Bull’s Gap [now Bulls Gap] is a town in the southeastern corner of Hawkins County, Northeast Tennessee, near a gap of the same name in Bays Mountain—part of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians. These Appalachians form a broad arc between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau and are made up of long ridges with continuous valleys in between. Bays Mountain runs northeast to southwest, from Kingsport to just south of Knoxville. The northern segment has peaks reaching up to 3,000 feet. It is not a single ridge, but a series of ridges. The tallest peak is Chimneytop Mountain (3,117 feet).
Ridge-and-Valley segment near Bristol, Tennessee
CREATION OF BULL’S GAP, THE TOWN
Acts of 1806 Chapter 53
SECTION 1. That so much of the ordinance aforesaid, as respects the line beginning on Nolichucky river, at the place where the ridge which divides the waters of Bent and Lick creek strikes the same; thence with that ridge to Bull’s Gap of Bays Mountain, at the house of William Cross, leaving the same in the county of Greene; thence eastwardly along the main height of Bays Mountain, to the Chimney Top Mountain, be, and the same is hereby declared to be the line between the counties of Greene and Hawkins, so far as leads from William Cross’s in Bull’s Gap, to the top of Chimney Top Mountain.
In 1792 John Bull received a grant for 55 acres near the east-west passage over Bays Mountain. Capitalizing on his location, Bull operated a stage line through the passage that quickly became known as Bull’s Gap.
CIVIL WAR COMES TO BULL’S GAP
Because of the vital East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad line through Bays Mountain, Bull’s Gap becomes a strategically important location for both armies during the American Civil War. The Gap is the scene of many small battles as the armies fight for control of this vital artery between Northeast Tennessee and Knoxville. The efforts by the Confederates to capture Bull’s Gap and the Federal efforts to hold it accounts for many of the battles and skirmishes which occurred here from October 1863 until the end of the war in the spring of 1865.
3 SEPTEMBER 1863
USA Gen. Ambrose Burnside occupies Knoxville and works diligently to rid Northeast Tennessee of Confederate troops.
17 OCTOBER 1863*
A Brilliant Action at Bull’s Gap
New York Times, October 17, 1863.
OPERATIONS IN EAST TENNESSEE.
OFFICIAL DISPATCH FROM GEN. BURNSIDE.
Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck. General-in-Chief, Washington:
On the 8th inst. the enemy held down as far as Blue Springs, and a cavalry brigade of ours held Bull’s Blue Springs, and a cavalry brigade of ours held Bull’s Gap, supported by a small body of infantry at Morristown. I, accordingly, dispatched a brigade of cavalry around by Rogersville to intercept the enemy’s retreat, and, with a considerable body of infantry and artillery, moved to Bull’s Gap.
On Saturday, the 10th, I advanced a cavalry brigade to Blue Springs, where they found the enemy strongly posted and offering a stubborn resistance. Skirmishing continued until about 5 o’clock in the morning, when I sent in a division of infantry, who charged and cleared the woods, gallantly driving the enemy in confusion until dark.
During the night the enemy retreated precipitately, leaving their dead on the field and most of their wounded in our hands. We pursued in the morning with infantry and cavalry. The intercepting force met them at Henderson’s but owing to some misunderstanding, withdrew and allowed them to pass with only a slight check.
The pursuit was continued until evening, when I withdrew most of my infantry and returned to this place. Gen. Shackelford with his cavalry and a brigade of infantry continued the pursuit, the enemy making a stand at every important position; but he had driven them completely from the State, captured the fort at Zollicoffer, and burned the long railroad bridge at that place and five other bridges, and destroyed the locomotives and about thirty-five cars. His advance is now ten miles beyond Bristol. Our loss at Blue Springs and in the pursuit was about 100 killed and wounded. The enemy’s loss was considerably greater. About 100 prisoners were taken.
A. E. Burnside, Major-General
~ New York Times.
12 NOVEMBER 1863
KNOXVILLE. Federal situation report
We now hold as far east as Bull’s Gap, scouting to Greeneville and to the south of that place. We picket the Tennessee River from Washington to Kingston. The main force is stationed from Kingston to Knoxville. We occupy all the country south of the Holston, scouting the line of the Little Tennessee. The command is in good health and spirits; very short of clothing and on quarter rations of everything but meat and bread. …
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 31, pt. III, p. 128.
24 DECEMBER 1863
Skirmish at Bull’s Gap.
Bull’s Gap on the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad
16 JANUARY 1864 – 17 JANUARY 1864
Actions at Bull’s Gap.
~ Dyer’s Battle Index for Tennessee
8 MARCH 1864
Reconnaissance from Morristown to Bull’s Gap.
9 MARCH 1864
Federal situation report, New Market, Strawberry Plains, Mossy Creek, Morristown, Bulls’ Gap …
NEW MARKET, March 9, 1864.
Maj.-Gen. SCHOFIELD, Knoxville:
Have just returned from Mossy Creek. Deserters and citizens continue to come in, but their news does not reach beyond Bull’s Gap, where [CSA Gen. Simon Bolivar] Buckner is said to be. Vaughn’s brigade is still at Browerville and does not number over 400 or 500 in all, partly mounted and partly foot. A cavalry outpost at Chucky Bend. One man who came through from Greeneville, on Friday last, reports some troops scattered between Greeneville and Bull’s Gap, but cannot say how many. …
A rebel cavalry party, 30 or 40 strong, is reported at Massengill’s Mill, on north side of Holston, about 8 miles above Strawberry Plains, yesterday. Col. Garrard sends a party across to-day to look after them. A regiment goes to Morristown to support a cavalry reconnaissance toward Bull’s Gap … I have directed every possible means to be used to get immediately some definite information of the condition of affairs beyond Bay’s Mountain.
My own belief is that Longstreet is gone, and that Buckner is left in command of whatever force remains. Upon examination it is found that the small trestle bridge at Mossy Creek was partially cut by the rebels with the intent doubtless to make a trap for our first train. …
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. D. COX, Brig.-Gen.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 32 pt. III, pp. 43-44.
15 MARCH 1864
Skirmish at Bull’s Gap
28 MARCH 1864
Federal scouts from Mossy Creek to Bull’s Gap
MOSSY CREEK, March 28, 1864.
Gen. SCHOFIELD: I have scouts just from Bull’s Gap; they report rebel infantry nearly all gone, and are daily leaving the country. Cavalry at the gap not thought to be many; also squads of cavalry in all the gaps and roads between Bull’s Gap and the bend of the Nola Chucky [Nolichucky River], 1 mile below the mouth of Lick Creek. They say the citizens told them the infantry are moving to Virginia, and in few days the cavalry will go to Kentucky. CSA Gen. [East Tennessean John C.] Vaughn* had pickets stationed 7 miles below Rogersville on Saturday and Sunday; the cars came to Bull’s Gap Friday. The men are said to be deserting by hundreds and going to North Carolina, the roads being so closely guarded they cannot come this way.
R. A. CRAWFORD, Chief of Scouts.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 32, pt. III, p. 174.
*Not to be confused with CSA Brigadier General Alfred Jefferson Vaughan, Army of Tennessee
31 MARCH 1864
Confederate destruction of railroad trackage and bridges in Lick Creek and Bull’s Gap environs.
KNOXVILLE, March 31, 1864.
Maj.-Gen. SHERMAN: The rebels have all gone from Bull’s Gap, and are now beyond Greeneville. They have destroyed the railroad bridge across Lick Creek and the trestle-work near the gap; they have also broken up the railroad to some extent and carried off the telegraph wire. This is all positive and I take it is conclusive as to [CSA Gen. James] Longstreet’s designs.
J. M. SCHOFIELD, Maj.-Gen.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 32, pt. III, p. 199.
Major General J. M. Schofield USA
1 APRIL – 2 APRIL 1864
Federal Reconnaissance and scouts about Bull’s Gap, Strawberry Plains and Morristown.
KNOXVILLE, Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN:
Gen. Stoneman reached Bull’s Gap, and his cavalry is scouting beyond that place. The enemy have all gone beyond Jonesborough and probably beyond the Watauga. Scouts report that Longstreet’s main force is moving to East Virginia, only about 3,500 men, mostly cavalry, being left to protect the saltworks. I will know the facts in a few days.
Longstreet was with his troops at Bull’s Gap while I was at Morristown last week, he having returned from Virginia. Upon learning we were advancing he also brought back a division of infantry, which was then en route for Virginia. The rebels have destroyed the bridge beyond Bull’s Gap and Greeneville, and have carried off the telegraph wire, but have not injured the track as far as learned.
I will occupy Bull’s Gap with infantry, and scout the country above with cavalry, but will not injure the railroad until I get further instructions from you. I will have all preparations made to carry out your plans.
J. M. SCHOFIELD, Maj.-Gen.
2 APRIL 1864
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE OHIO, Strawberry Plains.
Brig. Gen. T. J. Wood, Commanding Third Division, Fourth Army Corps.
GENERAL: Gen. Stoneman went yesterday with a division on a reconnaissance to Morristown. To-day he is at Bull’s Gap, and possibly beyond. The result of his movement will determine whether any other force may be required to complete what is to be done on that line. No news from below.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. D. COX, Brigadier-Gen., Chief of Staff.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 32, pt. III, pp. 225-226.
Brigadier General J. D. Cox USA
24 APRIL 1864
Scouts in Bull’s Gap environs.
Maj.-Gen. SCHOFIELD, Knoxville:
[Gen. Mahlon Dickerson] Manson got off promptly at daybreak this morning. The cavalry are ordered to make 30 miles a day, and the infantry 20. All have five days’ rations and forage. The instructions for their guidance in different contingencies I made out fully as you directed. The news brought in by scouts makes me confident of success for the expedition, there being no rebel force sufficient to meet them this side of Holston.
J. D. COX, Brig.-Gen., Cmdg.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 32, p. 476.
25 APRIL – 27 APRIL 1864
Expedition from Bull’s Gap to Watauga River and skirmish.
Report of Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield, U. S. Army,
Commanding Department of the Ohio.
KNOXVILLE, April 27, 1864.
I have intelligence from the Watauga expedition. As was anticipated the rebels destroyed the bridge after being driven across it by our cavalry. The river was too high to be forded. Our loss in the fight was 3 killed and 18 wounded; that of the enemy not yet reported. The troops will reach Lick Creek to-night. They have destroyed all the bridges from Bull’s Gap to the Watauga and about 20 miles of track. Considering the time allowed them think they have done remarkably well and all that could be desired.
J. M. SCHOFIELD, Maj.-Gen.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 32, pt. I, p. 686.
25 APRIL – 27 APRIL 1864
Account of CSA Surgeon John W. Lawing
Thomas’ (North Carolina) Legion, C. S. Army, on the expedition from Bull’s Gap to Watauga River.
Carter’s DEPOT, EAST TENNESSEE, April 28, 1864.
EDITOR, WESTERN DEMOCRAT:
I desire through your paper to give a brief account of the engagement recently fought at this place. The enemy, about 2,000 strong, consisting of the Third Indiana, the Tenth Michigan Mounted Infantry, and a battalion with two pieces of artillery under General [Mahlon Dickerson] Manson, United States Army, attacked this place on Monday, April 25. The fight began at 2 o’clock p. m., and with only occasional intervals continued until dark.
The resisting force, which consisted of only a portion of Colonel [William Holland] Thomas’ Legion, North Carolina Troops, and without artillery, under Lieutenant-Colonel James [Robert] Love of North Carolina, met them heroically and repulsed them in a crippled condition. …
Under cover of the night the enemy removed their wounded and dead and resumed the firing early next morning, but after a short skirmish they retired. A few of our cavalry pursued and on their return reported that the enemy had burned a small bridge, torn up a portion of the railroad track, and were still retreating, evidently not intending to renew the attack.
During this engagement our men displayed a heroism worthy of veterans and of the noble cause in which they are engaged. This victory, though comparatively small, is in keeping with the progress of events which makes our Confederate cause ever plainer to our minds and dearer to our hearts.
Bulls Gap Railroad Depot, date unknown
28 JUNE 1864
A Confederate Martial Marriage at Bull’s Gap.
An Alabama soldier … who is uglier than the renowned Suggs—in fact so far diseased with the chronic big ugly as to have failed procuring a furlough from Brig. Gen. [Evander] Law—wooed and won a buxom Tennessee maid of doubtful age. …
The bridegroom stood largely over six honest feet in his socks, was as hairy as Esau, and pale, slim and lank. His jacket and pants represented both of the contending parties at war. His socks were much the worse for wear, and his toes sticking out of the gaping rents thereof, reminded one of the many little heads of pelicans you observe protruding from the nest which forms the coat of arms of Louisiana.
The exact color of his suit could not be given. Where the buttons had been lost off in the wear and tear of war, a unique substitute, in the shape of persimmon seed, was used. The bride had essayed to wash “Alabama’s” clothes, while he modestly concealed his nudity behind a brush heap, awaiting there until they were dried.
The bride was enrobed in a clean but faded dress. Her necklace was composed of a string of chinquapins, her brow was environed by a wreath of faded bonnet flowers, and her wavy hair was tucked up behind in the old-fashioned way. She wore a stout pair of No. 9 brogans, and her stockings and gloves were made of rabbit skins—fur side next to the flesh. … She wore no hoops, for nature had given her such a form as to make crinoline of no use to her.
All being ready, the “Texas Parson” proceeded to his duty with becoming gravity. … Then the following was read aloud:
“By order of our directive General Braxton Bragg, I hereby solemnly pronounce you man and wife, for and during the war, and you shall cleave unto each other until the war is over, and then apply to Governor Watts for a family right of public land in Pike, the former residence of the bridegroom, and you, and each of you, will assist to multiply and replenish the earth.”
The ceremony wound up with a regular bear hug between the happy mortals, and we resumed our hog hunt, all the time “guffawing” at the stoic indifference manifested by the married parties on the picket line at Bull’s Gap. On our falling back from the gap we observed the happy couple perambulating with the column through the mud and snow, wearing an air of perfect indifference to observation or remark from the soldiery. …
Richmond [VA] Whig, 28 June 1864.
Brigadier General Jacob Ammen USA
Report of Brig. Gen. Jacob Ammen, U. S. Army,
Of skirmishes at Rheatown, Jonesborough, the Watauga River, and Carter’s Station.
HDQRS. FOURTH DIVISION, TWENTY-THIRD ARMY CORPS,
Knoxville, Tenn., November 6, 1864. CAPT.; September 19, 1864, I received the following telegram:
LOUISVILLE, KY., 19 September 1864.
Brig.-Gen. AMMEN, Knoxville, Maj.-Gen. [Stephen] Burbridge will start to-morrow on his expedition into Southwest Virginia. Gen. [Alvan] Gillem is to co-operate with him. Support them by such force as you can make available, according to understanding we had at Chattanooga.
J. M. SCHOFIELD, Maj.-Gen., Cmdg.
The understanding was, that Maj.-Gen. Stephen G. Burbridge would attack the enemy at Abingdon and the salt-works 27 September; that Gen. Gillem, with his force, was to attack the enemy at Jonesborough the same day, and that the troops under my command would hold Bull’s Gap.
Subsequently Gen. Burbridge telegraphed to Gen. Gillem to attack at Jonesborough 29 September, and follow up the enemy the 30th, as Gen. Burbridge could not be at Abingdon before that time. In pursuance of these instructions I went to Bull’s Gap by railroad with 300 of the First Ohio Volunteer Heavy Artillery, Col. Hawley in command 21 September.
Next day 200 more of the same regiment came on the train, and 25 September, 200 of the Tenth Michigan Cavalry mounted and 100 of the same regiment dismounted reached Bull’s Gap. Gen. Williams having united with the force commanded by CSA Gen. Vaughn in East Tennessee, Gen. Gillem requested me to accompany him, as he had not troops enough to meet the enemy in our front.
Gen. Gillem’s command, consisted of the Ninth and Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry, Fifteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, Sixteenth Kentucky Cavalry, and six pieces of artillery; total, 1,650; my command, First Ohio Heavy Artillery, 500, and 300 of the Tenth Michigan; total, 800. Capt. Kirk with his command and two companies of 100-days’ men were left at Bull’s Gap.
27 September, we left Bull’s Gap with the two commands (2,450); marched to Greeneville without seeing the enemy. 28 September, near Rheatown, the advance met a small party of the enemy, wounded 3, and drove the rest back. September 29, the advance met a small force at Jonesborough drove it from the town; met more, and the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry drove them on the Duvall’s Ferry road and across the Watauga River.
A part of the enemy went on the Carter’s Station road and were pursued by the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry. 30 September, marched to Carter’s Station, attacked the enemy, and drove most of his force across the river to a strong position …
1 October, the artillery was placed advantageously, did good work, and soon after 12 m. the enemy left his works and retreated … At 12 m. started back with the First Ohio Volunteer Heavy Artillery and Tenth Michigan Cavalry and reached Knoxville 5 October 1864. …
Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
J. AMMEN, Brig.-Gen., U. S. Volunteers, Cmdg. Division.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 39, pt. I, pp. 558-559.
22 SEPTEMBER 1864
Confederate attack repulsed at Bull’s Gap
BULL’S GAP, TENN., September 22, 1864—3.50 p. m.
Gen. BURBRIDGE: The enemy attacked the forces at this place this morning, and were repulsed. They are now visible on our flank. It is Gen. Ammen’s and my opinion that all their available force is here.
ALVAN C. GILLEM, Brig.-Gen.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 39, pt. II, p. 440.
Major General Stephen G. Burbridge USA
27 SEPTEMBER 1864
Report of Col. John B. Palmer, Fifty-eighth North Carolina Infantry (C.S.).
HDQRS. MOUNTAIN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA,
Asheville, November 3, 1864.
MAJ.: I have the honor to submit the following report of the recent operations of the force under my command: On 27 September last I notified you that Gen. Vaughn had been ordered back to Saltville, and that I had fallen back to Warm Springs, and that I intended moving to Cocke County, Tenn., in the rear of the enemy, who had followed Gen. Vaughn’s forces to Carter’s Depot.
This movement of mine … seriously alarmed the enemy and caused their precipitate retreat to Bull’s Gap. In according with directions received from Gen. R. E. Lee to co-operate with Gen. Breckinridge when notified by him, I moved from this place on 17 October, and, concentrating my forces at Warm Springs, moved over the Paint Mountain on the 19th with 800 men and three pieces of artillery.
… a small force of cavalry I had stationed in Cocke County, Tenn. … struck the railroad at Mossy Creek and burned the railroad bridge. This caused the enemy to evacuate Bull’s Gap and retire in the direction of Bean’s Station. On 21 October I formed a junction with Gen. Vaughn at Bull’s Gap. During the night of that day I moved to Russellville, and having effectually destroyed the railroad in that vicinity and collected and secured the telegraph wire, I, by Gen. Vaughn’s directions, returned to Bull’s Gap.
On the 27 October I proceeded, by directions of Gen. Breckinridge, to Morristown for the purpose of conferring with Gen. Vaughn, whose forces I found skirmishing with the enemy. That night my mountain howitzer was ordered forward. … Gen. Vaughn requested me to send back to Bull’s Gap and have my command in readiness to move the next morning at 6 a. m. to Russellville, should he so order. This I did.
Early on the morning of the 28th I addressed a note to Gen. Vaughn to know if my command had been ordered up during the night, in order that if it had I might go back and place it in position at Russellville; or if it had not, that I might go to his headquarters and hold a conference with him as directed by Gen. Breckinridge.
I received the following reply from Gen. Vaughn’s assistant adjutant-general:
HDQRS. CAVALRY, &c., Morristown, 28 October 1864.
Col. PALMER, Cmdg.:
The general directs me to say … that your command was ordered to Russellville last night. Enemy are still in our front. Some skirmishing this morning.
BIRD G. MANARD,
I notified Gen. Vaughn that I would place my command in position at Russellville, and immediately returned to that place … I selected a line about one mile in advance of Russellville, on the Morristown road, and was moving my command into position when Gen. Vaughn’s staff officer arrived from the front and requested me to form my line in rear of Russellville, on the Bull’s Gap road.
I faced the column about and was marching it to the new position when Gen. Vaughn’s retreating cavalry swept by my men in the wildest disorder. My men were hastily thrown across the road and an ineffectual attempt made to stop the fleeing cavalry and induce them to form a line. The rear of Gen. Vaughn’s baggage and supply train had just reached my line when the pursuing enemy entered the town on its opposite side.
Skirmishers were immediately thrown out from my command on the left and engaged the enemy, while my artillery opened from a slight elevation in rear of my right, effectually checking the enemy’s advance and enabling Gen. Vaughn to rally from 150 to 200 men in rear of my line. The enemy made no farther advance, but fell back to Morristown, stating that they had encountered at Russellville the whole of Breckinridge’s corps.
I had with me not more than 600 men, the balance having been left at Bull’s Gap by direction of Gen. Vaughn. From this position I was ordered back to Bull’s Gap, and from thence to Greeneville, I protesting against both movements. From Greeneville Gen. Vaughan fell back to Rheatown, and by his directions my command returned to this district. …
It is evident that this district, as I have always urged, affords an admirable base from which to operate against and threaten the enemy in East Tennessee. …
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. B. PALMER, Col., Cmdg. District. CSA
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 39, pt. I, pp. 844-857
16 OCTOBER 1864
Skirmish near Bull’s Gap.
18 OCTOBER 1864
The enemy evacuated Bull’s Gap …
HDQRS., In the Field.
MAJ.: Mossy Creek bridge was burned by one of my scouts on night of 16th instant. The enemy evacuated Bull’s Gap very hurriedly about 2 o’clock this morning, retreating in the direction of Knoxville. I am pursuing. Commissaries should look well to the supplies in this department.
J. [John] C. VAUGHN, Brig.-Gen.
20 OCTOBER 1864
HDQRS. CAVALRY, Near Bull’s Gap, October 20, 1864.
MAJ.: The enemy moved hurriedly from Bull’s Gap on the night of the 17th instant. They are now encamped at Bean’s Station. The cause of the evacuation was occasioned by a detachment of twenty men, under Capt. Mims, burning the fort used by the enemy at Mossy Creek, and the destruction of the railroad bridge. He also destroyed effectually some two miles of the railroad. He reports great consternation among the citizens at Knoxville and surrounding country. …
Two companies of cavalry at Strawberry Plains. Small force represented to be at Knoxville. I am of the opinion that the enemy will return and give me battle in a day or two. Col. Palmer will probably reach me to-morrow. I shall endeavor to hold as much of the country as possible, but if pressed shall resume my old lines at Rheatown.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JOHN C. VAUGHN, Brig.-Gen., Cmdg.
Gen. John Vaughn’s Tennessee Brigade during the Vicksburg Campaign.
23 OCTOBER 1864
HDQRS. FORCES EAST TENNESSEE, Morristown.
MAJ.: My forces pursued the enemy to their fortifications at Strawberry Plains, where they met some re-enforcements; and from the condition of my stock, for want of shoeing and other causes, I think it prudent to fall back to the line at Bull’s Gap. The strength of the enemy that left Bull’s Gap was between 3,000 and 4,000, consisting of cavalry, artillery, and infantry. …
I would suggest … that Gen.’s Cosby’s and Duke’s commands be sent here, and I think we could draw the enemy out of his works, and if so, could very easily defeat him. I hope the general will favor the suggestion. My command is increasing every day and getting some recruits.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JOHN C. VAUGHN, Brig.-Gen., Cmdg.
4 NOVEMBER – 17 NOVEMBER 1864
John C. Breckinridge CSA advances from Virginia into Northeast Tennessee.
When Federal cavalry begin roaming up East Tennessee’s Watauga Valley in late 1864, Gen. John C. Breckinridge CSA in southwestern Virginia decides they are too close to Bristol and resolves to push them back. … he moves down the railroad line to Greeneville.
Union troops under Gen. Alvan C. Gillem advance beyond Greeneville, but retire in front of larger Confederate forces moving out of Jonesborough. To protect the rail lines to Knoxville, the Federals fall back to Bulls Gap on the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad.
Major General John C. Breckinridge CSA
Painting by Eliphalet Frazer Andrews
11 NOVEMBER – 14 NOVEMBER 1864
Battle of Bull’s Gap Summary
11 NOVEMBER 1864
Confederate forces attack in the morning, but are repulsed by 11:00 a.m.
Confederates are pushed back within hours of the initial attack.
Artillery fire continues throughout the day.
12 NOVEMBER 1864
Both sides launch morning attacks.
Confederates hit Union forces in a variety of locations but gain little ground.
13 NOVEMBER 1864
Firing occurs throughout most of the day.
Confederates do not assault Union lines.
Union forces are short on everything from ammunition to rations.
They withdraw from Bull’s Gap toward Russellville late in the evening.
The battle of Bull’s Gap ends on the third day.
A minor victory for the Confederate Army.
14 NOVEMBER 1864
Breckinridge attacks the Federals on 14 November and engages them near Russellville, causing a rout.
The Federals fall back to Strawberry Plains (northeast of Knoxville) where Breckinridge again engages his forces.
Federal reinforcements soon arrive and foul weather begins to play havoc with the roads and streams.
Breckinridge, with most of his force, retires back to Virginia.
The Confederate victory at the Battle of Bulls Gap is a setback in the Federal plans to rid East Tennessee of Confederate military presence, though temporary as Breckinridge withdraws to Virginia.
11 NOVEMBER – 13 NOVEMBER 1864
Battle of Bull’s Gap > As the Confederates saw it.
On 11 November 1864, Gen. Basil Duke CSA is in the process of pushing the Federal rear guard out of Lick Creek and chasing them to Bull’s Gap. Union commander Gen. Alvan C. Gillem USA … sorties several times from Bull’s Gap, but Duke keeps pushing him back. When Breckinridge arrives, he decides to attack up the mountain the next morning.
Although Duke thinks the movement is reckless, both he and Breckinridge are in the thick of the fighting on the morning of 12 November. Breckinridge devises a coordinated assault on the Union front, flank, and rear …
The flanking force on the Union left, consisting of dismounted cavalry led by Breckinridge in person, carries a line of trenches in hand-to-hand fighting. …
Exhausted Confederate troops stumble back down the steep mountainside … victims of steep terrain well-defended.
Brigadier General Basil Duke CSA
Henrietta Hunt Morgan Duke
Wife of Gen. Basil Duke
Sister of Gen. John Hunt Morgan
11 NOVEMBER – 13 NOVEMBER 1864
Battle of Bull’s Gap > The Union viewpoint
Report of the Battle of Bull’s Gap by Gen. Alvan Gillem USA
‘Regret to inform you my command has met a terrible reverse.’
On the night of the 9th moved from Greeneville to Bull’s Gap; 11th, the enemy attacked me and was repulsed; 12th, at daylight assault was renewed, Breckinridge leading storming party … On the 13th the enemy renewed attack, but not with such vigor. From our position we could see their infantry arriving … as my command had been living four days without bread, horses starving, and ammunition exhausted …
I determined to evacuate the gap on the night of the 13th, and was not interfered with until the greater part of my command, artillery, and trains had passed Russellville, when the rear was attacked and men became panic-stricken.
All efforts of myself and their officers to rally them was fruitless. They ran over everything. The enemy, who had not attacked vigorously at first, then charged and broke through our lines, capturing artillery and trains. … I passed over the grounds in the enemy’s rear. Did not see a dead Federal soldier; but, in horses, arms, and equipments, have lost heavily. …
This command has heretofore fought gallantly. Had it not become panic stricken could have easily repulsed the enemy and kept them back. … Will reorganize command and await your orders; and, if you are willing to trust me, try them again.
Had assistance been extended when asked for from the commander at Knoxville this disaster would not have occurred. But my men were allowed to starve while storehouses were full and a railroad running to Russellville.
ALVAN C. GILLEM, Brig. Gen.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 39, pt. I, pp. 885-886.
Major General Alvan C. Gillem USA
16 NOVEMBER – 19 NOVEMBER 1864
New York Times.
THE WAR IN TENNESSEE.
Defeat of Gen. Gillem near Bull’s Gap.
Capture of Four Hundred Prisoners by Gen. Breckinridge.
Fighting at Strawberry Plains.
LOUISVILLE, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 19.
Intelligence deemed reliable, the accuracy of which cannot be determined to-night, says:
Very recently the rebel Gen. BRECKINRIDGE, with 10,000 men, attacked Gen. GILLEM near Bull’s Gap, and after a desperate fight, defeated GILLEM, who lost four hundred prisoners. …
THE REBEL ACCOUNT.
From The Richmond Enquirer, Nov. 16.
The following official dispatch was received at the War Department last night:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY NORTHERN VIRGINIA, Nov. 15, 1864.
Hon. James A. Seddon, Secretary of War:
Gen. BRECKINRIDGE reports that on the night of the 13th inst. he turned Bull’s Gap, when the enemy attempted to retreat.
About 1 o’clock on the 14th inst., with VAUGHN’s and DUKE’s commands, he struck their column and routed it. Several hundred prisoners, ten stands of colors, six pieces of artillery, with caissons and horses complete, fifty loaded wagons with teams, and ambulances with medical supplies, &c., captured.
CHATTANOOGA, Saturday, 19 November 1864.
The rebels attacked our forces at Strawberry Plains, eighteen miles above Knoxville, in force yesterday morning, at daylight. The fighting continued at intervals all day. Our forces held their own. The rebels were repulsed in every attack.
Granny Feathers House, Bull’s Gap, Northeast Tennessee
This building, once a hotel, has survived since 1856.
After the American Civil War, Bull’s Gap and the damaged railroad begin to rebuild. The earlier planned Rogersville connection to the ET&VA is completed in 1870 by the Rogersville and Jefferson Railroad, and the town of Bull’s Gap grows and prospers at the junction of the two lines.