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1863 August 22: Battle of Hoover’s Gap Described

August 25, 2013

We find the following letter to the editor of The Polk County Press in its August 22, 1863, issue.  It describes the Battle of Hoover’s Gap, which took place June24-26, 1863, in Bedford County, Tennessee.  General William Rosecrans commanded the Union troops who won this battle, while General Alexander M. McCook commanded at the concurrent Battle of Liberty Gap.

Army Correspondence.

1st Reg. Wis. Vol. Infantry. }

DEAR SIR:—It is rather late to give you a detailed account of all the doings of the old 1st since we left Murfreesboro, but not having a chance to do so before, and acting on the strength of the maxim that it is “better late than never,” I proceed to do so now ; supposing that it will possess some interest to you.

Skirmishes Near Liberty Gap,Tenn., June 24-26, 1863, plate 32, map 5 (see footnote 1)

Skirmishes Near Liberty Gap,Tenn., June 24-26, 1863, plate 32, map 5 (see footnote 1)

After making quite a number of false starts, we got off at last on the 24th of June early in the morning, just as a long dry spell was terminating in what promised to be a long wet one ; and very faithfully it fulfilled its promise, indeed, for it kept up a steady downpour of rain for weeks after.  The boys said it was all “Old Rosey” was waiting for, as he did not like to march us on such dusty roads for fear of spoiling our complexion.  Be this as it may, it is rather unfortunate that our armies seldom if ever advance when the roads are dry and passible [sic], but as soon as the mud is knee deep, as soon as artillery and baggage wagons will stick fast in every mud hole, then the order is given to advance rapidly.  Well, after a couple of days marching we found ourselves in the vicinity of the celebrated Hoover’s Gap we had heard so much of.  We halted and bivouacked five miles from the Gap and remained there until late the next day listening to the sound of cannon, in front and to our right over on the Shelbyville pike where fighting McCOOK was driving the rebels at Liberty Gap.  At last it was our turn to “go in,” and as the firing had ceased for some time we supposed the Gap had been carried, and as we were marching in column we thought we were in perfect safety, but just as we came to the top of a slight rise at the entrance of the Gap, our illusions were suddenly and rudely dispelled by a rebel battery opening on us with shell, and at by no means a long range either.  I must say I was well pleased at how the boys acted.  We were ordered to halt, and we stood in the road for perhaps five minutes expecting every minute they would get the range and that the next shot would plunge through our columns raking them from front to rear, but still not a man stirred from his place that I could see, and after we got the order to “file left” and leaving the road ascended a steep hill in plain view of the enemy and across the line of their fire, still not a man left the ranks, and though the shells passed but a little above our heads, and they were evidently getting the range rapidly, the men marched steadily and in an orderly manner, the only sign of fear being when some ducked their heads as an occasional shell came lower than the others, but I firmly believe it was involuntary on their part, as the same men would laugh at their motions.  [paragraph break added]

As I kept my eyes open for incidents I was able to observe two that will bear relating, I think.  One was a man mounted, riding along towards the rear, when a shell passed over his head which so alarmed him he threw himself out of the saddle to the ground, in such a headlong manner that I thought he had broken his neck.  This of course raised a laugh at his expense.  The other was a man belonging to the brigade we were relieving, who was standing with his back against a stone chimney which marked the spot where a house had stood but burned down.  He had a tin cup of something in his hand, and was busy eating it while the shell was bursting all around him.  His nonchalance was in striking contrast with the excited state of the other.  A poor fellow was also led down the hill one of whose arms had been shot off, or as some accounts represented both, which showed conclusively they had got the range.  But a friendly ravine received us and we were soon safe from their direct fire, though if they know our exact position they might have thrown shell over the hill into our midst. But our batteries had been replying all this time, and had silenced the enemy’s.  [paragraph break added]

We lay all night on our arms, in what up your way would be considered “a fine growing shower for the crops,” but it only made us grow savage and resolve that when we did “go in” we would make the rebels pay for our suffering.  Soon after daybreak we advanced again, and having deployed into line of battle soon afterwards deployed as skirmishers and advanced.  There was another line of skirmirhers [sic] ahead of us, and the line was stretched out on either side of us some distance.  We had not proceeded far before the sharp rattle of musketry told us we had awakened the “rebs ;” but our advance was not checked in the slightest, except occasionally to let the men get breath, as it was a very rough country, up hill and down dale continually, through fields of grain waist or shoulder high, across cornfields lately plowed and soaked with rain, and worst of all over interminable lines of fences piled up as high as hands could pile them.  It was hard work, and to make matters worse we had three day’s rations in our heversacks [sic] and our wet blankets to carry.  It is no wonder that the rebels got off so easily, for they do not go into action with a small dry goods and grocery store on their back.  We caught some of them in a house and they had only one haversack among them, and that was filled with cartridges.  On our right and left there was some severe fighting but we met with no resistance.  Perhaps they had seen our flag before, and as the rascal said when a lady sent him a female shirt anonymously, “after a little examination he recognized it.”  At all events they got out of our way without ceremony.  In other parts of the line they opened masked batteries in strips of timber, and then an artillery engagement would ensue, which, though always hotly contested, ended invariably in their batteries being disabled and obliged to withdraw.  [paragraph break added]

The Regulars in our division (ROSSEAU’S [sic: Lovel H. Rousseau]) made a splendid charge up a very steep hill, on the top of which was the battery that paid its compliments to us the night before, but not being able to advance very rapidly the rebels limbered up and left.  The 79th Penn. also had some hot work on their part of the field and lost quite a number in killed and wounded, but we were not in luck that day and did not get a chance to add to our laurals [sic].  By four o’clock it was all over, the rebels in full flight, and we had possession of this famous Gap.  It is a strong natural position and it held by men fighting in a good cause might have cost us dear, but the rebels if not scared were certainly “fearfully demoralized.”  We rested on the battle field that night and pushed on in the morning in pursuit, but though we lost no time in following up, they fled with such celerity that we did not get sight of them again, except at the crossing of Elk River, which was an undertaking attended with so much risk and peril, and furnished so many exciting and amusing scenes, that I shall have to defer an account of it until I write again.  But when that will be I cannot state, as there are rumors of our having marching orders, to leave tomorrow for Stephenson, on the Charleston and Memphis rail road.

Yours, as usual,

1.   Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, published under the direction of Redfield Proctor, Stephen B. Elkins, and Daniel S. Lamont, Secretaries of War, by George B. Davis, Leslie J. Perry, Joseph W. Kirkley, Board of Publication ; compiled by Calvin D. Cowles (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891-1895). Available in Special Collections, UWRF University Archives & Area Research Center (E 464 .U6), or digitally at Ohio State University’s eHistory.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Don N permalink
    September 21, 2014 6:58 pm

    The 1st Wisconsin actually fought at Hoover’s Gap, not Liberty Gap, which occurred about the same time.

    Great blog.

    • September 21, 2014 7:44 pm

      Thanks for the correction. It’s hard, sometimes, to figure out what battle they are talking about!

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