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History Of Gen. Mitchell's Campaign—The March Upon Huntsville—Splendid March Op Gen. Turchin's Brigade—Illinois In The Advance—Surprise And Capture Op Huntsville—Gen. Turchin's Occupation Of Tuscumbia—His RetroGrade Movement—Occupation Op Athens—Refutation Of Malicious Charges— The Battle Op Bridgeport—Complete Surprise And Rout Of The Rebels—Close Op The Campaign—Gen. Negleys Expedition—Illinois Again In The Advance— The Shelling Of Chattanooga—Life And Character Of Gen. Turchin.
THERE was one division of General Buell's army, which, although co-operating with the movements of the main army in its operations at Pittsburg Landing and Corinth, detailed in the 15 th chapter, yet occupied a distant part of the field and carried on virtually an independent campaign, sufficiently so to warrant an interruption of chronological sequence, and the devotion of a separate chapter to the development of that campaign. We therefore return to Nashville.
General Mitchell left at the same time with the main army, but took the road to Murfreesboro, at which point he remained until the 4th of April, building bridges, putting roads into repair, and organizing and stripping his army for the impending campaign. Long before this time, the rebel force which had occupied Murfreesboro, had withdrawn and joined Beauregard on the new southern line of defense.
On the 4th, General Mitchell marched to Shelbyville, county seat of Bedford, Tennessee, twenty-six miles distant, and on the 7th advanced to Fayetteville, twenty-seven miles further on, which places he occupied without opposition. On the 8th, fifteen miles beyond Fayetteville, he crossed the state line of Alabama. Huntsville was now the objective point, the occupation of which would sever the main line of communication between the rebel armies in Virginia and Mississippi. It was expected that its occupation would be secured only at fearful cost. It was a railroad point of vital importance to the rebels, and one which it was supposed would be guarded with sleepless vigilance, and defended to the last extremity. Upon that road the rebels had accumulated nearly all the rolling stock of all the railroads from Bowling Green southward, besides what belonged to the road itself, and the rapid transportation and concentration of troops at any given point was therefore a matter of comparative ease. Should reverse happen to either of our armies in Virginia or Mississippi, the destruction of Gen. Mitchell's army was almost certain. But in the midst of all these anxieties, a man stepped forward who was never anxious, who never doubted of success, one bred to arms, and who believed that success—all other things being equal— could always be achieved by celerity of movement, and strength and suddenness of blow. If these are elements of strategy, he was eminently strategetic. That man was General, then Colonel, John Basil Turchin. He conceived that Huntsville might be taken without a struggle, and sought permission of General Mitchell to march thither w^ith his brigade, consisting of the 19th and 24th Illinois, 18th Ohio, 37th Indiana, the 4th Ohio Cavalry, Colonel Kennett, and Captain Simonson's battery. The permission was granted. Taking two days' rations, his brigade, the gallant 19th and 24th Illinois in the advance, left Fayetteville at 6 o'clock, A. M., on the 10th, Colonel Sill's brigade and the Loomis' battery following closely, and the other brigade, General Lytle's, at a greater distance. The weather was cool, but the roads, if by paths can be called roads, were in a frightful condition. Onward the troops toiled through swamps, morasses and almost impenetrable forests, over rocky and precipitous hills, to descend again into swamps, bog holes and thick forests. The progress was slow and painful. The trains were frequently mired. Often it became necessary to hitch the mules of two or three teams to a single wagon, and haul them singly through the swamps and up the steep hills. In some places it was necessary to drag the guns by hand. But the troops made no complaint. The indomitable spirit and untiring energy of Turchin seemed to pervade his troops individually, and still they toiled on though weary and heavy laden.
THE CAPTURE OF HtTNTSVILLE. 333
That night Turchin's brigade rested but little. No tents were pitched. The men threw themselves upon the ground around their camp fires until the moon went down, and then in the darkness, the shrill bugle call summoned them to the march again. The roads became better and progress was more rapid. About six o'clock in the morning, the vicinity of Huntsville was reached, the city being visible behind a beautiful forest of cedars. An advance force of the cavalry, with a section of the battery in charge of Captain Simonson himself, assisted by Lieutenant M. Allen, commanding the section, the whole under charge of Colonel Kennett, first caught sight of the town. Captain Simonson placed his battery in position on the side of one of the hills on the Meridianville road, and the little force moved forward as silently as possible and on the double quick. Two locomotives, with trains attached, made their appearance upon the railroad moving towards Stevenson. The first one crowded on steam and made its escape. The second, however, was brought to by a shot from the battery and captured with one hundred and fiftynine prisoners. The escaped train was chased ten miles by a squad of the cavalry but the iron horse was too fleet. The infantry had come up while this was going on, and Colonel Mihalotzy of the 24th Illinois sent a detachment to tear up the track in the direction of Decatur, so that the escape of any more trains was effectually prevented.
The word was now " On to the town!" The cavalry force was instantly in motion and an excited race ensued for the honor of the first entree. Three troopers gained the honors, rushing into the town far in advance of the rest of the force, and finding a large number of rebel soldiers sleeping about a train, one hundred and seventy of whom they actually captured, including a Major Cavanaugh, six captains and three lieutenants. The rebel Major had been home for recruits and was en route for Virginia to fill up his regiment. It is safe to assume his recruits never reached their destination, and that his chagrin was fully as deep as the merriment of his captors. The surprise was complete. The citizens were asleep, quietly dreaming of future Southern independence or troubled with Yankee nightmares, when our troops entered. The clatter of the cavalry as they swept through the streets, and their triumphant shouts of victory awoke them from their slumbers, and they flocked to the doors and windows, rubbing their eyes and whispering to each other the unwelcome news. Men rushed into the streets half dressed, women fainted, the children screamed, and the negroes were in ecstasies. There was an absolute reign of terror for a short time, the inhabitants uncertain as to what their fate might be at the hands of their sudden and unexpected visitors. Only the cavalry force as yet occupied the town, and the Mayor unaware of the brigades behind, plucked up courage and consoled his demoralized constituents, by assuring them he should send for a rebel cavalry force near by and have the intruders expelled before night. During the forenoon, however, the whole army entered, and the Mayor gave up his design. Colonel Gazley, of the 37th Indiana, was appointed Provost Marshal and his regiment occupied the place as a garrison. Tranquillity was restored, and an examination of the prize which had fallen like overripe fruit into our hands, showed that seventeen fine locomotives, sixteen of them in running order, and one hundred and fifty cars, besides an immense amount of railroad and war material, were the results of General Turchin's well planned and well executed . expedition. General Mitchell made good use of his rolling stock. Before the close of the day, our troops had made several railroad excursions into the interior, and one hundred miles of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, stretching in one direction as far as Stevenson and in the other as far as Decatur, were in our possession.
From Decatur Gen. Turchin pushed on and occupied Tuscumbia. The operations were summed up by Gen. Mitchell in his thanks to his soldiers, as follows: "You have struck blow after blow with a rapidity unparalleled. Stevenson fell, sixty miles to the east of Huntsville. Decatur and Tuscumbia have been in like manner seized and are now occupied. In three days you have extended your front of operations more than one hundred and twenty miles, and your morning gun at Tuscumbia may be heard by your comrades on the battle-field made glorious by their victory before Corinth."
But this very extension of his line, although it made him a MajorGeneral and his force an independent corps, was fraught with great and imminent danger* With the number of troops at his command, THE ATHENS AEEAIK. 335
it was impossible for him to hold this long line of railroad. The enemy began to gather in force and threaten him. On the right skirmishing was frequent. On the left, at Chattanooga, both his rear and Nashville were threatened. In his front, cavalry were harassing him. No reinforcements came. Supplies were obtained with difficulty, and subsistence forwarded to him by Gen. Halleck had been destroyed to save it from the enemy. Gen. Turchin found his position at Tuscumbia untenable, and although his spirit chafed against it, he reluctantly determined on the 23d to fall back. On the 24th he reached Jonesboro after some severe fighting with the cavalry harassing his rear guard, and on the 26th the bridge at Decatur, the only crossing of the Tennessee river east of Florence above the head of navigation, and west of Bridgeport near Chattanooga. Gen. Turchin continued his retrograde movement to Huntsville, shortly after which occurred the episode at Athens, which has been made the opportunity for much partisan censure and malicious statement concerning the 19th Illinois. When the 19th entered Huntsville, Athens, a small town on the Elk river, a branch of the Tennessee, was occupied by the 18th Ohio, Col. Stanley. They were camped in the race course near the town, but on one occasion neglecting to have pickets out, a squad of rebel cavalry discovered the omission, and," posting themselves in advantageous positions, commenced firing upon our troops. Col. Stanley, thinking that the force was much larger than it really was, evacuated the place and retired upon Huntsville, his avant couriers coming in with the most exaggerated stories of the approach of a large rebel force and the annihilation of the regiment. The inhabitants of Athens had made frequent and loud protestations of loyalty, but the departure of the regiment was made the occasion of every indignity. The troops were fired upon from the windows of houses. Women jeered at them with the vilest epithets, spat upon them, and the rabble followed them, throwing filth and garbage. But in the mean time, Gen. Turchin's brigade was ordered to occupy Athens and it was #done speedily. No enemy was found there, and the inhabitants were again full of protestations of loyalty. This and the remembrance of the indignities heaped upon their comrades, incensed the troops, and some of the regiments, the 19th in particular, retaliated