Dispatches from Poe’s Tavern: The Army of the Cumberland on the Cusp of the Chickamauga Campaign

Writing from their encampment in late August 1863 at Poe’s Tavern in modern-day Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, two soldiers of the 41st Ohio explained how the army had marched over the Cumberland Mountains and stood poised to take the city of Chattanooga. Besides reporting the army news, they also took some time to observe the local residents and made a few interesting observations.

“The citizens all chew, smoke, and snuff after their own way, that is, with the snuff,” wrote one soldier who signed his name simply as Jay. “They have a little stick or brush and rub the snuff on their gums, and spit the juice in the most approved style, about equal to a genuine Yankee. One woman came in to buy some chewing tobacco for a birthday present for her little girl, all of five years old’ she proved her love for the weed by taking a chew and cramming the rest in her pocket.”

Corporal Charles P. Bail noted their location was “within 18 miles of Chattanooga. What our next move we, of course, do not know. We are evidently upon the eve of a great battle. Our artillery goes down to the river nearly every day and throws a few shells across to let the Rebels know that we are watching them.” Within days, Crittenden’s corps would cross the river to take Chattanooga and the shadows of the looming battle at Chickamauga began to lengthen.

 

 

General John Palmer's Second Division of the 21st Army Corps camped in the area around Poe's Tavern for around two weeks in late August-early September 1863 before marching south to take Chattanooga in one of the opening moves of the Chickamauga campaign. This modern replica stands within a block of the location of the original structure which was destroyed in 1915. 

Poe’s Tavern, Poe’s Crossroads,

Valley of the Tennessee River

August 27, 1863

          Knowing that you and many of your readers are interested in the movements of the 41st Ohio, I take the liberty of sending you a short account of our movements for the past ten days. We were ordered to march from Manchester early on the morning of August 16, 1863. About 9 a.m., we were on the road once more, bound for Chattanooga. Being attached to the left wing or the 21st Army Corps under General Crittenden, we took the route over the mountains to the left of Chattanooga.

Instead of moving the whole corps on one road, each division took a separate road, Van Cleve’s division to our left, Wood’s division on our right, and our division (Palmer’s) occupying the center. After two days’ march, we came to Collins River and here we were obliged to ford the river, the water being about two feet deep.

After crossing the river, we of the 41st Ohio were detached from the brigade as train guards. We remained on the opposite bank until the train had crossed, which occupied some six hours as there were about 300 wagons. Our regiment moved from there about 1 p.m. and the train reached the foot of the Cumberland Mountains towards sundown. After working all night and until 9 o’clock the next day, we got all the wagons up the worst part of the mountains so that we all moved slowly forward, stopping occasionally to allow the train to ascend some steep pitch. The troops which moved in advance of the train pushed forward as fast as possible and reached Dunlap on the afternoon of the 19th. We reached there on the afternoon of the 20th.

Dunlap is the county seat of the Sequatchie County and is situated in Sequatchie Valley. After remaining there one night, our brigade was sent forward over the next ridge of mountains into the valley of the Tennessee River where we now are. We are within 18 miles of Chattanooga. What our next move we, of course, do not know. We are evidently upon the eve of a great battle. Our artillery goes down to the river nearly every day and throws a few shells across to let the Rebels know that we are watching them.

~Corporal Charles P. Bail

 

General William B. Hazen

Poe’s Tavern, Poe’s Crossroads,

Tennessee Valley

August 29, 1863

          Well, we started from Manchester on Sunday morning August 16th. The morning was fair but very warm and the boys thought they would have a pleasant time of it if they did not have to march too far and too fast. But about 10 o’clock, it commenced to rain and it did rain, too, until we thought that the great Jehovah had forgotten his promise to destroy the world with rain no more.

But after a few hours, it stopped raining and then the mud was deep and sticky enough to suit almost any of the teamsters, at least who had to pull out their mules and wagons from the ruts which were deep enough to temporarily drown all thoughts of home, mother, and the girls we left behind us. But we got through after a while and after a fashion. But here only a small part of our trouble was over for the next thing was the mountains [Cumberland Plateau] which made our march slightly like Bonaparte’s little march on the Alps. We got through that, though, by doubling the teams and a little gentle application of brouse to the mules and not a few unnecessary oaths perhaps. The men stood it well all through, and arrived here as fat, ragged, and saucy as ever.

The boys of Colonel Wilder’s brigade are having pretty good times down at the river which is about six miles from here. They have some skirmishing almost every day and some rare fun in making the Rebs skedaddle from their breastworks across the river. Cockerill’s Battery [Battery F, 1st Ohio] from our brigade went down yesterday and fired a few rounds at them, damaged a few of them, and then returned at night in rare good humor.

Unidentified western Federals in camp 

We are about 15 miles from Chattanooga and expecting soon to move on the place and, if not whipped, the prospects are that we will whip them. Our train has arrived from Dunlap were the wagons were left, some thought after the fight should come off, but it is the opinion of those who ought to be judges that the grand army of the Rebs will evacuate the town in our favor, if it might be called a favor to give us such towns as that must be by this time. I suppose Chattanooga would be of no account after its occupation by the ragged and dirty Rebel army.

Soon after we came here, we found about 30 double-barreled shotguns and as many sabers, neither of much use to us. The guns were of an old English make, stub and twist, but were so eaten by rust as to be of no use and not fit to keep or send home, though they sold pretty readily to citizens who had taken the oath of allegiance. We are getting a considerable number of recruits here for our army and I think it will be made about 500 men stronger in this valley and among the escaped conscripts who had fled to the mountains to escape the wrathful Rebs.

General William Hazen has put a price on all produce from the country and a penalty to anyone paying over the price set to articles by himself. So, you see, we get all the potatoes we want at $1 per bushel and other things to range accordingly and the boys are getting to feel quite at home. The citizens all chew, smoke, and snuff after their own way, that is, with the snuff. They have a little stick or brush and rub the snuff on their gums, and spit the juice in the most approved style, about equal to a genuine Yankee. One woman came in to buy some chewing tobacco for a birthday present for her little girl, all of five years old’ she proved her love for the weed by taking a chew and cramming the rest in her pocket.

~ Jay

Poe’s Tavern, originally built in 1817 by War of 1812 veteran Hasten Poe, served as the first courthouse from Hamilton County and during the Civil War became a hospital for both Federal and Confederate troops. As an interesting aside, local resident Bill Carney spearheaded the effort to build a replica of Poe’s Tavern which sits within a block of the original tavern site. 

To learn more, check out the Poe's Tavern Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/p/Poes-Tavern-100064367392747/     

Sources:

Letters from Corporal Charles P. Bail and “Jay,” Co. B, 41st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Jeffersonian Democrat (Chardon, Ohio), September 18, 1863, pg. 1

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