There's still plenty to see of Longstreet's East Tennessee campaign from Niota, TN to Knoxville --- you just have to know where to look. We met up this morning at the Niota Depot in Niota, TN. @uaskme met us at the depot as we awaited the arrival of our knowledgeable guide Norman Dasinger, Jr. If you ever want to know anything about East Tennessee, Norman is the guy who knows!
Norman explained that the depot is made of handmade bricks. It was built 1854 so it was there, along the railroad in November of 1863, when Longstreet's men came by train from Chattanooga. We started there and drove the same routes, as nearly as possible, that Longstreet's and Burnside's men followed.
Before we left Niota, Norm took us to the local cemetery where stopped and paid our respects to Harry Thomas Burn, a Tennessee State Representative who was elected at 22yo and is still the youngest ever TN state representative. As a side note, Burn reportedly had relatives who fought on both sides of the Civil War.
On August 18, 1920, with the vote deadlocked at 48 yeahs and 48 nays, Burn cast the deciding vote which allowed Tennessee to ratify the 19th Amendment. His vote came at the request of his mother, Febb Ensminger Burn, who sent a note saying in part, "Hurrah and vote for Suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt." His parents' grave stone is pictured below.
We left Niota and drove northeast on Lee Highway. In many places the main road has been moved and we stuck as much as possible to the old original roads. The next town is Sweetwater TN. A quick stop in the parking lot on main street, allowed Norman to orient us to the situation.
By Brian Stansberry - Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51217287
We were on the South side of the TN river and, in November 1863, so were Longstreet's men. Burnside's men were on the North side of the river. Staying on the train to the next station was not an option. Although the railroad was operational across the Tennessee River, riding it to the next station would have put them face to face with Burnside's men.
Luckily for Longstreet, he had brought along by rail a pontoon bridge. He sent scouts ahead to identify a suitable place where a pontoon bridge could be effectively deployed. They chose Huff's Ferry not far from Sweetwater where the banks weren't too steep and where the river was less than 300 yards across. Longstreet determined to continue on with the pontoons aboard the train, and get it as close as possible to Huff's Ferry, where he would deploy the bridge across the Tennessee River. The pontoon bridge Longstreet used at Huff's Ferry, across the Tennessee River might have looked something like this one at Deep Bottom, across the James River.
So the pontoons stayed on the train, but the noise of the engine would be likely to attract the attention of Burnside's scouts. So the engine was left at Sweetwater, the cars containing the pontoons were detached, and Longstreet's (at that point) 8000 men pushed the cars by hand 10 miles up the track. They got them as close as they safely could and then unloaded the pontoons down the river bank on the South side of the Tennessee River. After crossing the pontoon bridge, this is the trail they came up on the other side.
While we were all standing there in the middle of the road listening to Norman tell us about the pontoon crossing, a lady drove up who lives there.
She said, "I just need to turn in, I live here."
I said, "I'm so sorry, we are just looking for Longstreet."
To which she immediately replied, "Well you just missed him; he was here 157 years ago."
It was so refreshing to meet a resident who actually recognizes the significance of her property; we grinned about it the rest of the day! Then she went on to say how her husband believes that some of the men must have bivouacked on the property due to some items he has found. So we took a picture, just in case.
Possible location of bivouac of some of Longstreet's men.
<To be continued>