The next day Colonel Hecker, commanding Third Brigade, Third Division, sent a regiment across the Tennessee, which skirmished with the enemy's cavalry and took possession of four rifled guns, which General Vaughn had been compelled to abandon. They also captured a rebel flag.
I must not omit to mention about thirty rebel wagons that the enemy had partially destroyed by cutting the spokes of the wheels.
In anticipation of crossing the Little Tennessee at Davis' ford, I set a detachment at work to repair these wagons sufficiently to enable their transportation to the ford, 6 miles, and to construct from them a bridge suitable for infantry.
I found that there were not enough wagons to stretch across the river, a distance of upwards of 750 feet, and therefore made movable trestles to complete the bridge.
It had been hitherto understood that my command was to march to Morganton, to cross a bridge in process of construction by General Blair, my corps to cross in rear of General Blair.
Finding that this would not only occasion a loss of time, but greatly increase the distance to be marched by my command, I obtained permission from General Sherman to make the bridge, as indicated, at Davis' Ford. The captured wagons were loaded with plank from the depot, and by 6 p.m. the bridge was commenced.
Colonel Boughton with his regiment, One hundred and forty-third New York Volunteers, cheerfully undertook the work. Other plank were procured from neighboring barns, the loyal people not only cheerfully consenting, but lending a helping hand in the work.
While at Loudon we heard of a raid in our rear upon Charleston by rebel cavalry. Nothing reliable from Burnside yet. My corps marched at 1 a.m., and reached Davis' Ford in time to begin the crossing at daylight. The bridge, thrown obliquely across, more than 1,000 feet long, was completed in season, two-thirds or more made of wagons with connecting planks, the remainder of light trestle work. The horses, artillery, and wagons crossed simultaneously by the ford.
While at Loudon, an order was received from Major-General Sherman, announcing that his army would be commanded as follows: The right wing, General F. P. Blair; center, Major General Gordon Granger; left wing, by myself, and that the different commanders would act independently and on the offensive, marching to the support of each other at the sound of the guns.
My corps reached Louisville, Tennessee, by dark, having made above 20 miles.
At Unitia, we learned that a courier, passing that morning with dispatches from General Burnside, said that Longstreet was beginning his retreat. This was the first positive information of the fact received by me.
At Louisville I saw a boy just from Knoxville, who said Longstreet was in full retreat. This boy, son of a loyal citizen, had carried through to General Burnside dispatches which his father, then with Colonel Byrd at Kingston, had succeeded with the help of a sister in forwarding from the latter place. The sister traveled some 18 miles, through a country occupied by the enemy, and crossed the Tennessee in the night. We learned that Longstreet's retreat commenced the day before, and that there had been some rebel cavalry hovering about Louisville until the day of our arrival. My command was allowed to rest the following day.
23 R R-VOL XXXI, PT II