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HARDTACK and HARD TIMES: Quick Facts and Tips for Teachers and Students About Battle of Kingsport.

August 19th, 2014 5:20 pm by Ned Jilton

HARDTACK and HARD TIMES: Quick Facts and Tips for Teachers and Students About Battle of Kingsport.

The contest for area students to design the art for the Battle of Kingsport Commemorative Medal is now well under way and to help both the teachers and students here are some facts on the battle and design tips.

The battle took place on December 13th, 1864, (the date and name of the battle will be on the back of the medal so it does not need to be in the design on the front) and was said by veterans of the war to be the coldest month of the entire war.

Federal cavalry is moving from Knoxville towards Saltville, Va., to destroy one of the last sources of raw materials in the Confederacy, salt in Saltville to make potassium nitrate for gunpowder and lead from the mines in Marion and Wytheville which is used to make bullets. The Federals are moving fast, from Bean Station and through Rogersville on the 12th to the banks of the river on the morning of the 13th.

Standing between them and their goal is a band of Confederate cavalry along the eastern banks of the North Fork of the Holston River in Kingsport. Their orders were to delay or stop the Federal advance long enough for Gen. John C. Breckinridge to gather troops for the defense of the Saltville area.

Though few in numbers (roughly 300 troopers) the Confederates are in a strong position on top of a steep bluff overlooking the river. The bridge across the North Fork of the Holston River is too badly damaged for horses to cross so the Federals will have to cross at the river ford a few hundred yards north of the bridge.

For the Federals to attack they have to cross the ford and advance along the road at the base of the bluff while under continuous fire from the Confederates. However, the Federals have something of a secret weapon with them, East Tennessee Yankees or Tennessee Tories as some called them.

When Union troopers under the command of Brig. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem arrived on the west bank of the North Fork of the Holston River they saw the Confederates in commanding positions on the bluffs overlooking the river. Gillem learned from Col. Samuel K. Patton, 8th TN Cav., a Kingsport native, about another ford up river, consulted with his commanding officer, Gen. George Stoneman, and then divided his command sending part two miles upriver to Kyle's Ford while the other half demonstrated in front of the Rebels.

"After consultation with Major-General Stoneman, the Eighth Tennessee Cavalry was ordered to proceed up the river and cross at Kyle's Ford, two miles and a half above, and turn the enemy's right flank, whilst I, with two battalions of the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Stacy, and the Ninth Tennessee Cavalry, under Major Hornsby, should cross the river and attack them in front." Wrote Gillem in his report.

The Rebels defending Kingsport were taken by surprise as Gillem reported, "This movement completely surprised them, and after a feeble resistance, considering the advantage of their position, they fled in confusion, and were pursued for seven miles. The pursuit only ended when the enemy, losing all semblance of organization, scattered through the woods for safety. The enemy's loss in this charge was 18 killed, 84 prisoners, including Colonel R.C. Morgan, commanding brigade. Their subsistence and ammunition train of 14 wagons and 4 ambulances fell into our hands."

The Yankee cavalry moved through Blountville that evening and attacked Bristol the next day then moved on to successfully destroy the salt works and lead mines in the Saltville area.

A quick point for those researching the Battle of Kingsport, it was the third fight to take place in that same area. There was a skirmish at the ford in 1863 preceding the Battle of Blountville and then another skirmish in September of 1864 before the battle in December. (Officially listed as an action in the records)

From a design stand-point there is a lot to work with. It was an all cavalry battle so you have all the horses, sabers, flags and troopers to work with. The grounds played a key role in the battle so you have the river, the bridge and the bluff. There were 18 Confederates killed so you
have options such as crosses, tombstones and graves. The weather was extremely cold so that gives you yet another element that may, or may not be in the design. For additional inspiration try checking out the state quarters and coming up with a unique design of your own.

Remember that entries must in at the Times-News by 5 pm on September 12. I am hoping to see entries from the county schools as well. $100 would fit into the pocket of a student from Sullivan North or Sullivan South just as easy as a student from Dobyns-Bennett. Maybe someone from Hawkins County or Scott County may come up with a winner.

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