Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis and Col. Edward M. McCook, USA
Maj. Gen. William T. Martin, CSA
Both sides deployed a cavalry division.
Total losses were around 250 men.
Since the Battle of Dandridge, the Union cavalry had moved to the south side of the French Broad River and had disrupted Confederate foraging and captured numerous wagons in the area. On January 25, 1864 Longstreet, as commander of the Department of East Tennessee, told his subordinates to do something to curtail the Union harassment.
On the 26th, Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis, having had various brushes with reinforced Confederate cavalry, deployed his troopers to watch the river fords. Two Confederate cavalry brigades with artillery advanced from Fair Garden in the afternoon but were checked about four miles from Sevierville. Another Confederate attack was more successful: they caught a Union cavalry brigade at Fowler’s on Flat Creek, and drove it about two miles. This was the end of the day’s fighting. Union scouts observed that the Confederates had concentrated on the Fair Garden Road, so the aggressive Sturgis ordered an attack there in the morning.
In a heavy fog, Col. Edward M. McCook’s Union division attacked and drove Martin’s Confederates back from position to position until about 4:00 pm. Then McCook judged that the rebels were sufficiently shaken, and ordered a full-blown charge. He was right; the saber charge routed the rebels, but there wasn’t enough daylight in the short winter day to exploit the victory.
The depth of the Confederate disorganization was clear the next day. Sturgis set out in pursuit on the 28th, and captured and killed more of the scattered Rebels. Had Confederate morale and leadership been better, the troops would have rallied overnight, rather than looking for warm places overnight. The Union forces, however, observed three of Longstreet’s infantry brigades crossing the river. Sturgis knew his men were weary from fighting; they were also short of supplies, ammunition, and weapons. Finally the Confederates were present in strength, so prudence became the order of the day: Sturgis decided to evacuate the area. Yet the aggressiveness of the good cavalry commander bubbled in his veins. Before they left, Sturgis determined to attack Brig. Gen. Frank C. Armstrong’s Confederate cavalry division which he had learned was about three or four miles away down by the river. Sturgis only had partial information: Armstrong certainly was there, but he had strongly fortified his position and three infantry regiments had arrived to reinforce him. The cavalry attack suffered severe casualties. Yet Sturgis’ men kept fighting until dark, and were strong enough that Armstrong didn’t sortie from his positions and overrun isolated portions.
After dark Sturgis pulled out. The Federals had won the big battle but the fatigue of continual fighting and lack of supplies and ammunition forced them to withdraw.