Immigrants Help Relieve the Blockade of Chattanooga October 1863

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The Union Army of the Cumberland had been locked inside its defenses at Chattanooga for a month when Major General Ulysses S. Grant arrived on October 23, 1863 to take command. He relieved William Rosecrans, who had been defeated at the Battle of Chickamauga. While Rosecrans retained the support of many of his men, his loss at Chickamauga made his departure inevitable.1

Confederate troops controlled the heights around the city, allowing them to lob shells into the Union lines from artillery on the mountainous terrain and block food from coming in. The Confederates had bound the noose around the Union forces tighter with each passing day. In late October, Nadine Turchin, the immigrant wife of Union General Peter Ivan Turchin, wrote in her diary at Chattanooga “our only line of communication with our supply depot…has now become impracticable.” The food that supplied the lifeblood of the army was running low.2

The Union army at Chattanooga was not only hungry, it was outnumbered after Chickamauga. To remedy that, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ordered one of the great strategic redeployments of the war. He took two army corps, numbering 15,000 men, from the Union Army of the Potomac near Washington and sent them by rail all the way to Tennessee. One of the units was the XI corps, often called the German Corps because it included so many immigrants from Germany. Stanton also placed Ulysses Grant, the most successful Union general, in overall command of Union forces between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. He began to move 20,000 more men from his western army to Chattanooga.3

The “Cracker Line” was named after the Hardtack crackers that formed a major part of the soldier’s diet. Here a soldier is frying hardtack.

The first task before Grant was to break the blockade of supplies to the Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga. Using a plan that was being considered by the now-removed commander William Rosecrans, Grant resolved to open a line of supply, the “Cracker Line”, that would require a bold nighttime attack.4

Brigadier General William Hazen was to take his men silently down the Tennessee River by boat at night to a place called Brown’s Ferry that was held by a weak Confederate force. Nadine Turchin’s husband John would lead his own brigade through the night overland to same place, to provide a second wave of troops to attack the Confederates.5

Hazen’s troops embarked on pontoons to make the trip down the Tennessee River to open the “Cracker Line.” A pontoon was a flat bottomed craft that was used to create mobile bridges when tied together with a walkway placed on top of them.

Turchin had been an officer in the Tsar’s Imperial Army in Russia. Then he became a socialist and sided with the revolutionaries in 1848. Now he led a brigade of men from Ohio and Indiana in Tennessee. His wife Nadine had gone off to war with him.6

Hazen’s and Turchin’s men were aware as they moved through the night that any sound could lead the Confederate artillery in the hills to open fire on them. Hazen’s men in their overcrowded watercraft were particularly vulnerable. A cannon ball could sink them, drowning the men weighted down with equipment.7

Hazen got underway at 3AM on October 28. Although the riverbank was crawling with Confederate pickets, the men on the river went unnoticed.  “The Rebel pickets could be plainly seen, taking their ease before blazing fires, talking together, or, perchance, humming over some old familiar air with happy unconcern. Holding their breath, as it were, the men passed under the frowning brow of Lookout, rising darkly above them on the left,” recalled one soldier later.8

At 4:30AM, with Turchin’s men on the East bank of the river, Hazen landed on the West bank. The shocked Confederates holding the crossing were overcome in ten minutes. The Confederates tried to counterattack, but were driven off. Turchin’s men now ferried across the river and by 7:30AM the key position was in Union hands.9

The landing of Union troops at Brown’s Ferry.

On November 12, Nadine turned to her diary again. Food was finally coming in to the army. She wrote “Thank God supplies are being delivered again. The poor soldiers will not have to pick up bits of rotten meat and stale bread under the kitchen windows…” Nadine observed that the soldiers who had been starving in Chattanooga had maintained their spirit and discipline in spite of their deprivation. She wrote that “Only a free man can endure hunger, cold, and injustice with such boundless patience. I believe that those tribulations are the best proof of the great influence individual freedom can exercise. A citizen-soldier who feels free by his birthright endures all those things because he does not feel obliged to endure them. He has volunteered to serve for the love of liberty, or for the love of adventure, and he accepts the consequence…”10

Map of the opening of the “Cracker Line.” The route of the “Cracker Line is in green.                             A-Chattanooga
B-Brown’s Ferry
C-Turchin
D-Hazen

Sources:

  1. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864 Edied by Mary Ellen Mcelligott Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984) Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977), pp. 27-89; Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns (Great Campaigns of the Civil War) by Steven E. Woodworth published by University of Nebraska Press (2009); General Grant and the Rewriting of History: How the Destruction of General William S. Rosecrans Influenced Our Understanding of the Civil War by Frank Varney published by Savas Beatie (2013); From Conciliation to Conquest. The Sack of Athens and the Court-Martial of Colonel John B. Turchin by George C. Bradley, and Richard L. Dahlen, Richard L.published by University of Alabama Press (2006);  John Basil Turchin and the Fight to Free the Slaves by Stephen Chicoine published by Praeger (2003); “Lincoln’s Russian General”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 52, No. 1, Lincoln Sesquicentennial (Spring, 1959), pp. 106-122 by Ernest E. Ernst;  The Shipwreck of their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga by Peter Cozzens published by University of Illinois Press (1994); The Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain by David Powell published by Savas Beattie (2017).
  2. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864 Edied by Mary Ellen Mcelligott Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984) Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977), pp. 73
  3.  The Shipwreck of their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga by Peter Cozzens published by University of Illinois Press (1994); The Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain by David Powell published by Savas Beattie (2017).
  4.  The Shipwreck of their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga by Peter Cozzens published by University of Illinois Press (1994); The Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain by David Powell published by Savas Beattie (2017).
  5.  The Shipwreck of their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga by Peter Cozzens published by University of Illinois Press (1994); The Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain by David Powell published by Savas Beattie (2017).
  6.  The Shipwreck of their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga by Peter Cozzens published by University of Illinois Press (1994); The Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain by David Powell published by Savas Beattie (1994).
  7.  The Shipwreck of their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga by Peter Cozzens published by University of Illinois Press (1994); The Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain by David Powell published by Savas Beattie (2017).
  8.  The Shipwreck of their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga by Peter Cozzens published by University of Illinois Press (1994); The Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain by David Powell published by Savas Beattie (2017).
  9.  The Shipwreck of their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga by Peter Cozzens published by University of Illinois Press (1994); The Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain by David Powell published by Savas Beattie (2017).
  10. “A Monotony Full of Sadness”: The Diary of Nadine Turchin, May, 1863-April, 1864 Edied by Mary Ellen Mcelligott Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984) Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb., 1977), p. 75

 

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