Report of Brig. Gen. E. McIver Law, C. S. Army,
commanding brigade and Hood's division.
OCTOBER 26-29, 1863.--Reopening of the Tennessee River .
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXI/1 [S# 54]
HEADQUARTERS LAW'S BRIGADE,
Lookout Valley, November 3, 1863.
Capt. R. M. SIMMS,
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report that my brigade was detached, about October 8, for duty beyond Lookout Mountain. The object of keeping a force in that locality, as I understood it, was to blockade the road leading from Chattanooga to Bridgeport, which passed near the point of Raccoon Mountain and on the opposite or west side of the Tennessee. This object was accomplished by placing riflemen along this bank of the river, which at this point is about 300 yards wide, to fire upon the enemy's wagon trains as they passed. In order to secure the riflemen who were engaged in blockading the road it was necessary to picket the river from that point to the bend near the foot of Lookout Mountain, a distance of 5 miles. This would either prevent the enemy from crossing above and cutting them off, or give them sufficient warning to enable them to withdraw.
I employed two regiments in blockading the road and picketing the river, and held the remaining three, with a section of Barret's battery, in reserve at a convenient point for re-enforcing any part of the line. As the line was long and necessarily weak, my principal security for holding it was in having a sufficient reserve to foil the enemy, if he should attempt a crossing, by throwing it upon him before he could strengthen himself on this side.
On October 25, by orders from division headquarters, three of my regiments were withdrawn and brought to this side of Lookout, leaving the two on picket and the section of artillery. Being notified that Brigadier-General Jenkins would be absent for a few days from daylight on the 27th, and that I would be left in command of the division, I came to this side of the mountain, leaving Capt. L. R. Terrell, assistant adjutant-general, as my representative to superintend the operations in Lookout Valley.
On the morning of the 27th, just before daylight, the enemy, taking advantage of the fog which was very dense, commenced the passage of the river at Brown's Ferry. They crossed in two boats carrying about 40 men each. They were fired upon by the pickets at that point, and the landing was resisted as long as possible. Information of the movement was in the meantime conveyed to Captain Terrell, who at once brought forward the reserve, consisting of about 150 men, and attacked the first detachment of the enemy, which had landed and been placed so as to cover the passage of other troops. This detachment was driven almost to the river bank, where a second line was formed in position. This re-enforcement had crossed and been placed in position while the fighting with the first detachment was going on. Encountering this additional force, which could not be driven by the mere handful of our men engaged, our line was ordered to retire. This was accomplished in good order and a line of defense taken up across the valley, which was held until all the pickets on the river were withdrawn.
In about two hours and a half from the time the crossing began a brigade of the enemy moved out from the hills bordering the river (which they had been diligently engaged in fortifying) into the valley beyond. The section of howitzers commanded by Lieutenant Brown opened upon it, throwing it into confusion and compelling it temporarily to retire. The enemy was evidently much astonished at the presence of the artillery, and its fire was very effective. When a second advance in additional force was made, and upon information that the enemy was crossing at another point above them, the two regiments (Fourth and Fifteenth Alabama), which had now succeeded in collecting their pickets, with the artillery retired slowly toward Lookout Mountain. I met them with the remainder of the brigade at Lookout Creek, where I placed the command in line to await any farther advance. The enemy, however, did not advance as far as the creek, but continued to strengthen his position on the hill above Brown's Ferry, and commenced the construction of a pontoon bridge half a mile above the ferry, which was completed before noon.
In this affair we lost 6 men killed and 14 wounded. Among the latter was Col. W. C. Oates, the gallant and efficient commander of the Fifteenth Alabama Regiment. One of the wounded was left in the hands of the enemy too severely injured to be removed.
At 5 o'clock in the afternoon of the 27th, I learned from my scouts that a considerable force of the enemy was moving from Shellmound in the direction of Chattanooga, and that this force was then in 8 or 10 miles of my position on Lookout Creek. I ascertained further that a force of cavalry was advancing from Kelley's Ferry, where a bridge had been thrown across the river. This information was communicated to the brigadier-general commanding the division, with my views as to the object of the movement. My views, as thus communicated, were that it was probably not the intention of the enemy to attack Lookout Mountain at present, but to take possession of the railroad as far as the Trenton junction, 2 miles from the foot of Lookout Mountain, and by holding Lookout Valley to obtain supplies by running wagon trains from the junction across the bridge above Brown's Ferry to Chattanooga. This has since been done.
About noon on the 28th, I was notified by cavalry scouts and the signal post on Lookout that a heavy column of the enemy was approaching my position from the direction of Shellmound. Soon afterward his skirmishers appeared in front. They were checked for a time by my skirmishers, posted so as to command the intersection of the railroad with the wagon road leading from Chattanooga toward Bridgeport. My riflemen were soon forced, however, to abandon this position and take up the line of Lookout Creek. The enemy on crossing the railroad took the road leading to Brown's Ferry, [being] fired upon as he passed by my section of howitzers and the batteries on Lookout Point. During the afternoon 5,000 or 6,000 men must have passed toward my right.
Late in the afternoon I received a note from Lieutenant-General Longstreet directing me to cross the lower bridge over Lookout Creek, near its mouth, at dark, and advance cautiously until I commanded the Brown's Ferry road at its junction with the road leading across the lower bridge to Chattanooga; to blockade that road and capture any trains that might attempt to pass. This junction I should estimate to be about a mile from the bridge.
Just before night I met Brigadier-General Jenkins, commanding division, who informed me that three other brigades of the division were then moving across the mountain with the view of crossing Lookout Creek to cut off the enemy's trains and capture the rear guard and stragglers. He requested information regarding the roads, &c., as I was familiar with the locality. After giving all the information in my power, I ventured to remark to him that in my opinion the enemy had a large force at the point upon which we intended to move, and that one division was insufficient for the accomplishment of the end in view; that a failure would be the result, and that the troops engaged in it would be seriously injured. I was satisfied, from close and constant observation, that not less than 6,000 or 8,000 troops had been thrown across the river from Moccasin Bend; that one corps (6,000 or 7,000 more) had passed my position going toward Brown's Ferry, and that another of the same strength was following. General Jenkins replied that he had positive orders to proceed on the expedition. He desired me to send him two guides who knew the country beyond the creek. These were accordingly sent, and I immediately commenced the passage of the creek, having previously ordered my brigade under arms.
A few minutes after crossing, my advance guard captured a prisoner, who represented himself as belonging to Howard's corps. From him and others of the same corps, captured soon afterward at a picket post, I learned that this corps had passed the point toward which my advance was directed, viz, the junction of the Chattanooga and Brown's Ferry roads, and was encamped about a half mile to the right, and that a division and a half of Slocum's corps were following. These we afterward learned were encamped a mile higher up the valley to the left. Half a mile beyond the creek I formed two regiments in line, with skirmishers in front, the other regiments moving en échelon on the right, and advanced to the crest of the first wooded hill, where my line was adjusted and halted for a short time.
The hill on which I now rested was one of a range of similar hills running from Brown's Ferry close upon the river bank for about a mile, leaving the river as it bends toward the foot of Lookout Mountain and projecting into the valley beyond. The range at the point where my line was formed was three-fourths of a mile from the Tennessee, and the distance from the road along which my left advanced (and upon which it now rested)to the point at which the range ran immediately upon the river bank was about a mile. In the triangle formed by the range of hills, the river, and the Chattanooga road the ground was all cleared. My skirmishers had advanced as far as the Brown's Ferry road, driving off the picket, and now held the road. Another wooded knoll still intervened between my line of battle and the road.
At this time Brigadier-General Robertson reported to me with his brigade. By order of Brigadier-General Jenkins, commanding division, Robertson's brigade was at once placed in line with my own, with the exception of two regiments, one of which was placed in reserve on the road to my left, and the other was used to guard the bridge in my rear and to watch the space intervening between my right and the river, which was at least half a mile. With affairs in this position I recrossed the creek to see General Jenkins. I learned from him that Colonel Bratton, commanding Jenkins' brigade, was crossing or had just crossed the creek; that General Benning would follow with his brigade and take up a line on my left, uniting with me and commanding the Brown's Ferry road higher up the valley; that Colonel Bratton would push forward on the line of railroad until he came in contact with the enemy. If he encountered only a small force, he was to pick it up. If the enemy proved too strong for him, he was to retire across the creek under cover of the line held by General Benning. I was instructed to communicate with General Benning and to control the road, so as to prevent re-enforcements from moving up it toward the railroad, and in case Colonel Bratton's command had to retire to hold my position until he could withdraw his troops.
Sending a courier to remain with Bratton's command until it commenced moving, when he was to notify me, I returned to my own command. In a short time I received information that Bratton was in motion. My line was at once ordered forward and took position on the wooded slope overlooking the road, the left 30 or 40 and the right 150 or 200 yards from it. Here I remained nearly an hour. This time was employed in strengthening the position by the construction of rail and log breastworks before the firing began on the left.
In the meantime, General Benning had come up on my left in rear of Colonel Bratton, while the latter had moved on against the camp of the enemy. Soon after the fighting on the left began I was notified by Colonel Sheffield, of the Forty-eighth Alabama Regiment, commanding my brigade on the occasion, that a column of troops was moving from the camp on my right along the road in front. I directed the skirmishers to retire to the line of battle, and allowed the head of the column to get opposite to my left before firing. One volley scattered it in the fields beyond the road, where it attempted to reform and move on, but a second fire again dispersed it. While this was taking place other troops were coming up from the right, and, our position having now been disclosed, they turned to attack it.
Their line of attack was formed obliquely to our own, their left coming in contact with our line first and striking it near the right. This caused their left to be forced in upon our position by the other parts of their line as it advanced. The first attack was easily repulsed. The second was made in heavier force with a like result at all points of the line except one. This was at the junction of the Forty-fourth and Fifteenth Alabama Regiments. Here the enemy, forced in by the right of their line upon a vacant space in our own, caused by detaching a company for service as vedettes between my right and the river, broke through the line. Parts of both regiments gave way. By the exertions of Colonel Sheffield, and with the assistance of the Fourth Alabama, which had cleared its front of the enemy, the line was re-established and the enemy driven from it. Before this second attack took place the firing on the railroad had ceased, and a message was brought me by Captain Jamison, of General Jenkins' staff, to the effect that Colonel Bratton had encountered a heavy force of the enemy (a corps, I think, he said); that General Jenkins was withdrawing, and that he wished me to withhold my position until he could retire.
A few moments before this message came I had dispatched a courier to General Jenkins to report to him that the enemy was attacking me in front; that it was possible for him to pass troops in rear of those engaged in this attack to the point at which I supposed Colonel Bratton to be, and that if this should be done Bratton might be placed in a dangerous position. Very soon another messenger brought substantially the same message delivered by Captain Jamison, and informed me further that Colonel Bratton's command was at the creek, and either crossing or about to cross (I cannot now recall which). About the same time General Robertson, who was watching the extreme right, reported that a strong force of the enemy was moving over the adjoining hill on our right, the head of the column having made its appearance on the edge of the triangular opening in my rear, which I have already described, and near the river bank. My vedettes also reported the same thing.
In the meantime, the second attack had commenced. When the firing had almost ceased I gave orders for the whole line to retire to the hill on which it had first formed; thence into the hollow behind it, and thence by flanking to the left into the road and across the bridge. To cover this movement I held the road with a strong force of skirmishers, and directed General Robertson to place the First Texas Regiment, together with part of the Fifth Texas, already there, on an open hill between the bridge and the point from which the enemy was moving on our right. The movement was executed in a quiet and leisurely manner, the enemy in front making no effort to follow.
During the engagement of Colonel Bratton with the enemy no troops passed from the right along the road or in sight of it. It was possible, however, for them to pass near the foot of Raccoon Mountain while the attack on my position was progressing. When the order for my command to retire was given I had already received information that Colonel Bratton had been withdrawn; that he was actually at the bridge, and the firing on the left had ceased for nearly, if not quite, half an hour. Believing that the object for which my position was occupied had been accomplished, I withdrew. The movement of the enemy on my right would in a few minutes more have necessitated a change of position, and the intelligence of this movement had its influence in determining the precise moment of withdrawal. But independent of this, the order was based on my understanding of the plan of operations and the conviction that it was in accordance with that plan.
I would call attention to accompanying reports of General Robertson and Colonel Sheffield, commanding brigades.
For a statement of our loss, which was slight, I refer to the list of casualties.
E. M. LAW,
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