On the retreat of Bragg, a vigorous pursuit was ordered, and the army moved at an early hour on the 26th of November. Hooker encountered the enemy in a strong position, at Ringgold, and a severe engagement ensued, in which a considerable loss was sustained by our forces, but the enemy was finally driven from his chosen ground, and continued his retreat toward Dalton. Sherman met no resistance, though pressing the enemy's rear in close pursuit beyond Graysville.
Affairs wore an unfavorable aspect at Knoxville, where Burnside, with an inadequate force, was reduced to a state of siege by Longstreet, who had been detached from the main army before Chattanooga in October, and ordered to operate in that region of East Tennessee. Knoxville had been occupied by Burnside, in conjunction with the occupation of Chattanooga by Rosecrans, in consequence of the withdrawal of the enemy from the (p147) place. The successful issue of the battle of Chickamauga emboldened Bragg to attempt the re-occupation of East Tennessee. Longstreet was therefore ordered to move against Burnside, with a superior force, while Bragg hoped to compel the evacuation of Chattanooga with the force under his command. This must have been the result, but for the speedy reinforcement of the army and the untiring energy of Grant. The defeat of Bragg at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge left a portion of the army free to aid Burnside, and General Sherman received instructions to proceed directly to the relief of Knoxville.
At the time these instructions were received, our forces were employed in destroying the railroad leading from Dalton to Cleveland. General Sherman immediately assumed command of the troops ordered upon the new campaign, embracing the following organizations, viz: the Fourth Corps, under Major General Granger; the Eleventh Corps, under Major General Howard; the Fourteenth Corps, under Major General Palmer; and the Second and Fourth Divisions of the Fifteenth Corps, under Major General Blair. The cheerfulness of the troops, in prospect of a severe campaign at that late season, was inspired by the hope of forever freeing East Tennessee from Confederate control. The several commands moved toward Cleveland, at which place the Fourth Division (p148) arrived on the 29th of November, having been engaged in the work of destruction along the railroad the preceding day.
On the 30th the army took up the line of march, via Charleston, Athens, Philadelphia, Morganton, and Marysville, reaching the latter place on the 5th of December, having marched eighty-five miles in four days, with one day's delay in crossing the Little Tennessee.
This march was accomplished in the most inclement season of the year, without rations, the troops subsisting entirely on forage, and with scanty clothing, supplies of which could not be obtained at Chattanooga, had time been allowed to issue. In all the history of the war no march presented a stronger exhibition of endurance than that to which reference is here made.
The region of country through which the army passed was fertile, and produced abundant harvests. These had been subject to seizure for supplying the rebel army on its way to Knoxville, and the remainder was appropriated by our forces. What rendered this the more severe was the fact that the people of East Tennessee were loyal to the Government, and had already suffered great indignities and persecution at the instigation of the rebel authorities. No people ever exhibited a more unyielding devotion to principle than the inhabitants of this region, under Confederate rule. Their (p149) knowledge of the situation at Knoxville and the object for which we were marching through their fertile valleys, together with their apprehension of the fact that we could not transport supplies for our army on a forced march, and more than all, the sight of the dear old flag, whose protection they had awaited with painful anxiety, led them to consecrate all they had to our use, and they cheerfully and joyfully opened their stores for all who sought supplies. The long-hidden flags were brought forth and waved in token of welcome and hope of the redemption which they saw drawing near. The strong-hold of loyalty in East Tennessee, so long guarded by the bayonets of traitors, had been restored to the authority of the Union, and now the hosts of treason were encamped about the beautiful city to re-subjugate it. To avert its fall we were (had?) come, and thousands hailed us as deliverers, in behalf of all the loyal people of that region.
Longstreet was pressing the siege with great vigor, and, learning of our movement from Chattanooga for the relief of the garrison, made a desperate assault upon the place, the result of which was disastrous in the extreme. The gallant defenders hurled back the assailants in confusion, after almost superhuman efforts to gain possession of the works. Finding it impossible to reduce the place by assault, and aware of the rapid march (p150) of Sherman for its relief, Longstreet raised the siege, on the 5th of December, and retreated toward Strawberry Plains, thus rendering our further advance unnecessary, and the army paused at Marysville, twelve miles south of Knoxville. Pursuit at that season was inexpedient, and General Sherman at once commenced the return march to Chattanooga, having received from General Burnside a noble tribute of gratitude for the efficient aid rendered in compelling the enemy to raise the siege. The order was subsequently read to all the troops.
On the return, the army was under the necessity of pursuing a different route, as far as possible, for the purpose of collecting supplies for the troops. The Fourth Division moved to Athens, via Madisonville, reaching the former place on the 9th of December, and resting in camp till the 13th. The roads were in a terrible condition, from frequent rains, and the troops marched along the railroad track from Athens, suffering intensely from cold weather, many being without shoes, and almost destitute of clothing. On the 14th, the army arrived at Cleveland, and after two days of additional suffering reached Chattanooga, in a most pitiable condition. The appearance of the brave men who had rescued East Tennessee from the grasp of tyranny reminded us of Valley Forge and the barefoot soldiers of the Revolution. No period of (p151) the war presented a scene surpassing in wretchedness that afforded on the return of Sherman's command from that memorable march.
The Fourth Division encamped on the battlefield of November 25th, and visited the scene of their conflict for the first time. That evening with the men in camp will not soon be forgotten. We had not shared with them the scenes of toil and privation which succeeded the fierce conflict on this ground, almost a month previous. It had been our sad duty to remain on the battlefield and direct the interment of the brave men who had perished there, and subsequently to commit those who died of wounds to their final rest. But in all the horrors of the battlefield, as seen by moonlight, with the stars keeping vigil over the dead forms whitened by frost; or by day, with mangled bodies collected for burial beside the common receptacle prepared for them; or in the sad scene of the weeks that succeeded--amid the dead and dying at hospital--we had not witnessed a more impressive spectacle than the condition of the Regiment presented. Nothing could more clearly evince the severity of privation and suffering to which brave men were subjected than the combined testimony furnished on that occasion. Without shoes, they had covered their feet with fresh raw-hide or remnants of old clothing. Their clothes were in tatters, and a single shirt had sufficed for the entire (p152) period of absence, while officers and men, without exception, were annoyed by "graybacks," by which expressive term the vermin of the camp are known. The knapsack contained only the blanket, which constituted the bed, in lieu of which many had substituted bed-quilts and coverlets--picked up on the march--while the haversack could boast of only a small quantity of corn meal and the coffee ration. It was not only in appearance, but in actual suffering, that these men elicited sympathy from us. Upon the route they had marked their tracks with blood, and on coarse and scanty food they had endured the storms, and waded through mud, cheered by the hope of abundant rations and clothing on reaching Chattanooga. The past was canceled by the cheering prospect of comfort and food, in the future.
But on the evening of their arrival it was ascertained that only rations could be furnished before reaching Bridgeport, as the railroad was not yet open from that point. With this partial relief from suffering, the troops were obligated to be satisfied, since impossibilities could not be required. Yet it did seem that shoes for the suffering soldier in the field might be furnished, by the reduction of transportation on articles less needful. But the Commissary Department must furnish the requisite amount of whisky for the pampered officials at Chattanooga, if some essentials to comfort were (p153) denied the troops. And the sutlers, too, could usually smuggle to the front their agglomeration of good, bad, and indifferent commodities, the latter two qualities largely predominating. But no matter what the value of their goods might be, they were cash articles, at exorbitant rates, which few soldiers, long underpaid, were prepared to purchase.
The march was therefore resumed by the Fifteenth Corps -- which was ordered to return to Alabama --on the 18th of December, the coldest day of the season, succeeded by a fearful night which tested the power of endurance to its utmost. The following day the troops arrived at Bridgeport, rejoicing in the certain prospect of shoes and clothing. A number of the officers from different regiments sent their horses with the command, and took passage on the steamer Dunbar, for Bridgeport, on the 19th. This boat was originally a popular packet, running from Evansville to Paducah on the Ohio, at the commencement of war. she was captured by the enemy on the Tennessee, in 1861, and removed to the upper section of the river, over the Muscle Shoals, and had escaped destruction in the recent abandonment of the Tennessee. The fine cabin had long since been removed, and no comforts were provided against the cold, except by huddling around the boilers. The day was very cold, and the passage would have been tedious but (p154) for the sublime objects that presented themselves to view, on our way through the mountains. The distance from Chattanooga to Bridgeport, by river, is sixty miles, some of this distance being through the rugged scenery of the mountain region. Along the north side of the river the wagon road, recently used for supplying the besieged garrison at Chattanooga, runs, scaling the mountains where it forms the precipitous bank of the stream, and again descending to the base of the cliffs where a narrow passage intervenes between them and the river.
Several narrow and deep channels in the rocky bed present features of peculiar interest. Three of these are called, respectively, "the suck," "the pot," and "the skillet." Through them the water rushes with fearful violence. To enable the ascending boats to surmount the resistance of the current, a capstan, with strong leverage, is erected on the south bank, to which ropes being attached, the passengers and crew drag the steamer, with the aid of her wheels, up the channel. Great care is requisite in the descent, at low water, to avoid striking the rocky sides of the narrow opening through which the water passes.
A picture of destitution was presented on board the Dunbar, which elicited the sympathy of all hearts, and prompted a generous collection for the benefit of the sufferers. A family of refugees, consisting of the parents and twelve children, came (p155) on board at Chattanooga, on their way north. They had no means, their entire possessions comprising a few articles of bedding wrapped up in a bundle. The children were without covering for heads or feet, and thinly clad, amongst strangers, and bound to an unknown destination. The group sat shivering, but uncomplaining upon the lower deck, a sad witness against the cruel wickedness of the rebellion that had involved multitudes of innocent families in similar suffering. The class to which this family belonged had borne the severest weight of sorrow, affliction, and destitution known in the land, without possessing the intelligence or energy to rise from the deep degradation in which they are involved.
On reaching Bridgeport the troops were gratified to learn that Major General John A. Logan had been assigned to command the Fifteenth Corps, Major General Blair having taken his seat in Congress, as a Representative from Missouri. The First and Third Divisions had preceded us to this point, where General Logan had been in command from their arrival. Hence forth the history of the Corps is the history of this popular officer, who has distinguished himself for his gallantry and efficiency in the great campaigns under Sherman. No citizen has excelled him in good qualities or exercise of skill, as a military leader, and of all the Major Generals from civil life, John A. Logan (p156) may, without presumption, be regarded as the most popular and beloved. He is esteemed, not merely for what he has done in the field, but for his great influence in his own State and throughout the North; and for his sterling ability and noble integrity, as an uncompromising advocate of the most stringent measures for suppressing rebellion. The influence of General Logan, during the canvass of 1863, was so severely felt by the opponents of the Administration, that it was currently reported and believed --in the army and at home -- that a protest was sent to General Grant, from Illinois, complaining of his protracted absence from the army, which privilege he was using for the vilification of his fellow citizens, to which Grant replied, in his sententious manner, "I consider General Logan on duty, when he is at home fighting Copperheads." No man in Illinois ever made greater havoc among that brood of reptiles than John A. Logan, and hence, when he returned to the army he was very appropriately placed in command of the Fifteenth Corps, where he could strike as effectively for the overthrow of armed treason, as he had struck for the defeat of its allies in the North. Let the subsequent history of the man so beloved by that Corps, and of that command itself, testify to the measure of his efficiency.
On the 20th of December, the weary and worn troops were supplied with all that the Quartermaster and Commissary Department could furnish, (p157) and the Regiment appeared on dress parade, on the evening of the 23rd, with new outfit entire, presenting a striking contrast with its previous appearance. After receipt of pay for September and October, the Corps received marching orders, and moved to the designated stations for the winter --on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad --between Stevenson and Huntsville, Alabama. The Fourth Division was stationed on the eastern portion of the line, extending from Stevenson to Scottsboro, and connecting with the Second Division, at Larkinsville and Woodville, while the First Division held Huntsville, and the Third was distributed along the line east of that place. The headquarters of the Corps were at Huntsville, while those of the Fourth Division were at Scottsboro, at which point we arrived on the 26th of December.
A brief retrospect of the period, intervening between our departure from Camp Sherman and our arrival at Scottsboro, presents many topics of interest, not noticed in this and the preceding chapters. During the three months occupied in ceaseless activity, the entire Division had marched from Memphis to Marysville, East Tennessee, and returned to this point, a distance of more than seven hundred miles, being the only Division of the Corps that had performed this Herculean labor. We had crossed the Tennessee seven times, scaled (p158) mountains, and swept through rich valleys, through heat and cold, sun and storm, stumbling over rocks or plunging in the deep mud, with all the unnumbered incidents of a march then unparalleled in the history of the war, and only exceeded in thrilling events by subsequent campaigns in Georgia and South Carolina. In the distance traveled without rest, it still remains unequaled. No other army ever moved on one unbroken march of seven hundred miles in the space of three months, aided in relieving two beleaguered garrisons from a state of siege, and all with more general cheerfulness than the Fifteenth Corps evinced, during the months of October, November, and December, 1863. In all these Regiments shared, and will inherit the honors.
The Regiment had shown in former times --in the camps of western Tennessee, and on the Big Black -- its superior drill and discipline, but excepting on the line of Jackson it had not been under fire since the engagement at Richmond. At Missionary Ridge it had shared in the praise due the entire First and Second Brigades for the gallantry exhibited under the concentrated fire of rebel batteries, in a position which rendered it impossible to return an effective fire. The officers and men entertain feelings of pride in view of the record of this period of the service. (p159)
But the accomplishment of the object, which called us from the rear of Vicksburg to East Tennessee, left its traces in our thinned ranks, and in the vacant places created by those who had fallen. The memory of those we loved for their noble deeds and heroic endurance will be perpetual, and their far-off graves will often recur to mind amid the scenes of busy life. The following list includes all who died of disease during this period, most of whom died in General Hospital, whither they had been removed on our departure from Vicksburg:
October 4th -- Thomas Simmons, Comdpany H,
October 7th -- Peter Hunter, Company K, drowned at Helena, Arkansas.
October 12th -- George R. Smith, Company B, Rome City, Ind.
October 15th -- Peter Patram, Company E, Memphis, Tenn.
October 16th -- Abraham Gross, Company F, Corinth, Miss.
October 20th -- John Pickard, Company I, St. Louis, Missouri.
October 22nd -- Martin Linder, Company K, Memphis, Tenn.
October 23rd -- John Meyer, Company K, Memphis, Tenn.
October 23rd -- Moses Walter, Company B, Memphis, Tenn.
October 27th -- Evan Day, Company E, Iuka, Mississippi
October 28th -- William Steele, Company A, Iuka, Mississippi
November 1st -- Thomas B. Bannon, Company G, Waterloo, Ala.
November 2nd -- Paul W. Quinn, Company H, Memphis, Tenn.
November 3rd -- Charles Evard, Company B, Corinth, Miss.
November 5th -- John D. Sutton, Company A, Memphis, Tenn.
November 12th -- Corporal Henry McBride, Company F, Decherd, Tennessee
November 13th -- David A. Scott, Company K, Anderson, Ala.
November 14th -- Amos Bucy, Company H, Anderson, Ala.
November 14th -- Hiram Wood, Company E, Anderson, Ala. (p160)
November 14th -- Jonathan Herron, Company D, Reynolds, Ind.
November 16th -- John Browning, Company H, Bridgeport, Ala.
November 21st -- Thomas parker, Company E, Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia
December 27th -- James A. Hutson, Company E, Libby Prison. (p161)