Sunday, December 8, 2013

Battle of Bean's Station

 Built 1814

 Following the repulse at Fort Sanders Longstreet was informed that a Union relief column had been sent from the victorious Union army at Chattanooga. The Confederate troops were held in their lines around Knoxville as bait to draw Sherman away from Bragg’s retreating army. A staged withdraw began on December 3rd. Units on the west of the city were shifted to the east and the entire force moved off to the northeast on the night of the 4th. Burnside reported the departure and the bulk of the relief troops returned to Chattanooga. Only Granger’s corps continued on to join the defenders at Knoxville.

On the 5th the Union mindset changed from defense to pursuit. MG Parke was given command of the chase but the first efforts were hampered the condition of his cavalry. “The few cavalry we could mount…were in such bad condition as to be unable to make any great impression on the enemy.” BG J.M. Shackelford started after the Confederate Army with a mixed task force of cavalry and infantry on the 7th after a short period of consolidation and reorganization. From the 7th to the 13th the pursuers kept a respectful distance, having been ordered by Parke “not to attack with the force I came out with.” A series of skirmishes marked the chase, the most important occurring on the 10th at Morristown. BG Garrard, out on a scout of the Rogersville Road, avenged his earlier defeat there by attacking the Confederate cavalry. It “was a gallant affair” with “40 or 50 rebels reported killed or wounded.” After the fight the Union cavalry gathered at their headquarters at Bean’s Station.

The Union cavalry had moved well in advance of their infantry support and Longstreet sensed an opportunity. The Confederate leader reversed his direction of march with an eye on destroying the Federals located at Bean’s Station.

On the morning of the 14th BG Bushrod Johnson’s division moved down the Rutledge Road fronted by 100 cavalry troopers from Giltner’s Brigade. Initial contact was made with the Federal skirmishers about three miles east of Bean’s Station at 1400. Seven companies of the 59th Alabama were advanced as skirmishers and began the slow process of pushing the Union troopers back. At a ½ mile from the station the 43rd Alabama extended the Confederate line and advanced on the main Union position. Well placed artillery drove them to the ground and the Confederate guns were brought up to begin dueling with the Union pieces. Parker’s Virginia Battery and Taylor’s Virginia Napoleons battled the Federal gunners for the rest of the day. Parker’s guns reportedly fired 375 rounds during the engagement.

While the batteries fought amongst themselves Johnson’s Brigade pressed forward in a line of battle while McLaw’s men attempted to turn the enemy’s left. Gracie’s Alabama Brigade led the way with the 60th Alabama out front. The move was met by heavy fire coming from the large hotel building at the station and the men were forced to lie down. Artillery was diverted from the counter battery fire onto the hotel. Unfortunately the hotel stables, occupied by men of the 60th Alabama, were struck and 2 men killed and 3 others wounded. Eventually the Union troops were compelled to evacuate the hotel leaving several wounded soldiers in the basement to be captured. Johnson then called on Jenkins (Hood’s) Division for assistance. An effort was made to flank the right of the Federal line, but the move was detected and Shackelford had his men retreat into the night.

The next morning Longstreet hoped to push the Union troops into a trap. MG William Martin was supposed to circle the Union position at Bean’s Station and take up blocking positions with his cavalry to thwart any Federal retreat. Martin met unexpectedly tough resistance from “a brigade of cavalry” at May’s Ford. The stubborn Federal troopers were finally driven away from the river by “rapid fire” from White’s Tennessee and Wiggin’s Arkansas batteries. The next morning the enemy pickets were driven off the ford and the crossing made. The lost time, however, could not be made up and Martin did not gain the correct position. As a result the Union cavalry was allowed to fall back on their infantry support and assume an entrenched position. Longstreet declined to attack the entrenched enemy and the Battle of Bean’s Station was over. The Confederate losses totaled 900 while the Union defenders suffered slightly less with 700 casualties. Retreat and skirmishing lasted for two additional weeks before Longstreet and his men were allowed to make winter camp. The spring would see them return to Virginia’s battlefields.

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