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
SCHOFIELD IN EAST TENNESSEE---DUTIES AS CHIEF OF STAFF--FINAL OPERATIONS IN THE VALLEY
Fresh reports of Longstreet's advance--They are unfounded--Grant's wish to rid the valley of the enemy--Conference with Foster--Necessity for further recuperation of the army--Continuance of the quiet policy--Longstreet's view of the situation--His suggestions to his government--He makes an advance again--Various demonstrations--Schofield moves against Longstreet--My appointment as chief of staff in the field--Organization of the active column--Schofield's purposes--March to Morristown--Going the Grand Rounds--Cavalry outpost--A sleepy sentinel--Return to New Market--Once more at Morristown--Ninth Corps sent East--Grant Lieutenant-General--Sherman commands in the West--Study of plans of campaign--My assignment to Third Division, Twenty-third Corps--Importance of staff duties--Colonel Wherry and Major Campbell--General Wood--Schofield and the politicians--Post at Bull's Gap--Grapevine telegraph--Families going through the lines--Local vendetta--The Sanitary Commission--Rendezvous assigned by Sherman--Preliminary movements--Marching to Georgia--A spring camp on the Hiwassee--The Atlanta campaign begun.
On assuming command in East Tennessee, Schofield was met by directions from
General Grant, full of fresh urgency that Longstreet should be driven beyond the Virginia line. The occasion for this was the receipt of new intelligence that Longstreet was reinforced from the East, and would make another effort at an aggressive campaign. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 337.] The recurrence of this stereotyped form of alarm looked very much like information sent from the Confederates themselves for the purpose of keeping us on the defensive; but perhaps it is only of a piece with other evidence which shows the slight value of all information which is not got by contact with the enemy. The truth was that none of the reports that Ewell and others had been sent to Longstreet had any foundation. He was left to his own resources, with only the authority to call his next neighbor in southwestern Virginia to his assistance if he were in danger of being overwhelmed. But Grant was annoyed by these recurrent alarms, and his aggressive nature chafed at it. "I intend to drive him out or get whipped this month," he said to Thomas before Schofield's arrival; and on the 11th of February he wrote to the latter: "I deem it of the utmost importance to drive Longstreet out immediately, so as to furlough the balance of our veterans and to prepare for a
spring campaign of our own choosing, instead of permitting the enemy to dictate it for us." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 367.]
Nothing would have pleased Schofield better than to have had Longstreet come down to
Knoxville and fight there, but the cogent reasons which had made Foster suspend active operations and devote every energy to getting his men and animals in condition for a vigorous spring campaign, had lost none of their force. Our animals had already been sent away to save their lives, and by the help of the little steamboats built at Kingston and for which General Meigs had sent engines from the North, we were beginning to receive at
Knoxville some of the clothing for which our men were suffering.
Grant had already ordered Thomas to be prepared to march at once to reinforce Schofield, [Footnote: _Id._, p. 359.] when he had a personal interview at Nashville with General Foster, who was on his way home. Foster so fully explained the impossibility of supplying troops much further up the valley than Knoxville, and the absolute need of building up the physical strength of man and beast after the half starvation since winter set in, that
Grant yielded to the inevitable and directed Schofield to remain on the defensive till the approach of spring should give a prospect of activity which should not be destructive to the little army. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. pp. 373-375.] He ordered that the re-enlisting veterans should have their furloughs as soon as possible, and that men and animals should have all the rest they could get, preparatory for early operations in the spring.
After his retreat from Knoxville, Longstreet had kept up an active correspondence with Mr. Davis, and with Lee, Johnston, and
Beauregard, in reference to further plans of campaign. The ease with which Thomas could reinforce Schofield was so plain to him that he saw nothing attractive in another advance on Knoxville. The plan which seemed to attract him most was to mount his infantry on mules and make a dash through the mountains into Kentucky by way of Pound Gap. [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 652-789, 790-792.] To collect ten thousand mules and send them to him, to make a depot for rations and forage at Abingdon sufficient to support the column on its journey through the mountains, to furnish a train to carry it,--all this seemed evidently chimerical to those to whom he proposed it. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 760.] The Confederacy had all it could do to feed its existing armies where they were, and was living from hand to mouth.
The thing which the Confederate government seemed most to desire was that Longstreet should effect a junction with Johnston and the two open an offensive campaign against Thomas. [Footnote: _Id._ pp. 806, 808, 810.] The evil consequences of Bragg's blunder in detaching Longstreet before the battle of Missionary Ridge became more evident every day; but how were the commands to be reunited? A long and perilous flank march must be made by both armies, with an almost certainty that Grant would concentrate first and fall upon them in succession.
Longstreet was restless and anxious to do something pending this discussion, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 699.] and resolved to try an advance from Morristown upon Knoxville. He began his movement just as Grant had concluded to allow Schofield's army to remain quiet till spring. On the 19th of February he reached New Market, seven or eight miles above Strawberry Plains and twenty-five from Knoxville. The information he got gave him the idea that our troops were "demoralized," and that it was a favorable opportunity for an effort to capture Schofield's army. [Footnote: _Id.,_ p. 735.] He was quite wrong as to the _morale_ of our troops, though we were depleted by furloughs and were nearly immovable for lack of train animals. He urged Johnston to move toward Knoxville to co-operate with him, [Footnote: _Id.,_ p. 744.] but
Polk was now in trouble by reason of Sherman's march from Vicksburg upon Meridian and Johnston was ordered to assist
Polk. [Footnote: _Id.,_ p. 763.] Then Grant, to balk both efforts, ordered Thomas to make a demonstration against Johnston, which was effective in preventing co-operation in either direction. [Footnote: _Id.,_ p. 480.]
Schofield was at first disposed to regard the enemy's advance as an effort to find forage and to strip the country more bare than it already was, if that were possible. On the 18th, however, Longstreet advanced again, and threatened to cross the Holston at Strawberry Plains, scouring the country in the angle between that river and the French Broad. The rumors which reached Schofield were [Footnote: _Id.,_ p. 415.] that his real purpose was to cross the French Broad, move along the foot of Chilhowee Mountains and make his way to Johnston. It is very probable that this was his real purpose. On the 19th he was ordered to send at any rate Martin's cavalry to rejoin Johnston, [Footnote: _Id.,_ p. 772.] and to make the junction complete would so evidently please the Confederate government that it may be assumed Longstreet would do it if he saw the way open. Schofield therefore prepared to concentrate and move in either direction, but took no active step for a few days. On the 23d the information was sufficient to make it clear that Longstreet was not moving in force toward Georgia, but was retiring toward Morristown, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. pp. 449, 455.] and Schofield immediately issued orders of march to his troops to follow. The fact was that Longstreet was so much disturbed by the withdrawal of Martin's cavalry [Footnote: Martin's cavalry at this time was what remained of
General Wheeler's corps which had accompanied Longstreet from Bragg's army the previous autumn.] that he declared this forced him to leave East Tennessee and place his forces at Bristol on the Virginia border. On getting a second dispatch from Mr. Davis, he modified his reasons, saying that Schofield had been reinforced from Chattanooga. [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 788-790.] This was incorrect, for the Fourth Corps was the only part of the
Army of the Cumberland which joined the Army of the Ohio at any time during the winter, and only Wood's division of it participated in Schofield's present movement. He also wrote as if he had been near enough to Knoxville to discover for himself that the fortifications were greatly strengthened;[Footnote: _Id._, p. 810.] but as he had not approached nearer than seventeen miles, he could hardly have gained much information on this subject. No doubt rumors of work on the defences of the city had spread through the country during the winter, but there could hardly have been any discovery at this time. The use of it to smooth the appearance of an abortive effort was only a passage in military apologetics.
I had been awaiting orders in Knoxville a fortnight when the advance against Longstreet began, and as no definite answer had come to my application for transfer, General Schofield invited me to act as his chief of staff in the field during active operations or until my assignment to permanent duty should be settled. I gladly accepted the general's proposal and joined headquarters at once. [Footnote: See Official Records vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 495.] Our little army consisted nominally of parts of three corps, but the column in the field consisted of one division of the Twenty-third Corps, under the immediate command of
General Stoneman, one of the Fourth Corps under Brigadier-General Thomas J. Wood, and the skeleton of the Ninth Corps under General Parke. [Footnote: _Id_. p. 455.] We had also Colonel Garrard's division of cavalry. Another division of the Twenty-third Corps under Brigadier-General Milo S. Hascall was left as the garrison of Knoxville, with the heavy artillery organization under Brigadier-General Davis Tillson and a small detachment of cavalry. Hascall was particularly directed to scout far out to the eastward, watching for any attempt of the enemy to pass along the mountain base, as well as against any effort to capture the city by a _coup de main_.
Our marching column numbered 13,873 officers and men, distributed thus: Wood's division, 5477; Parke's detachments of two divisions of the Ninth Corps, 3031; Stoneman with the second division of the Twenty-third Corps, 3363; Garrard's cavalry, 2002. [Footnote: _Id_. pp. 502, 504.] Longstreet's forces were 20,787, of which 5034 were cavalry. Schofield's purpose was essentially that of a reconnoissance in force to learn definitely the composition and apparent plans of the enemy, though willing to accept a defensive battle if a favorable opportunity should occur. If Longstreet were finally leaving East Tennessee, Grant's intention was to send all troops of the Fourth Corps back to Thomas, so as to concentrate the Army of the Cumberland in preparation for the spring campaign in Georgia. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 456, 490.]
On the 24th of February we were at Strawberry Plains. The long trestle bridge of the railway had been destroyed when our forces had concentrated at Knoxville a month before, and our first task was to complete a wagon bridge across the Holston so that we could move onward toward New Market and Morristown with a possibility of keeping up a supply of food. We did not wait for the bridge to be completed, however, and orders were issued on the 26th to begin crossing, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. ii. p. 474.] using flatboats for the men, whilst the artillery and wagons used a ford that was then passable. Grant did not expect Schofield to march his infantry farther than Strawberry Plains, but to push the reconnoissance beyond that point with cavalry. [Footnote: Id., p. 495.] Schofield, however, felt that to do his work thoroughly, his horsemen should be strongly and closely supported. On the 29th our headquarters were at New Market and the column on its way to Morristown. We overtook it in the afternoon and occupied the town that evening. As so often happens in war, our movement had hardly begun when the fine weather ended, and we marched from Strawberry Plains in pouring rain, over wretched roads which rapidly became worse. This delayed the troops and only part were at Morristown when darkness fell. These were disposed so as to cover the town in front with pickets well out, and a detachment of cavalry a mile or two farther forward. Most of the horsemen were on our flanks, covering roads by which our position could be turned.
All the information we could get pointed to an abandonment of East Tennessee by the enemy, but it was hard for us to believe that the sudden retreat of Longstreet, after his announced intention to attack Knoxville, was not under orders which indicated a plan we ought to fathom. We had heard of his first purpose at many places on our road, for it is almost impossible to keep the people of the country from learning the destination of a moving column, and now the inhabitants who remained at Morristown were aware that Longstreet's men regarded Bristol as their destination. There were, however, rumors and some evidence that Longstreet had stopped his retreat and was about to turn upon us. This called for a careful disposal of our troops and preparation for supporting them promptly with those that were still on the road. As nothing came of it, there would be no reason for mentioning it, except that it was the occasion for an amusing bit of personal experience of my own.
Some of the more pronounced Secessionists had left the town with Longstreet, through fear that the loyalists might take vengeance on them for some of the wrongs they had suffered. We occupied as headquarters a house thus vacated, but it was absolutely empty and gave us only a roof over our heads. We had a few camp stools and a camp desk or two, and slept on the bare floor wrapped in our blankets, with our saddles for pillows. Late in the evening some loyal men brought in such reports of the enemy advancing to attack us at daybreak, that as a measure of prudence determined to go the "grand rounds" an hour or two before day, and especially to visit the cavalry outpost at the front and send forward a reconnoissance from it to make sure of full warning if there was any need of it. When I was roused by the sergeant of the headquarters guard and my horse was brought to the door, it was not a night for a pleasure excursion. A cold winter rain was pouring down, and the blackness of darkness was intense. I took only a single orderly with me, buttoned my cape close over my great-coat, pulled down the rim of my felt hat and started off, trusting to my horse to keep the road till my eyes should get a little used to the darkness. As both armies had encamped around the town, the fences were of course all gone and the wagons had cut so many tracks to right and left that it seemed all road, or rather all mire and no road. Whilst we were among the camps the smouldering camp-fires were of some help, but when we got beyond these we could only splash along cautiously, steering for the smaller fires which marked the picket reserves. Beyond the line of sentries there was nothing to guide us, and keeping our direction as well as we could, we plodded on until a faint glimmer showed the camp of the cavalry outpost. It was in an open wood, and the dying camp-fires gave only light enough to show the tall trunks of the forest trees, black against a background of dull red. Part of Longstreet's army had been in cantonments here during the winter, and many of the huts were still standing, their dim outlines and irregular forms hardly visible, but giving an air of weird mystery to the surroundings. Some of these huts were occupied by the cavalry, and the first we came upon had as its tenant an Irish dragoon, and him we turned out to guide us to the captain's quarters. The occasionally flashing light only seemed to make the darkness visible, and the Irishman told us to follow him closely, "and look out," says he, "for there's pits every little way where thim ribils dug foundations for their chimbleys." He started on and I followed, keeping my horse's nose close to his shoulder. Suddenly he disappeared, and as I jerked my horse back on his haunches, Paddy sung out: "Och! I've found one, sorr!" and sure enough he had gone in, head and heels, in one of the "pits." He scrambled out and cautiously led my horse around the hole, but we had hardly gone a rod further before Pat went out again, like a candle, with "Be jabers, I've found another." But he took his mud baths good-humoredly, and led us without further accident to the captain. From him I got the reports from the vedettes at the front, and after ordering a reconnoissance to be pushed well forward, turned back to inspect the infantry line of sentinels. These were generally found on the alert and well instructed, but as we went across ditches and miry fields we came suddenly upon one asleep in a fence corner where he had tried to make some shelter from the storm. When the horses halted beside him, he sprang up bewildered, and stood bolt upright, trying to look at us, evidently uncertain whether we were rebels, but too confused to utter a single word. I ordered him to call the corporal of the guard, and asked him if that was the way he guarded the camp. He began to stammer out denials of being asleep with a foreign accent and in broken English, which made his stupidity seem more stupid. I reported him to the officer of the guard, but finding he was a raw recruit, I refrained from ordering him before a general court-martial, and directed a lighter summary punishment that his regimental officers could impose.
After examining the more important part of the line, we splashed back to quarters as day was breaking, got a fire built in our cheerless room, hung my coat, which was heavy with water, before it to dry, and crossing my mud-cased legs, sat down for half an hour of rest and revery, listening for carbine shots at the front that would tell if the scouting party had found an enemy. The rest of the staff were still sleeping, oblivious of war's alarms and preparing for the work of the day by trusting the watching to those on duty, as they would be trusted in turn when similarly on guard. How often were such incidents repeated, night and day, through campaign after campaign, till they became so familiar that it seems almost puerile to mention them!
On beginning the movement to Morristown, orders had been given to press the rebuilding of the railroad bridge at Strawberry Plains, for our continuance so far from our supplies depended upon it. We had no trains of wagons to keep up our communication with our base, and the utmost we could do was to carry four or five days' supply with us. We therefore spent three or four days in vigorous efforts to gain information of the enemy by means of our cavalry. We learned that Longstreet held the line of Bays Mountain, where the railway passes through Bull's Gap, thirteen miles above Morristown. His right flank seemed to be at Rogersville on the Holston, and his left rested near the Nolachucky beyond Greeneville. We could not learn that any of his forces except Martin's cavalry had left him, though we were mystified by the disappearance of Ransom's division from the accounts of the enemy's organization. The fact was that that officer was transferred to the cavalry command, and the organization of his division was merged in the others.
On the 2d of March Grant directed that McCook's division of cavalry should go back to Thomas as soon as they could possibly be spared, and on Schofield's reporting the results of our reconnoissances, he advised the latter not to bring on an engagement, but to content ourselves with holding as much of the country as we could. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 14.] The bill creating the grade of lieutenant-general was now the law, and Grant had been promoted to it. On the invitation of the President he was about to go to Washington for consultation, keeping in telegraphic communication with his department commanders. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 17.] Consequently it agreed well with his views to let affairs remain quiet during his absence. The rains continued, however, and even if he had desired further advance it would have been out of the question till the bridge at Strawberry Plains was rebuilt. The rations brought with us were exhausted, and on the 4th we withdrew the infantry fourteen miles, to a position four miles above New Market, where we hoped to be able to feed the troops with our few wagons, until the railroad should again be available.
Headquarters in the field were established at New Market, and I remained there with authority to direct and support the cavalry movements actively kept up in our front. General Schofield was thus enabled to spend part of his time at Knoxville attending to the clothing and supply of the troops, the gathering of reinforcements, return of veterans, and all the matters of department administration which centred there. In case of the necessity of combined action in Grant's absence, Thomas was authorized to assume command.
The Holston bridge at Strawberry Plains was completed on March 11th, and our forces were at once put in motion for Morristown, where we once more encamped on the 12th. Nothing new had been learned of the enemy; but there was nothing to learn, for Longstreet quietly occupied the line of Bays Mountain, and, like ourselves, was busy getting his troops clothed and shod, while he discussed with the Richmond authorities various plans of campaign. The cavalry ordered back to Johnston was making its way along the base of the mountains, and occasional news of their advance was exaggerated into stories of all Longstreet's army being in motion. Schofield very wisely thought the best way to know what his enemy was doing was to be as near him as practicable without assaulting his strong positions with an inferior force, and therefore ordered the fresh advance as soon as the railway could be made to transport supplies.
On the 14th Grant was again at Nashville, and took immediate steps to send the Ninth Corps to
Annapolis, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 67.] in accordance with an arrangement which was settled at the Washington conferences. Schofield was directed to have no delay in getting the Ninth Corps off, and he issued his formal orders to that effect on the 16th. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 82.] This reduced the forces in East Tennessee to a very small number, but a bold front was preserved and active reconnoitering kept up. On the 18th Stoneman's infantry was placed at Mossy Creek, between New Market and Morristown, and Wood with two brigades of his division was ordered to Rutledge about half-way to
Cumberland Gap. The other brigade was placed at Strawberry Plains to protect the stores accumulated there. The cavalry which remained to Schofield was divided, part reporting to Stoneman and part to Wood, and the country was carefully watched from the Nolachucky on the east to
Cumberland Gap on the northwest. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. pp. 88, 89.] I was personally directed to keep headquarters in the field, with power to act, in emergencies and in matters of detail, in Schofield's name, while the general returned to the department headquarters at Knoxville, where he made to Sherman, as his now superior, a full report of the situation, with suggestions as to the future work of the army of the Ohio. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 96.] It was now settled that a new campaign, both East and West, should open in April, if possible, and everything else was to be made subservient to preparation for it. Steps were taken to bring back the furloughed veterans, to remount the cavalry in Kentucky and bring it forward, and to secure such additional infantry as should enable Schofield to take the field with three strong divisions of foot, and at least two of horse, besides leaving about ten thousand men in Kentucky and five thousand in East Tennessee.
The question what should be the work of the Army of the Ohio had naturally interested us who belonged to it, and while Grant was in Washington I prepared and submitted to General Schofield a sketch of a plan of campaign. It was based on the assumption that the
Army of the Potomac would not operate by its left along the lowlands of Virginia, as McClellan had done, but would follow the railway through Culpepper and Orange Court House to Richmond. This route was in a high and healthy country, the streams would be crossed where they were comparatively insignificant, and the natural obstacles to an advance seemed much less formidable than upon the coast line. True, the army would have to depend upon the railway for its supplies, but so must Sherman in the West, and the Virginia line was only a fraction of his in length. It had the advantage of covering the
Shenandoah valley as it advanced, and saving the large detachment which had to be devoted to that region and to the protection of Washington. But besides this (and this was the feature directly affecting us in East Tennessee), it opened for the Army of the Ohio a role of usefulness which seemed to me very important.
If Schofield were to take the field in Georgia, he could carry to Sherman, at most, some twelve or fourteen thousand infantry and six or eight of cavalry. The proper protection of Kentucky and East Tennessee required just about the same number of troops. His active column in the decisive campaign would therefore be only half of the forces in his department. Whenever it should be apparent that Georgia was our field of operations, Longstreet's twenty thousand men would be set free to join Lee in Virginia (as actually happened), or could be used in any other theatre of operations, whilst our garrisons could not be greatly reduced because small raids of mounted men could harry the wide expanse of country behind us unless all the important points were fully guarded. This also was demonstrated by our actual experience, and was a plain deduction from facts and principles. To drive Longstreet into Virginia and destroy the railroad so that he could not return was, therefore, to force the enemy to do the thing most advantageous to himself; that is, to concentrate his forces at the East in entire security that he would not be troubled by any advance on our part into southwestern Virginia.
If, on the other hand, we could move eastward along the railroad, we could bring our supplies to our camps as we advanced. Sherman's army behind us would make our base at Chattanooga safe; the great mountain barrier on the right would so cover our flank that scarce any force need be left in Tennessee, but all could be put in the aggressive column: the troops in Kentucky could be brought forward as we progressed, for our movement would cover that district; finally, on reaching the New River valley we could be joined by the forces in West Virginia. The advance, therefore, instead of being with a dwindling column would be with a growing one, and when the Army of the Potomac should approach the valley of the James, we should be ready with about forty thousand to come into line as the right wing of that army. Approaching Richmond from the north and west, the south side railroad would be at once in our grasp, and that to
Petersburg within easy reach.
The objection to such a plan which would first occur to a critic, would be that convergent movements from so distant bases are proverbially uncertain; but this objection is greatly weakened by a study of the topography of the country. The Holston valley is so isolated that, approached by the railway line with a good base behind the column, it is strongly defensible, and if the advance is so timed as not to pass the New River before the Army of the Potomac should be swinging in toward Richmond from the northwest, Lee's army would be too fully occupied to make a detachment strong enough to oppose us, and the line by which he would operate against us would be threatened by the army of our friends. There would also be a safe line of retreat always open for us, in case of check. [Footnote: Napoleon was a master of strategy who fully appreciated the objections to exterior lines, but in the campaign of Wagram in 1809 he ordered Marmont to lead a column from Italy to Vienna by a route having strong resemblances to that which I have sketched. He regarded the character of the route itself, protected as it was by mountain ranges, and giving the assurance of a line of retreat, as making an exception to ordinary cases and overcoming the objections which would have been conclusive against attempting it in an open country.] Another interesting feature in this plan is that if railway communication between Sherman and the Potomac Army had been opened in the summer of 1864, it would have been an interior line of immense importance, not improbably modifying essentially the final campaign of the war.
General Schofield thought well enough of my sketch to adopt it as a suggestion to General Grant, which he submitted as soon as the latter returned from the East. The General-in-Chief had, however, already made arrangements which committed him to operating by the left of the Potomac Army. He had sent General W. F. Smith to
Fortress Monroe for the purpose of taking the field at the head of the movable part of Butler's Army of the James, and Burnside's command at
Annapolis was at that time expected to make another line of operations from the seacoast in North Carolina. There was also a disposition to leave in Sherman's hands all the departments which constituted the Military Division of the Mississippi, and allow him to concentrate the movable forces of all in his operations against Johnston. Grant therefore adhered to his original purpose of destroying enough of the railroad near the Watauga River to make a serious obstruction to hostile movements against East Tennessee from the east, and turn everything that could be spared into the advance upon Atlanta. Another thing which had weight with him was the fact that Schofield's confirmation as major-general was still delayed and opposed in the Senate, and he intended, if it were finally defeated, to consolidate the Department of the Ohio with that of the Cumberland under General Thomas. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 11.]
On the 29th of March General Sherman visited Schofield at Knoxville, and a full understanding was reached regarding the place the Army of the Ohio was to take in the great campaign of the spring. All the troops in the department were to constitute the Twenty-third Corps, and Schofield was to command the moving column in the field as well as the department. To avoid the inconvenience of having a double head to this column, Stoneman was to be transferred to the command of the cavalry in place of
Sturgis, and Schofield was to be assigned to the formal command of the corps. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. pp. 221, 268, 312.] Sturgis was then to be sent to Memphis to take command of the column there organizing for the purpose of operating against Forrest.
As to operations in the upper valley of the Holston, it was determined to occupy Bull's Gap at an early day, and to keep up such an apparent purpose of advancing as should detain Longstreet in East Tennessee as long as possible. If he retreated he was to be followed, so as to induce him to burn the railway bridges, and thus to avoid disclosing our own purpose of leaving that portion of the valley which we should plainly proclaim if we ourselves should destroy the railway. Everything was to be ready for movement, and at the last moment, if the enemy had not already done it, we were to burn railway bridges and tear up the track for a considerable distance. Then the divisions which were to take the field in Georgia were to march rapidly to Cleveland, and come in on the left of Sherman's grand army as he advanced from Chattanooga.
As the plan of campaign thus took definite shape, it gave the occasion also for a settlement of my personal problem of permanent assignment to duty. It had become evident that there was no room for transfer to another command, and the active part marked out for the Twenty-third Corps removed the only ground for wishing it. No better soldiers could be found than those which made up our divisions, and my acquaintance with General Schofield had ripened into a confidence which made me entirely content to follow him as my commander. He warmly invited me to continue permanently in the position of chief of staff, but gave me the alternate choice of one of the divisions of the active column. My preference for responsible command in the field decided me to take a division, and by his further permission I chose the third, in which were a considerable number of officers who had served with me in other campaigns. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 245.] I would not be understood, however, to depreciate the position of chief of staff of such a department and army. Properly filled, few positions in active service could be pleasanter or more useful. I had tested this during the six weeks preceding, and had found the associations and the duty every way most agreeable. The general was always prompt to assume his proper responsibility and to order the movements or the administrative acts which are peculiarly the province of the commander; but he gave me the task of arranging the subordinate details, and the authority to direct them in his name. To distribute the parts each corps or division was to perform; to co-ordinate all the arrangements so that they should move harmoniously; to bring to a common centre all the information, external and internal, which affected the conduct and efficiency of the whole; to supervise the matters of organization, of equipment, and of supply; to consult with the medical director as to hospital work and the sanitary condition of the army, and to be guarantor that the common end is vigorously and intelligently pursued by every part of the army,--all this, as scarcely needs telling, makes a chief of staff the right arm of the commander, and his most trusted adviser and confidant. He makes his commander feel free to give his own thought to the larger problems of a campaign, with confidence that the whole machinery of the army will work smoothly toward the object which he has in view. I did not then, nor do I now, underestimate the importance of the duty which an industrious staff officer may thus perform, and I had found it made personally pleasant by the even temper and appreciative justice of General Schofield's rule. I had, however, formed so strong a predilection for the immediate and active conduct of troops in the field, that this determined me to choose the division command. In the new organization of the corps I should, in this, report directly to the general, and should be next in rank to him (in the infantry) by virtue of seniority, so that in his absence, or when two divisions were temporarily detached from the army, I should exercise a superior command. These were advantages which every experienced soldier estimates highly, and I was to enjoy them, until good fortune and the steady friendship of my superiors gave me, a second time, and this time in permanent form, the corps command with the rank belonging to it. There was no mistake, therefore, in my choice of duty; and considering the part Sherman's whole army was to play in the remaining campaigns of the war, it was a matter of personal good fortune also that the Army of the Ohio became an integral part of the great western organization, and marched southward, not eastward.
On the staff I had been thrown into intimate relations to Colonel William M. Wherry, senior aide-de-camp, and Major J. A. Campbell, adjutant-general. These officers continued to the end of the war in these positions, which they filled with great credit and usefulness. Major Campbell was admirably fitted for the supervision of the records and the correspondence of the army, and for reducing to the form of clear and succinct orders the directions of the general. He was accurate, systematic, and untiring; always at his post, whether it were at his desk in camp, or by the side of his chief in the field. Of slight, almost frail body, with an intellectual face, he looked unequal to rough field work, but showed a stamina in fact which many a more robust man envied. Colonel Wherry was the incessantly active personal representative of the general, intrusted with his oral orders, and making for him those examinations and investigations which are only satisfactory when the commander has learned to trust the eye and the cool judgment of his assistant as his own. Wherry had been with General Schofield from the first campaign in Missouri in 1861, and both were with
General Lyon when he fell at Wilson's Creek. He remained his confidential aide through the whole war, and for years afterward, being early appointed from Missouri to the line of one of the new regiments of the regular army. Lithe, graceful, and genial, he was always welcome, when he came to a point where fighting was going on, to learn for the general the actual situation or to bring his orders. [Footnote: Wherry is now (1899) Brigadier-General of the United States Army, retired, after brilliant service in the campaign of Santiago, Cuba.]
During the winter the division of the Fourth Corps commanded by Brigadier-General Thomas J. Wood had been in closest connection with us. It had taken part in all the marchings and countermarchings of the period when I was chief of staff, and I had thus begun an acquaintance with its commander which was to grow into lasting friendship. General Wood was colonel of the Second Regular Cavalry, a Kentuckian who had earnestly taken the National side, and an influential officer of the old army. His intelligence and activity were very marked, and his courage was of the cool indomitable character most highly prized in divisions of a great army. Of medium height, solid but not large build, dark hair and complexion, high forehead, he was a noticeable man in any assemblage of officers. A fluent talker, attentive to polite forms of speech as well as of conduct, he was liked and respected throughout the army, and especially in the Army of the Cumberland, where he had served throughout the war. He had won promotion by gallant and meritorious services again and again, when at the battle of Chickamauga it was his ill fortune to receive the famous order to "close up on Brannan and support him." The situation made the order ambiguous, but Wood understood it to mean that he should move to the left till he should find himself in rear of Brannan's division, since another division was between them in the line. He thought it a strange order, but thought also that Rosecrans must know why he sent it, and that it was "his not to reason why" but to obey. The obedience opened the gap through which Longstreet's men poured, breaking the line and routing part of the right wing. Wood took the place assigned him by Thomas in the horse-shoe curve around the Snodgrass hill, and did his full share of the desperate fighting which held that part of the field. But he had thus become the subject of a controversy, and the friends of Rosecrans charged him with a too literal obedience, and a failure to use a sound discretion in his action. The result was that whilst Rosecrans was removed from active field service, Wood still found himself under a cloud, and opposed by influences which stood in the way of his promotion till the war was almost ended. He continued to be distinguished in every engagement of the Atlanta campaign and that of Nashville, and no division saw harder or more honorable service than his.
The first week in April saw the changes in the organization of the Twenty-third Corps which I have indicated. On the 3d I was relieved of staff duty and assigned to the third division, with orders to proceed at once to Bull's Gap and take temporary command of the corps whilst General Stoneman should hasten to Kentucky to prepare the cavalry corps for active service. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. pp. 245, 259, 268.] I think the change was agreeable to Stoneman, for he was most at home with mounted troops and liked that service. Schofield's permanent assignment to the Twenty-third Corps was made on April 4th by the President, though the general had still to await for some time the action of the Senate on the confirmation of his promotion. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 258.] His enemies were still persistent, and even succeeded in obtaining a report of the Senate committee against his confirmation. General Sherman wrote to his brother, the senator, in behalf of his subordinate;[Footnote: _Id_., pp. 332, 343.] but it was not till
General Grant was back in Washington and used his powerful personal influence that the confirmation was finally secured after the campaign had opened. It seemed at one time that not even the manifest mischief of deranging the organization of the army, as deliberately settled by both Grant and Sherman, would overcome the political hostility arrayed against him. This was without any reasonable foundation. Although Schofield was not given to political discussion, my closeness to him enabled me to know that he was an earnestly loyal man whose heart was warmly engaged in the National cause. He believed in emancipation as a right and politic war measure, and in fighting the rebellion vigorously till it should be conquered. He had made enemies among the Kansas politicians because he tried to prevent the war on that frontier from degenerating into a vendetta when murder and robbery should take the place of civilized warfare. Some influential radicals in Missouri were hostile because he held the scales even between them and the conservative Union men.
At Bull's Gap I found the corps headquarters in a shingle-palace which had been built for a hotel at the railway station, and which was now the only house there. It was empty as a barn and fast going to ruin, but it gave shelter for our office work. Wood's division of the Fourth Corps was put in march to join the Army of the Cumberland, and we were left to watch the enemy and await the moment when the destruction of the railway and our own march southward should begin. We soon had a curious bit of evidence that Longstreet had finally abandoned the expectation of re-occupying East Tennessee. It was found in the applications made by women to join their husbands who were in the Confederate service. The "grapevine telegraph" was an "institution" during the whole war. News which was either interesting or important was passed on through the lines, and it was impossible to be so rigid in precautions as greatly to delay it. To stop it was utterly futile. Longstreet had hardly received the orders from his government to prepare to rejoin Lee's army in Virginia, when the headquarters of our army at Knoxville felt the pressure of applications for leave to pass the lines. On the 6th of April a party of forty women and children came up by railway, to be sent through the lines under a flag. They were of course without tents or any means of camping out, and the crazy building in which I had my quarters was that night as crowded and as picturesque as an Asiatic caravanserai. The rain and the almost impassable roads made their journey anything but one of pleasure, but by the aid of the few wagons at the post they went forward in a day or two. A second party, about as large, followed in the course of a week, and had even a rougher time than the first. There were delays on the part of their friends, in sending trains and escort to meet them at the break in the railway, but the hope of rejoining loved ones gave them courage, and they bore cheerfully their sufferings and privations.
The bitterness of the feud between the loyalists and disunionists in the Holston valley can hardly be imagined by those who did not witness it. The persecutions of the loyal mountaineers had been such that when their turn of ruling came they would have been more than human if they had not retaliated. The organization of home-guards gave to these armed bodies of men the power, and with it came the temptation to abuse it. The memory of the men who had been hanged for bridge-burning, and of those who had languished and died in prison charged with no crime but disloyalty to the Confederacy, was a constant stimulus to severity. Their blood seemed to cry from the ground. We found a constant necessity for moderating their passions, and it was not always possible to keep them within the bounds of civilized warfare. My experience in West Virginia was repeated with some phases of still greater intensity. When we got these loyal men away from home, campaigning on distant fields, there was no trouble in enforcing discipline, and they showed no more fierceness of personal retaliation than other troops. I suspect this will everywhere be true, in greater or less measure, and that in all wars it will be found for the interest of humanity not to allow local troops to garrison their own homes.
The scouts and irregular organizations were, as usual, the most likely to fall into excesses. I had an example of this, falling under my own eye at the time I am speaking of, and showing how, under this intense exasperation, the "bush-whacking" degenerated into guerilla war in which no quarter was given on either side. I had sent out a reconnoissance of a party of Indiana cavalry accompanied by some thirty of the Tennessee scouts, the whole force about a hundred in number. They had encountered a hostile party of "irregulars" some thirty strong, and had routed them. They brought in fifteen prisoners, and reported ten of the enemy killed. Those who were captured had all surrendered to the Indiana men, and the Tennesseeans were disposed to complain that quarter had been given. True, the party which had been attacked was said to have committed great outrages, and to have been engaged in forcing loyal men into the Confederate Army under their conscription laws. The chief of the scouts came to my quarters, and I put to him the ordinary question as to the luck of his last expedition. "Oh," said he, in a dejected nasal tone; "some pretty good luck and some bad luck." "What bad luck?" said I, thinking some of his men had got hurt. "Oh, them Indiana cavalry fellows let the captain of the gang and fourteen of his men surrender to 'em." "And what became of the rest?" "_We_ had to deal with them," said he, significantly; "and they didn't surrender." Such is civil war when it becomes a deadly feud between old neighbors and acquaintances.
The month of April ran on with continued activity of reconnoitring parties, but no larger movements. The spring was unusually backward. There was a flurry of snow on the 16th, but it did not lie on the ground, and about the 20th lovely spring weather began in earnest. The best evidence we had that our lines of communication were getting in more efficient condition, was the arrival of an agent of the Sanitary Commission with a large shipment of fresh vegetables for gratuitous distribution. We were sorely in need of them. There was a good deal of incipient scurvy in camp, and scarce any one was wholly free from disorders caused by too restricted diet. Our regular rations were bacon and flour, varied occasionally by a small issue of dried white beans or rice. This was nutritious enough, but after some months' steady use, nature pretty imperatively demanded a change. The noble organization of the Commission had been watching for the opportunity, and the arrival of a generous supply of potatoes, onions, and pickled cabbage made feast days for everybody from the general down. At my headquarters we had been confined to the soldiers' rations, and it was impossible to get anything else. The only ferment to raise our bread was saleratus, and we had become very tired of saleratus biscuit. No luxuries ever tasted so well as these plain vegetables. Our physical condition craved them, and they were food and medicine at once. The sauerkraut was finely shaved cabbage laid down in brine, and a steaming platter of it made the _piece de resistance_ of our camp dinner as long as it lasted. The onions we sliced and ate raw with a dressing of vinegar. The gusto with which we enjoyed this change of diet remains a vivid remembrance after a quarter of a century, and is the best proof of our need of it. The health of the whole camp was restored, and we were "hard as nails" during the year of rough campaigning that was to follow.
The first week in May was the time of rendezvous for Sherman's grand army in northern Georgia, and with the opening of the last week in April the signal was given to destroy the railroad between Bull's Gap and the Watauga River, or further if the enemy should leave the crossing of that stream unharmed. Our position at the gap was high in the cleft of Bays Mountain through which the railway passes and then turns southeastward to the Nolachucky. The road then goes up the valley of that stream and over a ridge to the Watauga, which runs to the northwest, joining the Holston again by a route which is nearly at right angles to the general trend of the valley. The Watauga is not easily fordable at an ordinary stage of water, and thus the triangle between the Holston on the left, the Watauga in front, and the Nolachucky on the right, made the debatable ground of the upper valley. Whilst we held the barrier at Bull's Gap the enemy could not stay on the hither side of the Watauga, nor could we pass the river and stop short of a strong position an equal distance beyond.
We made a strong demonstration of cavalry supported by infantry, as if we were determined to cross the Watauga and push on into Virginia. The Confederate cavalry set fire to the bridge, as we expected them to do. One brigade was ordered to Jonesboro, to march back destroying all the railway bridges and tearing up and twisting the iron rails as far as possible. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. pp. 477, 492.] With another force I began in person a similar work of destruction on the section nearest Bull's Gap. Time could only be given us for this work till the 27th of April, but on the evening of that day my division was reunited at the gap, having torn up and twisted about one third of the track over a space of fifty miles, and thoroughly destroyed all the wooden bridges. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 500, 512.]
The footsore and sick were put on a railway train, and with the rest I began the march for Knoxville. As General Sherman was urgent for speed in our movement, the columns were kept near the railway and the trains were run to meet them, taking the men in detachments. The first day of May found us at
Charleston, the crossing of the Hiwassee River, with two divisions of the Twenty-third corps and with General Schofield in our midst. A new division from Indiana was on its way, by rail, to join us at Cleveland, and it was certain that we could be in our place as left wing, before the 5th, the day assigned by Sherman. Two days were given to getting up and organizing our trains, and on Tuesday, the 3d, we marched at daybreak, with our field organization complete. The Atlanta campaign was begun. General Schofield went over to Chattanooga to meet Sherman, and the command of the corps on the march was committed to me. [Footnote: _Id_., xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 5, 22, 32, 48.] On the 4th, leaving Cleveland, we crossed the Georgia line and advanced to Red Clay, where, with the Army of the Cumberland on our right, the union of Sherman's forces in the field was completed.
At the Hiwassee we were a hundred and forty miles from Bull's Gap, and had made the distance in three days, marching half the way and being carried the other half by rail. In going south we seemed to meet the advancing spring. In the upper valley we could only see a suspicion of green, here and there, on an early tree, but at our Sunday camp at Charleston in a fine bend of the Hiwassee, a fresh green robe covered all the hills, and the sun was so bright and warm that the shade of my clean new tent was very comfortable. It would be hard to find a scene better making a romance of campaigning than that about us. Chilhowee
and the great Smoky Mountains piled their deep blue masses
against the eastern horizon, whilst at our feet rolled as
beautiful a river as ever bore a musical Indian name. The grassy
banks rise about a hundred feet above the water, and then the
hills roll and rise around us in charming variety. Near the
water's edge a great spring pours out from the bank in a swift
steady stream two yards wide and six inches deep, giving sweet
and pure water enough for a whole army, and the zigzag paths to
it are filled with picturesque groups of soldiers loaded with
camp kettles or canteens. We should have been dull indeed if we
had not felt the exhilaration of the scene.