Battle of Rogersville

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Rogersville

Securing the line of communication back to Kentucky required that Burnside man the route at regular intervals. One such outpost was located just east of Rogersville where a portion of the Third Brigade of the 4th Cavalry Division held the line. This isolated detachment (7th Ohio Cavalry, 2nd East Tennessee Mounted Infantry, and 4guns of Battery M 2nd Illinois light Artillery) became a target for Confederate Cavalry commanded by BG William “Grumble” Jones in the first week of November 1863.

Jones could not have selected a more opportune time to strike the outpost. The detachment commander, Colonel James P.T. Carter and the regimental commander of the 2nd East Tennessee Mounted Infantry, LTC James M. Melton had departed on leave of absence. Command fell to Colonel Israel Garrard of the 7th Ohio while command of his two maneuver units fell to Majors. The artillery was in no better condition as the regular commander had been ordered away leaving the guns under the command of Lt. W. Stevenson. This improvised command structure would do nothing to distinguish itself in the coming fight.

BG Jones’ plan called for two columns to cross the Holston River and approach the Union encampment on two roads. Troops, under Colonel Henry Giltner, would hug the river on Old Stage Road while Jones led the other to Carter Valley Road and an effort to gain the Federal rear.

Suspecting that something was afoot Colonel Garrard dispatched a 50 man patrol eastward on the Carter Valley Road to link with a picket of home guards. Captain Marney, leading the patrol, met with Captain Rogers, commander of the picket force, and explained that they would join forces and push out on a scout of the road. While Rogers was making preparations to depart the lead elements of Jones column fell upon them with sabers drawn. Led by the 8th Virginia Cavalry, under Colonel James Corns, the Confederate mass easily swallowed up the small party. Company E, commanded by Captain H.C. Everett, “captured some 40 of them, and dispersed the remainder of them in the woods.” The prisoners were left with a small guard and “very near all of the men escaped and returned” carrying news of the Confederate approach.

Colonel Giltner’s southern column, moving slowly to give Jones time to complete his circuitous route, ran into a party of “more than 25 or 30” defenders picketing the road. Giltner cautiously deployed “flanking and skirmishing parties” because he suspected the presence of a larger force. Valuable time was wasted and the enemy was allowed to retreat before Giltner was able to push forward to Big Creek in front of the Union encampment. Despite some advanced warning Garrard spent the available time trying to get the supply wagons ready for a get away dash. Just after sunrise Garrard took the 7th Ohio out on the road to Rogersville to develop the Confederate intentions. They were blasted back by Jones’ troopers, who had completed their encircling move. Thinking Garrard killed in the repulse Major Daniel Carpenter tried to organize his forces. It was too late. Giltner’s column had arrived and was rapidly cutting off any chance for escape.

A disheveled Garrard reappeared and ordered Carpenter to have his men tie their horses and form a line. They were to defend their position “at all hazard.” As the Confederates closed in Garrard mounted his regiment and made a break out attempt leaving the Tennessee men to their fate. Of the 893 men under Carpenter’s command 5 were killed and 608 were captured (418 died in captivity). The 7th Ohio escaped the debacle losing roughly half and all the artillery. Despite the overwhelming success of the operation Jones criticized Giltner’s tardy arrival that allowed any of the Federal force to escape.