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
GRANT'S VISIT--THE DANDRIDGE AFFAIR
Knoxville--Comes to Strawberry Plains--A gathering at Parke's quarters--Grant's quiet manner--No conversational discussion--Contrast with Sherman--Talk of cadet days--Grant's riding-school story--No council of war--Qualities of his dispatches--Returns by
Cumberland Gap--Longstreet's situation--Destitution of both armies--Railroad repairs and improved service--Light-draught steamboats--Bridges--Cattle herds on the way--Results of Grant's inspection tour--Foster's movement to Dandridge on the French Broad--Sheridan--His qualities--August Willich--Hazen--His disagreement with Sheridan--Its causes and consequences--Combat at Dandridge--A mutual surprise--Sheridan's bridge--An amusing blunder--A consultation in Dandridge--Sturgis's toddy--Retreat to Strawberry Plains--A hard night march--A rough day--An uncomfortable bivouac--Concentration toward Knoxville--Rumors of reinforcement of Longstreet--Expectation of another siege--The rumors untrue.
In the midst of the severest suffering of the army from cold and want, General Grant came in person to inspect the condition of affairs in East Tennessee. He reached
Knoxville on the 30th of December, and after spending two or three days with General Foster, came up to Strawberry Plains. The first intensity of the cold wave had passed by, but it was still "zero weather" when he came: indeed he had waited in Knoxville for a little moderating of the temperature, but finding that it continued very cold, his desire to complete the inspection hurried him on. The corps and division commanders accompanied him in a ride through the camps that he might see the destitution of the army, and the necessity for sparing the troops all unnecessary exposure. The great trestle bridge across the Holston was examined, and the features of the topography which made Strawberry Plains an important point in military operations covering Knoxville and the line of communication with Cumberland Gap.
At the end of the ride we gathered in General Parke's quarters for what I supposed would be a discussion of the situation and a comparison of views as to our future work. It was my first meeting with Grant, and I was full of interest in observing him. On the ride he had been quietly attentive, making no show of curiosity, asking few questions, carrying himself in an unpretentious business-like way. In the social meeting at General Parke's I was disappointed that the conversation did not take the direction of a military discussion. Grant did not seem to desire further information, but was satisfied with what he had seen. He took no lead in conversation, and it was evident that he almost wholly lacked facility in that way. What he said was kindly; there was nothing like surliness in his manner; but he seemed to be without the faculty of drawing other people out and putting himself in easy accord with them. No doubt his interviews with General Foster had contained all that was necessary for making up his mind as to our situation except the personal inspection he was now engaged in; but had he been Sherman, he would have gone over the phases of the matter which could properly be made the subject of general discussion, would have emphasized whatever could be made encouraging, and exhorted to patience and courage in doing the present duty. Grant did nothing of the kind. He smoked and listened, and did not accept any of the openings which others made for conversation upon the campaign.
A majority of the officers in the group were West Point men, and college life is always a resource for small-talk when other subjects fail. The experiences of the military school, the characteristics of friends and classmates there, the qualities of the officers and professors, escapades and larks at Benny Havens' were found to have perennial freshness and interest. Grant evidently enjoyed this, and began to talk more freely. One could see that he did not lack the sense of humor, and he told an anecdote simply but without failing to make its points tell. His voice lacked volume, and seemed thin and rather high-keyed. It was half-deprecatory in tone, with an air of shyness, and he had a way of glancing quickly from one to another, as if looking for signs of response to his venture into talk. As he went on, this wore off to some extent, and he laughed quietly over the reminiscences he was telling. He told very well a story of his experience in the riding-school, where the riding-master in his time was an amusing sort of tyrant. Grant's strong point was horsemanship, and the riding-master, whether seriously or as a joke, determined to "take down" the young cadet. At the exercise Grant was mounted on a powerful but vicious brute that the cadets fought shy of, and was put at leaping the bar. The bar was raised higher and higher as he came round the ring, till it passed the "record." The stubborn rider would not say enough, but the stubborn horse was disposed to shy and refuse to leap. Grant gritted his teeth and spurred at it, but just as the horse gathered for the spring, his swelling body burst the girth and rider and saddle tumbled into the ring. Half stunned, he gathered himself up from the dust only to hear the strident, cynical voice of the riding-master calling out, "Cadet Grant, six demerits for dismounting without leave!"
I believe Grant's story is the only memory I brought away from what I had imagined would be a council of war presided over by the most prominent figure in our armies, soon to command them all. As a council of war it certainly did not fill the ideal of an eager and earnest young officer; but if we supplement it by a reading of the daily and hourly dispatches in which the clear practical judgment, the unswerving faith in final success, the unbending will, the restless energy and industry, the power to master numberless details, and a consciousness of capacity to command, all plainly stand forth as traits of Grant's character, we can see that a judgment based only on the incidents of the meeting around the fireplace in the shabby house at Strawberry Plains after our ride on that bitter winter's day would be very misleading.
Grant's visit had plainly shown him that the great problem with us was the clothing and subsistence of the troops, and that our very existence depended on it. He therefore determined to ride over the mountains by way of
Cumberland Gap, and form his own judgment as to the truth of the reports of the impassable condition of the roads. The weather had hardly moderated at all when he left us on the 4th of January, and this long and severe journey was proof of his forgetfulness of personal comfort in his devotion to duty. Before following him further in his investigation, it may be profitable to go back and note some of the circumstances which brought him to Knoxville.
When Longstreet raised the siege of Knoxville, he took position near Rogersville, where he would be in reach of the unbroken part of the railway connecting him with Virginia, which now became his base. His force continued unchanged, and was not materially increased or diminished until the winter was nearly over, when the cavalry which belonged to the Army of Tennessee was ordered back into Georgia. Like Foster, he was reduced to inaction for lack of clothing and supplies. Forage had become very scarce in every part of Tennessee, and it was with great difficulty that the horses were kept alive in either army. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. pp. 817, 819.] To go into cantonments, sheltering the men as well as possible, to send all extra horses to the rear and wait for the springing of the grass and the settling of the roads when winter should be over, was the dictate of common-sense, as was clearly seen by everybody on the ground. It was not pleasant to leave the loyal men of the upper counties of the valley to suffer under the Confederate occupation; but nothing short of a continuous and reliable line of supplies would enable Foster to occupy the country up to the Virginia line. There was no gate to be shut behind Longstreet if he were driven out. He could come back as soon as our troops withdrew. Marching and countermarching would destroy the nearly naked and barefoot troops without accomplishing any permanent good.
The authorities at Washington were beset by the well-grounded complaints of the loyal representatives of the upper valley, and had become blind by habit to the difficulties of supplying and moving troops among the mountains in winter. From the first week after Foster relieved
Halleck complained that Longstreet was not driven beyond the Virginia line and kept there. These complaints were repeated to
Grant, and the latter promised, in dispatches of the 23d and 24th of December, to go to Knoxville in person. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. pp. 472, 479.] In the last of these he said, "If Longstreet is not driven from Tennessee, it shall not be my fault." He came, and saw that it was not Foster's fault, and that no more than Foster could he make a winter campaign with men in such a state of destitution. As I have already said, droves of beef, cattle, and hogs could be brought "on the hoof," in poor condition it is true, but fit to be eaten. Yet soldiers could not campaign on fresh beef and pork only, and bread stuffs and all vegetable food were practically not to be had; so of coffee, sugar, salt, and the small rations generally. This, however, was the least part of the trouble, for the condition of the army as to clothing and shoes was simply appalling. When many had not even rags to cover their nakedness, and none were clad as civilized men should be to face the winter's snows and rains, it was nonsense to talk of campaigning. Grant saw this at a glance when he reached our camps. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. pp. 19, 43.] We have not the whole situation when even this is told. Wagons and teams, artillery with their horses, cavalry with theirs, are as necessary as infantry; and when foraging trains could hardly collect forage enough to feed the animals seeking it, those that were left at the picket rope had to die there. To talk, then, of hauling supplies for man and beast in a marching column was preposterous.
It was quite proper to ask whether the impracticability of bringing wagon trains over the mountains was as complete as we reported, and Grant's horseback journey back into Kentucky when the thermometer was at zero is sufficient proof that he found it imperatively necessary to settle that question also with his own eyes and without delay. We shall see presently what he reported. He knew before he left Chattanooga that the railroad from Nashville was hardly supplying Thomas's army. To Foster's appeals for at least some clothing and shoes by that route, General Meigs, who was there, replied that it could only be done "at the cost of starvation to our animals or short rations to our men" in the Army of the Cumberland. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 476.] He said that the railroad must be "not only repaired, but rebuilt," before it could do more than supply the troops already dependent on it. General McCallum, the superintendent of military railroads, had gone west, and was inspecting the Nashville and Chattanooga Road, and carefully studying the problem of its possible capacity. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 422, 444.] In consequence of this a change was made in the local superintendence, and Mr. Adna Anderson was put in charge of operating the line, while Mr. W. W. Wright was made constructing engineer. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxxii. pt. ii. pp. 371, 372.] Under their energy and ability it was repaired and operated so that East Tennessee as well as Sherman's army in Georgia were abundantly supplied during the Atlanta campaign; but this is part of the history of the next spring and summer. To reduce the number of mouths to feed at Chattanooga, Grant sent portions of the Army of the Tennessee into northern Alabama, where they could be supplied by boats coming up the Tennessee River. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. pp. 429, 496, 502.] The same considerations influenced him in assenting to Sherman's plan of the Meridian Expedition, where the troops engaged in it could live partly at least on a country not yet ravaged by armies, whilst they would make a diversion in favor of the weakened army left with Thomas. It is safe to say that no such division of efforts would have occurred if the railroad had been ready to supply the concentrated army on an advance into Georgia. Sherman understood it to be an interlude, and expected to be back and join the main army by the time the railroad should be repaired and supplies accumulated. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 498.] As auxiliary to the line of supplies, the railroad from Bridgeport to Decatur was also to be repaired, so as to connect with steamboats at the latter place.
In Foster's department the same energy was directed toward improving the communication with Chattanooga. The hull of the light-draught steamboat which Colonel Byrd had found under construction at Kingston was taken as a model, and two more were put on the stocks. [Footnote: _Ante_, vol. i. p.523. Official Records vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 483.] Pontoon bridges were prepared for use at different points on the river. Lumber was cut to rebuild the great railway bridge at Loudon and the long trestle at Strawberry Plains. The little train of "twenty-odd cars" which Burnside had captured was carefully guarded and kept running on the only bit of railroad in East Tennessee that was now open, viz., that from Loudon through Knoxville to Strawberry Plains. Herds of cattle were threading mountain paths to avoid the deep mud of the wagon roads from Kentucky, and on those roads desperate but too often fruitless efforts were making to push forward some wagon-loads of shoes and clothing.
In the consultations at Knoxville Foster had plainly stated his own conviction that the only wise course was to abandon the thought of aggressive warfare until spring; to station the troops so as to cover Knoxville, but to select their positions chiefly with reference to collecting forage and breadstuffs; to send all unnecessary animals to the rear and in every way to simplify to the utmost the problem of carrying the army through the winter, preserving it for active use when the change of season and the improvement of the railway line should make regular supplies possible. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. pp. 281 _et seq_.] Grant listened and suspended his judgment till he had examined the situation for himself. An accident to General Foster had increased the complication of affairs. He was occasionally suffering from lameness resulting from an old wound in the leg, and had found on his first journey over the mountains that he was in danger of being disabled by it. Within a fortnight after he reached Knoxville, his horse fell with him in passing over some slippery rocks, and caught the wounded leg under him. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iii. p. 502.] This completely disabled the general for active field service, and on the advice of his surgeon he asked to be relieved. This request was forwarded on the 26th of December, and Grant had been notified of it on the same day. It could not be acted on at once, and during the few weeks that Foster remained at the head of the department, he was obliged to remain in Knoxville, entrusting to General Parke, as senior officer, the active command of combined movements in the field.
When General Grant reached Nashville, he reported to the War Department the results of his visit to us. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 99.] He said that he found the troops so destitute of clothing and shoes that not more than two-thirds of them could march; that the difficulty of supplying them even with food was so great that it was not advisable to send reinforcements; consequently that the policy advised by Foster must be followed and active operations suspended. Of his own journey he said, "From the personal inspection made, I am satisfied that no portion of our supplies can be hauled by teams from Camp Nelson [Ky.]." He proposed, on the first rise of the Cumberland River, to send supplies by steamboat up the Cumberland to the mouth of the Big South Fork, in the hope that as this was a new route some forage for the teams could be got along it, and that wagoning would be possible by that line into East Tennessee. It did not turn out to be so, and the only relief we got was by way of Chattanooga, where light-draught steamboats added something to the facilities for supply. As his own most pressing needs were relieved, General Thomas sent the steamboat "Lookout" with a small cargo of shoes and clothing to Loudon. There our little railway train met the boat and brought the goods to Knoxville, so that in my own command we began to receive a little about the 10th of January. It was very little, but it was greatly encouraging as a foretaste of better things to come.
On the 12th General Foster was obliged to telegraph Grant that things had grown worse rather than better since his visit. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. pp. 71, 72.] Many animals were dying daily. The weather was still intensely cold, and floating ice combined with high water, in the Holston had twice broken the pontoon bridge at Knoxville. Food for man and beast was all eaten out on the north side of the Holston River, and he proposed to move most of the troops to the south and east of the French Broad, in the hope of finding a region in which some corn and forage might still remain. The great trestle bridge at Strawberry Plains was completed, and a strong post would be left there to protect it. A regiment was at work upon the bridge at Loudon. To diminish the number of mouths to be fed, Foster gave the "veteran furlough" at this time to several more of the regiments which had re-enlisted. Trustworthy evidence showed that Longstreet was quite as badly off as we were, and that he was not likely to move unless, like us, he was forced to do so to find forage. Cavalry parties had reported to us that there were considerable quantities of corn in the neighborhood of Sevierville, and this was the inducement to send most of our troops to that side of the French Broad River. To avoid any appearance of retreat, it was ordered that we march from Strawberry Plains to Dandridge, which was a flank movement to our right, one day's march. There we should extemporize some sort of ferry to cross the French Broad and seek camps in regions which promised some supplies, but within supporting distance of our several detachments. The men whose clothing was most lacking and who were without shoes would remain in our present camp and be temporarily attached to the post established to protect the bridge. The cavalry, which had been near Mossy Creek (fourteen miles up the Holston), was directed to move straight across the angle between the two rivers, and cover the flank march of the infantry to Dandridge. It was thought probable that the cavalry might subsist for a short time in the neighborhood of Dandridge and in the valley of the Nolachucky, the principal tributary of the French Broad from the north; indeed, the time of crossing the larger river by the infantry was not fixed, but would be determined by our good or bad fortune in finding forage and bread-stuffs near Dandridge. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. pp. 82, 87, 99, 101.]
The 15th of January was the day fixed for the march. The weather was not so cold as it had been, but was very raw and uncomfortable. At the last moment General Foster found it necessary to have a consultation with Parke and Granger; and Sheridan, whose division of the Fourth Corps led off on the road, was directed to select positions for the infantry of that corps and mine as we reached Dandridge. He was also authorized to assign mills to the use of the different commands so as to systematize our means of supply and prevent disorder. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 102.] The march was nineteen miles to Dandridge, and our positions were about a mile in front of the village, on the hills covering it. Both the Fourth and the Ninth Corps had remained in their camps at Blain's Crossroads up to this time, and the Ninth now took my place at Strawberry Plains, covering Knoxville from that direction. It had less than 4000 men present for duty. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 292.] Our moving column consisted of Sheridan's and Wood's divisions of the Fourth Corps and parts of three brigades from the Twenty-third; less than 10,000 men in all. The ground was frozen, and as we were moving over roads which had not been much travelled, the way was comparatively smooth for our artillery and wagons. It was not so much so for the infantry, and the little unevenness being sharpened by frost, quickly cut through the men's old shoes. Those who were barefoot were ordered to stay behind, but the shoes of others were in so bad a state that there were places where I saw the road marked with bloody tracks from the wounded feet of the soldiers.
Reaching Dandridge a little in advance of my command, I reported to Sheridan, and he showed me the line he had selected, on which we were to occupy the left. Colonel Sterling, my inspector-general, was assigned the duty of placing the brigades in position as they arrived. The cavalry had preceded us, and we found them occupying the town and picketing the roads toward Morristown and the elbow of the Nolachucky River northeast of us, locally called the Bend o' Chucky. A range of hills known as Bay's Mountain was the water-shed between the valleys of the Holston and the French Broad, and we expected the cavalry to cover the front on a line from Kimbrough's Cross-roads near the mountain to the Bend o' Chucky. This line would be nine or ten miles from Dandridge, and would communicate also with Mott's brigade of my command, which had been left in its post at Mossy Creek, on the Holston, under orders to fall back deliberately to Strawberry Plains if attacked by superior forces. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 99.] If these positions could be held, the cavalry could not only collect the forage in the Nolachucky valley as far up as their detachments could reach, but would also threaten the left flank of Longstreet's position at Morristown.
Those who only knew Sheridan after the war would hardly recognize him in the thin and wiry little man I met at Dandridge. His hollow cheeks made his cheekbones noticeably prominent, and his features had a decided Milesian cast. His reputation at that time was that of an impetuous and vehement fighter when engaged, rousing himself to a belligerent wrath and fury that made his spirit contagious and stimulated his troops to a like vigor. At other times he was unpretentious and genial, and whilst regarded as a good division commander was not thought of as specially fitted for large and independent responsibilities. He was not considered cool enough for the broader duties of a commander, and indeed had had rather bad luck in the great battles of Stone's River and Chickamauga, where the qualities called for were those which enable a perfectly self-possessed officer to extricate his command from a perilous position. He has told me himself that he was slow in learning to have confidence in his own power to direct in such cases, and that it was only after he had tested himself, step by step, that he came to rely on his own judgment and will, as he did in the
Shenandoah valley and at
Five Forks. It was his blazing impetuosity in action that made Grant think of him as specially fitted for a cavalry leader, and his growth into the able commander of an army was a later development of his talents. He received me very cordially, and in our trying wintry experience at Dandridge began a friendly acquaintance which continued unbroken till his death.
General Thomas J. Wood was not with his division, and it was under the command of General August Willich, whom I had seen drilling Robert McCook's German regiment, the Ninth Ohio, as its adjutant, at
Camp Dennison in the spring of 1861. I had expected to find Brigadier-General William B. Hazen in temporary command during Wood's leave of absence, but when I went to his quarters was surprised to find him in arrest. Hazen had been one of the first of the officers of the regular army with whom I became acquainted at the beginning of the war, and he had offered to accept a staff position with me. I had a real regard for him, and naturally offered my friendly services in his present predicament. It seemed that Sheridan had called on him for a report as to the condition of things in his front, and Hazen had taken advantage of some peculiarity of the situation which he thought Sheridan did not sufficiently understand, to make a report which was ironical and so irritating that Sheridan's answer was to order him to keep his quarters in arrest. Their quarrel, however, dated from the battle of Missionary Ridge, where Sheridan accused Wood's division, and Hazen in particular, with usurping the honors of being first on the crest and capturing part of Bragg's artillery. Sheridan honestly thought his division entitled to the honor, but the official evidence seems to me to be against him. At any rate, it began a very pretty quarrel which never was wholly made up, and which had many queer little episodes, in war and in peace, on the Indian frontier and at Washington, for many years thereafter. Hazen was an officer of real ability, of brilliant courage and splendid personal presence. His fault was that he was too keen in seeing flaws in other people's performance of duty, and apt to dilate upon them in his official reports when such officers were wholly independent of him. This made him a good many enemies notwithstanding his noble qualities and his genial kindliness to his friends. A military officer usually finds it hard enough to submit gracefully to the criticisms of his superiors, and naturally takes it ill if this prerogative is exercised by those of equal grade without authority. Such a practice puts into the official records matter which does not belong there, and which, however honestly stated, may be very unjust, because all the explanatory circumstances are not likely to be known to the critic. At any rate, the person criticised is not amenable to that tribunal, and this is enough in itself to cause a sense of injury. [Footnote: See Review of General Hazen's Narrative of Military Service, "The Nation," Nov. 5, 1885.] Sheridan took very kindly my mediation in Hazen's behalf, and probably had never intended more than a temporary arrest. After Granger came to the front and resumed command of the corps, I heard no more of the trouble.
We had escorted a small train in which were some wagon-loads of clothing and shoes for the cavalry, and the mounted corps remained at Dandridge during the 15th of January, issuing these supplies. The rear of our infantry column came up on the next day, so that we were assembled and in position before evening. The cavalry moved out in the afternoon of the 16th, part on the right toward the Nolachucky River, and the left toward Kimbrough's Cross-roads on the Morristown road. The right wing found the enemy's cavalry in their front about five miles from town, but the left wing found Kimbrough's occupied by Longstreet's infantry. His whole force, except Ransom's division, had advanced upon information of the movement of our cavalry on the 14th. In doing this Longstreet had turned the position of the brigade of infantry left at Mossy Creek, and Colonel Mott retired on the 16th to Strawberry Plains in accordance with his orders. Toward evening the cavalry on our right were driven back in a lively skirmish, and those on the left were recalled to give them support. The whole were united and repulsed the enemy's horsemen, taking position for the night about a mile in front of our infantry camps. On the 17th the enemy's infantry advanced, and reached the posts of our cavalry in the afternoon. Longstreet now made a vigorous attack with his troops of both arms, and gradually drove back our horsemen, who resisted him with their carbines, fighting dismounted. Sheridan supported the cavalry with some infantry and a lively skirmishing combat continued for an hour or two till darkness came on. The affair was something of a surprise to both parties. Longstreet had evidently made his movement in the hope of giving our cavalry a lesson which might check their enterprise and make them keep their distance, and was astonished to come upon our infantry at Dandridge. We were in motion to put our infantry on the south side of the French Broad, and were equally surprised to find the enemy in force on the same route.
General Parke and General Granger had ridden over from Strawberry Plains and reached Dandridge in the afternoon. Hearing of the presence of what was reported to be the whole of Longstreet's army, and not liking to accept battle with superior forces with the river at his back, Parke had caused an examination of the river to be made, and learned that just below the town was a shallow, fordable at an ordinary stage of water, and now about waist-deep for the men. In the low physical condition of our troops and their lack of clothing he very wisely thought it would not do to make them march through the river, but devised a foot-bridge by putting army wagons end to end and making a path over the boxes of the wagons. Sheridan was ordered to detach a brigade immediately to make this bridge, and it set to work at once. The plan was to march the infantry to the south side of the river and afterward remove the wagons, covering the operation by the cavalry who could then ford the stream, which though very cold and running with ice was not impracticable for horsemen.
About dusk, as the skirmishing in front ceased, Sheridan and myself, with Sturgis, the commandant of the cavalry, were called to meet Generals Parke and Granger at a house in the town to report the condition of affairs in our front and to receive orders for marching. The bridge had been completed, as was supposed, and the brigade which had made it had been ordered across, when, on reaching the land on the left bank, they found, to their amazement, that they were upon an island with an equally deep and wide channel beyond! This news had just been received when we assembled at headquarters. Sheridan was greatly mortified at the blunder, but there was then no help for it. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. i. p. 79.] It was impracticable to complete the bridge before morning, and it was doubtful if wagons enough could be got together. My own command was on the extreme left of the line, partly covering the road back to Strawberry Plains, and we had not been engaged. The fighting had been in front of the centre and right. I could therefore throw no light on the question of the enemy's force. The information from other parts of the line and from prisoners left no doubt that infantry had engaged in the attack late in the afternoon and that Longstreet was present in force. There was therefore no dissent from the conclusion that it would be unwise to accept a battle with the river behind us, and orders were given to leave the position in the night and retire to Strawberry Plains. The wagons and most of the artillery were to follow the advance-guard, which was Sheridan's division, my command to march next, and Willich's (Wood's) division of the Fourth Corps to be the rear-guard. The cavalry were to march on a road a little to the right, leading to New Market, and would thus cover our flank. [Footnote: For the Dandridge expedition, see Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. i. pp. 79 _et seq_.]
Granger had been ailing for a day or two and had not been with the troops. He was lying on a bed in the room where we met, and the rest of us sat about the fireplace, a tallow candle being on a rude table in the middle of the floor. Sturgis came in later than the others, having had a longer ride. He was a handsome fellow, with full, round features, sharp black eyes, and curly black hair and mustache. He had been seated but a few minutes when he noticed a bottle of whiskey on the table and a glass which had been placed there as camp hospitality for any one that wanted it, but had apparently been neglected. Glancing that way, Sturgis said, "If I had a little bit of sugar, I believe I'd take a toddy." A colored boy produced a sugar-bowl and the toddy was taken. The conversation ran on a few moments, when, as if it were a wholly new suggestion, the same voice repeated, "If I had a little bit of sugar, I believe I'd take a toddy;" and again the attendant did the honors. Our orders were received and we were about ready to go to our commands, when again, with polite intonation and a most amusing unconsciousness of any repetition, came the words, "If I had a little bit of sugar, I believe I'd take a toddy." The incident was certainly a funny one in itself, but I should not have cared to repeat it had not the official records of Sturgis's defeat by Forrest in the Tishimingo affair later in the year emphasized the mischief of lax habits as to temperance. The judgment of his superiors and of those who knew him well was made severer by the knowledge of his weakness in this respect. Railway officers insist upon absolute sobriety in locomotive engineers; but if there be one employment in which such coolness of head is more absolutely essential than in another, I believe it is in commanding troops in the field. [Footnote: See Marbot's Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 242, for results of Wittgenstein's reliance on an intemperate officer, Kulnieff, in the Russian campaign of 1812.] Sturgis's military downfall was a severe lesson, but he gave every evidence afterward of having learned it, and "lived cleanly" through many years of service after the Civil War was over.
The march back to Strawberry Plains began by starting the wagon train to the rear as soon as it was dark. Sheridan's division was drawn out soon afterward. My command was ordered to leave the line at eight o'clock, and Willich's to follow when the road should be clear as far as the first defensible ridge beyond the village where a rear-guard could make a successful stand. The cavalry were to maintain their position till morning and cover the movement. It was about half-past eight when my column closed up upon the wagons ahead of me, but as they had not yet climbed the first hill, we found ourselves necessarily halted in the main street of the village. General Willich had prudently placed a tent a little to the right of the road where it leaves the town, and there he made his quarters until the column should completely pass that point. He could thus keep his division in their bivouac in support of the cavalry till he knew the rest of the little army had cleared the place and could secure some rest, whilst he was still in easy communication with both the marching column and his own men. He reaped the advantage of his forethought. As my command had to assist the wagons and the artillery, no such means of bettering the situation was possible for us. I had notified Willich that I would be in person at the extreme rear of my command so that he could communicate with me most promptly and obtain my support if he were seriously attacked. The brigade in the lead was directed to give the wagons and cannon every help in getting forward, and the column was ordered to keep well closed up.
The day had been a mild one in comparison with the fortnight preceding, and rain set in early in the evening. The surface of the clayey roads soon became very slippery, then cut into deep ruts, and the moisture was just enough to give the mud the consistency of tenacious putty. The teams, half starved, were very weak, and it seemed as if they would never mount the hills before them, which were the southern end of the ridge of Bay's Mountain, separating the Holston valley from the Nolachucky. Three or four teams had to be united to drag up a single cannon or caisson, and the time as well as the distance was thus trebled or quadrupled. In some instances more than twenty horses were thus hitched to a single piece, besides having infantrymen at the wheels as thick as they could cluster, pushing and lifting. The column which was halted thus waiting for the wagon trains and artillery to climb a hill, grew weary of standing. The men would break ranks and sit down in the fence corners, where they built little camp-fires, and, rainy as it was, they fell asleep leaning against each other in these little bivouacs. Then would come word from the front to close up, and the regimental officers would give the command to fall in. The men would rouse themselves, the column would march, perhaps less than a hundred yards, when the road would be blocked again, the men would again seek the fence corners and stir up the fires that had been left by those who were now in advance. Thus in cold and wet and weariness the night wore on, till when day broke about six o'clock next morning we had put a distance of less than two miles between us and the village, and Willich's division had barely reached the first wooded ridge beyond the town.
During all the last hours of the night we were anxious lest we should be attacked by the enemy, who by crowning the hills above the road would have had us at great disadvantage. I had concerted with General Willich a plan of action if we were assailed, but the enemy took no advantage of our situation, and I have always believed that as the meeting at Dandridge was a mutual surprise, by a similar coincidence both parties were retiring at the same time. Our cavalry moved off toward New Market at daybreak, but it was not till late in the forenoon, when we had toiled on several miles further, that the Confederate cavalry approached our infantry rear-guard and accompanied its march for a time with some light skirmishing.
The weather grew colder during the day, and in the afternoon the rain changed to moist driving snow. The sleepy, weary troops toiled doggedly on; the wagons and the cannon were helped over the bad places in the way, for we were determined not to abandon any, and the enemy was not hurrying us. When night fell, on the 18th, my own command and Willich's division were still three miles from Strawberry Plains, though Sheridan's division and part of the wagon train had reached that place and crossed the Holston. We halted the men here and went into bivouac for the night. It had been a wretchedly cheerless and uncomfortable march, but the increasing cold and flying snow made the camp scarcely less inclement. The officers were, as was frequently the case, worse off than the men, for they could not carry their rations in haversacks, and the separation from the wagons in such a desolate country meant a prolonged fast. The delay caused by the rain and mud had been unexpected, and the march we had hoped to make in the night had taken more than twenty-four hours. During that time myself and staff had not eaten a mouthful, and we had no expectation of seeing food till we should get across the Holston next day and reach our headquarters wagons. Better luck happened us, however. We found a deserted and unfinished log cabin which had a roof and a stick-and-clay chimney, though it had no floor or chinking. The snow drove through between the logs, but the roof was over our heads and we soon had a lively fire roaring in the chimney. Some bundles of corn-stalks were found in a field near by, and of these we made a bed on the ground in front of the fire, and began to think we might forget our hunger in thankfulness for fire and shelter such as it was. But still better was in store for us. One of our tired forage trains had gone into park near us, and the teamsters offered to share their supper with us. They had corn "pone," some salt pork, and for a rarity some newly arrived coffee. We sat on the corn-stalks around the fire with an iron camp-kettle in the midst containing the black coffee which we dipped out with battered tin cups, and we held in our hands pieces of the corn-pone and slices of fried pork, congratulating each other on the unexpected luxury of our supper. Hunger and fatigue were so good a sauce that it seemed really a luxury, and we banished care with an ease which now seems hardly credible. The supper ended, sleep was not long a-wooing, though my rest was more broken than that of the others, for frequent dispatches came from headquarters which I had to answer, and orders had to be sent to the troops to continue the march on the morrow in accordance with the directions which I had received. I had provided myself in Cincinnati with a field dispatch book in form of a manifold letter-writer which I myself carried in a sabretasch during all the rest of the war. In this, by means of the carbon sheets and agate-pointed stylus, a dispatch and its copy were written at once, and a valuable record kept of every day's business. I could sit by the bivouac fire and write upon my knee without troubling a weary aide-de-camp to make a copy. I had in my saddle portmanteau also a little pair of brass candlesticks screwing together in form of a large watch-case, so that I could be provided with a light at the root of a tree in the darkness, if it was necessary to send or receive dispatches where there was neither shelter nor fire. These were necessaries; for food we could take our chances.
We halted the troops in wooded slopes where they were sheltered from the storm and where the evergreen boughs were speedily converted into tents of a sort, as well as soft and fragrant beds. Their ration was still scant, but nearly all of them picked up some addition to it on a day's march, so that the camps were more cheerful than they had been in the intensely severe weather of the first half of the month. On the next day we continued the movement, passing through Strawberry Plains and three miles further on the road to Knoxville. The Fourth Corps troops were ordered to go to the last-named city, there to cross the Holston and move out toward Sevierville into the country we had expected to reach by way of Dandridge. The Ninth Corps remained a little longer at Strawberry Plains.
On the 18th of January General Foster's plans were unsettled by a dispatch received from
General Grant, dated at Nashville on the 16th, but in some manner delayed in transmittal. This conveyed the rather startling information that Longstreet had been reinforced by a division of Ewell's Corps with expectation of another also, and that the Confederate commander was in fact moving in force on Knoxville. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. pp. 109, 127.] The source of the information is not disclosed, but the news was stated with a positiveness uncommon with Grant. It reached Foster just as he had Parke's report of our having most unexpectedly met Longstreet's infantry at Dandridge and of our retreat on Strawberry Plains. The news was without foundation, for Longstreet had not been reinforced and his movement had no other significance than that which I have given it; but, coming on the heels of the accidental collision at Dandridge, there was a curious coincidence in the events which gave strong apparent confirmation to the report, and it was a matter of course that Foster should accept it as true and act upon it.
He directed the sick and all extra baggage to be sent at once to Knoxville. Part of the Fourth Corps troops were ordered to the same place. The cavalry, except two regiments left with General Parke for picket duty, was ordered to pass through Knoxville toward Sevierville to obstruct any further movement of the enemy on the Dandridge line. Parke was ordered to hold the rest of the army together, resisting Longstreet's advance, and retiring deliberately on Knoxville. Preparations were made to destroy the long trestle bridge at Strawberry Plains, and this important structure was devoted to ruin for the third or fourth time since Sanders entered the valley in the preceding summer. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. pp. 129, 162.] Grant had said to Foster that the impossibility of supplying more troops in East Tennessee made it useless to send reinforcements, and that he must keep between Longstreet and Thomas, retiring toward Chattanooga if necessary.
Halleck complicated the situation by telegraphing direct to Thomas that he must aid Foster to any extent needed, and that the line from Knoxville to
Cumberland Gap must be maintained at all hazards. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 130.] Foster reported to Grant that he had so greatly improved the defences and armament of Knoxville that it could not be taken, and that he would not retire further than this place unless it were explicitly ordered. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 138.] This was in accordance with General Grant's wish, and his confidence in the information as to Longstreet's reinforcement was such that he telegraphed Halleck on the 20th that the siege of Knoxville was about to be renewed. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 149.] The chronic inability of Halleck to understand East Tennessee affairs is shown in his insistence on still maintaining the
Cumberland Gap line, which was necessarily uncovered whenever the enemy approached Strawberry Plains. Chattanooga had now become our base, and remained so for all troops in East Tennessee till the end of the war. We at the front got the first authentic information which disproved the report of Longstreet's reinforcement and showed that he had retired to Morristown. Foster was thus enabled to telegraph Grant on the 20th that the evidence did not sustain the report, and that he doubted whether the Confederate commander would again attempt Knoxville. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 151.]