Riding with Wheeler Through Sequatchie Valley

    With the Army of the Cumberland hemmed in at Chattanooga after the Battle of Chickamauga, Federal supply lines stretching back over Walden’s Ridge to Bridgeport, Alabama became a target for General Joe Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry. In early October, Wheeler led his 5,000 troopers on a long raid intending to break up Federal supply traffic and compel the Federal evacuation of Chattanooga. Wheeler’s force had its greatest success early on at Anderson’s Crossroads where a huge train of 800 wagons was captured; unfortunately, the troops spent their afternoon pillaging the wagons (brandy was especially prized) such that when Union reinforcements arrived on the scene, more than a third of the mules were recaptured and the Confederates lost 270 men.

The chase continued to McMinnville, Murfreesboro, Shelbyville, and Farmington, with the Confederates slashing at the railroad and burning bridges, while the Federal cavalry continued to strike the rear guard. The eight-day Sequatchie Valley raid certainly caused a ruckus behind Federal lines, but Wheeler’s troopers were dogged by such persistent Federal cavalry attacks such that by the time they left Tennessee on October 9th, it was reported that Wheeler’s “once proud command was all but wrecked.” The effects of this raid on Wheeler’s command ended further incursions into middle Tennessee for a time. This fact, combined with the thousands of arriving reinforcements from the 11th and 12th Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac who took up garrison positions along the Federal supply line, gave the Federal army time to reestablish its supply routes and ultimately begin the buildup that would culminate in the battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge in late November.

One participant of Wheeler’s raid was Private John B. Mynatt of the 51st Alabama Partisan Rangers. Writing home to The Independent, a newspaper printed in Gainesville, Alabama, Mynatt recorded his version of the raid and definitely “soft-pedaled” the losses sustained by the Confederate cavalry. The 51st Alabama had gone into service in August 1862 and seen action at Murfreesboro, Shelbyville during the Tullahoma campaign, and at Chickamauga prior to embarking on Wheeler’s raid.

 

A well-armed and nattily dressed unidentified Confederate with a Bowie knife emblematic of the highly individualized dress of the western Confederate cavalrymen. The difference between an "Arkansas toothpick" and a Bowie knife is that the Bowie knife has a single sided blade with a cross guard on the handle. The "toothpick" was a double-sided blade and usually did not have a cross guard.

 Marietta, Georgia

October 18, 1863

          By request, I offer your columns a synopsis together with a few details of the work of General Wheeler’s cavalry in its recent raid upon the enemy’s rear.

          On the 30th ultimo, General Wheeler’s whole force crossed the Tennessee River at a ford near Cotton Port, a little below Washington, Rhea Co., Tennessee. At this point and thereabouts he  captured about 100 of the enemy. We traveled directly across Walden’s Ridge in the direction of McMinnville. General William Martin’s division was then sent down the valley in the direction of Chattanooga in search of wagons and finding two large parks some distance down the valley guarded by about 500 men, they were charged upon and captured [Anderson’s Crossroads]. Between 300-400 prisoners, about 3,000 mules (estimating four mules per wagon), and about 700 wagons loaded with army appliances in general were captured; the wagons were all burned except a few wagons loaded with ammunition. A few horses were captured.

The command supplied itself pretty well with such articles of war as it needed together with a fine article of brandies which latter resulted in the capture of several men. There Colonel Russell, commanding the Second Brigade of General Martin’s division was wounded and captured. Major “Tid” Morgan of General Martin’s staff was captured, and it is understood that Major Johnson of the 1st Alabama Cavalry was also captured. A few were killed and a few wounded; of the latter Jon Terry and Matt Moore, both of Co. F, 51st Alabama and residents of a Talladega County, Alabama. The first was seriously wounded while the latter was mortally wounded, and both were left in the hands of the enemy.

The entire command then crossed the Cumberland Mountain, descending within 14 miles of McMinnville. The enemy here attacked our rear guard and pressed it heavily, wounding several and killing one. During this engagement, General Wharton’s command pressed upon and invested McMinnville; the enemy surrendered without an engagement. The garrison numbered about 650 men; a very large quantity of crackers were burned and the prisoners captured up to this time were paroled. The town contained a great quantity of goods of every sort which were appropriated in various ways by the command as they passed through the place.

Major General Joseph Wheeler (1836-1906) wears his dress uniform in this colorized image. Wheeler's troopers were still armed with a large variety of weapons including shotguns, fowling pieces, and flintlocks during the raid. It wasn't until the winter of 1863-64 that his command switched over to the Pattern 1861 Enfield short rifle which proved handier in the field. Wheeler's conduct of the Sequatchie Valley raid, according to his biographer, displayed "poor tactical decisions, a lack of vigilance, and a tendency to underestimate a powerful opponent" and called into question "Wheeler's fitness to command in independent operations."


Murfreesboro was the next place, but a feint only was made upon this place by General Wharton while the bridge across Stones River was captured and burned. A company which was guarding the bridge was captured, numbering about 60 men. A detail was sent up the road towards Wartrace, destroying all that be destroyed hastily. A company was captured at Christiana, the next station below the bridge mentioned.

Wartrace was next attacked by General Martin; no resistance was made. A little below this place a bridge was burned as well as two box cars loaded with commissary stores. At the same time, the remaining portion of the command visited Shelbyville. There was a considerably amount of goods appropriated by our soldiers. As we left the place, our rear guard had a skirmish with General Wilder’s force in which a little damage was done and a few wounded. At Farmington, about 25 miles west of Shelbyville, a portion of two brigades engaged the enemy numbering as was afterwards ascertained about nine regiments with artillery. The engagement resulted in a repulse of our forces and the loss of one piece of artillery; the ammunition chest had been blown up and we suffered a few captured, very few killed, and several wounded. The known killed are Ben Easly, a private of General Wheeler’s escort, Captain White, mortally wounded in the breast, Lieutenant Allen (mortally wounded), and James Snow, seriously wounded in the leg. All of these men were of the 51st Alabama. Irby Morgan, a resident formerly of Nashville, was seriously but not mortally wounded in the hip.

General Wheeler’s whole command leisurely made its way thence to the Tennessee River which it crossed at about Lamb’s Ferry between Decatur and Tuscumbia. Two regiments were left at a creek about 20 miles from the Tennessee River as a rear guard. The enemy pressed heavily upon them and after some skirmishing captured about 20, using Wharton’s language.

A correct estimate of our loss during the whole trip cannot be given except from the official reports because the entire command was not all the time together. But suffice it to say that our loss was not by any means as large as has been reported by various rumors.

 

Respectfully,

John B. Mynatt

 

Source:

Letter from Private John B. Mynatt, Co. F, 51st Alabama Partisan Rangers, The Independent (Gainesville, Alabama), October 31, 1863, pg. 1


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