Sherman Moves Through Monroe County
By: Bill Baker

George Tecumseh Sherman


   On November 25, 1863, after a three-day struggle, the Confederate forces commanded by General Bragg in Chattanooga were defeated during the Battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge by Union troops under U.S. Grant. The Rebs withdrew southward into Georgia. Meanwhile, in Knoxville, General Burnside's Union troops and General Longstreet's Confederates lay growling at each other like two dogs. The armies had fallen into a siege situation, with neither one wanting to make the first move. Burnside, always the cautious and pessimistic type, feared he was outnumbered and begged for reinforcements. He ominously informed his superiors that the Rebels were blocking his supply lines, and that if help did not arrive soon, his troops would have to capitulate due to starvation. Union troops under the command of General William T. Sherman were quickly sent north from Chattanooga by forced march, rushing to Burnside's relief. 

   Longstreet attacked Burnside before Sherman could arrive and sandwich him in. The Battle of Fort Sanders was fought on November 29, 1863. It turned out to be a frustrating defeat for the Confederates. Longstreet grudgingly conceded Knoxville and headed up the Tennessee Valley towards Bristol.

   The first troops of Sherman's 25,000-man relief force arrived in Maryville on the 5th of December, having marched all the way from Chattanooga for nothing. They had traveled through bitterly cold and harsh conditions, struggling over rutted out roads of frozen mud. The hard-ridden soldiers had suffered greatly... as well as Sherman himself. During the chilly trip north the General had became so frozen and stiff, he had to spend a night in the bed of an Athens family to thaw out.

   While his troops waited in Maryville and Louisville, and guarded the platoon bridge they had built at Morganton, (just south of present-day Greenback Sherman went on to Knoxville to assess the situation there. He found the Rebels gone, and Burnside, his staff and subordinate officers, all quartered up in a fine warm mansion, smoking cigars, drinking brandy, preparing to sit down to a sumptuous meal of turkey and ham, with all the fixings, fancy trimmings, and rich deserts ... served up to them by a host of well-to-do Knoxville ladies of Union sympathies. It was supposed to be a dinner in Sherman's honor, and to celebrate the taking of Knoxville.

   But, Sherman was in no mood to celebrate. He chewed some butt, describing his army's ordeal of launching right into a forced march after a three day battle, of his nearly freezing to death, of the fact that most of his men were poorly clad for winter travel adding, that some of them had even left their bloody footprints in the snow on the way up from Chattanooga for want of decent shoes. Sherman chidingly pointed out that apparently, reinforcements were never really needed in the first place, since the Rebels had been defeated with what forces were on hand and to add insult to injury, as far as he could tell there sure as hell wasn't any starvation going on at Burnside's headquarters. Oh to have been a fly on the wall ...

   Here is some of the correspondence between the Union commanders as Sherman's army moved southward back towards Chattanooga to rejoin the main body of Federal forces there. Knoxville was won. Ironically, the Rebels had retreated north, and the Yankees were heading south. During this time, the Confederates under Joseph E. Johnston, who had replaced General Bragg after his loss of Chattanooga, were backing into Georgia.


KNOXVILLE, December 8, 1863.

General Grant:

I leave Granger at Knoxville, and with my command start tomorrow for the Hiwassee. W. T. SHERMAN


CHATTANOOGA, December 8, 1863 - 5.30 p.m.

Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN,

Knoxville, Tenn.:


   Keep your troops in the valley of upper Tennessee until it seems clear that the enemy has entirely abandoned the State. It may be possible that Longstreet may be re-enforced about Bristol and return. Two boats unloaded rations near Kingston, and more will be sent in a day or two. Two more boats will be running in a few days, when we will be able to feed your army to a great extent from here.

U. S. GRANT, Major General.


   As he moved south across the Little Tennessee River, Sherman split his army into three wings, each crossing the river at a different place.

   Who later held peace talks with Cochise and chased Chief Joseph of "I will fight no more forever" fame through the Rockies, was in command at Sweetwater. A General vexed with the name of; Jefferson Davis commanded the Yankee troops at Madisonville. (Very unpopular at the time in certain circles) Sherman himself rode to Tellico to oversee the destruction of the iron works there. The Yankee army fanned out across Monroe County, picking it clean of any food and livestock that they wanted, plundering and stealing as they went. General Howard's letter to his subordinate officers while he was in Sweetwater clearly shows that he was very disgusted by the actions of many of the troops under his command.

   There is an interesting story I was told a few years ago by Mr. Stephens, (his first name escapes me) a very gracious and intelligent gentleman who owns the farm at Cane Creek where the Fort Loudoun Massacre occurred. He would be about 90 years old right now. Mr. Stephens lived in a big white two-story house right on the original route of the old Unicoi Turnpike. The turnpike simply followed the main east-west path that had been used by the Indians since time immemorial. There is an old fording place that crosses Cane Creek, just a short distance up the road from Mr. Stephen's house. on the east side of the creek, a deep cut with high banks on both sides testifies to the extreme age and centuries of use this ancient ford has seen.

   Across the road from Mr. Stephen's house, is another house that he rents. Although it is now covered with white planking, he told me that it is built of logs, and was his family's original old homeplace. During the Civil War, his grandmother, then a small girl, lived there. She told him the following story ...

   When Sherman's army came up the old turnpike, it was, of course, the biggest thing that had ever happened. By the Stephen's home they passed calvary, supply wagons, marching infantry soldiers driving cattle and hogs. The Stephens men were all gone. Maybe they were laying low in the woods. It would have been the smart thing to do, for any man or boy between 16 and 60 would have been in real danger of being labeled a Rebel and killed. It was impossible to be neutral. While Mr. Stephen's great-grandmother and her children huddled inside the house, the Yankees passed by, off and on ... for three days and nights.

   Two Yankees came to the house and searched it for food, but Mrs. Stephens had hidden everything away. When they could find nothing to eat that they could carry off, they began to look for something to steal. The only thing in the house worth taking was Mrs. Stephen's sidesaddle, which lay behind the front door. When one of the Yankee soldiers grabbed it up, the other one asked him, "Why do you want to take that poor woman's saddle for? You ain't got no horse." "Well . . . " the Yankee replied, "I might git me one."

   They took Mrs. Stephen's sidesaddle, but other than that, left the family unmolested. After everything had calmed down and the Yankee army had passed on through, some of the Stephens kids found the saddle tossed over in the weeds a short ways down the road.

   It very well could be that during his excruciating trip to Knoxville, Sherman's disgust for the war manifested itself into what would later become known as Sherman's March To The Sea. It does seem that he turned his men loose on Monroe County, which was a secess county, having voted 1096 to 774 to secede from the Union. There is nothing in the official records to suggest that he had any concern about his men's conduct. General O.O. Howard, who was a very religious man, tried to rein his troops in, but the one-armed general's main concern seemed to be that Union people not be robbed. Monroe County could easily be called Sherman's first step on his March To The Sea.

The Tellico Iron Works, was of course, a viable military target.

   The Yankees destroyed the iron works while Smith's calvary chased a Rebel supply train across the mountains towards Murphy, North Carolina. General Sherman coordinated the movements of his southbound army with these two dispatches from Tellico. He was preparing for the possibility of a large Rebel force by-passing around Chattanooga and coming up to attack him, somewhere in the vicinity of the Hiwassee River, or just south of there. Actually, Sherman hoped that they would, for he knew Grant would be right on their heels. The Rebs would have been caught between two strong enemy forces had they done so, led by two of the most aggressive and capable commanding officers that the North had. It was too risky for the Rebels though, and other than some recon by their calvary, they let Sherman get back to his base in Chattanooga unopposed.


December 9, 1863 -3 p. m.

General Howard:

   I have ordered General Ewing to move to Athens; also you can, send for General Jeff. Davis if you think there is any chance of any part of Bragg's army coming toward us. I wish he. would, as Grant would take advantage of it; but in the mean time I want the line of the Hiwassee held. See that Charleston is gained and, the bridge held.

   Provisions will be sent us to Cotton Port. Send me word promptly of any news that calls for action on my part. You know what I am about here. You can use the cavalry I send you, but send me back word promptly of the situation of things along the Hiwassee, and any news from Chattanooga.


W.T. Sherman

Cotton Port was at the present-day site of the Bowater's Paper Mill.

NEAR ATHENS, December 9, 1863.

   General Howard: I have similar information. I will send tonight orders for tomorrow, and will send over to Madisonville to see what is there. I hear Longstreet is retreating via Tellico Plains.    



   From here on the dispatches paint a pretty clear picture of the movements of the Union army. Satisfied that Longstreet posed no threat, Sherman looked to prepare a defensive line along the Hiwassee River. Should the Confederates to the south have moved up against him, he would have been in a strong position, with an open line of supply coming up the Tennessee River from Chattanooga by steamboat, and the mountains protecting his left flank.

Headquarters Army Of The Tennessee

On the Road from Tellico to Athens Dec. 10th. 1863 6 a.m.

Genera1 JEFF. C. DAVIS,

At or near Columbus:

DEAR GENERAL: Yesterday morning a courier overtook me before reaching Tellico with a dispatch from General Howard, in which he gave a report of citizens, generally credited and which he deemed worthy of my notice, that Bragg was moving up a heavy column this way, and that it was already at Charleston. On this report I detached Ewing's division to him at Athens, and authorized him to call for you.

   Last night I got a message from him at Athens reporting all right. One of his brigades in possession, of the Charleston bridge and you at Columbus. This is as it should be, but he said he regarded my order to call for you as peremptory. and had sent it to you.

   I gave this order dependent on his knowledge of the truth of the report he had sent me, but I now countermand the whole order, and hope you are still at Columbus, and control the Hiwassee there. If you have marched you may go to Eastinaula and pick out any place you please between Athens aid Charleston, only reporting to me at Athens your whereabouts. I have sent Long, over the mountains into Georgia, and we must stay in this neighborhood until he comes back. I expect I sent you a letter from Tellico yesterday to the same effect, and now renew my orders to hold Columbus and report to me if it be possible to cross there en route for Spring Place or for Cleveland maps vary. The larger one puts Columbus on the Hiwassee above the mouth of Ocoee, whereas the Coast Survey maps put it above the mouth of Ocoee. which would make two bridges necessary. Report to me the fact. If Columbus be below the mouth of Ocoee, and if one bridge will pass you to Cleveland, I will order Morgan L. Smith to move that way with Long's cavalry.

   I am doing all I can to get you some sugar, coffee. salt, and shoes, and hope I will succeed. but really, I think with abundant forage, meat, meal, and an open country, we are far better off than in that cursed gorge-Chattanooga. My troops are in elegant heart, ready for Atlanta or anywhere. Do all you can to keep your troops up to that standard. Howard will move to Charleston tomorrow and will put his advance at Cleveland and will communicate with you. I expect to hear from Long in about three days, when I will make and send you specific orders. In the mean time finish your bridge, scout up the Ocoee and forward, grind all the meal you can, collect good hogs sheep, and beef, and generally take care of yourselves. I want all the geographical information possible for immediate and future use, especially the river and country between Columbus, Cleveland, and Charleston

Yours, truly,


Major General, Commanding


CHATTANOOGA, December 11, 1863.

Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN, Knoxville, Tenn.

   Start your command, with the exception of Granger's corps, back to their former camps by the most Practicable routes. As soon as they are on the way, you can return yourself, leaving the troops to follow.

   Elliott, I have just learned, did not leave Alexandria till last Friday. He will probably be in Kingston before this reaches you. If the enemy is any place where he can harass them, you may order such expedition as you deem best. If it is now too late to do any service, direct Elliott to take up a position on the line of the Hiwassee and await further orders. Logan has gone to Bridgeport with two divisions that were here. I do not suppose it will be necessary to order him to where you are.


Major General


   And so, 1863 drew to a close. The "last great battle of the war" which Grant thought might happen in East Tennessee never developed. In the upper portion of the state the war evolved into a rather large scale running fight, with fast moving infantry and calvary units clashing and slashing at one another from the Tennessee to the Shenandoah Valleys. To the south, the Rebels kept their backs to Atlanta, unable to mount an offense after Chattanooga. They gave up ground slowly and doggedly, against a better-supplied enemy with an ever-growing force of numbers. Atlanta fell on September 3, 1864.

   The year of 1864 was a dangerous one in Monroe County. Murders and robberies were an everyday occurrence. No one was safe. Bushwhackers, out-liers and deserters roamed the mountains and countryside. A lot of them were just desperate, hungry men hiding from conscription, trying to avoid the war. Many of them were honest civilians who had joined under the Union or the Confederate banners out of some genuine noble conviction, but who had grown weary and sick of war. During their service in the military, they had "foraged" for food under the orders of their officers, and were simply carrying on with that method of survival. The distinction between foraging and stealing would have to have been mighty thin to a starving man. An "eye for an eye" was the creed of some, with many scores settled from before they could become old. A very few, not many, were just cold-blooded killers who lay in ambush and murdered anyone unlucky enough to pass their way.

   The citizens of Monroe County were definitely worse off after Sherman's trip through the county... even the ones loyal to the Union. What order there had been under the Confederate government broke down. Washington could not enforce order, they had their hands full with other matters, and were probably not too upset to allow the citizens of a secesh county in a secesh state, reap the fruits of their rebellion, even if some innocents had to suffer.

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