Report of Brig. Gen. William F. Smith, U. S.
Army, Chief Engineer, Department of the Cumberland.
OCTOBER 26-29, 1863.--Reopening of the Tennessee River .
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXI/1 [S# 54]
HDQRS. DEPT. OF THE CUMBERLAND, OFFICE OF CHF. ENGR.,
Chattanooga, November 4, 1863.
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations for making a lodgment on the south side of the river at Brown's Ferry:
On the 19th of October, I was instructed by General Rosecrans to reconnoiter the river in the vicinity of Williams' Island, with a view to making the island a cover for a steamboat landing and storehouses, and began the examination near the lower end of the island. Following the river up, I found on the opposite bank, above the head of the island, a sharp range of hills, whose base was washed by the river. This range extended up the river nearly to Lookout Creek, and was broken at Brown's Ferry by a narrow gorge, through which ran the road to the old ferry, and also flowed a small creek. The valley between this ridge of hills and Raccoon Mountain was narrow, and a lodgment effected there would give us the command of the Kelley's Ferry road, and seriously interrupt the communications of the enemy up Lookout Valley and down to the river on Raccoon Mountain. The ridge seemed thinly picketed, and the evidences were against the occupation of that part of the valley by a large force of the enemy, and it seemed quite possible to take by surprise what could not have been carried by assault, if heavily occupied by an opposing force.
The major-general commanding the geographical division, and the major-general commanding the department, visited with me the ferry a few days after this reconnaissance, and were agreed as to the importance of the position by itself, and especially in connection with the movements to be made from Bridgeport to open the river, and I was directed to make the necessary arrangements for the expedition to effect the lodgment. To do this, 50 pontoons, with oars, to carry a crew and 25 armed men, were prepared, and also 2 flat-boats, carrying 40 and 75 men. The force detailed for the expedition consisted of the brigades of Brigadier-General Turchin and Brigadier-General Hazen, with three batteries, to be posted under the direction of Major Mendenhall, assistant to General Brannan, chief of artillery.
Sunday, the 25th of October, I was assigned to the command of the expedition, and the troops were distributed as follows: Fifteen hundred men, under Brigadier-General Hazen, were to embark in the boats and pass down the river a distance of about 9 miles, seven of which would be under the fire of the pickets of the enemy. It was deemed better to take this risk than to attempt to launch the boats near the ferry, because they would move more rapidly than intelligence could be taken by infantry pickets, and, in addition, though the enemy might be alarmed, he would not know where the landing was to be attempted, and therefore could not concentrate with certainty against us. The boats were called off in sections, and the points at which each section was to land were carefully selected and pointed out to the officers in command and range tires kept burning, lest in the night the upper points should be mistaken. The remainder of General Turchin's brigade and General Hazen's brigade were marched across, and encamped in the woods out of sight, near the ferry, ready to move down and cover the landing of the boats, and also ready to embark so soon as the boats had landed the river force and crossed to the north side. The artillery was also halted in the woods during the night, and was to move down and go into position as soon as the boats had begun to land, to cover the retirement of our troops in case of disaster. The equipage for the pontoon bridge was also ready to be moved down to the river so soon as the troops were across. Axes were issued to the troops, to be used in cutting abatis for defense so soon as the ridge was gained. General Hazen was to take the gorge and the hills to the left, while General Turchin was to extend from the gorge down the river.
The boats moved from Chattanooga at 3 a.m. on the 27th, and, thanks to a slight fog and the silence observed, they were not discovered until about 5 a.m., when the first section had landed at the upper point, and the second section had arrived abreast of the picket stationed at the gorge. Here a portion of the second section of the flotilla failed to land at the proper place, and, alarming the pickets, received a volley. Some time was lost in effecting a landing below the gorge, and the troops had hardly carried it before the enemy began the attack. The boats by this time had recrossed the river, and Lieutenant-Colonel Langdon, First Ohio Volunteers, in command of the remnant of the brigade of General Hazen, was rapidly ferried across, and, forming his men quickly, pushed forward to the assistance of the troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Foy, Twenty-third Kentucky Volunteers, already hard pressed.
The skirmish was soon over, and General Turchin, who followed Lieutenant-Colonel Langdon, quietly took possession of the hills assigned to him. So soon as the skirmishers were thrown out from each command, the axes were set at work felling an abatis, and in two hours the command was sufficiently protected to withstand any attack which was likely to be made. So soon as the 'last of the troops were across, the bridge was commenced and continued under some shelling for an hour or so, and was completed at 4.30 p.m., under the vigorous and skillful superintendence of Capt. P. V. Fox, First Michigan Engineers, and Capt. G. W. Dresser, Fourth Artillery. Six prisoners were taken and 6 rebels buried by our command, and several wounded reported by citizens, and among the wounded the colonel of the Fifteenth Alabama Volunteers. Twenty beeves, 6 pontoons, a barge, and about 2,000 bushels of corn fell into our possession. Our loss was 6 killed, 23 wounded, and 9 missing.
The artillery placed in position was not used, but credit is due Major Mendenhall for his promptitude in placing his guns. To Brigadier-General Turchin, Brigadier-General Hazen, Colonel Stanley, Eighteenth Ohio Volunteers, who had the superintendence of the boats and was zealous in his duty, and to Captain Fox, First Michigan Engineers, all credit is due for their zeal, coolness, and intelligence. Captain Dresser, Fourth Artillery, and Capt. P C. F. West, U.S. Coast Survey, rendered every service on my staff. Lieutenants Klokke, Fuller, Hopkins, and Brent, of the signal corps, were zealous in the discharge of their duties, and soon succeeded in establishing a line of communication from the south side of the river. I inclose the reports of the various commanders.
WM. F. SMITH,
Brigadier-General, Chief Engineer, Comdg. Expedition.
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