BULLS GAP, Tenn.On Friday, March 24, the main column of Stoneman's Raid passed through Bulls Gap in eastern Tennessee and Gen. Alvan Gillem wrote in his report, "Nothing of interest transpired on the 24th."
No news was good news, especially for Gillem, who had fought rebels on this very road twice in the past seven months. The previous September, he had led a successful manhunt to kill the notorious Confederate raider, Gen. John Hunt Morgan in nearby Greeneville. In November, Confederate Gen. John Breckinridge had routed Gillem's forces after a four-day battle in Bulls Gap.
|Gen. Alvan Gillem, a 'Home Yankee'|
Gillem reported to Stoneman, who had broader responsibilities as the commander of the Department of Tennessee. Stoneman exercised total command over the raid during the 28 days he was there, and he reprimanded Gillem at least twice for excessive destruction. After Stoneman returned to Tennessee April 17, Gillem commanded the mop-up actions that continued in Stoneman's name. Discipline broke down after Stoneman left, culminating in the looting of Asheville on April 26 and Anderson May 1.
At Bulls Gap, Stoneman divided his forces and sent his all-Tennessee 3rd Brigade northeast toward Bristol to raise havoc and force the rebels to defend an area that the Yankees actually had no plans to invade. This was the first of many feints and diversions Stoneman used to confuse and diffuse the enemy.
Meanwhile, Stoneman and Gillem led the 1st and 2nd Brigades (units from Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) eastward past Greeneville and Jonesborough into the mountains. At the Doe River Cove (modern-day Hampton) they reunited with the 3rd Brigade and followed the Watauga River into North Carolina on a winding road that was the forerunner to U.S. 321.
Every peaceful morning, Gen. Gillem awoke on the lookout for trouble. He had 4,000 troops itching for a fight. But almost all the able-bodied men in the South were away on the front lines, leaving the home front undefended. Except for a few random bushwhackers, the Confederate resistance in eastern Tennessee evaporated like the dew.
At least Gen. Gillem didn't have to worry about his old Bulls Gap nemesis, Gen. Breckinridge, who was now Jefferson Davis' secretary of war. Their next confrontation, so to speak, would be one of the more amusing episodes of Stoneman's Raid. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, April 21.