Chronological Events during the Union Occupation of Dade County (part 2)

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.

Chronological Events during the Union Occupation of Dade County (part 1)

Chronological Events during the Union Occupation of Dade County

Sunday, August 30-Monday- Tuesday, Sept. 1

Part 1

General Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland were moving south. He commanded 80,425 officers and soldiers. His first objective was to take Chattanooga. Another objective was to attempt to cut the Confederates from their railroad access to Rome and more importantly to Atlanta.

His three leading generals and corps were:

  • Major General George H. Thomas XIV Corps (14th) with 22,769 with four divisions
  • Major General Alexander McCook XX Corps (20th) with 14,178 with three divisions
  • Major General Thomas Crittenden XXI Corps (21th) with 13,958 with three divisions

Also essential to the campaign were a Reserve Corps under the command of Major General Gordon Granger and a Cavalry Corps (Ohio 3rd and 2nd Michigan and other divisions) commanded by Major General David Stanley.

The three main corps were poised on the west side of the Tennessee River (repairing railroad bridges, resting, etc.) preparing for the long uphill crossing of Sand Mountain (also called Raccoon) and later to cross Lookout Mountain. The path was to be three-pronged with McCook to the right (south) at Bridgeport and he headed over Sand Mountain to Valley Head (Winston’s Gap) and Ft. Payne (Rawlingville) then to cross Lookout toward Rome. Crittenden was on the left (north) and he was to cross the Tennessee River at Shellmound and move through Whiteside, Hooker, toward Wauhatchie and on to Chattanooga. General Thomas corps was in the middle and was to cross Sand Mountain and move in several ways toward the small town of Trenton in the Lookout Valley and later to cross Lookout Mountain at Johnson’s Crook.

According to Robertson’s article “The Fall of Chattanooga” in the Fall 2006 edition of Blue and Gray magazine, Trenton is described as “a village of about a dozen houses . . . nestled between Sand Mountain on the west and Lookout Mountain. Trenton was connected to Chattanooga by a good road and a spur of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad to the north.”

General Rosecrans had sent several corps from the north moving toward Chattanooga by crossing Walden’s Ridge and even farther north at Harrison and Tyner’s Station. This tactic was to fool Confederate General Bragg into believing that Chattanooga would be attacked from the north. His intelligence proved to be weak and he did not perceive this until it was too late.

Sunday, August 30, 1863 dawned “quite cool” according to 73rd Illinois Infantry Historian in Sheridan’s Division of the XX Corps. After crossing the Tennessee River, the Ohio 3rd Cavalry crossed Sand Mountain descended in to the Lookout Valley, visited Trenton and returned to the mountaintop. The 2nd Michigan Cavalry moved up river to Shellmound and crossed the river in make-shift rafts and canoes. At the same time the 2nd Tennessee (U.S) Cavalry marched into the darkness until they reached Running Water Canyon. Crittenden and the XIV began to move down the Sequatchie Valley toward Shellmound.

Meanwhile, Confederate General Bragg in Chattanooga had reports of Federals at Trenton, Shellmound and near Wauhatchie. He was told that the forces were not large and he continued to believe that he would be confronted from the northeast of Chattanooga. He did decide to consolidate his forces by halting Brigadier General John Wharton’s move northward at Lafayette, rather than sending him on toward Harrison, TN. Wharton’s assignment was to guard the passes over Lookout Mountain south of Chattanooga, just the path that the northern troops were about to take. Joe Wheeler’s cavalry was repositioned by Bragg. Wheeler’s 3rd Alabama was instructed on Aug. 30 to move to Trenton and to cover Lookout Mountain. They marched 35 miles on the 30th and 10 more in the early hours of the 31st.

Also on the 30th there were skirmishes between the 3rd Confederate Cavalry and the 2nd Tennessee (U.S.) from the river to Murphy’s Hollow Road and on toward Trenton. McCook’s 20th, led by Davis, managed to cross the river at Bridgeport toward Bellefonte and move to camp on Sand Mountain that night. General Sheridan’s division of the 20th stayed on the far side of the river in order to help repair the railroad bridge. His assignment after crossing the river was to march, via Trenton, to Will’s Valley (Fort Payne and Valley Head). Farther north the river crossing at Shellmound began. They had eight boats; several were hand-made. Troop movement began early evening of the 30th and continued at a pace of 400 men per hour until past midnight.

On Monday the 31st, moves and countermoves began, Wheeler’s man, Mauldin (3rd Alabama) reached Trenton after the long 45 mile hike. He immediately sent pickets up Sand Mountain where they were barely in place “before they were driven down the mountain and rallied command at the edge of Trenton.” Union Bridage Commander Heg had sent Col. Abernathy to Sand Mountain with 30 cavalrymen to map the road. He was unable to drive the Alabamians from Trenton, so he withdrew to Sand Mountain. Mauldin did express alarm in his report to Wheeler, he was flanked on the north and the south and his train was in danger. Even though he reported that he expected to be attacked. He promised to do his best but doubted that he would be successful. Within 3 hours of the message’s dispatch, Mauldin’s cry for help reached Bragg in Chattanooga, rather than Wheeler, at 2 a.m. on Sept. 1.

As the remainder of the Union XX Corps moved from Stevenson, the 73th Illinois Historian, reported the weather at 4:30 a.m., “dust was abundant in the road and on either side, but the weather was moderately warm and the march endurable.” The Confederate signalmen were sent to Lookout Mountain to send back information to troops in the other valley. Southern troops were moved around like chess pieces to build a screen for Bragg’s venture southward. Preparations were being made as if the Federals were able to take Trenton and cross Lookout Mountain. Infantry units were told to prepare rations for three days travel.

Trickery and rumors were rampant on all sides and caused great movement by all. Bragg was rumored to be moving north of Chattanooga to cross the river and hopefully split Rosecrans troops and to take their railroad. Rosecrans’ Chief of Staff, General Chester A. Arthur to his wife summed up the activity, “delaying movement until we can ascertain the truth of the rumor.”

Federal troop movement was slow. Job one for the Union on September 1 was to repair the Bridgeport railroad bridge so that supplies could be brought from the north. At Shellmound, that day, Private Bliss Morse wrote his mother about the food, surroundings and the weather. “Our camp is at a railroad station on the river. The corner of Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia lines join here and before I leave this place I am going to straddle them. This place takes its name from the large deposits of shells in the bank and hills around. . . . There are coal mines here from which the rebels get a great amount of coal. All the buildings there are at this place is the depot building and that is nearly demolished by shells thrown into it by our battery on the other side of the river, as our forces were to cross. . . . We had potatoes, green corn, and apples to eat—besides onions, squashes, and peaches. . . . We have had cool nights for the last two days with heavy dews.”

At 9 a.m. on Wednesday, September 2, a 2700 feet span was completed. Though shaky in spots troops began crossing by noon. At 3 p.m. about 700 feet of the bridge fell in the river taking five wagons and mule teams with them. Pontoons rescued all but one mule. Also on that day General McCook reported that the rest of Sheridan’s division marched across at Bridgeport and marched toward Trenton. The weather on that day was reported as “somewhat warmer.” As September 2 ended, both Negley and Sheridan encamped at the same spot on Sand Mountain at Moore’s Spring.

On the Home Front 1858-1865

On the Home Front 1858-1865

After searching for hidden nuggets of information in multiple sources, the writer began to wonder about “the state of Dade” as the war moved our way. The 1860 Census reports 3,069 people living in Dade. Of those, 304 were slaves owned by approximately 46 people. There were at least 4 plantations owned by Cole (Slygo), Easley (Rising Fawn), Nisbet (Cloverdale) and Paris (location not known). There may have been more than four but that information has not yet been discovered. In 1858, the Georgia Ordinary’s report for Dade showed 671 student attending school with 25 school houses in the county. Tuition per 20 week attendance period ranged from 5 to 10 dollars per pupil. Other funds were levied by the Grand Jury and Inferior Court at a rate of 20% which was expected to raise a sum of $150.00.

Having grown up with the legend of Dade County seceding from Georgia and then studying enough historical documents to realize that it probably didn’t happen in the way that our 1940’s politicians wanted us to believe, I happened upon on documentation from our courthouse that gave new insight. Hallie Becksted of Arizona, a very distant cousin on my Street line, came to Dade in the 1980’s to track down her much-storied ancestors. Her research is quite thorough and while she was looking at a particular great-grandfather, I will use her research as glimpse at local times. Our ancestor, William Street, seems to have been as wrapped up in local politics as his 21st Century descendants. He is sited several times as serving on the jury, often serving as foreman and even being appointed as a county commissioner. Dade County Superior Court Records, Book D, is very clear that government proceeded for several of the war years as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening outside our county lines. The 1860 records showed that Grand Jury was held in Atlanta due to the unfinished state of the courthouse in Trenton. There were many railroad right of way cases during this term, but most cases were dismissed on the premise that the railroad would increase the value of property, regardless of any damage done to local lands. As the war approached, the railroad line was stopped at Trenton.

By the May/June 1860 term of Inferior Court, enough work toward the completion of the court house had been done to hold court locally. The financial status was terrible. The county treasury boasted a balance of $69.00. They were happy with progress on the courthouse but they advised that it should be “completed as soon as circumstances of the county authorize.” Further the jury report stated that, “we find the jail in a dilapidated condition and would earnestly and respectfully recommend, to the proper authorities, the propriety of building a new one as soon as possible. We recommend that a tax of 50% be paid for county purposes.” One particular court case heard during that term concerned “carrying a concealed weapon, other than a Horseman’s pistol of the value of $5.00, it being contrary to Georgia law. . . .” At the November 1860 term of court, the jury had this to say: “We find the county without funds and considerably in debt, mostly on account of the building of the courthouse.” Even though they could account for the cause of the debt they proudly announced: “Our courthouse is nearly finished and we are so much better conditioned in that respect than we have been formerly.”

The court report of May 1861 (one month after the war began) gives us insight into the political tone as well as the weather: “Our roads are in a tolerable condition, considering the heavy rains last winter and this spring; our jail is very insecure; our courthouse is in an unfinished condition. But owing to the crisis and disturbed state of our beloved country, we think best not to recommend appropriations for repairs or completion of the same. We recommend that the Justices of the Inferior Court to levy a tax of 50% for county purposes, and 12% for pauper purposes. Taking into consideration all the circumstances by which we are surrounded, we deem it prudent to recommend no tax for school purposes, although we feel greatly impressed with the importance of educating the children of our county.” This statement causes a pause for thought; they postponed repairs to the buildings and stopped supporting the schools for that year, but they made sure to take care of those who could not take care of themselves, possibly because so many men were gone to the war effort. Maybe calling off school was more than monetary; they knew that due to coming circumstances they needed the children close to home.

Loyalties to the north and the south were divided in our geographic area, but apparently those on this particular jury were of one accord, “Noting the present disturbing conditions of our country, it behooves us all to look around us and ascertain what has brought the unhappy state of affairs. We feel that this is an unholy war that is wrong against us, by a foe unguided by the patriotism or by Christianity, and nothing but to subjugate a free people and coerce them into a government from which they desired a peaceable withdrawal.” Three more paragraphs of high-minded jargon are included which reminds the writer of some her own lofty thoughts and ramblings. Maybe heredity plays a role, as the name signed as jury foreman for this term was William Street.

By May of 1862, Robert H. Tatum(also known in legend as the man who seceded from Georgia), Justice of the Inferior Court and Court Clerk Joseph Coleman, both sent letters to Judge Dawson A. Walker to inform him that circumstances were such that holding Superior Court would be almost impossible. Coleman wrote to Walker: “. . . that it is nearly impossible to do any business of consequence. The people of Dade County are nearly all gone. Perhaps it would be better to postpone it until the fall term. The railroad bridge will be finished next week.” On the same day Tatum also sent Walker information, “I suppose the bridge will be built by court, but I know it will be impossible to attend to any business. Captain Brock leaves this morning with nearly 100 men; 14 recruits left yesterday for Captain Cureton’s Company. Parties, jurors and witnesses have left the county.”

He further wrote in regard to the enemy, “Owing to the close proximity of the Yankees to us, I have been engaged in scouting party in these mountains, for the last three weeks. We caught five bridge burners in this county. I caught one old Tory last week and carried him to Chattanooga to put him in jail. I also caught a runaway negro a few days ago.”. . . “The people are behind with their crops and a great many corn crops that are planted will be left uncultivated.” As if his letter did not carry enough weight, Sheriff Ansell Smith (twice great grandfather of current County Commissioner Mitchell Smith) sends his agreement that any current business can be transacted in the November of 1862.

When they did convene in November the courthouse is still not finished and is listed as in “good repair” even though the two chimneys have fallen on the roof. They recommend that even though they cannot finish the courthouse that the repair of the chimney be made. They state that they are sorry that they have no jail “suitable for the purposes of confining criminals. Many of the roads are in very bad condition owing to the absence of a large number of able bodied citizens who are in the Confederate army.” It should be noted that one way in which citizens paid their property taxes was to work a number of days each year on the repair and building of the roads in the county.

The jury then editorialized, “It is to be regretted that while so many of fellow citizens have patriotically left families . . . and gone to the battlefield to endure the privations and toil and risk their lives for our liberty in defense of same” there were others who greedily remained home to make a large profit by demanding “exorbitant prices for the necessities of life from the destitute families of the absent soldiers.” They then exhorted the selfish to be liberal in supplying those in need.

While the courthouse remained intact through the occupation of September 1863, the new and unfinished courthouse was destroyed in November when the Sherman (on the way to Chattanooga) sent his foster brother and brother-in -law, General Charles Ewing, to Sand Mountain to create and disturbance and to terrorize the community. As yet, it has not been discovered how the county officials managed to save the land and probate records from that period which are still in use daily at our Court Facility.

Court reconvened 28 November 1865, with the following information: “We find our county buildings destroyed, and most of our county records are gone. Recommendation is made that a new courthouse and a new jail be built as soon as conditions will permit. Proper books are needed for keeping county records. In the consequences of the absence of law and order, our roads have been neglected.”