Battles & Leaders of the Civil War
BY GEORGE W. MORGAN, BRIGADIER-GENERAL, U. S. V.
ON the 11th of April, 1862, with the Seventh Division of the Army of the Ohio under my command, I arrived at Cumberland Ford with orders from General Buell to take Cumberland Gap, fourteen miles to the southward, and occupy east Tennessee, if possible; if not, then to prevent the Confederates from advancing from that direction. [See map, p. 6,] This movement and Mitchel's advance into northern Alabama formed detached parts of the general plan of operations arranged between General Buell and General Halleck.
The division under my command consisted of four brigades, commanded by Brigadier-Generals Samuel P. Carter and James G. Spears, Colonel John F. De Courcy, 16th Ohio regiment, and Colonel John Coburn, 33d Indiana regiment. (Coburn's brigade was afterward commanded by Brigadier-General Absalom Baird.) During the preceding winter, Carter had occupied a position near the ford and threatening the Gap.
The condition of Carter's brigade was deplorable. The winter's storms, converting the narrow roads into torrents, had practically cut him off from his base of supplies, and, in spite of all he could do, his troops were half-famished and were suffering from scurvy. Of the 900 men of the 49th Indiana regiment, only 200 were fit for duty.
Reconnaissance's at once satisfied me that the fastness could not be taken by a direct attack, nor without immense loss. I determined to try to force the enemy to abandon his stronghold by strategy.
The position of the Confederate commander in east Tennessee, Major-General E. Kirby Smith, was a difficult one. A large majority of the people of east Tennessee were devoted to the Union, and the war there had become a vendetta, The Union men regarded the Confederates as criminals, and were in turn denounced by the Confederates as insurgents. Kirby Smith recommended the arrest and incarceration in Southern prisons of leading citizens, not in arms, as a means of converting the majority to the Southern cause.*
For a distance of eighteen miles north of Big Creek Gap, a pass south-west of Cumberland Gap, the Confederates had heavily blockaded the narrow and abrupt defiles along that route. The work of clearing the blockades was thoroughly done. But while Spears was thus engaged Kirby Smith advanced with a large force of infantry through a bridle-path called Woodson's Gap, to cut him off. The attempt might Well have succeeded but for the
*On our side acts not less vigorous were resorted to. A few days after our occupation of Cumberland Gap, June 18th, General Spears, without authority, sent out in the night, captured and wanted to hang a number of Confederate citizens, whose offense was that they had arrested T. A. R. Nelson, while on his way to take his seat in the United States Congress, and had sent him to Richmond. Their lives were saved by my interposition, and they were sent as prisoners to Indianapolis.-G. W. M.