Battle of Mossy Creek

From the Carter book - Page 130-133

Once more the order came to fall back, and as we moved to the left, the solid shot and exploding shells went crashing through the trees, doing no harm except cutting off limbs and tearing up trees. The enemy now seemed more bold and defiant, and with superior numbers expected to win an easy victory. We moved only a short distance to the left, where a new line of battle was formed, with the FirstTennessee in the center. Our lines were hardly formed when the enemy came charging upon us in such overwhelm ing numbers that we were driven back and the day seemed lost. The enemy used every effort to confuse and break our retreating lines, but all their attempts were fruitless.

Oh, how we longed for the old Second Brigade of our division! The day was fast wearing away and the sun was almost lost behind the western hills, and whatever was to be done must be done quickly, or the day would be lost. The fighting was severe all along the line, and we were again compelled to yield ground, falling back a short distance to the edge ofthe woods.

The enemy, seeing us falling back, now rushed on after us with their well-known "rebel yell," and when they reached the edge ofthe wood Colonel Brownlow ordered his troops to fire, but, disregarding the effects of so hot a fire, they continued to advance.

Colonel Brownlow, seeing the boldness and courage that the enemy were displaying in still advancing upon him under so hot a fire, suggested to Campbell the propriety of making a spirited saber charge, believing this to be the only means of saving the day, as "desperate diseases require desperate remedies." Colonel Campbell remarked that such a line of battle could not be broken by a cavalry charge. Colonel Brownlow, realizing the danger of delay and the importance of immediate action, assumed the responsibility of ordering a charge.

The order was given to draw sabers, and with a yell the First Tennessee, with its well-known gallantry, rushed upon the enemy in one of the most daring charges ofthe war. The spirit, courage, boldness and audacity with which the charge was made has scarcely ever been equaled in the war, and the important effect that it produced was a matter of astonishment to those who witnessed it. We drove the enemy back into the woods, retaking a part of the lost ground, but were forced back with some loss, bringing back as prisoners, however, one officer and twenty-five enlisted men.

At this critical moment a portion of Mott's brigade, Second Division, Twenty- third Corps, came upon the field. Cavalry, infantry and dismounted men now charged upon the enemy, who began to show signs of wavering, pouring volley after volley into their ranks, driving them through the woods in great confusion. The Second Brigade, which had been recalled, now reached the field and entered heartily into the chase, which was continued for some distance, halting only when it became too dark to distinguish friend from foe.

This was one o fthe most spirited and hotly contested cavalry engagements that occurred during the East Tennesee campaign, and considering the severe fire to which the regiment was exposed for so long, its escape from great loss was one of the many lucky ones."

The First Tennessee does not claim all the honor or to have done all the fighting on that day, yet it is true that the regiment bore an honor able part and fully sustained the brilliant reputation ofthe old "Volunteer State." General Martin had in this engagement the divisions of Morgan and Armstrong, numbering at least six thousand men, and with this superior force no doubt expected to win an easy victory.

The casualties of the First Tennessee in this engagement were as follows :

Killed and Died of Wounds Company D, First Lie tenant Geo. W. Cox, Corporal W. W. Wells and Private Henry Wampler; Company I, Corporal Andrew J. Drake and B. F. Hansford (died in hospital at Knoxville, date unknown) ; Company C, Captain Elbert J. Cannon (mortally wounded, died December 31), and Thos. G. Farrow; Company E, Robert A. Vaughn ; Company G, L. L. Cope.

Wounded Company A, William Simpson; Company F, Sergeant James Higgs and John Sweeney; Company C, Geo. W. Troutt and Henry O. Newman ; Company K, Sergeant Alfred F. Rhea and Harvey Bales ; Company G, Se geant Frank Cunningham (severely) ; Company M, Elihu McNeece.

Killed and died of wounds, two officers and seven enlisted men ; wounded, nine enlisted men ; total, eighteen.

The First Tennessee lost some of its best and bravest men in this engagement. Captain Cannon and Lieutenant Cox were the first officers of the First Tennessee to fall in battle and both fell leading their men in the moment of victory. They were officers of great promise, full of energy and thoroughly patriotic, were model soldiers, were men of unflinching courage and uncompromising integrity. They fell in the discharge of their duty, and their sudden removal at that moment was a loss we all keenly felt. Their vacant places cannot be filled, and the regiment mourned their loss.

Captain Cannon and Lieutenant Cox were two ofthe original officers of the regiment. Captain Cannon was a Jefferson county man, and was killed almost in sight of his home. On the death of Captain Cannon, First Lieutenant Jacob K. Lones assumed command of Company C, and was shortly afterward promoted to captain. A. J. Gahagan was promoted from second to first lieutenant after the death of Lieutenant Cox.

General McCook, who commanded the division at the battle of Mossy Creek, makes mention of the gallantry of the First Tennessee in his report, as follows :

"The gallant First Tennessee Cavalry and their brave young commander, Colonel Brownlow, added new laurels to their brilliant rep tation by the splendid saber charge they made. Among the other brave men whose loss we are called upon to mourn are Captain Cannon and Lieutenant Cox, First Tennessee Cavalry, who fell at the head, leading a charge of their soldiers."

Major H. C. Connelly, Fourteenth Illinois Cavalry, in a well-written article on "Campaigning with Burnside in East Tennessee," makes honorable mention of the gallantry of the First Tennessee at Mossy Creek. He says :

"General Elliott, commanding a fine division of cavalry from the Army ofthe Cumberland, reinforced us. * * *

On the morning of December 29, Longstreet advanced with most of his cavalry, a division of infantry and two batteries of artillery. Our loss this day was about one hundred killed, wounded and missing. The enemy lost from two hundred to four hundred. We buried twenty of their dead. In this fight the First Tennessee Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Jim Brownlow, made a saber charge which did honor to this dashing officer and his soldiers." * * *

"The neighing troops, the flashing blade,
The bugles stirring blast,
The charge, the dreadful cannonade,
The din and shout are past."

Soon after the battle of Mossy Creek, the Confederate cavalry fell back to Morristown and we spent the remaining days of the year quietly in camp. Drills and dress-parades were almost forgotten and were things of the past. Every one doubtless remembers the first day of January, 1864 Happy New Year as the cold one. It is very forcibly fixed in the minds of the men composing theFirstTennessee, for a heavy detail was made from the regiment for picket duty on the first day ofthe year. The night was exceedingly cold, and many of the men were badly frost-bitten on the picket- line.

History Of The First Regiment Of Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry In The Great War Of The Rebellion (1902) William R. Carter (Author) - Amazon


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