Paper read before the Ohio Commandery of the
Loyal Legion, April 3rd. 1912
By Joseph W. Wilshire, Captain 45th O.V.I.
On a bright beautiful morning, early in the month of September, 1863, a
party of horsemen in military array, were gathered in front of a large, plain
brick building, known at the time as the University of East Tennessee and
located on the crest of one of the numerous hills, which characterized the
topography of the surrounding country. In front of them, and beyond an
intervening ravine, through which a small stream, known as Second Creek,
found its way to the Holston River, stood the picturesque little city of
Knoxville. Not unlike that ancient Metropolis of the Roman empire, Knoxville
was founded upon a hill and only awaited the growth and development of
years, to become the mistress of the seven hills by which she was
The party referred to consisted of General Samuel P. Carter, commanding
the Cavalry Division of the 23rd Army Corps, together with his staff, of
which the writer was then a member. Our Division constituted the advance
of Burnside's Army of the Ohio, in the Knoxville campaign. And now after a
tiresome, rough and arduous march of 250 miles, through a country whose
so-called roadways were impassable to anything on wheels, practically cut
off from our base of supplies and subsisting entirely upon the meagre forage
which that mountainous and unproductive country afforded, without
baggage, save that upon our backs, or strapped to the saddles of our
horses, the Mecca of our Crusade at last lay invitingly before us. It was
indeed a charming and suggestive scene that confronted us. Vision of the
much needed rest in comfortable quarters, throughout the approaching
winter, together with the anticipated enjoyment of the many good things of
life, ran riot in our imaginations.
The six months just passed had been a very active period for most of our
Division, consisting of Mounted Infantry and Cavalry. Ever March 1 they had
been, as it were, on the jump throughout the States of Kentucky,
Tennessee, Ohio and Indiana, first after Pegram, Scott, Marshall, Ferguson,
Duke and other Rebel raiders and Guerrilla Bands, and then in June with
Col. Sanders on raid towards Knoxville, along the east Tenn. & Georgia
R.R., burning bridges, tearing up railroad track and otherwise interrupting
Bragg's line of communications with his base, and later in the summer
chasing after Morgan throughout Indiana and Ohio. Of this latter chase, Col.
Theodore F. Allen, 7th Ohio Cavalry, has interestingly written his very clever
paper, entitled "Fifteen Hundred Miles of Fried Chicken."
Waiting only long enough to reorganize the three Brigades which composed
the 4th or Cavalry Division of the 23rd Army Corps, we had left Somerset,
Ky., August 20th, 1863, for Knoxville, taking for our route that which on
later years become the line of the Cincinnati Southern R.R. to a point on
that road now known as Harriman Junction. From this point on Sunday,
Sept. 1st, we reached the Tennessee River at Kingston.
Shackelford's Brigade, a few days previous, had been detached from the
main column and sent from Montgomery eastward with instructions to
reconnoiter between Knoxville and Cumberland Gap as to the position of De
Courcecy, who previously had been sent by Burnside with a Brigade of the
9th Corps from Bowling Green, Ky., to invest Cumberland Gap. Another
Brigade (Byrd's Mounted Infantry) was now sent from Kingston towards
Loudon, father up on the Tennessee River, at which point a long pier bridge
of the E.T.&G. Railway spanned the River. A force of rebels who were
guarding this bridge burned it when Byrd's Brigade approached, and, after
skirmishing with his mounted infantry, they crossed the river and retreated
On Monday, Sept. 2nd, with the remaining Brigade of our Division,
commanded by Col. Carter, a brother of our General, we moved out from
Kingston towards Knoxville, and that night from our camp we saw the lights
of the city. Now on the following morning, Tuesday, Sept. 3rd, we of the
Division Staff were gathered around our chief, intently gazing at the life and
activity that lay in front of us and wondering whether or not we should have
to fight for the city of our promised land now so close at hand.
Carter's Brigade was below us in the valley, and a portion of this Brigade
had evidently crossed the creek in approach to the city. Now and then we
could catch a glimpse of troopers as they rode past at the intersections of
streets in Knoxville. There had been no firing and apparently not the
slightest opposition to the occupation of the town by our troops, yet Gen.
Carter seemed anxious and ill at ease. A courier had been despatched, with
a written order to Byrd at Louden, ordering him up to within supporting
While wondering at the cause of Gen. Carter's uneasiness, I was called to
the General's side, and received a verbal order to transmit to Col. Carter.
Riding down the hill towards the bridge that spanned Second Creek and on
which Col. Carter was standing, I transmitted the order for an immediate
advance of Carter's Brigade into the town "Mounted and in column of
fours." Col. Carter had dismounted the 1st Tenn. Infantry on the west side
of the Creek, and deployed skirmishers on the opposite side towards
Knoxville. The line of skirmishers, was working forward at the foot of the
hill, above and beyond which, lay Knoxville, and this movement was
apparently creating considerable stir and excitement within the town. In the
meantime, the scouts whom Col. Carter had sent out early that morning,
had entered the city, and these were the troopers we had seen in the
streets as we stood on the campus of the college. However, matters were
quickly adjusted, and the Brigade was soon in full possession of Knoxville.
when I rejoined Gen. Carter on College Hill, I learned that Gen. Burnside was
on his way from Kingston, and that he had sent word to Gen. Carter that he
would join him and that they together would enter Knoxville.
While we were waiting for Gen. Burnside, Col. W.P. Saunders, the bearer of
Gen. Burnside's message, stood on the north side of the University Building
in conversation with another member of Burnside's Staff, who proved to be
Capt. (afterwards General) O.M. Poe, of the Engineer Corps. Saunders was
then Colonel of the 5th Kentucky Cavalry and serving on Burnside's Staff, a
splendid fellow, and very popular with our Division, where he had previously
served with credit. In introducing Poe, I remember hearing Saunders remark
that they were classmates at West Point. These gentlemen were discussing
the possible opportunities for defensive works in case of an attack on
Knoxville. On a neighboring hill, a little to the southwest, could be seen an
earthwork of some kind which had evidently been erected by the rebels
before their recent departure, and it was suggested that Poe and Saunders
should ride together to look at this work, while awaiting the arrival of Gen.
Burnside. So off they rode, splendid specimens of physical manhood and
with that perfect grace and ease of horsemanship which characterizes a
West Point graduate. This hill later became the location of the most
prominent work in the defenses around Knoxville and was named in honor
of this same Col. Saunders, who was killed in its defense, Nov. 18, 1863.
Poe and Saunders did not return directly to us, for from their position they
had discovered Burnside and his Staff approaching on the Kingston road,
and they rode up to meet them.