Joining Rosecrans' Army: The 11th and 12th Corps Travel West in September 1863

     The rapid transfer of the 11th and 12th Army Corps from the Army of the Potomac to the Army of the Cumberland in the fall of 1863 stands as one of the most impressive logistical feats of the entire Civil War. In the span of two weeks, 15,000 men, 5,000 horses, and over 700 wagons moved from northern Virginia to southern Tennessee, providing crucial reinforcements for William Rosecrans’ army in the wake of the defeat at Chickamauga.

    The move was laid on with great suddenness. General Oliver O. Howard, commanding the 11th Army Corps, recalled in his memoir that General George Meade gave him the order on September 24th directing him to lead his corps west the following day. “The two corps quickly started up from their scattered camps in regiments, loaded up their tents and luggage, and marched to the nearest railway station. Instead of having a single long train, we were furnished with several short ones and as soon as the first one was loaded to full, it moved off to be followed by the second. At first our destination was a secret to everyone.”

    At Washington, General Howard met General Joe Hooker who had been given command of the detachment and learned his destination: Tennessee. It came as much a surprise to Howard and it proved to be for his troops as related by one of the travelers Private William A. Brand of the 66th Ohio of the 12th Army Corps. Private Brand was working in the quartermaster’s office of the regiment with his father and traveled with the headquarters contingent of brigade commander Colonel Charles Candy to their new theater of war. Brand was the regular correspondent with the Urbana Citizen & Gazette from which these letters are reproduced.


The Tennessee capital and its fortification lie just in the background of the main railroad depot in Nashville in this George Barnard image from 1864. One of the key tasks of the Union army in Tennessee had been the suppression of the roving bands of Confederate cavalry that so plagued the western army's supply lines in 1862. Those efforts bore fruit in the fall of 1863 as the line from Louisville to Nashville was in a fine state of repair and could handle the heavy traffic required to move such a large number of troops and supplies to the front. 

Galt House, Louisville, Kentucky

October 4, 1863

    When I wrote you of an intended movement of our brigade, I had no idea we should move so far nor in the direction we have taken! A little before dark on September 24th we left the Rapidan and without suspicion of our destination, took the road to Brandy Station on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. At midnight we encamped midway between Stevensburg and the station and there had our first intimation that we were detached from the Army of the Potomac.

    The next morning, we moved up to the station and Quartermaster Brand turned over all the transportation of the regiment, and the baggage was taken to the railroad track for loading. Saturday morning, we marched eight miles in the direction of Alexandria to Bealeton where we remained until Sunday afternoon. The troops of our brigade commenced loading at 1 p.m. and soon the 66th started for Alexandria. The  same cars carried us to Martinsburg, New Creek, and Grafton in Virginia, Benwood and Bellaire on the Ohio, and Columbus in Ohio. The government made arrangements to furnish us with hot coffee. At Martinsburg and Bellaire, we procured coffee as the stuff at the other places could not possibly be called coffee. At the latter town I found the citizens of Wheeling busy night and day cooking coffee, but the people of Bellaire could not be persuaded to interest themselves in our behalf.

    Passing through Ohio, we met with some enthusiasm. There were few Copperheads who dared to show their faces to the soldiers.  One at Cambridge expressed his opinions too freely, and avowed himself for Vallandigham and, no friend to the soldiers, they shot him dead.[1] No cheer for the traitor Vallandigham could be heard; no man had the hardihood to say he was a Vallandigham man. In Virginia the Union feeling is triumphant. It was one continual scream for the Union and the enthusiasm was unbounded. Men, women, and children had been waving their hats or handkerchiefs so long that they did it almost mechanically. In short, we expect in years to come when we go back to Old Virginia to find the same people waving and shrieking, fixed to the same old places.

    At Columbus, the trains became very much mixed and some of the cars got off on the wrong tracks. The consequence was that many of our regiment found themselves in Urbana; the 7th Ohio was sent to Cleveland, the 5th Ohio to Cincinnati, all through the blunders of the railroad men at Columbus who don’t keep signs out for the different roads.[2] We arrived at Indianapolis at 5 p.m. Friday and left for Louisville at 10:30. But we of the Ohio regiments really were ashamed of our state while riding through the handsome villages of the Hoosier State. The ladies were so pretty and they all love us boys so. Every station was crowded with the prettiest girls the Union can boast of and each was armed with a basket of provisions which the boys were compelled to enjoy. Your correspondent was carried away with the ladies of Indiana and considers himself pledged “when this cruel war is over” to go to Indiana and marry the prettiest girl. “Hold on Quaker!” [3]

    The regiment passed through here yesterday morning and are now well on their way to Nashville. Colonel Charles Candy and staff are stopping at Galt House and will leave for Nashville at noon. The brigade band serenaded Mrs. Candy last evening and discoursed excellent music. The troops cheered her yesterday while passing and manifested much pleasure at the interest she took in their welfare. The train waits and we are off for Nashville.


The move to Tennessee gave Major General Joseph Hooker a chance to redeem his reputation after being removed from command of the Army of the Potomac just prior to Gettysburg. Hooker's troops fought well at Wauhatchie, Lookout Mountain, and Ringgold and while Hooker's relationship with his superiors continued to be a rocky one, his troops gained general acceptance from their comrades in the western armies. The following spring, the 11th and 12th Corps would be consolidated into the 20th Army Corps under Hooker's leadership and play an important role in the Atlanta campaign. 

Wartrace Bridge, Bedford Co., Tennessee

October 16, 1863

    A mail leaves today for America and you wish to hear from us. We are not in very regular communication with the central part of Ohio just now, though I am glad to say it is not the fault of Wheeler or Forrest. There has been but one insignificant mail come to us since we left Virginia, bringing a portion of the letters for September. I find that arrangements for furnishing letters to the soldiers are not so perfect as in the eastern armies. The Yankees (that is a strange word for me to use in this day, but I mean Eastern Yankees) can beat the world in organizing, and they attend not only to the greater and more important departments or branches, but in every nook and corner you find order when a Yankee is about.[4]

    The regiment made a flying trip through Kentucky and as far through Tennessee as Tullahoma where they arrived in Sunday October 4th. At 3 a.m. Tuesday October 6th they started back on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad with portions of the 102nd Ohio and 85th Indiana, the entire detachment under the command of Colonel John Coburn of Indiana. After crossing Duck River, the enemy was discovered in the act of burning a railroad bridge over a small creek a short distance north of the Duck River bridge. Lieutenant Colonel Powell wished to take his regiment off the train, give the Rebels battle, and save the bridge. But Colonel Coburn considered the large bridge over Duck River of more importance and took the command back to that point. The 66th Ohio was afterwards sent to engage the Rebels and had no difficulty in driving them. A few shots only were fired. 

    They were now kept in motion for several days going up and down the railroad out to Shelbyville, and Friday found them encamped at Christiana, a small town ten miles south of Murfreesboro. Saturday morning, they were ordered to Bell Buckle eight miles further south where they expected to establish headquarters. But Sunday morning came and with it the inevitable order to “move.” So that night found us in camp at Wartrace Bridge three and half miles further south. Since our arrival here we have been ordered up to Wartrace, but the order was countermanded and now we consider ourselves fixed until the water orders us away. It has rained steadily for four days and everything movable or eatable is on the rise. If the rain continues two or three days we will probably be compelled to look for other quarters.[5]

    Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Powell staked off the ground for a fort near the bridge. Tomorrow all hands will exercise themselves with the pick, axe, and spade. The work will be 100 feet square and furnish space for the regiment in case they are attacked. Colonel Candy’s headquarters is at Duck River three miles from here. He is in command of seven regiments, the 85th Indiana being temporarily attached to the brigade. He has a line of some 30 miles of railroad to protect and has his forces disposed at convenient distances and important points. The railroad is patrolled twice in 24 hours by the infantry and cavalry scouts are over the country in every direction. I think these 30 miles of railroad are safe. Troops are living on half rations of bacon, sugar, coffee, and salt and full rations of hard bread. No excuse is offered for the fraud upon soldiers’ rights as the railroad is in full operation and carries rations every day.

Some soldiers of the 66th Ohio believed that once they arrived in Tennessee that they would be going into winter quarters like these shown above, little knowing the important part they would play in the drama unfolding around Chattanooga. 

    The country through which we have passed has not been disturbed as it was in Virginia. Plantations are apparently in as good order as they were in 1860, though I have seen none that are deserving of much praise. The fences are untouched, and the hand of the soldier has left unharmed the growing and ripened crops. The meat houses have not been pillaged and the barns, stables, etc., are found in status quo. Citizens in the rankest butternut garb carry on the common business of the country without restraint and pass into and out of our camps with impunity. Everyone in the country has a “safeguard” from some general who stayed all night at the paternal mansion when Rosecrans was passing through. To us, who have been accustomed to the startling “halt” at every step in Virginia, find it quite strange to see citizens moving about our camps and along thoroughfares without a bayonet on his right and a bayonet on his left hand. It is new to us to see lines of communication unguarded and traveled roads or frequented bypaths unpicketed. But so, we found the affairs that have since been somewhat changed. 

    I have seen several fields of cotton but found it impossible to discover any relation a cotton field holds to a Negro. But little cotton is grown here because, it is said, of the richness of the soil. The soil is evidently very rich as the corn crops it grows are immense. The crop this fall is said by citizens to be but half the usual growth. And still, if the great corn growing states of the North were to average per acre the crop of Bedford County, Tennessee, the world would be flooded with corn and whiskey.

    Notwithstanding the strength of the soil, the country is poorly improved. The wealthy farmer of this country builds a cheap house with no regard for style of architecture and surrounds it with his Negro quarters. You see on every plantation a little town of low, dirty houses with a cedar rail fence around the village. Within the fence you may be sure to find innumerable cats, dogs, hogs, cattle, ponies, and black and white children. If you ride up to the gate, all the inhabitants rush forward and seem pleased or astonished that “somebody” has come. Enter the house and you find yourself welcomed and treated with unequaled hospitality. It is so all over the South. I believe that hospitality is the ruling trait of character at the fireside. In order to preserve and increase health, houses are built on stone pillars a foot or so above the ground. This admits a free circulation of air under the building and is considered a sure preventative for all those diseases arising from a damp atmosphere. As a consequence, no cellars are ever heard of by some of the people.



Letters from Private William A. Brand, Co. G, 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Urbana Citizen & Gazette (Ohio), October 8, 1863, pg. 2 and October 22, 1863, pg. 2

[1] Brand seemed to be exaggerating in this case. Sergeant William H.H. Tallman wrote that “a dozen or more fellows grabbed their guns and made after them and they loaded with blank cartridges and gave them a volley. They [the Copperheads] thought they were to be massacred sure and they urged their horses to their greatest speed and were soon out of sight.” Memoir of William H.H. Tallman. Charles Rhodes III Collection, U.S. Army Military History Institute.

[2] One is left to wonder how “accidental” this was as each regiment was dispatched to its hometown!

[3] One can only imagine how Brand’s wife (Saxton’s daughter) felt reading this passage.

[4] Brand’s observation of the differences between eastern and western Federals was common. General Geary grumped that” the system of the great Army of the Potomac is entirely wanting here” and was less than impressed with his fellow general officers. “There seems to be a considerable lack of brains among some of the commanding officers about whom we read so much.”  Blair, op. cit., pg. 120

A fellow soldier of the 12th Corps commented that his observation was that the Army of the Cumberland was very brave “but it is very loose, unsystematic, undisciplined, and confused. Its business departments are loosely managed. Its whole method of working is slovenly.” Medert, Patricia Fife, editor. The Civil War Letters of Captain B.F. Stone, Jr., 73rd Regiment, O.V.I. Chillicothe: Ross County Historical Society, 2002, pg. 122

[5] Geary’s division was stationed in detachments covering 38 miles of railroad between Murfreesboro and Tullahoma, Tennessee.


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