« PreviousContinue »
opinion, but concurring in a blind and bigoted devotion to the old Federal government. These men were Andrew Johnson, William G. Brownlow, and T. A. R. Nelson. The first of these was a man who recommended himself to the ignorant mountain people of Tennessee by the coarseness and vulgarity of his manners; but beneath his boorish aspect he had a strong native intellect, was an untiring political schemer, and for more than twenty years had exercised a commanding control over the rude mountaineers of Tennessee, who for an equal length of time had held the balance of power between the old Whig and Democratic parties in that State, voting first with one and then with the other political organization. Brownlow, “the parson,” the haranguer of mobs in churches and at the hustings, and who, by his hatred of Andrew Johnson, had once made himself an ultra pro-slavery oracle of the Methodist Church, found Unionism so strong an element of popular partisan strength in East Tennessee, that he was forced to cooperate with his old enemy. The sincerest and most respecta ble of the trio was Nelson, an accomplished orator, a poet and dreamer besides, having no likeness to the people among whom he resided but in his apparel, and passing most of his time in the secluded occupations of a scholar, in which vocation he was both profound and classical. There could be no stranger combination of talent and character than in these three men, who had been brought together by a single sympathy in opposition to the cause of the South.
The Union party in Tennessee was for a long time occult; its very existence was for a considerable period a matter of dispute among Southern politicians; but it only awaited the operations of the enemy in Kentucky to assist and further their designs by a sudden insurrection among themselves. Their demonstrations were, however, premature. Early in November there was a conspiracy formed on the part of the Unionists for burning all the bridges on the East Tennessee and Virginia and Georgia and Tennessee railroads. The designs of the conspirators were consummated in part by the destruction of two or three bridges in East Tennessee, and of one in Georgia The bridge across the Holston, at Strawberry Plains, on the East Tennessee and Virginia road, was saved by the heroic and self-sacrificing act of an humble individual, named Edward
Keelan, at that time the sole guard at the place. He fought the bridge-burning party—more than a dozen in numberwith such desperation and success, that they were forced to retire without accomplishing their object. One of the party was killed, and several badly wounded. Keelan was wounded in a number of places. Upon the arrival of friends, a few minutes after the occurrence, he exclaimed to them, “They have killed me, but I have saved the bridge.” Luckily the wounds did not prove mortal, and the hero of Strawberry Plains still lives.
The Federal expedition to Pound Gap was of the same character with all the other invasions from the north western territory in this contest. The troops were from Ohio and other northwestern States, the occupiers of the lands bountifully granted by Virginia to the Federal government, and by that government liberally distributed among the ancestors of the people attempting the invasion of Virginia and the South. This territory had been won by a Virginia army, composed of volunteers from this State and from the district of Kentucky, then a part of the Old Dominion. The bold and successful
. enterprise of George Rogers Clark in the conquest of all that western territory, constitutes one of the most romantic and brilliant chapters of the history of the Revolution.
We turn from the operations on the Kentucky and Virginia border, which were in effect abandoned by the enemy, to the more active theatre of the war in Kentucky, in the neighborhood of the waters of the Ohio and Tennessee. It was to these waters that the enemy in fact transferred his plans of invasion of the South through Kentucky and Tennessee, by means of amphibious expeditions, composed of gunboats and land forces. Further on in the course of events we shall find the front of the war on the banks of the Tennessee instead of those of the Potomac, and we shall see that a war which the Southern people supposed lingered on the Potomac, was suddenly transferred, and opened with brilliant and imposing scenes on the Western waters. But it is not proper to anticipate with any comment the progress of events.
. Gen. Polk had been completing his works for the defence of Columbus. While thus engaged, he was assailed on the 7th November by the enemy in strong force from Cairo.
THE BATTLE OF BELMONT.
Before daybreak on the morning of the 7th of November, Gen. Polk was informed that the enemy, who were under the command of Gen. Grant, had made their appearance in the river with gunboats and transports, and were landing a considerable force on the Missouri shore, five or six miles above Belmont, a small village. Gen. Pillow, whose division was nearest the point immediately threatened, was ordered to cross the river and to move immediately with four of his regimeurts to the relief of Col. Tappan, who was encamped at Belmont.
Our little army had barely got in position, when the skirmishers were driven in, and the shock took place between the opposing forces. The enemy were numerous enough to have surrounded the little Confederate force with triple lines. Sev eral attempts were made by the enemy's infantry to flank the right and left wings of the Confederates; but the attempt on the right was defeated by the deadly fire and firm attitude of that wing, composed of the regiments of Colonels Russell and Tappan, the 13th Arkansas and the 9th Tennessee, commanded by Col. Russell, as brigade commander. The attempt to turn the left wing was defeated by the destructive fire of Beltzhoover's battery and Col. Wright's regiment, aided by a line of felled timber extending obliquely from the left into the bottom. The two wings of the line stood firm and unbroken for several hours, but the centre, being in the open field, and greatly exposed, once or twice faltered.
About this time, Col. Beltzhoover reported to Gen. Pillow that his ammunition was exhausted : Col. Bell had previously reported his regiment out of ammunition, and Col. Wright that one battalion of his regiment had exhausted its ammunition. The enemy's force being unchecked, and now emerging into the edge of the field, Gen. Pillow ordered the line to use the bayonet. The charge was made by the whole line, and the enemy driven back into the woods. But his line was not broken, and he kept up a deadly fire, and being supported by liis large reserve, the Confederate line was forced back to its original position, while that of the enemy advanced. The charge was repeated the second and third time, forcing the
enemy's line heavily against his reserve, but with I ke result. Finding it impossible longer to maintain his position without reinforcements and ammunition, Gen. Pillow ordered the whole line to fall back to the river-bank. In this movement his line was more or less broken and his corps mingled together, so that when they reached the river-bank they had the appear ance of a mass of men rather than an organized corps.
The field was to all appearances lost. Reinforcements, how ever, had been sent for, and at the critical time when our forces were being driven to the river, a regiment, the 2d Tennessee, commanded by Col. Walker, which had crossed the river, came to their support. The opportunity was seized by Gen. Pillow to engage afresh, with this timely addition to his force, the advance of the enemy, while he made a rapid movement up the river-bank, with the design of crossing through the fallen timber, turning the enemy's position and attacking him in the rear.
As Gen. Pillow advanced the main body of his original force in broken order up the river, to a point where he could cross through the fallen timber to make the flank movement, he was joined by two other regiments ordered by Gen. Polk to his support. These fresh troops were placed under command of Col. Marks, of the 11th Louisiana. He was directed to lead the advance in double-quick time through the woods, and to the enemy's rear, and to attack him with vigor. Col. Russell, with his brigade, was ordered to support the movement.
It was with great reluctance that Gen. Polk lessened the force assigned to the immediate defence of Columbus, as an attack in his rear was every moment apprehended. It was obvious, however, from the yielding of our columns to the heavy pressure of the masses of the enemy's infantry, and the fierce assaults of their heavy battery, that further reinforcements were necessary to save the field. Gen. Cheatham was ordered to move across the river in advance of his brigade, to rally and take command of the portions of the regiments within sight on the shore, and to support the flank movement ordered through Col. Marks.
About this time the enemy had fired our tents, and advan. cing his battery near the river-bank, opened a heavy fire on the steamers which were transporting our troops, in some instances driving shot through two of them at the same time. Captain Smith's Mississippi battery was ordered to move to the river bank, opposite the field of conflict, and to open upon the ene iny's position. Che joint fire of this battery and the heavy guns of the fort was for a few moments terrific. The enemy's battery was silenced, and it could be seen that they were taking up their line of march for their boats.
The Federals, however, had scarcely put themselves in mo. tion, when they encountered Col. Marks first, and afterwards Gen. Cheatham, on their flank. The conjuncture was decisive. The enemy finding himself between two fires, that of Smith's artillery in front, and of Col. Marks' and Russell's column in the rear, after a feeble resistance, broke and fled in disor. der.
Satisfied that the attack on Columbus for some reason had failed, Gen. Polk had crossed the river, and ordered the victorious commands to press the enemy to their boats. The order was obeyed with alacrity. The pursuit was continued until our troops reached the point where the enemy had made hie surgical head-quarters, and depository of stores, of ammunition, baggage, &c. Here our troops found a yard full of knapsacks, arms, ammunition, blankets, overcoats, mess-chests, horses, wagons, and dead and wounded men, with surgeons engaged in the duties of their profession. The enemy's route of retreat was strewn likewise with many of these articles, and abundantly with blood, dead, and wounded men. “The sight along the line of the retreat,” says an observer on the field, “was awful. The dead and wounded were at every tree. Some crawled into the crecks to get water, and died there."
On coming in sight of the enemy's gunboats and transports, our froops, as they arrived, were ordered to move as rapidly as possible through the cornfields to the bank of the river. The bank was thus lined for a considerable distance by our troops, who were ordered, as the boats passed up the river, to give the enemy their fire.
The fire was hot and destructive. On the boats all was dismay. Under the fire from the bank, the Fed. erals rushed to the opposite side of the boats, and had to be forced back by the bayonet to prevent capsizing. Many of the soldiers were driven overboard by the rush of those behind them. They did not take time to unloose the cables, but ent