The year of 1864 was in its infancy being only 3 days old.
A blanket of wintry weather covered the area with a frozen glaze and the hearts of men were frozen by the war as well as the cold.
War at any time is a terribly hard experience but to fight in the extremely freezing weather during January of 1864 is inconceivable.
During the time frame of the Great Conflict there were no special winter clothing such as Gore-Tex lined coats or boots.
Neither were there any waterproof gloves or thermal knit underwear.
Both armies were usually scantily clothed with the boys in blue slightly better off than their brothers in gray.
Rubber coated blankets were a luxury very few soldiers had and good boots even less available. Horror stories of soldiers marching without shoes or socks were common among the whisperers of tales. Winter was dreaded and as the temperature fell below the zero (0) mark to six (6) below all became chilled to the bone. With all that suffering came the added worry that someone was trying to kill you.
Unfortunately for some of the troops in the Powell River Valley, a fierce frozen fight was in store for them. The battle would be fought on one of the coldest January mornings of the war. On January 3, 1864, a battle in Jonesville, Virginia would be remembered by the men who fought there as The Frozen Fight.
Jonesville is a small town located in the Powell River Valley in Lee County, Virginia.
The valley is known for its fertile and productive fields. Unfortunately for the farmers and citizens in this area, both Union and Confederate armies were well aware of that fact. Both would need to forage the area to maintain the existence of their men, as supplies were hard to transport into the area.
The area was totally enclosed on the north and south by mountain ranges.
Jonesville was uniquely located. It was less than four miles south of Harlan County, Kentucky and six miles north of Hancock County, Tennessee.
The Union stronghold of Cumberland Gap and Tazewell, Tennessee, was not very far to the west.
The Confederate stronghold of Rogersville, Tennessee, was just to the south of the sprawling little town. All the roads in the valley intersected at Jonesville. The road system resembled a wheel with Jonesville being the hub and the thoroughfares being the spokes.
The Union commander of the region was Colonel W.C. Lemert, who spent most of his time traveling between Cumberland Gap and Tazewell.
His subordinate was Major Charles H. Beeres, a West Pointer. Major Beeres was considered by many citizens of the area to be a supporter of total warfare, much like General Sherman.
His troops burnt the courthouse in Jonesville for no apparent reason.
He later burned the Franklin Academy under the excuse that it was being used as a Confederate hospital. Most of the citizens of the Powell River Valley area despised and feared him.
Since most Rebel soldiers in this area had family and friends here, they harbored ill feelings toward him as well.
The Confederates hoped for a chance to catch him on one of his foraging parties and to defeat him, exacting some revenge. They would soon get their wish as Colonel Lemert ordered Major Beeres to take the 16th Illinois Cavalry and the 22nd Ohio Battery, a force of approximately four hundred-fifty men and attack the small Confederate force camped near Jonesville.
General William “ Grumble” Jones, CSA, was the commanding officer of the Department of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee.
He was a capable and daring leader, believing in leading from the front.
This courage and daring would later cost him dearly as he would lay down his life on the altar of freedom for the cause that he was devoted.
On June 5, 1864, he would be killed while leading his men at the Battle of Piedmont in the Shenandoah Valley. General Jones was headquartered in December of 1863 in Rogersville, Tennessee.
General Jones received a courier on December 31 from Lieutenant Colonel Auburn Pridemore of the 64th Virginia Mounted Infantry.
The message that was delivered reported that Lieutenant Colonel Pridemore had been informed by reliable sources that Major Beeres had left Tazewell and was moving on Jonesville.
General Jones, as much as anyone, wanted to rid the country of Major Beeres and his men, considering them scourges of the earth. He immediately assembled a force of men and left Rogersville on the bitterly cold morning of December 31, 1863.
His thrown together force included the 8th, 21st, 27th and 37th Virginia Battalions.
The 64th and the 10th Kentucky Mounted Rifles (later in the spring of 1865 they were reorganized and designated as the 13th Kentucky Cavalry) were camped just outside of Jonesville at Yocum’s Station.
A trap was in the making.
The trip from Rogersville to Jonesville was a bitterly cold one for the gray-clad cavaliers, artillery and infantry that marched with General Jones, with some reports of temperatures of minus six degrees.
At least one soldier would freeze to death on this cold ride, with some reports of as many as four men freezing to death.
The Yankee soldiers would suffer on their trip from Tazewell to Jonesville as well, though no men from their unit were reported to have frozen to death.
The deaths of the Rebel soldiers may have been contributed to them having to ford the Powell River, enhancing the killing power of the deadly cold. Jones’ army would spend the night of December 31 at Bean’s Station, Tennessee, and by the second of January was in the Powell River Valley, west of Jonesville.
He noted in his official reports that at every stop along the way, fires would be started and that some men could not be started when the march would restart.
Meanwhile, when Major Beeres and his command arrived and set up camp at Jonesville, Pridemore and his men melted into the cold woods on the east side of the town, not yet willing to engage the Yankees.
All Rebel soldiers in the area that were home on leave or convalescing were called on to help entrap the Yankee forces.
The call that went out did not have to be repeated twice, Beeres and his men were hated all up and down the valley.
In addition to these new recruits, Pridemore had approximately 230 men (130 men of the 64th and 100 men of the 10th Kentucky) to confront Beeres and his men.
Major Beeres knew that a small force of Confederates was in his front on the east side of Jonesville but he did not know that General Jones was moving up on his flanks with a considerable force of men.
He set his artillery (the 22nd Ohio Battery) on the high hill west of town facing Pridemore.
On the bitterly cold morning of January 3, 1864, the 64th Virginia and the 10th Kentucky charged into Jonesville, pushing the Union pickets back. Pridemore had Major James B. Richmond take command of a portion of the 64th Virginia on the right.
He then ordered Captain David J. Caudill to form his men of the 10th Kentucky on the left. As the attack began, Pridemore saw that the right flank could be over run.
He then brought the men of the 64th Virginia that were in reserve over to the right, moving Major Richmond and his men to alongside Captain Caudill and his men of the 10th Kentucky.
Amazingly the Rebel soldiers kept up a steady fire. Normal loading of an Enfield rifle under combat conditions can be an un-nerving experience but one cannot imagine trying to load and fire a muzzle-loading gun with frozen hands. Many a cartridge and primer cap probably hit the ground.
Pridemore saw that the Yankee line was wavering, and came to the realization that the time was right to charge the enemy.
With a Rebel yell that permeated the mountains and valleys, the entire length of the 64th Virginia and the 10th Kentucky surged forward, valiantly charging into the shot and canister of the Yankee artillery.
Amazingly they overtook the artillery and captured it.
The Rebel soldiers were probably glad to charge, as the running would warm their cold bodies. At this point of the battle, Major Beeres managed to stop his retreating troops who outnumbered the Confederates in their front and counterattacked.
They were successful and pushed the Rebels back, recapturing the cannons. Again the cannons were turned on the Rebel forces in the front of the Yankee lines.
At this time General Jones and his men arrived on the flank of the Yankee soldiers and pressed the Union forces from their entrenchments.
Major Beeres knew he was in a trap and tried to flee north on the Harlan Road towards Cranks Gap that lead into Kentucky.
Pridemore already knew that this was the only escape route for the Yankees and immediately moved the 64th and the 10th to the north and cut them off.
Major Beeres knew that further resistance would be futile, and raised a white flag.
Adjutant J.A.G. Hyatt of the 64th approached Major Beeres to accept his surrender, but in his arrogant style, the Major refused to surrender to someone of less rank that his own.
Before hostilities could begin again, Lieutenant Colonel Pridemore arrived upon the scene and accepted the surrender of Major Beeres and his men.
Lieutenant Colonel Pridemore would use the Major’s sword and pistol for the remainder of the war.
General Jones and his men arrived shortly on the scene.
Though not having to fight in the battle as much as the 64th and the 10th, they were instrumental in capturing almost all of Major Beeres’ force.
The ride they had conducted would be relived whenever the story of The Frozen Fight was told.
The casualties of this frozen fight were high for the Union Army, approximately 350 captured including 48 wounded and 12 killed in action.
The Confederate Army had 4 killed and 12 wounded soldiers. The cold but exuberant Rebel soldiers captured almost 400 guns and other needed supplies. Also an additional three pieces of artillery and twenty-seven (27) support wagons were now in the Confederate arsenal. Major Beeres and his men were sent to prisoner of war camps, with most of them being sent to Andersonville Prison. Lieutenant Colonel Pridemore was promoted to Colonel for his successful role in ridding the valley of the threat of total warfare. He was also accredited with the following verse:
“No area ever had truer sons,
No cause, nobler champions,
No people, bolder defenders-
Than the boys in Gray from Lee.”
Lieutenant Colonel Pridemore would state in his official report that the 64th and the 10th had fought gallantly. The camaraderie and friendship between these two units would continue throughout the war.
They would fight alongside each other throughout the East Tennessee campaign and in battles in Virginia including the Battle of Saltville. Tragically, General William “Grumble” Jones would not survive the war. The people of the Powell River Valley always honored the brave general with reverence when they spoke of him. They realized what he and his men had gone through to rid them of the constant threat of total warfare. Though the war would continue through another cold winter, the men who participated in this battle would forever more remember it as “The Frozen Fight,”
Mother Nature had increased the hardships of war, possibly to teach both warring sides the warmer side of peace.
The Frozen Fight (Part 2)
Second Battle of Jonesville
January 28 & 29, 1864
Most of the armies within the nation were in their winter encampments. But the gallant troops of the 10th Kentucky Mounted Rifles, 27th Virginia Cavalry and 64th Virginia Mounted Infantry were on the march. January of 1864 had been a very active month for the mounted Confederate riflemen stationed in Lee County, Virginia.
Though it had so far been one of the coldest Januarys on record, they had already been involved in two battles: the Battle of Jonesville, Virginia on January 3rd and the Battle of Tazewell, Tennessee on January 24th. Ironically, they would be in another battle before the month had run its course.
The small regiment of approximately five hundred men was comprised of the 10th Kentucky Mounted Rifles, 27th Virginia Cavalry and 64th Virginia Mounted Infantry. Their commanding officer was Colonel Auburn Pridemore. On January 27th, the combined band of cavaliers was camped at Ewing, (a small community in Lee County, Virginia) approximately 15 miles west of Jonesville, Virginia. Part of their mission was to observe and harass Union forces stationed at Cumberland Gap.
The large contingency of Union soldiers stationed at Cumberland Gap was under the command of General Theophilus T. Garrard. General Garrard had two important missions. The first mission was to prevent a Confederate invasion of Kentucky through Cumberland Gap and the second of equal importance was to safeguard the transportation of supplies into East Tennessee.
To accomplish these goals, he stationed several outposts in the area where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia bordered one another. One of these outposts was at Mulberry Gap in Hancock County, Tennessee.
This small community was approximately eleven miles southwest of Jonesville, Virginia. The Union force stationed at Mulberry Gap was comprised of the 11th Kentucky Infantry, 27th Kentucky Infantry and 11th Tennessee Infantry.
Their commanding officer was a gentleman by the name of Colonel S. Palace Love.
Colonel Love realized that there had been no attacks on the wagon trains under his protection for almost a week.
He was sure the Rebel cavalrymen had not left the area but his scouts had not been able to ascertain the location of their camps. Becoming curious, he decided to send a patrol in search of the elusive Confederates.
On the morning of January 28, Colonel Love ordered Captain Newport to take fifty men of Company E of the 11th Tennessee Infantry and scout in the vicinity of Jonesville in an attempt to locate the enemy. Captain Newport ordered his men to draw provisions and ammunition for at least one day.
He also instructed the company’s cook to prepare a good breakfast for the men preparing for the scouting detail.
At approximately the same time, Colonel Pridemore ordered his men to break camp and prepare to move out of Ewing. Having not observed any Union activity in the Ewing area, he decided to move back closer to his supply base at Jonesville.
Around 9:00 A.M., the sound of close to five hundred charges carrying their riders dressed in gray uniforms echoed up and down the valley. Colonel Pridemore, his staff, and color bearers were at the head of the column.
Following them was the 64th Virginia Mounted Rifles, the lead unit of the column. In the middle was the 10th Kentucky Mounted Infantry while the 27th Virginia Cavalry acted as rearguard. Neither army knew that they would soon collide in battle.
January 28, 1864
The First Day
Captain Newport and his men left Mulberry Gap at approximately 10:00 A.M.
The blue column began traveling in a northeast direction, soon crossing into Virginia. Shortly after entering Virginia, they crossed Wallen Ridge into the Powell River Valley.
This valley was known for its fertile soil, perfect for crops and pasture. But the ravages of war had taken its toll upon the people of the area and the winter had been bleak in the valley. After crossing the Powell River, Captain Newport allowed his men to dry before continuing their march toward Jonesville.
He was aware that the cold temperature and wet clothing would make the men miserable, dulling their alertness.
Colonel Pridemore and his column of gray-clad men traveled east up Indian Creek. At the head of Indian Creek and Hardy Creek, they turned south. They rode down Hardy Creek until entering the Powell River Valley. At this time, Pridemore’s scouts returned with information of a Union patrol in the valley traveling toward Jonesville. Pridemore immediately ordered his men to advance on the double quick toward Jonesville in an effort to intercept the Federals.
Close to midafternoon, Captain Newport and his patrol were a short distance west of Jonesville. At this time, his advance guard observed a large contingency of Rebel cavalrymen advancing toward them on the double quick. Racing back to the head of the Union column, the breathless scouts informed Captain Newport of the situation. Realizing that his men were vastly outnumbered, he immediately sent a dispatch to Mulberry Gap requesting re-enforcements.
Captain Newport ordered his men to dismount and prepare temporary breastworks out of fence rails. Nervously, the thin line of Federal soldiers waited on the advancing Confederate horsemen.
Aware of the location of the Union soldiers, Colonel Pridemore ordered his men to halt before they reached the range of the rifles aimed toward them.
He was not sure of the number of enemy troops facing them and cautiously decided to attack on foot, ordering his men to dismount. Upon completion of their battle line, the Confederates released a large Rebel yell and surged forward.
As they crossed the open field facing the Union defenders, the boys in gray were met with a withering fire. Captain Newport had chosen the site of his defensive line wisely, selecting a naturally strong position.
The exposed Confederates halted their attack and began to return fire with their Union counterparts. Though his men had managed to stop the attack, Captain Newport knew that the respite would be temporary.
He realized that for the moment the Confederate officers were not aware of how many Union soldiers faced them. He knew that shortly they would recognize this information and could easily overpower his men with their superior numbers. As the evening sun began to set, he organized an orderly retreat. In an effort to keep his men from panicking, he constantly exposed himself to the Confederates rifle fire. This act of bravery worked for the first mile but then tragedy struck when the young captain was severely wounded. With the steady influence of their leader gone, the orderly retreat now became a panic-stricken rout. The men of the 11th Tennessee Infantry began to run for their lives, discarding anything that slowed them down from the advancing Rebels.
Fortunately for them, they soon ran into the re-enforcements that Captain Newport had requested. Colonel Love had ordered the 11th Kentucky Infantry, 27th Kentucky Infantry and the remainder of the 11th Tennessee Infantry to march on the double quick to their comrade’s rescue. The Federal soldiers now outnumbered their Confederate counterparts, reversing the role of the underdog. As the evening sky began to darken, Colonel Pridemore ordered skirmishers to probe the long, Union defensive line. The dark night sky along with the bitter cold encouraged both armies to cease hostilities. Men of both armies would spend a long, cold night lying upon their rifles. The first day of battle was now over but a new dawn soon approached.
The Second Day of Battle
January 29, 1864
At the first light of dawn, Colonel Pridemore ordered his men to form into a battle line with the 64th Virginia Mounted Infantry in the center, 10th Kentucky Mounted Rifles on the right and 27th Virginia Cavalry on the left.
Every fourth soldier would hold the horses in the rear. This battle would be won or lost due to the fighting prowess of man and rifle as neither army had artillery support. With his men in position, Colonel Pridemore gave the order to open fire.
The sound of lead balls zipping through the trees began to fill the air as soldiers from both armies fired volley after volley.
For the first two hours of battle, neither army seemed willing to take the initiative, content with holding their positions. Though now outnumbered, Colonel Pridemore decided to attempt to push the stubborn Federal soldiers from their temporary breastworks. At approximately 10:00 A.M. the order to charge was given. With a large Rebel yell the gray line surged forward.
The sight of charging, screaming soldiers was more than the Yankees could stand and despite the pleading of their officers, the boys in blue began to retreat.
The Union officers were able to control their men enough to prevent the retreat from turning into a rout. They also were able to direct the retreat in a westward direction toward the Union stronghold at Cumberland Gap.
Every mile or two they would be able to stop their men long enough to form a temporary battle line. At each stop, the demoralized Federal soldiers would fire several volleys before retreating once more.
By approximately 1:30 P.M. the boys in blue had retreated more than five miles in the direction of Ewing. Having found a natural defensive location on Indian Creek, Union officers were able to rally their men once again. Colonel Pridemore and his staff rode upon a small hill that was high enough to give them an advantage point to observe the new Union position.
Though confident that his cavaliers could push the Union soldiers out of their new breastworks, Pridemore realized it would cost several of his valuable men if he executed such a move.
He therefore issued orders for his men to create temporary breastworks of their own. Once again both armies were content with holding their positions, firing random volleys in hopes of keeping each other at bay. Both armies spent the remainder of the evening strengthening their fortifications. The second day of battle had finally come to a close.
During the night, Colonel Love instructed his officers to build several campfires in order to convince the Confederates that the Union force would remain in place. Leaving a few men to maintain the ruse, Colonel Love and his men quietly began to retreat to Wireman’s Mill. This location was west of Ewing and would be close to the Union stronghold at Cumberland Gap.
Before daylight, the remaining Union soldiers slipped quietly out of their camp and began the journey to rejoin their comrades at the Gap.
At daybreak, the Rebel skirmishers slipped forward toward the quiet Union camp. They were delighted to find the camp deserted. Good news travels fast and soon Colonel Pridemore and his men entered the empty fortifications. To make sure that a trap was not being prepared for the Confederates, a patrol was sent to trail the retreating Union Army. Awaiting the return of the scouting patrol, Pridemore and his men spent most of the day at the abandoned Union camp. In the afternoon, the patrol returned with information that Colonel Love and his men were building fortifications near Wireman’s Mill. Colonel Pridemore knew that Colonel Love and his men could easily be re-enforced with a large contingency of soldiers from Cumberland Gap.
Knowing this, he decided not to advance on the Union’s new location. Regardless, the Rebel cavaliers had completed their mission of pushing the Union force out of the Powell River Valley. Colonel Pridemore and his victorious band of cavaliers returned to Jonesville to a hero’s welcome.
Union officials had once more discovered that they could travel through the valley but could not control or occupy it. (Taken from Appalachian Rebels; Brown, Richard G., Chaltas, David)