Buell's Retreat to the Ohio.—1862
GENERAL McCOOK'S division was ordered to occupy Corinth, and his headquarters were moved within the town limits. For ten days after the evacuation, there was great uncertainty as to the future operations of the army, and, after describing the closing scenes of the “siege,” idleness was again my lot. It then became known, however, that General Halleck had determined, with the approval of the Washington authorities, to break up the grand army united under his command. The Army of the Ohio, under Buell, was to enter upon a new campaign through northern Alabama and southeastern Tennessee to East Tennessee, to carry out the long-deferred plan of freeing the loyalists in the latter region from rebel oppression and persecution. The Armies of the Tennessee and Mississippi, under Grant and Pope, were to be employed in holding western Tennessee and northern Mississippi and the adjacent portion of Alabama, and in offensive operations down and west of the Mississippi. In moving eastwardly, Buell's men were to put the Memphis & Charleston Railroad east of Corinth in running order, while the work of repairing the line west of that point was to be undertaken by Grant's troops. The destruction wrought upon it by the rebels between Corinth and Memphis was not very great, as they had to use it up to the evacuation. I received word as early as June 8, if I remember aright, that a construction train that had worked its way from Memphis, which only two days before had fallen into the hands of the Unionists, would reach Corinth and start back the same day. I asked and received permission to go on it. I longed for a change from the monotony of camp life, and especially from the sameness of camp fare, to which I had been subjected for two months. Moreover, the winter clothes which I still was obliged to wear for want of something more suitable, were no longer endurable in the hot weather that had prevailed for a fortnight, and I hoped to be able to buy a summer outfit in the city.
The construction train, consisting of half a dozen freight and flat cars with an ancient locomotive of very shabby and decrepit appearance, arrived towards evening, and, for the sake of greater safety, its return was postponed till the next morning. I was one of a very motley crowd of passengers, numbering several hundred, and consisting of a strong guard, well and sick officers of all ranks, and wounded and ill soldiers. There were no seats, and we all squatted on the floors of the cars, with none too much elbow-room for any of us. We proceeded very slowly from caution, with reference both to the hastily repaired trestles and bridges and to the strong inclination of our engine to refuse to do service. We spent eleven hours in making the distance of only ninety-three miles, thus having plenty of time to observe the region traversed. It seemed even more forbidding than the stretch between Pittsburg and Corinth. Like the rest of my fellow-passengers, I arrived in a very tired, stiff-limbed, dust-covered, and hungry condition, and felt much relieved when I found that the Gayoso House, the principal hostelry of the city, was open for guests. I was pleasantly surprised to discover on the hotel register the names of the four colleagues whom I had met at Cairo. They had arrived the day before from that place. We had a very joyous time together that evening and during the rest of my stay.
Memphis was even then a fine city of about 25,000 inhabitants. The site rises amphitheatrically from the river, from which the city presents an imposing aspect. The buildings on the business streets and the principal private residences were of brick and stone, indicating enterprise and thrift. The former stood in many solid blocks containing wholesale and retail stores, banks, and offices of every kind. A proper number of the private dwellings were large and elegant abodes of wealth. While a good many of the stores and offices were closed, there was a great deal of life in the streets, and one could not have imagined from their appearance that the place had just been the scene of actual war. There seemed to be as many whites as negroes moving about, and among them hundreds of Union army and navy officers and soldiers and sailors. They formed an entirely peaceful picture, and, indeed, I saw no signs of hostile feeling of any kind during my stay. There was a good deal of suppressed loyalty which showed itself very soon to a surprising extent, and very much facilitated the government of the city under the new rule. The Confederate flag never waved over Memphis again.
The liveliest point was the levee. Some twenty-five steamboats, side- and stern-wheelers, were lying along it. Some of them were commissary and quartermaster boats discharging their loads; others were the regular tenders of the Federal river fleet; while three or four were more or less damaged craft captured from the enemy. Some distance from the long line of ordinary boats lay at anchor in grim blackness six gunboats and four rams. They had performed a most daring and gallant exploit three days before, to which I must make a passing allusion. The fleet, aided by a brigade of Indiana infantry regiments, had been besieging Fort Pillow ever since the reduction of Island No. 10. The fort was constructed by the rebels for the defence of the Mississippi on its left bank at the so-called Chickasaw Bluffs, about sixty-five miles above Memphis. The “siege” consisted altogether of an exchange of heavy shot between the fort and the fleet. On the morning of June 5, it was discovered that the rebels had abandoned the fort; this step being the logical sequence of the rebel retreat from Corinth. It was immediately occupied from the fleet. Commander Davis, flag-officer of the naval force, and Colonel Ellet (commanding the four boats that had been, in an incredibly short time, converted by him, under authority of the War Department, into “rams” of the most formidable character) lost no time in getting under way at noon for Memphis, and anchored for the night a mile and a half above the city. Early next morning, they discovered the rebel fleet of eight gunboats and rams in front of the city. The Federal commanders started for their prey at half-past five. Ellet led the attack with his flagship, the ram Queen, followed by the other rams. The fight raged for an hour and a half, with rams against rams, and with gunboats keeping up a tremendous fire at close quarters against gunboats. It was all over at seven, with the nearly complete destruction of the hostile squadron. Seven of its vessels were captured, sunk, or burned, only one escaping down the river. The Federal loss was slight, but included the gallant Ellet, who received a pistol-shot fired by a rebel within a few feet of him when the Queen struck the first antagonist. The wound was at first considered slight, but he died from it two weeks later while on the way to his home in Ohio. Ellet was one of the most notable figures of the war. He possessed veritable genius as an engineer, and, being an intense loyalist, offered his special services for “clearing the Mississippi” to Secretary Stanton, who accepted them, commissioned him as colonel, and placed the means at his disposal for carrying out his plans. His untimely death was a great national loss, and was universally lamented.
The terrible spectacle of the naval battle was witnessed by tens of thousands of the inhabitants of the city, whose surrender was demanded by Commander Davis immediately after the cessation of hostilities and conceded by the mayor. Before actual possession was taken, Colonel Ellet's young son landed with a small squad of men, and they boldly made their way through crowds of secession sympathizers to the post-office and custom-house, took down the Confederate flags over those buildings, and hoisted the Stars and Stripes in their place. The Indiana brigade landed by noon and established military rule in the city.
The second day of my stay, my newspaper friends took me on a round of visits to the gunboats and rams. We were rowed successively to the flagship Benton, where we saw Commander Davis and Lieutenant Phelps, and then to four others, of whose names I remember only the Cairo and the Carondelet. They were specially built for the service, and looked to me, who had never seen any men-of-war, quite formidable, with their batteries of heavy guns, uniformed officers and crews, and the perfect order and discipline enforced on them. We were very hospitably received, and found the officers in a high state of elation over their overwhelming triumph, as they had a right to be. We also visited the rams, but were not permitted to see Colonel Ellet, who was said to have a high wound-fever. The rams were Mississippi steamboats cut down to their lower deck, and built up again fore and aft and on both sides with wooden bulwarks from a foot to a foot and a half thick, and covered with iron plates several inches thick. They were roofed over in the same way. Their double, iron-cased prows looked like huge wedges, and formed tremendous instruments of destruction. The illusion prevailed on the fleet, from the highest in command to the simple seamen, that the victory virtually opened the Mississippi down to New Orleans; but alas! it took a great deal more sanguinary work to accomplish that.
My recreation in Memphis was cut short by the news, which I learned early on June 11 from a captain of the commissary department of the Army of the Ohio whom I accidentally met on the street, that General Buell had received formal orders to march, and that General McCook's division had already started from Corinth that very day. Here was a predicament for me, as that doubtless implied that my host, the division quartermaster, and my horse and other belongings were gone also. Bidding a hasty farewell to my colleagues, I managed to catch a train that left at noon for Corinth. We travelled faster than before, but were still nearly eight hours in reaching Corinth. It did not take me long to make the pleasant discovery that, while McCook's division was actually gone, Captain Gamage had stayed behind in charge of the division train, which was to move early the next day. As the programme was that the division should await the train at Iuka, forty-five miles east of Corinth, I concluded to accompany the train, instead of riding ahead and trying to overtake the division, with the risk of capture by rebel guerrillas, who were known to be swarming in northern Mississippi and Alabama.
We were two days in reaching Iuka. It was a hard march for man and beast, the heat being great, the roads covered with deep dust, and the mosquitoes very abundant and aggressive. The route led through a succession of swampy lowlands and hilly stretches covered with poor timber. Only here and there were poverty-stricken farms and clusters of habitations, passing for villages, mostly deserted by the inhabitants. In order to avoid the choking clouds of dust raised by the train, Captain Gamage and I joined the main body of the cavalry escort in front of it. It consisted of the Second Indiana cavalry regiment, commanded by Colonel Edward M. McCook, a first cousin of General A. McD. McCook, and a brother of General Anson G. McCook, who after the war was for many years secretary of the United States Senate, and subsequently chamberlain of the city of New York. Edward McCook was as fine-looking an officer as could be found in the army: tall, graceful in figure and motion, with regular features, brilliant eyes, and black hair and beard. I was soon on very good terms with him, and we subsequently were thrown together a good deal, as will appear hereafter. (He was Territorial Governor of Colorado after the war.) He had a splendid regiment of picked men and horses, well drilled and disciplined by the other field officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart and Major Hill, who had seen long service as non-commissioned officers in a regular cavalry regiment. Nothing occurred to interrupt our progress, and, on the evening of June 13, I rejoined McCook's division headquarters at Iuka.
Buell's new movement, it will be remembered, was the occupation of the important strategic point, Chattanooga, and the liberation of East Tennessee. But, in addition to general instructions to this effect from Halleck, he also received a specific order to put the line of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad along his route of march in running order, and to maintain it by proper military protection. The distance from Corinth to Chattanooga is 217 miles, and should have been easily traversed by the army in from twenty-five to thirty-five days. General Buell always claimed that, in a personal interview with Halleck on the 11th, he requested to be permitted to choose his own route, his preference being in favor of a line of march through middle Tennessee via McMinnville, but that the order to repair the road and use it as a line of supply was insisted upon. An issue subsequently arose betwen Buell and Halleck as to the latter's responsibility for this. But, whatever the facts were, it can hardly be disputed that the coming failures of the Army of the Ohio were mainly due to the delays and other injurious effects of the efforts to repair and run the railroad in question. Fully two months were spent by half of the army in opening and holding it to Decatur, only to find that its regular operation could not be maintained, as it ran parallel to the front of the enemy, and hence was peculiarly exposed to interruption. Moreover, it proved impossible to stock it with sufficient motive-power and cars in time to do much good to Buell's forces. The work on the road resulted, too, in scattering the army a good deal, and demoralized the troops by keeping them from their regular military duties. The detention no doubt caused the miscarriage of the general plan for the campaign and the extraordinary turn of events which was to lead the Army of the Ohio, not to East Tennessee, but back to the river whose name it bore.
I left Iuka with McCook's division the day after I joined it. We were closely followed by Crittenden's division that had been pursuing Beauregard and had come on our route at Iuka. Wood's division we found already engaged in road-repairing between Iuka and Florence. Nelson's was similarly occupied between Iuka and Corinth. Our march was again made very trying by the heat and dust and the stinging vermin. But we went into camp on the evening of the 15th, not far from the Tennessee River on the south bank, almost opposite the town of Florence. We lost a whole week here in waiting for the completion of a ferry boat, without which the river could not be crossed, the bridge over it being destroyed. The army contained plenty of men trained for that and any other sort of mechanical work, But the lack of machine- and hand-tools made the construction of the boat slow and difficult. The week was pleasantly spent, as we had a fine camp, good water, plenty to eat for man and beast, and cool nights free from mosquitoes. The surrounding scenery was quite picturesque. A great enjoyment for me was the daily swim I took in the river. The troops, too, were glad of the chance to clean up. Some diversion was afforded by the arrival of some very light-draught boats from Cairo, with army supplies.
I crossed over to Florence on the 23d, but it took fully three days and nights hard work to get the whole division with its artillery and trains over. It did not resume its march on the right bank for several days, owing to an order from Halleck to Buell to hold his command in place, as there were signs of an aggressive movement of the enemy upon Iuka; but this story turned out to have no foundation whatever. Florence was no more worthy of its famous name than Corinth. It looked rather attractive from the south bank, but proved very unclassical upon actual inspection — a straggling combination of brick and frame buildings of very plain style and neglected appearance. It had been occupied for some months by Union troops, and was abandoned by most of the inhabitants. A very brisk trade seemed to be carried on by speculators from the North, provided with permits from the United States Treasury Department, in buying up cotton for cash or in exchange for merchandise. This indulgence on the part of the Federal authorities, which grew into a general practice wherever cotton-producing regions were occupied, was very ill advised, and led everywhere to a regular contraband traffic with the South.
By this time General Buell had made up his mind that his army could not prosecute the campaign into East Tennessee without safe and ample lines of supply, and that, the Memphis & Charleston Road having failed as such, the completion of the two rail lines from Nashville to the Tennessee River, viz., one by way of Franklin, Columbia, Pulaski, and Athens to Decatur, and the other through Murfreesboro', Tullahoma, and Decherd to Stevenson, was imperative. The movements of his command during July were directed accordingly. Generals McCook's and Crittenden's divisions were destined for Stevenson, the farther of the two termini, Nelson's for Athens, Wood's for Decatur. Parts of all these divisions were to work on the railroads mentioned between Stevenson and Decherd and Decatur and Athens and Pulaski. General Thomas's division, which had been finally relieved from duty at and about Corinth, was to replace Wood and Nelson along the Memphis & Charleston. This distribution over a long line made it impracticable for me to observe the doings of any other parts of the army than those under McCook, with whom, as in the advance, I deemed it best to remain; and my narrative will therefore relate solely to his operations up to the re-concentration of the army.
I believe it was on July 2d or 3d that we started from Florence via Athens — an even more unclassical place than Florence for Huntsville, Alabama, — some seventy miles distant. The division made them in four days and a half — very good marching, considering the great heat and suffocating dust in which it was accomplished. The ordinary dirt road led within a few miles of the Tennessee, through a very broken country, and became more and more difficult, owing to many steep ascents and descents, for the troops, artillery, and trains. No signs of the enemy were discovered. Huntsville, a county seat and active trading centre, with a population, I believe, of five to six thousand, presented by its substantial appearance quite a pleasing contrast to the shabby places we had passed before. It was, indeed, one of the most prosperous places in northern Alabama before the war. General O. M. Mitchel, commanding another division, had occupied the town in April, and made it the point from which to clear the country of the rebels as far east as Stevenson and west as Florence; in which he had fully succeeded. General McCook left us at Huntsville on a short leave of absence, but the division resumed its march after a day's rest. We pushed on very steadily for a week and suffered again greatly from heat and dust, making from sixteen to eighteen miles a day, and reached Stevenson on July 14. All through the last day's march, we had heard from time to time the exhilarating sounds of locomotive whistles, and were much rejoiced to learn that the railroad from Nashville to Stevenson had been fully repaired, and that through-trains had arrived over it the day before. We found Louisville papers only two days old — a great treat, as we had heard nothing from the North for fully ten days. We stopped till the return of General McCook on the 17th. On the next day, we moved on to Battle Creek, seven miles, I think, from Stevenson. This brought us within thirty-one miles of Chattanooga, but Buell's army was not destined at that time to get any nearer to that objective-point. Crittenden's division had followed us closely, and General McCook exercised command over it and his own. General Buell, meanwhile, had established his headquarters at Huntsville, being thus separated by a long distance from his advance, consisting of one-third of his army, though in telegraphic communication with it.
There were already at that time more or less telling indications that the withdrawal of the rebels from Corinth had been but the first act in a new strategic programme aiming at a complete shifting of the scene of active operations and the resumption of the offensive by them. It gradually became clear that this programme comprised the transfer of the rebel army from middle Mississippi to Chattanooga, and a flanking movement thence against Buell under the leadership of General Bragg, who had superseded Beauregard. Buell seems to have first grown suspicious of it about the middle of July, when a series of rebel cavalry raids upon his lines of communication in Tennessee and Kentucky began with the sudden appearance of the daring cavalry leader Morgan, in the neighborhood of Bowling Green, and his dash thence through central Kentucky by way of Munfordville, Lebanon, Lexington, and Paris, with a force variously estimated at from one to three thousand mounted men. He captured a number of Federal detachments and inflicted considerable other damage. He recrossed the Cumberland near Mills Springs and safely reached East Tennessee, whence he had started, thus completing a circuit in his rapid movements. The next surprise of the same kind came on July 13, when Forrest, who developed into the most dangerous and successful rebel raider in the West, burst upon the town of Murfreesboro' like a thunderbolt from a clear sky. He utterly surprised and captured the garrison of fourteen hundred cavalry, infantry, and artillery — who, from the brigadier in command down to the rank and file, behaved disgracefully — together with hundreds of animals and wagons and great quantities of supplies, and worked such destruction on the railroad connecting Murfreesboro' with Nashville and Stevenson, between which latter points trains had run through for the first time only the day before, that it took two weeks to repair the damage. We felt the effect of this disaster at once at Battle Creek by the failure of the mails and newspapers, and the orders of the commanding-general to economize as much as possible with food and forage.
But Buell did not at first perceive the true meaning of these raids. He did not interpret them as the precursors, which they really were, of a coming attempt in strong force to compel him to abandon his movement upon Chattanooga and East Tennessee. He thought that his further advance would be disputed in front, and that the raids were merely meant to delay it, and he took measures immediately for the protection of the railroads by ordering Nelson's division to Murfreesboro' and drawing Wood's up to the Nashville & Decatur Road. But he still was confident that he could overcome the enemy in his way, and was far from contemplating the possibility of finding himself obliged before long to abandon his offensive campaign altogether, and to lead his army back to where it had started from early in the year. The arrival of General Bragg at Chattanooga on July 28, which he quickly learned, rather confirmed him in his view of the situation, in accordance with which he hastened the preparations for a resumption of his advance. Supplies were hurried forward to the front, and pontoon bridges for crossing the Tennessee got ready. The army trains were concentrated between Decherd, a railroad junction thirty miles north of Stevenson, and the river. All the troops between Stevenson, Huntsville, and Athens, including General Thomas's division, were ordered to the same vicinity. The army headquarters were also moved to Decherd.
Excepting some scouting excursions to the south and east, McCook's command remained stationary for nearly four weeks at Battle Creek. As I again complied strictly with my pledge not to report anything of the movements of our army, I underwent another involuntary term of idleness. The monotony of camp life was very irksome, yet there was nothing for me to do but to accept it. The division headquarters were kept astir, however, by the accounts of the rebel movements and plans, frequently brought in by spies, refugees, prisoners, and deserters, of which I was informed in confidence. They agreed that a concentration of rebel forces was steadily going on at and about Chattanooga, and that they meant to take the offensive. Reports that Bragg was about to cross the Tennessee, and even that he had actually crossed, commenced coming in early in August, and kept us on the alert, but they all proved to be unfounded. The constant confirmation of the near presence of a hostile army estimated at from fifty to sixty thousand, however, led Buell to give up his belief that Bragg would remain on the defensive and await his own advance upon him, and to act on the presumption that the rebels would cross over the Walden range of hills, rising from the right bank of the Tennessee directly opposite Chattanooga, into the valley of the Sequatchie, and follow that river down to its mouth, debouching near Butte Creek, and turning McCook by recrossing the Tennessee.
He was strengthened in this new theory by the increasing frequency, formidableness, and success of the rebel efforts in Tennessee and Kentucky to obstruct his long channel of supply by the single line of rail from Louisville to Nashville, and the double one from Nashville to his front. More or less numerous bands of mounted guerrillas ap peared at many points in both States, annoying or capturing and destroying what came in their way. Reports of encounters with them reached the army headquarters daily. Though defeated in one place, they quickly turned up again in another. A report reached Buell on August 6, that Morgan had reappeared with a large force and was making for Nashville, whereupon orders were immediately issued to fortify that city sufficiently to protect it from surprise. On August 10, the dreaded rebel actually turned up at Gallatin, a town on the Louisville & Nashville line, on the north bank of the Cumberland, only twenty-five miles from Nashville. He surprised and captured the garrison, and then proceeded to destroy culverts and bridges in the direction of the latter city. Moving northwest toward Bowling Green, he obstructed the tunnel seven miles north of Gallatin, and burned an additional number of wooden superstructures. It was learned about the same time that Forrest had again reached the Cumberland with several thousand cavalry, and was moving toward Nashville. Buell at once sent a cavalry force of seven hundred under Brigadier-General Johnson, an old regular-cavalry man, after Morgan. Johnson overtook him near Gallatin, but, owing to the misbehavior of part of his command, was beaten, and he himself taken prisoner with one hundred and fifty men. The remainder of his men refused to surrender and got away. Johnson was afterward charged with incapacity and cowardice in this affair.
This bad news produced no little anxiety in the army and at our division headquarters. The interruption of rail communication with Louisville, our primary base, was, indeed, a most serious blow, and, if long continued, was bound to frustrate the plan of campaign and compel retro grade movements. General Nelson was therefore detached from his division and ordered to Kentucky to restore our communications and clear that State of Morgan and the guerrillas. The army commander also telegraphed to General Grant, by authority of General Halleck, who had in the meantime been called to Washington as general-in-chief of all troops in the field, for two additional divisions, one to be used for protecting the line north of Nashville, and the other for service on the front in the general advance, which was still believed possible notwithstanding the threatening occurrences in the rear.
To General McCook's command now fell the part of an active corps of observation. On August 19 it received orders, upon the first intelligence of an advance of the enemy along the Sequatchie, to move promptly up that valley to check him and observe his movements. If pressed, he was to fall back over the so-called Therman road, diverging from the Sequatchie to the north, upon the main Union force that was expected to advance from McMinnville. Crittenden's division was also to move up the Sequatchie in the wake of McCook and in his support, and, if necessary, also to fall back over another road upon the column from McMinnville.
We commenced our march up the valley on the 20th, and had been under way some hours when we met two spies with very full and apparently reliable information as to the doings of the enemy. One of them was a non-commissioned officer in an Ohio regiment, a very intelligent man, who had volunteered for this perilous mission. He had spent some days at Chattanooga. He affirmed very positively that Bragg had crossed the river at Chattanooga with seventy regiments and a great deal of artillery, and was moving down the Sequatchie. This intelligence made General McCook fear that he could not reach the Therman road before Bragg, and he decided to fall back with his column to the so-called Higginbottom pike, also leading over the Cumberland Mountains, that bordered the Sequatchie on the north. The General and staff rode in advance up the very steep ascent of the pike to the summit, and I went with them. We ascertained quickly that the road was altogether too steep for artillery and trains, and the General determined to return to Battle Creek and move up its valley by another road over the mountains. He received orders on the 23d to march over the Battle Creek road in one day to Pelham, on the plateau of the Cumberland Mountains, a few miles from Decherd, thence to Altamont, and there to form a junction with Thomas's forces and attack the enemy if he should come over the Therman road. The road proved very difficult and the distance longer than expected, so that we bivouacked on the summit of the mountains seven miles from Pelham, and descended to that point — a wretched-looking, deserted hamlet — early next morning. We found there the first division under temporary command of General Schoepf, a German-Hungarian, who had seen service in the old country and was a thorough soldier. Having ascertained that General Thomas had left Altamont, we went into camp, awaiting further orders from General Buell, who came over the next day from Decherd and directed us to move on to Altamont.
The plateau and northern outrunners of the Cumberland range that we had traversed from Battle Creek to Altamont, formed a very broken, sterile, and dry stretch of country. With the exception of a little forage of hay and green corn, it was destitute of supplies of every kind; while, owing to the interruption of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, the troops had subsisted on half-rations for twenty days. The greatest difficulty was the want of water for men and beasts. Our whole division had but one spring to draw from for officers and men, and only pools of stagnant water in a half-dry streamlet several miles away were available for the animals. We were to watch for the supposed approach of the enemy over the Therman road at Altamont (this high-sounding name belonged to as mean a place as Pelham), whence four roads ran in different directions towards middle Tennessee; but the lack of water compelled us to move half a day's march on to Hubbard's Cove on Hickory Creek. Here, orders were received to concentrate with the rest of the army at Murfreesboro' and to make for that point as rapidly as possible.
General Buell had become satisfied some days before that the movement of the enemy down the Sequatchie had been only either a feint or a reconnoissance in force. He next expected an advance of Bragg over the Therman road, and concluded, only after he had been disappointed in this expectation also, that his adversary was moving north over a more easterly route. General Thomas had thought this all along, and urged proper counter-moves upon his superior, without convincing him. Buell now determined upon a rapid concentration of his army at Murfreesboro', upon the theory that Bragg's objective-point was Nashville. Some of his generals did not share this notion, and felt sure that the enemy was not bound for middle Tennessee, but for Kentucky. They were right and Buell wrong, but the general concentrating movement was formally ordered on August 30 and carried out. It was admirably planned, and effected with remarkable precision, considering that it included not only large bodies, but moving detachments, post-garrisons, and railroad guards spread out over a territory of one hundred and fifty by one hundred miles, and that only one week was allowed for completing it.
The day before McCook began his march to Murfreesboro', Edward McCook, the cavalry colonel, unexpectedly appeared with a small mounted escort for a brief visit to his cousin. He had been employed for nearly two months after we parted in escorting supply trains along the Tennessee River, but had followed General Nelson's division when it moved to McMinnville. He had been engaged with his command for some weeks in scouting, hunting, and fighting guerrillas. He invited me to accompany him, and, as I was weary of the monotonous marches, I accepted and rode off with him. For a week, I had an experience that reminded me continually of the song in Schiller's play of the “Robbers”—
“Ein freies Leben führen wir.”
The Colonel had a brigade of nominally three mounted regiments, but actually not more than eleven hundred men, under him. They were well armed and relatively well mounted, as their commander had made it his rule to exchange any good horses found in the country for the worn ones of his command. Not having received any new clothing since spring, however, a considerable percentage of the men had substituted civilian garments for parts of their uniforms, and thus presented a rather mixed exterior. More than half had managed to possess themselves of straw and felt hats of various colors. A score or so wore “butternut”; or “Confederate gray,” being the “scouting squad” in the disguise of rebels for the better performance of their perilous duties.
Altogether, the motley appearance of the brigade was in keeping with the miscellaneous services it had to render. It was literally a “flying column,” moving rapidly from point to point, and walking, trotting, and galloping from twenty to forty miles a day. Every morning a number of detachments were sent in advance and to right and left of the main body, scouring the country in search of the enemy, of food and forage, and suitable camping-grounds. The Colonel and I always rode with the advance. Three times we had a chase of rebel game and lively bush-fighting, resulting in some casualties on both sides. We bivouacked every night in the open air, with nothing but waterproofs under, and blankets and roofs of fence rails or branches of trees over us. Saddles served as pillows. A few ambulances and a dozen wagons with ammunition were all our transportation. We literally lived on the country, and, like a swarm of locusts, left nothing eatable behind us. Our men had acquired remarkable skill in making a clean sweep of food and fodder. They were especially smart in discovering the hidden stores and the cattle that had been driven off by the inhabitants, in which they were often helped by the black people, a bevy of whom, mounted on mules, had gradually collected and followed us into “freedom.” Our meals were, of course, very irregular, and more remarkable for simplicity than variety; but, while we sometimes went to sleep or started off in the morning without a meal, we got along well enough. I certainly enjoyed the adventurous life, which was to me a repetition of my Colorado days.
One exciting incident impressed itself especially on my mind. While we were riding one afternoon with the advance, a private asked leave to fall out for a certain purpose. He tied his horse to a fence and climbed over the latter into a corn-field. In about five minutes we heard a shot from the direction of the field. Fearing at once that something had happened to the man, we stopped and sent back a platoon for him. Soon afterward one of the latter galloped up with the news that the poor fellow had been found shot dead. It being evidently a case of stealthy murder, we at once returned to the scene, and there the Colonel decided to make an example. We made for the dwelling of the owner of the farm, where only women and children seemed to be. We could get nothing out of them, but a male slave, when threatened, confessed that young “Massa” had fired the shot. Thereupon, all human beings and animals were ordered out of the buildings, which were immediately set on fire and burned down in less than an hour. Stern retribution like this, and even sterner, had become a necessity, owing to the frequent assassinations that had occurred in middle Tennessee during the summer. The worst outrage of this kind was the murder of General Robert L. McCook (whom I mentioned as colonel of the 9th Ohio, in connection with the battle of Mill Springs) while going to a railroad station in an ambulance, on sick-leave. General Buell had issued orders to hang at once every civilian caught as a guerrilla, and Colonel McCook's command had inflicted the death penalty in five cases already.
According to instructions, we had made our way to and beyond McMinnville. Some twelve miles to the east of that place, our scouts brought us the positive intelligence that Bragg's army was moving to the north over the road leading through Spencer and Sparta to Carthage on the Tennessee River, and was already near the latter. We at once started back with this important news, and, on reaching McMinnville — a rather pretty and substantial town of several thousand inhabitants — the Colonel reported it by wire to the army headquarters. Like the rest of the army, we also were ordered to Murfreesboro', and marched there in two days. We passed through a rich agricultural country, one large plantation with fine brick dwellings and out-buildings succeeding another. The road was a well-macadamized highway. As the brigade had met its wagon train at McMinnville and drawn commissary and quartermaster supplies, our “freebooter” days came to an end.
The converging movement to Murfreesboro' of the different parts of the army was substantially completed on September 5. But Colonel McCook's report of Bragg's northward passage, which was confirmed from other sources, and the alarming news, received about the same time, of the bad defeat of General Nelson in eastern Kentucky, had at last brought the real situation home to General Buell, viz., that his adversary was fast executing a bold flanking march into central Kentucky, with Louisville doubtless as the objective-point, and that there was nothing left but to try and beat him in a race for the Ohio River. Hence the army did not tarry at all at Murfreesboro', but, in obedience to general orders, immediately continued on in forced marches to Nashville and thence on to the north. I rejoined McCook's division near Murfreesboro' — which proved to be quite a pleasant, compactly built-up little town — again to share its fortunes for almost two months.
With General Buell's cold, impassive nature and habitual reserve and reticence, any strong expression of feeling could hardly be expected from him, but those who came in contact with him in those days perceived, nevertheless, that he was greatly afflicted by the turn of events. It could not well be otherwise, for what was happening meant nothing less than a forced change from the offensive to the defensive, which, in spite of whatever explanations might be offered by him, would have the appearance of a compulsory retreat, and was sure to be looked upon as such by the Government, the public, and his own army. Furthermore, there was the undeniable discredit and humiliation of the involuntary abandonment of much of the fruit of the great expenditure of life, labor, and money during the summer in occupying rebel territory, incessant fighting on a small scale, repairing railroads, and doing a vast amount of other hard work. The distrust of Buell as an army commander, of which the battle of Shiloh and the siege of Corinth had relieved him, now set in again more strongly than before. The necessity of following Bragg's lead back to where they had started from, naturally had a very dispiriting influence upon the commanders under him. As we shall see, it demoralized also the rank and file to a dangerous extent. Anxiety as to the new campaign about to be entered upon pervaded the whole army. I confess that I shared the general depression.
McCook's division formed the rear of the army. We left Murfreesboro' early on the morning of September 7, with 11,000 infantry, 3000 cavalry, and an enormous train of 750 wagons, forming a column over ten miles long. The heat was great, and we rode nearly all the time in clouds of dust, but had accomplished our severe task of thirty miles at 11 P.M. of the same day, and went into camp within two miles and a half of Nashville. General McCook himself proceeded to General Buell's headquarters, and there at midnight received orders to cross the Cumberland the next day and march as fast as possible toward Franklin in Kentucky. General Buell announced his determination to start at once, with the divisions of McCook, Crittenden, Ammen, Wood, Rousseau, and Mitchel, in pursuit of Bragg, who was reported to tie marching from Carthage to Glasgow, fifty miles north of the former place and ninety-five miles from Nashville. General Thomas, with his own, Negley's, and Palmer's divisions, was to be left behind for the defence of Nashville, which was to be held at all hazards. General McCook advised him to abandon the city, and asked as a special favor to be allowed to burn it “as the most treasonable secession nest” in the whole South, but Buell would not entertain this radical suggestion. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad remained broken up from Nashville to within fifty miles of Louisville, so that human legs and animals formed our sole reliance for transportation. As only half-rations could be allowed for the march, it was a question whether the powers of endurance of man and beast would prove equal to the task.
We were in motion again in the morning, passed the river, and had marched some miles to the north of it on the Franklin turnpike, when instructions from Buell overtook us to halt till further orders. In the evening an order came to hurry to Edgefield Junction to the support of the division of General Ammen, who believed the enemy was approaching him in force. Instead of sleeping, we had a night's march of it, reaching the Junction at two in the morning, only to find that there had been a false alarm. During the following forenoon, we again got under way as the head of the army for Franklin and Bowling Green. General Buell and staff overtook us and rode with us all day. He hoped, by forcing the marching of his command to the utmost, to come up with the enemy between Glasgow and Bowling Green, in the direction of which point the rebel cavalry advance was reported to be going from Glasgow, with the bulk of Bragg s army following closely behind it. But there was a difference of thirty-five miles in distance, and apparently two days' time in addition, in Bragg's favor, so that the outcome of the race was uncertain, and everybody felt anxious. It took us three more days' marching to reach Bowling Green, where we stopped for two days in order to give the other divisions time to come up. The last of these joined us on the evening of the 15th. On the 16th, the army started again in three columns over as many different roads toward Glasgow, prepared to attack the enemy whenever encountered. But our advance cavalry reported the same evening that Bragg had left Glasgow and moved directly upon Munfordville. Our route of march was at once changed, and Cave City and Horse Wells, ten miles from Munfordville, made the next day. There we had a most discouraging surprise. The whole garrison of Munfordville, over two thousand infantry, came into our lines disarmed as paroled prisoners of war. They had shamefully surrendered in the morning to Bragg, after some resistance. Though they held a very strong position, their cowardly commanders allowed themselves to be frightened into a capitulation by the threats and display of force of the rebel general.
This scandalous incident produced a thrill of disgust and discouragement in our army. However, we pushed on towards Munfordville the next day, and found that the enemy was still there. Thus we had at least the satisfaction of having overtaken him, owing to his delay at Munfordville, which was some compensation for the surrender. We felt the rebel position on the 19th and 20th. Bragg withdrew the next day, his rear guard being driven out of the town by our advance. Our army followed him closely, and skirmishing was kept up with his rear constantly on the following three days, up to a point within thirty-five miles of Louisville, when he changed his direction to the east towards Bardstown, with a view, as became subsequently known, of effecting a junction with the forces of General Kirby Smith, approaching from eastern Kentucky in the so-called “Blue Grass” region. Bragg's deflection opened the way to Louisville to Buell, and he decided, as part of his command had exhausted its supplies and urgently needed replenishment of clothing and footwear, and as, moreover, a large body of fresh troops was gathered there from which he could fill his depleted ranks, to push as rapidly as posible for that city, and start from it upon a new campaign against Bragg.
McCook's division was continuously in motion, with the exception of two days halt at Prewitt's Knob, between Bowling Green and Louisville. It made the distance of one hundred and twenty miles in seven marching days, of which the last three were the hardest; twenty-four, twenty-three, and twenty-one miles respectively being made. The division not having the lead of the army, nothing noteworthy happened during that week, and I do not deem it worth my while to give the uninteresting details of our marching experience. Two nights we slept on the floor in farm-houses, but the rest of the week we had to bivouac. As the rebels had stripped the country ahead of us, we were limited to the scanty army fare we brought along. Notwithstanding the insufficient food, the troops bore the hardships of the long march — there was an average of about one hundred and eighty-five miles made by them between Nashville and Louisville — remarkably well. There was considerable straggling in search of food, but the percentage of footsore and sick was low. We were favored by magnificent fall weather, moderately warm during the day and not too cool at night. When within ten miles of Louisville, I rode ahead of the division over the familiar highway and drew up in front of the Galt House at 10 P.M. on September 27. The old night clerk was at his post, but he did not recognize me with my dust-begrimed countenance and full-grown beard, and, evidently distrusting my general vagabondish appearance, replied to my application for a room: “We are all full.” But he changed his tone at once when I mentioned my name, and had me escorted to a good bed room on the top floor. My trunks were sent up — nearly eight months had gone by since I had locked them — and I once more enjoyed the long-missed luxury of a choice of under- and upperwear. It was high time that I did, for my Memphis outfit was fast giving out, and I had not been out of my dust-crusted clothes for ten days. My first indulgence was a hot bath, and the next a hearty supper, followed by eleven hours' sleep.