Turn Out the Guard – Supplies Stream into Chattanooga

October 30, 1863 (Friday)

Grant will salute almost anything.
Grant will salute almost anything.

“Turn out the guard for the commanding general,” came the call as Ulysses S. Grant came ashore at Brown’s Ferry shortly following the battle. “Never mind the guard,” came his terse reply, as the sentinels were dismissed back to their camps.

From the other side of Lookout Creek, the Confederate pickets called the same: “Turn out the guard for the commanding general, General Grant.” They faced their small line north, and saluted their enemy’s commander. No doubt amused, Grant returned the salute.

Generals Grant and George Thomas surveyed the battlefield, making minor adjustments to Joe Hooker’s new lines of defense, but were more than pleased with the state of things.

“The river was now opened to us from Lookout Valley to Bridgeport,” wrote Grant in his memoirs, explaining why opening the “Cracker Line” was essential. The Tennessee River was impassible between Brown’s Ferry and Kelley’s Ferry. There was, however, smooth waters between the supply depot at Bridgeport and Kelley’s Ferry, which was connected via “a good wagon-road, which runs through a low pass in the Raccoon Mountains on the south side of the river to Brown’s Ferry.” The supplies would once again cross the Tennessee where they would be taken by another road to Chattanooga. “There were several steamers at Bridgeport, and abundance of forage, clothing and provisions.”

Following the war, Grant almost boasted of this:

In five days from my arrival in Chattanooga the way was open to Bridgeport and, with the aid of steamers and Hooker’s teams, in a week the troops were receiving full rations. It is hard for any one not an eye-witness to realize the relief this brought. The men were soon reclothed and also well fed, an abundance of ammunition was brought up, and a cheerfulness prevailed not before enjoyed in many weeks. Neither officers nor men looked upon themselves any longer as doomed. The weak and languid appearance of the troops, so visible before, disappeared at once. I do not know what the effect was on the other side, but assume it must have been correspondingly depressing.

Approximate map of the goings on.
Approximate map of the goings on.

As Grant rode around the camps, he spoke to his own soldiers and inadvertently some of the enemy. He came upon a tree that had fallen across a stream that was used by both sides in the drawing of water. Many of the Confederates wore deep gray that nearly resembled blue. And so when Grant saw a soldier in blue filling canteens, he struck up a conversation with him. Grant “asked whose corps he belonged to. He [the soldier] was very polite, and, touching his hat to me, said he belonged to General Longstreet’s corps. I asked him a few questions — but not with a view of gaining any particular information — all of which he answered, and I rode off.”

But most of General Grant’s time was not spent in exchanging salutes and words with the enemy. Soon after he had a good look at the lines, he had made up his mind that he wanted Hooker out of his department. Hooker had arrived from the east leading the XI and XII Corps. Grant wished to retain the troops, but wanted O.O. Howard, commander of the XI Corps, to lead them. John Slocum, heading the XII Corps, was to also leave with Hooker.

“He would himself order Hooker and Slocum away,” wrote Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, “but hesitates because they have just been sent here by the President. Besides, I think he would rather prefer that so serious a proceeding should come form headquarters.”

Hooker's star must have fallen pretty low for Grant to want Howard over him.
Hooker’s star must have fallen pretty low for Grant to want Howard over him.

The reasons were vague. Dana wrote that Hooker had “behaved badly ever since his arrival.” Slocum, on the other hand, sent “a very disorderly communication” complaining that he had to serve under Hooker (which hardly seems like a reason to let him go, especially if Hooker was no longer in the picture).

“Altogether Grant feels that their presence here is replete with both trouble and danger,” wrote Dana, perhaps adding a bit of his own opinion, as was his wont. “Besides,” he wrote in conclusion, perhaps expressing Grant’s more pragmatic views, “the smallness of the two corps requires their consolidation.”

Already, the transport ships were arriving. All through the 29th, they were steaming from Bridgeport to Kelley’s Ferry, and on this day, supplies were traveling along the good wagon road to Hooker’s camp at Brown’s Ferry. Additionally, the steamboat Paint Rock had managed to run the peppered gauntlet from Chattanooga to Brown’s Ferry, being greeted with both musketry and artillery.

Federal steamer arriving at Brown's Ferry.
Federal steamer arriving at Brown’s Ferry.

The Paint Rock represented for the Union Army of the Cumberland salvation. As Grant said, it freed them from their feeling of doom. On her full speed run from Chattanooga to Brown’s Ferry, she received but one noticeable wound – her smokestack was pierced by a ball. But she did not stop at Brown’s Ferry. Instead, she continued downriver, through impassible waters, called “The Suck,” to Bridgeport, which she reached in the late morning of this date. Back she came with two scows in tow. She was laden with supplies, and soon the army would be fed.

It is at this point in Grant’s Personal Memoirs when he stops to muse upon the war, the South, and slavery in its entirety:

There was no time during the rebellion when I did not think, and often say, that the South was more to be benefited by its defeat than the North. The latter had the people, the institutions, and the territory to make a great and prosperous nation. The former was burdened with an institution abhorrent to all civilized people not brought up under it, and one which degraded labor, kept it in ignorance, and enervated the governing class. With the outside world at war with this institution, they could not have extended their territory. The labor of the country was not skilled, nor allowed to become so. The whites could not toil without becoming degraded, and those who did were denominated “poor white trash.” The system of labor would have soon exhausted the soil and left the people poor. The non-slaveholders would have left the country, and the small slaveholder must have sold out to his more fortunate neighbor. Soon the slaves would have outnumbered the masters, and, not being in sympathy with them, would have risen in their might and exterminated them. The war was expensive to the South as well as to the North, both in blood and treasure, but it was worth all it cost.

With his army secure, Grant would now turn to the remainder of his new command.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 31, Part 1, p73-74; Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant; Fighting Joe Hooker by Walter H. Hebert; Mountains Touched with Fire by Wiley Sword; The Shipwreck of Their Hopes by Peter Cozzens. []
Creative Commons License
Turn Out the Guard – Supplies Stream into Chattanooga by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


View all posts by