Chronological Events during the Union Occupation of Dade County
September 3, 1863 Part 2
The historian of the 73 Illinois in Sheridan’s division of the XX Corps recorded that the “weather was more pleasant on the morning of September 3. Some, however, had been at work late into the night at the headquarters of Rosecrans. At 2:30 a.m., Chief of Staff, Brigadier General James A. Garfield sent out the following orders, “The general commanding announces the follow orders for the movement of the army. General Stanley will move the cavalry now in the vicinity of Bridgeport and Caperton’s Ferry to Rawlingsville (Ft. Payne), himself taking the right of the movement from Caperton’s Ferry, and General Crook (cavalry division) that by way of Trenton and Valley Head to Rawlingsville. General Crook will communicate with General McCook (XX) on his route. General Stanley will send such force . . . to Rome, Ga or as far as practicable, to ascertain the position and intentions of the enemy. The force should push forward with audacity, feel the enemy strongly, and make a strong diversion in that direction. General McCook will move his corps to Valley Head. General Johnson will follow the route of General Davis and General Sheridan, reaching Valley Head by way of Trenton unless he can find a practicable route on the mountain. He will open communication with General Thomas via Trenton. General Thomas will move his corps to Trenton and send a regiment to the junction of the Trenton and Chattanooga road with the Whiteside and Murphy’s Valley road, and open communication with General Crittenden. He will then, if practicable, send a light brigade without artillery, on some by-road to seize Frick’s Gap and send the balance of the division up Lookout Creek, via Johnson’s Crook to seize Steven’s Gap. General Crittenden will move his corps up the valley of Running Water Creek to Whiteside’s, where he will post one regiment and send one division along the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, to the Trenton road, with orders to push forward as near to Chattanooga as practicable and threaten the enemy in that direction. With the remainder of his force he will occupy a position near the junction of Murphy’s Valley road with the road marked on the map as ‘a good wagon road to Naylor’s.’ He will hold his train on his right and rear, and be in readiness to move either upon the Whiteside’s, the Trenton road, or Shellmound . . . . The movements shall be completed on the evening of September 4. . . . Corps commanders and the chief of cavalry will make frequent reports to department headquarters, which will be at this place (Stevenson, Alabama) until further notice.”
It took several days longer than September 4 to accomplish all that was set forth in those orders. This plan also divided Rosecrans troops about twenty miles from the next corps and those who live here today, well know that even with modern transportation and communication, those twenty miles in either direction can still be a challenge.
Upon receiving orders, the corps and cavalry set about executing them. The cavalry of McCook’s XX was the only troop to make to the assigned point on time, making it to camp near Valley Head that night. In the XIV corps, the three of the four divisions began. General James Negley’s division was the first to move from Moore’s spring to clamber up Sand Mountain. “Four, and sometimes five, span of horses were hitched to one piece of artillery, to drag it up the mountain road.” General Absalom Baird was stalled at Bridgeport because of the collapse of the bridge the previous day. Slightly north, the division of Joseph Reynolds climbed but passed a series of coal mines that were in the pre-war days known as Gordon’s Mine and today they are known as “the coke ovens”. Brannon’s division followed the path made by Reynolds. General Thomas, himself, moved the corps headquarters to Moore’s spring, but he had to cross at Caperton’s Ferry because of the railroad bridge mishap. From his new vantage point, Thomas sent a copy of Rosecrans’ orders and these words to Negley, “You can see from the order to march that it is General Rosecrans’ wishes to seize Steven’s Gap at a point where the road through Johnson’s Crook passes across Lookout Mountain into McClemore’s Cove. Therefore, I want your division to move by the most direct route to where Johnson’s Crook road turns off from the main Lookout Valley road, This route will take you to Brown’s Spring, where you had better encamp until I can overtake you.
Negleys’ passage did not prove easy. He found that the road was in such bad shape that he had to stop and engage the entire division in rebuilding the road. Reaching the summit at dark he reported that regimental train, ambulances and ammunition trains had reached it “without loss of a wheel”. He then sent Col. Sirwell on toward Warren’s Mill and discovered that passage across the ravine would require some more work. The Warren sawmill was torn down for building materials. Lt.-Col. Archibald Blakely wrote, “on the evening of the 3rd bivouacked on the summit at the side of a stream running through a deep ravine, which was found impassable . . . my regiment was detailed to bridge the ravine. The work began at 5 o’clock in the evening and in ten hours a bridge 160 feet long and 35 feet high at the highest point was completed, over which the Second (Negley’s) Division and others of the XIV Army Corps passed in safety. “
The 4th division of General Reynolds found themselves unloading supplies from barges on the Tennessee until they were relieved at noon. Starting their march was easy. Soldiers reported the beauty of the area in letters home. They wrote of the autumnal colors, but complained that the roads were little used and were not more than cross country trails. Night fell long before they reached the summit and they reported that “all night long, with torches and ropes, and shouts and jests, we dragged the lumbering wagons up the sharp incline.” Private Bliss Morse wrote,” We left Shellmound on the 3rd at noon and marched until night through a valley where the banks are close together and five hundred feet high. . . . We had to lay down beside the road that night—it being cool our knapsacks were in the wagon. A R. R. (railroad) runs along the bank to a coal mine.” In another account, Private William Bluffton wrote, “We got marching at noon toward Sand Mountain and Trenton. We got stuck in the mountain pass as our teams can hardly move. It got dark on us about six miles from camp and we layed down in the road and slept. This is the roughest place we have found yet. The pass is narrow and coal mines are around us. One side it is perpendicular hundreds of feet high with only a narrow road up the mountains. If the Rebels can’t hold such passes as this, what can they defent.”
Crittenden’s XIX Corps was having almost as much trouble moving across the Tennessee to follow their orders. They had moved down the Sequatchie Valley and camped at Jasper. On the 3rd they moved to Shellmound. “The ammunition and hospital wagons were sent on to Bridgeport to cross by the pontoon bridge. Half a dozen boats, each capable of carrying two wagons and a dozen mules at a cargo, were our only means of ferriage. These had to be propelled by poles and paddles, across a stream half a mile wide, and it was slow and tedious work. It took all day and half the night to get the brigade over. The division had a herd of cattle, and it was proposed to cross them by swimming. One of the boats was loaded with cattle as ‘bait’ and a sturdy steer was tied by the horns to the stern. The boat was pushed off and of course the steer had to swim for his life. A thousand men, more or less, surrounded the cattle and with terrifying shouts drove them into the water, while the men on the boat employed their most persuasive arts to coax them to follow in the wake of the steer. They swam bravely for a time, and there was much rejoicing over the apparent success of the aquatic experiment. But before a quarter of the distance had been passed, the cattle showed that they were poor navigators. Either they lost their reckoning or their faith failed, for they began to swim in circles, in a state of evident demoralization. After floundering for a few minutes they all struck out for the shore from which they had been launched. There was no alternative; they had to be ferried over in squads. As soon as we had crossed we went into bivouac to await the passage of the rest of the division. Many of the officers and the men spent two and three hours in an underground ramble, by the light of torches, in Nickajack Cave, near Shellmound, said to be miles in extent. One of the chambers, with its labyrinth of stalagtites, is equal to anything in the famous Mammoth Cave, of Kentucky. We waited a day for Van Cleve’s division to cross the river, the boats being kept running day and night. The opportunity for bathing was greatly enjoyed by thousands who fringed the banks.”
September 3 was such a hard day for these troops, that it is nice to think that some of them were able to end an early fall day in September 150 years ago, playing and bathing on the banks of a river in the very same way that folks here still enjoy on holidays and hot summer days.