Bending but not Breaking
In November 1863, Confederated Gen. James Longstreet led a force from Chattanooga to attack Union Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside's army at Knoxville. The campaign failed, and in December Longstreet's men marched east along the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad to winter quarter at Russellville, where they remained until March 1864. Numerous small engagements between Longstreet's and Burnside's armies occurred during the winter.
An engagement took place here on December 29, 1863, when Confederate Gen. William T. Martin'scavalry attacked Union Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis's Federal troopers, who were pressuring Confederate soldiers preparing for winter camp at Russellville. Martin struck late in the morning, bending but not breaking the Union line because of the effectiveness of Capt. Eli Lilly's 18th Indiana Artillery, which was positioned a few yards from here across the road.
Lilly, who considered this the battery's most glorious and successful action, soon faced hard times. A few months later, he transferred to a cavalry unit that surrendered to Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest in Middle Tennessee. He remained a prisoner for the balance of the war. After the war, however Lilly's fortunes improved. In 1876, his small drug store in Indianapolis began to evolve into the Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company.
Another Union officer, Capt. Elbert J. Cannon, 1st Tennessee Cavalry, led a daring saber charge against the 11th Tennessee Cavalry (CSA). Some of the Confederates had dismounted and fired their carbines from kneeling positions. Both Cannon and his horse were struck and they fell to the ground as the charge thundered by into the woods. Two Southern soldiers found him, barely alive, and left him to be retrieved by his own men. They also informed his mother, who lived near the Confederate camp. She was escorted through the lines and remained at her son's side until he died on January 1, 1864. Cannon is buried a few yards west of here in Branner Cemetery.
(left) Map courtesy David C. Smith
(right) Capt. Eli Lilly Courtesy of Eli Lilly Company
; Capt. E.J. Cannon Courtesy David C. Smith
; Gravestone of Capt. E.J. Cannon in Branner Cemetery