Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Great Tennessee River Expedition

Arrived at Savannah – Scenes at the Landing – Where the Expedition is – Furthest South of any of our Armies, excepting the Sea Coast Expeditions – Union Men Enlisting – Condition of the Troops – Rank of the Generals of Division – Smith Wallace – A Balaklava Hero.

(Special Correspondence of the Cincinnati Gazette.)

SAVANNAH, Tenn., March 12.


The greater part of the Tennessee river expedition arrived at Savannah, Hardin county, Tennessee, on the evening during the night of the 11th inst.  As the sun rose over the canebrakes that line the river banks, it is disclosed such a scene as neither that nor indeed any river on the continent ever witnessed before.  For nearly two miles up and down the stream lay the fleet.  More vessels were constantly arriving, the channel was filled with them, flying about in search of landings near their respective brigade headquarters, and the air was heavy with the murky smoke from hundreds of puffing chimneys.

The shores were covered with the disembarked soldiers, eagerly rushing everywhere and scrutinizing everything, with a genuine Yankee determination to see whatever might be worth seeing “away down here in Dixie.”  They early found the canebrakes, and the number of fishing poles carried aboard the boats to be sent up North and used in more peaceful times, was something astonishing.  Cotton fields were more distant, but long before noon plenty could be heard describing how the fields looked, and exhibiting scraps of cotton and handfuls of seed they had confiscated as specimens from the adjacent warehouses.  Officers were galloping over the bottoms, trying to get an idea of the country – not a few privates deemed it their duty to give the mules a little exercise by beating them into a jog trot through the country, too.

Half a dozen regiments were brought out on dress parade, and the delighted inhabitants of the pleasant little country town of Savannah crowded into the streets or peeped out behind the curtains of the second-story windows to see the unwonted sight, and convince their halting faith that, beyond peradventure, the Yankees were there at least to defend them in their ill concealed preference for the Union cause.  Conspicuous among the troops were the noted Eleventh Indiana and Eighth Missouri, of General Lew. Wallace’s division, whose steady tread and precision of movement was unexcelled by any equally numerous body of regulars our old army ever boasted; and amid all the shouldering and presenting of arms, the flashing swords, waving of banners, prancing of gaily caparisoned horses, and shouting of orders, there came wailing up thro’ this pomp and circumstance of glorious war the unutterable sorrow of the dead march in Saul, as with reversed muskets and measured tread of a squad of his companions bore a brave Buckeye boy to his lonely grave on the banks of the Tennessee.  Poor fellow, he had left Paducah, all life and hope; had sickened on the river and now – well, in a few minutes a regiment was deploying by companies almost over his grave.


Gen. Smith’s headquarters boat was landed at the Savannah wharf boat about 3 o’clock on the afternoon of the 13th, his yawl came across to Gen. Lew Wallace’s headquarters, on the opposite side of the stream, and the two Generals had a brief conference.

The group was one worth studying.  The two Generals – between whom certain newspapers have sought to foster rivalries and jealousies, though I happen to know that the most cordial feeling has existed between them all the time – presented a marked contrast.  Smith must be fifty, if not fifty-five years of age, has been twenty years in the regular army, and has allowed the regular army ways to become stereotyped with him – has grizzly hair and a noble white moustache, with a lion-like front, massive head, and imposing general physique.  Wallace does not look over thirty-five, is rather slight in figure, with black hair, full beard and moustache, a keen sparkling eye, and quick active movements.  A thorough tactician, and one of the very best drill officers in Indiana, he has not forgotten the arts of civil life, and though of few words and, when occasion demands, stern as the sternest, is a perfect pet among his men, who pride themselves especially on belonging to “Lew. Wallace’s fighting crowd.”  By their side sat a young aid of Smith’s you caught yourself fairly staring at.  His general appearance was that of a bedizened captain of a fancy city company in peaceful times; but you ceased to smile as you caught on the flashing decorations that crossed his breast, the word of glory forever – “Balaklava.”  He rode with the six hundred – what better title to immortality could any man show?

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, March 29, 1862, p. 4

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