Bivouac of Reconciliation
During the autumn of 1863, Union Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside's forces occupied Knoxville and much of the surrounding countryside. Philadelphia, a station on the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad, was the southernmost Union-held town. Col. Frank Wolford's brigade, which included the 1st, 11th, and 12th Kentucky Cavalry Regiments, the 45th Mounted Infantry, and six mountain howitzers, occupied Philadelphia and protected the railroad.
On October 20, 1863, two Confederate cavalry brigades approached Philadelphia. Col. George Dibrell and his troops came from the south, and Col. John J. Morrison's brigade moved in from the west. Dibrell's brigade was to distract the Federals while Morrison's brigade attacked from the north. Unaware of the Confederate movements, however, Wolford had sent wagons westward for supplies. Morrison's men captured the wagons, sent them south and continued his advance. Wolford knew a fight was on when he heard firing to the west during the attack on the wagon train. He dispatched almost half his troops to recover the wagons.
Morrison's assault on the Union position, which according to local tradition was on Federal Hill in front of you, met with success. Wolford fought in two directions until informed that his mountain howitzers were almost out of ammunition, then ordered a retreat after the last round was fired. Wolford's men fled to Loudon, leaving behind the valuable guns. The Battle of Philadelphia marked the first defeat of the Union forces during the occupation of East Tennessee.
"Colonels Dirbrell and Morrison attacked the enemy in force at Philadelphia and captured 700 prisoners, 50 wagons loaded with stores, 6 pieces of artillery, 10 ambulances, and a lot of horses, mules, and other property."
— Adjutant General George W. Brent
The mountain howitzer was a short-barreled, large caliber cannon designed on a small scale so that pack animals could transport it. It was ideal for fast-moving cavalry units. The guns could go anywhere the horses and mules could go and were light enough for soldiers to move forward by hand during a fight. Two of the six mountain howitzers captured at the Battle of Philadelphia are in private collections.
Sweetwater to Knoxville, 1864 Courtesy Library of Congress
Col. Frank L. Wolford Courtesy Library of Congress
Col. George G. Dibrell Courtesy Sam Davis
Mountain howitzer on carriage Courtesy Library of Congress