MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR
BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D.
Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps_
NOVEMBER 1863-JUNE 1865
A WINTER RIDE ON THE CUMBERLAND MOUNTAINS
Ordered to East Tennessee--Preparation for a long ride--A small party of officers--Rendezvous at Lexington, Ky.--Changes in my staff--The escort-A small train--A gay cavalcade--The blue-grass country--War-time roads--Valley of the Rockcastle--Quarters for the night--London--Choice of routes--Longstreet in the way--A turn southward--Williamsburg--Meeting
Burnside--Fording the Cumberland--Pine Mountain--A hard pull--Teamsters' chorus--Big Creek Gap--First view of East Tennessee--Jacksboro--A forty-mile trot--Escape from unwelcome duty--In command of Twenty-third Corps--The army-supply problem--Siege bread--Starved beef--Burnside's dinner to Sherman.
The order of the War Department directing me to report in person to the general commanding in East Tennessee was issued on the 2nd of December. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 314.] It was to take effect when I should have completed my duties at Sandusky, but as I had pressed all my work forward to completion some days before, in the expectation of the order, I was prepared to leave at once. A copy of the order was telegraphed to me on the 3rd, and I left for Cincinnati the same evening. On reaching the district and department headquarters, I learned that Burnside was relieved, and that General Foster had passed through the city, going on toward East Tennessee to assume command of the department. Longstreet raised the siege of
Knoxville the very day I reached Cincinnati, but this was not yet known, and several days passed before we had authentic information that the way to Knoxville was open. There was work to do in closing up the business of the district, packing papers and books pertaining to my headquarters, and providing for their safe-keeping. A number of officers belonging to Burnside's command were waiting an opportunity to rejoin the army, and I arranged a rendezvous for these at Lexington, Ky., where I would join them. A small troop of cavalry was detailed to act as our escort, and the quartermaster's department promised wagons for our baggage and supplies. On the 8th the news of Longstreet's retreat indicated that the road through
Cumberland Gap to
Knoxville was probably open, and sending our horses and baggage to Lexington by railroad, I left Cincinnati with my staff on Wednesday, the 9th, for the same place. Reaching there at evening, the next day was spent in packing our wagons and organizing our little party, and the cavalcade marched out of the pretty town of Lexington early on the 11th.
My staff was not altogether the same as it was in my Virginia campaigns. I had lost my friend, Surgeon Holmes, by death. He had been assigned to duty with me in Cincinnati, but his lungs had become diseased through exposure in the field, and he had died of consumption a few weeks before. My aide Captain Christie was similarly affected, and resigned to prolong his life. He ultimately died of the illness thus contracted. My aide Lieutenant Conine was appointed colonel of one of the new colored regiments, and went with it to Virginia. Major Bascom, my adjutant-general, Major Treat, my commissary, and Lieutenant Theodore Cox, my aide-de-camp, were ordered to accompany me, and were all that remained of my old staff. In the place of Conine I secured the detail of Captain E. D. Saunders, assistant-adjutant-general, who had served temporarily on my staff during the preceding season. He was the son of an old resident of Cincinnati, an excellent officer in his department as well as a gallant soldier, and he remained with me in closest relations till he fell by my side in the Atlanta campaign in the following year. His assignment as aide-de-camp was out of the usual course, but it was allowed in view of the contingency that Major Bascom could not remain with me if I should not continue in command of an army corps. In this case Saunders would become my adjutant-general, and this was what in fact occurred a little later.
At Lexington I found a group of ten or a dozen officers who were eager to join my party in the ride over the mountains. The one of highest rank was Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Strong of General Foster's staff, who had been allowed a short leave of absence when his chief started for the West, and was now hastening back to duty. I found a ground for pleasant acquaintance with him in his relationship to Bishop Bedell of Ohio, a venerated friend of mine as long as he lived. Colonel Strong was a brother of Mrs. Bedell, and was a refined and cultivated gentleman. Lieutenant-Colonel James T. Sterling of the One Hundred and Third Ohio Infantry was also on his way to join his regiment at Knoxville. He had been a captain in the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and served with me in my first campaign in West Virginia, where I had become attached to him for his military as well as his personal character. He became my inspector-general in the field. Captain D. W. H. Day, assistant quartermaster, was also en route to the Twenty-third Corps in the field, and was directed to take charge of our little train. His unbounded energy and his power to surmount obstacles so impressed me that on our reaching Knoxville I had him also assigned to permanent duty with me in his department. The others passed out of the circle of permanent acquaintances when the journey was over, but they were all pleasant travelling companions, and one or two of them would have been remarkable anywhere for their wit and cheerfulness. It was as happy and jolly a party as one need wish for in a rough ride of a couple of hundred miles over the mountains.
Our escort turned out to be only twenty horsemen instead of a full troop, but these were enough for protection against mere marauders, and we had to take the chance of meeting organized bodies of the enemy. Four army wagons were furnished us. One of these was loaded with oats for our horses, and carried the personal baggage of the cavalry troop. Another was loaded with ordinary army rations. A third was devoted to mess supplies of the officers of the party, and as we were going into a country wasted by war and almost famine-stricken, we each tried to carry with us a small stock of choice provisions which might eke out a little comfort to the mess. The fourth wagon carried our personal baggage. Captain Day had carefully selected strong and serviceable horses for the teams, and the wagons were minutely inspected to see that they were fit for the mountain work in a wilderness where wheelwrights could not be found. It was our purpose to get both forage and provisions on the road if we could buy them, and to save the stock in our wagons for a time of necessity or to carry as much as possible into Knoxville.
I had telegraphed to Burnside as soon as I reached Cincinnati, formally reporting myself as under his orders for duty in the field by permission of the Secretary of War. I expressed my regret to hear of his leaving the command, and urged my assignment to duty before he laid down his authority. No answer to my dispatch was received, and the fact was that full communication with Burnside by the
Cumberland Gap route was not opened till the 9th of December, so that my letter was among the correspondence received by Burnside the day he turned over the command to Foster. Another cause of uneasiness to me was the change of department boundaries made in the order assigning General Foster to command. The States north of the Ohio were separated from the department, and I was apprehensive that other changes might occur which would make me fall between two stools. That there was danger of just such disappointments turned out to be very true. My anxious determination to get forward to Knoxville with the least possible delay was justified, and I had reason to congratulate myself on acting promptly upon it.
Our cavalcade presented a gay appearance as we marched out of Lexington on Friday morning. There were twelve or fifteen officers, all well mounted and followed by a group of servants riding and leading our extra horses. Part of the cavalry troop led the way, the guidons fluttering in the van. Behind us came an ambulance and the army wagons with clean white canvas covers and well-groomed teams of four horses each, driven in army fashion by a driver astride of the near wheel-horse, a mounted wagon-master superintending the whole. The little column was closed by a squad of the cavalry acting as rear-guard. There had not been any severe winter weather as yet, and though the road was sloppy, the sun was bright overhead, and its beams flashed from our side-arms and equipments. Our first day's ride was to take us to Richmond, a thriving town twenty-five miles away, the county-seat of Madison County, and a good turnpike road made this an easy day's journey. We were in the rich blue-grass region, and though all of central Kentucky showed the marks of war's ravages, this region was comparatively unscathed, and the beautiful rolling country was neither abandoned nor untilled. Horses and cattle were noticeably few, for raids like Morgan's had been frequent enough to teach the peril of having flocks and herds to tempt the enemy. Farmers gave more attention than before to agriculture proper and the raising of crops which would directly support the family. There was nothing dispiriting in the view of the country on this first day's ride, and though a winter landscape can hardly be exhilarating when it is leafless and bare, gray, and a little sombre in color, we found ourselves under no stress of sympathy with misfortune or want, as is so often the case with the soldier.
On leaving Richmond our really rough work began. The roads would have been bad enough at any time, but the hard use by army trains in bad weather and the entire lack of repair had made them execrable. All the ordinary methods of keeping highways in order by local administration were suspended by the war, and the only work done upon them was what each wagon-master could do with his drivers to mend the worst places so that his train could get through. As we could not be sure of finding food for man or beast on the road, it was necessary to gauge our speed by the distance our wagons could make, so that we should not be separated from them. About twenty miles a day was the maximum, and though we sometimes got a little further, there were days when our journey was much less. South of Richmond and on the border between Madison and Rockcastle counties, we crossed Big Hill, the first of the outlying ranges of the Cumberland Mountains. These great ridges are nearly parallel to each other, and even the "gaps" in them are so high that there is always a long and hard pull for wagon teams in surmounting them. Over the summit we came down into the valleys tributary to the Rockcastle River. Twenty or twenty-five miles away another summit marks the boundary between this valley and the principal depression in which the Cumberland River finds its devious course to the south and west. The rocks are sandstone through which the Rockcastle River has cut deep gorges and chasms, and the weathering of the cliffs has left the strata and crevices exposed with so much of the regularity of layers of masonry as to tell at once the story of the impression made on the early explorers of the region, and the suggestion by Nature herself of a name for the beautiful stream that dashes along to join the Cumberland many miles below.
Our second day's journey ended far from any village or tavern, in this romantic valley. A pouring rain had begun about noon, and we plodded and splashed along till we reached a large log house which seemed a convenient halting-place as far advanced as our wagons could be brought. The house belonged to a thrifty widow. Half of it was simply furnished, and in this part she and her children lived. The other half was a large unfurnished room with the walls of hewn logs and a great fireplace of stone in the middle of the long side of the room. Out of this opened a little bedroom, a mere closet, in which the spare bed for guests was placed. The widow put these two rooms at our disposal. A roaring fire was soon burning on the hearth, our saddles and horse trappings were arranged on the sides of the room to serve as pillows, and blankets were brought in from the ambulance. Supper was got, partly from our own stores, cooked with the help of the family, and we were early ready for bed. The guest chamber was assigned to me, but it was so small that for the sake of ventilation the door was kept open, and the ruddy firelight flashed upon as picturesque and as merry a group as one could wish to see. A weary day in the saddle made all of us ready for sleep, and quips and jokes soon died out as one after another seemed to drop off into forgetfulness. The physical fatigue of the day made one of the party develop a phenomenal capacity for snoring in his heavy sleep, and in the quiet his nasal trumpeting grew more pronounced. It proceeded by phrases, as it were, each effort stronger than the preceding, till a fortissimo passage came and ended with a snort which echoed through the room and was followed by perfect silence. From the corner of the room came a drawling voice with a sigh as of deep relief, "Thank God _he's_ dead." The shout of laughter which followed showed that nearly all had roused themselves for the _finale_, and the badgered performer of the music lost much of the real comfort of his night's rest by his fear of committing himself to a complete oblivion which might subject him to another chaffing bout from his companions.
Another wet and uncomfortable day's ride brought us to London, an unattractive village at the parting of the ways, the principal road leading on to
Cumberland Gap, and another on the right going to a ford of the Cumberland River at Williamsburg, where there would be again a choice of routes up the Elk Fork of the Cumberland between the ridges known as Jellico Mountain and Pine Mountain. The left wing of Burnside's column had taken this route in October, and after crossing the Cumberland had climbed Jellico Mountain on their right hand, and reached the headwaters of Emory River, a tributary of the Tennessee which breaks through the mountains at Emory Gap, the easiest route into East Tennessee. Another road kept in the valley of Elk Fork till a place was reached where Pine Mountain, on the left, could be scaled, and once over its summit a hard road led to Big Creek Gap in the Cumberland Mountains, and thence by way of Jacksboro to Knoxville.
At London we were met with news from East Tennessee which made me reconsider the question of our route. We heard from
Cumberland Gap that after General Foster had joined Burnside at Knoxville, Longstreet had moved in force to Rutledge, where he intercepted this line of communication, and that Knoxville could not be reached by that road for some time to come. This seemed to make it necessary to turn off to the south. As between the road to Emory Gap over Jellico Mountain and that to Big Creek Gap over Pine Mountain, the best evidence seemed to indicate the latter as the easier, but with the qualification which travellers in so wild a region have often to face, that whichever way you go you will wish you had gone the other. The name of Williamsburg on the Cumberland sounded as if it might be a considerable town, but the man who gave us the route warned us that we should find "it's not much of a 'burg neither when you git thar." Our ride into London had been on Sunday, and was surely a work of necessity if not of mercy. Captain B. had found his horse a little shaky in coming down the steep hills, and at one little stream the jaded beast came down on his knees in the water. The captain with affected seriousness argued that it was a punishment for travelling on the day of rest, but was effectually silenced by the wag of the party, who humorously remarked, "Ah! if your horse is so weak on Sunday what would have become of him and you on a week day?" London did not afford us any lodgings that tempted us indoors, and we wrapped ourselves in our blankets and slept on the open veranda of a dilapidated house, building a camp-fire in the yard in front. The rain had ceased, and we preferred the frosty air to the narrow and stuffy quarters we should otherwise have had to take.
The evening of the 14th of December brought us to the Cumberland River, and as it was rising from the heavy rain of the preceding week, we should have been glad to get over at once, but the wagons could not overtake us till night, and we stopped at a country-house on the north side where we were made quite comfortable. About one o'clock in the morning, however, I was awakened by voices in the room below me, and recognized that of Captain French of Burnside's staff, who was asking the farmer to light a fire and prepare to receive the general and his party, who were a little behind, wet and nearly frozen. I got up and dressed myself, went downstairs to greet the captain, who was soon joined by the rest of the party. The general had come by the route I was taking, but his wagons had broken down on the mountain-side, and he had been obliged to abandon them. The party had picked up somewhere an old-fashioned stage-coach on thorough braces, and this was drawn by ten mules. They had packed on the backs of other mules such of their personal effects and stores as they could, and had left the rest by the roadside. They had halted for the night on the south side of the river, but at midnight had been roused by the news that the river was rising, and that they must pass the ford at once if they expected to get over. In the darkness of the night it had been both difficult and perilous, for the ford was diagonal to the course of the stream, and there was great danger of getting into deep water. They were all soaking wet and chilled, covered with mud, and as forlorn and unkempt a set of men as was ever seen. They warmed and partly dried themselves by the fire, and pushed on as soon as day began to break, for the general was impatient to get forward. Colonel Goodrich, Colonel Richmond, Major Van Buren, and the personal staff were with him, and as my own staff had been well acquainted with them, it was an interesting rencounter with all the events of the Knoxville campaign to discuss. The general had sent his proposal to me to join him, the very day Longstreet reached the Holston River at Loudon, and when it had become evident that the Confederates were committed to an active campaign in East Tennessee. General Hartsuff had found that he could not endure the work, and had decided to leave before Knoxville should be invested. My regret that I could not start at once was diminished by the fact that the investment was complete before I could possibly have reached Knoxville, so that no time had been lost. But all the circumstances showed that Burnside had regarded his request to be relieved as indefinitely postponed, and the appointment of General Foster to succeed him was unexpected. He had not heard that I was on my way, but after meeting me sent a dispatch to Foster as soon as he reached the telegraph line. He had informed Foster at Knoxville of his purpose in having me join him, and sent this message in a friendly wish to promote my interests.
As soon as the general and his party were off, we began our preparation to cross the river. Their experience had shown that the increase of difficulty in keeping the ford at night was more than would probably come from the rise of the water. I therefore ordered everything to be ready as soon as it was broad daylight. We had eaten our breakfast and were in the saddle as soon as we could see clearly. Captain Day carefully examined the ford with a few of the cavalrymen, and fixed the landmarks which would guide us to the shallowest places. With these precautions and by carefully following directions we got over without mishap. The water did not quite reach the bodies of the wagons, and by lifting our feet out of our stirrups we got over dryshod. The stream was swift, and the only way to keep one's direction safely was to look ahead and not downward. Had we tried it in the night, we should no doubt have fared as badly as our friends who had preceded us.
A day's hard journey for the wagon teams brought us to the foot of Pine Mountain at the point where the road leaves the bed of Elk Fork to climb the steep ascent. We were now only nineteen miles from Jacksboro, in the valley of the Clinch, but the distance was multiplied by the cumulating difficulties of the way. We were not far from Cross Mountain, a ridge which, as its name indicates, connects the long parallel ranges of Jellico, Pine, and Cumberland mountains. We must climb Pine Mountain to its crest, descend along the shoulders of Cross Mountain near the head of the valley, then scale the side of Cumberland Mountain to reach Big Creek Gap, from which the valley of East Tennessee would open before us. We camped for the night and prepared for an early start in the morning. The teams were well fed and groomed, and the whole equipment was carefully inspected to see that everything was ready for the strain of the rough work of the morrow.
The morning of the 16th was fair and frosty, and we were astir early. Pine Mountain loomed before us like the steep roof of some vast gothic cathedral. The ridge seemed as straight as a house ridge, and we could not see that any natural depression made the ascent much easier in one place than another. Our road ran up a spur of the mountain till the regular slope was reached, then turning to the right it gradually mounted the steep incline by a diagonal course on a long shelf cut in the hillside, with here and there a level spot on which the teams could breathe. From where we stood in the valley the mountain face looked precipitous, and the road a mere line gradually rising along its front. It would have been bad enough if it had been a metalled road in good order; but it was only a rough track alternating in mud and rock, that had never been good even in mid-summer, and it was now next to impassable. Under the direction of Captain Day and the wagonmaster the teams were doubled, two of the wagons being left in the valley till the others should reach the summit, when the teams were to be brought back. When they came to the long and hard pull, the drivers gave us a good sample of army wagoning, their yelling and cracking of whips keeping up a continual chorus, and at specially hard points the quartermaster and wagon-master joined in the music like the baying of a pack of hounds, while the horses seemed to be stimulated to almost frantic action. This could not be kept up long, and when one of the level breathing-places was reached all subsided into quiet, while the steaming and puffing horses regained their wind for another effort.
Five miles of advance was the utmost we could make on that day, but this was fifteen for the teams, as they had to be brought down the mountain over the same road and drag up the wagons which had been left at the foot. Our party of cavaliers waited lazily in the valley till the first of the wagons were near the summit, and then rode on to overtake them on the other side of the ridge. It was an easy and picturesque ride for us who were well mounted, but a wearing labor and strain for the teamsters and their animals. We congratulated ourselves on the care with which the "outfit" had been selected at Lexington, for we came through without accident on a road where wrecks were plentier than milestones.
We had sweet slumber that night in the keen air of the mountain top, and were ready for the last day of mountain work. We were fourteen miles from Jacksboro, and were resolved to reach the little town before night. The road was unlike the long inclined plane cut in the side of Pine Mountain. We were in the midst of a mass of irregular stony hills, all of them part of the highlands between the summits of the two ranges. It was hard and rough work, but we were not obliged to double the teams again. The last ascent of the Cumberland Mountains toward Big Creek Gap was over bare rock much of the way, the sandstone strata lying horizontal, and the road being a gigantic staircase in which the steps were sometimes a foot each, but oftener more, with an occasional rise of fully four feet in the edge of the rocky outcrop. In the road the sharp edges of these stairs had been rounded off, partly by wear and a little by mechanical means, but they distinctly retained the stair-like character and looked absolutely impracticable. At the worst places the teamsters would halt and throw together stones or branches of trees to fill the angle in the rock, then mounting, a whoop and a crack of the whip was the signal for the team to dash at the obstacle. The horses' shoes would strike fire from the level rock of the long "treader" above, the wagon would be bounced up the step, when a little bit of level would bring them to another rise in the staircase. We zigzagged along as the road sought the easiest places among the rocks, and perseverance at last had its reward when we crowned the summit and looked down into the broad and beautiful valleys of the Clinch and the Holston, the lovely tributaries which form the Tennessee River.
Our first look into Big Creek Gap was a startling and pleasurable surprise which has remained indelibly fixed in memory. Clouds had been hanging about the top of the mountain, and as we ascended the last slope and reached the crest, they hung so low over us that we could almost touch them. It was not like going into a fog, as is usually the case in climbing mountains, but these seemed smooth as silk on the under surface and hung over us as well defined as the covering of a tent. This gave to the prospect an accidental and very peculiar effect that one might not see again in crossing the pass a hundred times. As we looked eastward from the depression in the crest in which our roadway ran, a great circling amphitheatre lay before us, almost perfect in the symmetry of its curves. The ridge on right and left which formed its outer margin was higher than the spot on which we stood, and the silky clouds over our heads rested on it as on the walls of a natural coliseum, like the _velum_ of canvas of the ancient gigantic structure in Rome, except that here, nature outdoing all art, spread the lovely awning over the whole vast and cavernous auditorium a mile or more across. The gloom of the interior threw the retreating slopes into a mysterious shadow in which it were easy to imagine them peopled with ranks of ghostly auditors gazing upon the stage. It was there, full in our faces, that the most startling and almost incredible effect was visible. The circle of the mountains was there broken by an opening flanked on either side by stupendous perpendicular cliffs, and we looked through it upon a charming landscape bathed in glorious sunshine. A blue stream dashed foaming through the great gap and wandered off to join the river beyond. The broad and undulating valley fifty miles across was backed by another mountain wall which towered opposite to that from whose battlements we were gazing, not a long and level ridge like so many of those in the Alleghanies, but a picturesque Alpine mountain scene, with peaks snow-clad and dazzling in the sunlight,--the Great Smokies, the noblest of all the mountain groups of the Appalachian chain. The gloom and shadow of our vast amphitheatre held us in awe, while the brilliancy of the scene beyond the great stage opening seemed to draw us to it as to a promised land. We sat upon our horses, spellbound, gazing upon what seemed at once too grand and too beautiful to be real. Had we been superstitious like soldiers of an ancient time, we might have seen a miraculous portent in it; and even as it was, such sentiment as may be permitted in the sceptical spirit of our own day could find a happy omen in the scene. We were entering upon a new chapter in our military lives, and it was cheering to us, in entering East Tennessee, through the great gate that opened before us, to have so charming a picture to lure us on. We wound down the mountain side, happy but quiet. There was no one among us so lacking in earnest character as to be unmoved. We had left the wagons far behind, and the clinking of our horses' shoes upon the rocks was the only sound which broke the silence till the roaring and laughing brook that gives a name to the pass met us and rollicked beside us, as we went out between the giant cliffs into the broad and cheerful valley.
At Jacksboro we entered the theatre of active warlike operations, and found ourselves in the usual atmosphere of rumors. It was of course known that Longstreet had retreated to the northeast after raising the siege, but some insisted that he was moving down the valley again, and that Foster was to be shut up in Knoxville as Burnside had been. It was evident that there was no definite information on which any of these local opinions were based, and I was satisfied that our road was open and safe. The only risk was from some raiding column of cavalry, and we must take our chances as to that. After a good night's rest, I decided on the morning of the 18th to take with me Colonel Strong of General Foster's staff and Colonel Sterling, and leaving the wagons behind, to make the forty miles to Knoxville in a single day's ride. What we had heard of the destitution in the city made it seem best that most of the party should remain with the wagons and the supplies, and so avoid the risk of throwing too many guests upon the hospitality of headquarters. We took a few of the cavalry as an escort, and both horses and men were in such good condition and so hardened to the road that we scarcely broke from a trot in the whole distance, except to stop for resting and feeding our nags at noon.
We reached Knoxville in the afternoon, and Colonel Strong was warmly welcomed by those of the staff who were present, but the general was absent at the front. He was expected back the next night, however, and comfortable quarters were provided for us meanwhile. My instinctive fears of complications in regard to my own assignment to duty proved to be true. The very day I left Lexington General Foster had issued an order assigning me to command the District of Kentucky, and it had passed me on the road. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. pp. 383, 394.] My determination to obey literally the order from the War Department to report in person, and the haste with which I had started, proved my salvation from the kind of duty at the rear which I was bent on escaping. The District of Kentucky would have been even worse than that of Ohio, for the strife between political factions embroiled every one who commanded there, and the order to me had been issued because the officer in command was obnoxious to one of these factions.
General Foster returned on the 19th, and on my reporting to him I found at once the benefit of General Burnside's representations in regard to me. Colonel Strong was also well aware of my earnest wish for field service, and the friendship which had grown up on the road, no doubt, made him an influential advocate with his chief. The general received me very kindly, and said that his action had been based on the supposition that I would prefer duty in Kentucky during the winter rather than make the rough journey over the mountains at that season. On my assuring him that my coming without waiting to communicate with him was because of my earnest request to the War Department for service in the field, he was evidently pleased and immediately revoked the orders already made, and assigned me to the Twenty-third Corps, to command it as the senior general officer present. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii, p. 457.]
I had been eight days on the road from Lexington, and the rest of the party who remained with the wagons were a day longer in reaching Knoxville. It had given me a vivid appreciation of the impossibility of supplying an army in East Tennessee by wagon trains over the mountains. The roads by
Cumberland Gap or by Emory Gap were less precipitous, but they were more muddy. The forage was exhausted along all the routes, and till grass should grow large trains of supplies were not to be thought of. The effort to force trains through in the autumn had been most destructive to the teams. Noticing how the way was lined by the carcasses of dead horses and mules, we kept an accurate count one day of the number of these. In the twenty miles of that day's journey we counted a hundred and fifty dead draught animals. The movement of wagon-trains had, of course, been suspended when Longstreet advanced upon Knoxville, and bad weather had hardly begun then. Beef cattle could be driven in herds, but the country was so stripped of forage that the danger of starvation by the way made this mode of supply nearly as hopeless as the other.
The only permanent solution of the subsistence problem was to be found in enlarging the facilities for railway communication at Chattanooga so that that town might become a great depot from which the East Tennessee troops could draw as soon as the railroad to Knoxville should be repaired, or light steamboats be brought to the upper Tennessee and Holston rivers. They showed us at Knoxville samples of the bread issued to the garrison during the siege. It was made of a mixture of all the breadstuffs which were in store or could be procured, but the chief ingredient was Indian corn ground up cob and all. It was not an attractive loaf, but it would support life, though the bulk was out of proportion to the nutriment. The cattle had been kept in corral till they were too thin and weak to be fit for food, but there was no other, and the commissaries killed the weakest and issued them as rations because these would otherwise die a natural death. Sherman and his staff had expressed their astonishment that an appetizing dinner had been spread for them at Burnside's headquarters; [Footnote: Sherman's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 368.] but they would have wondered more if they had known of the way in which the town and vicinity had been ransacked to do honor to the welcome guests who had relieved the beleaguered army. General Poe vividly describes the straits they were in, and the heroic sort of hospitality which had hunted far and wide for something fit to set before the leader of the column which had raised the siege. [Footnote: Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol. iii. p. 745.] There had been no danger of actual starvation, but only the coarsest of bread and the poorest of beef could be distributed. Eating, in such circumstances, was not a pleasure, and the pangs of real hunger were necessary to make the ration at all palatable. The withdrawal of the enemy relieved the situation somewhat, for it opened the country to foraging parties, and every kind of produce which money could tempt the people to part with was bought and brought into the camps. It was little enough at best, and three months of pinching want were to be endured before anything like regular supplies could be furnished to the army. It was to such a house of destitution we had come, but we had come voluntarily to share the labors and the triumphs of our comrades in the field and we had no regrets.