The 63rd Tennessee reenactors spent a recent weekend recreating for the third time a part of local Civil War history on a section of the original battlegrounds.
The circumstances resulting in the Battle of Tazewell began, according to eyewitness accounts, as a foraging expedition for food and supplies to replenish the union garrison in Cumberland Gap.
Members of the 16th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, an offshoot of the 26th brigade, moved south in a fairly straight line, spending days filling wagons and fending off rebels in small skirmishes.
After traveling some 15 miles of rugged terrain, the union officers collided into a wall of rebel opposition.
On the morning of Aug. 6, 1862, the opposing sides opened fire against one another in and around the town of Tazewell. A significant portion of the original battlegrounds are located nearby what is now known as Old Kentucky Road.
One of several eyewitness accounts, published in the Aug. 21, 1862 edition of the Ironton Register, details the battle as recounted by Capt. J. H. Davidson of the 14th Kentucky, a part of the 26th brigade led by Col. John F. DeCourcey.
“About seven o’clock the 16th Ohio under command of Major Kershner came up and relieved the 14th, which marched down on the road toward Tazewell perhaps a quarter of a mile, into an old orchard, where guns were stacked and knapsacks unslung to await further orders.
“On the south side of the village there is a small uneven hill, densely covered with small cedar and pines. The Morristown road crosses the ridge south of Tazewell, through a small depression or gap where the heavy timber is still standing, to the right of which is an elevated cleared knob, and to the left another elevated knob covered with thrifty corn. In the gap there were two guns of the battery and a small reserve force, the rest of the regiment being scattered in different positions through the woods, and on various roads and lookout points, never more than one camp in a place and generally in smaller squads. The 16th had but just taken its post in these various positions, when some of the enemy’s artillery down at Big Spring opened at long range to attract attention in that direction. In a few moments some scattering guns were heard at the outer picket posts, followed almost immediately by rousing cheers and heavy volleys of musketry. The 14th Formed instantly in line of battle and only waited orders to move up the hill to the assistance of the 16th at double quick. Not many moments elapsed, before it was clearly to be seen that the enemy in large numbers had completely surrounded the 16th and the two pieces of cannon. The firing of musketry was very heavy at the time and the cannon were being discharged with great rapidity. A rebel column came sweeping down the hill on the right with loud cheers; each discharge of canister left a wide gap in their ranks, which was instantly closed without the slightest wavering; twice the canister tore through their ranks but on they came within twenty or thirty paces of the guns. The limbers were quickly made fast, and the guns were brought off at double quick and the enemy were so near that the line of skirmishers were in a few yards of the road just as the guns were passing,” reads Davidson’s account, from the Ironton Register.
The battle wore on.
“As soon as we were under cover of the town, our cannon opened fire upon the rebel column, and drove them back in some disorder. The 14th and 16th collected on the ridge in rear of the battery, and formed in line again, also the 22d Kentucky. The 42d in the mean time were under arms a considerable distance from the action, hoping for orders to come into the engagement. – The day was exceedingly hot and many were almost entirely exhausted from heat and thirst. Our battery played so effectively upon the rebels, that they did not enter the town, but most of their force returned to the ridge from which they had driven us, and in short time they had two cannons in position, and commenced returning our fire,” the Iron Register account reads.
“One of their pieces was finally dismounted by a fortunate shot, and the six guns of our battery poured the shell upon the other so rapidly that they “shut up shop” and hauled [sic] it over the ridge. About night the brigade started out to take a walk, and they walked to Cumberland Gap before midnight, excepting a few romantic young gentlemen who went to sleep by the road side. It is not a very pleasant reflection to know that they got several blankets, knapsacks, canteens, haversacks, &c., which formerly belonged to Uncle Sam’s boys. The fact is that the rebels had received large reinforcements from Knoxville, and had deliberately planned, and very nearly captured our whole force. Major Brown lost his coffin headed charger and gratuitously threw in a fine $50 dollar saddle to get the rebs to take him off his hands. The boys left their hard-bread and coffee in haversacks, for their misled Southern brothers, very cheerful, knowing that they were thereby heaping coals of fire on their heads by fulfilling the scripture injunction, “feed your enemies.” The 16th Ohio suffered most; ..and at this writing it is hard to give a definite account of the wounded and missing….” continues the Davidson account, as read in the Iron Register.
According to Davidson, none of his fellow warriors in the 14th Infantry were captured or killed. A few, though, were wounded.
The Claiborne County Historical and Genealogy Society and the 63rd Tennessee Reenactors are already making plans to host the fourth annual Battle of Tazewell in April of 2017.
For more information, log onto: 63rdtennessee.org. or call the Historical Society at 423-526-5737.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.