Editor’s note: Due to a print error our correspondence columns were inadvertently omitted from this week’s print issue.
By Russell Bailey, Tipton County Historian
Colonel Thomas H. Logwood detailed Captain H. T. Hanks, Company C., 15th Tennessee Cavalry to prepare the Federal prisoners captured at Athens for their movement west and south, during the afternoon of Sept. 24, 1864. Hanks counted and recounted a total of 973 captives and noted weapons and supplies filled 20 of the wagons.
From resident Miss Mary Fielding’s diary and recollections of captives themselves, we learn the prisoners were lined up and relieved of clothing and personal possessions by the “ragged Confederate cavalry.” Those of the Union relief column captured after the fort’s surrender were relieved of their weapons, robbed of rations, money, clothing, anything of value. A Federal wrote: “About half of us were compelled to take off our good blue pants and exchange with a Reb for a ragged gray or butternut pair….it was high noon before being compelled to hand over my watch to a Confederate soldier.” Another prisoner recalled two Rebels fighting over possession of his new boots. In return he “was tossed a pair of shoes with the uppers cut away.” Finally, the unfortunate man was deprived of his pants and given a pair of ragged overalls to wear. The prisoners were then marched over into the streets of the town where for their journey west. Colonel Robert M. Russell with his 150 men of the 20th Tennessee Cavalry were also detailed to conduct the 1,000 captives to their fate, white soldiers to a prison and the black soldiers to the farms and plantations.
That afternoon Forrest’s soldiers helped themselves to the precious foodstuffs and supplies captured from the Yankee garrison and soldiers. Men of the 14th Tennessee enjoyed munching on army crackers dipped in a water bucket filled with molasses while relaxing in the town’s cemetery according to Miss Fielding. They broke into the Yankee sutler store and helped themselves to delicacies such as oysters, sardines, preserved fruits and pickles.
The wounded were placed in the citizen’s homes all over town. Colonel William Richardson’s home was opened as a hospital. Federal and Confederate wounded were often laid side by side in the same home.
Mrs. Mary Fielding and others were on the lawn of the Maclin home and watched as the Confederate soldiers departed from Athens moving north along the railroad. General Forrest stopped for a brief chat with those assembled. She recorded in her diary:
“He (Forrest) related the capture of the resistant blockhouse and bragged about the reliability of his weapons, calling them the best the United States had to offer. Lincoln being a better quartermaster than Jeff Davis, Forrest said he patronized him for supplies. Forrest also said he was going straight up the railroad toward Nashville, destroying the Yankee supply line as he went.”
General Forrest and his cavalry camped five miles north of the Athens. Early the next morning they were in front of Sulphur Trestle, “after a march of only three miles from his bivouac.” This Union fortification was described thus:
“The position was…defended by a strong redoubt, garnished with artillery and heavily garrisoned (by about 1,000 men, 400 from the 3rd Tennessee U. S. Cavalry and 600 infantry of the U. S. Colored Troops with two 12 pounder howitzers), as well as by several block-houses. The trestle was a costly structure which spanned a deep ravine, with precipitous sides…400 feet broad. It was 60 feet high and formed a most vulnerable link in the chain of communication and supply between the Federal forces in North Alabama and their base at Nashville.”
Continued next week.