previous next

Cavalry operations in the West under Rosecrans and Sherman.

by Thomas speed, Captain, U. S. V.
Until General W. S. Rosecrans took command of the Army of the Cumberland, October 30th, 1862, the Union cavalry in Kentucky and Tennessee had not been organized in a separate command, but its various regiments and brigades were attached to the several infantry divisions. There being no such organization, there was of course no commander of cavalry to direct the movements of the entire body of these troops, but the commander of a cavalry brigade was the ranking colonel present who received orders from the army commander direct, or through subordinate commanders of the infantry. With Rosecrans came an effort toward a better organization. Rosecrans divided his army into three grand divisions known as “The center,” “The right wing,” and “The left wing.” The cavalry was all placed under one commander, General D. S. Stanley, who at once proceeded to get the cavalry in condition for efficient service. He formed it in three brigades. The First was under Colonel R. H. G. Minty, of the 4th Michigan Cavalry; the Second under Colonel Lewis Zahm, of the 3d Ohio Cavalry; the Third he kept under his personal charge, while Colonel John Kennett was made commander of the cavalry division. Such was the organization when Rosecrans began the campaign which resulted in the Battle of Stone's River, December 31st, 1862, to January 2d, 1863.

In the autumn of 1862, while Rosecrans was making his preparations at Nashville, a number of cavalry regiments were being recruited in Kentucky, and that State became a general camp of instruction for new regiments on their way to the front from other States. They were not able, however, to protect the country from the raids of the Confederate cavalry. On the 7th of December, 1862, John H. Morgan attacked the Federals at Hartsville, Tennessee, and captured the garrison. On the 9th General Joseph Wheeler attacked unsuccessfully a Federal brigade under Colonel Stanley Matthews, on the road leading to Murfreesboro‘. A little later in December Morgan moved into Kentucky and destroyed bridges on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. The Federal cavalry was not in condition at this time to operate successfully against these efforts of the Confederates.

In the same month of December, 1862, a bold movement was made by a force of Federal cavalry under General S. P. Carter, composed of three regiments — the 9th Pennsylvania, 2d Michigan, and 8th Ohio. Carter made his way through the mountains into east Tennessee, and destroyed the track and bridges on the railroad leading from Virginia to Knoxville. This successful dash showed that raiding was not to be left wholly to one side.

The cavalry under General Stanley was actively used in the advance upon Murfreesboro‘. While numbering only about four thousand effective men, and consequently not expected to cope with the enemy's infantry, it covered the flanks of Rosecrans's army and also kept well to the front, developing the positions of the enemy, and by bold scouting obtained information of movements. During the fighting at Stone's River, December 31st, the Confederate cavalry made its way to the Federal rear for the purpose of cutting communications and destroying supplies. Much damage might then have occurred had not General Stanley's cavalry met and repulsed the raiders. In the fighting which ensued the 3d Kentucky Cavalry, under Colonel E. H. Murray, particularly distinguished itself, also the 1st Ohio Cavalry, under Colonel Minor Milliken, who was killed. After the battle General Stanley kept his command posted in the country between [414] the opposing armies until active operations began in the spring of 1863. General Rosecrans endeavored unsuccessfully to increase this branch of his army materially. The authorities at Washington do not seem to have appreciated the necessities of the case as fully as himself. Some increase, however, was made, by the coming of new regiments. And while General Stanley was on the alert for all the necessary purposes of the army in position, General Rosecrans organized, in the spring of 1863, for a cavalry raid around the rear of Bragg's army. For this purpose seventeen hundred men were placed under Colonel A. D. Streight, with directions to embark on transports on the Tennessee River at Fort Henry and proceed to Eastport, Mississippi. Colonel Streight reached Eastport and set out thence April 21st. He reached Tuscumbia, Alabama, April 24th, and by May 1st was at Blountsville, Alabama. His objective was Rome, Georgia; but when near Cedar Bluffs, Alabama, twenty-eight miles from Rome, he was attacked and defeated by Forrest. Colonel Streight himself and thirteen hundred men were captured and carried as prisoners to Richmond. While this raid was in progress Colonel J. T. Wilder with a body of 2600 cavalry was destroying the railroads south of Murfreesboro' and capturing a number of prisoners, and other similar movements were being made by Colonels Louis D. Watkins and A. P. Campbell in the direction of Columbia, Tennessee.

At this time, also, another celebrated cavalry raid took place in Mississippi. Colonel B. H. Grierson of the 6th Illinois Cavalry, taking his own regiment, the 7th Illinois, Colonel Edward Prince, and the 2d Iowa, Colonel Edward Hatch, left La Grange, Tennessee, April 17th, and in sixteen days traversed six hundred miles of the enemy's country and reached Baton Rouge, where a Federal force was stationed. [See map, Vol. III., p. 442.] Hatch's regiment destroyed the railroads east of Columbus, Mississippi, and returned to La Grange, while the remainder of Grierson's force destroyed much of the Mobile and Ohio and Vicksburg and Meridian railroads. This bold and successful raid produced

Map of operations in middle Tennessee and North Alabama, 1863-5.

[415] a profound sensation, and was of great benefit to General Grant in the Vicksburg campaign.

The great activity of the Union cavalry at this period is further shown by the fact that General Stanley in the month of June led a strong force in rear of Bragg's position at Tullahoma, cutting the railroads at Decherd Station, whereupon Bragg fell back to Bridgeport. In July Stanley again made a movement upon Huntsville. Proceeding by several roads, the separate brigades of General J. B. Turchin and Colonels Eli Long and Robert Galbraith all reached Huntsville, Alabama, and, after capturing prisoners, supplies, and stock, returned without serious loss.

The Confederates on their part also made a celebrated raid at this time. On the 27th of June Morgan crossed the Cumberland River at Burksville, Kentucky, with about 2500 men. He passed northwardly through Columbia, Kentucky, and, reaching Green River at Tebbs's Bend on the 4th of July, demanded the surrender of Colonel O. H. Moore, who was stationed there with a portion of his regiment — the 25th Michigan. Colonel Moore returned the famous reply that the 4th of July was not a good day to surrender, and was instantly attacked. After a severe fight Moore drove off his assailants, and saved the bridge over Green River at that point. Morgan crossed below the bridge and passed through Lebanon and Bardstown and on to Brandenburg on the Ohio River; there, seizing a steamboat, he crossed into Indiana, and dashed through that State into Ohio and was captured near Salineville July 26th. [See map and article, Vol. III., p. 635.] This raid has become famous for many reasons, but one of the most notable things pertaining to it was the pursuit and capture of the raider and his men. The pursuit began at Burksville immediately upon Morgan's passage of Cumberland River. The night of the passage four Kentucky cavalry regiments, the 1st, 8th, 9th, and 12th, under Generals J. M. Shackelford and E. H. Hobson, both Kentuckians, were concentrated at Marrow Bone, only a few miles west of Burksville. Four noted Kentucky officers commanded these regiments, Frank Wolford, B. H. Bristow, R. T. Jacob, and E. W. Crittenden. At Bardstown the pursuers were joined by three Ohio regiments.

A month later this same Federal cavalry and several other regiments were organized at Camp Nelson in Kentucky by Burnside for an expedition to east Tennessee. It was placed under command of Shackelford, who led it through Williamsburg and Big Creek Gap to Kingston. The infantry force under Burnside moved out at the same time and took possession of Knoxville. Shackelford's cavalry then hastened to Cumberland Gap and captured the place, with 2500 men under the Confederate General Fraser. They then made their way to the borders of Virginia, clearing the valley of Confederates, and returned to Knoxville, where Burnside was concentrating to resist the advance of Longstreet. For three weeks the cavalry was shut up in Knoxville with the infantry. After the siege it pursued Longstreet up the valley, fighting a hard battle at Bean's Station. Winter coming on, active movements ceased.

The cavalry under Stanley cooperated with Rosecrans's infantry in the advance to Chattanooga, bearing its full share of the burdens at Chickamauga. After the battle of Missionary Ridge, November 25th, 1863, General W. L. Elliott was assigned to the command of the cavalry.

Elliott dispatched Colonel Long's brigade to the relief of Knoxville, and during the months of

Lieutenant-General N. B. Forrest, C. S. A. From a photograph.

November and December, among the various dashes made at this season was one by Colonel Watkins, with 250 men, as far as Lafayette, Georgia. Also Colonel Long, with a small force, defeated General Wheeler at Calhoun, Tennessee, December 27th. During the winter the cavalry was principally at Athens, Tennessee, under General Elliott.

On the 11th of February, 1864, General Sooy Smith started from Memphis with a mounted force of seven thousand men to cooperate with Sherman in eastern Mississippi. The expedition proved a failure, and returned to Memphis. [See foot-note, p. 247, and article, p. 416.]

In March and April, 1864, Forrest advanced from Mississippi with a large force, and passed through western Tennessee to Paducah, Kentucky. Returning, he reached Fort Pillow on the morning of April 12th, and captured the fort. [See p. 418.] Forrest was pursued by General S. D. Sturgis from Memphis, but turned upon him, and signally defeated him at Brice's Cross Roads on the 10th of June, and pursued him back to Memphis. [See p. 420.] On the 14th of July Forrest was in turn defeated near Tupelo by A. J. Smith. Forrest remained in west Tennessee and northern Mississippi and northern Alabama, until he joined Hood in the Tennessee campaign.

The cavalry which Sherman assembled at Chattanooga for the Atlanta campaign numbered about [416] 15,000 in four divisions. [For organization, see pp. 286 and 289.] In the new organization General Stanley was assigned to duty with the infantry in the Army of the Cumberland. The details of the service of the cavalry in the Atlanta campaign cannot be given here. It participated in all the movements and engagements from May to August, 18 64. When the lines were drawn closely about Atlanta the cavalry became very active.

Meanwhile Major-General L. H. Rousseau, who had been stationed at Nashville for the protection of Sherman's rear, and who had succeeded in preventing Wheeler from injuring the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, was ordered to execute a very important duty. On the 10th of July, 1864, he started from Decatur, Alabama, with two brigades of cavalry, under Colonels T. J. Harrison, 8th Indiana, and William D. Hamilton, 9th Ohio. In nine days he had traveled 300 miles, and was 100 miles in rear of Johnston's army. He destroyed railroads and supplies, and safely joined Sherman in Georgia near Atlanta.

On the 27th of July General McCook moved down the right bank of the Chattahoochee to Campbelltown, and crossing pushed boldly into the Macon road, damaging it, burning trains, and capturing four hundred prisoners. On his return he encountered the enemy in strong force, and was not only compelled to give up his prisoners, but lost many of his own men.

On the same date General Stoneman moved from the other flank and destroyed the railroads leading from Macon to Augusta, but he, too, suffered greatly, Stoneman himself and part of his command being captured. Colonel Silas Adams of the 1st Kentucky Cavalry successfully fought his way back with the brigade he commanded.

After the fall of Atlanta a portion of the cavalry, under General Kilpatrick, accompanied General Sherman on his march to the sea; the remainder was placed under General Thomas for the protection of Tennessee against the expected movements of Hood, and went to Tuscumbia early in November, 1864, commanded by General Edward Hatch.

During the Atlanta campaign Kentucky was protected against guerrillas and raiders by General S. G. Burbridge. In May he started for Virginia with a large mounted force, and at the same time Morgan came into Kentucky through Pound Gap. This was Morgan's last raid. He was attacked at Cynthiana, Mount Sterling, and Augusta, Kentucky, by the Federal cavalry under Colonel John Mason Brown, Colonel Wickliffe Cooper, and others, and finally was driven into east Tennessee, where he was killed, at Greenville, on the 4th of September, 1864. [See article by General Duke, p. 243.]

In October, 1864, General Hood, having led his army from Georgia into northern Alabama, was organizing for his expedition into Tennessee. At the same time Forrest was operating with his usual energy and activity. On the 30th of October he suddenly appeared with a strong force on the Tennessee River, near Johnsonville, where he captured a gun-boat, the Undine, and two transports — an exploit which excited very general admiration. He then joined Hood near Decatur. At this time General John T. Croxton, with a brigade of Union cavalry, was watching along the north bank of the Tennessee, and on the 7th of November was joined by General Edward Hatch with a division. This body, numbering about three thousand men, kept a sharp lookout for indications of Hood's advance. On the 20th it became apparent that Hood was moving in the direction of Lawrenceburg Hatch skirmished with Forrest, and while the infantry under Schofield fell back from Pulaski to Columbia, Hatch also backed steadily until that point was reached.

At Columbia General J. H. Wilson, who had been transferred from the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac and assigned to the command of all the cavalry in General Thomas's department, came up and took personal charge. [See p. 466.]

The fame of Forrest, Morgan, and Wheeler was accented by the widespread heralding of all their exploits. On the other hand the services of the Union cavalry, being far southward and beyond the reach of newspapers, excited less notice; but for boldness and effectiveness, devotion to duty, endurance, celerity of movement, and accomplishment of results the Federal cavalry in the West made a proud record, and its history, when written in detail, will be full of thrilling interest.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Tennessee (Tennessee, United States) (9)
Kentucky (Kentucky, United States) (8)
Knoxville (Tennessee, United States) (5)
Mississippi (Mississippi, United States) (4)
Tennessee River (United States) (3)
Murfreesboro (Tennessee, United States) (3)
Columbia, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (3)
Burksville (Missouri, United States) (3)
Atlanta (Georgia, United States) (3)
Alabama (Alabama, United States) (3)
Tuscumbia (Alabama, United States) (2)
Ohio (Ohio, United States) (2)
Macon (Georgia, United States) (2)
La Grange (Tennessee, United States) (2)
Huntsville (Alabama, United States) (2)
Green (Kentucky, United States) (2)
Georgia (Georgia, United States) (2)
Edgefield (Tennessee, United States) (2)
Eastport (Mississippi, United States) (2)
Cumberland River (Kentucky, United States) (2)
Chattanooga (Tennessee, United States) (2)
Bardstown (Kentucky, United States) (2)
Williamsburg (Virginia, United States) (1)
Washington (United States) (1)
Vicksburg (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Tupelo (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Tullahoma (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Stone River (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Salineville (Ohio, United States) (1)
Rome, Ga. (Georgia, United States) (1)
Pulaski, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Payne Gap (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Paducah (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Ohio (United States) (1)
Mount Sterling, Ky. (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Meridian (Mississippi, United States) (1)
La Fayette (Georgia, United States) (1)
Kingston, Ga. (Georgia, United States) (1)
Johnsonville, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Indiana (Indiana, United States) (1)
Hornady (Alabama, United States) (1)
Hartsville (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Greenville, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Fort Pillow (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Fort Henry (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Decatur (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Cynthiana, Ky. (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Cumberland Gap (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Columbus (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Columbia, Ky. (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Chattahoochee River, Ga. (Georgia, United States) (1)
Cedar Bluffs (New York, United States) (1)
Camp Nelson, Ky. (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Calhoun, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Bridgeport, Tennessee (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Brandenburg (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Blountsville (Alabama, United States) (1)
Big Creek Gap (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Bean's Station (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Baton Rouge (Louisiana, United States) (1)
Augusta (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Augusta (Georgia, United States) (1)
Athens, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: