons were so engaged in collecting daily rations that we found it necessary to send our cavalry down to Lenoir's for the tools captured there for use in making rifle-pits for our sharp-shooters.

When General Burnside rode to the front to meet us at Lenoir's he left General Parke in command at Knoxville, and he and Captain Poe, of the engineers, gave attention to his partially-constructed works.

Upon laying our lines about Knoxville, the enemy's forces in the northeast of his department were withdrawn towards Cumberland Gap, but we had no information of the troops ordered to meet us from Southwest Virginia.

1 Rebellion Record, vol. XXXI. part i. p. 680.

2 Since those days the name of Holston has been changed to the Tennessee.

3 Writing of these operations since the war, General E. M. Law, in an article in the Philadelphia Weekly Press of July 18, 1888, said,--

During the night the sounds of retreat continued, and when daylight came the valley about Lenoir presented the scene of an encampment deserted with ignominious haste.

But he did not take the trouble to report the retreat until nearly twenty-five years after the war. Had he done so at the proper time the work at Campbell's Station would have been in better season.

4 Rebellion Record, vol. XXXI. part i. p. 526.

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