Between the two great Confederate armies in Virginia
lay a long stretch of country, principally covered by the Alleghany
and Cumberland mountains
The only means of direct communication and transportation between these armies was the East Tennessee
, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad.
Near this road were the great King
's salt-works, in Smyth County
, and the lead mines of Wythe County, Virginia
, and along this route lay many very fertile valleys and rich uplands, which furnished the Confederate armies a large part of their provisions.
For these and other reasons the defense of this line was a matter of the first importance to the Confederate Government, and its control of equal importance to the Federal
As the mountainous nature of the country rendered its occupation by a large army impracticable, numerous invasions by smaller forces, principally of cavalry, were made in order to destroy the salt-works and the railroad communications.
The very extent of the frontier and its broken surface made it difficult of defense, and rendered necessary a larger force of occupation than was generally available.
's campaign early in 1862 against General Humphrey Marshall
has already been described in this work.
I., p. 393.]
In December, 1862, General Samuel P. Carter
, of Tennessee
, and Colonel T. T. Garrard
, of Kentucky
, crossed the Cumberland Mountains
with a large force of Federal cavalry and made a raid upon the railroad in east Tennessee
, and destroyed the bridges over the Holston
and Watauga rivers
. General Humphrey Marshall
was at that time in command of the Department of Western Virginia
and Eastern Kentucky
His troops were widely scattered over the country in order to obtain subsistence, and before
they could be concentrated the enemy had retreated across the mountains into Kentucky
The raiders were prevented from occupying Bristol
and doing further damage by the timely arrival of General Marshall
's force, which pursued to Jonesville
In May, 1862, a much larger invading force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, numbering several thousand, was led up the Kanawha
and New rivers
, West Virginia
, by General J. D. Cox
This column was met at Princeton, in Mercer County
, and arrested by General Marshall
in an engagement on the 16th of May, which resulted in the repulse and retreat of the invading force, whose killed and wounded were left behind.
II., p. 280.]
On the 3d of September, 1863, Burnside
occupied Knoxville, Tennessee
, with his army corps.1
Nearly all the available Confederate forces had been ordered to reenforce Bragg
A small force under Brigadier-General Alfred E. Jackson
occupied the upper portion of east Tennessee
had been transferred to the
Western army, and Colonel Henry L. Giltner
, of the 4th Kentucky Cavalry, with a handful of troops, occupied the Department of South
On the 7th of September about five hundred of Burnside
's infantry advanced as far east as Telford's Depot, in Washington County
On the 8th they were attacked by about an equal force, under General Jackson
and Colonel Giltner
After a short engagement the Federals
retreated to Limestone Depot, where, after a stubborn resistance, 350 surrendered, about 100 escaped, and 60 were killed and wounded.
The Federal forces, under Colonel Foster
, advancing again into upper east Tennessee
, were met by Colonel James E. Carter
, of the 1st Tennessee Cavalry, at Blountsville
, where a stubborn fight ensued on the 22d of September.
The Federal batteries shelled the town, and by superior numbers compelled the withdrawal of Colonel Carter
In the latter part of September, 1863, Brigadier-General John S. Williams
assumed command of the Confederate forces in east Tennessee
and advanced as far as Blue Springs
's forces occupied Bull's Gap
, nine miles in front.
was ordered “not to give up an inch of ground until driven from it.”
He had only about seventeen hundred effective men, with two batteries of artillery.
Brigadier-General Alfred E. Jackson
, with about five hundred men, mostly recruits, was at Greenville
There was no other support within nearly one hundred miles. To maintain his ground against a force so largely superior, General Williams
took a strong position on a ridge crossing the road east of Blue Springs
By multiplying camp-fires and beating drums he made an exhibition of force he did not possess.
But this ruse de guerre
did not hold the enemy in check.
On the 10th of October they
advanced in force and attacked General Williams
Every inch of ground was stubbornly disputed, but the greater number of the Federals
compelled the lengthening of the Confederate
lines until they became little more than a skirmish-line.
About 5 P. M. a heavy column of infantry broke the center of Williams
's line, but was arrested by a heavy fire of artillery from the high ridge.
The engagement lasted until dark, with but little change of position.
To avoid capture by a force probably treble his own, General Williams
withdrew during the night and retired toward Virginia
The next morning at daylight he was intercepted at Henderson's Mill by a large force of Federal cavalry, which had passed around him the day before.
By a gallant charge this force was driven from the field, but continued to pursue and attack the Confederates
until they reached the neighborhood of Leesburg
On the 4th of November, 1863, General Williams
, at his own request, was relieved of the command, and the brigade was placed under Colonel Henry L. Giltner
. Major-General Robert Ransom
, who was then in command of the department, ordered Colonel Giltner
to cooperate with Brigadier-General William E. Jones
in an attack upon General Carter
, whose brigade was camped at Big Creek
, near Rogersville, Tennessee
On the night of the 5th of November Colonel Giltner
's brigade crossed the Holston River
at Kings-port and advanced to Big Creek
This brigade numbered 1063 men, besides Lowry
's command, probably, was not so large.
At daylight next morning Colonel Giltner
attacked General Carter
's brigade, consisting of about one thousand men, and captured most of the force with all their camp-equipage, horses, artillery, and transportation.
, who had gone around to the rear of the Federals
, intercepted some two hundred fugitives.
A few escaped across the river.
In May, 1864, a formidable force under General Crook
: advanced up the Kanawha
and New rivers
and reached the railroad at Dublin, in Pulaski County
An inferior force, commanded by General Albert G. Jenkins
, engaged the advancing Federals on the 9th of May at Cloyd's Mountain
, and Jenkins
was mortally wounded and his force defeated.
destroyed the depot at Dublin
and the large bridge over New River
On the 10th of May a large cavalry
force, under General Averell
, made an advance on Wytheville
, but was met at Crockett's Cove by General John H. Morgan
and defeated, leaving forty dead on the field.
In June, 1864, Colonel E. F. Clay
, of the 1st Kentucky Mounted Rifles, in command of a small brigade of Confederate cavalry, was sent into Kentucky
from the Department of South
to secure forage and cover other military movements.
first advanced upon Paintsville
, with a view of capturing some four hundred Federals who were camped there.
Difficulties in the way of his advance delayed his arrival until the enemy had received large reenforeements, which deterred him from making an attack.
Retiring upon Licking River
, he camped in the narrow valley of a little stream known as Puncheon.
Though he had taken every precaution to guard against surprise, an important order had not been executed, and at 2 P. M. the enemy in force surprised his camp, attacking it from the surrounding mountains.
After a desperate resistance he was forced to withdraw, leaving thirty-seven prisoners in the enemy's hands--nine wounded, two of them mortally.
lost his right eye during the engagement.
Late in September, 1864, General Stephen G. Burbridge
, with a force estimated at 5000 men, advanced upon King
's salt-works, through eastern Kentucky
, and up the Big Sandy River
He was met at Liberty Hill, Virginia
, by Colonel H. L. Giltner
, in command of a small brigade of cavalry.
At that time not over 1000 men interposed between General Burbridge
and the salt-works, only about 23 miles distant. But by dint of strategy and stubborn resistance Giltner
detained the Federal
army two days on the road, so that when Burbridge
arrived there about an equal force confronted him, commanded by General John C. Breckinridge
On October 2d Burbridge
attacked the forces at the salt-works.
A battalion of Virginia Reserves (the 13th),
composed of boys and old men, received the first shock of battle at “Governor” Saunders's house, in advance of the main line.
This little company fought desperately and suffered severely before being driven back.
The engagement continued with varying fortunes during the day, and when night came Burbridge
was not in sight at the salt-works.
The next morning he was 20 miles away.
He left Colonel Charles S. Hanson
(wounded) and many other wounded men and prisoners in the hands of the Confederates
and Colonel Giltner
pursued him to the head of the Louisa fork
of the Big Sandy.
The 10th Kentucky Cavalry (Confederate) lost its colonel, Edwin Trimble
, and nearly every officer above lieutenant was either killed or wounded.
It had borne the brunt of battle at the ford of Holston River
In December, 1864, General Stoneman
, with a force of cavalry estimated at four thousand, entered south-west Virginia
through east Tennessee
, and proceeded to take possession of the country.
The department had been drained of most of its troops by increasing demands from the armies east and west, so that Breckinridge
found himself in command of only about 1000 or 1500 men in a department large enough to require an army corps to defend it. This handful was concentrated at the salt-works in hopes of defending a position naturally very strong, even against so large an opposing force.
Stone-man, doubtless aware of this fact, and knowing the defenseless condition of the country, changed the ordinary tactics and devoted himself to capturing the towns and destroying the railroad.
He occupied Bristol
, and passing by the salt-works advanced upon Wytheville
and the lead-mines.
In hopes of arresting his course Breckinridge
moved from the salt-works to Marion
, on the railroad, where he intercepted Stoneman
on Sunday, the 18th of December, and fought an engagement which lasted through the day and resulted in a substantial victory for the Confederates
, who held their position against largely superior numbers.
But during the day Stoneman
sent a force down another road to the salt-works, now without defenders, except a few militia and teamsters, and destroyed as much of the works as possible before Breckinridge
's forces could reach there.
Having accomplished this long-desired object, the Federal
forces withdrew across the mountains.2
The weather was very cold and wet, and all the troops suffered great hardships and privations.
During the engagement at Marion
on the 17th and 18th of December they stood in the rain and mud, without fire, food, or shelter, for over thirty-six hours. Yet they bore it all uncomplainingly and heroically.