Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The 48th/150th: Chasing Longstreet in East Tennessee & Settling Into Winter Camps

Having been defeated at Fort Sanders, Knoxville, on November 29, 1863, and having it confirmed that Bragg had been routed at Chattanooga, Confederate General James Longstreet decided against returning to the shattered ranks of the Army of Tennessee in Georgia. With hundreds of dead and wounded men laying between his own lines and Fort Sanders, Longstreet initially considered continuing with his semi-siege of Burnside's men in Knoxville. But when he learned that a large column--some 20,000 men strong and under the command of William T. Sherman--had been sent north by Grant from Chattanooga to Burnside's relief, Longstreet wisely chose to head northeast, slipping away from Knoxville and to the mountains of East Tennessee. When the Union troops discovered that Longtreet's men had "pulled up stakes and departed," a reconnaissance was ordered and at 9:00 a.m. on the morning of December 5, the soldiers of the 48th departed their trenches around Knoxville and set out, seeking to determine just exactly where Longstreet had gone. Covering several miles, the men "gathered up" about 50 Confederate prisoners, "found in squads of two or three on the roads traversed," explained Captain Bosbyshell.

Confederate Soldiers in Retreat

After this rather short reconnaissance mission, the 48th returned to Knoxville but--two days later--were once again ordered back out, to keep an eye on Longstreet's men, still maintaining an irritating, if not threatening position northeast of the city. On the cold December 7, the regiment covered twelve miles before going into camp along the side of the road. Another six or seven miles was covered the following day--December 8--before the Schuylkill County men arrived at Blaine's Crossroads. Next day, twelve more miles--with the regiment encamping for the night of December 9-10 near Rutledge--"a small village of wooden houses, save the Court House, which was a large brick building of fine appearance. The town had been completely stripped of provisions," said Bosbyshell, "butter, eggs and chickens were not to be had--the rebels having cleared the place out just twenty-four hours previously." For nearly a week, the men remained in their campsites near Rutledge. They were once more on the move on December 15 when reports arrived that Longstreet was heading back for Knoxville. "Camp was abandoned and line of battle formed, awaiting an expected attack from the enemy," but the reports were ill-founded and no attack ever came. After waiting in line of battle all day, the 48th fell back, went into bivouac and, next day, continued a retrograde movement back toward Knoxville. Yet again, on December 16, and again expecting an attack, the soldiers of the Second Division, 9th Corps, formed up in line of battle, ready to contend with any force Longstreet might throw at them. But again. . .no attack came. More of the same followed on December 17, but the temperatures began to plummet, "making it uncomfortable without tents," said Bosbyshell--with just a little understatement. On December 18, the soldiers of the 21st Massachusetts were sent forward to shoo-away some Confederate cavalry that had appeared to the front of the 9th Corps men and this, it was noted, would be last the 48th saw of any Confederate troops in East Tennessee.

Soldier's Dream, as it appeared in Harpers' Weekly, on November 7, 1863
No doubt many men of the 48th were thinking about home and family while chasing after Longstreet, hundreds of miles away, in the mountains of East Tennessee

With Longstreet heading back deeper into the mountains, the 48th returned to a location near Blaine's Crossroads and there settled into winter camp. It would be a winter long remembered by the veterans of the regiment--in the cold, in the snow--in a camp many of the men described as their own little Valley Forge.

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