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Chapter 13:

But the task that had been set for Grant was even yet not fully performed. Bragg had indeed been driven back, and Chattanooga made secure, but Burnside was still threatened by a redoubtable force, and the capture of Knoxville was imminent. On the 28th of November, Grant returned from the front, to Chattanooga, and found that Granger's corps had not yet started for the relief of Burnside. A whole day [532] had thus been lost, when every hour was invaluable, and Grant at once hurried off to Knoxville the reenforcements so much needed there.

Meanwhile, Major-General John G. Foster had been sent from Washington, to supersede Burnside, and went direct to Cumberland gap, where there were about three thousand national soldiers. He could not, however, approach nearer to Knoxville, now so closely besieged. On the 28th, Grant telegraphed to Foster: ‘The Fourth corps, MajorGen-eral Granger commanding, left here to-day, with orders to push with all possible speed through to Knoxville. Sherman is already in motion for Hiawassee, and will go all the way, if necessary. . . . . Communicate this information to Burnside, as soon as possible, and at any cost; with directions to hold to the very last moment, and we shall not only relieve him, but destroy Longstreet.’ The next day, he wrote to Granger, at length: ‘. . . . On the 23d instant, General Burnside telegraphed that his rations would hold out ten or twelve days; at the end of this time, unless relieved from the outside, he must surrender or retreat. The latter will be an impossibility. You are now going for the purpose of relieving this garrison. You see the short time in which relief must be afforded or be too late, and hence the necessity for forced marches. I want to urge upon you, in the strongest possible manner, the necessity of reaching Burnside in the shortest possible time. . . . .’

But Granger moved with reluctance and complaint, and, on the 29th, Grant said to Sherman: ‘Granger is on the way to Burnside's relief, but I have lost all faith in his energy and capacity to [533] manage an expedition of the importance of this one. I am inclined to think, therefore, that I shall have to send you. Push, as rapidly as you can, to the Hiawassee, and determine for yourself what force to take with you from that point. Granger has his corps with him, from which you will select, in conjunction with the forces now with you. In plain words, you will assume command of all the forces now moving up the Tennessee.’

At the same time, he sent a dispatch, in duplicate, to the officer in command at Kingston; one copy was to be let ‘fall into the hands of the enemy, without fail.’ The other ‘you must get to General Burnside, at all hazards, and at the earliest possible moment.’ The dispatch was in these words: ‘I congratulate you on the tenacity with which you have thus far held out against vastly superior forces. Do not be forced into a surrender by short rations. Take all the citizens have, to enable you to hold out yet a few days longer. As soon as you are relieved from the presence of the enemy, you can replace to them every thing taken from them. Within a few days you will be relieved. There are now three columns in motion for your relief. One, from here, moving up the south bank of the river, under Sherman; one from Decherd, under Elliott,1 and one from Cumberland gap, under Foster. These three columns will be able to crush Longstreet's forces, or drive them from the valley, and must all of them be within twenty-four hours march of you, by the time this reaches you, supposing you to get it on Tuesday, the 1st instant.’ [534]

Sherman had hardly entered the town of Charleston, when he received Grant's letter of the 29th, directing him to take command of all troops moving to the relief of Burnside. Seven days before, the Fifteenth corps had left its camps on the other side of the Tennessee, with two days rations, and stripped for the fight; with but a single blanket or coat apiece, from the commander down to the private soldier. They had no provisions, save what they gathered on the road; a poor supply for such a march. But, twelve thousand of their brethren were beleaguered in the mountain town of Knoxville, eighty miles away; relief was needed, and within three days; and no man murmured.

That night, Howard repaired and planked the railroad bridge, and, at daylight, the army passed the Hiawassee, and marched to Athens, fifteen miles. On the 1st of December, Sherman sent word to Granger, who was a day in advance, and had arrived at Decatur, that he must strike across to Philadelphia, with his command, and form a junction there. On the 2d, the army moved rapidly north towards London, twenty-six miles further. The cavalry passed to the head of the column, in order to save, if possible, a pontoon-bridge across the Tennessee, at that place; but, a rebel brigade with artillery in position prevented this, and darkness closed in, before the infantry arrived. The rebels, however, deserted the place in the night, destroying the pontoons, and running three locomotives and forty-eight cars into the Tennessee; they also abandoned four guns and large stores of material, which Howard seized at daylight. But the river is seventeen hundred feet across, at London, and the bridge was gone. Sherman was [535] forced to turn his column east, and trust to Burnside's bridge at Knoxville.

Only one day remained of the time which Burnside had promised to hold out, and it was now allimportant that he should be notified of Sherman's approach. A cavalry force under Long was, therefore, ordered to start at once, and to ford the Little Tennessee, and push into Knoxville, at whatever cost of life or horse-flesh. The distance was forty miles, and the roads execrable.

Before dawn, the cavalry was off, and at daylight, the Fifteenth corps turned from Philadelphia to the Little Tennessee, at Morgantown, expecting to find a ford. But the river was too deep, and the water freezing cold; the width was two hundred and forty yards. A bridge was indispensable. There were no pioneers, and only such tools as axes, picks, and spades; but a bridge was constructed, with cribwork and trestles made of the houses of the late town of Morgantown; and, by dark, of December 4th, troops and animals were passing. The Fifteenth corps was across before daylight; but the bridge broke, and Granger's corps with Davis's division was left on the western side.

At this juncture, word was received from Burnside. On the 14th of November, the bulk of his force was distributed between Kingston, Knoxville, Loudon, and Lenoir. He now knew, certainly, that Longstreet's corps was moving up against him; he had conferred with General Wilson, of Grant's staff, and with Mr. Dana, of the War Department, whom Grant had sent to him for this purpose; and decided that he could better carry out Grant's views, by drawing Longstreet further away from the rebel army [536] at Chattanooga, than by checking him at Loudon. Early on the morning of the 15th, therefore, Burnside withdrew from Loudon, and fell back leisurely in the direction of Knoxville, the trains being sent in advance. That night, he encamped at Lenoir; on the 16th, he again started for Knoxville, by way of Campbell's station. But, by this time, Longstreet had crossed the Tennessee, on a pontoon bridge brought up to Loudon; and, taking a shorter road, which Burnside ought to have held, endeavored to reach Campbell's station first, and thus cut off the national forces from Knoxville. Burnside had, with him, only about five thousand troops, and, making a forced march, he succeeded in reaching Campbell's station first; and at once took steps to hold the forks of the roads, while the trains passed on. A serious fight occurred here, the rebels numbering at least ten thousand men; and Burnside was driven back about a mile, but no other damage was sustained. He held the important point, and most of his wagons were secured. His loss, in killed, wounded and missing, was about three hundred. That of the rebels is not known.2 During the night, the national troops fell back to Knoxville, fourteen miles; but Longstreet did not advance until daylight.

A line of works was at once established at Knoxville; and the troops were called in from all the surrounding country. Of these, however, many were raw, and many others were simply loyal Tennesseans, without organization or discipline, who crowded in to defend their mountain fortress. The defensive line extended from the Holston river on the left, across [537] the railroad, to the river again, on the right. Detached works were also built on the hills on the southern side of the Holston. The rebel front extended only on the north side of the Holston, though Longstreet's cavalry made excursions to the rear of the town. The enemy, however, could not move across the Holston, without exposing his own line of communication with Loudon. Still, Burnside was practically besieged. His force was now about twelve thousand effective men, exclusive of the loyal Tennesseans, who amounted to at least three thousand more. Before the end of the siege, Longstreet had between twenty and twenty-three thousand men, including cavalry.

Many of the citizens and farmers, who had been driven in by the enemy, volunteered to work in the trenches, and did good service; while those who, from disloyalty, were disinclined, were compelled to the unwelcome task. The negroes were particularly willing, during the entire siege. All the beef-cattle and hogs belonging to the commissary department, and many belonging to citizens, were driven into the town, where they were slaughtered and salted. Orders were issued reducing the rations; and, within three or four days, the issue of small rations was entirely discontinued;3 the supply being so small that it was necessary to reserve it exclusively for the hospitals. All useless animals were killed and thrown into the river, to save forage. Efforts were made to collect forage and supplies, along the French Broad river and the Seviersville road, which remained open to the besieged; and loyal farmers sent down [538] the river, on flats, large amounts of grain and meat, under cover of the dense fogs which prevailed at night, at that period. Nothing else saved the garrison from absolute want.

By the 20th of November, the line was in such condition that entire confidence was felt by both commander and troops in their ability to hold it. Every possible means of strengthening the defences was still, however, resorted to. Creeks were dammed, and the back water from them created formidable ditches, in front of a large portion of the line; abatis, chevaux-de-frise, and wire entanglements were constructed, wherever necessary. A pontoon-bridge across the Holston facilitated all of Burnside's movements; and when the rebel cavalry, above, floated rafts down the Holston, to break this bridge, the engineers built a boom which effectually defeated the attempt. Longstreet, meanwhile, did nothing but establish his own line, make reconnoissances, feel Burnside's force, and fight various skirmishes. More than a week elapsed without any movement of importance, except a feeble attempt to gain the heights on the southern side of the river, which was easily repulsed. During this time, Burnside continued to strengthen his fortifications; especially a work at the northwest angle of his line, known as Fort Sanders. His problem was simple. He had only to hold out until his fate was decided at Chattanooga. There, the battle was to be fought which should save or destroy the Army of the Ohio.

Longstreet, at last, got word from Bragg, that Grant was about to attack him, on Missionary ridge. After this, two brigades of cavalry reenforced Longstreet, from the rebel command in the eastern part of [539] the valley; and, on the 27th, two brigades of Buckner's force reached him from Bragg's army. Then, rumors came thick, to the rebel leader, of a battle at Chattanooga, and, finally, reports that Bragg had fallen back to Tunnel hill. Longstreet at once determined to assault the works of Knoxville. He considered, that in the event of Bragg's defeat, the only safety for the rebels was to achieve success in Tennessee. His generals protested, and wished to withdraw towards Virginia; but Longstreet was firm, and said: ‘Our only safety is in making the assault upon the enemy's position. . . . It is a great mistake in supposing that there is any safety for us in going to Virginia, if General Bragg has been defeated, for we leave him at the mercy of his victors; and, with his army destroyed, our own had better be also, for we must not only be destroyed, but disgraced. There is neither safety nor honor in any other course than the one which I have already chosen and ordered.’ In this magnificent spirit, which it is impossible not to admire, even in an enemy, Longstreet ordered an assault on Fort Sanders.4

This fort stood on high ground west of Knoxville, between the Holston river and the railroad. The location had been originally selected by the rebels, but a new work was perfected, after the national occupation, by the efforts of the engineers; and named after a gallant officer who fell on the second day of the siege. Fort Sanders was chosen as the [540] point of attack by Longstreet, because success, here, involved the destruction, if not the capture, of Knoxville; while, to assault anywhere else, would leave his line of communication exposed to counter-attack. Besides this, Burnside had a double line of works extending from the fort to the Holston; and, on the north side of the town, the damming of the creeks and consequent overflow had rendered the country impracticable. So, although Fort Sanders was in reality the strongest point on Burnside's line, it also offered great advantages to the attacking party.

At dark, on the 28th, the rebel line of sharpshooters was advanced to within rifle-range of the national line, and ordered to sink rifle-pits during the night, in this advanced position, so that, all along the line, the enemy might engage on an equal footing with the besieged, while the columns were making the assault on the fort. Sixty or seventy prisoners fell into the hands of the rebels, before morning; and, this, with other developments, made the besieged fully aware that an assault was contemplated. Preparations were accordingly made to resist.

At about half-past 6, A. M., on the 29th, the enemy opened a furious artillery fire on the fort; the national batteries remained silent, the men quietly awaiting the assault. The fort was so protected by traverses, that only one man was injured during this heavy fire. Two companies of the Second Michigan infantry were stationed in the ditch, at the salient, to pick off the rebels when they approached. In about twenty minutes, the cannonading ceased, and a fire of musketry was opened by the enemy; at the same time, a heavy column, which had been concentrated during the night, charged on the bastion, at a run. Great numbers [541] fell, in passing over the entanglements; but the weight of the column was such as to force forward the advance; and, in two or three minutes, it had reached the ditch and attempted to scale the parapet. The Michigan soldiers, in the ditch, at once ran back on each side of the salient; and the national guns opened on the rebels with triple rounds of canister; while the infantry either shot or knocked back with their muskets, all those whose heads appeared above the parapet. The forces placed on the flanks of the fort had also a cross-fire on the ground over which the enemy approached.

The rebels, in utter confusion, strove to return, but the first column of attack was speedily reenforced by a second, which pushed up to the forts as desperately as the other. It also was driven back, and with equal slaughter. Most of those who reached the ditch were killed, or mortally wounded; and such as could not retreat, surrendered; of these last, as many as five hundred. Only one rebel got over the parapet alive. The ground between the fort and the rebel line was strewn with the dead, and the wounded crying for help; and, after the repulse was fully established, Burnside tendered to the enemy a flag of truce, for the purpose of burying the dead and caring for the wounded. The rebels lost over a thousand men,5 and Burnside only thirteen. In this assault, Longstreet had at first three brigades actually engaged, and, subsequently, a fourth; besides the two brigades of Buckner's division, which [542] were in support, but not actually put into battle. These were, however, exposed to the artillery fire from the fort. Burnside's force was two hundred and twenty men, and eleven guns. The infantry was composed of portions of the Seventy-ninth New York and the Second Michigan volunteers, under Brigadier-General Ferrero; the artillery, consisting of Benjamin's light battery, Second United States artillery, and a part of Buckley's volunteer battery, was commanded by Lieutenant Samuel Benjamin, who in reality inspired and directed the whole defence of the fort. The coolness of the men, however, was admirable. To this, in a great measure, was due the remarkable disparity in losses. The rebels were obliged to advance about two hundred and fifty yards, without cover; and the defendants waited until they were absolutely at the ditch, before delivering fire. All the engineer operations, during the siege, were under the charge of Captain (now Brevet Brigadier-General) O. M. Poe.6

About half an hour after the repulse, Longstreet received a dispatch from Mr. Jefferson Davis, the pretended rebel president, announcing the defeat of Bragg, and directing Longstreet to cooperate with the retreating columns from Chattanooga. He at once ordered his trains to be put in motion for Loudon, so that his army might follow as soon as possible, to rejoin Bragg. But, getting reports, soon after, of an advance of national troops from Cleveland, to interrupt this junction, Longstreet recalled his trains, and determined to continue the siege, until heavy reenforcements [543] should arrive for Burnside. He reasoned that Grant would thus be obliged to desist from the pursuit of Bragg, in order to save Knoxville; and he reasoned well.

On the 1st of December, Grant's dispatch to Burnside, which had been intended to fall into Longstreet's hands, was captured by the rebel scouts, and the enemy thus got information of the advance of Sherman. Longstreet himself was now cut off from all supplies, and driven to subsist off the country. The rebel command at Loudon was at once ordered to fall back on Knoxville.

On the 2d, Burnside got information of Sherman's approach; and, the same day, Longstreet determined to abandon the siege, and retreat in the direction of Virginia; his trains were put in motion on the 3d, to cross the Holston, at Strawberry plains; and, on the night of the 4th, the troops withdrew from the west side of Knoxville, and marched around to the east side, where they took up a line of march along the north bank of the Holston. This movement was unmolested by Burnside, and was made in remarkably good order.

Sherman, meanwhile, had repaired the bridge at Morgantown, and marched to Marysville; Howard constructing a bridge out of the rebel wagons left at Loudon, over which he crossed his men. On the 5th, all the heads of columns communicated, at Marysville, where Sherman received word from Burnside that Longstreet had raised the siege, and was in full retreat to Virginia. Sherman had previously sent the following note to Burnside, who was his senior: ‘Marysville, December 5, 1863. I am here, and can bring twenty-five thousand men into Knoxville to-morrow; [544] but Longstreet having retreated, I feel disposed to stop, for a stern chase is a long one. But I will do all that is possible. Without you specify that you want troops, I will let mine rest to-morrow, and ride to see you. . . .’

On the 6th, accordingly, Sherman rode over to Burnside's headquarters, ordering all his troops to halt, except the two divisions of Granger, which were directed to move forward to Little river, and Granger to report in person to Burnside, for orders.

Burnside declared that he needed nothing from Sherman but Granger's command, which had been originally designed to reenforce him; and suggested that Sherman should return to the Hiawassee, with the rest of his army, lest Bragg should take advantage of the absence of so large a force, to assume the offensive.7 Accordingly, having seen Burnside move out of Knoxville, in pursuit of Longstreet, and Granger move in, Sherman put his own command in motion [545] to return. His approach had served to raise the siege.

On the morning of the 7th, the commands of Potter and Manson started out in pursuit of Longstreet, under Major-General Parke, Burnside's chief of staff; and, on the 10th, Foster arrived at Knoxville, from Cumberland gap. On the 11th, he assumed command of the Department of the Ohio. Burnside left Knoxville, on the 12th, for Cincinnati.

On the 8th, the President sent the following dispatch to Grant: ‘Understanding that your lodgment at Chattanooga and at Knoxville is now secure, I wish to tender you and all under your command my more than thanks, my profoundest gratitude for the skill, courage, and perseverance, with which you and they, over so great difficulties, have effected that important object. God bless you all.’

And so, at last, the work was really achieved. The occupation and liberation of Tennessee were accomplished; the whole rebel line was driven back; the rebel communication between the Atlantic and the Mississippi forever broken; the mountains and rivers which had been the fortress and defences of the would-be confederacy were captured or turned; the fertile plains, which had yielded it supplies, were converted into granaries for the government; the besieged towns were relieved; the endangered armies rendered in their turn formidable to the enemy; and the loyal population of East Tennessee made henceforth safe from the persecutions of disloyalty.

Again the nation's heart was lifted up in hope and gratitude. On the 7th of December, the President [546] issued a proclamation, recommending all loyal people to assemble in their places of worship, and return thanks to God for this great advancement of the national cause. On the 17th of the same month, Congress unanimously voted a resolution of ‘thanks to Major-General Ulysses S. Grant, and the officers and soldiers who have fought under his command, during this rebellion;’ and a gold medal was struck, which it was provided that the President should present to Grant, ‘in the name of the people of the United States of America.’ Grant declared, in his official report, that ‘the Armies of the Cumberland and the Tennessee, for their energy and unsurpassed bravely in the three days battle of Chattanooga, their patient endurance in marching to the relief of Knoxville; and the Army of the Ohio, for its masterly defence of Knoxville and repeated repulses of Longstreet's assaults upon that place, are deserving of the gratitude of their country;’ a meed which their country did not fail to bestow.

Grant had given all his generals in East Tennessee repeated and positive orders to drive Longstreet's army completely out of the state. His whole plan was, either to annihilate that command, or to place it where it could do no further mischief to any part of his military division. On the 30th of November, he said to Foster, then at Cumberland gap: ‘If Longstreet is retreating up the valley, would it not be well to strike for Abingdon?’ To Sherman, on the 1st of December, he wrote: ‘When you start upon your return to this place, after it is known that East Tennessee is cleared of all formidable bodies of the enemy,’ etc. To Foster, on the 2d: ‘Sherman will reach Knoxville to-morrow, or the day following. [547] His force is large, and Longstreet must retreat before it, without much fighting. I do not see how his route can be any other than up the valley. You will, no doubt, be able to inflict a heavy blow upon his retreating column.’ Again, on the 6th, to Foster: ‘Instruct your cavalry to follow Longstreet to the last minute. It is not necessary that they should attack the main force,--but follow up the rear, hasten the retreat, pick up stragglers, and destroy the road as far east as possible. If your troops can get as far as Saltville’ (in Virginia) ‘and destroy the works there, it will be an immense loss to the enemy.’ And on the 8th, to Sherman: ‘Keep your troops in the valley of the Tennessee, until it seems clear that the enemy have entirely abandoned the state.’ To Foster, on the 12th: ‘Drive Longstreet to the furthest point east you can.’ And on the 14th: ‘Do all you can to harass the enemy and drive him as far to the east as possible.’ Verbal instructions to the same effect were sent to Burnside, by a staff officer.

But Burnside miscalculated entirely the needs of his own command, and the intentions and abilities of the enemy. Supposing that Longstreet would evacuate the state, he sent Sherman back to the Hiawassee, retaining only Granger's command, for pursuit of Longstreet; and the opportunity for destroying that commander was lost. Longstreet was too able, not to perceive the mistake of his antagonist; and, before the mistake could be rectified, the mischief was irremediable. Sherman moved back towards Chattanooga, under the instructions of Burnside; and, on the 7th, after three days delay, Parke was sent out after the fleeing enemy.

Longstreet had been ordered, some days before, to [548] send back Wheeler's cavalry to Bragg's army; but, at the moment of raising the siege, he judged it unsafe to obey; finding, however, that he was not hard pressed, he dismissed his cavalry, on the 8th, to Georgia, and marched himself for Rogersville. His column reached that place on the 9th. Here, he discovered that the resources of the country were abundant to subsist him for the winter, and sent out his trains to collect provisions. Receiving discretionary orders, he, next day, recalled one brigade of Wheeler's cavalry. On the 12th, he learned that a portion of Burnside's force had returned to Chattanooga, and that a small body of troops, principally cavalry, was scattered between Rutledge and Bean's station; Parke's main force being as far off as Blain's cross-roads, twenty miles. He, accordingly, fell upon the national cavalry at Bean's station, with a superior force, and compelled it to retreat, handling it roughly, and capturing a wagon-train loaded with supplies. The troops were thus subjected to the mortification of retreat, at the very moment when they should have been pushing the enemy into Virginia. Parke's advance fell back as far as Blain's roads.

Longstreet then moved to the south side of the Holston, at Russelville, and ordered his command to make shelters for the winter. The country was rich, abounding in grain and meat. The rebels had suffered greatly for want of rations and forage, and nothing more fortunate for them could have occurred, than that this corps should remain in East Tennessee. There, all winter, Longstreet did remain, threatening Foster, and subsisting off of a population for the most part loyal. His position occasioned great anxiety to the government and to Grant. It rendered possession [549] of Knoxville, if not insecure, at least less certain; and the season, which is extremely inclement among these mountains, was now too far advanced for further military operations. It was useless to send other troops to Knoxville, as the advantage that had been lost could not be regained, before spring; and the rebels were left with this fulcrum for movements whenever the campaign of next year should begin. The retention of Sherman's column a week or two longer in East Tennessee would, undoubtedly, have obviated this disarrangement of Grant's plans.8

On the 7th of December, Grant announced: ‘It may now safely be assumed that the enemy are driven from the front, or, at least, that they no longer threaten it in formidable numbers.’ He, therefore, that day, renewed his suggestion of a campaign against Mobile. ‘The country south of this is extremely mountainous, affording but little for the support of an army; the roads are bad, at all times, and the season is so far advanced that an effective campaign from here, this winter, may be looked upon as impossible. Our supplies and means of transportation would not admit of a very early campaign, if the season did. . . . I propose, [550] with the concurrence of higher authority, to move by way of New Orleans and Pascagoula, on Mobile. I would hope to secure that place, or its investment, by the last of January.’

The government, however, did not see fit to authorize the movement, and Grant himself ceased to urge it, when he discovered that Longstreet was likely to winter in Tennessee. On the 17th, he said: ‘I feel deeply interested in moving the enemy beyond Saltville, this winter, so as to be able to select my own campaign in the spring, instead of having the enemy dictate it for me.’ This was in harmony with the constant habit and purpose of Grant. In all his campaigns, he strove to take the initiative; experience had taught him that thus he was far more likely to succeed; but, before his experience began, he had acted on the same principle; his instincts prompted this course. His philosophy, like that of most men, was in accord with his character and temperament, and, probably, as much the result of these as the product of thought or experience. At Paducah, Belmont, Donelson, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga, he had been able to act on this plan; at Shiloh, Corinth, and Iuka, the enemy had taken the initiative. In the first cases, success amply confirmed his views; and, in the latter, the added difficulties which the course of the rebels imposed, were fully as strong corroboration.

Immediately after the battle of Chattanooga, Bragg was relieved from the command of his army, and temporarily succeeded by Lieutenant-General Hardee. It is a little singular to remark how often this fate befell the rebel commanders who were opposed to Grant. In different parts of the theatre of war, he had been met by Floyd, Pillow, Buckner, [551] Van Dorn, Price, Pemberton, and Bragg; every one of whom was either superseded soon after an important battle, or captured. The parallel was destined not to cease at Chattanooga.

During the autumn and winter of 1863, the terms of service of most of the volunteer troops expired; and, in order to induce the men to reenlist, large bounties were offered them, and a furlough of sixty days. The consequence was, that a very large proportion renewed their engagement with the government; but the immediate effect experienced by commanders in the field was unfavorable. The great deduction made from their forces, by the furloughing, reduced the effective strength, sometimes, ten or twenty thousand men at a time, in a single army. Grant, commanding so many armies, was of course proportionately hampered by what, however, was sure to be a benefit in the end. Still, the season for active operations, except at the extreme south, was in reality past.

About Christmas, Grant went in person to Knoxville, to inspect the country and the command, and intending to take such steps as would effectually drive out Longstreet from the valley. He found, however, a large part of Foster's command suffering for clothing, especially shoes; so that not more than two-thirds of the men could be taken in any advance. The weather was extremely inclement, and many of the troops stood in line with only a blanket to cover their nakedness. The difficulties of supplying the command were so prodigious that great suffering ensued. No railroad could be built under two months, at soonest; the fall in the rivers frequently interfered with the transportation of supplies; and, now, that the [552] roads had become well-nigh impassable, by reason of snow and ice, to send reenforcements would only be to put more men on insufficient rations. Under these circumstances, Grant made only such changes in the position of troops as would place Foster nearer the rebels, whenever he should be in a condition to move, and as would open to the national forces new foraging-grounds, at the same time reducing those of the enemy. ‘Troops,’ he said to Halleck, ‘must depend for subsistence on what they can get from the country, and the little we can send from Chattanooga.’

Soon after this, Foster was relieved from duty at his own request, an old wound received in the Mexican war having reopened; and Major-General John M. Schofield was, at Grant's desire, appointed to the command of the Department of the Ohio. Schofield, however, did not arrive at Knoxville till the 9th of February.

On the 11th of December, Grant wrote to McPherson, who had been left in command at Vicksburg: ‘I shall start a cavalry force through Mississippi, in about two weeks, to clean out the state entirely of all rebels.’ This was the germ of what has been known as the Meridian raid. On the 23d, he said to Halleck: ‘I am now collecting as large a cavalry force as can be spared, at Savannah, Tennessee, to cross the Tennessee river, and cooperate with the cavalry from Hurlbut's command, in clearing out entirely the forces now collecting in West Tennessee, under Forrest. It is the design, that the cavalry, after finishing the work they first start upon, shall push south, through East Mississippi, and destroy the Mobile road, as far south as they can. Sherman goes to Memphis and Vicksburg, in person, and will have Grenada [553] visited, and such other points on the Mississippi Central railroad as may require it. . . . I want the state of Mississippi so visited that large armies cannot traverse there, this winter.’

The force which Sherman had brought from Vicksburg, was now distributed, under Logan, between Stevenson and Decatur, guarding the railroad, while Dodge's division, of Hurlbut's command, was posted west of Decatur and along the line of the Nashville and Decatur road. Sherman in person started for his new campaign. Howard's corps and Davis's division having been returned to the Army of the Cumberland, the Eleventh and Twelfth corps were ordered to guard the railroad from Nashville to Chattanooga; the Fourteenth corps was left at Chattanooga; and Granger's force remained all winter, stretched out between Cleveland and Knoxville.

On the 13th of January, Grant returned from his tour to Knoxville, by way of Cumberland gap and Lexington, to Nashville, where his headquarters were now established. On the 15th, he said to Halleck: ‘Sherman has gone down the Mississippi to collect, at Vicksburg, all the force that can be spared for a separate movement from the Mississippi. He will probably have ready, by the 24th of this month, a force of twenty thousand men. . . . . I shall direct Sherman, therefore, to move out to Meridian, with his spare force, the cavalry going from Corinth; and destroy the roads east and south of there so effectually, that the enemy will not attempt to rebuild them during the rebellion. He will then return, unless opportunity of going into Mobile with the force he has, appears perfectly plain. Owing to the large number of veterans furloughed, I will not be able to [554] do more, at Chattanooga, than to threaten an advance, and try to detain the force now in Thomas's front. Sherman will be instructed, whilst left with these large discretionary powers, to take no extra hazard of losing his army, or of getting it crippled too much for efficient service in the spring.’

The same letter contained an exposition of Grant's plan of campaign for the following spring. ‘I look upon the next line for me to secure to be that from Chattanooga to Mobile; Montgomery and Atlanta being the important intermediate points. To do this, large supplies must be secured on the Tennessee river, so as to be independent of the railroad from here’ (Nashville) ‘to the Tennessee, for a considerable length of time. Mobile would be a second base. The destruction which Sherman will do to the roads around Meridian will be of material importance to us, in preventing the enemy from drawing supplies from Mississippi, and in clearing that section of all large bodies of rebel troops. . . . I do not look upon any points, except Mobile in the south, and the Tennessee river in the north, as presenting practicable starting-points from which to operate against Atlanta and Montgomery.’9

The grand movements dictated to Sherman, months [555] afterwards, and by him so grandly executed, were already marked out by the chief for himself, thus long in advance.

A copy of this letter was sent to Sherman, with the remark: ‘The letter contains all the instructions I deem necessary in your present move. . . . Nearly all the troops in Thomas's and Dodge's command, having less than one year to serve, have reenlisted, and many of them have been furloughed. This, with the fact that Longstreet's force in East Tennessee makes it necessary for me to keep ready a force to meet them, will prevent my doing much more than is indicated in my letter to General Halleck. I will have, however, both Dodge and Logan ready, so that, if the enemy should weaken himself much in front, they can advance.’

On the 19th, Thomas also was informed of Sherman's contemplated movement, and of the probability that no active operations in East Tennessee would be undertaken before the opening of spring. ‘To cooperate with this movement,’ said Grant, ‘you want to keep up the appearance of preparation for an advance from Chattanooga. It may be necessary even to move a column as far as La Fayette. . . . Logan will also be instructed to move at the same time what force he can from Bellefontaine towards Rome. We will want to be ready at the earliest possible moment in the spring, for a general advance. I look upon the line for this army to secure, in its next campaign, to be that from Chattanooga to Mobile; Atlanta and Montgomery being the important intermediate points.’

The complicated movements of Grant's three armies now reached over an extent of more than a [556] thousand miles. Thomas, at the centre, was confronting Johnston, Schofield was balancing Longstreet; and in order to distract the rebels, and thus relieve East Tennessee, as well as to secure the safety of the contemplated movement into Georgia, during the ensuing spring, Sherman was ordered to advance into the interior of Mississippi, hundreds of miles from either of the armies that were cooperating with him.

Brigadier-General William Sooy Smith was at this time placed in command of seven thousand cavalry, at Memphis, and ordered to move out by the 1st of February, marching by way of Pontotoc, Okalona, and Columbus junction, to Meridian, a distance of two hundred and fifty miles; Sherman instructed him to disregard all minor objects, but to destroy railroads, bridges, corn not wanted, and to strike quick and well every enemy that should offer opposition. He was to reach Meridian by the 10th of February. Sherman himself was to move at the same time, with four divisions of infantry and artillery, on the road from Vicksburg to Meridian, one hundred and fifty miles.

Sherman left Vicksburg, on the 3d of February, with two columns under Hurlbut and McPherson; he reached Jackson on the 5th, after continuous skirmishing for eighteen miles, driving a force estimated at twelve thousand soldiers, under Loring and French. This command was marching to form a junction at Jackson10 with Lee's cavalry, supposed to be four thousand strong; but the rapidity of Sherman's movement [557] prevented the junction. He then pushed on at once, by the direct road to Meridian; the enemy's cavalry hanging on his flanks, but giving him no concern. About twenty miles from Meridian, the road was obstructed with fallen timber, in order to afford the rebels time to cover the removal of railroad property from Meridian. Sherman at once left his trains, guarded with good escorts, and pushed on, over all obstructions, straight for the Ocktibbeha, where he found the bridge already burning. A gin-house, near by, supplied material for a new bridge, and at half past 3 P. M. on the 14th, he entered Meridian with but little opposition. The retreat of the rebels was covered by their cavalry. The rolling-stock had been removed to Selma, or Mobile.

Sherman could not have overtaken the enemy, before reaching the Tombigbee river, and, in fact, was willing to gain his point without battle, at so great a distance from the Mississippi, where the care of the wounded would have so taxed his ability to provide for them. He, therefore, rested his army, on the 15th, and, on the 16th, began a systematic and thorough destruction of the railroads centering at Meridian. Axes, crowbars, sledges clawbars, were used, with fire; and the depots, storehouses, arsenals, hospitals, offices, hotels, and cantonments of Meridian were soon no more. For five days, ten thousand men were engaged in this work. Sixty miles of railroad were destroyed, on the north and east of the town, ties burned and iron bent; and on the south and west, fifty-five miles. Sixty-one bridges and culverts were burned; also six thousand feet of trestle-work across a swamp. Twenty locomotives, twenty-eight cars, and three saw-mills were destroyed. The enemy [558] could not use these roads to the same advantage again, during the war.11

The rebels had crossed the Tombigbee, and were in great alarm lest Sherman intended a march on Mobile. His numbers were magnified; and, Admiral Farragut, at the same time making a demonstration against the forts at the entrance of Mobile harbor,12 immense excitement was produced. Two brigades were sent from Mobile to the Tombigbee, and a force was withdrawn from Johnston's army, in front of Thomas. Never before had a national army penetrated so far into the interior of the so-called confederacy. The places that had fancied themselves perfectly secure were entirely exposed, and the inmost lines of communication of the rebels were attacked and destroyed. Still, Sherman had moved without a base, and the rebels had great hopes of being able to cut him off, if he proceeded further. Thus far, his force had been too large for them to have any hope of withstanding it; but, if he advanced, they determined to bring troops from all parts of their territory, and, if possible, destroy him.

He did not give them the chance; but, on the 20th, ordered McPherson to march slowly back on the main road; whilst he himself proceeded northward, with Hurlbut's column, to feel for Sooy Smith, who had failed to make the junction ordered. Sherman marched as far as Union, and then sent a cavalry force [559] of three regiments, under Colonel Winslow, to scour the whole region in search of Smith. On the 23d, the two infantry columns came together, at Hillsboro, after which, they marched, by separate roads, to the Pearl river. On the 26th, they bivouacked at Canton, to which place Winslow had been directed to lead Sooy Smith's command. Winslow was there, but had got no tidings of Smith. The rebels had not troubled Sherman, on the march from Meridian to Canton, and, on the 28th, he rode into Vicksburg. His army remained at Canton till the 3d of March.

Smith had not started from Memphis till the 11th of February, a delay which Sherman pronounced unpardonable; he advanced only as far as West Point, and turned back on the 22d, before a force inferior to his own; his orders having been peremptory to fight any cavalry he met. His march back to Memphis was too rapid for a good effect, and he was closely followed by Forrest's cavalry, before whom he had retreated at West Point. He reported having destroyed thirty miles of railroad, and great stores of cotton and corn; also the capture of two hundred prisoners and three thousand horses; but he entirely failed to accomplish the object of his expedition, or to satisfy his commanders.13 His losses were not reported, but were probably slight.

Sherman, however, had driven the enemy out of Mississippi, destroyed the only remaining railroads in the state, the only roads by which the rebels could maintain an army in Mississippi, or threaten the [560] national forces on the main river. He had subsisted his army and animals chiefly on the rebel stores, brought away four hundred prisoners and five thousand negroes, about a thousand white refugees, and three thousand animals. He had marched between three hundred and fifty and four hundred and fifty miles, in the shortest month of the year, and his men were in better condition and health than when they started from Vicksburg. His losses were twenty-one men killed, sixty-eight wounded, and eighty-one missing.

On the 24th of January, Grant got permission to visit St. Louis, where his eldest son was lying dangerously ill. He was directed, however, by the Secretary of War, to retain direct command of all his forces, and communication both with them and with the government, during his absence from the front. On the 24th, he was at Chattanooga, and gave orders to Thomas, and to Logan, who was at Scottsboro, Alabama, to keep up a threatened advance on Rome, with the view of detaining as large a force of the enemy as possible in their fronts, and thus favor the operations of Sherman. ‘It is not expected to move forward at this time, but the movements of the enemy might change this.’. . . . To Logan he said: ‘Should General Thomas inform you, at any time, that he is going to make a reconnoissance to the front, and ask you to move in the cooperation , do so, without waiting further orders from these headquarters. Report the fact, however.’

Thomas moved out on the 29th, and caused the enemy, now commanded by Joseph E. Johnston, who had succeeded Hardee, to fall back from Tunnel hill. On the 1st of February, it was learned that a [561] whole division and a brigade had been sent from Johnston, in the direction of Mobile. On the 5th, Grant was back at Nashville; and, the next day, receiving reports that two divisions from Johnston had been sent to Longstreet, he directed Thomas to send at least ten thousand men, besides Stanley's division, into East Tennessee. Logan was also ordered to hold himself in readiness to move, with all the force in his command that could be spared. Schofield was now in command of the Department of the Ohio, and Grant at once informed him of these preparations, and that he wanted ‘to drive Longstreet out immediately, so as to. . . . prepare for a spring campaign of our own choosing, instead of permitting the enemy to dictate it for us.’ At the same time, he wrote: ‘We will have some sharp fighting, in the spring, and, if successful, I believe the war will be ended within the year.’

Further news from Schofield decided Grant that it would be unadvisable to make the contemplated campaign against Longstreet. The reasons for this change in his plan were suggested by Foster, who returned home by way of Nashville, and urged them upon Grant. Schofield's possession of that portion of East Tennessee now held, was perfectly secure; and the condition of the loyal people within the rebel lines could not be much improved, even by a change, for they had already lost all. If Grant sent an overwhelming force against Longstreet, the enemy would simply fall back towards Virginia, until he could be reenforced or take an impregnable position. The country was exhausted, and all the national supplies would have to be carried, from Knoxville, the whole distance advanced; so that, whether the object [562] of the expedition was accomplished or not, the troops must advance rapidly, and return soon; Longstreet could then return with impunity, on the heels of the national column, at least as far down the valley as he could supply himself from the road in his rear. Schofield agreed in these views of Foster; and Grant, thinking the reasons sufficient, gave orders to suspend the movement. He directed, however, that the troops should be turned against Dalton, which he hoped to gain and hold, as one step towards a spring campaign.

On the 12th, accordingly, Thomas was ordered to ‘make a formidable reconnoissance towards Dalton, and, if successful in driving the enemy out, occupy that place and complete the railroad up to it, this winter. Start at the earliest practicable moment.’ On the 17th, Grant said again to Thomas: ‘Make your contemplated movement, as soon as possible.’ And, on the 18th: ‘By all means, send the expedition. I think it of vast importance it should move as early as possible, for the effect it will have in favor of Sherman, and also on affairs in East Tennessee. I regret you cannot go.’ On the 21st: ‘Do your troops move to-morrow? It is important that at least a demonstration be made, at once.’

On the 25th, he telegraphed to Halleck: ‘Thomas's forces left Chattanooga, last Monday, to demonstrate against Dalton, to prevent forces being sent from there against Sherman. Our troops have Tunnel hill.’ Longstreet, at the same time, made a retrograde movement, and Schofield started immediately in pursuit. On the 25th, Thomas reported to Grant, from Tunnel hill: ‘Davis and Johnson’ (two of his division commanders) ‘occupy the pass at Buzzard's [563] roost. They have a force equal to theirs in their front, who outnumber them in artillery. It is not possible to carry the place by assault. Palmer made the attempt to turn it yesterday with Baird's and Cruft's divisions, but was met by an equal force, and in an equally strong position as at Buzzard's roost. After expending nearly all his ammunition, he retired, during the night, to Catoosa platform. Our transportation is poor and limited. We are not able to carry more than sixty rounds per man. Artillery-horses so poor that General Palmer could bring but sixteen pieces. The country is stripped entirely of subsistence and forage. The enemy's cavalry is much superior to ours. Prisoners taken yesterday report that a portion of Cleburne's division14 . . . . I will wait the developments of this day, and advise you further.’

To this, Grant sent the following reply: ‘It is of the highest importance that the enemy should be held in full belief that an advance into the heart of the South is intended, until the fate of Sherman is fully known. The difficulties of supplies can be overcome by keeping your trains running between Chattanooga and your position. . . .’ Thomas, accordingly, remained in force near Dalton, as long as he could supply himself. On the 29th, Grant reported to Halleck: ‘He is back now to Dalton, where he hopes to be able to haul supplies until the railroad can be completed to him.’ Schofield could not follow Longstreet further than Strawberry plains, because every step took him from [564] his supplies, while Longstreet was falling back on his.

On the 2d of March, Grant got word through rebel sources of Sherman's success, but not of his return; and, on the 3d of March, Grant was ordered to Washington.

1 The movements of Elliott were delayed, and had no effect upon the subsequent operations.

2 Longstreet does not mention his losses in this battle, in his official report.

3 The essential part of a ration is meat and bread; whatever else is issued is called the small ration, though no such name is known to the law.

4 Longstreet's correspondence, both with Bragg and with his inferiors, breathes everywhere the truest soldierly spirit, and makes one regret that so fine a nature should have been enlisted in an unworthy cause.

5 I have been obliged to take my estimate of rebel losses from Burnside's report, as Longstreet's contains no statement of his losses. The description of the assault is made up from both reports, between which there is no discrepancy.

6 Captain Poe was assisted by Lieutenant-Colonel (now Brevet-Brigadier-General) O. E. Babcock, captain of engineers, who, although on duty as inspector-general, performed important service as engineer.


Major-General W. T. Sherman, commanding, etc.
General: I desire to express to you and your command, my most hearty thanks and gratitude, for your promptness in coming to our relief during the siege of Knoxville; and I am satisfied your approach served to raise the siege.

The emergency having passed, I do not deem for the present any other portion of your command, but the corps of General Granger, necessary for operations in this section; and, inasmuch as General Grant has weakened the force immediately with him, in order to relieve us, thereby rendering the position of General Thomas less secure, I deem it advisable that all the troops now here, save those commanded by General Granger, should return at once to within supporting distance of the forces in front of Bragg's army.

In behalf of my command, I desire again to thank you and your command for the kindness you have done us.

I am, general, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

A. E. Burnside, Major-General commanding.

8 On the 20th of January, Grant said to Halleck: ‘It was a great oversight, in the first place, to have ever permitted Longstreet to come to a stop within the state of Tennessee, after the siege was raised. My instructions were full and complete on this subject. Sherman was sent with forces sufficient alone, to defeat Longstreet; and, notwithstanding the long distance the troops had marched, proposed to go on and carry out my instructions in full. General Burnside was sanguine that no stop would be made by the enemy in the valley. Sherman then proposed to leave any amount of force Burnside thought might be necessary to make his position perfectly secure. He deemed two divisions ample. . . . I write this now particularly to show that the latter named officer’ (Sherman) ‘is in no wise to blame for the existing state of affairs in East Tennessee.’

9 Grant then went on to say: ‘hey are objectionable as starting-points, to be all under one command, from the fact that the time it will take to communicate from one to the other will be so great. But Sherman or McPherson, either one of whom could be intrusted with the distant command, are officers of such experience and reliability, that all objections on this score, except that of enabling the two armies to act as a unit, would be removed.’ Further and interesting discussions occurred, at this time, between Grant and the generalin-chief, relative to Banks's Red river campaign, then in contemplation, and to the operations east of the Alleghanies. But I omit these subjects at present, as they pertain so closely to the themes of a future volume.

10 All my statements of the rebel strength and movements, as well as of Sherman's operations, during the Meridian raid, are taken from Sherman's report. I have seen no rebel official report of the campaign.

11 In 1865, the time consumed by the enemy in wagoning around these breaks, detained Hood, at Florence, nearly a month; giving Thomas time to bring his reenforcements up from every point, even from Missouri; and thus materially aided in the great success achieved at Nashville.

12 This demonstration was made at the request of Sherman.

13 Sherman dismissed Smith's part of the operation with these words: ‘General Smith had not started from Memphis at all, till the 11th of February, had only reached West Point, and turned back on the 22d, the march back to Memphis being too rapid for a good effect.’

14 The, Ms. here is imperfect. Probably the words ‘has returned’ should he supplied.

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