Among the killed was C.S. Cleburne (brother of General Pat Cleburne), one of the most promising young officers in the army. General Morgan had made him a captain, a short time previously, for unusual gallantry.
In the latter part of May, General Morgan undertook the expedition known as the "last" or "June raid" into Kentucky. He had many reasons for undertaking this expedition. He was impatient to retrieve, in some manner, the losses of the Ohio raid, by another campaign of daring conception, and, he hoped, successful execution. He wished to recruit his thinned ranks with Kentuckians, and to procure horses for the men who had none. Moreover, there were excellent military reasons for this movement.
Averill and Cook were not far off, and could pounce down at any moment, but were supposed to be awaiting reinforcements, without which they would not return.
These reinforcements were coming from Kentucky under Burbridge and Hobson, and consisted of all or nearly all the troops in Kentucky, available for active service.
General Morgan despaired of successfully resisting all these forces if they united and bore down on the department. But he believed that, if he could move into Kentucky, and gain the rear of the forces coming thence before the junction with the other Federal forces was affected, he could defeat the plan. The Kentucky troops would turn and pursue him, and the attack upon the department would not be made. In short, he hoped to avoid invasion and attack by assuming the offensive—to keep the enemy out of Southwestern Virginia by making an irruption into Kentucky.
He wrote on the 31st of May to General S. Cooper, Adjutant General, detailing his plan and the information upon which it was based.
In this letter, he said: "While General Buckner was in command of this department, he instructed me to strike a blow at the enemy in Kentucky.
"As I was on the eve of executing this order, the rapid movement of the enemy from the Kanawha valley, in the direction of the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, made it necessary that I should remain to co-operate with the other forces for the defense of this section. Since the repulse of the enemy, I have obtained the consent of General Jones to carry out the original plan agreed on between General Buckner and myself."
"I have just received information that General Hobson left Mt. Sterling on the 23rd inst., with six regiments of cavalry (about three thousand strong), for Louisa, on the Sandy. This force he has collected from all the garrisons in Middle and Southeastern Kentucky. At Louisa there is another force of about two thousand five hundred cavalry, under a colonel of a Michigan regiment, recently sent to that vicinity. It is the reported design of General Hobson to unite with this latter force, and co-operate with Generals Averill and Crook in another movement upon the salt works and lead mines of Southwestern Virginia." "This information has determined me to move at once into Kentucky, and thus distract the plans of the enemy by initiating a movement within his lines. My force will be about two thousand two hundred men. I expect to be pursued by the force at Louisa, which I will endeavor to avoid. There will be nothing in the State to retard my progress but a few scattered provost-guards."
In the latter part of May, General Morgan commenced the movement indicated in this letter.
His division consisted of three brigades. The first under command of Colonel Giltner, was between ten and eleven hundred strong, and was a magnificent body of hardy, dashing young men, drawn chiefly from the middle and eastern counties of Kentucky. The second brigade was composed of the mounted men of the old Morgan division. It consisted of three small battalions, commanded respectively by Lieutenant Colonel Bowles and Majors Cassell and Kirkpatrick. It was between five and six hundred strong and was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alston. The third brigade was composed of the dismounted men of both the other commands, the greater number, however, being from the second brigade. It was organized into two battalions, commanded respectively by Lieutenant Colonel Martin and Major Geo. R. Diamond, a brave and exceedingly competent officer of Giltner's brigade. The third brigade was about eight hundred strong and was commanded by Colonel D. Howard Smith. No artillery was taken—it could not have been transported over the roads which General Morgan expected to travel. The column reached Pound Gap on the 2nd of June and found it occupied by a force of the enemy. Colonel Smith was ordered to clear the path, and pushing his brigade forward, he soon did it. Several horses were captured, which was accepted as a happy omen.
Sending a scouting party to observe the direction taken by the retreating enemy, and to ascertain if they joined a larger force and turned again, General Morgan pressed on, hoping to reach Mt. Sterling—the general Federal depot of supplies and most important post in that portion of Kentucky—before General Burbridge could return from the extreme eastern part of the State. As Burbridge was incumbered with artillery and would be two or three days in getting the news, General Morgan confidently believed that he could reach Mt. Sterling first. The mountainous country of Southeastern Kentucky, so rugged, steep and inhospitable, as to seem almost impossible of access, had to be traversed for this purpose. More than one hundred and fifty miles of this region was marched over in seven days. The dismounted men behaved heroically. Straining up the steep mountain sides, making their toilsome way through gloomy and deep ravines, over tremendous rocks and every formidable obstacle which nature collects in such regions against the intrusion of man, footsore, bleeding, panting, they yet never faltered or complained, and richly won the enthusiastic eulogy of their commander. They marched from twenty-two to twenty-seven miles each day. This march was terribly severe upon the mounted commands also. The fatigue and lack of forage caused many horses to break down—and the dismounted brigade was largely augmented. Colonel Giltner stated that he lost more than two hundred horses in his brigade.
On the 6th of June, Colonel Smith was transferred to the command of the second brigade. Lieutenant Colonel Martin was then assigned to command of the third. On the 7th, finding that he would succeed in anticipating Burbridge at Mt. Sterling and that he would not require his whole force to take the place, General Morgan dispatched Captain Jenkins with fifty men to destroy the bridges upon the Frankfort and Louisville Railroad to prevent troops arriving from Indiana for the defense of Lexington and Central Kentucky. He sent Major Chenoweth to destroy bridges on the Kentucky Central Railroad to prevent the importation of troops from Cincinnati, and he sent Captain Peter Everett with one hundred men to capture Maysville. General Morgan instructed these officers to accomplish their respective commissions thoroughly but promptly, to create as much excitement as possible, occasion the concentration of forces already in the State at points widely apart, to magnify his strength and circulate reports which would bewilder and baffle any attempt to calculate his movements and to meet him within three or four days at Lexington.
When the command emerged from the sterile country of the mountains into the fair lands of Central Kentucky, the change had a perceptible and happy effect upon the spirits of the men. Night had closed around them, on the evening of the 7th, while they were still struggling through the ghastly defiles or up the difficult paths of the "Rebel trace," still environed by the bleak mountain scenery. During the night, they arrived at the confines of the beautiful "Blue Grass country," and when the sun arose, clear and brilliant, a lovely and smiling landscape had replaced the lowering, stony, dungeon like region whence they had at last escaped. The contrast seemed magical—the song, jest and laugh burst forth again and the men drew new life and courage from the scene.
In the early part of the day, the 8th, the column reached the vicinity of Mt. Sterling, and preparations were made for an immediate attack upon the place. On the previous day, Captain Lawrence Jones, commanding the advance-guard, had been sent with his guard to take position upon the main road between Mt. Sterling and Lexington, and Captain Jackson was sent with one company to take position between Mt. Sterling and Paris. These officers were instructed to prevent communication, by either telegraph or courier, between Mt. Sterling and the other two places. The enemy were simultaneously attacked by detachments from the first and second brigades and soon forced to surrender with little loss on either side. Major Holliday, of the first brigade, made a gallant charge upon the encampment which drove them in confusion into the town. Three hundred and eighty prisoners were taken, a large quantity of stores and a number of wagons and teams.
Leaving Colonel Giltner to destroy the stores, and provide for the remounting upon the captured horses of a portion of the dismounted men, General Morgan marched immediately for Lexington with the second brigade. Burbridge making a wonderful march—moving nearly ninety miles in the last thirty hours—reached Mt. Sterling before daybreak on the 9th. Then occurred a great disaster to General Morgan's plans and it fell upon the brave boys who had so patiently endured, on foot, the long, painful march. Some of these men had marched from Hyter's Gap in Virginia, to Mt. Sterling, a distance of two hundred and thirty miles in ten days. Their shoes were worn to tatters and their feet raw and bleeding, yet on the last day they pressed on twenty-seven miles. Encamping not far from the town but to the east of it, Colonel Martin directed Lieutenant Colonel Brent, who had been left with him in command of some forty or fifty men to act as rear-guard, to establish his guard at least one mile from the encampment and picket the road whence the danger might come. Lieutenant Colonel Brent had been assigned to General Morgan's command a short time previously to this expedition and was not one of his old officers. Information which had been received a day or two before had induced the belief that Burbridge was not near. Scouts sent by General Morgan to observe his movements had returned, reporting that he had moved on toward Virginia. This information convinced General Morgan that he would not arrive at Mt. Sterling for two or three days after the 8th—although satisfied that he would come.
Colonel Giltner's command was encamped some distance from Martin's and upon a different road, and was not in a position to afford the latter any protection. Brent, neglecting the precaution enjoined by Martin, posted his guard only one or two hundred yards from the encampment of the dismounted men and extended his pickets but a short distance further.
On the next morning, about three o'clock, the enemy dashed into the camp, the pickets giving no warning, and shot and rode over the men as they lay around their fires. Many were killed before they arose from their blankets. Notwithstanding the disadvantage of the surprise, the men stood to their arms and fighting resolutely, although without concert, soon drove the assailants out of the camp. Being then formed by their officers, they presented a formidable front to the enemy who returned, in greater strength as fresh numbers arrived to the attack. The fight was close and determined upon both sides. Colonel Martin's headquarters were at a house near by. He was awakened by the rattling shots and springing upon his horse, rode toward the camp to find the enemy between himself and his men. Without hesitation he rode at full speed through the hostile throng, braving the volleys of both lines, and rejoined his command. The enemy brought up a piece of artillery, which was taken by a desperate effort, but was soon recaptured. The poor fellows undaunted by weariness, the sudden attack upon them, and their desperate situation fought with unflinching courage for more than an hour.
At length Colonel Martin fell back, cutting his way through Mt. Sterling which was occupied by the enemy. Two miles from the town he met Colonel Giltner, and proposed to the latter that, with their combined forces, the fight should be renewed. Giltner acceding, it was arranged that he should attack in front, while Martin, moving around to the other side of the town again, should take the enemy in the rear. This being done, the fight was pressed again with energy, until Martin's ammunition failing he was compelled to withdraw. The enemy was too much crippled to pursue.
In this affair, although inflicting severe loss on the enemy, Martin's command lost heavily. Fourteen commissioned officers were killed and forty privates. Eighty were so severely wounded that they could not be removed, one hundred were captured and more than that number cut off and dispersed. Colonel Martin was twice wounded.
On the morning of the 10th, General Morgan entered Lexington after a slight skirmish. He burned the government depot and stables and captured a sufficient number of horses to mount all of the dismounted men, who were then returned to their respective companies in the first and second brigades.
Moving thence to Georgetown, General Morgan sent Captain Cooper with one company to demonstrate toward Frankfort. Captain Cooper ably executed his orders, alarming and confining to the fortification around the town a much superior force of the enemy.
From Georgetown, General Morgan directed his march to Cynthiana, reaching that place on the morning of the 11th. After a sharp fight the garrison, four hundred strong, was captured. Unfortunately, a portion of the town was burned in the engagement, the enemy having occupied the houses. While the fight was going on in town, Colonel Giltner engaged a body of the enemy, fifteen hundred strong, under General Hobson. General Morgan, after the surrender of the garrison, took Cassell's battalion and, gaining Hobson's rear, compelled him also to surrender.
A large quantity of stores were captured and destroyed at Cynthiana. General Hobson was paroled and sent, under escort of Captain C.C. Morgan and two other officers, to Cincinnati, to effect, if possible, the exchange of himself and officers for certain of General Morgan's officers then in prison and, failing in that, to report as prisoner within the Confederate lines. He was not permitted to negotiate the exchange and his escort were detained for some weeks.
On the 12th, the command numbering, after all losses, and deducting details to guard prisoners and wagon train and to destroy the track and bridges for some miles of the Kentucky Central railroad, some twelve hundred men, was attacked by a force of infantry, cavalry and artillery under General Burbridge which General Morgan estimated at five thousand two hundred strong. Giltner's command had been encamped on the Paris road and was first engaged by the enemy. This brigade was almost entirely out of ammunition. The cartridges captured the day before did not fit the guns with which it was armed. General Morgan had directed Colonel Giltner to take, also, the captured guns for which this ammunition was available, but he was unwilling to abandon his better rifles and provided his brigade with neither captured guns nor cartridges. Giltner soon became hotly engaged with the advancing enemy and although the second brigade moved to his support, their united strength could oppose no effectual resistance.
General Morgan ordered the entire command to retreat upon the Augusta road and charged with the mounted reserve to cover the withdrawal. The action was very disastrous. Colonel Giltner, cut off from the Augusta, was forced to retreat upon the Leesburg road. Colonel Smith, at first, doubtful of the condition of affairs, did not immediately take part in the fight. His gallant and efficient Adjutant, Lieutenant Arthur Andrews, rode to the scene of the fight, and returning, declared that Colonel Giltner required his prompt support. Colonel Smith instantly put his brigade in motion and was soon in front of the enemy.
He says: "My brigade, gallantly led by its battalion commander, attacked the enemy with great spirit and drove him back along its entire length. The first battalion moved with more rapidity than the third, doubtless on account of the better nature of the ground it had to traverse, until it swung around almost at right angles with the line of the third battalion. Hastening to correct this defect, I rode to Colonel Bowles, but before he could obey my instructions a heavy force was massed upon him, and after a desperate contest he was forced back. I directed him to reform his command behind a stone fence on the Ruddle's Mill road, which he did promptly and checked the enemy with heavy loss. At this juncture I looked for Kirkpatrick, who had been holding his line with his usual energy and determination. I found that his battalion had been separated—two companies, commanded respectively by Captain Cantrill and Lieutenant Gardner, had been fighting hard on his left, while the other two were acting with the first battalion. Captain Kirkpatrick, severely wounded, was forced to quit the field. About the same time, gallant Bowles was driven from his second position, strong as it was, by overpowering numbers. Colonel Smith now retreated through Cynthiana, seeking to rejoin General Morgan on the Augusta road. He suddenly found himself intercepted and surrounded on three sides by the enemy, while upon the other side was the Licking river. Seeing the condition of affairs, the men became unmanageable and dashed across the river. Having been reformed on the other side, they charged a body of cavalry which then confronted them and made good their retreat, although scattered and in confusion.
Collecting all the men, who could be gathered together upon the Augusta road, General Morgan paroled his prisoners and rapidly retreated. His loss in this action was very heavy, and he was compelled to march instantly back to Virginia. Moving through Flemingsburg and West Liberty, he passed on over the mountains and reached Abingdon on the 20th of June. On this raid, great and inexcusable excesses were committed, but, except in two or three flagrant instances, they were committed by men who had never before served with General Morgan. The men of his old division and Giltner's fine brigade were rarely guilty. General Morgan had accomplished the result he had predicted, in averting the invasion of Southwestern Virginia, but at heavy cost to himself.
Upon his return to Southwestern Virginia, General Morgan applied himself assiduously to collect all of his men, however detached or separated from him, and correct the organization and discipline of his command. It was a far less easy task then than ever before. Not only was a conviction stealing upon the Confederate soldiery (and impairing the efficiency of the most manly and patriotic) that the fiat had gone forth against us, and that no exercise of courage and fortitude could avert the doom, but the demoralizing effects of a long war, and habitude to its scenes and passions had rendered even the best men callous and reckless, and to a certain extent intractable to influences which had formerly been all potent with them as soldiers. Imagine the situation in which the Confederate soldier was placed: Almost destitute of hope that the cause for which he fought would triumph and fighting on from instinctive obstinate pride, no longer receiving from the people—themselves hopeless and impoverished almost to famine by the draining demands of the war—the sympathy, hospitality and hearty encouragement once accorded to him; almost compelled (for comfort if not for existence) to practice oppression and wrong upon his own countrymen, is it surprising that he became wild and lawless, that he adopted a rude creed in which strict conformity to military regulations and a nice obedience to general orders held not very prominent places? This condition obtained in a far greater degree with the cavalry employed in the "outpost" departments than with the infantry or the soldiery of the large armies. It is an unhappy condition, and destructive of military efficiency and any sort of discipline, but under certain circumstances it is hard to prevent or correct. There is little temptation and no necessity or excuse for it among troops that are well fed, regularly paid in good money and provided with comfortable clothing, blankets and shoes in the cold winter; but troops whose rations are few and scanty, who flutter with rags and wear ventillating shoes which suck in the cold air, who sleep at night under a blanket which keeps the saddle from a sore-backed horse in the day time, who are paid (if paid at all) with waste paper, who have become hardened to the licentious practices of a cruel warfare—such troops will be frequently tempted to violate the moral code. Many Confederate cavalrymen so situated left their commands altogether and became guerrillas, salving their consciences with the thought that the desertion was not to the enemy. These men, leading a comparatively luxurious life and receiving, from some people, a mistaken and foolish admiration, attracted to the same career young men who (but for the example and the sympathy accorded the guerrilla and denied the faithful, brave and suffering soldier) would never had quitted their colors and their duty. Kentucky was at one time, just before the close of the war, teeming with these guerrillas. It was of no use to threaten them with punishment—they had no idea of being caught. Besides, Burbridge shot all that he could lay hands on, and (for their sins) many prisoners (guilty of no offense), selected at random, or by lot, from the pens where he kept them for the purpose, were butchered, by this insensate blood-hound. Not only did General Morgan have to contend with difficulties thus arising, but now, for the first time, he suffered from envy, secret animosity and detraction within his own command. Many faithful friends still surrounded him, many more lay in prison, but he began to meet with open enmity in his own camp. It had happened in the old times that some of his warmest and surest adherents had occasionally urged strenuous remonstrances against his wishes, but they were dictated by devotion to his interests; now officers, recently connected with him, inaugurated a jealous and systematic opposition to him in all matters, and were joined in it, with ungrateful alacrity, by some men whom he had thought his fastest friends. Reports of excesses committed by some of the troops in Kentucky had reached Richmond and created much feeling. General Morgan had instructed his Inspector General, Captain Bryant H. Allen, to investigate the accusations against the various parties suspected of guilt and to prefer charges against those who should appear to be implicated. Captain Allen was charged with negligence and lack of industry in pursuing the investigation and complaints were made that General Morgan was seeking to screen the offenders. All sorts of communications, the most informal, irregular and some of them, improper, were forwarded to Richmond by General Morgan's subordinates, often unknown to him because not passing through his office, and they were received by the Secretary of War, Mr. Seddon, without questioning and with avidity. It was at length announced that a commission would be appointed to sit at Abingdon and inquire into these charges, and also into the charge that General Morgan had undertaken the raid into Kentucky without orders.
While in daily expectation of the arrival of these commissioners, the sudden irruption of the enemy into that part of the country which was occupied by his command, caused General Morgan to proceed to the threatened points. Colonels Smith and Giltner, and a portion of General Vaughn's brigade which was stationed in East Tennessee, under Colonel Bradford, were driven back to Carter's Station, on the Wetauga river, some thirty-five miles from Abingdon. When General Morgan reached that place, and took command of the troops assembled there, the enemy were retreating. He followed as closely as possible until he had reoccupied the territory whence the Confederates had been driven. While at Granville, a small town upon the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, seventy-two miles from Abingdon, and eighteen from Bull's Gap, where a portion of his troops was stationed, he had occasion to revoke the parole, granted a few days previously, to a wounded Federal officer, assistant adjutant general to General Gillem, who was staying at the house of a Mrs. Williams, where General Morgan had made his headquarters. The daughter-in-law of this lady, Mrs. Lucy Williams, a Union woman and bitterly opposed to the Confederate cause and troops, was detected with a letter written by this officer, accurately detailing the number, condition and position of General Morgan's forces, which letter she was to have sent to Colonel Gillem. Dr. Cameron, General Morgan's chaplain, discovered the letter in a prayer book, where it had been deposited by the lady.
This being a clear violation of his parole, General Morgan sent the officer to Lynchburg, to be placed in prison. The younger Mrs. Williams (his friend) resented this treatment very much, declaring that in his condition, it might prove fatal to him.
This incident is related because it has been thought to have had a direct influence in causing General Morgan's death. When General Morgan returned to Abingdon, he found an excitement still prevailing regarding the investigation, but the members of the commission had not yet arrived.
I met him, then, for the first time since he had made his escape, or I had been exchanged. He was greatly changed. His face wore a weary, care-worn expression, and his manner was totally destitute of its former ardor and enthusiasm. He spoke bitterly, but with no impatience, of the clamor against him, and seemed saddest about the condition of his command. He declared that if he had been successful in the last day's fight at Cynthiana, he would have been enabled to hold Kentucky for months; that every organized Federal force which could be promptly collected to attack him, could have then been disposed of, and that he had assurance of obtaining a great number of recruits. He spoke with something of his old sanguine energy, only when proclaiming his confidence that he could have achieved successes unparalleled in his entire career, if fortune had favored him in that fight. But no word of censure upon any one escaped him. It had never been his habit to charge the blame of failure upon his subordinates—his native magnanimity forbade it; and tried so sorely as he was at this time, by malignant calumny, he was too proud to utter a single reproach. A letter which he intended to forward to the Secretary of War, but the transmission of which his death prevented, shows his sense of the treatment he had received. This letter was written just after the conversation, above mentioned, occurred, while he was again confronting the enemy, and immediately before he was killed. I can not better introduce it than by first giving the letter of the officer who forwarded it to me (I had believed it lost), and who was for more than a year Adjutant General of the Department of Southwestern Virginia and East Tennessee, and served for some months on General Morgan's staff. He is well known to the ex-Confederates of Kentucky, as having been an exceedingly intelligent, competent, and gallant officer, and a gentleman of the highest honor.
"COVINGTON, December —, ——.
"Dear General: In looking over some old papers (relics of the late war), a few days ago, I discovered one which, until then, I did not know was in my possession. It is the last letter written by General Morgan, and, in a measure, may be considered his dying declaration. I can not recollect how it came into my possession, but believe it to have been among a bundle of papers that were taken from his body after he was killed, and forwarded to Department Headquarters; the letter of Captain Gwynn, which I will also inclose you, leaves hardly a doubt upon that point.
I have noticed through the press, that you were engaged in writing a history of "Morgan's command," and under the impression that this paper will be of service to you, I herewith forward it. I am familiar with the embarrassments that surrounded the General for some time previously to his death, and in reading this last appeal to the powers that had dealt with him so unjustly, the remembrance of them still awakens in my bosom many emotions of regret. If the General acted adversely to his own interests, in endeavoring to adjust quietly the unfortunate affairs that he refers to, those who understood his motives for so doing would excuse this error of his judgment when they realized the feelings that prompted it. He saw his error when it was too late to correct it, and died before opportunity was given to vindicate his character. I remember distinctly the last conversation I had with him, only a few days before his death, and the earnest manner in which he spoke of this trouble, would have removed from my mind all doubt of the perfect rectitude of his intentions, if any had ever existed. I remember, too, my visit to Richmond during the month of August, 1864, on which occasion, at the General's request, I called upon the Secretary of War to lay before him some papers entrusted to my care, and also to make some verbal explanations regarding them. The excited, I may say the exasperated manner in which the Honorable Secretary commented upon the documents, left but one impression upon my mind, and that was, that the War Department had made up its mind that the party was guilty and that its conviction should not be offended by any evidence to the contrary. The determination to pursue and break the General down was apparent to every one, and the Kentucky expedition was to be the means to accomplish this end (the reasons for a great deal of this enmity are, of course, familiar to you). I endeavored to explain to Mr. Seddon the injustice of the charge that General Morgan had made this expedition without proper authority (I felt this particularly to be my duty as I was the only person then living who could bear witness upon that point), but being unable to obtain a quiet hearing, I left his office disappointed and disgusted.
* * * * *
With the hope that you may succeed in the work you have undertaken, believe me,
Very truly, your friend, J.L. SANDFORD."
"HEADQUARTERS CAV. DEP'T, EAST TENNESSEE,} Jonesboro', Sept. 1, 1864. }
"SIR: I have the honor to ask your early and careful consideration of the statements herein submitted, and, although I am aware that the representations which have been made you, concerning the matters to which these statements relate, have so decided your opinion that you do not hesitate to give it free expression, I yet feel that it is due to myself to declare how false and injurious such representations have been and to protest against the injustice which condemns me unheard.
You will understand that I allude to the alleged robbery of the Bank of Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, and other outrages which my command is charged with having committed during the late expedition into that State. I will not, myself, countenance a course of procedure against which I feel that I can justly protest, by citing testimony or waging my own affirmation in disproof of the accusations which have been filed against me at your office—but I will demand a prompt and thorough investigation of them all, and will respectfully urge the propriety of yourself instituting it.
If, as has been asserted, I have obstructed all examination into the truth of these imputations, a proper regard for the interests of the service, as well as the ends of justice requires that some higher authority shall compel an exposure. Until, very recently, I was ignorant how the rumors which had already poisoned the public mind, had been received and listened to in official circles, and I can not forbear indignant complaint of the injury done my reputation and usefulness by the encouragement thus given them.
Allegations, directly implicating me in the excesses above referred to, that I had connived at, if I did not incite them, and that I have striven to shield the perpetrators from discovery and punishment—allegations, the most vague and yet all tending to impeach my character, have obtained hearing and credence at the department.
I have not been called on, indeed I may say I have not been permitted one word in my defense. Permit me to say that an officer's reputation may suffer from such causes, in official and public opinion, and that he may find it difficult, if not impossible, to vindicate it, unless his superiors assist him by inviting inquiry. I am informed that communications and documents of various kinds, relating to the alleged criminal transactions in Kentucky, have been addressed you by certain of my subordinates, and I have been profoundly ignorant of their existence, until after their receipt, and the intended impression had been produced. I have but little acquaintance with the forms and regulations of your office, and I would respectfully ask if communications so furnished are not altogether irregular and prejudicial to good order and proper discipline? If these parties believe my conduct culpable, is it not their plain duty to prefer charges against me and bring me before a court martial? And if failing to adopt measures suggested alike by law, justice and propriety, they pursue a course which tends to weaken my authority, impair my reputation and embarrass my conduct, have I not the right to expect that their action shall be condemned and themselves reprimanded? Indeed, sir, discipline and subordination have been impaired to such an extent in my command by proceedings, such as I have described, that an officer of high rank quitted a responsible post, without leave and in direct disobedience to my orders, and repaired to Richmond to urge in person his application for assignment to duty more consonant with his inclinations. It is, with all due respect, that I express my regret that his application was successful.
Permit me again, sir, to urge earnestly, that the investigation, which can alone remove the difficulties which I now experience, shall be immediately ordered.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, Your obedient servant, JOHN H. MORGAN. To HON. JAMES A. SEDDON, Secretary of War.
On the 28th or 29th of August, General Morgan left Abingdon, and taking command of the troops at Jonesboro' on the 31st, immediately prepared to move against the enemy. Our forces had again been driven away from their positions at Bull's Gap and Rogersville, and had fallen back to Jonesboro'. After two or three days delay for refitment, etc., General Morgan marched from Jonesboro' with the intention of attacking the enemy at Bull's Gap. If he could drive them from that position, by a sudden and rapidly executed movement, he would, in all probability, cut off that force at Rogersville and either force it to surrender or compel it to retreat into Kentucky. In the latter event, the enemy's strength would be so much reduced, that all of East Tennessee, as far down as Knoxville, would be for some time, in possession of the Confederates. General Morgan's strength, including the portions of General Vaughan's brigade, was about sixteen hundred and two pieces of artillery. The men were badly armed and equipped and had been much discouraged by their late reverses, but reanimated by the presence of their leader, whom they loved all the more as misfortunes befell them, they were anxious for battle.
A small frame house upon the left side of the road leading from Jonesboro' to Greenville, was often pointed out to me subsequently, as the spot where General Morgan received (as he rode past the column), the last cheer ever given him by his men. Reaching Greenville about 4 P.M. on the 3rd of September, he determined to encamp there for the night and move on Bull's Gap the next day. The troops were stationed on all sides of the place, and he made his headquarters in town, at the house of Mrs. Williams. The younger Mrs. Williams left Greenville, riding in the direction of Bull's Gap at the first rumors of the approach of our forces, to give, we have always believed, the alarm to the enemy.
The Tennesseeans of Vaughan's brigade (under Colonel Bradford), were encamped on the Bull's Gap road, and were instructed to picket that road and the roads to the left. Clark's battalion of Colonel Smith's brigade and the artillery were encamped on the Jonesboro' road, about five hundred yards from the town. The remainder of Colonel Smith's brigade was encamped on the Rogersville road. Colonel Giltner's command was also stationed in this quarter, and the two picketed all the roads to the front and right flank. The town, had all instructions been obeyed and the pickets judiciously placed, would have been perfectly protected. It has been stated, I know not how correctly, that the enemy gained admittance to the town, unchallenged, through an unaccountable error in the picketing of the roads on the left. According to this account, the enemy, who left Bull's Gap before midnight, quitted the main road at Blue Springs, equi-distant from Greenville and Bull's Gap, and marched by the Warrensburg road, until within one mile and a half of the town.
At this point, a by-road leads from the Warrensburg to the Newport road. The pickets on the Warrensburg road were not stationed in sight of this point, while on the Newport road the base of the pickets was beyond the point where the by-road enters, and there were no rear videttes between the base and town. The enemy (it is stated), took this little by-road, and turning off in front of one picket, came in behind the other. At any rate, about daylight, a body perhaps of one hundred cavalry dashed into Greenville and were followed in a short time by Gillem's whole force. It was the party that came first which killed General Morgan. His fate, however, is still involved in mystery. Major Gassett, of his staff, states that they left the house together and sought to escape, but found every street guarded. They took refuge once in the open cellar of a house, expecting that some change in the disposition of the Federal forces would leave an avenue for escape, or that they would be rescued by a charge from some of the troops at the camps. They were discovered and pointed out by a Union woman. Gassett succeeded in effecting his escape. General Morgan made his way back to the garden of Mrs. Williams house. Lieutenant X. Hawkins, a fearless young officer, charged into the town with fifteen men and strove to reach the point where he supposed the General to be, but he was forced back. General Morgan was killed in the garden—shot through the heart. It is not known whether he surrendered or was offering resistance.
His friends have always believed that he was murdered after his surrender. Certain representations by the parties who killed him, their ruffianly character, and the brutality with which they treated his body, induced the belief; and it was notorious that his death, if again captured, had been sworn. His slayers broke down the paling around the garden, dragged him through, and, while he was tossing his arms in his dying agonies, threw him across a mule, and paraded his body about the town, shouting and screaming in savage exultation. No effort was made by any one except Lieutenant Hawkins to accomplish his rescue. The three commands demoralized by General Morgan's death, became separated and were easily driven away. The men of his old command declared their desire to fight and avenge him on the spot, but a retreat was insisted upon.
Thus, on the 4th of September, 1864, in this little village of East Tennessee, fell the greatest partisan leader the world ever saw, unless it were the Irishman, Sarsfield. But not only was the light of genius extinguished then, and a heroic spirit lost to earth—as kindly and as noble a heart as was ever warmed by the constant presence of generous emotions was stilled by a ruffian's bullet.
As the event is described, the feelings it excited come back almost as fresh and poignant as at the time. How hard it was to realize that his time, too, had come—that so much life had been quenched. Every trait of the man we almost worshiped, recollections of incidents which showed his superb nature, crowd now, as they crowded then, upon the mind.
When he died, the glory and chivalry seemed gone from the struggle, and it became a tedious routine, enjoined by duty, and sustained only by sentiments of pride and hatred. Surely men never grieved for a leader as Morgan's men sorrowed for him. The tears which scalded the cheeks of hardy and rugged veterans, who had witnessed all the terrible scenes of four years of war, attested it, and the sad faces told of the aching hearts within.
His body was taken from the hands which defiled it, by General Gillem, as soon as that officer arrived at Greenville, and sent to our lines, under flag of truce. It was buried first at Abingdon, then removed to the cemetery at Richmond, where it lies now, surrounded by kindred heroic ashes, awaiting the time when it can be brought to his own beloved Kentucky—the hour when there is no longer fear that the storm, which living rebels are sworn to repress, shall burst out with the presence of the dead chieftain.
The troops again returned to Jonesboro', the enemy returning after a short pursuit to Bull's Gap. Immediately upon learning of General Morgan's death, General Echols, then commanding the department, ordered me to take command of the brigade composed of his old soldiers—the remnant of the old division. I found this brigade reduced to two hundred and seventy-three effective men, and armed in a manner that made it a matter of wonder how they could fight at all. There were scarcely fifty serviceable guns in the brigade, and the variety of calibers rendered it almost a matter of impossibility to keep on hand a supply of available ammunition. They were equipped similarly in all other respects. Every effort was at once instituted to collect and procure guns, and to provide suitable equipments. General Echols kindly rendered all the assistance in his power, and manifested a special interest in us, for which we were deeply grateful. Our friends at Richmond and throughout the Confederacy, seemed to experience fresh sympathy for us after General Morgan's death.
In this connection it is fitting to speak of a gentleman to whom we were especially indebted, Mr. E.M. Bruce, one of the Kentucky members of the Confederate Congress. It would, indeed, be unjust as well as ungrateful, to omit mention of his name and his generous, consistent friendship. Not only were we, of Morgan's old command, the recipients of constant and the kindest services from him, but his generosity was as wide as his charity, which seemed boundless. His position at Richmond was such as to enable him to be of great assistance to the soldiers and people from his state, and he was assiduous and untiring in their behalf. The immense wealth which his skill and nerve in commercial speculations procured him, was lavished in friendly ministrations and charitable enterprises. An intelligent and useful member of the Congress, a safe and valuable adviser of the administration in all matters within the province of his advice, he was especially known and esteemed as the friend of the soldiery, the patron of all who stood in need of aid and indulgence. At one time he maintained not only a hospital in Richmond for the sick and indigent, but a sort of hotel, kept up at his own expense, where the Kentucky soldiers returning from prison were accommodated. It is safe to say that he did more toward furnishing the Kentucky troops with clothing, etc., than all of the supply department put together. The sums he gave away in Confederate money would sound fabulous; and, after the last surrender, he gave thousands of dollars in gold to the Kentucky troops, who lacked means to take them home. His name will ever be held by them in grateful and affectionate remembrance.
My command remained encamped near Jonesboro' for nearly two weeks. The commands of Vaughan, Cosby (that formerly commanded by General George B. Hodge) and Giltner were also stationed in the same vicinity, all under command of General John C. Vaughan.
Upon the 15th of September, I received my commission as Brigadier General and accepted it—as it has turned out—an unpardonable error. During the time that we remained near Jonesboro', the brigade improved very much. Fortunately several of the best officers of the old command, who had escaped capture, were with it at the time that I took command, Captains Cantrill, Lea and Messick, and Lieutenants Welsh, Cunningham, Hunt, Hawkins, Hopkins, Skillman, Roody, Piper, Moore, Lucas, Skinner, Crump and several others equally as gallant and good, and there were some excellent officers who had joined the command just after General Morgan's return from prison. The staff department was ably filled by the acting adjutants, Lieutenants George W. Hunt, Arthur Andrews, James Hines and Daniels. These were all officers of especial merit.
Colonels Ward, Morgan and Tucker, and Majors Webber and Steele had been exchanged at Charleston, and their valuable services were secured at a time when greatly needed. The gallant Mississippi company, of my old regiment, was there, all, at least, that was left of it, and Cooper's company, under Welsh, as staunch and resolute as ever, although greatly reduced in numbers. All the old regiments were represented.
Daily drills and inspections soon brought the brigade into a high state of efficiency and the men longed to return to the debatable ground and try conclusions, fairly, with the enemy which had boasted of recent triumphs at their expense. An opportunity soon occurred. In the latter part of September, General Vaughan moved with all of these commands stationed about Jonesboro', in the direction of Greenville. One object of the movement was to attempt, if co-operation with General John S. Williams, who was known to be approaching from toward Knoxville, could be secured, the capture of the Federal forces at Bull's gap. General Williams had been cut off, in Middle Tennessee, from General Wheeler who had raided into that country. His command consisted of three brigades. One under command of Colonel William Breckinridge was the brigade of Kentucky cavalry which had won so much reputation in the retreat from Dalton and the operations around Atlanta. In this brigade were Colonel Breckinridge's own regiment, the Ninth Kentucky and Dortch's battalion. Another of these brigades was a very fine one of Tennessee troops, under General Debrell, an excellent officer. The third commanded by General Robertson, a young and very dashing officer, was composed of "Confederate" battalions—troops enlisted under no particular State organization. General Vaughan learning of General Williams' approach dispatched him a courier offering to co-operate with him and advising that General Williams should attack the rear, while he, Vaughan would attack it in front.
Passing through Greenville at early dawn upon the second day after we left Jonesboro', the column marched rapidly toward the gap. My brigade was marching in advance. It was at this time three hundred and twenty-two strong and was organized into two battalions, the first commanded by Colonel Ward and the second by Colonel Morgan. About four miles from Greenville, Captain Messick, whose Company A, of the second battalion, was acting as advance-guard, encountered a scouting party of the enemy fifty or sixty strong. Messick immediately attacked, routed the party and chased it for several miles, taking eight or ten prisoners. Pressing on again in advance, when the column had overtaken him, he discovered the enemy in stronger force than before, advantageously posted upon the further side of a little stream about two miles from Lick creek. Halting his command here, Captain Messick, accompanied by Lieutenant Hopkins, galloped across the bridge and toward the enemy to reconnoiter. Approaching, despite the shots fired at them, to within forty or fifty yards of the enemy, they were then saluted by a volley from nearly two hundred rifles. Thinking it impossible, or impolitic, to procure "further information" they rapidly galloped back. Upon the approach of the column this party of the enemy fell back to Lick creek, where it met or was reinforced by some two or three hundred more. Lick creek is some three miles from Bull's gap. There were no fords in the vicinity of the road and it was too deep for wading except at one or two points. A narrow bridge spanned it at the point where it crossed the road. On the side that we were approaching there is a wide open space like a prairie, perhaps half a mile square. Thick woods border this opening in the direction that we were coming and wooded hills upon the left—running down to the edge of the creek.
Perceiving the enemy show signs of a disposition to contest our crossing, my brigade was at once deployed to force a passage. A portion of the second battalion was double-quicked, dismounted, across the open to the thickets near the bank of the creek. Although exposed for the entire distance to the fire of the enemy, this detachment suffered no loss. One company of the second battalion was also sent to the right, and took position near the creek in that quarter. The greater part of the first battalion was sent, on foot, to the left, and, concealed by the thickets upon the hills, got near enough the creek without attracting the attention of the enemy. Lieutenant Conrad was ordered to charge across the bridge with two mounted companies. As he approached it at a trot, a battalion of the enemy galloped down on the other side (close to the bridge) to dispute his passage. The dismounted skirmishers, who had taken position near the creek, prevented Conrad's column from receiving annoyance from the remainder of the Federal force.
When within so short a distance of the bridge that the features of the Federal soldiers at the other extremity were plainly discernible, Conrad suddenly halted, threw one company into line, keeping the other in column behind it, and opened fire upon it, which was returned with interest. Just then Lieutenant Welsh carried his company across the creek on the extreme left, followed by Lea (the water coming up to the men's shoulders) and attacked the enemy in flank and rear. This shook their line. General Vaughan, at the same time, brought up a piece of artillery and opened fire over the heads of our own men. Conrad seized the moment of confusion and darted across the bridge with the company which was in column, the other following. It was then a helter-skelter chase until the enemy took refuge in the gap.
General Vaughn marched on, but hearing nothing of General Williams, and knowing the strength of the position, did not attack. He had a brass band with him, which he made play "Dixie," in the hope that it would lure the enemy out; but this strategical banter was treated with profound indifference. General Williams had marched on the north side of the Holston river to Rogersville, and thence to Greenville, where we met him upon our return next day. His command was about two thousand strong, but a part of it badly armed, and his ammunition was exhausted. It turned out that his advent in our department was most opportune and fortunate.
We remained at Greenville several days, and then marched to Carter's Station. This withdrawal was occasioned by the unformation of the approach of Burbridge, from Kentucky, with a heavy force. His destination was supposed to be the Salt-works, and General Echols judged it expedient to effect a timely concentration of all the forces in the department. The system of procuring information from Kentucky, the most dangerous quarter to the Department, was so well organized that it was nearly two weeks after the first intimation of danger before Burbridge entered Virginia. Giltner's brigade had been moved very early to Laurel Gap, or some position in that vicinity, between the Salt-works and the approaching enemy. Leaving General Vaughan with his own brigade at Carter's Station, General Echols ordered General Cosby and myself to Bristol. General Williams, who, with great exertion, had rearmed his command, moved a few days subsequently to the Salt-works, where the "reserves" of militia were now, also, collecting. Simultaneously with Burbridge's advance, the enemy approached from Knoxville (under Generals Gillem and Ammon), marching over the same ground which we had traversed shortly before.
General Vaughan was attacked, and was compelled to divide his brigade, the greater part remaining at Carter's Station, and a part being sent, under Colonel Carter, to Duvault's ford, five miles below on the Wetauga, where the enemy sought to effect a passage. Upon the night after the first demonstration against General Vaughan, General Cosby and I were sent to reinforce him, and, marching all night, reached the position assigned early the next morning. General Cosby was posted where he could support most speedily whichever point needed it, and I was instructed to proceed directly to Duvault's ford. Upon arriving there, I found Colonel Carter making all the preparations within his power to repel the attack which he anticipated. About nine A.M., the enemy recommenced the fight at Carter's Station, and toward one or two P.M. made his appearance again upon the other side of the river, opposite our position. The firing by this time had become so heavy at Carter's Station that I feared that General Vaughan would not be able to prevent the enemy from crossing the river there, and became anxious to create a diversion in his favor. I thought that if the force confronting us could be driven off and made to retreat on Jonesboro', that confronting General Vaughan would also fall back, fearing a flank attack, or it would, at least, slacken its efforts. The steep and difficult bank just in our front forbade all thought of attack in that way, but there was a ford about a mile and a half below, from which a good road led through level ground to the rear of the enemy's position. I instructed Captain Messick to take fifty picked men, cross at this ford, and take the enemy in the rear, and requested Colonel Carter to cause one of his battalions to dash down to the brink of the river, as soon as the firing commenced, and cross and attack if the enemy showed signs of being shaken by Messick's movement.
Captain Messick had crossed the river and gotten two or three hundred yards upon the other side, when he met a battalion of Federal cavalry approaching, doubtless to try a flank movement on us. They were marching with drawn sabers, but foolishly halted at sight of our men. Messick immediately ordered the charge and dashed into them. The impetus with which his column drove against them made the Federals recoil, and in a little while entirely give way. Stephen Sharp, of Cluke's regiment, rode at the color-guard, and shooting the color-bearer through the head, seized the flag. While he was waving it in triumph, the guard fired upon him, two bullets taking effect, one in the left arm, the other through the lungs. Dropping the colors across his saddle, he clubbed his rifle and struck two of his assailants from their horses, and Captain Messick killed a third for him. Twelve prisoners were taken, and ten or fifteen of the enemy killed and wounded. Messick, pressing the rout, whirled around upon the rear of the position. Colonel Carter ordered the Sixteenth Georgia to charge the position in front, when he saw the confusion produced by this dash, and the whole force went off in rapid retreat, pursued by the detachment of Captain Messick and the Georgia battalion for four or five miles.
Shortly afterward the demonstration against Carter's Station ceased. Lieutenant Roody, a brave and excellent young officer, lost a leg in this charge. Stephen Sharp, whose name has just now been mentioned, was perhaps the hero of more personal adventures than any man in Morgan's command. He had once before captured a standard by an act of equal courage. He had made his escape from prison by an exercise of almost incredible daring. With a companion, named Hecker, he deliberately scaled the wall of the prison yard, and forced his way through a guard assembled to oppose them. Sharp was shot and bayoneted in this attempt, but his wounds were not serious, and both he and his companion got away. When, subsequently, they were making their way to Virginia through the mountains of Kentucky, they were attacked by six or seven bushwhackers. Hecker was shot from his horse. Sharp shot four of his assailants and escaped. His exploits are too numerous for mention. Although the wounds he received at Duvault's were serious, he survived them, to marry the lady who nursed him.
On the next day, we received orders from General Echols to march at once to Saltville, as Burbridge was drawing near the place. In a very short time the energy and administrative skill of General Echols had placed the department in an excellent condition for defense. But it was the opportune arrival of General Williams which enabled us to beat back all assailants. When we reached Abingdon, we learned that General Breckinridge had arrived and had assumed command. After a short halt, we pressed on and reached Saltville at nightfall to learn that the enemy had been repulsed that day in a desperate attack. His loss had been heavy.
General Williams had made a splendid fight—one worthy of his very high reputation for skill and resolute courage. His dispositions were admirable. It is also positively stated that, as he stood on a superior eminence midway of his line of battle, his voice could be distinctly heard above the din of battle, as he shouted orders to all parts of the line at once. The Virginia reserves, under General Jackson and Colonel Robert Preston, behaved with distinguished gallantry. Upon the arrival of our three fresh brigades it was determined to assume the offensive in the morning. But that night the enemy retreated. General Cosby and I were ordered to follow him. We overtook his column beyond Hyter's Gap, but owing to mistakes in reconnoisance, etc., allowed it to escape us. General Williams coming up with a part of his command, we pressed the rear but did little damage. After this, my brigade was stationed for a few days at Wytheville.
In the middle of October, I was directed to go with two hundred men to Floyd and Franklin counties, where the deserters from our various armies in Virginia had congregated and had become very troublesome. In Floyd county they had organized what they called the "New State" and had elected a provisional Governor and Lieutenant Governor. I caught the latter—he was a very nice gentleman, and presented the man who captured him with a horse. After a little discipline the gang broke up, and some two hundred came in and surrendered.
Captain Cantrill, of my brigade, was sent with some forty men to Grayson county, about the same time. In this county the deserters and bushwhackers had been committing terrible outrages. Upon Cantrill's approach they retreated just across the line into North Carolina, into the mountains and bantered him to follow. He immediately did so. His force was increased by the reinforcement of a company of militia to about eighty men. He came upon the deserters (mustering about one hundred and twenty-five strong), posted upon the side of a mountain, and attacked them. Turning his horses loose, after finding that it was difficult to ascend mounted—he pushed his men forward on foot. The horses galloping back, induced the enemy to believe that he was retreating. They were quickly undeceived. Letting them come close to a belt of brush in which his men were resting, Captain Cantrill poured in a very destructive fire. The leader of the gang was killed by the first volley and his men soon dispersed and fled.
Twenty-one men were killed in this affair, and the others were phased away from the country. They gave no further trouble. Captain Cantrill's action justified the high esteem in which his courage and ability were held by his superiors. Almost immediately after the return of these detachments, the brigade was ordered back to East Tennessee again.
General Vaughan, supported by Colonel Palmer's brigade of North Carolina reserves, had been attacked at Russellville, six miles below Bull's Gap, and defeated with the loss of four or five pieces of artillery. General Breckinridge, immediately upon hearing of this disaster, prepared to retrieve it. The appointment of General Breckinridge to the command of the department, was a measure admirably calculated to reform and infuse fresh vitality into its affairs. He possessed the confidence of both the people and the soldiery. His military record was a brilliant one, and his sagacity and firmness were recognized by all. With the Kentucky troops, who were extravagantly proud of him, his popularity was of course unbounded. Although this unfortunate department was worse handled by the enemy after he commanded it than ever before, he came out of the ordeal, fatal to most other generals, with enhanced reputation. His great energy and indomitable resolution were fairly tried and fully proven. He could personally endure immense exertions and exposure. If, however, when heavy duty and labor were demanded, he got hold of officers and men who would not complain, he worked them without compunction, giving them no rest, and leaving the reluctant in clover. He could always elicit the affection inspired by manly daring and high soldierly qualities, and which the brave always feel for the bravest.
Leaving Wytheville on the night of the 19th of October, the brigade marched nearly to Marion, twenty-one miles distant. A blinding snow was driving in our faces, and about midnight it became necessary to halt and allow the half frozen men to build fires. Marching on through Abingdon and Bristol, we reached Carter's station on the 22nd. Here General Vaughn's brigade was encamped, and on the same day trains arrived from Wytheville bringing dismounted men of my brigade and of Cosby's and Giltner's. The bulk of these two latter brigades were in the Shenandoah valley, with General Early. There were also two companies of engineers. The dismounted men numbered in all between three and four hundred. They were commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alston, who was assisted by Major Chenoweth, Captain Jenkins and other able officers. Six pieces of artillery also arrived, commanded by Major Page. On the 23rd, the entire force was marched to Jonesboro'. From Jonesboro' two roads run to Greenville, or rather to within three miles of Greenville, when they join. These roads are at no point more than three miles apart. My brigade was ordered to march upon the right hand, or Rheatown, road and General Vaughan took the other. The dismounted men marched along the railroad, which runs between them. A short distance beyond Rheatown, Captain Messick, who was some ten miles in front of the column with the advance-guard of twenty men, came upon an encampment of the enemy. He immediately attacked and drove in the pickets. Privates Hi Rogers, Pat Gilroy, Porter White, and another brave fellow of Ward's battalion, followed them into the encampment and came back unhurt. Messick halted his guard about four hundred yards from the encampment and awaited the movements of the enemy. His men were all picked for their daring and steadiness and could be depended on. In a little while the enemy came out, but continued, for a while, to fire at long range. Fearing that arrangements were being made to surround him, Messick began to retreat. The enemy then pursued him, and a battalion continued the pursuit for ten miles. Although closely pressed, this gallant little squad repeatedly turned and fought, sometimes dismounting to fire more accurately, and repeatedly checked their pursuers. Every round of their ammunition was exhausted and they were at no time disordered or forced into flight. Captain Messick lost not a single man captured and only one wounded.
When the column at length came up, the enemy had abandoned the chase and returned. That evening we marched through their deserted camp. Passing through Greenville the next morning, which the enemy had evacuated the night before, we reached Lick creek about 4 P.M. The enemy showed themselves on the further side, but did not contest our passage. A mile or a mile and a half in front of the gap we came upon them again, about twelve hundred strong. General Breckinridge ordered me to attack. I did so and in a short time drove them into the gap. They came out twice and were as often driven back. General Vaughan had been sent to demonstrate in the rear of the gap, and the dismounted men had not gotten up. After the third trial outside of the works, the enemy contented himself with shelling us. I witnessed, then, a singular incident. One man was literally set on fire by a shell. I saw what seemed a ball of fire fall from a shell just exploded and alight upon this poor fellow. He was at once in flames. We tore his clothing from him and he was scorched and seared from head to foot.
All that night we stood in line upon the ground we occupied when it fell. The enemy's pickets were a short distance in our front and fired at every movement. During the night the artillery arrived and was posted upon a commanding position protected by my line. The dismounted men also arrived during the night.
On the next morning, at day light, the dismounted men and one hundred and fifty of my brigade, in all some five hundred men, were moved to the extreme right to assault the gap from that quarter. General Vaughan was instructed to attack it in the rear, and Colonel George Crittenden was posted to support the artillery, with one hundred and eighty men, and to demonstrate in front. The right was the real point of attack. General Breckinridge hoped to carry the works there, and the other movements were intended as diversions. The enemy's force, as shown by captured field returns, was about twenty-five hundred men.
Climbing up the steep mountain side, the party sent to the right gained the ridge a little after daybreak. The position to be assaulted was exceedingly strong. Two spurs of the hill (on which the fortifications were erected) run out and connect with the mountain upon which we were formed. Between them is an immense ravine, wide and deep. The summits of these spurs are not more than forty yards wide, and their sides are rugged and steep. Across each, and right in the path of our advance, earthworks were erected, not very formidable themselves, but commanded by the forts. A direct and cross fire of artillery swept every inch of the approach. About the time that we reached the top of the mountain, Major Page opened with his pieces upon the plain beneath, and we immediately commenced the attack. Colonel Ward crossed the ravine with the greater part of our column, and I moved upon the left-hand spur with eighty or a hundred men of my brigade. A good many men of the hastily organized companies, of the dismounted command, hung back in the ravine as Colonel Ward advanced, and did no service in the fight.
General Breckinridge personally commanded the assault. Colonel Ward pressed on vigorously, and despite the hot fire which met him, carried the line of works upon the right, but was driven out by the fire from the fort, which he could not take. He returned repeatedly to the assault, and could not be driven far from the works. Upon the left we advanced rapidly, driving in the enemy's skirmishers, until, when within thirty yards of the earthwork, the men were staggered by the fire, halted, and could not be made to advance. Both ridges were completely swept by the enfilading fire, which each now poured upon us. The enemy once sprang over the work upon the left and advanced upon us, but was forced back. The men were much galled by the fire at this point.
Major Webber had but one company of his battalion present. It was twenty-eight strong, and lost fourteen. After failing to carry the works, we remained close to them, upon both the ridges, for more than an hour, replying as effectively as we could to the enemy's fire. Several instances of great gallantry occurred. Sergeant James Cardwell, of my old regiment, finding that the men could not be brought up again to the attack, walked deliberately toward the enemy, declaring that he would show them what a soldier's duty was. He fell before he had taken a dozen steps, his gallant breast riddled with balls. Gordon Vorhees, a brave young soldier, scarcely out of his boyhood, was mortally wounded when Colonel Ward carried the works upon the right. His comrades strove to remove him, but he refused to permit them to do so, saying that it was their part to fight and not to look after dying men.
Colonel Crittenden had pressed his slight line and Page's guns close to the front of the gap, during our attack, and did splendid service. But the attack in the rear was not made in time, and almost the entire Federal force was concentrated on the right, and this, and the strength of the position, was some excuse for our failure to take it. General Breckinridge exposed himself in a manner that called forth the almost indignant remonstrance of the men, and it is a matter of wonder that he escaped unhurt. He spoke in high terms of the conduct of the men who pressed the attack, although much disappointed at its failure, and especially commended Colonel Ward's cool, unflinching, and determined bravery. The latter officer was wounded, and when we withdrew was cut off from the command, but found his way back safely. Our loss was heavy.
After our retreat, which was not pressed by the enemy, Col. Crittenden was in a critical situation. It was necessary that he should also withdraw, and as he did so, he was exposed for more than half a mile to the Federal artillery. Six guns were opened upon him. The chief aim seemed to be to blow up Page's caissons, but, although the shelling was hot, they were all brought off safely.
That afternoon Colonel Palmer arrived from Ashville, North Carolina, with four or five hundred infantry. General Breckinridge decided to make no further attack upon the position, but to march through Taylor's Gap, three miles to the west, and get in the rear of the Federals and upon their line of retreat and communication with Knoxville. Accordingly, we broke camp and marched about ten o'clock that night. Vaughan, who had returned, moved in advance. Palmer's infantry, the dismounted men, and the artillery, were in the rear.
As we passed through Taylor's Gap, information was received that the enemy were evacuating Bull's Gap, and that an opportunity would be afforded us to take him in flank. General Breckinridge at once ordered Vaughan to post a strong detachment at Russellville, in their front, and to attack with his whole command immediately upon the detachments becoming engaged. I was ordered to turn to the left before reaching Russellville, go around the place and cut the enemy off upon the main road, a mile or two below, or, failing to do this, take him in flank.
The enemy broke through the detachment stationed in his front, but was immediately attacked by Vaughan. "Fight, d—n you!" yelled a Federal officer to his men, as the firing commenced; "it's only a scout." "No, I'll be d—d if it is," shouted one of Vaughan's men; "we're all here." The greater part of Gillem's column and his artillery escaped here, but one regiment was cut off and driven away to the right. Moving very rapidly, my brigade managed to strike the main body again at Cheek's Cross Roads, about two miles from the town, and drove another slice from the road and into the fields and woods. While the column was scattered and prolonged by the rapid chase, we came suddenly upon the enemy halted in the edge of a wood, and were received with a smart fire, which checked us. Captain Gus Magee, one of the best and most dashing officers of the brigade, commanding the advance guard, charged in among them. As, followed by a few men, he leaped the fence behind which the enemy were posted, he was shot from his horse. He surrendered, and gave his name, and was immediately shot and sabered. He lived a short time in great agony. One of his men, Sergeant Sam Curd, avenged his death that night. Curd saved himself when Magee was killed, by slipping into the Federal line, and in the darkness, he escaped unnoticed. Some twenty minutes afterward, the murderer of Magee was captured, and Curd, recognizing his voice, asked him if he were not the man. He at once sprang upon Curd, and tried to disarm him. The latter broke loose from his grasp and killed him. Vaughan, after we moved on, kept the road, and I moved upon the left flank, endeavoring to gain the enemy's rear, and intercept his retreat. Colonel Napier, who kept in the advance with a small detachment, succeeded in this object.
Three or four miles from Morristown, the enemy halted, and, for half an hour, offered resistance. We, who were moving to take them in flank and rear, then saw a beautiful sight. The night was cloudless, and the moon at its full and shedding a brilliant light. The dark lines of troops could be seen almost as clearly as by day. Their positions were distinctly marked, however, by the flashes from the rifles, coming thick and fast, making them look, as they moved along, bending and oscillating, like rolling waves of flame, throwing off fiery spray. When my brigade had moved far around upon the left, and had taken position, obliquing toward the enemy's rear, it suddenly opened. The Federal line recoiled, and closed from both flanks toward the road, in one dense mass, which looked before the fighting ceased and the rout fairly commenced, like a huge Catherine wheel spouting streams of fire.
The enemy retreated rapidly and in confusion from this position, pursued closely by Vaughan's foremost battalions. At Morristown a regiment, just arrived upon the cars, and a piece of artillery, checked the pursuit for a short time, and enabled the enemy to reform. They were again driven, and making another and a last stand a short distance beyond the town, abandoned all further resistance when that failed to stop us.
Then the spoils began to be gathered, and were strewn so thickly along the road that the pursuit was effectually retarded. Major Day, of Vaughan's brigade, followed, however, beyond New Market, more than twenty-five miles from the point where the affair commenced, and the rest of us halted when day had fairly broken. More than one hundred ambulances and wagons were captured, loaded with baggage; six pieces of artillery, with caissons and horses, and many prisoners. The rout and disintegration of Gillem's command was complete.
On the next day we moved to New Market, and, when all the troops had gotten up, proceeded to Strawberry Plains, seven miles beyond. Here the enemy, posted in strong fortifications, were prepared to contest our further advance. We remained here three or four days.
Shelling and sharpshooting was kept up during the day, and a picket line, which required our entire strength, was maintained at night. The Holston river, deep and swollen, was between us, the enemy held the bridge and neither of the combatants ventured an attack. Vaughan was sent across the river at an upper ford and had another brush with Gillem, who came out from Knoxville with a few of his men whom he had collected and reorganized. He was easily driven back. General Breckinridge was called away to Wytheville by rumors of an advance of the enemy in another quarter, and we fell back to New Market and shortly afterward to Mossy creek, eleven miles from Strawberry plains.
Some ten days after our withdrawal from the latter place, reports reached us that a large force was being collected at Beau's Station, upon the north side of the Holston. These reports were shortly confirmed. We withdrew to Russellville, and subsequently to Greenville. To have remained further down would have exposed the rest of the department entirely. Having the short route to Bristol, the enemy could have outflanked and outmarched us, and getting first to the important points of the department, which they would have found unguarded, they could have captured and destroyed all that was worth protecting, without opposition. General Vaughan took position at Greenville, and my brigade was stationed, under command of Colonel Morgan, at Rogersville.
Five or six days after these dispositions were made, the enemy advanced upon Rogersville in heavy force, drove Colonel Morgan away and followed him closely. He retreated without loss, although constantly skirmishing to Kingsport, twenty-five miles from Rogersville, and crossing Clinch river at nightfall, prepared to dispute the passage of the enemy. He believed that he could do so successfully, but his force was too small to guard all of the fords, and the next morning the enemy got across, attacked and defeated him, capturing him, more than eighty men, and all of our wagons. Colonel Napier took command and retreated to Bristol. I met the brigade there, and found it reduced to less than three hundred men.
General Vaughan was hurrying on to Bristol, at this time, but had to march further than the enemy, who also had the start of him, would be required to march in order to reach it. On the night of the 13th, the enemy entered Bristol at 3 or 4 P.M. Vaughan was not closer than twelve or fifteen miles, and so he was completely separated from the forces east of Bristol. We now had tolerably accurate information of the enemy's strength. Burbridge's Kentucky troops composed the greater part of his force, and Gillem was present with all of his former command, whom he had succeeded in catching, and one fine regiment, the Tenth Michigan. General Stoneman commanded. His column numbered in all, as well as we could judge, between six and seven thousand men.
After the enemy occupied Bristol, I fell back to Abingdon. At Bristol a large amount of valuable stores were captured by the enemy, and more clerks and attaches of supply departments caught or scared into premature evacuation of "bummers'" berths than at any precedent period of the departmental history. They scudded from town with an expedition that was truly astonishing to those who had ever had business with them.
Not caring to make a fight, which I knew I must lose, and well aware that there was hard work before us, I left Abingdon at nightfall, and encamped about three miles from the town on the Saltville road. At 10 o'clock the enemy entered Abingdon, driving out a picket of thirty men I had left there and causing another stampede of the clerical detail. The brigade was at once gotten under arms in expectation of an advance upon the road where we were stationed, but the enemy moved down the railroad toward Glade Springs and by the main road in the same direction. After having ascertained their route, we moved rapidly to Saltville, reaching that place before 10 A.M. General Breckinridge had already concentrated there all of the reserves that could be collected, and Giltner's and Cosby's brigades, which had just returned from the valley. Vaughan had retreated, when he found himself cut off, toward the North Carolina line and was virtually out of the fight from that time. Our force for the defense of Saltville was not more than fifteen hundred men, for offensive operations not eight hundred.
The enemy made no demonstration against Saltville on that day, and at nightfall General Breckinridge instructed me to move with one hundred and fifty men of my brigade, through McCall's Gap, and passing to the right of Glade's Springs, where the enemy was supposed to be, enter the main stage road and move toward Wytheville. He had received information that three or four hundred of the enemy had gone in that direction and he wished me to follow and attack.
Moving as directed, I found the enemy, not at Glade Springs, as was expected, but at the point at which I wished to enter the main road. Driving in the pickets, I advanced my whole force to within a short distance of the road, and discovered convincing proof that the entire Federal force was there. I did not attack, but withdrew to a point about a mile distant, and, permitting the men to build fires, and posting pickets to watch the enemy at the cross-roads, awaited daylight. My guide had run away when the pickets fired on us, and I could only watch the movements of the enemy and let mine be dictated by circumstances.
Just at daylight, a force of ten or twelve hundred of the enemy appeared in our rear, and between us and Saltville. This force had passed through Glade Springs and far around to the rear. Fortunately the men were lying down in line and by their horses, which had not been unsaddled. They were at once formed, and sending to call in the pickets, I moved my line slowly toward the enemy, who halted. The noise of the pickets galloping up the road perhaps convinced them that reinforcements were arriving to us. Not caring to fight when directly between two superior bodies of the enemy, and but a short distance from either, I wheeled into column, as soon as the picket detail arrived, and moved toward a wood upon our right. I was satisfied that I could check pursuit when there, and that some sort of trace led thence over the mountain to Saltville.
The enemy did not pursue vigorously, and soon halted. Only one shot was fired, and that by one of my pickets, who killed his man. No one in my detachment knew the country, but a citizen guided us over an almost impracticable route to the road which enters Saltville by Lyon's gap.
Learning that the enemy had crossed at Seven Mile ford and gone on toward Wytheville, General Breckinridge determined to follow. He wished to harass him, and prevent, as well as he could with the limited force at his command, the waste and destruction, which was the object of the raid. He accordingly marched out from Saltville on the night of the 16th, with eight hundred men, leaving the reserves and the men belonging to the cavalry whose horses were unserviceable. The enemy captured Wytheville without firing a shot, as there was no one there to fire at, but defeated a detachment of Vaughan's command not far from the town, taking and destroying the artillery which was attached to that brigade. A detachment also took and did serious damage to the lead mines.
On the 17th, Colonel Wycher, who had been sent in advance of the column commanded by General Breckinridge, attacked a body of the enemy near Marion, and drove it to Mt. Airy, eight miles from Wytheville, General Breckinridge pressed on to support him, and when we reached Marion we found Wycher coming back, closely pursued by a much stronger party of the enemy. Cosby's brigade, which was in the front of our column, at once attacked, and the whole command having been deployed and moved up, the enemy were easily driven back across the creek, two miles beyond Wytheville. Giltner and Cosby halted without crossing the creek. My brigade crossed and pressed the Federals back some distance further on the right of our line of advance. Night coming on I took a position on a commanding ridge, which stretches from the creek in a southeasterly direction. My left flank rested near the ford at which we had crossed, and my line was at an obtuse angle with that of the other brigades, which had not crossed, and inclining toward the position of the enemy. During the night I kept my men in line of battle.
On the next morning, it became soon evident that Stoneman's entire force, or very nearly all of it, had arrived during the night and was confronting us. After feeling the line, commencing on our left, the enemy apparently became impressed, with the belief that the proper point to attack was upon our right, and he accordingly made heavy rushes in rapid succession upon my position. I had but two hundred and twenty men, and was reinforced at midday by Colonel Wycher with fifty of his battalion.
The line we were required to hold was at least half a mile long, and I say without hesitation, that troops never fought more resolutely and bravely than did those I commanded on that day. The men were formed in a single slim skirmish line, with intervals of five or six feet between the files, and yet the enemy could not break the line or force them away. We were forced to receive attack where the enemy chose to make it, not daring, with our limited number and the important responsibility of holding our position, to attack in turn. Had the position been taken, the ford would have fallen into the possession of the enemy, and he would have been master of the entire field. The fire which met the advancing Federals at every effort which they made was the most deadly I ever saw. Our ammunition gave out three times, but, fortunately, we were enabled to replenish it during the lulls in the fighting. The sharpshooting upon both sides, in the intervals of attack, was excellent. Charlie Taylor, the best shot in my brigade, and one of the bravest soldiers, killed a man at almost every shot. I would gladly mention the names of those who deserved distinguished honor for their conduct, but it would require me, to do so, to give the name of every officer and private in the brigade.