OFFICIAL RECORDS OF CIVIL WAR RECOUNT VARIOUS SKIRMISHES IN POWELL'S VALLEY, CUMBERLAND GAP
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
Activity up and down Powell Valley during the Civil War period (1861-1865), produced a number of events and happenings. These accounts can be found and reviewed in the Official Records of the Civil War. At this time we shall assess some of the activities during this period concerning Powell Valley and the Cumberland Gap.
On March 20, 1862, Col. Samuel P. Carter, U.S. Army, related late in the afternoon that he was informed by a messenger from Claiborne County, East Tennessee, that four Confederate regiments, with six pieces of artillery, under command of General Smith (Maj. Gen. E. Kirby Smith, C.S. Army, who had arrived the preceding day), left Cumberland Gap on the 19th to attack the 2nd East Tennessee Regt., which was then stationed at Woodson's Gap, some three miles from Fincastle, Campbell County. Orders were issued to the 1st East Tennessee Regt., 16th Ohio, 49th Indiana, and the 1st Battalion of Kentucky Cavalry, to prepare four days rations and be ready to move on the following morning. Capt. Wetmore's 9th Ohio Battery was also ordered to have one section (along with two Parrott guns) in readiness to accompany the command. The whole force amounted to some 2,300 men. Appropriate guards were left at Woodson's Gap and in several other camps.
The Union troops started their march to the Cumberland Gap on the 21st. Their anticipation of reaching the Gap before the return of the Confederates troops was not realized. Having arrived within two miles of the Gap the troops were overtaken by a messenger, who had been sent to Claiborne County with information that the Confederates had made a forced march, and who were by that time within their encampment.
Col. Carter realized that his force was much too small to make an attack on their strong entrenchments, which were heavily protected. He chose to remain in front of their works for a day or two, and make as complete an examination of their operation as feasibly as possible.
The Union troops advanced on the Confederate's right and drove in their pickets; moved close to their right line of defense, and bivouacked for the night.
On the next morning of the 22nd, Col. Carter's troops threw out skirmishers and drove the Confederates from the woods to the abatis, which covered the whole mountain-side inside the line of fallen timber.
The enemy sharpshooters were well protected by the rifle pits. The skirmishing on the Union side was commendably performed by companies of the 16th Ohio. Quite a number of the enemy were shot by them. However, the Confederates opened fire on the Union skirmishers with shrapnel from two 12-pounders, moreover, with no damage done.
Col. Carter moved the two Parrott guns and their regiments to a ridge in the front of the Gap. Here the guns were placed in position and soon opened fire on the enemy's works and continued firing upon them until the afternoon.
Confederate fire was returned from seven different locations, one on the top of the Cumberland Mountains to the left of the Gap, which elevated far above them; one on the side of the mountain, also on the left; one in the Gap, and four on the right or west side of the Gap. The Confederates heaved 24-pounder shot, 12-pounder shell, 6-pounder solid, and 8-inch shell. The latter came from the guns exploding among their tents and others in their works, the immediate damage being unclear at that point. They were several times driven from their guns, but they had hill and deep trenches close at hand. Here they seemed to be securely covered, the suffering possibly being minimal.
The 49th Indiana was positioned on Col. Carter's right, which was the enemy's left, when they discovered another battery that opened fire on them with shell. While they were in good range and many shells exploded about them, no one was injured. Although the Confederate force was more than double the Union force, all the latter's effort to draw them from their works was successful.
Col. Carter assessed the physical damage and found that some of the officers and men had had narrow escapes but none were injured or lost. Snowstorms and sleet abounded during both nights. Even with this predicament the Union troops bivouacked safely in the mountains. Not a word of complaint was heard from either officer of man.
During this misfortune, the ammunition of the Parrott guns, both fuse and percussion, seemed to be defective, as many of the shells of the Union troops did not seem to explode.
Examination of Cumberland Gap by Col. Carter confirmed the opinion given in a former letter that the place is very strong if attacked from the north side, and could only be carried by a large force with a heavy loss of life. But, it was assessed that it could be readily reduced by having a good force attack simultaneously on the south side. Col. Carter suggested that another battery, with heavier rifled guns, could be strategically used on the line. It was suggested that if Gen. Garfield could march down from Pikeville, Ky., through Virginia with his force and attack on the south side or cut off supplies, the Confederates would have to move out.
Report of Confederate General E. Kirby Smith, writing from Headquarters at Knoxville, Tenn., March 30, 1862.
Col. J.E. Rains, commanding the post at Cumberland Gap, reports on the evening of the 21st the enemy drove in the pickets and on the morning following appeared in his front. Having succeeded in placing two pieces of artillery in position on a neighboring ridge, they opened fire, which was kept up during the day (the 22nd) with considerable vigor, as well as from small-arms at long range, but with little effect. The loss of the enemy [Union troops] is not known, but during the night they withdrew, apparently in great consternation. A body of cavalry to protect their rear were the only troops of the Federal forces seen the next morning, and which it was impossible to cut off.
Information which had reached the enemy of an expedition toward Jacksborough led them to believe that the garrison had been weakened to a great extent, and induced this demonstration. After feeling and ascertaining that it was in force, they retired. Their force was no other than Carter's brigade, estimated at about 4,000 to 6,000.
Report of Confederate Col. James E. Rains on March 22, 1862. Headquarters, Cumberland Gap
SIR: On yesterday evening, about dark, a party of infantry scouts which I sent out drove in the enemy's pickets 3 miles out on Harlan Road. At daylight skirmishing parties of the enemy [Union troops] opened fire upon our right from the adjacent hills. the firing is now going on and the Minie balls are falling within our works. I have seen no artillery. The snow is falling thickly and the morning is dark. Our men are in the trenches. The fire is a very thin one, and we have not returned it. One man is wounded.
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