On the 18th day of June, 1861, the rebel military authorities seized and occupied Cumberland Gap, the most available door for military access by the nation to East Tennessee, and thus held in check the most loyal portion of the people of that state. From this stronghold they made frequent incursions into the contiguous mountain counties of Kentucky, which may also justly be said to have been the stronghold of loyalty to the nation in that state. These raids were generally undertaken by marauding bands of midnight plunderers, whose chief objects were private gain and the gratification of personal malice engendered in the heated political contests of former years. In the execution of their fell purposes, neither property rights nor the sanctity of human life was regarded.
On the 20th day of October, 1861, the rebels received at "Camp Wild Cat," in Laurel county, Ky., the first repulse to an organized command encountered by them in the mountain region of Kentucky. The national troops engaged in this action were nominally under the command of General Schoepf, but they were really commanded by Colonel Theophilus T. Garrard, of Clay county, Ky., who had with patriotic ardor during the preceding summer recruited and organized the Seventh Regiment of Kentucky Volunteer Infantry. His regiment was made up of mountain boys, thoroughly imbued with sentiments of devotion to the integrity and unity of the nation.
The Seventeenth Ohio and the Thirty-third Indiana Regiments of Volunteer Infantry were also engaged in the battle. The Kentucky troops were undrilled and without a knowledge of the first rudiments of military discipline or tactics, but they were patriotic; they were woodsmen, and accustomed to the use of fire-arms; they were standing on their own soil, and were familiar with all the mountain passes through which the enemy could approach them; and, above all, they were burning with anxiety to punish the rebel troops for marauding outrages and wrongs perpetrated on their families and their friends throughout the entire section, and General Schoepf wisely deferred to the opinions and advice of the senior officers commanding the Kentucky troops.
The battle, viewed alone, may be regarded as only a skirmish of outposts, but it was important in the results which speedily followed. It was the fixed purpose of the rebel leaders to drag Kentucky into rebellion against the national authorities in despite of the well-settled convictions of the people expressed at the polls, and with triumphant majorities, on three different occasions during the preceding summer. It was the misfortune of the state to have as its chief executive officer, for the time being, one who was but too willing to second all the ulterior designs of the insurgents, by claiming sovereign power within the state for all local laws over those enacted by the National Congress.
Acting on this theory of state and of national obligation, he had already appointed S. B. Buckner to the command of the state guard - a man well known to be a party to the great conspiracy against the national government, and he had also armed that body in hostility to the government with arms drawn from the national workshops. Felix K. Zollicoffer, of Tennessee, was chosen by the rebel authorities as the proper agent for the accomplishment of this purpose. He was a man of great natural endowments and mental energy, who had forced his way from the humble walks of life to a commanding position in his state. He had twice represented the Nashville district in the National Congress, where, by force of talent and deliberative ability, he had won a commanding position. On the stump and before the people he had always vehemently denounced the heresy of secession as preposterous. His popularity with the people in the mountain section of Tennessee and Kentucky before the outbreak of the rebellion was very great. But unfortunately for his fame, when his state, or, rather, when the official authorities of his state, in violation of constitution and law, and the deliberately expressed will of the people, determined to link her fortunes with the fate of the Confederacy, and join issues with the Nation in the impending conflict, General Zollicoffer consented to abandon all the well-settled convictions of his life and join with his enemies, and the enemies of the government, in the effort to accomplish its overthrow.
The result of his first essay on the mountain section of Kentucky proved to him that the passes into the state were better guarded than he was before aware of, and that the wrongs which had been perpetrated by prowling bands of midnight plunderers had roused in the people a spirit of stern and determined resistance to rebel misrule.
Following his repulse at Wild Cat, General Zollicoffer fell back on his reserves in Tennessee, and after reorganizing his defeated force, he attempted at a lower point on the Cumberland River to enforce and carry out the programme of the Confederate authorities in Kentucky by an occupation in force and a subjugation of the people to rebel military law. In pursuance of this policy, he met at Mill Springs, in Pulaski county, Ky., on the 19th day of January, 1862, the national forces, under command of General George H. Thomas. Here the first signal defeat of a rebel army was encountered, in the overthrow and route of an army corps, together with the death of its commander, slain in battle - slain in the prosecution of a cause which had the approval of neither his judgment nor his conscience. And here, too, was first revealed to the earnest gaze of the nation the great qualities for command in the presence of embattled hosts, and the still rarer attribute of stern and unyielding tenacity of purpose in the progress of battle, which are all possessed by General Thomas in so eminent a degree, and which time has since developed into grand and majestic proportions. "Recorded honors shall gather round his monument and thicken over him. It is a solid fabric, and will support the laurels that adorn it."
The rebels still held possession of Cumberland Gap, notwithstanding their defeat in the field. As a strategic point, it was deemed an indispensable necessity by both of the parties to the great conflict in which the Nation had unfortunately become involved.
On the organization of the Army of the Cumberland, under General D. C. Buell, General Thomas was assigned to one of its divisions. A portion of the troops previously under his command was still held in the mountain region to restrain and punish predatory incursions and raids into the state, and to support the loyal sentiment predominant in that section.
The purpose of the government to take and to hold the position was never relaxed, but was held in abeyance only for the time being, for what were deemed at that moment more urgent and vital considerations.
The intuitions of men often bear to the future the stamp and impress of genius. President Lincoln was a civilian, not an educated military man, but his far-seeing military capacity enabled him to see at a glance the manifest importance of holding with a firm and unyielding grasp this door of entrance to the heart of the Confederacy. It is central in position, and from it blows could have been safely dealt out to the right or left, as occasion might have demanded. It is on the direct and shortest line "from Ohio down to the sea," and rebellion could more speedily from this than any other point east of the Mississippi River have been bisected and rent in twain. His proposition to Congress to construct a military railroad from Lexington, Ky., to Cumberland Gap was made a butt of by the enemies of the government and the witlings of the day as an impracticable suggestion. No wiser investment of the national resources could have been made at that day. But with all his influence with that body, he failed to induce Congress to adopt his policy. Could that position have been held by the national forces from the day it was occupied by General Morgan, June 18, 1862, few military critics will venture the assertion that it would not have shortened the duration of the war a full twelve months. With it under national control, and linked to the great North by a railroad, General Bragg would never have made his irruption into Kentucky as he did in August, 1862; or, if guilty of such temerity, he would only have passed from the state into some of the military prisons of the North. In a speech made by that rebel commander at Camp Dick Robinson the day before he issued his order to retreat, he said:
"Buell is massed on our right and closes access to Nashville. We whipped him at Perryville, but another such a victory will be fatal to us. He is near his supplies and reinforcements; we are distant from ours. Kentucky won't come to our relief. Wallace is in our rear, with the great North fully roused and at his back. If we attempt to reach Virginia through the mountain passes of Eastern Kentucky, we will starve. We are in a jug, and with but a single outlet, and that is through Cumberland Gap. We must take that route, and take it now, or the last man of us all will be captured."
The troops left in the neighborhood of the Gap on the transfer of General Thomas to his new field of operations, were the First Brigade of Tennessee Volunteers, under command of Brigadier-General Spears, composed of the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Regiments; Second Brigade, under command of Brigadier-General Carter, Fifth and Sixth Tennessee, and Seventh Kentucky and Forty-ninth Indiana regiments of infantry; Third Brigade, under Brigadier-General Absalom Baird, U. S. A., composed of the Fourteenth and Nineteenth Kentucky, and Thirty-third Indiana regiments of infantry. A fourth brigade, under command of Colonel John F. DeCourcy, consisting of the Sixteenth and Forty-second Ohio, and the Twenty-second Kentucky, reached the Cumberland Ford during the first week of May. G. W. Morgan, of Ohio, was assigned to the command of the district, and honored with a brigadier-general's commission. He entered the army of the republic of Texas in September, 1836, during that revolution, and was three years in that service as a private, second and first sergeant, second and first lieutenant, and at eighteen years of age was commissioned as captain of First Regular Infantry, under Colonel Burleson. In the war with Mexico he was colonel of Second Ohio Volunteers, serving his first year under General Z. Taylor. His second year in the service was as colonel of the Fifteenth United States Infantry, serving under General Winfield Scott, and was brevetted brigadier-general of United States Regular Army for gallant service in action at the battles of Contreras and Cherubusco.
In the civil war General Morgan commanded Seventh Division, Army of Ohio, under General Buell; also, Third Division - right wing - Thirteenth Army Corps, and First Army Corps, Army of the Mississippi.
We may safely say that General Morgan is a veteran soldier and was a commanding officer in three wars.
General Morgan reached his field of action with his recruits during the first week in May, and at once assumed command. Here the troops were held in camp for daily drill, and to accustom them to combined action, until the 7th day of June, when the demonstration was made on the Gap by a flank movement into Powell's Valley, which was the source of subsistence supplies for the rebel force in occupation of the post. The brigades of Generals Spears and Carter entered the valley through Big Creek Gap, a pass thirty miles west of Cumberland Gap. The other brigades, under the immediate command of General Morgan, passed ten miles east of Big Creek, through a mere notch or defile in the Cumberland Range, which had not been guarded. The road on General Morgan's line of march had much of it to be made as the army advanced, as it was but following neighborhood bridle-paths over sharp ridges and through deep ravines, where the track of a wheel had never been seen before. The troops, however, had stout arms and willing minds, and the good work went bravely and rapidly on.
At noon, on the 11th, the crest of the Cumberland Range was attained, and a landscape of unsurpassed beauty was open to view. A fertile, cultivated, blooming valley, land-locked by mountain ridges north and south, but stretching from east to west far as the eye could reach, lay in all the luxuriance of teeming ripening fields of grain immediately below us. Dotted all over with farm-houses and inclosures, with its sylvan-fringed stream coiling serpent-like round open fields, now disclosing and now concealing its course behind clumps and groves of trees; with the golden harvest, ready for the reaper, swaying to the breezes of heaven, catching and giving back light and shadow to the eyes of the gazer. To men who, during the long, weary, dreary months of winter, had been cooped up under canvas, with only bleak and barren hills in view, it was a picture to be seen but once to have it photographed on the memory ever afterward.
General Morgan's strategy was well conceived and promptly executed. After two reconnoisances, one secret, the second armed, General Morgan became satisfied that the Gap could not be taken by a direct attack in front without an immense sacrifice of life, and he determined to gain the place by strategy, rather than by tactics. On the 19th of May, 1862, he telegraphed Buell: "If you will cause a serious demonstration to be made against Chattanooga, the problem of Cumberland Gap will be of easy solution."
This suggestion was several times urged between the 19th of May and the 17th of June. Smith (Kirby) had an aggregate of force over 20,000, while Morgan's effective strength was about 7,500 bayonets, 22 guns, and about 200 cavalry. To cross the mountains seemed to be an act of temerity. To compel Smith to withdraw his force from Knoxville and Big Creek Gap and go to the defense of Chattanooga was a prime necessity, and the diversion made by Buell against that place brought that result about. Smith was placed in a dire dilemma. Buell's army was not far from Chattanooga, in the south-west, and Morgan's column in the north-east end of Tennessee. Believing that the advance against both places were real attacks, and not a feint against one as a diversion in favor of the other, Smith regarded East Tennessee as lost to the Confederacy, then ordered the bulk of his supplies to Virginia, and prepared to retreat into that state. At Knoxville his position was central, and three times within ten days he rushed from one place to the outpost of the other. General Buell, naturally anxious as to Morgan's movements, kept a vigilant eye on his operations, and regarded them as hazardous. On June 10th, he telegraphed Morgan that his (Buell's) army in Middle Tennessee was so organized that it was impossible to afford him support, and that extended operations should not be undertaken. Morgan replied: "When I received your telegram it was too late to change my plan; a retrograde movement would be next to impossible. My troops are confident and in good spirits; to fall back would demoralize them. Will you pardon me, General, for asking whether it is possible to re-enforce General Negley, so as to retain Smith at Chattanooga?"
The present fate of East Tennessee depends upon Kirby Smith being well occupied with Chattanooga. Buell immediately telegraphed General O. M. Mitchel: "General Morgan is advancing on Cumberland Gap. Endeavor as much as possible to keep your force in an attitude to threaten Chattanooga and occupy the attention of Kirby Smith." He also telegraphed Morgan: "General Negley has been withdrawn from before Chattanooga, but General Mitchel is instructed as far as possible to keep his troops in position threaten that point, as he was previously advised. You will have to depend mainly upon your own ability to meet the force opposed to you." On June 15th, Captain James D. Fry, chief of staff, telegraphed Morgan: "General Buell desires to know what you propose to do, and where you are going to concentrate your troops." To which telegram Morgan replied, June 17th: "My division is concentrated. I have reliable information that Kirby Smith and Barton are marching to attack me. If possible, have a serious feint made on Chattanooga. My command has overcome almost insurmountable difficulties. I hope to attack the enemy early to-morrow morning. My object is to beat the enemy in the field and then take Cumberland Gap. I regret to have caused any inconvenience to General Buell, but hope he will cause a strong diversion against Chattanooga this morning and to-morrow." But there was no battle. Smith believed that the Gap would be taken, and ordered Stevenson to evacuate that stronghold, which was done; and four hours afterward Morgan took possession, and the Stars and Stripes were unfurled on the highest pinnacle of the mountain.
In his report, Morgan says: "At one o'clock this morning, my command took up the line of march from our last position in front of Rogers' Gap, to attack Generals Stevenson and Barton at this place; but the enemy commenced retreating on yesterday afternoon, and his rear-guard left only four hours before our arrival. After two weeks of maneuvering, we have taken the American Gibraltar without the loss of a man. To do it, I had to abandon my base of supplies and depend upon foraging on the enemy. In no country and in no age were greater obstacles overcome by an army marching with cannon."
The Cumberland Range, an offshoot from the Allegheny Mountains, constitute that series of high hills, rather than mountains, which form the natural boundary between the States of Kentucky and Tennessee. It is an elevated plateau, of high range, cut here and there by deep chasms or channels. The range reaches a mean elevation of two thousand feet from the low land and valleys on either side, and trends from north-east to south-west. Throughout its entire extent, the vast power of the upheaval force by which the chain was elevated is displayed in a wonderful degree. It belongs in its formation the carboniferous period of the geological era, and presents strata of sandstone hundreds of feet in thickness, dislocated, rent, and thrown into every imaginable angle and dip to the horizon. The Gap, a cleft in the chain at a point where the convulsive action of the upheaval had left only a narrow spinal ridge as a connecting isthmus between expanded bodies, and so narrow that wagons descending either way lock wheels on the same level space. The chasm is nine hundred feet below the point of highest elevation on the left, as one approaches it from the north, and it converges to a width barely sufficient for a roadway. The pinnacles on either side, clearly defined and in bold relief, stand in bleak and barren grandeur and desolation, having been almost entirely denuded of forest and shrub in obedience to military necessity. Huge masses of sandstone lie scattered in promiscuous confusion over the surrounding surface, and to the spectator it seemed as if the genii of ruin had here fought out one of their Titanic battles with great masses of sandstone wrenched from the mountain side as missiles. The roads from the valleys on either side wind and zigzag their way up the eleven hundred feet of elevation to reach the Gap, and are commanded throughout by earth-work fortresses erected at appropriate positions on the heights above. To a tyro in military science, it presented all the characteristics of an invulnerable natural fortress. Its strength is its weakness. Situated in the midst of a bleak, barren, untilled mountain region, and requiring a heavy force to man it, because of its vastness, and having to rely on a distant point for its subsistence, its armament, and its munitions of war, it is liable at any moment to have its communications broken, and its supplies cut off, when it must of necessity be abandoned or fall an easy prey to a foe powerful enough to invest it.
Roaming over the hills and through the abandoned camps of the enemy, in company of a messmate, and "before the coming up of our troops, we found the following morceau of rebel humor in one of the abandoned tents. The truth of its most material allegation, our short supplies, gave point to its wit:
FOR A YANKEE SURGEON. MY LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT.
WHEREAS, In the fortunes of war, it may soon be necessary for me to bid adieu to the climate, scenery, and crystal fountains of Cumberland Gap; therefore, to the first Yankee surgeon who plants his foot on the threshold of my deserted quarters, I will, devise, and bequeath:
Item 1st. - All my interests and rights to said premises, together with all and singular the tenements, hereditaments, and appurtenances thereunto belonging.
Item 2d. - I further desire and direct that the said Yankee surgeon shall have free and unmolested control and use of all the old clothes, bottles, blankets, and medicines left on the aforesaid premises.
Item 3d. - Knowing that the above-mentioned Yankee surgeon has for some time past subsisted on half rations, badly prepared, and in consequence of which his health may suffer, I further desire and direct that he may have unrestrained control, and be sole proprietor of a small cooking-stove, a few paces hence on the hillside, where the testator has often eaten and enjoyed well-cooked biscuit, beef, bacon, mutton, tarts, etc., regretting, however, that the usages of war will not permit me to leave him a supply of these articles.
Item 4th.- I hereby revoke all previous testaments.
In witness whereof, I hereunto set my hand and affix my seal.
R. B. GARDNER, [SEAL.]
Asst. Surgeon 3d Georgia Battalion.
W. J. CARMICHAEL.
HENRY J. BURTON.
If the testator and his subscribing witnesses have escaped the casualties of battle and the diseases of camp life, it may afford them some pleasure to learn that the jeu d' esprit came direct to the hands of a Kentucky Yankee surgeon, who would esteem it a pleasure to grasp each of them by the hand, and round the social board compare notes of bygone times, fight over battles again, "show how fields are won," and in the bright hopes of the future greatness and glory of our common country, bury in the deep sea of forgetfulness all memory of past strife, contention, and bitterness.
General Morgan held possession of Cumberland Gap just three months, during which period much labor was expended and valuable additions made to the defensive works. Roads were improved and new ones made to facilitate movements from fort to fort. And under the supervision of Lieutenant Craighill, of the Engineer Corps, a series of case-mated bomb-proof earth-works were erected at the base of the mountain on the south side of the Gap, guarding all the approaches from that direction, each one of which was in turn commanded by one on its flanks and rear up to the defenses of the Gap proper. The task of supplying from ten to twelve thousand men with subsistence, arms, ammunition, clothing, and grain and forage for stock by the army wagon, with the base of supply one hundred and thirty miles distant, will never be found a desirable one, and in the then condition of the country it was a most onerous and perplexing duty. During the month of July, John Morgan headed one of his raids into the state, and was on the line of our supplies. The rebels at that early day outnumbered us on the Tennessee side of the Gap, and thus cut off all supplies of forage for animals.
Foraging in force was not unattended with danger, as DeCourcey's brigade, two thousand strong, came near being surrounded and cut oft on the 6th of August, at Tazewell, Tenn. Only gallant fighting and skillful handling prevented its capture by a three-fold greater force of the enemy.
The gravest positions are at times accompanied by ludicrous scenes, which tend to relieve their gravity, and occasion amusement to the soldiery. The battle of Tazewell was fought just south of that town. In falling back the troops all filed through its main street. The Twenty-second Kentucky was in the rear. It was not running, only making good quick-step time. The town is in a deep valley, and on the hills on each side were the batteries of the opposing hosts, which were worked to their utmost activity, whilst the rear was being pressed by the pursuing enemy. Near the center of the town a great tall, obese, "sable sister," in the undress uniform of the laundry brigade - a sleeveless bodice and a red flannel petticoat, which, like "Wee Nanny's cutty sark," was in "longitude sorely scanty,"- emerged from a side street. Bubbling all over with excitement, and gesticulating wildly, she screamed at the top of her voice, "Oh, oh! you Yanks is skeedadling, is you?" She exposed to the profane gaze of the soldiery an amazing extent of rotund nudities. The grotesque humor of the situation was sufficient to have provoked an audible smile under the ribs of death.
INCIDENCES OF THE WAR
At the battle of Tazewell, the Twenty-second Kentucky and the Twenty-second Tennessee Regiments of Infantry were arrayed in line of battle against each other. Ten months later, at the siege of Vicksburg - a week before the strife there ended - a truce was called, and the officers in the rebel works immediately in front of the trench occupied by the Twenty-second Kentucky came on the neutral ground, and one of them, addressing Colonel Lindsay, asked, "What regiment have you here ?" and learning that it was the Twenty- second Kentucky, exclaimed: "Now, that beats hell! Last year, at Tazewell, we were in line against each other, and there my regiment received the hardest blow it has had in the service; and now we are face to face again, and in a few days we shall all have to surrender to Grant."
In August, General Bragg made his inroad into Kentucky. Kirby Smith, passing in through Big Creek Gap, formed the right wing of his army, and he occupied our line of communications with Lexington, Ky., thus cutting off all supplies. On the 29th of that month, he delivered a crushing blow to the troops under command of General M. D. Manson, who confronted him near Richmond with a few regiments of un-drilled recruits. Defeat was inevitable. For weeks anterior to this date, the troops at the Gap had been on half rations, and the horses and mules were making the air resonant with indications that they were suffering with the pangs of hunger. All the fields of growing corn in available distance had already been cut up and fed to the stock, in the milk stage. They could not be turned loose to browse, without the danger of having them stampeded and lost in the ravines and dense jungles of undergrowth which covered the surface of the surrounding country.
On the 8th of September, DeCourcey's brigade, two thousand strong, with Captain Foster's (First Wisconsin) battery, were ordered to Manchester, in Clay county, Ky., fifty miles north of the Gap, with orders to accumulate at that point all the subsistence and forage supplies to be procured; but instead of accumulating stores, they had a hard struggle to supply their immediate daily wants. On the 14th, a survey of all the subsistence in store at the Gap was ordered, when it was ascertained that not more than ten days of half rations remained on hand,
Telegrams of the day, purporting to proceed from General Morgan, and saying that he had sixty days of rations, were published. These deluded the world, and may to some extent have deceived high public functionaries.
For weeks previous to the evacuation, the rebels held his only line of telegraphic communication in their hands. Under these circumstances, a conference with the commanders of brigades was called, and the emergencies of the situation were laid before the board. General Morgan had at the Gap twelve thousand men to subsist. He held a vast amount of government property for which he was responsible. He had thirty pieces of cannon, a number of them Parrot guns, much coveted by the rebels, as, superior to any possessed by them. He had a ten-thousand stand of muskets, with all their accouterments, in store. He had all the horses, mules, wagons, ambulances incident to the service with such a body as he commanded. He was shut up, cut off from all communication with the government, without the remotest intimation from the authorities as to how or when he might probably be succored.
He was two hundred and thirty miles from the Ohio River. If the attempt were made, then and now, to reach that region, while his stock had some remaining strength, he might, peradventure, get through.
If they remained until the animals were further reduced by active starvation, it would be but to surrender, not alone the position, but all his army, as prisoners of war, and all his material into the hands of rebels.
HEADQUARTERS, CUMBERLAND GAP,
September 14, 1862.
A council of war, convened by Brigadier-General Morgan, commanding the forces at Cumberland Gap, assembled at head-quarters at 11 A. M. to-day. Present: Brigadier-General Morgan, commanding, Brigadier-General Spears, Brigadier-General Baird, Brigadier-General Carter; the brigade of Colonel DeCourcey absent on detached service. The proceedings were opened by General Morgan stating in detail the information in his possession relating to the position and numbers of the Union and rebel forces in Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and as to the probabilities of succor, both of men and supplies, reaching this post, and the condition of the troops as to supplies of food, clothing, and ammunition. General Morgan stated that the council was convened to consider the question of remaining at the Gap or evacuating the position, and that he should be governed by the decision of the council, so far as that question was concerned.
After a free interchange of opinion, it was agreed unanimously that, in view of all the circumstances of the case, the position should be vacated.
" (Signed), GEO. W. MORGAN, Brigadier-General,
J. G. SPEARS, Brigadier-General,
A. BAIRD, Brigadier-General,
S. P. CARTER, Brigadier-General,
W. P. CRAIGHILL, lst. Lt. Eng's, U.S.A.,
Recorder of Council.
Statement of subsistence stores on the 17th day of September, the day of evacuation, submitted to the council of war by Brigadier-General Morgan:
50,384 lbs. bacon 12,000 men, 5 ¼ days' rations. 336 bushels beans (moldy) " " 15 " " 9,000 lbs. rice " " 7 ½ " " 1,300 lbs. sugar " " ¾ " " 11,860 lbs. mixed vegetables " " 16 " " 3,630 lbs. dessicated potatoes " " 17 " " 5,650 lbs. soap " " 3 ½ " " 73 barrels salt (wasted by exposure). 295 gallons vinegar.
G.M. ADAMS, Commissary of Subsistence, U.S.A.
General Morgan had been compelled to send his horses - artillery and cavalry - to the rear to save them from starvation. In addition, it should be stated that for three weeks not a pound of subsistence stores had reached the post; the mules lived by browsing, and it had been the General's purpose to kill and salt them down, to enable him to hold out; but, although the commissary's books showed seventy-three barrels of salt, investigation developed the fact that, from exposure, the salt had melted away, until it was estimated that not more than eighty pounds per barrel remained, and the retreat became inevitable.
These were the considerations and this the pressure under which the conference with his subordinates was called. After a full and free interchange of opinions, it was unanimously decided that the post should be abandoned. This conclusion was reached with reluctance by all, as the position was regarded as of indispensable strategic importance to the national cause.
The troops under General Morgan trusted with implicit faith in his judgment and skill, and they entertained unbounded confidence in their ability to repulse any direct assault the enemy might make on the stronghold, and to them the order of evacuation was a source of chagrin and mortification.
It may comport with the sense of justice of the author of the "American Conflict," Mr. Greeley, to sneer at General Morgan and his advisers for "engaging in a precipitate race from the post," but reasonable, candid men, willing to do justice to all parties, will not be found such swift witnesses to impeach the judgment of contemporaries in situations calculated to test the discretion and firmness of the most resolute and determined.
On the 15th and 16th the forts were mined, and all things held in readiness for the work of destruction. Huge masses of sandstone were at various points detached and made ready for a blast of powder to turn them into the road, and at other points the roads were mined and great pits blown out after the rear-guard had passed. During the 17th, the heavy guns captured with the post, together with two thirty-pounder Parrotts, were rendered useless. And at sundown, that day the head of the retreating column passed through the Gap from the Tennessee side of the works. At 2 A. M. on the 18th, the rear filed out, leaving only Captain Wm. F. Patterson and his squad of pioneers to spring the mines and accomplish the work of destruction. His orders were to remain forty minutes after the rear had passed before applying the torch. The night was moonless, and the heavens overcast with clouds, shutting out the feeble rays of the glimmering star-light, and darkness and gloom brooded over mountain and valley.
On the expiration of the appointed time, and at an agreed signal, the mines were in rapid succession exploded, and between the detonations which shook mountain and valley a debris of earth and sandstone was rained over the hill-sides. The destruction of the commissary buildings and the magazines was left for the last sad act. The burning of these illuminated the road for miles on the retreat. The supply of shot and shell was large, and the intermittent explosion of the latter continued until the head of the column was miles away, and sounded so much like a hotly contested battle that it was repeatedly halted to ascertain that the rear was not assailed by pursuing and exulting rebels.
General Morgan reached Manchester on the 19th, and here the first pause in the retreat occurred, the entire column remaining en bivouac for two days to call in all detachments, and to strip for the fight or foot-race, whichsoever it might prove to be.
And here for the first time was witnessed by many of the soldiers the swift, stern, rigorous justice of martial law. A private of the Seventh Kentucky Infantry wantonly killed a comrade. He was known to be actuated by malice, as he had indulged in previous threats. The homicide was committed on Friday. Saturday a court-martial convened, tried, convicted, and sentenced him to death, and on Sunday he was shot to death as a murderer in the presence of the assembled army.
Early on Sunday night, the 21st, the work of destruction was resumed. A hundred army wagons had accumulated at Manchester. There were no animals to take them through, and they were burned.
At 1 A.M. on the 22d the march was resumed. The brigade to which the writer belonged was assigned to the rear of the column, and his regiment was in the rear of the brigade. The pickets had all been called in. The rebels were believed to be close on us, and we were in momentary expectation of an attack. Only those who have passed through such an ordeal can realize the quickened apprehension, the painful hours of suspense which intervened from the time when the head of the column commenced to stretch out its slow length over the rough, narrow, obstructed road of the dark valley, through which the first portion of the march lay. The east was dappled with the approach of dawn before the rear moved. Such hours of anxiety are infinitely more trying to the courage and constancy of the soldier than the direct call to battle. The order of retreat assigned to each brigade a battery of artillery, and the guns being of longer range than any the rebels brought against us, they were kept at long range.
A heavy rebel force under General Stevenson, who had invested the Tennessee side of the Gap, took possession of it on our evacuation, and detachments from his command hung on our rear and picked up stragglers. John Morgan's cavalry harassed our front and flanks at all available points. Once we were assailed in the rear, and once they attempted to mass on our front and arrest the onward march, but they were readily repulsed.
The rebels holding possession of the blue grass region and all the thickly settled portions of the state, the line of retreat was confined to the mountain or hill region of Eastern Kentucky, and across the upper portion of the Cumberland, Kentucky, and Licking Rivers, and the Spurs of the Cumberland Mountain Range which dips down between them. The roads of this region, everywhere imperfect before the rebellion, had now become by neglect almost impassable. Bridges were every-where burned or torn up in front of the advancing column, but fords were speedily found across the spent streams. Trees were felled across the mountain roads at narrow passes where they could not be flanked; but Captain Patterson and his pioneer corps, armed with axes, cross-cut saws, and with blocks and tackle, removed all obstructions in half the time it required to place them in the line of our march. The ringing blows of the ax and the crashing sound of falling trees were heard day and night in our advance.
It seemed to be the policy of the people of this entire district to cut off all means of inter-communication with the outside world. To keep the road in good condition only invited attack by marauding guerrilla bands, who swept every thing before them with unsparing rigor.
To the civilian, it may seem strange to learn that block and tackle and cross-cut saws were made a portion of the armament of a mountain fortress; but to these instruments, yielded by stalwart arms and guided by sound judgment, was the safe accomplishment of the retreat to a great measure due.
On the second day out from Manchester, the 23d, the last rations were issued, consisting of a pound or two each of flour, sugar, and coffee to each mess, and on the evening of the same day, a small herd of beef cattle, which were driven in the rear of the column, was captured by John Morgan's cavalry.
The disturbing effect of the war on the labor of the country was every-where visible along the line of march. Farms were untilled, and the fields were in fenceless desolation and over-grown with weeds - their occupants seemed anxious to exhibit only the evidence of their poverty. Little patches of corn, all the visible means of subsistence for families during the approaching winter, were consumed in a single night. The grain had passed from the milk to the semi-solid state of the matured ear, and was grated into meal on extemporized graters made by punching holes through the tin plates of the soldiers, each mess having two or three of them. Cooking utensils we had none, except our tin cups and coffee pots. Our corn meal was baked into hoe cakes on smooth heated stones, or into ash pone, the sweetest method of cooking corn meal. Every edible along the line of march in view was gobbled up on sight. The writer recalls the amusement excited in witnessing the robbery of three stands of bees beside the road. A soldier approaching each hive, boldly threw it on his shoulder and marched off, with the open end of the hive in the rear. The bees swarming out, flew back to the former site of the stands, to find themselves houseless and homeless.
Evidence of the confusion worse confounded in military affairs, both national and rebel, was apparent during this retreat. Humphrey Marshall's rebel command - five or six thousand strong - camped near West Liberty, Morgan county, Ky., on the 22d of September, marching west under stringent orders to aid in intercepting General G. W. Morgan, at Mount Sterling, and on the ensuing night, the 23d, General Morgan's force occupied the same camping ground, marching north, each commander anxious to avoid a passage at arms just then - Morgan because it would have given time for the rebels to concentrate a superior force on him, and Marshall because of our superiority in numbers and equipments.
General Morgan's force ran the gauntlet of two hundred and thirty miles, with the foe in front and rear, and on his flanks, reaching the Ohio River at the town of Greenup on the 3d of October. On the 4th the troops crossed into Ohio at Wheelersburg, and went into camp at Portland, Jackson county, where they remained en bivouac for two weeks for rest, and awaiting supplies and equipments.
General Morgan brought with him the greater portion of the heavy ordnance held at the Gap; and, best of all, he brought out 12,000 seasoned troops with their morale preserved, and ready at other and distant points to aid in the vindication of the dignity, the honor, and the rights of the Nation.
General Morgan was censured for the abandonment of the post with acerbity, and the Chief-of-Staff of the United States Army, General Halleck, in his report on the general situation, under date of January 1, 1863, was pleased to refer to it as ''the unexpected abandonment" of a post which he was instructed to hold at all hazards.
This criticism of General Halleck amounted to a blunder. Morgan's division reached the Ohio River October 3, 1862, and General Halleck directed Major-General Wright, then commanding the Department of Ohio, to investigate and report the causes which led to the evacuation of Cumberland Gap. On the 15th of October, General Wright made his report to General G. W. Cullum, chief of General Halleck's staff, as follows:
"While the evacuation of the Gap is to be regretted, I do not see how, with starvation staring him in the face, and with no certainty of relief being afforded, he could come to any other conclusion than the one he arrived at.
"The march of General Morgan from Cumberland Gap to the Ohio River was most successfully accomplished, and reflects much credit on him and his officers for the skill with which it was conducted, and on the men for the cheerfulness with which they bore the hardships of a toilsome march, of over two hundred miles, on scanty fare, over a country affording little subsistence, and often for long marches an inadequate supply of water."
This report was in the hands of General Halleck's chief of staff two and a half months before his annual report of January 1, 1863, was written. The report of General Wright may not have been brought to General Halleck's attention.
General Morgan had addressed a letter to the Adjutant-General of the Army, asking an investigation of his action in vacating Cumberland Gap at the earliest practicable moment. Adjutant-General Kelton replied, December 20, 1862 : "Your communication having been submitted to the General-in-Chief, I am directed to say that Major-General Wright was directed, some time since, to investigate and report the facts concerning that affair. If that report should be satisfactory to the War Department, no other proceedings will be required, and you will be exonerated from all blame."
On the 4th February, 1863, General Wright called the attention of General Halleck to his report of October 15, 1862, and General Halleck said to General Wright, under date of February 8, 1863: "Your letter of the 4th inst. is just received. In this, and your former letter, you fully exonerate Brigadier-General Morgan from all blame in abandoning Cumberland Gap. No further investigation will therefore be made. The facts justified General Morgan's retreat."
Audacity and dash in battle often accomplished wonders; a retreat, however, tests the mettle of a commander. This one was conducted with sleepless vigilance and with untiring energy. The enemy was met at all points and foiled, and the many obstructions placed in the way of the onward march were speedily overcome.
And now to say that a retreat of such a distance was accomplished in thirteen marching days, with the loss of but two soldiers slain, and with no loss of material en route, is a high tribute to General Morgan. The influence of mountain ranges in forming the thoughts and directing the actions of men has been the subject of philosophical inquiry to the historian.
The Cumberland Range, an offshoot from the great Allegheny Mountains, thrust as a wedge between the cotton-growing states of the South and the grazing and cereal states of the middle section, is a district of country unsuited for the profitable cultivation of the products of slave labor.
The early emigrants to that elevated region carried with them to their chosen homes the sentiments of personal and political freedom engendered in the great revolutionary struggle through which they had passed. They had witnessed in the fertile lowlands the oppressions and wrongs inevitably incident to slavery, and they impressed on their offspring its bitter fruits, alike to the dominant race, and to the patient, suffering, abject beings held in subjection.
The battle cry of the Moslem through centuries of carnage has ever been, "The Koran or the sword;" that of our revolutionary fathers was, "Give me liberty or give me death;" with the rebels it was, "Give us slavery or perish the government." The Nation accepted the defiant gauge of battle, and, rising in the dignity and majesty of its might, trampled out the offensive claim.
The result achieved vindicates God's providential control over human action and human government, and has established personal manhood rights on the broadest and most immutable foundations - his sovereign justice and the will of a regenerated people.
"Here the free spirit of mankind at length
Throws its fetters off; and who shall place
A limit to the giant's unchained strength,
Or curb its swiftness in the forward race?
Far; like the comet's way through infinite space,
Stretches the long untraveled path of light
Into the depths of ages, we may trace
Distant the brightening glory of its flight
Till the receding rays are lost to human sight"
Read June 3, 1885.
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Ohio Commandery, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States
Stevenson, B.F. 1888. Cumberland Gap, pp 329-357. IN Sketches of War History, 1861-1865. Papers Read before the Commandery of the State of Ohio, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Published by the Ohio Commandery, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Robert Clarke and Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. Volume I.
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