October 1, 1863: Wheeler Begins His Raid Into Tennessee

Joseph Wheeler



In most histories of the Civil War the focus tends to be on the big battles and this is understandable as they were very important.  However, this distorts our view of the War as it often takes our attention away from other facets of the War that loomed large to contemporaries and often had an impact on the conflict not much less than major battles.  One overlooked facet is the constant raiding that went on throughout the War by partisans and cavalry.  The Confederates were masters of this type of warfare, and these raids often slowed, if not crippled, the operations of major Union armies, as supply depots were destroyed, railroads cut, telegraph lines ripped down, and general havoc raised with Union rear area logistics.  One such raid began on October 1, 1863, led by General Joe Wheeler, commander of the cavalry of the Army of Tennessee.

With Rosecrans bottled up in Chattanooga, Wheeler went into Tennessee, for nine days, raising alarms through out the Union forces in that state, as he hit the supply lines that Rosecrans needed to keep his semi-besieged army supplied.  The shining moment of the raid for Wheeler came when he attacked an 800 wagon Union supply column, capturing 500 of the wagons, and killing approximately a thousand mules badly needed to haul Union supplies.  On his return to Confederate lines his command was roughly handled by pursuing Union cavalry under Brigadier General George Crook, but his mission to complicate the supply of the Union Army of the Cumberland was successful.  Here is Wheeler’s report:




Report of Major General Joseph Wheeler, C. S. Army, commanding Cavalry Corps, Army of Tennessee.


COLONEL: * On the 29th [September], I received orders to cross the Tennessee River with that portion of my command then with me (one brigade having been left with the army) and three brigades which General Forrest had been ordered to send to me.

On the morning of the 30th, I learned that these commands had just arrived at a point about 20 miles from the point of crossing. I ordered them to the latter place and proceeded there with the commands of Generals Wharton and Martin. The enemy had occupied the opposite bank and immediately concentrated a force nearly if not quite equal to our own to resist our crossing. This force had followed me up the river, and I found that any point at which I should attempt to cross could be reached as easily by them as by my command. Under these circumstances, I determined to cross at the point I then was. The three brigades from General Forrest were mere skeletons, scarcely averaging 500 effective men each. These were badly armed, had but a small supply of ammunition, and their horses were in horrible condition, having been marched continuously for three days and nights without removing saddles. The men were worn out, and without rations. The brigade commanders made most urgent protests against their commands being called upon to move in this condition. With this state of things, I allowed the worst horses to be returned to the rear, and, with the remainder, crossed in the face of an enemy nearly as large as our own force. We assailed and drove the enemy about 3 miles.

On the morning of November [October] 2, I reached Sequatchie Valley, and at 3 o’clock on the following morning proceeded down toward Jasper with about 1,500 men. After traveling about 10 miles we overtook and captured 32 six-mule wagons, which were destroyed.

The mules were carried on with the command.

On approaching Anderson’s Cross-Roads, we were met by a considerable force of cavalry, which we charged and drove before us. We here found a large train of wagons, which proved to extend from the top of Walden’s Ridge for a distance of 10 miles toward Jasper. This train was heavily loaded with ordnance, quartermaster’s, and commissary stores. The number of wagons was variously estimated at from 800 to 1,500. No one saw, perhaps, more than half the train. The quartermaster in charge of the train, as well as other employes, stated that there were 800 six-mule wagons, besides a great number of subtler wagons. The train was guarded by a brigade of cavalry in front and a brigade of cavalry in rear, and on the flank, where we attacked, were stationed two regiments of infantry. After a warm fight, the guards were defeated and driven off, leaving the entire train in our possession. After selecting such mules and wagons as we needed, we then destroyed the train by burning the wagons and sobering or shooting the mules. During this work my pickets were driven in on both flanks and my rear. Fortunately, the enemy was repulsed, and we remained undisturbed for eight hours and until our work was thoroughly accomplished.

Just before dark, as we were retiring, a large force of cavalry and infantry moved upon us from Stevenson, skirmishing with our rear until dark. During this, General Martin, Colonel Avery, and Lieutenant-Colonel Griffith were distinguished for gallantry.

During the night, I moved over Cumberland Mountains, and early next morning joined General Wharton near the foot of the mountains and went forward to attack McMinnville. The enemy was pressing close behind, but we succeeded in capturing the place with an enormous supply of quartermaster’s and commissary stores, with the fortifications and garrison, which numbered 587 men, with arms, accouterments, &c.; 200 horses were also captured.

The day and night were occupied in destroying the stores, a locomotive, and train of cars, and a bridge over Hickory Creek, such of the stores as could be transported having been distributed to the command.

On the following day we marched to Murfreesborough. After making a demonstration upon the place, we moved over, and, after a short fight, captured a strong stockade guarding the railroad bridge over Stone’s River, with its garrison of 52 men. The day was occupied in cutting down the bridge and thoroughly burning the timber. We also burned the railroad ties and track for 3 miles below the bridge.

The following day we destroyed a train and a quantity of stores at Christiana and Fosterville, and destroyed all the railroad bridges and trestles between Murfreesborough and Wartrace, including all the large bridges at and near the latter place, capturing the guards, &c. We also captured and destroyed a large amount of stores of all kinds at Shelbyville, the enemy running from his strong fortifications upon our approach. That night I ordered Davidson’s division to encamp on Duck River near Warner’s Bridge, Martin’s division 2 miles farther down, and Wharton’s 2 miles below Martin’s.

During the evening, I learned that the enemy, who had been closely pursuing, had encamped near Frazier’s farm. I immediately informed General Davidson of the position of the enemy, and directed him to keep the enemy observed and to join me should the enemy move toward him. This order was shortly after repeated with this modification, that he should move immediately to my position (Crowell’s Mill). Unfortunately, he failed to comply with this order, and on the following morning was attacked by a superior force of the enemy. I received two consecutive dispatches [following] from General Davidson which indicated that he was moving down Duck River, but on questioning his couriers I ascertained that he was moving toward Farmington. I immediately started at a trot toward Farmington with Martin’s division, ordering General Wharton and the wagons to follow me. I reached Farmington just in time to place five regiments of Martin’s command in position when the enemy appeared. I had ordered General Davidson to form in column by fours on the pike and to charge the enemy when they were repulsed by Martin’s division, General Davidson having officially reported to me that only three regiments of the enemy had been seen during the day. The engagement commenced warmly, but the enemy was soon repulsed. General Davidson had failed to form as stated, and instead had moved for some distance. The enemy soon after came up in strong force with a division of infantry and a division of cavalry. We fought them with great warmth for twenty minutes, when we charged the line and drove it back for some distance. General Wharton’s column and our train having now passed, and the object for which we fought being accomplished, we withdrew without being followed by the enemy.

The enemy, in his own account of the fight, acknowledged a loss of 29 killed, including 1 colonel, and 159 wounded.

My entire loss was less than one-fourth of the above figures.

A reconnaissance was made toward Columbia, which caused the enemy to evacuate that place and destroy all their stores, including thirty days’ rations for the garrison. We then proceeded to the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals, the only fordable place on the river, where we crossed without difficulty, the enemy reaching the river just after I had crossed. Two pieces of artillery of Wiggins’ battery having broken down several times, were finally abandoned on account of our utter inability to bring them farther. The officers deserve great credit for carrying them so far in their disabled condition. One of the limbers of White’s battery blew up, which caused it also to be abandoned. Two of the pieces were howitzers, and the other was an iron gun which had been condemned at every inspection for the last year.

During the trip we captured in action 1,600 prisoners, and killed and wounded as many of their cavalry as would cover our entire loss.

A full report of the casualties in my command during the battle and during the trip through Middle Tennessee will be found in the annexed tabular statement.*

A considerable amount of the property captured on the trip was brought across the river.+

* * * * * * *

To General Davidson and Colonel Hodge, who commanded the troops which joined me on the expedition across the Tennessee River, I tender my thanks for their good conduct and that of their troops during their advance upon McMinnville, and to Generals Martin and Colonel Avery for their gallant assistance in the capture and destruction of the wagon train, and to General Martin and his command particularly for their good conduct at Farmington and their laborious work in destroying the bridges on the railroad.

General Wharton and his command behaved throughout with their accustomed gallantry.

I tender my thanks to the following members of my staff for their gallantry and good conduct, viz: Colonel King, Majors Burford, Jenkins, Humes, and Hill; Captains Turner, Powell, Wade, Flash, and Kennedy, and Lieutenants Pointer, Wailes, Nichol, and Hatch.

To Major Humes particularly am I indebted for his great gallantry during the fight at Farmington, where we has wounded, and to Lieutenant Pointer, my aide, for his gallantry during a cavalry charge, when he dashed upon the enemy’s color bearer, shot him, and then turned and brought the colors back to the command.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,




Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of Tennessee.


Published in: on October 1, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. Was Brigadier Crook the same officer who later gave the Apache heartburn all over Southern Arizona?

    • The one and the same Grey Wolf Fabio!

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