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THE EVACUATION OF TULLAHOMA
On the afternoon of this 23d day of June, General Granger had left Triune, with his forces, and after but little fighting had driven the Confederates back to Christiana, a small village on the road from Murfreesboro to Shelbyville. At the same time the cavalry under General Mitchell--commonly called Stanley's cavalry, although the major-general was absent--moved along as already told, having with them the Riverlawns. The two commands met at the village mentioned, and after a brief conference it was decided that both should proceed onward in an endeavor to drive the enemy from Guy's Gap back into the rifle-pits at Shelbyville.
Going into the Gap after the Confederates was no easy task. The way was rough in some spots, and knee-deep with mud in others, and the forces went forward in the lightest marching order possible. It was out of the question to use one road alone, as each regiment that passed over it rendered it all the more torn up and difficult of travel, and troops were consequently sent on in several ways.
Colonel Lyon rode at the head of his column, with Deck beside him. The Riverlawns were riding by fours, but now the way widened, and the horsemen came up by eights. For half an hour no enemy had been sighted, but now the vedettes came back announcing several battalions just above the bend.
"And some of the company are sharpshooters," said the leader. "They picked off poor Rolloson at a distance of three hundred yards."
Without hesitation Colonel Lyon summoned Major Belthorpe to his side and explained the situation. "I wish you would send Captain Knox's company to the front. I think it would be as well for him to spread his men to the left of the road, but he can use his own judgment after he sees the lay of the land."
As we know, Captain Knox's men were more or less experts at shooting, they being Kentuckians who were used to handling firearms almost daily in the woods and on the border. The order was transmitted to Life, who took his command ahead on the double-quick. This accomplished, the remaining companies continued on the road until another bend was gained.
The Confederate sharpshooters had stationed themselves behind some heavy brush, not daring to climb the trees for fear of being surrounded. No sooner had the seventh company of the Riverlawns appeared than they opened a sharp fire, wounding two privates.
The flashes of fire and the smoke served to locate the sharpshooters in spite of the downpour of rain, but instead of answering the shots at once, Life took his command around to the shelter of some other brush. Then he commenced to work up on the Confederates' rear, picking off three men in less than as many minutes.
By this time Deck had his battalion ready for a rush, and as soon as Life sent word where he was located, the young major started forward on a gallop. He, however, went but two hundred yards, just enough to give the enemy the impression that a direct attack was contemplated. Up came the Confederates, as expected, firing as rapidly as they could. Then, realizing how they were caught between two fires, they started to retreat, only to find themselves faced by Life Knox's command.
"Take aim! Fire!" cried the tall Kentuckian, and the command discharged their weapons, not as a regular company would, but as soon as a proper "bead" could be drawn. This fire was most deadly, and when Deck ordered another advance, the Confederates began to flee in confusion, about half of them taking to the main road of Guy's Gap, and the balance taking to the mountain trails.
"Forward, men, we have them on the run now!" shouted Major Deck, waving his sabre. His illness was now forgotten, and he rode well in advance, by Captain Abbey's side. The first battalion was far in advance of the rest of the regiment, and as it swept along, Life Knox's company joined it in the rear without waiting for Major Belthorpe's battalion to appear.
The road now led upward, and at the top of a rise, the Confederate force took another stand. There were in all about four hundred men, about the same number Deck possessed, counting the seventh company in with his own. Without hesitation the major ordered the charge, and up the hill went the cavalry at full speed, firing as they advanced.
The cracking of guns was incessant, and now came a fierce hand-to-hand conflict, as the first and second companies of the Riverlawns rode directly upon the front rank of the enemy. Infantry and cavalry splashed and slipped in the mud, and many a sabre-stroke fell harmlessly upon the flying ends of a water-soaked army cloak. But the top of the hill was gained and held, and with a yell of defiance the Confederates fell back to where their main body was located, at the other end of the Gap. Deck then halted, to allow the rest of the regiment to overtake him.
It was decided by General Mitchell to follow up every advantage gained, and soon another advance was ordered, directly along the main road of Guy's Gap, and for nearly two hours the battle raged, the Confederates trying vainly to hold their own. At last they broke, and fled directly to the rifle-pits in front of Shelbyville.
"We've got them pretty well back now," said Artie, to Life Knox, after the engagement had been going on for the best part of two hours. "I don't believe General Mitchell will want us to charge those rifle-pits to-day."
"There is nothing like keeping at them when they have been retreating," answered the tall Kentuckian. "By to-morrow they may be braced up again."
"Yes, but Wheeler is here with a very large force of cavalry, Life."
"So I've heard. Well, we'll obey orders, I reckon, no matter what they are," concluded the commander of the seventh company.
Orders were not long in coming. It was about six o'clock in the evening, and now General Granger joined Mitchell with his infantry once more, and another advance was ordered, with the cavalry again to the front. Away went the horsemen, straight for the trenches. Many took flying leaps over the openings, sending the mud into the very faces of the surprised and bewildered Confederates. The attack was short and sharp, and unable to withstand the shock of cavalry backed up by Granger's fine infantry, the enemy threw down their arms and started pell-mell for Shelbyville proper. The Union forces pursued, and captured a number of Confederates near the bank of Duck River. The larger portion of the Confederate cavalry, under General Wheeler, however, escaped by swimming their animals across the turbulent and swollen stream. At seven o'clock the town had surrendered, giving up a number of small arms, three cannon, and a quantity of corn, which proved highly acceptable.
The corps commanders were now called to general headquarters and each received his orders in writing. McCook was to advance on the Shelbyville pike, turn to the left on the Wartrace road, and seize and hold Liberty Gap; General Granger to threaten Middleton; General Thomas to advance on the Manchester pike, and hold, if possible, Hoover's Gap; some cavalry under Turchin to establish a lookout toward McMinnville, and the balance of the cavalry under Mitchell to attack the rebel cavalry at Middleton.
These movements were executed promptly, despite floods and the wretched condition of the roads. The fighting was sharp, the Confederates disputing every foot of territory. Both sides suffered heavily, and the weather made matters worse, yet nobody grumbled, for the enlisted men were now becoming hardened to the campaign, and realized that this fighting was only the introduction to the tremendous battles still to come.
The morning of the 28th found Thomas ready to start the move which was to bring the campaign to a climax. McCook and Crittenden were slowly but surely concentrating at Manchester. Thomas's first movement was to send Colonel Wilder to Dechard, where this command destroyed about three hundred yards of the railroad which the Confederates had been using. The next day the Tracy City railroad was also placed in a useless condition.
On the 29th of June the army was ready for the final blow at Tullahoma. The advanced troops were within a mile and three-quarters of the city. The corps of McCook and Crittenden came up and closed in, and the main body of the cavalry, including the Riverlawns, arrived at Manchester. Thus it was felt Tullahoma was, after a nine days' campaign, completely at the mercy of the Northern forces.
A surprise now awaited General Rosecrans. A citizen of the town came to Thomas with the report that General Bragg had fled, taking all his troops with him. At first the Union commander could not believe the news, and, to make sure, he sent General Steedman ahead to make an investigation. The general marched into Tullahoma, captured a few prisoners, and verified the report. Instantly General Rosecrans laid plans to pursue the flying Confederates. But though a few skirmishes resulted, and a brave stand was taken by both sides at Elk River, the pursuit proved of no avail, and Bragg crossed the Cumberland Mountains unmolested, leaving, as the fruits of the campaign, Middle Tennessee free from Confederate domination.
It has been said by several authorities that the Tullahoma campaign was the greatest conducted by General Rosecrans, being even superior to that which came immediately after. The enemy was dislodged from first one strongly fortified position and then another, and sent flying over the mountains in the wildest confusion. Nearly seventeen hundred prisoners were taken, and also eleven pieces of artillery and an immense amount of army stores. The loss to the Union army was about five hundred in killed, wounded, and missing.
"We've cleared them out!" cried Artie, enthusiastically, when the news went the rounds that the Confederates had really crossed the mountains and were on their way to Chattanooga.
"Yes, and the two armies are just about where they were last summer," answered Deck. He was resting on a cot in his rain-soaked tent, while his brother sat on a camp-stool, writing a letter to the folks at home. "My, but what a washing-out we've had!"
Despite the hardships, however, Deck was feeling better steadily, until it could almost be said that he was his old self again. He had made several inquiries about Thomas Derwiddie, the Confederate whose life he had saved, but nothing had been heard concerning the escaped prisoner.
In a skirmish on Duck River, Colonel Lyon had been struck in the leg. The wound was not serious, but the officer was told by the surgeon who attended him that he had best keep out of the saddle for a while, and this advice was now being followed. As a consequence, the command of the Riverlawns had fallen upon Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon.
The soldiers were feeling good, and the Fourth of July was celebrated in camp in a rousing fashion, with huge camp-fires, a double supply of rations, and the roasting of several small porkers confiscated at Manchester, when that town was first entered. In the evening several pieces of "home-made" fireworks were set off, and the more hilarious of the boys in blue got up a dance, ladies being represented by several cavalrymen who had appropriated portions of feminine attire found in deserted houses that had been passed. The "boys" were bound to have their play at any cost, no matter how tired the recent hard marching and riding had left them.
The appearance of the Army of the Cumberland in the centre of Tennessee once again filled the inhabitants with dismay. Bragg had assured them of his protection, and the planters had taken him at his word and tilled and cultivated their fields. Now, instead of these products going to enrich the Confederacy, they were confiscated by the Union forces, as a necessity of war. As was natural, the farmers protested; but these protests were of no avail, excepting in rare cases, when payments were made for what was taken.
The Riverlawns had been ordered to Manchester, and were encamped not far from the railroad. They were now ordered to Salem, and reaching there, found themselves brigaded with Major-General Stanley's entire force.
"Something is up," remarked Major Deck to Major Belthorpe. "But what it is I can't imagine."
"I heard something said about a shortness of horses," answered Kate Belthorpe's brother. "Perhaps we are to go on a raid and see what we can round up."
Major Belthorpe's surmise proved correct, as Deck soon learned by the orders given him. The entire cavalry was to combine in a grand sweep to Huntsville, Alabama, rounding up as many horses and as much cattle and other live stock as possible. The advance was to cover several miles of territory, and a dozen different roads were pursued, the start being made on July the 12th.
As Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon was suffering from an attack of chills and fever, Major Lyon was placed in command of the regiment. He was instructed to move almost directly southward, by the way of a small village called Crespin, the name of which has since been changed. The road was a fair one, and ten o'clock in the morning saw the Riverlawns on the move. It was not intended that the round-up should last more than four or five days, and the cavalry went in the lightest possible marching order.
Less than ten miles had been covered when the scouts in advance, under Captain Ripley of the eighth company, sent word back that a small detachment of Confederates were in advance, driving about thirty horses southward just as hard as they could. Besides the horses, they had three Union prisoners, one of whom wore the uniform of a captain of artillery.
"Three prisoners and thirty horses," mused Deck. "We must stop them, by all means." Without delay he sent for Majors Truman and Belthorpe and gave the necessary orders, and soon the Riverlawns were making the best possible speed over the torn-up pike. A distance of two miles was covered in less than twenty minutes, when another report came in that astonished Deck beyond measure. The report was as follows:--
"Confederate force, horses, and prisoners have utterly disappeared. No buildings or woods for them to hide in. Cannot guess what has become of them. Looks as if the earth had swallowed them up, but the quicksands are not quite bad enough for that. Will keep our eyes wide open, but that is all we can do."
Without delay Deck, accompanied by Major Belthorpe, rode forward to investigate.
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