‘We Will Do the Best We Can, But I Don’t Feel Like Promising Much’

January 26, 1864 (Tuesday)

Oscar Hugh LaGrange
Oscar Hugh LaGrange

For days now, General Samuel Sturgis had sparred back and forth with Confederate cavalry southwest of Dandridge, itself southeast of Knoxville. They were both contesting the small bit of forage remaining along the French Broad River. For a time, the Rebels had kept to the north bank, while the Yankees foraged the south, but lately the Confederates had grown bolder.

Mostly this was due to General James Longstreet’s insistence that his troopers probe east from his camp at Dandridge, toward Newport, and from there, south towards Sevierville, a small town along Little Pigeon Creek, a tributary to the French Broad. It was there also that Sturgis and his Federals were holding.

Seeing that the Rebels weren’t going to simply fade away, he arranged his three divisions to contest any organized Confederate push. One division, under Col. Israel Garrard, held the fords to the west of the confluence of Little Pigeon and French Broad. Col. Frank Wolford’s Division was posted nearby so one could support the other. These two divisions were to halt any Rebel advance from Dandridge on the north side of the river.

To protect any move from Newport, Sturgis place a brigade under Col. Archibald Campbell along the main road four miles outside of Sevierville. Col. Oscar La Grange’s brigade when held a couple of miles closer to town as backup.

Today's fairly approximate map.
Today’s fairly approximate map.

On the afternoon of this date, Confederate cavalry under Generals John Morgan and Frank Armstrong launched their attacks. First came Morgan’s against Col. Campbell’s Brigade, holding the road to Newport. And then came a portion of Armstrong’s, throwing itself toward Wolford’s Division to the west.

But the Rebels, in Sturgis’ words, were “making no very determined assault.” Though Campbell was able to hold up Martin along the Newport Road, holding the fork leading north to Dandridge, Wolford was forced back by Armstrong, and driven back two miles.

“Many of his [Wolford’s] men came into this place,” wrote Sturgis from Sevierville, “and report that the enemy had infantry.” Worried that this might be so, he ordered Garrard’s Division to leave the French Broad and reinforce Wolford, whose division was down to 900 men at most. He then sent for La Grange’s Brigade, having them fall back to town and then move out to reinforce Campbell’s Brigade on the road to Newport.

He also called to Knoxville for infantry of his own. “The enemy is evidently very strong,” he wrote to General John Foster in Knoxville, “and exultant over their last few days’ operations. We will do the best we can, but I do not feel like promising much.”

Sturgis could see that the Rebels were concentrating on the Newport Road and ordered both Campbell and La Grange to attack the next morning.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 32, Part 1, p131-132, 135; Part 2, p218, 219; The Knoxville Campaign by Earl J. Hess. []
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‘We Will Do the Best We Can, But I Don’t Feel Like Promising Much’ by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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