Item: “Report of Major General J. G. Foster of Operations in East Tennessee” in Supplemental Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, in two volumes. Supplemental to Senate report no. 142, 38th Congress, 2d session . . . . Washington, D.C: Government Printing Office, 1866; pp. 20-23 of Foster’s report.
Digitized version available at http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044097898498;view=1up;seq=262
Citation: Supplemental Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, in two volumes. Supplemental to Senate report no. 142, 38th Congress, 2d session . . . . Washington, D.C: Government Printing Office, 1866; pp. 20-23 of Foster’s report. North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Call Number: C970.73 U58c1 v. 2 Catalog record: http://search.lib.unc.edu/search?R=UNCb1811456
Transcription: NB., the text files at Hathi Trust and Google Books have multiple OCR errors, which have been corrected here.
REPORT OF MAJOR GENERAL J. G. FOSTER OF OPERATIONS IN EAST TENNESSEE.
Baltimore, Md., February 21, 1864.
General : I have the honor, in obedience to your direction, to make the following report of the operations of the army of the Ohio while I was in command, and of the general condition of affairs in East Tennessee:
I relieved General Burnside at Knoxville, East Tennessee, on the 12th of December, 1863. At that time the forces of the enemy under General Longstreet, comprising his own force that had been engaged in the siege of Knoxville, Ransom’s division of infantry, and Jones’s division of cavalry, with which he had formed a junction, were supposed to be in full retreat towards Virginia. There were at that time near Rogersville General Parke with the 9th and 23d corps (10,000) infantry, and the cavalry (4,000 men) was in pursuit, having his advance at Bean’s station. General Sherman was returning towards Chattanooga, leaving General Granger with the 4th corps near Knoxville. As soon as General Longstreet learned this latter fact, and that the force pursuing him was small, he turned on General Parke’s advance and repulsed it at Bean’s station. Advancing at once in his turn he forced General Parke to fall back first to Rutledge, and afterwards to Blain’s Crossroads. This being a good position, I determined to make it the stand-point, and accordingly hurried up the 4th corps and every available fighting man. General Longstreet, however, did not attack, in consequence, probably, of the very inclement weather which then set in with such severity as to paralyze for a time the efforts of both armies. Their numbers were equal, being 20,000 effective men each. At this time (the 23rd of Decembe, [sic] 1863) my horse fell with me upon a ledge of rocks and contused my wounded leg, already very much inflamed by constant riding, to such an extent as to confine me to my quarters. General Parke retained the active command of the forces in the field. The condition of the army was bad. The troops were suffering for want of tents, clothing, food, and medicines. One-half the men were unfit for a march for want of shoes or clothing. The issues of bread or meal rarely came up to one-quarter of the ration, while the continual feeding upon fresh meat caused sickness among the soldiers, which we had no medicines to check. This state of things arose from the impossibility of getting supplies over the impassable roads from Kentucky, and the necessity for living on the country. The forage had become nearly exhausted and had to be sought at distances varying from ten to forty miles. The stock of ammunition was also too limited. The enemy undoubtedly suffered privations similar to our own, for he soon retired to winter quarters at Morristown and Russelville. Being anxious to follow and bring on a decisive engagement as soon as possible, I hurried the cavalry over the Holston as soon as it could be forded, and pushed it forward to Mossy creek, and beyond, and also to Danbridge. At the same time every effort was made to complete the bridge at Strawberry Plains, so as to cross infantry and artillery, as well as railroad cars. Earnest requisitions were, at the same time, made on Chattanooga for supplies of clothing, bread, and ammunition, to be sent up the Tennessee river in light-draught steamers.
These supplies commenced to arrive slowly about the 28th of December. General Grant visited Knoxville on the 30th December, 1863. Seeing the suffering among the troops, he decided to have me await the arrival of supplies, and the completion of the Strawberry Plains bridge, before advancing. He left on the 7th January, to return by the way of Cumberland gap. The cavalry, under General Sturgis, was almost constantly engaged with the enemy’s cavalry in the direction of Danbridge and Mossy creek, after crossing the Holston. These fights culminated in a general cavalry engagement near Mossy creek on the 29th, in which the enemy were driven from the field towards Morristown. General Elliott’s division of cavalry from the army of the Cumberland particularly distinguished itself for gallantry.
On the 13th January, the main body of our cavalry having entirely exhausted the supplies in the country around Mossy creek, were forced to move to Dandridge, where some little forage was to be found. The draught animals of the infantry and artillery being by this time almost entirely without forage of any kind, were dying by the hundreds daily. It became a matter of the first importance to move to a position where forage, if not corn for the men, could be obtained at once. I therefore ordered the 4th and 23d corps to move across the Strawberry Plains bridge, (which was passable on the 15th January,) to march to Dandridge, cross the French Broad river near that place on a bridge to be built of wagons and any boats that could be obtained, and then to occupy the country south of that river as far towards the Nolechucky as possible. It was represented that a considerable quantity of corn was to be found in this section. Besides this, the movement would tend to disturb Longstreet concerning his left flank and communications to the rear, especially towards North Carolina. The 9th corps was ordered to hold Strawberry Plains, to be ready to support the movement while in progress, and afterwards cover Knoxville.
The troops started on the 15th and reached Dandridge on the 17th, when the bridge was immediately commenced. It was completed to what was supposed to be the opposite bank of the river, and a brigade crossed over. It was soon found, however, to be upon an island, and that another channel of the river remained to be bridged. In the mean time the cavalry which had skirmished heavily with the enemy on the previous day, the 16th, near lumber’s Crossroads, five miles from Dandridge towards Morristown, had been forced back by the determined advance of the enemy almost to the town. General Parke satisfied himself that General Longstreet was in his front with his whole force, having advanced from his cantonments to meet our supposed advance in force. This fact added to the delay in completing the bridge, the difficulty in crossing in presence of an active enemy, the want of rations, and the commencing rain, which would soon make it impossible to get up supplies from the rear over the then almost impassable roads, induced General Parke to decide to retire at once on Strawberry Plains, which he did without loss. I immediately ordered the whole force to move to Knoxville, cross the Holston on the pontoon bridge at that place, just completed, and ascend the south side of the French Broad to reach the foraging ground that it had failed to reach through Dandridge. As the cavalry passed through the town most of their horses had not been fed for forty-eight hours, and some of the artillery horses were without food for four days and nights. The cavalry reached and occupied the country south of the French Broad as far up as Fair Gardens, ten miles beyond Sevierville, and scouted through the entire country as far up as the Nolechucky. The 4th corps in following was four miles out from Knoxville when I received General Sturgis’s report, that the reports of the supplies in that section of the country were very much exaggerated, inasmuch as they would only suffice his cavalry for three weeks, and that the roads were impacticable [sic] for wagons and artillery. Disappointed in this, no other course remained but that of distributing the bulk of the force to obtain forage and supplies wherever it could be found. I accordingly sent the 4th corps to Morrisville, Lenoir station, and Loudon, with orders to gather their supplies from the surrounding counties. The 9th corps occupied the railroad, within supporting distance of Knoxville. The 23d corps encamped around the town. All the draught animals were sent to the rear, on the Tennessee river, to forage. Those that were entirely broken down were sent back to Kentucky. The cavalry occupied the country south of the French Broad until the supplies were nearly exhausted, when the enemy, feeling the necessity of driving it away, made the effort with his cavalry on the 27th January. General Sturgis met the enemy’s cavalry at Fair Gardens, and completely defeated it, with the loss of one hundred and fifty killed and wounded, seventy-five prisoners, two rifled field-pieces, and some wagons and horses. The enemy’s cavalry was then re-enforced by several brigades of infantry, which had succeeded in fording the river, and General Sturgis was in his turn forced to fall back towards Morristown. Previous to this Colonel Palmer with his regiment, the eleventh Pennsylvania cavalry, had captured General Vance with his staff and one hundred and fifty prisoners. Subsequently he sent an expedition against Colonel Thomas and his gang of whites and Indians at Quallitown, which succeeded in entirely breaking up the gang. All were killed or wounded except fifty that escaped into the mountains, and twenty-two that were brought in as prisoners. The governor of Kentucky having become anxious for the safety of that State from raids by the enemy, and having called on the legislature to raise regiments for the defence of the State, I sent a division of dismounted cavalry to Mount Sterling, Kentucky, to be reorganized, remounted and re-equipped for service, either against raids or in making them upon the flanks of the enemy’s communication with Virginia. The remainder of the cavalry was ordered to the Little Tennessee river, to forage.
Such was the military situation at the time I was relieved by General Schofield, on the 9th February, 1864. In Kentucky, the detachments guarding railroads and posts had been reduced to the minimum. Cumberland gap and the adjacent districts of the Clinch were under the command of Brigadier General Garrard, who had an infantry and cavalry brigade under his command. In my opinion no offensive movement can be undertaken before the 1st of April, in East Tennessee, without running great risks of a disaster, which may cause the loss of that section of the country. The reasons are, that the men and animals are worn down and need rest and recuperation; the country between the two armies is entirely exhausted of forage and all kinds of supplies, which it is impossible to haul from the rear in consequence of the bad roads of the winter and spring, and also of the lack of forage even at the rear. For lack of horses, caused by the want of forage, very little artillery can be taken on a march at this time. The green grass, with the green corn, wheat, &c., will by the 1st of April subsist the animals of an army on the march. The men will be recruited in strength, and the veteran regiments returned to their brigades, with, probably, filled ranks. The same reasons will keep General Longstreet inactive, unless forced to move. If, however, he should advance with his present force to attack Knoxville, the chances amount to almost certainty that hn will meet with a great disaster. Knoxville, if properly defended, cannot be taken. It is naturally very strong, and I increased the strength of the defences raised by General Burnside, and armed them with seventy pieces of artillery. As for supplies for a siege, they are ample, I had salted down over half a million rations of pork, and collected five hundred barrels of flour. If Longstreet attempts to march past Knoxville, for the purpose of destroying the communications with Chattanooga, resistance can be successfully made at the Little Tennessee, or the Holston, as a line of defence, while re-enforcements are marching from Chattanooga. At the same time his communications will be open to flank attacks from Knoxville. If he should attempt to make a raid into Kentucky through Poundgap, Pendleton’s gap, or Crank’s gap, (Cumberland gap being held by us,) a column formed of the disposable force at Knoxville, marching rapidly on his heels, can easily close the gaps in his rear, and perhaps capture his trains; while aforce may be thrown around by rail from Chattanooga, sufficient, with that in Kentucky, to destroy him. No large force will be thrown into East Tennessee by the rebels, unless we force them to do so by increasing our force and taking the offensive. It is in their power to increase Longstreet’s force between this and the 1st of April, by detaching from General Lee’s army; but after that time, they will not dare to diminish General Lee’s force. If by great sacrifices General Longstreet be now driven from East Tennessee, he will re-enforce other rebel armies where his presence may be productive of more harm than in East Tennessee. While he is in his present position, he can neither do damage in Virginia, North Carolina, nor assist General Johnston to resist our armies in Alabama and Georgia. The best policy seems to be to let him remain until the objects of the movements further south are attained, and until the offensive can be taken with advantage; even then it is questionable whether the engagements with him should not have for object to retain him where he is until Atlanta, Mobile, Montgomery, and perhaps Augusta and Savannah, fall. Knoxville is only the left wing of the united armies under General Grant. It is one hundred and ten miles from the centre at Chattanooga, a secondary base, which is still distant from the right wing and the primary base in Tennessee. It is very questionable whether the left wing should be pushed beyond Knoxville. By keeping the army there on the defensive, a considerable force may be spared from it to re-enforce the large army of the centre to penetrate into Georgia, where every mile gained in advance tends to dissever the confederacy. General Longstreet’s force has been increased by a force from North Carolina, said to be Pickett’s division, numbering 2,800 men. General Pickett did not come with it, but remained in North Carolina. Added to the above about 1,000 convalescents arrived from Richmond.
On the other side, he had suffered from desertions at the rate of twenty a day, and had allowed five per cent, of his force to go home on furloughs, ranging from twenty-five to thirty-five days each. His present strength is 21,000 infantry and artillery, and 6,000 cavalry. The army of the Ohio numbered (23d corps 7,000, 9th corps 4,000, 4th corps 8,000,) 19,000 infantry and artillery, and 6,000 cavalry, of which, however, only about 3,500 were mounted. The question of supplies is satisfactorily settled. The railroad from Chattanooga to London was opened. The work on the bridge at London was being rapidly carried on. It should be finished in seventy days. A wagon bridge having been completed across the Holston at Knoxville, I ordered the pontoon bridge removed to Loudon, to enable the supplies brought up by rail, to be wagoned across the river, and thence conveyed by rail to Knoxville. The number of light-draught steamers on the river is to be increased. In general the condition of affairs in East Tennessee was so much improved as to produce a decided feeling of confidence.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. G. FOSTER,
Major General of Volunteers.
Major General H. W. Halleck,
General-in-Chief U. S. A., Washington, D. C.