Battle of Tazewell Index Page 16th OVI Home Page Next Battle Account Page
Battle of Tazewell, Tennessee
August 6, 1862
As Described by Captain J. H. Davidson, 14th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry
Web Author's Notes:
The 16th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, as part of Col. John F. DeCourcey's 26th Brigade, marched south from their stronghold at Cumberland Gap toward the small town of Tazewell, Tennessee, on August 2, 1862. The purpose of their expedition was to find and acquire forage and supplies for the Federal garrison holding Cumberland Gap. During several days of foraging and extended trips further south of Tazewell, some periodic skirmishes with Rebel cavalry were encountered but the troops were successful in filling their wagons with much needed food and hay for their animals. Col. DeCourcey knew a large Confederate force was camped south of the Clinch River, not too distant from Tazewell, however, did not anticipate any major engagement would take place. On the Wednesday morning of August 6, however, DeCourcey would be confronted by a vastly superior Rebel force.

There exists a number of detailed accounts of the Battle of Tazewell. As with all such events, the accounts differ, somewhat, and certain facts told by each are inconsistent. However, by reading each account one can eventually gain a rather clear picture of the actions and movements that occurred that warm summer day, 15 miles south of Cumberland Gap.

The following is an account of the Battle of Tazewell as told by Capt. J. H. Davidson of the 14th Kentucky, part of DeCourcey's brigade at Tazewell, as published by the Ironton Register, August 21, 1862:

6. August, 1862:

On Wednesday morning the whole country was enveloped in a dense fog and perhaps delayed the attack for a short time. 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. Here it will be necessary to give some idea of the ground in order that a clear understanding may be had of succeeding events. Tazewell is a small village situated between two elevated ridges and upon quite uneven ground, both ridges sloping toward the town, the sumits [sic] of which are near two miles apart.

On the south side of the village there is a small uneven hill, densly 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 vollies 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 though 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.

Major Kershner's horse was so severly wounded that he had to abandon him and with his small reserve force cut his way through the rebel ranks; the artillery drove into the orchard where the 14th was in line, and again opened fire upon them, and so also did the 14th which somewhat checked them, and afforded some protection to the retreat of the 16th. They were so completely surrounded and cut off from each other that they came down the hill in straggling parties and irregular order, but still maintained a severe and effective fire upon the enemy, who immediately formed in line of battle and came down the hill in excellent order, and with a defiant yell which clearly bespoke their confidence of success. The guns again moved off in haste and the command was given for the 14th to retreat, which was done in considerable disorder, because the regiment had to cross two fences, and the ground was quite uneven, and covered with a dense growth of small pines and cedars, while the rebel regiment was flanking us on the our rear. The boys, however, did some pretty effective shooting in defiance of the orders, which were constantly repeated to cease firing, and move on to the ridge beyond the town. The rebels cheered and moved forward in splendid order, considering the nature of the ground. 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 exchange of iron compliments continued during the whole afternoon without damaging us in the least. 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 hawled [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 mislead 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; however, I will put down the figures...

None of the 14th were killed or captured, and but a few wounded, all of whom were brought off the field. Company B, Henry C. Perkins in the right leg (since amputated) company F, Frank Mutters, in thigh, flesh wound; Mordecai Hensley, flesh wound in leg; Sergeant James H. Sperry, slightly in head; company E, Hiram Miller, in shoulder slightly; Several others were grazed by bullets, but no others wounded seriously enough to mention.

Battle of Tazewell Index Page 16th OVI Home Page Next Battle Account Page