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Hardtack and Hard Times; Battle of Big Creek 150th Anniversary Reenactment this Weekend.

October 31st, 2013 2:24 am by Ned Jilton

This weekend will be the reenactment for the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Big Creek, also known as the Battle of Rogersville, to be held at the Bonnie Blue Farm, 1746 McKinney Chapel Road near Rogersville.

In this battle the Confederate forces under the command of William E. (Grumble) Jones attacked the Union forces first under the command of Col. Israel Garrard of the 8th Ohio Cavalry then under the command of Daniel A. Carpenter, Second Tennessee Infantry, after Garrard and much of the 8th Ohio swam the Holston River to escape. More on that in a moment.

The event is both Saturday and Sunday, Nov 2 and 3. To get to Bonnie Blue Farm; beginning at Food City in East Rogersville you get on Burem Road off of East Main Street in front of Food City. Follow Burem Road until the intersection with McKinney’s Chapel Road (Before crossing Big Creek) turn right onto McKinney’s Chapel Road travel up the hill to Bonnie Blue Farm on the right. Gates open to the public at 10:00 am. and close at 5:00 pm. Tickets: 19 and up $5.00, 12 TO 18 $3.00 and children under 12 free.

The Battle of Big Creek was a total Confederate victory resulting in the capture of the 2nd TN Infantry and 2nd Illinois Battery. There were men from Hawkins County in the 2nd TN Infantry and sadly they would die as prisoners of war at Andersonville Prison.

Instead of me rambling on I thought it would be better to hear, or read, what the officers who commanded the battle had to say. Here are the reports of Col. Israel Garrard, which is very short, and Maj. Daniel A. Carpenter of the Union forces and Brig. Gen. William E. Jones commanding the Confederate forces.

The reports make interesting reading if for no other reason than the landmarks named in both Kingsport and around Rogersville. When you drive west on Netherland Inn Road and cross the bridge at Rotherwood you are following the path that was taken by a part of the command of Gen. Jones’ Confederate forces.

Report of Colonel Israel Garrard, Seventh Ohio Cavalry, commanding United States forces.

“I was attacked this a.m. and totally defeated. I lost my guns and two-thirds of my command; rebel force not known, as they were continually sending their troops forward. I think the whole of the Second Tennessee is lost. About one-half of the Seventh [Ohio] Cavalry is lost. The rebel cavalry was following us this side of Bull's Gap.”

Report of Major Daniel A. Carpenter, Second Tennessee (mounted) Infantry.

SIR: Having but recently been released from a rebel prison, I have the honor to embrace the earliest opportunity to submit the following report of the affair which led to the capture of a large part of the Second East Tennessee Mounted Infantry on the 6th of November last:

On the 5th of November, 1863, the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, Second East Tennessee Mounted Infantry Volunteers, and four guns of Captain Phillips' (Second Illinois) battery were encamped 4 miles east of Rogersville, Tennessee, Major McIntire commanding the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, myself commanding the Second East Tennessee Mounted Infantry, and a lieutenant, name unknown, commanding the artillery; the whole under command of Colonel Garrard, of the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry.

Late in the afternoon Colonel Garrard informed me that the rebels were crossing Holston River at Kingsport, Tennessee, 18 miles east of our encampment. About 12 o'clock that night he (Colonel Garrard) ordered me to detail 50 men, under a good officer, and have them to report to him at 2 o'clock the following a.m., for the purpose of going out on a scout. Accordingly Captain Marney, Company A, and Lieutenant Jones, Company E, were detailed, with 50 enlisted men, and ordered to report to Colonel Garrard at the appointed hour, which they did, and were ordered by him to proceed to the Carter Valley road and up said road to where Captain Rogers, with a company of home guards doing picket duty, was posted.

Captain Marney arrived at Captain Rogers' quarters at the specified time. Colonel Garrard had ordered Captain Marney to take Captain Rogers' company, together with his 50 men, and proceed up Carter Valley about 9 miles and establish a line of pickets from the Carter Valley road to the Kingsport road, informing him (Colonel Garrard) of everything they could learn concerning the movements of the enemy.

While Captain Marney and his men were waiting on Captain Rogers to get ready to start, Captain Marney discovered a body of mounted men moving rapidly toward them from the direction of Kingsport. Captain Marney asked Captain Rogers if he had pickets out, to which Captain Rogers replied he had. Just at that moment a brigade of rebels with drawn sabers charged upon Captain Marney and his men.

The road being narrow, the rebels ran over Captain Marney and his men, making a large portion of them prisoners. The rebels tarried but a few moments, left a small squad with the prisoners, and proceeded toward Rogersville. Very near all of the men captured escaped and returned to our camp in advance of the rebels, and informed Colonel Garrard of what had happened; this was about sunrise.

Previous to this time Colonel Garrard had ordered me to strike tents, load my wagons, saddle my horses, and be ready to move or fight at any moment. Colonel Garrard came very soon to my quarters. I had everything ready, and was just finishing my breakfast. He informed me the rebels were at that time in Rogersville; requested me to have my train to move out on the Rogersville road a short distance and halt. Near this time the train of the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry came up. I ordered my train to fall in behind said train; they did so and then halted.

Colonel Garrard informed me he would take the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry and move down toward Rogersville and see if he could ascertain anything from the rebels, at the same time ordering me to send out two companies east of our camp to meet the enemy if they should come from the direction of Carter's Valley; also ordered me to detail 50 men and send them east of our camp to hold a hill and prevent the enemy from occupying it. This was promptly done. Colonel Garrard moved with the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry toward Rogersville, but had not gone far when I heard a volley of musketry, and very soon the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry returned at full speed; a number of them had thrown their guns down and were in a perfect state of confusion.

Major McIntire, of the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, came to me and stated that Colonel Garrard was killed and I would have to take command of the forces. I requested Major McIntire to try and collect his men, they being completely demoralized. He said the panic and confusion in his regiment resulted from the death of Colonel Garrard.

At this time two guns of Phillips' battery were nearly a half mile east of our position without support. I immediately dispatched Lieutenant Shaw, of the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, to order the two guns to fall back across the creek and take position near where I was with the remainder of my regiment. Lieutenant Shaw delivered the order, and the lieutenant commanding the guns remarked that the rebels were within 100 yards of his position in a ditch, and would certainly capture them if he attempted to move, though he thought he could keep them at bay for a while with grape and canister. Lieutenant Shaw directed him to do so and returned.

By this time Colonel Garrard arrived; he had lost his hat and was, seemingly, very much excited. He stated the rebels were coming from Rogersville, and ordered me to move with my regiment in that direction, to the edge of the woods, and advance two companies as skirmishers. Colonel Garrard accompanied me, pointing out the position he wished my regiment to occupy. He requested me to tie my horses and put as many men in the fight as I could; that we would not try to escape, but whip the rebels if possible, ordering me to hold the position assigned me at all hazards until further orders from him. I ordered Captain Carns to move forward with companies C, G, and B as skirmishers. He did so, and soon met the enemy and commenced a brisk skirmish, driving them back some 300 yards. I then ordered Captain Carns to return to me.

At or near this time the rebels charged and captured the two guns east of----Creek near the house of Mr. Russell. They then moved toward our camp. The Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry was formed near the camp and supporting the two guns yet remaining in our possession. Colonel Garrard sent me orders to send three companies to support the two guns. I started three companies under command of Captain Carns; when he got in sight of the point ordered to, he discovered the rebels had taken the guns.

They (the rebels) raised the yell and commenced advancing from every direction on my position. I sent an  orderly to inform Colonel Garrard if he did not assist me I would soon be completely surrounded. By this time Captain Carns returned; he had been cut off from me by the rebels, and very nearly the whole of the three companies captured. Captain Carns informed me that Colonel Garrard and the whole of the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry had left the field, and were across the Holston River.

The 50 men detailed to hold the hill east of our camp, also the two companies sent east of our camp, had been skirmishing some time.  When the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry left the field they, the two companies and 50 detailed men, were compelled to fall back to my position. A number of them were captured in returning. At this time I did not have more than 200 men who had ammunition, and was completely surrounded by at least 4,000 rebels, who were within 75 yards of us, demanding a surrender.

They had already possession of my horses, and were killing and wounding my men at a fearful rate. I summoned the officers of my regiment and consulted with them as to what measures best to adopt. All instantly agreed that a surrender was the only thing possible, so I at once surrender myself and command.

William Russell, of Company A, was shot and killed after we had grounded arms. The officers and men of Captain Phillips' (Second Illinois) battery discharged their duty nobly.

We were marched the whole of the night following our capture. During that night a number of the men effected their escape.

The officers and men of the Second East Tennessee Mounted Infantry performed their duty with the most gratifying coolness and courage, and were only induced to surrender to greatly superior numbers after all hope of further successful resistance was gone. The position in which we were placed by Colonel Garrard I was ordered to hold until he should give me directions to abandon it, and it was in carrying out my instructions that the regiment was captured.

Colonel, I some time since made application for a court of inquiry to investigate the circumstances of our capture, and as statements have been made prejudicial to the good name of my regiment, I respectfully reiterate my request for a court of inquiry, in order that the blame may be placed where it properly belongs. I feel fully satisfied that when the facts of the case are known, the officers and men of the Second East Tennessee Mounted Infantry will be found to have done their whole duty.

As the time of service of my regiment will soon expire, I respectfully urge that the court my be ordered at as early a day as practicable.

Report of Brigadier General William E. Jones, C. S. Army, commanding Cavalry Brigade.

In accordance with enclosed instructions from headquarters District Southwestern Virginia and East Tennessee, my command rendezvoused at Bachman's Ford on the 4th instant. On inquiry finding if it crossed here there would be danger of alarming the enemy, I deemed it best to cross near Spurgeon's Mill, and encamped for the night a few miles below.

Moving early next morning the command halted at Easly's, on Horse Creek, 5 miles from Kingsport, and fed the horses. From this point I communicated with Colonel Giltner near noon my intention to execute the original plan of attack.

Arriving 17 miles from Rogersville on the Beach Creek road near dark, we halted to feed and cook rations. Here it was ascertained the road leading to Smith's and Dodson's Fords ran within 6 miles of the camps of the enemy. It was also ascertained both fords were difficult and dangerous, and the night was dark and rainy.

To reach the point assigned me by the hour designated required me to cross the Holston before daylight. By intricate mountain paths, exacting the utmost care on the part of all, we reached the Long Shoals, 12 miles above Rogersville, and crossed in safety. Reaching the old stage road, nothing could be heard of Colonel  Giltner's command, but I determined to turn the position of the enemy at the mouth of Big Creek by way of the Carter's Valley road, my brigade crossing the old stage road for this purpose.

Soon a messenger overtook me with tidings of Colonel Giltner, also reporting about 100 Federal Tennessee home guards at Kincade's. Pushing ahead part of the Eighth Virginia Cavalry to surround and capture this force, they encountered near where the home guards were expected a scout of 50 men from the Second Tennessee Federal Regiment. The attack was made with such vigor that but 17 men of this force escaped this onset. Moving on briskly to the junction of the roads, the Eighth Regiment turned east on the old stage road and took position on the first eminence.

As it was now long after Colonel Giltner should have made his attack  and no engagement could be heard, I felt assured the enemy must have made his escape, but moved the Eighth across to the river road from Big Creek to Dodson's Ford in hopes of intercepting fugitives. The men of the Twenty-seventh Battalion Virginia Cavalry, under Captain J. B. Thompson, were ordered to charge into Rogersville, and in so doing captured upward of 100 prisoners and some army supplies.

For the same reason the Eighth was ordered to the river road. Colonel Witcher was ordered with his own and the Thirty-seventh Battalion Virginia Cavalry to Smith's Ford. The Thirty-sixth Battalion Virginia Cavalry was held in reserve near town, and the Twenty-first Regiment Virginia Cavalry in the position first held by the Eighth Regiment. The Twenty-seventh Battalion Virginia Cavalry was ordered, after the captures in Rogersville, by the railroad to the river. After these dispositions had been made a party of 55 home guards (Federal) attacked the town from the west, but were easily dispersed by a small party under Lieutenant W. M. Hopkins, aide-de-camp.

After all the prisoners had been collected and marched out east of the town, the wagons loaded, hitched to, and driven to the forks of the main roads, was heard the first firing in the direction of Big Creek. The Twenty-first Regiment was immediately ordered up the old stage road with directions to be guided by the firing and to join in the battle. The Thirty-sixth Battalion was ordered up from town and all the other commands were recalled in haste.

The old stage road being open, the Twenty-first having moved across toward the river, a party of 125 of the enemy attempted to escape toward Rogersville, but were intercepted and all captured by the timely arrival of Witcher's, Claiborne's, and Smith's commands. By this time firing had ceased in front and I felt assured of the surrender of the enemy, as proved to be the case.

Two hundred and ninety-four prisoners were taken by my brigade, acting alone. The Eighth Virginia took 9 wagons and teams, 7 of which were secured. The remainder of the command took 3 wagons and 2 ambulances, all of which were secured.

From Colonel Carns' report it will be seen the roads west of the position of the enemy were held by the Eighth Virginia Cavalry, and a large part of the 556 prisoners taken here were taken by the Eighth and sent in charge of an officer to Colonel Giltner. Had Colonel Giltner made a prompt and hold attack that would have discovered the position of the enemy before my dispositions were made, under the impression of his having abandoned his position, it is believed none would have escaped. The unaccountable delay, doubtless, has proved very detrimental to our interests.

To Captain McKinney, of General Jackson's staff; to Mr. W. H. Watterson, clerk of my brigade quartermaster, and to Mr. Phipps and other guides my thanks are especially due for their activity, energy, and judgment on this occasion. To Lieutenant W. M. Hopkins, of my personal staff, I am under great obligations
for the efficient discharge of his official duties.

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