November 16, 1863
FIGHT AT CAMPBELL'S STATION
Knoxville, Tenn., November 17, 1863
The first engagement of any consequence between our forces and those of Longstreet, in the retreat to Knoxville, took place yesterday [16th], at Campbell's Station – a little collection of houses on the Kingston road, where it forms a junction with the road to Loudon.
During the night of Sunday, the rebels made three different charges on our position at Lenoir, with the intention of capturing the batteries on the right of our position' but every onset was met and repulsed. In the morning, our troops again took up the march in retreat, and the rebels pushed our rear-guard with so much energy that we were compelled to turn a train of wagons, to obtain the mules to aid in getting away the artillery. Its destruction was necessary, as otherwise we would have been compelled to abandon it to the enemy. one piece of artillery, which had become mired and could not be hauled out by the horses, fell into their hands.
The rear was brought up by General Ferrero's division of the Ninth corps, and as the progress of the wagon-trains in the advance was necessarily slow, but easy duty devolved upon that portion of our column. To check the impetuous pursuit of the rebels was indispensable to the safety of our main body, as well as the wagons, which, in addition to the baggage, carried the subsistence for the march. The result was, that a series of heavy skirmished ensued along the whole line of the retreat. As we approached Campbell's Station, where it was feared the enemy would endeavor to throw a force upon our flank, from the direction of Kingston, the division of Colonel Hartrauft was marched through the timber until it came upon the road leading from that point. In a short space of time, the wisdom of the precaution manifested itself; for the rebels soon made their appearance, but too late to execute their object. Colonel Hartauft skirmished with them, and fell back slowly, fighting as he came. The rebels, at one time, made an effort to flank him, but failed. In this endeavor, they approached so close as to fire a volley directly at him and staff. A brigade of cavalry, under Colonel Biddle, gave material assistance in checking the enemy.
General Burnside, finding that the enemy were pressing him so closely as to endanger the trains and extra artillery, which, at the head of the column, still "dragged their slow length along," determined to come into position, to give them battle, and, pending it, to enable the wagons to get well in advance. Accordingly he selected positions for the artillery on commanding eminences to the right and left of the road, which at this point runs through a valley whose slopes are under cultivation, and consequently cleared of timber. The ground chosen was, in fact, a succession of farms, commencing at Campbell's Station, and flanking either side of the road for a distance of two miles.
Our guns were in position some time before noon, but it was near that hour when the fight became warm. General Ferrero, in falling back on the Loudon road, came in advance of Colonel Hartrauft, and defiling to the right, (it would be to the left as he marched, but facing the enemy, it was the right,) took up his position in line of battle. Colonel Hartrauft, whose flank was now reenforced by a detachment of General White's command, under Colonel Chapin, came in [the] rear of General Ferrero as he passed the fork of the road, and, marching to the left, came into position on the southern slope of the valley, Colonel Chapin still holding his position on the flank. A consideration of the whole movement will show with what admirable position each regiment and brigade came into line of battle. Indeed, the evolutions on the field at Campbell's Station have seldom been excelled in beauty and skill in coming into position, as well as in the succeeding manoeuvres, the commands on both sides, Union as well as rebel, exhibited a degree of discipline which at once betrayed the veterans of many a battle-field. Our troops here found an enemy not unworthy of their steel, in the hands of Longstreet. Insignificant as the present fight may appear in comparison with others of this war, it certainly will rank among those in which real generalship was displayed. Every motion, every evolution, was made with the precision and regularity of the pieces on a chess-board.
The rebels, finding the disposition of our troops to be one which offered battle, readily accepted the gage thrown down to them, and it was not long before their main body was seen advancing from the timber at the end of the clearing in two formidable lines. on they came, alternately surmounting the crests of the little knolls in beautiful undulating lines, and disappearing again into the hollows beneath. Our forces opened at long-range; but still they pressed on, heedless of the shower of bullets which whistled all around them, until they reached a position apparently suitable to them, when they began to return the fire. The rattle of musketry soon became quite lively, and continued for upward of an hour, when it was discovered that, while they had thus engaged us in front, a heavy force was menacing us on both flanks. The steady music of the volley-firing was not mingled with the intermittent shots of the skirmishers, who pushed out upon us from the woods on either side. Our troops fell back and the rebel lines closed in a semi-circle. Still advancing, still pouring in their volleys with the utmost deliberation, the enemy came on, and at length apportion of their column quickened into a charge. Our troops gave way, not in confusion, but in steady line, delivering their fire as they fell back, step by step, to the shelter of the batteries.
Quick as lightning our guns now belched forth from the summits of the hills above. Shell and shrapnel, canister and case, whichever came readiest to hand in the ammunition-chests, were hurled at the serried ranks of the rebels. Our gunners could distinctly see the swathes which their missiles cut in those regiments advancing in solid mass. Benjamin, Roemer, Buckley, Gettings, Henshaw, all had full pay upon the foe with their pet guns.
As might be expected, the rebels gave way under this severe fire, but in admirable order, and, falling back again to the cover of the timber, which, in addition, was beyond ordinary range, made their disposition for the renewal of the attack. Heretofore they had fought without artillery. They now bought three batteries into position, and opened from the troops of the knolls, while the infantry deployed upon our flanks once more.
It was now late in the afternoon, the trains had obtained a good start on the road, and so far, General Burnside had obtained his object. It was unnecessary, therefore, to hazard, in his present position, the result of the attack to which the rebels were returning with renewed vigor, while a better position was afforded in his rear. He accordingly fell back about half a mile, to another series of commanding hills, where our batteries against came into position, and the fight was renewed. The second engagement, like the first, was marked by the same stubborn fighting on either side.
Our forces contested the ground successfully until night terminated the battle, and left them in their chosen position. As the end for which General Burnside had given battle was attained, namely, the checking of the enemy's progress, until our trains were out of danger, and as he was not desirous of risking another engagement until he reached the fortifications at Knoxville, the retreat bean once more, and it is reasonable to suppose, as the enemy gave no pursuit until the morning, that they were unaware of the movement, and expected a renewal of the fight on the ground of yesterday.
Despite the briskness and energy with which the fight was carried on, our loss is very small. It will not exceed three hundred, and General Burnside estimated it as low as two hundred [sic].
The enemy have lost far more in comparison – the result of the severe artillery fire to which they were exposed; and one thousand is not far from their number [sic].
I cannot finish my account without alluding to Colonel Chapin's brigade, the Twentieth –third corps, which fought with distinguished valor, and which, though not so long in the service as many of the veteran confreres [sic] has well earned a place by their side.
Rebellion Record, Vol. 8, pp. 189-190.
16, John C. Seibert, 31st Indiana Infantry, writes home from Camp Pulaski
In Camp Near Pulaski, Tenn. Nov. 16, 1864
I received you package of letters of the 8th [at] one time. I was very glad to hear from home and that you were all well. I have not much time to write as I have to go out on detail duty of some kind this afternoon and I have dinner to get before I go. We have been assigned to our companies. There was six of us put in Company C, so you can direct my letters and papers to that company now. I would like to get a paper some times as we do not get anything to read here. We see enough but hear little that is reliable. We are getting along finely. So far I have been well since I left home. Frank Vance is in Company B. He is well. I wrote to your father yesterday in regard to my things. I forgot to tell him about my mail contract. I can be released from it by applying to Head Quarters at Indianapolis but if he wants to keep it he can do so. I would like if you would send me a pr of good socks. The socks we get from [the] government is no account. They will not last over two weeks. Write as often as you can. Tell Eddie that he must learn to write and write me a letter. Kiss them all for me and take good care of yourselves. Tell Mag. she must write me a letter and let me know how she likes married life. Give my resp't to all.
Direct to Col. Smith, Co. C, 31 reg't. IVI, 1st Div, 1st Brig. 4th Army Corps, Army of the Cumberland