This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1900
FREE Audible 30 days

during his candidacy. I did not hesitate to let it be known that upon his doing so, the alternative in his sentence would be enforced, and that he would be sent to Fort Warren for imprisonment. Mr. Pugh, who had been induced to accept the nomination for lieutenant-governor with him, made a visit to Windsor, in Canada (opposite Detroit), where Vallandigham met him. The result of the conference was that Vallandigham remained quietly in Canada till the election was over, leaving it to his friends to make as much political capital out of his exile as they could.

As evidence of the fierceness of the passions roused among his partisans, a few significant facts may be mentioned. The conscription law had led, as we have seen, [Footnote: Henry Reuben Anderson was second lieutenant in the Forty-third Ohio Infantry, captain in the Sixth U.S. Volunteer Infantry, and after the war was transferred to the Fourth U.S. Artillery as first lieutenant.] to wholesale frauds in the form of “bounty-jumping.” It was of course the duty of the military authorities to prevent this by arresting deserters and holding them to military service and discipline under their enlistment. A common form of fraud was for a well-grown young man to offer himself as a recruit, take the oath that he was of lawful age, receive the hundreds of dollars of bounty, and then bring forward his parents to claim him as a minor enlisting without their permission. We always recognized promptly the authority of a writ of _habeas corpus_ from the Federal courts in such cases, and the judges examined the recruit and his friends carefully, to detect a fraudulent conspiracy if there was one. If the case appeared to be free from collusion and the evidence of minority sufficient, an order of release was made, conditioned on the repayment to the government of the bounty received and the expenses of the proceeding.

The depot of recruits for the army was on the south side of the river in Kentucky; but in any case that was not palpably fraudulent I directed the officers in charge to bring the recruit to Cincinnati, where Judge Leavitt’s writ could reach him, and to submit the case to the United States District Court. The following letter will illustrate this, being one addressed by me to General Tillson, who commanded in Covington, which, with the region within a radius of some fifteen miles, was part of my district:–


9th September, 1863.

GENERAL,–Judge Leavitt of the United States District Court called this morning with a Mr. Eckmann, who wishes to get his son, a minor, out of the First Heavy Artillery. The boy is named Summerfield Eckmann, and is in Company C. As you have stated to me that it is practicable to fill up the place of minors and invalids as fast as they can be got rid of, I would like to have the case looked into at once, and unless some reason unknown to me exists, have him sent to report to Colonel Boone at Kemper Barracks, where the writ from the Federal Court may be served. By agreement with the father, if the judge should discharge him, the bounty will be paid back, and you will please send a statement of what amount was paid and how his account with the government stands.

Very respectfully, your obed’t serv’t, (Signed) J. D. Cox,
B. G. Commanding.

Brig. Gen. Davis Tillson,
Com’g, etc., Covington, Ky.”

All honest and deserving cases could be satisfactorily disposed of in this way. But the fraudulent “bounty-jumpers” wanted nothing so little as a full investigation before the United States Courts. These cases, therefore, if they appeared in court at all, would be brought before local judges supposed to be prejudiced against the government and who would not require restitution. To prevent this, the War Department issued instructions based on the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Ableman v. Booth, in which Chief Justice Taney had delivered the opinion. These instructions directed that in cases arising under the conscription and recruiting laws, the writ of habeas corpus should be obeyed only when issued by United States courts. With full knowledge of these instructions and of the Supreme Court decision which had been a party shibboleth in the fugitive-slave cases before the war, the Probate judge of the county seemed bent on provoking a collision with the National authorities. His court was, among courts of record, that of inferior jurisdiction in the county, and the higher courts gave us no trouble. A letter which I wrote to Governor Tod at the close of August so fully gives the details of the matter and of the view I then took of it, that I prefer to let it stand as my statement of it, rather than any paraphrase I could now make. I said:–

“I have the honour to call your attention to a persistent effort on the part of the Probate Judge of the county to produce a collision between the sheriff and posse of the vicinity and the United States government.

“You have probably noticed the newspaper accounts of a habeas corpus case before Judge —— some time since, in which the writ was issued to Lieutenant-Colonel Boone, One Hundred and Fifteenth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, commanding at Kemper barracks in this city, directing him to bring before the court one Hicks, held as a deserter from the army.

“In accordance with instructions from the War Department, based upon the decision of Chief Justice Taney in the case of Ableman v. Booth, Lieutenant-Colonel Boone answered in writing, stating that the man was held by the authority of the United States as a deserter, and that, without intending any disrespect to the court, it was impossible for him to deliver the prisoner to the officers of a State court. Lieutenant-Colonel Boone further attached to his answer and made part of it the instructions from Washington and the order of Major-General Burnside promulgating the same, and it was thus made matter of record in the court that the case was one directly affecting the government of the United States. The judge was also notified by counsel that it was the purpose of the Federal officers to take the case to the courts of last resort should his decision be in accordance with that which he had rendered in other cases, and that the matter would thus, without doubt, be ultimately determined by the judicial decision of the highest courts having cognizance, and that there could be no occasion for collision between himself and the military authorities.

“The judge issued an attachment against Lieutenant-Colonel Boone for contempt, and directed Major-General Burnside to be made party to the record. General Burnside answered in a similar manner to Colonel Boone. The court made no personal order in General B.’s case, but directed the sheriff of the county to arrest Lieutenant-Colonel Boone and bring him before the court. The sheriff went to Colonel Boone’s quarters and was there informed that the writ could not be executed, as, under orders received, the military authorities would not permit it. The sheriff so made return to the court, and has, as he informs me this morning, been again directed peremptorily by the judge to execute the writ at every hazard.

“The sheriff came to me to know what would be our course if he should raise the posse comitatus in obedience to the writ. My answer was that the United States forces would use no aggression, but that I wished him and the judge to understand distinctly that the writ could only be executed by overpowering the United States troops in open fight, and that it became all concerned to consider well before they became overt traitors by levying war against the Federal government; that I should regard them as public enemies at the first overt act and use the utmost vigor against them; and that after suppressing any disturbance they might create, my first duty would be to arrest the judge and himself and hand them over to the United States courts to be tried for treason. I likewise expressed my surprise that in a matter which was avowedly an undisguised attempt to bring the State authorities into open conflict with the National government, he had not appealed to the governor of the State, its chief executive (he being himself but a subordinate), for instructions. As he professed embarrassment as to his duty, I told him I would state what in my opinion a loyal sheriff should do in such a case; and that was to make a written return upon the writ saying that it could not be obeyed without levying open war against the United States, and was therefore returned unexecuted…. In view of the circumstances, I have thought best to lay the matter before you, that you may, if you see proper, direct the sheriff to take no steps calculated to bring the State and National authorities into collision, without full communication with and instruction from yourself as chief executive. I have no concern as to the success of any forcible attempt upon Colonel Boone, but regard it as very desirable that no such attempt should be made, and especially that it should not be precipitated, without your knowledge, by the action of the Probate Court of this county in overruling a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States.

“I shall forward a copy of this letter to the Secretary of War for his information, and have the honor to remain,” etc.

There were some amusing incidents connected with the sheriff’s embarrassment which could not properly appear in my letter to the governor. Both he and the Probate judge were candidates for re-election, and it seemed certain that the aggressive Vallandigham faction in the party would control the nominations in the party convention. In such excited times extreme men are almost sure to take the lead. The sheriff saw very clearly that there was nothing profitable to him in a forcible attack upon the United States troops in barracks, and knew that a call upon the _posse_ would be responded to by nobody but ruffians of the criminal class who might like an opportunity to gather as a mob with a pretext of lawful authority. He complained to me with a comical distress that the judge had taken advantage of him to gain with the extremists of his party the credit for bold defiance of the government, whilst he, the sheriff, was left to bear the brunt of the real danger. I had told him in an earlier interview that if he called out the _posse_ it would be his duty to lead it in person, and had intimated that I should direct the soldiers to save bloodshed by carefully marking the leaders in an attack. I now suggested that if he should inform the judge that he should summon him first as one of the _posse_ and require him to march beside him, he would probably find the zeal for a collision diminished.

Whatever were the reasons which controlled, there was no _posse_ summoned, and I heard no more of the arrest of Colonel Boone. Both judge and sheriff lived to look back upon the episode in their lives with other feelings than those which excited them nearly to desperation in that singular political campaign. It was not always easy to draw a satisfactory line in dealing practically with such powdery elements and social conditions as those of 1863, but the best results seemed to come from carefulness not to provoke unnecessary collision with political prejudices and not to interfere with personal liberty more than was necessary, whilst showing inexorable firmness in carrying out such measures as we had to adopt. Two cases which arose in Dayton made it necessary to distinguish between two possible courses, and though there was a good deal of difference in judgment among loyal men I thought the event fully justified us in that which we pursued.

The arrest of Vallandigham had left a certain class of people in Dayton on the verge of violent outbreak. A mob had wrecked the publishing office of the Union party paper, and we had kept a small garrison at the city to preserve the peace, The “roughs” of the place were insolent to the soldiers and their officers, and it required firm discipline to keep our men as patient as we wished them to be. One day a wrangle began, and one of the city “rowdies” pulled a pistol and fired upon a soldier. We arrested the criminal, but whilst we held him, an indictment was found against him in the local court, and he was demanded by the civil authorities for trial. We knew very well that in any jury of that county enough partisans of Vallandigham would be found to prevent a conviction, but I ordered the man to be delivered up. This was pretty sharply criticised by the more ardent Union men, but I answered that it was necessary to find out whether justice could be administered by the civil authorities before applying military rule.

The delivery of the man was no doubt looked upon as an act of timidity, and it was not long before we had a repetition of the offence. I had taken pains to have the garrison at Dayton carefully instructed that they must be patient and cool, avoiding every provocation, but if attacked, the aggressor must be punished on the spot. In the second case, the man who drew his weapon was instantly shot down. There was now a demand for the soldier to be tried by the local civil court; but I said that the boot was on the other foot. The charge against the soldier was for an act performed in the line of his military duty, and of this our military courts had cognizance. The case was investigated by a military tribunal and the man justified. The result was every way satisfactory. Assaulting soldiers lost its attractiveness to town bullies, and the case in which the civilian had been left to the action of the civil courts was a standing proof of the inefficiency of those tribunals in matters where partisan passions entered, and where the unanimity of a jury was consequently impossible.

The State election occurred in October, and although there had been great fears of rioting and bloodshed, these fears were happily disappointed. There had been enough of the preliminary education as to the relations of the military authorities to the preservation of the peace, to make it generally understood that disturbances would be dangerous. The soldiers were, however, kept carefully out of sight except as they exercised their personal right to vote. They were under arms at their barracks, and no leaves of absence were given. These precautions were all that was needed. In Cincinnati the election was said to be one of the quietest and most orderly ever known. The people seemed to appreciate the gravity of the situation and to realize that it must be soberly and thoughtfully met. Hosts of men who would willingly have been in opposition to the administration party on questions of economy or of details in the conduct of the war declined to vote for Vallandigham, whose utterances had been the great matter of debate during the canvass, and whose disloyalty being thus brought home to the voters in every neighborhood, had repelled all but the most passionate of his party friends. John Brough, the Union party candidate, himself a “war democrat,” was elected governor by an unprecedented majority of over a hundred thousand. The soldiers’ vote had helped to swell this majority, and as returns had to be made from polling-places opened for each Ohio regiment in the field, there was considerable delay before the extent of the political victory was fully known. The home vote was enough for every practical purpose, and it, of course, was known at once. The returns from the army vote kept adding to the majority, and gave, day by day, a new stimulus to political interest, one party rejoicing over the unanimity of the country’s defenders, and the other affecting to see dangers of military despotism. For this reason it was fortunate that the soldiers’ vote was not necessary to decide the election, and that without it Brough’s triumph went beyond any ordinary measure of party success.

The remarkable result of the election was felt throughout the country as an indication of renewed determination of the people that the war must be fought out to the complete crushing of the Rebellion and the restoration of the Union. There was a noticeable crystallization of public opinion after it. Reasonable men in the defeated party found it easy to accept conclusions which were backed up by so great majorities. Agitation was quieted, and there was an evident disposition to acquiesce in what was so evidently the popular current.

My aversion for the anomalous position of a military commandant out of the actual field of war had not been lessened by my experiences of the summer, and both directly and indirectly I renewed my requests for a field command. I had been told that the Secretary of War awaited only an opening which would permit him to assign me to duty with the advanced grade which had been given me after Antietam, and I had been advised, in a way that seemed authoritative, to wait patiently for this. It became evident in the autumn that such waiting was likely to be profitless as well as wearisome. A regular army officer had a backing in the _esprit de corps_ at the departments, and Halleck was watchful to give the full weight of his official influence in favor of such a one. It was, perhaps naturally, assumed that a volunteer would be assisted by political friends, and if he did not make use of such influence he would fall between two stools. After my first appointment I was never aware of receiving any help from these personal influences, and had gotten whatever recognition I had from my immediate commanders in the field. Burnside had intimated that if Hartsuff’s ill health should make that officer retire from the command of the Twenty-third Corps, he would assign me to it in the expectation that the corresponding rank would then be conferred by the President. If I have any regret respecting my own action in seeking active duty, it is that I did not ask for the command of one of the divisions in the corps on the movement into East Tennessee. It was Burnside’s wish that I should remain in Cincinnati and I acquiesced; but I have had a lingering belief that my influence with him would have helped decide him to remain in the West had I been with him in Knoxville in October and November. Be that as it may, I was fully determined after the Ohio election was over to cease looking for anything more than a field command, according to my present rank, and to be urgent till I obtained it.

In this year the first volume of Kinglake’s “History of the Crimean War” was published, and reading it in the intervals of other duty in Cincinnati, I found in it lessons of hope and confidence in our armies that were to me both stimulating and encouraging. It would not be strange if an English soldier should feel that Kinglake was quite too frank in his revelation of the mistakes and discouragements which attended England’s first military operations after the “forty years’ peace.” But it was precisely this photographic realism and unreserve which gave the book its peculiar value. I found Lord Raglan and his subordinates intelligent men, feeling their way through doubts and mistakes to a new experimental knowledge of their task. I compared them and their work with what I had seen in our own service when a great army had to be organized and put in the field and everything had to be created anew. I saw that we had been no worse off than our neighbors, and that our tuition in the school of experience had gone on quite as rapidly as theirs. I thanked Kinglake in my heart for telling us that Raglan tested what he was doing by asking himself how “the Duke” would have done had he been there. It was only another way of applying the lessons of past experience to the present duty; but it seemed peculiarly human that the English general in the perplexities of his troublesome problem in the Crimea should summon up the shade of Wellington and ask how the practical soldier of the Spanish Peninsular War would act were he deciding for his old staff officer what he must do at the Alma or in front of Sebastopol.

The student of military history sees that the weak points in the British army on the peace establishment had been that systematic and continuous preparation for active war had not been insisted on. It needed the organizing genius of Roon and Moltke in the Prussian army to make such a mobilization as that of 1866 and that of 1870, and to show what is possible in preparing an armed host to take the field. Preparation for war has had a totally different meaning since those campaigns, and the start of a day or two in reaching the field was shown to involve the winning and losing a great campaign. As matters stood in 1854, however, the great military powers of Europe should be considered as having only the raw material of armies as they had depots of military stores, and true organization in every department had to be effected after a declaration of war. Studying it in 1863, it seemed to me that the only advantage England or France would have had over us at the outbreak of the Rebellion would have been in the greater number of men partly drilled and the greater quantities of arms and ammunition in store. Kinglake taught us that others would have had to go through most of the discouragements we had experienced, and that our aptitude in learning had been perhaps greater than theirs would have been. His unreserved disclosure of the errors and the miseries of the siege of Sebastopol was infinitely more instructive than any history which hid the humiliating facts and covered all with the glamour and glory of the final success. His faithful dealing was in the line of true discipline, though the reading of his story must have been a sore chastisement of spirit for many an English soldier and statesman. It was more effective than the comments of any “war correspondent,” however capable; for it was free from every suspicion of unfriendliness, and was written with the fullest access to official evidence. I cannot help believing that the book was no small factor in the general movement in Europe toward a much more scientific comprehension and a much better practical mastery of the elements of army organization and administration in times of peace.

But what I am quite sure of is that its perusal was a source of great comfort and encouragement to me in the midst of our own struggle; because it assured me, as I compared Raglan’s experience with ours, that we had not gone so far astray in learning our lesson, and were not so completely on the dunces’ bench, as I had been disposed to fear. We had plenty of blunders to confess, and there was no room for over-confidence; but the book prompted every earnest soldier among us to believe that we could make still better use of our experience, and to feel bolder in relying on his own judgment and courage in drawing new expedients from our peculiar circumstances and in developing new adaptations of military science to our own campaigns. Staff schools cannot turn out great generals to order, and the man who leads will continue to be more important than any other element of an army; but no leader can work well with dull and antiquated tools, and the present generation can hardly see a great war begun with so little adequate preparation for it as was common before our great civil strife.

On the 9th of November the humdrum routine at my district headquarters was interrupted by a dispatch from the officer commanding at Detroit, Michigan, giving warning of what was more explicitly reported in one of the 10th, saying that he was positively informed that within forty-eight hours two armed steamers would attack Johnson’s Island and release the prisoners held there. [Footnote: Official Records, series ii. vol. vi. pp. 491, 495, 635.]

The military prison at Johnson’s Island was built for the confinement of Confederate officers who had been captured in battle, and their number was so large that to release them would be an enterprise of no little importance, if successful. The island lay in Sandusky Bay, within a few hours’ sail of several Canadian ports. Its garrison consisted of a single regiment which had all the employment it needed to furnish the ordinary prison guards, and would be entirely too weak to oppose any considerable force attacking from without, especially as it would be prudent to assume that such an attack would be accompanied by an outbreak of the prisoners within.

I immediately communicated with Governor Tod and with the Commissary of Prisoners at Washington, Colonel Hoffman, and on the same day sent a battery of three-inch rifled cannon and 500 newly raised recruits to Sandusky. I telegraphed the Hon. Joshua R. Giddings, our consul-general at Montreal, asking what he could learn in Canada as to the threatened expedition. He thought it was the mere “bombast” of Confederate emissaries and refugees in the Canadian provinces, and made light of it. On the 12th, however, the Secretary of War telegraphed me that Lord Lyons, the British ambassador, confirmed the report, and directed me to take energetic action to defeat the expected raid. The dispatch reached me at nine o’clock in the morning, and as it would be necessary to consult with the governor and get him to call out a force of State militia, I telegraphed him that I would go to Columbus on the half-past-ten train from Cincinnati, and asked him to be ready to call out the militia as soon as I could see him. I then sent messages to the commandants of militia regiments near the railway line, requesting them to call out their men at once in anticipation of an order from the governor to proceed to Sandusky. I also communicated with my subordinates in command at Detroit, Sandusky, and Columbus, giving a hint of my purposes. Finding I was likely to be late at the railway station, I sent a message to Mr. Woodward, the superintendent of the Little Miami Railroad, asking him to hold the train for me. The train had gone when the message reached him, but he ordered out an extra locomotive, and when I reached the station it was under orders to overtake the regular train. With an aide-de-camp I mounted the locomotive, and we were off at speed. The train was overtaken at Xenia, half-way to Columbus, and I was able to keep my appointment with the governor.

It happened that there was at this time a plot also to take the camp of military prisoners at Columbus, indicating a wide-spread scheme among the Confederate prisoners in Ohio, and General Mason, who commanded there, did not think it would be safe to reduce his garrison. The governor acted at once upon my suggestion, and ordered out the militia regiments which I had warned before leaving Cincinnati. My regular train had gone on, but Mr. Woodward had provided for a special one from Columbus, and we were soon speeding on in the hope of making the connection with a train going West on the Lake Shore Railway. The connection was made, though it became necessary to make what was then regarded as extraordinary speed to do it. Over one stretch of the road we ran twenty miles in eighteen minutes by the watch, and our average rate was high enough to make it a noteworthy journey. I reached Sandusky at midnight, and found reports of the militia regiments already on the way, and that the hostile expedition had not yet left Canada.

There is always a considerable amount of business labor connected with the sudden assembly of new troops in a city like Sandusky. Provision must be made for quarters and for their subsistence. The militia were not like troops accustomed to take the field, and were not provided with tents. The autumn was well advanced, and severe winter weather was likely to come at any time. Competent officers had to be selected to take responsible charge of each of the supply departments, including arms and ammunition. A battery of Parrott-rifled cannon was ordered to report to me as well as some heavy coast artillery. The first organization of means to look after the coming troops and the artillery being made, the next duty was a personal reconnoissance of my field of operations. A gentleman put at my disposal a small sailing yacht of light draught, and with a good crew and a fresh breeze the principal points of the lower bay were visited, including Johnson’s Island.

Sandusky Bay is the largest land-locked body of water connected with Lake Erie. It is some twenty miles long by three or four wide, its length running east and west, and narrow tongues of land separating it from the lake. The mouth of the bay is about a mile wide, but the water is quite shallow except in the narrow channel, which is sinuous and runs very close to Cedar Point, the extremity of the long, low sandy cape which separates the eastern part of the bay from the open water. A lighthouse on the point and range lights near it give direction to vessels approaching, which run from the northwest, head on, till they seem almost ashore at the foot of the lighthouse tower, when they turn sharply to the southwest, the channel being zigzag up to the city, which lies on the southeast shore. It did not need a second glance to determine that Cedar Point was the place to fortify, and that batteries there would rake any vessel approaching the harbor, as well as on its way in, if it should succeed in passing the point.

Johnson’s Island lies a mile or two inside the entrance to the bay on the western side. A narrow channel separates it from the land on that side, which is a high rocky peninsula called Marblehead. The island had been cultivated as a farm, containing a hundred acres or more, with some pleasant groves amid the fields, and with a gently undulating surface which gave it an agreeable variety and a picturesque appearance. The landing at the island was on the bay side, three or four miles from the city wharves. If a hostile force should land on the peninsula at Marblehead, it could not reach the island by reason of the channel which separates it from the land on the west. The only chance of success for such a raid was to make a surprise of it before Cedar Point could be fortified, to enter the bay and land a force sufficient to overpower the prison garrison before it should be reinforced.

Under the terms of the treaty with Great Britain, our navy was represented by a single vessel of war on Lake Erie, the steamer “Michigan,” which carried a battery of eight or ten guns. She was ordered to Sandusky to co-operate with me at the same time that I was directed to go there. She was commanded by Captain John Carter, a bluff and hearty seaman of the old school, whom I found cordially ready to work with me in the most perfect harmony and mutual understanding. I lost no time in transporting my two rifled batteries to Cedar Point, and throwing up hasty earthworks to cover them. From the moment they were in position it was certain that no unarmed steamboat could enter the harbor. A part of my infantry was encamped in rear of the batteries, covered by a grove of evergreen trees, near enough to support the guns if an effort were made to land there. The rest of the infantry was assigned to increase the garrison on Johnson’s Island itself. The news had spread that there was a concentration of our forces at Sandusky, and by the time we were ready for an attack the raiders were well aware that their plans had failed.

Their project had not been a hopeless one if they could have kept it secret, but that was almost impossible. The leaders in it were commonly reported to have been some of Morgan’s men who had made their way to Canada when he was captured. By the aid of Confederate agents they had procured the means to organize a considerable band of adventurers, and had chartered two steamboats which were to meet them at the mouth of the Detroit River. The assembly of such a body of men attracted the attention of the Canadian authorities, and information was sent to Lord Lyons at Washington. Our officers at Detroit also got wind of it, and employed the police and detectives to ferret out the facts. The raiders had assembled, and the boats were ready, when, on the 14th of November, they learned that their plans were exposed and the chance to succeed was lost. The less eager ones were quick to abandon the enterprise, and the bolder spirits found themselves reduced to a handful. So they scattered, threatening to try it again at some more convenient time.

As soon as the work of preparation at Cedar Point was well under way, I accepted the invitation of Captain Carter to make a reconnoissance in the “Michigan.” We sailed out of the harbor and made the tour of the beautiful group of islands known as the Bass Islands, in the midst of which is the little harbor of Put-in-Bay. We were on the classic ground where Perry had won his naval victory in the War of 1812, and although we found no trace of the threatened raid, the circumstances which took us there added to the interest with which we examined the scene of Perry’s glory. On my return I reported to the Secretary of War that all present danger had passed, and asked to be allowed to send the militia home. The weather had become stormy, and the State troops naturally became impatient when the need of their continued exposure seemed to be at an end. They were soon allowed to go, but it was wisely determined to put the heavy guns in a fortification on the island, where they could command the entrance to the bay and yet be so connected with the permanent garrison as to avoid the establishment of two camps with the necessary increase of expense as well as numbers.

This delayed me a fortnight at Sandusky, and the delay was quite as unwelcome to me as to the militia. I had been away from Cincinnati but a few days when I received a dispatch from General Burnside, saying that if I was still minded to accept a field command he thought he could give me one of his corps. As this was exactly what I had been wishing for, it will be easily believed that I chafed at the circumstances which seemed to tie me to the shore of Lake Erie when I longed to be on my way to East Tennessee. I laid the matter before the War Department by telegraph, and begged to be allowed to go. Mr. Stanton answered on the 22d that I could not yet leave Sandusky. I hurried the work to be done there with all possible energy, so as to remove the cause of delay, and on the 3d of December was gratified to learn that the order had been issued directing me to report in person to the general in command at Knoxville. I was not informed that I should not find Burnside there when I should arrive, and assumed that my work at Sandusky was the only cause of delay in my orders to go; but I was soon to learn of other changes which I did not anticipate.

My stay at Sandusky gave me the opportunity to make an inspection of the military prison at Johnson’s Island, and I availed myself of it. As only officers were confined there, the high average intelligence and character of these would of course show itself in their personal habits and in their methods of employing the time, which hung heavy on their hands. In all such situations the energy and hopefulness of the individual are the best guaranty for continued good health, whilst ennui, listlessness, and idleness are the pretty sure forerunners of melancholy and homesickness, which lead to serious maladies. It would be hard to find a more salubrious site for a camp than Johnson’s Island. Naturally well drained, diversified with grove and meadow, open to the breeze from every quarter, washed by the pure waters of Lake Erie, it is to-day, as it was then, a beautiful and attractive spot. The winter there is not usually severe. The vast body of water comprising the Great Lakes modifies the climate and tempers it so that the autumn is generally prolonged and pleasant. Winter begins late, but is apt to be changeable and disagreeable, and a raw and backward spring, with chilling winds off the frozen waters, is the part of the year most to be dreaded. Native Ohioans insist that there is no climate more wholesome and pleasant than this lake-shore belt, which is now the land of continuous vineyards and peach orchards. A native of the Gulf States would, however, find its winter and spring severe and trying, more from sudden changes than from any extremely low temperature. Taking it all in all, it is probable that no place for a prison camp could be found in the Northern States which would be liable to fewer objections.

The prison itself was constructed in the manner which seemed simplest and cheapest. A large square on the sloping hillsides was surrounded with a high wooden fence. On the outside of this, near the top, was a gallery or balcony supported on brackets.

This was the walk for the sentinels, and from it they had a commanding view of the interior of the enclosure. Sentry-boxes, looking like turrets, were at the corners and at intervals on the sides. Within, the barracks for the prisoners were on the west or northwest side, leaving the larger space open in front for exercise. The buildings were of pine boards, roughly but well constructed, so that they were dry and tight. Rows of bunks ran along the sides, filled with beds of straw. The shelter and accommodation was decidedly better than that which we made for our own troops at Camp Dennison, our first camp of instruction. Through most of the year there was no ground for complaint. In winter, and especially on winter nights, it would be impossible to keep up anything like a steady temperature, and the thin shell of the building would soon chill through in a nipping and frosty air. We had to meet this difficulty in all winter quarters for troops, and there seemed to be no way to remove it. If one could be heavily clad, it was generally more healthful to endure a steady low temperature, than to meet the alternations of heat and cold which came of the replenishing and dying out of the fires in stoves during the long winter night. As many men have many minds, it was almost impossible to secure anything like system in a long shed-like building occupied by a little democracy of hundreds of persons.

The food was plain but good in quality, similar to the army ration, and at the time of my visit was abundant. I took occasion to go through the barracks unattended by the officers of the garrison, and encouraged the prisoners to make known any complaints. There were practically none that were not necessarily incident to the position of a prisoner of war in actual confinement. The loss of liberty, the weary pacing of the enclosure in front of their barracks, the lack of interesting occupation, home-sickness, and general discomfort,–these were the ills of which they spoke. Among the prisoners was General Jeff. Thompson, of Missouri,–the ranking officer among them, as I recollect,–and I sought an introduction to him and talked with him in regard to the prison life. He was depressed and ailing, though not consenting to go into hospital, and spoke feelingly of the discouraging monotony and ennui of their existence, but made no complaint of the administration of the prison in any way. To be exchanged was the burden of their wishes and prayers, and in this every one with ordinary human sympathies must feel with them. Games of chess, draughts, dominoes, and cards were their indoor amusements, and some of the more energetic kept up an attempt at regular out-door exercise.

It happened that the chief surgeon of the camp was an old neighbor of mine, Dr. M. C. Woodworth, and I questioned him closely as to the medical and sanitary condition. He was a man of the highest character in his profession and as a citizen. I had absolute confidence in his uprightness as well as his ability. His statements fully corroborated the conclusions I drew from my own observation. I was fully satisfied that the garrison administration was honest and humane, and that the prisoners suffered only such evils as were necessarily incident to confinement in a narrow space, and to life in temporary barracks of the kind used in all military camps.

I learned that those prisoners who had means of their own were permitted to open private accounts with merchants and bankers in the city of Sandusky, and had little difficulty in increasing their physical comforts in many ways. Since the war I have conversed with business men of that town who personally knew of these arrangements, and who have given me details of remittances and credits furnished to prisoners, and of some considerable investments made for them. A certain surveillance was necessary in such cases to give assurance that no unlawful advantage was taken of such opportunities, but there was very little if any reason to believe such leniency was abused.



Ordered to East Tennessee–Preparation for a long ride–A small party of officers–Rendezvous at Lexington, Ky.–Changes in my staff–The escort-A small train–A gay cavalcade–The blue-grass country–War-time roads–Valley of the Rockcastle–Quarters for the night–London–Choice of routes–Longstreet in the way–A turn southward–Williamsburg–Meeting Burnside–Fording the Cumberland–Pine Mountain–A hard pull–Teamsters’ chorus–Big Creek Gap–First view of East Tennessee–Jacksboro–A forty-mile trot–Escape from unwelcome duty–In command of Twenty-third Corps–The army-supply problem–Siege bread–Starved beef–Burnside’s dinner to Sherman.

The order of the War Department directing me to report in person to the general commanding in East Tennessee was issued on the 2nd of December. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 314.] It was to take effect when I should have completed my duties at Sandusky, but as I had pressed all my work forward to completion some days before, in the expectation of the order, I was prepared to leave at once. A copy of the order was telegraphed to me on the 3rd, and I left for Cincinnati the same evening. On reaching the district and department headquarters, I learned that Burnside was relieved, and that General Foster had passed through the city, going on toward East Tennessee to assume command of the department. Longstreet raised the siege of Knoxville the very day I reached Cincinnati, but this was not yet known, and several days passed before we had authentic information that the way to Knoxville was open. There was work to do in closing up the business of the district, packing papers and books pertaining to my headquarters, and providing for their safe-keeping. A number of officers belonging to Burnside’s command were waiting an opportunity to rejoin the army, and I arranged a rendezvous for these at Lexington, Ky., where I would join them. A small troop of cavalry was detailed to act as our escort, and the quartermaster’s department promised wagons for our baggage and supplies. On the 8th the news of Longstreet’s retreat indicated that the road through Cumberland Gap to Knoxville was probably open, and sending our horses and baggage to Lexington by railroad, I left Cincinnati with my staff on Wednesday, the 9th, for the same place. Reaching there at evening, the next day was spent in packing our wagons and organizing our little party, and the cavalcade marched out of the pretty town of Lexington early on the 11th.

My staff was not altogether the same as it was in my Virginia campaigns. I had lost my friend, Surgeon Holmes, by death. He had been assigned to duty with me in Cincinnati, but his lungs had become diseased through exposure in the field, and he had died of consumption a few weeks before. My aide Captain Christie was similarly affected, and resigned to prolong his life. He ultimately died of the illness thus contracted. My aide Lieutenant Conine was appointed colonel of one of the new colored regiments, and went with it to Virginia. Major Bascom, my adjutant-general, Major Treat, my commissary, and Lieutenant Theodore Cox, my aide-de-camp, were ordered to accompany me, and were all that remained of my old staff. In the place of Conine I secured the detail of Captain E. D. Saunders, assistant-adjutant-general, who had served temporarily on my staff during the preceding season. He was the son of an old resident of Cincinnati, an excellent officer in his department as well as a gallant soldier, and he remained with me in closest relations till he fell by my side in the Atlanta campaign in the following year. His assignment as aide-de-camp was out of the usual course, but it was allowed in view of the contingency that Major Bascom could not remain with me if I should not continue in command of an army corps. In this case Saunders would become my adjutant-general, and this was what in fact occurred a little later.

At Lexington I found a group of ten or a dozen officers who were eager to join my party in the ride over the mountains. The one of highest rank was Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Strong of General Foster’s staff, who had been allowed a short leave of absence when his chief started for the West, and was now hastening back to duty. I found a ground for pleasant acquaintance with him in his relationship to Bishop Bedell of Ohio, a venerated friend of mine as long as he lived. Colonel Strong was a brother of Mrs. Bedell, and was a refined and cultivated gentleman. Lieutenant-Colonel James T. Sterling of the One Hundred and Third Ohio Infantry was also on his way to join his regiment at Knoxville. He had been a captain in the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and served with me in my first campaign in West Virginia, where I had become attached to him for his military as well as his personal character. He became my inspector-general in the field. Captain D. W. H. Day, assistant quartermaster, was also en route to the Twenty-third Corps in the field, and was directed to take charge of our little train. His unbounded energy and his power to surmount obstacles so impressed me that on our reaching Knoxville I had him also assigned to permanent duty with me in his department. The others passed out of the circle of permanent acquaintances when the journey was over, but they were all pleasant travelling companions, and one or two of them would have been remarkable anywhere for their wit and cheerfulness. It was as happy and jolly a party as one need wish for in a rough ride of a couple of hundred miles over the mountains.

Our escort turned out to be only twenty horsemen instead of a full troop, but these were enough for protection against mere marauders, and we had to take the chance of meeting organized bodies of the enemy. Four army wagons were furnished us. One of these was loaded with oats for our horses, and carried the personal baggage of the cavalry troop. Another was loaded with ordinary army rations. A third was devoted to mess supplies of the officers of the party, and as we were going into a country wasted by war and almost famine-stricken, we each tried to carry with us a small stock of choice provisions which might eke out a little comfort to the mess. The fourth wagon carried our personal baggage. Captain Day had carefully selected strong and serviceable horses for the teams, and the wagons were minutely inspected to see that they were fit for the mountain work in a wilderness where wheelwrights could not be found. It was our purpose to get both forage and provisions on the road if we could buy them, and to save the stock in our wagons for a time of necessity or to carry as much as possible into Knoxville.

I had telegraphed to Burnside as soon as I reached Cincinnati, formally reporting myself as under his orders for duty in the field by permission of the Secretary of War. I expressed my regret to hear of his leaving the command, and urged my assignment to duty before he laid down his authority. No answer to my dispatch was received, and the fact was that full communication with Burnside by the Cumberland Gap route was not opened till the 9th of December, so that my letter was among the correspondence received by Burnside the day he turned over the command to Foster. Another cause of uneasiness to me was the change of department boundaries made in the order assigning General Foster to command. The States north of the Ohio were separated from the department, and I was apprehensive that other changes might occur which would make me fall between two stools. That there was danger of just such disappointments turned out to be very true. My anxious determination to get forward to Knoxville with the least possible delay was justified, and I had reason to congratulate myself on acting promptly upon it.

Our cavalcade presented a gay appearance as we marched out of Lexington on Friday morning. There were twelve or fifteen officers, all well mounted and followed by a group of servants riding and leading our extra horses. Part of the cavalry troop led the way, the guidons fluttering in the van. Behind us came an ambulance and the army wagons with clean white canvas covers and well-groomed teams of four horses each, driven in army fashion by a driver astride of the near wheel-horse, a mounted wagon-master superintending the whole. The little column was closed by a squad of the cavalry acting as rear-guard. There had not been any severe winter weather as yet, and though the road was sloppy, the sun was bright overhead, and its beams flashed from our side-arms and equipments. Our first day’s ride was to take us to Richmond, a thriving town twenty-five miles away, the county-seat of Madison County, and a good turnpike road made this an easy day’s journey. We were in the rich blue-grass region, and though all of central Kentucky showed the marks of war’s ravages, this region was comparatively unscathed, and the beautiful rolling country was neither abandoned nor untilled. Horses and cattle were noticeably few, for raids like Morgan’s had been frequent enough to teach the peril of having flocks and herds to tempt the enemy. Farmers gave more attention than before to agriculture proper and the raising of crops which would directly support the family. There was nothing dispiriting in the view of the country on this first day’s ride, and though a winter landscape can hardly be exhilarating when it is leafless and bare, gray, and a little sombre in color, we found ourselves under no stress of sympathy with misfortune or want, as is so often the case with the soldier.

On leaving Richmond our really rough work began. The roads would have been bad enough at any time, but the hard use by army trains in bad weather and the entire lack of repair had made them execrable. All the ordinary methods of keeping highways in order by local administration were suspended by the war, and the only work done upon them was what each wagon-master could do with his drivers to mend the worst places so that his train could get through. As we could not be sure of finding food for man or beast on the road, it was necessary to gauge our speed by the distance our wagons could make, so that we should not be separated from them. About twenty miles a day was the maximum, and though we sometimes got a little further, there were days when our journey was much less. South of Richmond and on the border between Madison and Rockcastle counties, we crossed Big Hill, the first of the outlying ranges of the Cumberland Mountains. These great ridges are nearly parallel to each other, and even the “gaps” in them are so high that there is always a long and hard pull for wagon teams in surmounting them. Over the summit we came down into the valleys tributary to the Rockcastle River. Twenty or twenty-five miles away another summit marks the boundary between this valley and the principal depression in which the Cumberland River finds its devious course to the south and west. The rocks are sandstone through which the Rockcastle River has cut deep gorges and chasms, and the weathering of the cliffs has left the strata and crevices exposed with so much of the regularity of layers of masonry as to tell at once the story of the impression made on the early explorers of the region, and the suggestion by Nature herself of a name for the beautiful stream that dashes along to join the Cumberland many miles below.

Our second day’s journey ended far from any village or tavern, in this romantic valley. A pouring rain had begun about noon, and we plodded and splashed along till we reached a large log house which seemed a convenient halting-place as far advanced as our wagons could be brought. The house belonged to a thrifty widow. Half of it was simply furnished, and in this part she and her children lived. The other half was a large unfurnished room with the walls of hewn logs and a great fireplace of stone in the middle of the long side of the room. Out of this opened a little bedroom, a mere closet, in which the spare bed for guests was placed. The widow put these two rooms at our disposal. A roaring fire was soon burning on the hearth, our saddles and horse trappings were arranged on the sides of the room to serve as pillows, and blankets were brought in from the ambulance. Supper was got, partly from our own stores, cooked with the help of the family, and we were early ready for bed. The guest chamber was assigned to me, but it was so small that for the sake of ventilation the door was kept open, and the ruddy firelight flashed upon as picturesque and as merry a group as one could wish to see. A weary day in the saddle made all of us ready for sleep, and quips and jokes soon died out as one after another seemed to drop off into forgetfulness. The physical fatigue of the day made one of the party develop a phenomenal capacity for snoring in his heavy sleep, and in the quiet his nasal trumpeting grew more pronounced. It proceeded by phrases, as it were, each effort stronger than the preceding, till a fortissimo passage came and ended with a snort which echoed through the room and was followed by perfect silence. From the corner of the room came a drawling voice with a sigh as of deep relief, “Thank God _he’s_ dead.” The shout of laughter which followed showed that nearly all had roused themselves for the _finale_, and the badgered performer of the music lost much of the real comfort of his night’s rest by his fear of committing himself to a complete oblivion which might subject him to another chaffing bout from his companions.

Another wet and uncomfortable day’s ride brought us to London, an unattractive village at the parting of the ways, the principal road leading on to Cumberland Gap, and another on the right going to a ford of the Cumberland River at Williamsburg, where there would be again a choice of routes up the Elk Fork of the Cumberland between the ridges known as Jellico Mountain and Pine Mountain. The left wing of Burnside’s column had taken this route in October, and after crossing the Cumberland had climbed Jellico Mountain on their right hand, and reached the headwaters of Emory River, a tributary of the Tennessee which breaks through the mountains at Emory Gap, the easiest route into East Tennessee. Another road kept in the valley of Elk Fork till a place was reached where Pine Mountain, on the left, could be scaled, and once over its summit a hard road led to Big Creek Gap in the Cumberland Mountains, and thence by way of Jacksboro to Knoxville.

At London we were met with news from East Tennessee which made me reconsider the question of our route. We heard from Cumberland Gap that after General Foster had joined Burnside at Knoxville, Longstreet had moved in force to Rutledge, where he intercepted this line of communication, and that Knoxville could not be reached by that road for some time to come. This seemed to make it necessary to turn off to the south. As between the road to Emory Gap over Jellico Mountain and that to Big Creek Gap over Pine Mountain, the best evidence seemed to indicate the latter as the easier, but with the qualification which travellers in so wild a region have often to face, that whichever way you go you will wish you had gone the other. The name of Williamsburg on the Cumberland sounded as if it might be a considerable town, but the man who gave us the route warned us that we should find “it’s not much of a ‘burg neither when you git thar.” Our ride into London had been on Sunday, and was surely a work of necessity if not of mercy. Captain B. had found his horse a little shaky in coming down the steep hills, and at one little stream the jaded beast came down on his knees in the water. The captain with affected seriousness argued that it was a punishment for travelling on the day of rest, but was effectually silenced by the wag of the party, who humorously remarked, “Ah! if your horse is so weak on Sunday what would have become of him and you on a week day?” London did not afford us any lodgings that tempted us indoors, and we wrapped ourselves in our blankets and slept on the open veranda of a dilapidated house, building a camp-fire in the yard in front. The rain had ceased, and we preferred the frosty air to the narrow and stuffy quarters we should otherwise have had to take.

The evening of the 14th of December brought us to the Cumberland River, and as it was rising from the heavy rain of the preceding week, we should have been glad to get over at once, but the wagons could not overtake us till night, and we stopped at a country-house on the north side where we were made quite comfortable. About one o’clock in the morning, however, I was awakened by voices in the room below me, and recognized that of Captain French of Burnside’s staff, who was asking the farmer to light a fire and prepare to receive the general and his party, who were a little behind, wet and nearly frozen. I got up and dressed myself, went downstairs to greet the captain, who was soon joined by the rest of the party. The general had come by the route I was taking, but his wagons had broken down on the mountain-side, and he had been obliged to abandon them. The party had picked up somewhere an old-fashioned stage-coach on thorough braces, and this was drawn by ten mules. They had packed on the backs of other mules such of their personal effects and stores as they could, and had left the rest by the roadside. They had halted for the night on the south side of the river, but at midnight had been roused by the news that the river was rising, and that they must pass the ford at once if they expected to get over. In the darkness of the night it had been both difficult and perilous, for the ford was diagonal to the course of the stream, and there was great danger of getting into deep water. They were all soaking wet and chilled, covered with mud, and as forlorn and unkempt a set of men as was ever seen. They warmed and partly dried themselves by the fire, and pushed on as soon as day began to break, for the general was impatient to get forward. Colonel Goodrich, Colonel Richmond, Major Van Buren, and the personal staff were with him, and as my own staff had been well acquainted with them, it was an interesting rencounter with all the events of the Knoxville campaign to discuss. The general had sent his proposal to me to join him, the very day Longstreet reached the Holston River at Loudon, and when it had become evident that the Confederates were committed to an active campaign in East Tennessee. General Hartsuff had found that he could not endure the work, and had decided to leave before Knoxville should be invested. My regret that I could not start at once was diminished by the fact that the investment was complete before I could possibly have reached Knoxville, so that no time had been lost. But all the circumstances showed that Burnside had regarded his request to be relieved as indefinitely postponed, and the appointment of General Foster to succeed him was unexpected. He had not heard that I was on my way, but after meeting me sent a dispatch to Foster as soon as he reached the telegraph line. He had informed Foster at Knoxville of his purpose in having me join him, and sent this message in a friendly wish to promote my interests.

As soon as the general and his party were off, we began our preparation to cross the river. Their experience had shown that the increase of difficulty in keeping the ford at night was more than would probably come from the rise of the water. I therefore ordered everything to be ready as soon as it was broad daylight. We had eaten our breakfast and were in the saddle as soon as we could see clearly. Captain Day carefully examined the ford with a few of the cavalrymen, and fixed the landmarks which would guide us to the shallowest places. With these precautions and by carefully following directions we got over without mishap. The water did not quite reach the bodies of the wagons, and by lifting our feet out of our stirrups we got over dryshod. The stream was swift, and the only way to keep one’s direction safely was to look ahead and not downward. Had we tried it in the night, we should no doubt have fared as badly as our friends who had preceded us.

A day’s hard journey for the wagon teams brought us to the foot of Pine Mountain at the point where the road leaves the bed of Elk Fork to climb the steep ascent. We were now only nineteen miles from Jacksboro, in the valley of the Clinch, but the distance was multiplied by the cumulating difficulties of the way. We were not far from Cross Mountain, a ridge which, as its name indicates, connects the long parallel ranges of Jellico, Pine, and Cumberland mountains. We must climb Pine Mountain to its crest, descend along the shoulders of Cross Mountain near the head of the valley, then scale the side of Cumberland Mountain to reach Big Creek Gap, from which the valley of East Tennessee would open before us. We camped for the night and prepared for an early start in the morning. The teams were well fed and groomed, and the whole equipment was carefully inspected to see that everything was ready for the strain of the rough work of the morrow.

The morning of the 16th was fair and frosty, and we were astir early. Pine Mountain loomed before us like the steep roof of some vast gothic cathedral. The ridge seemed as straight as a house ridge, and we could not see that any natural depression made the ascent much easier in one place than another. Our road ran up a spur of the mountain till the regular slope was reached, then turning to the right it gradually mounted the steep incline by a diagonal course on a long shelf cut in the hillside, with here and there a level spot on which the teams could breathe. From where we stood in the valley the mountain face looked precipitous, and the road a mere line gradually rising along its front. It would have been bad enough if it had been a metalled road in good order; but it was only a rough track alternating in mud and rock, that had never been good even in mid-summer, and it was now next to impassable. Under the direction of Captain Day and the wagonmaster the teams were doubled, two of the wagons being left in the valley till the others should reach the summit, when the teams were to be brought back. When they came to the long and hard pull, the drivers gave us a good sample of army wagoning, their yelling and cracking of whips keeping up a continual chorus, and at specially hard points the quartermaster and wagon-master joined in the music like the baying of a pack of hounds, while the horses seemed to be stimulated to almost frantic action. This could not be kept up long, and when one of the level breathing-places was reached all subsided into quiet, while the steaming and puffing horses regained their wind for another effort.

Five miles of advance was the utmost we could make on that day, but this was fifteen for the teams, as they had to be brought down the mountain over the same road and drag up the wagons which had been left at the foot. Our party of cavaliers waited lazily in the valley till the first of the wagons were near the summit, and then rode on to overtake them on the other side of the ridge. It was an easy and picturesque ride for us who were well mounted, but a wearing labor and strain for the teamsters and their animals. We congratulated ourselves on the care with which the “outfit” had been selected at Lexington, for we came through without accident on a road where wrecks were plentier than milestones.

We had sweet slumber that night in the keen air of the mountain top, and were ready for the last day of mountain work. We were fourteen miles from Jacksboro, and were resolved to reach the little town before night. The road was unlike the long inclined plane cut in the side of Pine Mountain. We were in the midst of a mass of irregular stony hills, all of them part of the highlands between the summits of the two ranges. It was hard and rough work, but we were not obliged to double the teams again. The last ascent of the Cumberland Mountains toward Big Creek Gap was over bare rock much of the way, the sandstone strata lying horizontal, and the road being a gigantic staircase in which the steps were sometimes a foot each, but oftener more, with an occasional rise of fully four feet in the edge of the rocky outcrop. In the road the sharp edges of these stairs had been rounded off, partly by wear and a little by mechanical means, but they distinctly retained the stair-like character and looked absolutely impracticable. At the worst places the teamsters would halt and throw together stones or branches of trees to fill the angle in the rock, then mounting, a whoop and a crack of the whip was the signal for the team to dash at the obstacle. The horses’ shoes would strike fire from the level rock of the long “treader” above, the wagon would be bounced up the step, when a little bit of level would bring them to another rise in the staircase. We zigzagged along as the road sought the easiest places among the rocks, and perseverance at last had its reward when we crowned the summit and looked down into the broad and beautiful valleys of the Clinch and the Holston, the lovely tributaries which form the Tennessee River.

Our first look into Big Creek Gap was a startling and pleasurable surprise which has remained indelibly fixed in memory. Clouds had been hanging about the top of the mountain, and as we ascended the last slope and reached the crest, they hung so low over us that we could almost touch them. It was not like going into a fog, as is usually the case in climbing mountains, but these seemed smooth as silk on the under surface and hung over us as well defined as the covering of a tent. This gave to the prospect an accidental and very peculiar effect that one might not see again in crossing the pass a hundred times. As we looked eastward from the depression in the crest in which our roadway ran, a great circling amphitheatre lay before us, almost perfect in the symmetry of its curves. The ridge on right and left which formed its outer margin was higher than the spot on which we stood, and the silky clouds over our heads rested on it as on the walls of a natural coliseum, like the _velum_ of canvas of the ancient gigantic structure in Rome, except that here, nature outdoing all art, spread the lovely awning over the whole vast and cavernous auditorium a mile or more across. The gloom of the interior threw the retreating slopes into a mysterious shadow in which it were easy to imagine them peopled with ranks of ghostly auditors gazing upon the stage. It was there, full in our faces, that the most startling and almost incredible effect was visible. The circle of the mountains was there broken by an opening flanked on either side by stupendous perpendicular cliffs, and we looked through it upon a charming landscape bathed in glorious sunshine. A blue stream dashed foaming through the great gap and wandered off to join the river beyond. The broad and undulating valley fifty miles across was backed by another mountain wall which towered opposite to that from whose battlements we were gazing, not a long and level ridge like so many of those in the Alleghanies, but a picturesque Alpine mountain scene, with peaks snow-clad and dazzling in the sunlight,–the Great Smokies, the noblest of all the mountain groups of the Appalachian chain. The gloom and shadow of our vast amphitheatre held us in awe, while the brilliancy of the scene beyond the great stage opening seemed to draw us to it as to a promised land. We sat upon our horses, spellbound, gazing upon what seemed at once too grand and too beautiful to be real. Had we been superstitious like soldiers of an ancient time, we might have seen a miraculous portent in it; and even as it was, such sentiment as may be permitted in the sceptical spirit of our own day could find a happy omen in the scene. We were entering upon a new chapter in our military lives, and it was cheering to us, in entering East Tennessee, through the great gate that opened before us, to have so charming a picture to lure us on. We wound down the mountain side, happy but quiet. There was no one among us so lacking in earnest character as to be unmoved. We had left the wagons far behind, and the clinking of our horses’ shoes upon the rocks was the only sound which broke the silence till the roaring and laughing brook that gives a name to the pass met us and rollicked beside us, as we went out between the giant cliffs into the broad and cheerful valley.

At Jacksboro we entered the theatre of active warlike operations, and found ourselves in the usual atmosphere of rumors. It was of course known that Longstreet had retreated to the northeast after raising the siege, but some insisted that he was moving down the valley again, and that Foster was to be shut up in Knoxville as Burnside had been. It was evident that there was no definite information on which any of these local opinions were based, and I was satisfied that our road was open and safe. The only risk was from some raiding column of cavalry, and we must take our chances as to that. After a good night’s rest, I decided on the morning of the 18th to take with me Colonel Strong of General Foster’s staff and Colonel Sterling, and leaving the wagons behind, to make the forty miles to Knoxville in a single day’s ride. What we had heard of the destitution in the city made it seem best that most of the party should remain with the wagons and the supplies, and so avoid the risk of throwing too many guests upon the hospitality of headquarters. We took a few of the cavalry as an escort, and both horses and men were in such good condition and so hardened to the road that we scarcely broke from a trot in the whole distance, except to stop for resting and feeding our nags at noon.

We reached Knoxville in the afternoon, and Colonel Strong was warmly welcomed by those of the staff who were present, but the general was absent at the front. He was expected back the next night, however, and comfortable quarters were provided for us meanwhile. My instinctive fears of complications in regard to my own assignment to duty proved to be true. The very day I left Lexington General Foster had issued an order assigning me to command the District of Kentucky, and it had passed me on the road. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. pp. 383, 394.] My determination to obey literally the order from the War Department to report in person, and the haste with which I had started, proved my salvation from the kind of duty at the rear which I was bent on escaping. The District of Kentucky would have been even worse than that of Ohio, for the strife between political factions embroiled every one who commanded there, and the order to me had been issued because the officer in command was obnoxious to one of these factions.

General Foster returned on the 19th, and on my reporting to him I found at once the benefit of General Burnside’s representations in regard to me. Colonel Strong was also well aware of my earnest wish for field service, and the friendship which had grown up on the road, no doubt, made him an influential advocate with his chief. The general received me very kindly, and said that his action had been based on the supposition that I would prefer duty in Kentucky during the winter rather than make the rough journey over the mountains at that season. On my assuring him that my coming without waiting to communicate with him was because of my earnest request to the War Department for service in the field, he was evidently pleased and immediately revoked the orders already made, and assigned me to the Twenty-third Corps, to command it as the senior general officer present. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii, p. 457.]

I had been eight days on the road from Lexington, and the rest of the party who remained with the wagons were a day longer in reaching Knoxville. It had given me a vivid appreciation of the impossibility of supplying an army in East Tennessee by wagon trains over the mountains. The roads by Cumberland Gap or by Emory Gap were less precipitous, but they were more muddy. The forage was exhausted along all the routes, and till grass should grow large trains of supplies were not to be thought of. The effort to force trains through in the autumn had been most destructive to the teams. Noticing how the way was lined by the carcasses of dead horses and mules, we kept an accurate count one day of the number of these. In the twenty miles of that day’s journey we counted a hundred and fifty dead draught animals. The movement of wagon-trains had, of course, been suspended when Longstreet advanced upon Knoxville, and bad weather had hardly begun then. Beef cattle could be driven in herds, but the country was so stripped of forage that the danger of starvation by the way made this mode of supply nearly as hopeless as the other.

The only permanent solution of the subsistence problem was to be found in enlarging the facilities for railway communication at Chattanooga so that that town might become a great depot from which the East Tennessee troops could draw as soon as the railroad to Knoxville should be repaired, or light steamboats be brought to the upper Tennessee and Holston rivers. They showed us at Knoxville samples of the bread issued to the garrison during the siege. It was made of a mixture of all the breadstuffs which were in store or could be procured, but the chief ingredient was Indian corn ground up cob and all. It was not an attractive loaf, but it would support life, though the bulk was out of proportion to the nutriment. The cattle had been kept in corral till they were too thin and weak to be fit for food, but there was no other, and the commissaries killed the weakest and issued them as rations because these would otherwise die a natural death. Sherman and his staff had expressed their astonishment that an appetizing dinner had been spread for them at Burnside’s headquarters; [Footnote: Sherman’s Memoirs, vol. i. p. 368.] but they would have wondered more if they had known of the way in which the town and vicinity had been ransacked to do honor to the welcome guests who had relieved the beleaguered army. General Poe vividly describes the straits they were in, and the heroic sort of hospitality which had hunted far and wide for something fit to set before the leader of the column which had raised the siege. [Footnote: Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol. iii. p. 745.] There had been no danger of actual starvation, but only the coarsest of bread and the poorest of beef could be distributed. Eating, in such circumstances, was not a pleasure, and the pangs of real hunger were necessary to make the ration at all palatable. The withdrawal of the enemy relieved the situation somewhat, for it opened the country to foraging parties, and every kind of produce which money could tempt the people to part with was bought and brought into the camps. It was little enough at best, and three months of pinching want were to be endured before anything like regular supplies could be furnished to the army. It was to such a house of destitution we had come, but we had come voluntarily to share the labors and the triumphs of our comrades in the field and we had no regrets.



Blain’s Cross-roads–Hanson’s headquarters–A hearty welcome–Establishing field quarters–Tents and houses–A good quartermaster–Headquarters’ business–Soldiers’ camps–Want of clothing and shoes–The rations–Running the country mills–Condition of horses and mules–Visit to Opdycke’s camp–A Christmas dinner–Veteran enlistments–Patriotic spirit–Detachment at Strawberry Plains–Concentration of corps there–Camp on a knoll-A night scene-Climate of the valley–Affair at Mossy Creek–New Year’s blizzard–Pitiful condition of the troops–Patience and courage–Zero weather.

The Twenty-third Corps was encamped at Blain’s Cross-roads, seventeen miles northeast of Knoxville, on the road to Rutledge, where Longstreet was supposed to be. The Fourth Corps, under General Granger, and the Ninth, under General Parke, were in the same neighborhood. The cavalry corps covered the front and flanks on both sides of Holston River. A concentration of the Army of the Ohio and its reinforcements had been made there to meet a rumored return of the Confederates toward Knoxville after an affair at Rutledge in which Longstreet had captured a wagon-train loaded with supplies for us. I left Knoxville on the morning of the 21st of December, accompanied by my staff officers, and rode to Blain’s Cross-roads. I found the corps under temporary command of Brigadier-General Mahlon D. Manson, of Indiana, who had commanded one of the divisions in the preceding campaign. Manson occupied an old log house too small for himself and staff. There was but one bed in it, and at night the general occupied this, whilst his staff slept in their blankets on the floor. We had travelled leisurely, as I wished to study the country between Knoxville and the camp, and we reached the corps too late to make any arrangement for the night, and had to cast ourselves on our comrades’ hospitality. I was most heartily welcomed by General Manson, who did the best he could for me by offering me the half of his own bed, whilst the staff took similar lodgings with his officers in a shed veranda at the back of the house lying snugly together, wrapped in their blankets. Manson was a burly, whole-souled man, brave and loyally unselfish, and turned over the command to me with a sincerity of subordination which won my confidence at once. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. pp. 462, 463.] It was not a comfortable night in the overcrowded log house for either hosts or guests, but it was made cheery by the hearty soldiers’ welcome we received, and we sat late around the crackling fire in the stone chimney after we had eaten with a relish, known only in camp, the best supper which the meagre rations of the army could furnish.

Our first occupation next day was to establish my own headquarters, for a military man does not feel at home until his little camp is set in some decent nook with the regularity and order which shows good system, and with the sentinel pacing before the entrance. I have always found it most comfortable and most healthful to live under canvas, even in winter, in the sparsely settled parts of the country. It might be different in Europe or in the more densely peopled States at the East, but in the West and South a house cannot always be found in proper proximity to the line, and changing from house to tent and back again is much more dangerous to health than adherence to what seems the more exposed kind of life. There is also a question of discipline and _morale_ involved, and the effect of example at headquarters is felt through the whole command. With no little difficulty we found four old tents without flies, but these were carefully pitched in a clean place accessible to all parts of the corps, and when we were installed in them we had a real satisfaction in being at home and ready for business. Our difficulty in procuring four poor tents was simply an index of the scarcity of all supplies and equipments. The depots at Cincinnati and Nashville were packed with everything we wanted, but there had been no time to get them forward when the siege began, and now the impassable mountain roads cut us off as completely as a circle of hostile camps. We especially felt the lack of the flies for the tents in roughing it. This extra roof makes as great a difference in keeping a tent habitable in wet weather, as an extra cape or a poncho does in keeping the rain off one’s person, or in civil life the omnipresent umbrella. Our overcoats and ponchos kept out the wet in the longest march, but without a fly the tent roof and walls would drip with moisture. In Captain Day, however, I had a quartermaster whose indomitable energy would not be long baffled, and in his journeys to and fro in charge of the supply trains of the corps he kept a sharp eye out for whatever would make our headquarters outfit more efficient. The warehouses at Knoxville were searched, and a better tent found in one place and a fly in another gradually brought our little camp into what soldiers regard as a home-like condition. The clerical work and the official correspondence of the command could then go on; for the headquarters of an army corps in the field is as busy a place as a bank or counting-house in a city. It is the business centre for a military population of 12,000 or 15,000 men, where local government is carried on, and where their feeding, clothing, arming, and equipping are organized and directed, to say nothing of the military conduct in regard to the enemy, or of the administration of affairs relating to the neighboring inhabitants.

The troops were in bivouac, generally in the woods about us, where shelter could be made in ways well known to lumbermen and hunters. The most common form was a lean-to, made by setting a couple of crotched posts in the ground with a long pole for a ridge. Against this were laid other poles and branches of trees sloping to the ground on the windward side. The roof was roughly thatched with evergreen branches laid so that rain would be shed outward. A bed of small evergreen twigs within made a comfortable couch, and unlimited firewood from the forest made a camp fire in front that kept everybody toasting warm in ordinary weather. The regimental and company officers had similar quarters, improved sometimes by a roof of canvas or tarpaulin beneath the evergreen thatch. There were but few days in the East Tennessee winters when such shelter was not a sufficient protection for men young and accustomed to hardship. It was in fact more comfortable than life in tents at division and corps headquarters, but with us tents were a necessity on account of the clerical business which I have mentioned.

The want most felt was that of clothing and shoes. The supply of these had run very low by the time Burnside had marched through Kentucky and Tennessee to Knoxville, and almost none had been received since. Many of the soldiers were literally in rags, and none were prepared for winter when Longstreet interrupted all communication with the base of supplies. Their shoes were worn out, and this, even more than their raggedness, made winter marching out of the question. The barefooted men had to be left behind, and of those who started the more poorly shod would straggle, no matter how good their own will was or how carefully the officers tried to enforce discipline and keep their men together.

The food question was in a very unsatisfactory way, but had improved a good deal after the siege of Knoxville was raised. Some herds had been brought part of the way, and had been kept together, so that they were driven in as soon as the road was open. Some were captured and some were lost, but enough arrived so that the meat ration was pretty regularly issued in full weight. A large amount of pork had been salted and packed at Knoxville, and was issued as an occasional change from the ordinary ration of fresh beef. The “small rations” of coffee, sugar, salt, etc., were almost wholly wanting, and our soldiers had been so accustomed to a regular issue of these that the deprivation was a very serious matter. As to breadstuffs, none could be got from our depots and we were wholly dependent upon the country. We put all the mills within our lines under military supervision, and systematized the grinding so that the supply of meal and flour should be equitably distributed to the army and to the inhabitants. As the people were loyal, there was no wish on the part of the military authorities to take corn or other grain without payment, and the people brought in freely or sold to us on their farms all that they could spare. Still the supply was short, and was soon exhausted in the vicinity of the army, so that we had to send forage trains to great distances and with very unsatisfactory results. During the whole winter we rarely succeeded in obtaining half rations of bread, and oftentimes the fraction was so small as to be hardly worth estimating. In such a situation corn could not be taken for horse-feed, and as the long forage in our vicinity was exhausted, the animals were in pitiful condition. In many instances artillery horses dropped dead of starvation at the picket rope.

The Fourth Corps was no better off than ourselves. Granger had left the Army of the Cumberland immediately after the battle of Missionary Ridge, and although the situation at Chattanooga had been a good deal mitigated, no considerable supplies of clothing had then arrived. The distress was therefore universal in our East Tennessee army. Learning that Sheridan’s division was encamped not far from us at Blain’s Cross-roads, I rode over to find Colonel Emerson Opdycke of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Ohio, who was in that division. He was a townsman of mine, and our families were intimate, and other neighbors and friends were with him. I could give them later news from home than any of them had, for until the end of the year the newspapers I brought from Cincinnati were the latest in camp. I found Opdycke’s camp like our own. He was in the woods, under a lean-to shelter such as I have described, with a camp-fire of great logs in front of it. He was just opening the first letters he had got from home since the battle of Chickamauga in September, and these had been a long time on the way, for they had gone to Chattanooga and had come by casual conveyance from there. His statements fully agreed with the reports I had got from the Twenty-third Corps officers in regard to the condition of the troops. It was the same with all. They would not suffer greatly if they could remain in the forest encampments till shoes and clothing could come to us, but any active campaigning must produce intolerable suffering.

Our mess wished to celebrate Christmas by a dinner at which a few of our comrades might share the luxury of some canned vegetables and other stores we had brought from Ohio, and we sent a man with a foraging party that was going twenty miles away for hay and corn. After a diligent search he succeeded in getting a turkey and a pair of fowls, and we kept the festival in what seemed luxurious style to our friends who had been through the campaign. The spirit of officers and men was all that could be wished, for they thoroughly understood the causes of their privation, and knew that it was unavoidable. Their patriotism and their moral tone were magnificently shown in the re-enlistments which were at this time going on. The troops of the original enlistment of 1861 were now near the end of their term of three years, and it was the wise policy of the government to let the question of a new term be settled now while the winter was interrupting active operations. Regiments whose term of service would expire in the spring or summer of 1864 were offered a month’s furlough at home and the title of “veterans” if they would re-enlist. The furlough was to be enjoyed before the opening of the next campaign, and the regiments were to be sent off as fast as circumstances would permit. We knew that the home visit would be a strong inducement to many, but we were astonished and awed at the noble unanimity of the popular spirit of the men. Almost to a man they were determined to “see it out,” as they said. The re-enlistment was accepted by companies, but there was great pride in preserving the regimental organization as well. The closing week of the year was devoted to this business, other duty being suspended as far as circumstances would permit. When a company had “veteranized” by the re-enlistment of a majority, they announced it by parading on the company street and giving three rousing cheers. These cheers were the news of the day, and the company letter and the number of the regiment passed eagerly from mouth to mouth as the signal of a new veteran company was heard. Some companies re-enlisted without an exception. In one regiment there were only 15 men in the ten companies who did not sign the new rolls. In fact only the physically disabled with here and there a discontented man were omitted in the veteran enlistment. It was a remarkable incident in the history of the war and a speaking one. It illustrates better than anything, except the original outburst of patriotism in 1861, the character of the men who formed our rank and file. Could we only have had then an efficient system of filling up these veteran regiments by new recruits, the whole would have made an incomparable army; but, alas, we were to see them reduced to a handful while new regiments were organized, only (as it looked to us in the field) to give the “patronage” of the appointments to politicians, or to reward successful recruiting instead of soldierly ability tested in action.

Soon after General Foster was assigned to the department he reissued an order which Burnside had made earlier but had revoked, by which Brigadier-General Samuel D. Sturgis was appointed to the command of the cavalry corps. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii, p. 394.] Sturgis had commanded a division of the Ninth Corps in Maryland and Virginia, and was one of those whose dismissal Burnside had demanded for the insubordination which followed the battle of Fredericksburg. Good policy would have dictated that he should be sent to some other command; but he was ordered to report to Burnside, and had no active employment until Foster arrived. The cavalry corps had had several lively engagements with the Confederate horse, and was now concentrated near Mossy Creek, where it was supported by a brigade of infantry from the second division of the Twenty-third Corps, in command of Colonel Mott of the One Hundred and Eighteenth Ohio. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 488, 489, 562.] Our information showed that Longstreet’s forces were now concentrated about Morristown, and that nothing larger than scouting parties came across to the west side of the Holston. It became prudent, therefore, to transfer part of our forces from the Rutledge road over to that which runs from Knoxville along the line of the railroad to Morristown. Both the railroad and the wagon-road cross the Holston at Strawberry Plains and go up the valley on the east side of the river by way of New Market and Mossy Creek. On the 24th and 25th I was directed to send two more brigades to Strawberry Plains, [Footnote: _Id_., p. 490.]one of which was put over the river to cover the reconstruction of the railway bridge which was going on. This was the long trestle which had been burned by Sanders in the preceding summer, and had since been repaired and destroyed by the opposing armies alternately. On the 27th I was ordered to move the other division of the corps to Strawberry Plains, thus concentrating my command in that vicinity. Our distance from Knoxville would be about the same as at Blain’s Cross-roads, but the divergence of the roads made our march some six or eight miles across the country.

It was a great hardship to the men to abandon the huts they had made with a good deal of labor, and which were the more necessary for them by reason of the destitution which I have described. Nor was it pleasant for us at headquarters, for we had got our own establishment into a condition of tolerable comfort. Some brick had been got from a ruined and abandoned house, and with them a chimney with an open fireplace had been built at the back of one of our tents, which thus made a cheerful sitting-room for our mess. It is a soldier’s proverb that comfortable quarters are sure to bring marching orders, and we were only illustrating the rule. The march was made in the afternoon through rain and mud, and we reached Strawberry Plains just before nightfall in the short midwinter day. The Plains were a nearly level space in a curve of the river, though the village of the name was on some rough hills on the other bank at the end of the long trestle bridge. The level lands had been for some time occupied by the cavalry, and were so cut into mud-holes and defiled in every way as to be unfit for an infantry camp. A little on one side, however, was an isolated gently rounded hill covered with a mixed forest of oak and pine. With a little crowding this would make a clean and well-drained camp for the division I had brought with me. The brigades were placed so that they encircled the hill on the lower slopes with openings between leading to the top, on which I placed my headquarters. The little quadrangle of tents on the top, the forest-covered slopes, the busy soldiery below making new camps for themselves, made a romantic picture despite the discomforts. I cannot better show the impression made at the moment than by quoting from a letter written home the next day: “When we arrived, the rain was pouring in torrents, the dead leaves, wet and deep, soaked our boots and made it slow work to kindle a fire, and as we stood about in our overcoats heavy with water, we were not especially impressed with the romance of the scene; but when we had found a few old pine-knots to start the fire with, and the heavy smoke of the damp leaves changed to a bright flame,–when the tents were pitched, a cup of hot coffee made, and we sat about the fire watching the flashing light on the deep green of the pines and the beautiful russet of the oak leaves with the white of the tents beneath, the few square yards about us were made as lovely as a fairy scene shut in by the impenetrable gloom beyond. The old witchery of camp life now came over us, we forgot rain and cold, singing and chatting as merrily as if care were dead, till finally rolling in our blankets under our tents, we went to sleep as sweetly and soundly as children.”

A day or two of bright mild weather followed, and the troops got themselves fairly well sheltered again. The cutting of trees for huts and for firewood thinned out the forest, and the elevation of the camp above the surrounding country exposed us to the wind, as we soon learned to our cost. Whilst the fair days lasted, we had a favorable example of an East Tennessee winter, as is shown by the further quotation from the home letter just cited. “I am sitting in the open air,” I said, “before the camp-fire of great logs, writing upon my atlas on my knee, which is more comfortable than doing it in the chilly shade of the tent. I wish you could have seen our camp last night. We were grouped around the fire, some sitting and lolling on the logs drawn up for fuel, some in camp chairs. The smoke from the camps about us made the whole air hazy. Over the tents through a vista of pine-trees the moon was rising red through the thickened air, while overhead the stars were shining. The wonderful perspective the firelight makes in the forest, here brought out and deepened the mass of color of the evergreens, there made the bare trunk and limbs of a leafless oak stand like a chalk drawing against the black background, and again it gave rich velvety warmth to the brown of the dead leaves which hung thick on some trees, while the gloom beyond and the snug enclosure of our little quadrangle of tents shut us in with a sense of shelter, and completed a picture that would have made Rembrandt die of envy.” We were hardened by our continuous exposure so that we felt no discomfort in sitting thus in the open air till late in the evening, though we woke in the morning to find the dead leaves which made our carpet stiff and crisp with the frost. Still, it was much milder than the Christmas weather of northern Ohio, or we could not have taken it so easily.

On the 29th the cavalry had a lively affair with the enemy at Mossy Creek, some twenty miles above us. General Sturgis was making a reconnoissance of the country between the French Broad and the Holston rivers, sending the cavalry partly toward Dandridge on the former stream, under command of Colonel Foster, and partly toward Morristown, under Brigadier-General W. L. Elliott of the Cumberland army. Elliott was supported by Mott’s brigade of infantry, part of which acted under his orders. Foster found no enemy, but Elliott had advanced about three miles beyond Mossy Creek when he encountered the cavalry corps of the Confederates, advancing, apparently, with a purpose similar to ours. The infantry were posted by Sturgis upon a ridge half a mile beyond the railway bridge at Mossy Creek, and the cavalry with the artillery were ordered to retire slowly to the same position. The enemy under Major-General William T. Martin consisted of two divisions of horsemen and two batteries of artillery. They closely followed our retiring troops, who made cool resistance and drew back slowly and in order. When the position of the infantry was reached, the whole force was halted to receive the Confederate attack. Sturgis had two batteries of artillery with his corps, but had sent a section of each with Colonel Foster, and Elliott now placed the remaining sections on right and left of the road, each supported by infantry. Martin boldly attacked till he found himself confronted by Mott’s infantry, which opened upon him with a withering fire. The artillery also fired canister upon the advancing enemy, and our horsemen, dismounting, extended the line and did good execution with their carbines. The first assault being repulsed, Martin was unwilling to give it up so, and bringing his artillery into better position renewed the fight. A sharp skirmishing combat was kept up for several hours, when the enemy retreated. Darkness came on soon after, and the pursuit was not pushed far. Our losses had been 17 killed and 87 wounded. That of the enemy was reported to be much more severe. The result of the engagement was to repress the enterprise of the Confederates, so that Mossy Creek remained for some time our undisturbed outpost in the valley. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. pp. 625-641.]

On New Year’s eve we had a change of weather which rudely broke in upon our dream of a steady and mild winter. It had been raining nearly all day, and we had just turned in about ten o’clock in the evening when a sudden gale sprung up from the northward. The water-soaked ground did not hold the tent pins very well, and the rattling of canvas warned us to look after the fastenings. The staff were all quickly at work, the servants being, as usual, slow in answering a call in the night. The front of our mess tent blew in, and the roof and sides were bellying out and flapping like a ship’s sail half clewed up. I caught the door-flaps and held them down to the pole with all my strength, shouting to the black boys to turn out before the whole should fly away. Then we had a lively time for an hour, going from tent to tent to drive the pins tighter and make things secure. We had just got them snug, as we thought, and began to listen to the roaring of the wind with something like defiance, when a “stick-and-clay” chimney, which Colonel Sterling and my brother had at the back of their tent, took fire and was near setting the whole encampment in a blaze. This made another shout and rush, till the chimney was torn away from the canvas and the fire extinguished. The gale was so fierce that the sparks from the camp-fires rolled along the ground instead of rising, and we should have burned up had not the rain kept the tents soaking wet. It grew cold so fast that by the time we had made the encampment safe, the wet canvas froze stiff. It must be confessed that we did not sleep well that night, and we got up in the morning aching with cold. It still blew a gale, though the sky was clear and the thermometer had fallen to zero. It was a typical cyclone coming as a cold wave from the North, and, as we afterward learned, was exceptional in its suddenness and bitterness along the whole line from Minnesota to northern Georgia.

The soldiers in the camps had slept but little, for they were obliged to keep awake and near the fires to escape freezing. No one who has not lived in tents or in bivouac in such a time can understand what real suffering from cold is. Exposure by day is easy to bear compared with the chill by night when camp-fires burn low and men lie shivering, their teeth chattering, while extreme drowsiness makes exertion painful and there is danger of going off into the sleep that knows no waking. On New Year’s day morning the ground was frozen solid. All huddled about the fires, but the gale was so fierce that on the windward side there seemed to be no radiation of heat, so completely was the fire blown away from that side of the logs. On the leeward side the smoke suffocated and the sparks burned one, and men passed from one side to the other doubting which was the more tolerable.

I spent a good part of the morning going through the regimental camps and giving such encouragement and cheer as I could. The patience and courage of the troops were marvellous, though many of the men were in a pitiable condition as to clothing. They were tatterdemalions in appearance, but heroes at heart. Some had nothing but drawers upon their legs, their trousers being utterly worn to rags. Some had no coats and drew their tattered blankets about them, sitting upon their haunches, like Indians, about the camp-fires. I do not recall a single querulous or ill-natured complaint. It was heart-breaking work to see their misery, but they were so intelligent that they knew as well as I did that it had grown out of the inevitable fortunes of war, in spite of the utmost efforts of their commanders to get supplies forward as soon as the siege of Knoxville had been raised. I estimated that fully one-third of the command had lost and worn out some material portion of their clothing, so as to be suffering for lack of it. A little thing which added greatly to the discomfort of the men was that in some whole brigades they had been without soap for two months. This made cleanliness impossible, and clustering about the fires as they were forced to do, they became so begrimed that a liberal supply of soap would have been necessary to restore their color and show to what race they belonged. Yet, hungry, cold, ragged, and dirty, they responded cheerily to my New-Year’s greetings, and at this very time the “veteranizing” was going on without a check until nearly every one of the old regiments re-enlisted for another term.

At our headquarters on the hill-top we realized that our picturesque situation had its disadvantages, for we were doubly exposed to the force of the wind. We were on a high dome, as it were, with nothing whatever to make a lee or break the power of the icy gale. In one or two of the tents, furnaces or stoves of stone had been made, on the pattern of those we had used in West Virginia in 1861. The trench in the ground with flat stone covering level with the tent floor and connected with an opening on the outside, proved the most successful device. We collected in these, and used every manner of pastime to kill the tedious hours till the subsidence of the wind made our usual outdoor life and activity possible again. Our efforts at meals were a woeful sort of failure. Cooking under such difficulties was more a name than a fact, and we left the mess tent shivering and hardly less hungry than we entered it. But all things have an end, however tedious they seem in passing, and the 2d of January seemed pleasant in the comparison, for the “blizzard” was over, and the weather was calm though cold.



Grant at 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 Burnside, 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