Cumberland Mountain Tunnel
— Tullahoma Campaign —
After the Battle of Stones River ended on January 2, 1853, Union Gen. William S. Rosecrans occupied Murfreesboro. Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg withdrew south to the Highland Rim to protect the rail junction at Tullahoma, Bragg headquarters, and the roads to Chattanooga. Bragg fortified Shelbyville and Wartrace behind lightly defended mountain gaps. After months of delay, Rosecrans feinted toward Shelbyville on June 23 and then captured Hoovers and Liberty Gaps the next day. A mounted infantry brigade captured Manchester on June 27. The Confederates concentrated at Tullahoma. Rosecrans planned to attack on July 1, but Bragg retreated. By July 7, the Confederates were in Chattanooga.
When the Union army outflanked Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg army at Tullahoma in June 1863, Bragg ordered a retreat south. On July 2, Confederate units arrived in Cowan. Bragg considered forming a defensive perimeter along the Cumberland Plateau to maintain possession of the Cumberland Mountain Tunnel (southeast down the track), since whoever controlled the tunnel controlled the vital Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. The pace of the Union advance however convinced Bragg to keep moving to Chattanooga. He considered blowing up the tunnel, but there were not enough explosives available.
Confederate Gens. Nathan Bedford Forrest and Joseph Wheeler had provided rearguard defense throughout the Tullahoma Campaign. According to local tradition, as the last Confederate cavalry unit passed through Cowan on July 3, an elderly woman stepped from the Franklin Hotel (300 feet to your left) and shouted to a passing cavalryman on horseback, "You big cowardly rascal, why don?t you turn and fight like a cur? I wish old Forrest was here. He?d make you fight." The cavalry man was in fact Forrest.
The Union army controlled Franklin County for the rest of the war, and a garrison occupied Cowan with the sole mission of protecting the railroad and the Cumberland Mountain Tunnel. The nearby mountains provided sanctuary for bands of guerrillas. Some supported the Confederacy, while others were merely gangs of robbers. Union troops skirmished constantly with them for the duration of the war, making civil life in Cowan almost impossible.
(lower center) Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad entering Cumberland Mountain Tunnel, 1885 with Tracy City Branch Line overpass - Courtesy Cowan Railroad Museum
(upper right) 21st Michigan Infantry, stationed at Cowan and Anderson Station, July 1863 - Courtesy Library of Congress