Battle of Tazewell, Tennessee
August 6, 1862
An Anecdote by Surgeon Benjamin F. Stevenson, 22nd Kentucky Volunteers
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 a story by regimental surgeon Benjamin F. Stevenson of the 22nd Kentucky, ready before the Ohio Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States on June 3, 1885 at Cincinnati:
Foraging in force was not unattended with danger, as DeCourcy's Brigade, two thousand strong, came near being surrounded and cut off on the 6th of August, at Tazewell, Tenn. Only gallant fighting and skillful handling prevented its capture by a three-fold greater force of the enemy. The gravest positions are at times accompanied by ludicrous scenes which tend to relieve their gravity, and occasion amusement to the soldiery. The Battle of Tazewell was fought just south of that town. In falling back the troops all filed through its main street. the 22d Kentucky was in the rear. It was not running, only making good quick-step time. The town is in a deep valley, and on the hills on each side were the batteries of the opposing hosts, which were worked to their utmost activity, whilst the rear was being pressed by the pursuing enemy. Near the center of town a great tall, obese, "sable sister," in the undress uniform of the laundry brigade - a sleeveless bodice and a red flannel petticoat, which, like "Wee Nannie's cutty sark," was in "longitude sorely scanty," - emerged from a side street. Bubbling all over with excitement, and gesticulating wildly, she screamed at the top of her voice, "Oh, oh! you Yanks is skedadling, is you?" She exposed to the profane gaze of the soldiery an amazing extent of rotund nudities. The grotesque humor of the situation was sufficient to have provoked an audible smile under the ribs of death.