The Federal officer who sent his men naked against the enemy was Colonel James P. Brownlow of the 1st (Union) Tennessee Cavalry.
EDITED BY RICHARD M. MCMURRY
The July 1974 issue of CWTI contained a brief report by Brigadier General Edward Moody McCook regarding a crossing of the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta, Georgia on July 9, 1864. What made the event noteworthy was the fact that the Northern soldiers who cross the river and attacked the Confederate defenders on the south bank did so in the nude. The Federal officer who sent his men naked against the enemy was Colonel James P. Brownlow of the 1st (Union) Tennessee Cavalry.
The first item that follows is reprinted form the July 29, 1864 issue of the Knoxville Tri-Weekly Whig and Rebel Ventilator, a militant anti-Confederate paper edited by William G. “Parson” Brownlow, a noted Tennessee Unionist and the father of the colonel.
First Tennessee Cavalry
As an item of information to the friends of the First Tennessee Cavalry, who are dispersed throughout the counties of East Tennessee, we give an extract from a long letter to a friend [the colonel’s father, perhaps], written by the Colonel commanding the regiment:
Headquarters 1st Tenn. Cavalry
On the banks of the Chattahoochee, July 16, 1864.
This hastily written letter leaves me on the banks of the Chattahoochee, eighteen miles form the city of Atlanta, in excellent spirits, and enjoying fine health. The health of my men was never better; and although they would prefer going to the rear to be re-mounted, they are perfectly contented. None are homesick, but all are satisfied with our condition. All is harmony and good feeling in our regiment, and no harsh words is [sic] uttered by one to another. We have about 945 men left, all told, as brave and generous a set of men as belong to any command.
We scarcely ever stay more than two or three nights in the same situation or locality. Day before yesterday we moved from the left to the right. Last week we were detached to guard ‘Cochran’s Ford,’ on the extreme right. The river here is very shallow, and we have to be on the alert night and day. I was glad to have the position, from the fact that it was a locality where no soldiers had ever been, and we consequently could live on the ‘fat of the land.’ We have potatoes, berries, honey and chickens for nearly every meal. There are five large fish-traps in this ford and the river furnishes an abundance of fish. However, we can only get them by visiting the trap under cover of night.
Directly opposite from us is a rebel post. The day before we were ordered to leave this post I ordered Capt. Moses Wiley, with two companies, to strip themselves and be ready to cross and charge the enemy at the ford, whilst I would take a select detachment of men and swim the river four hundred yards above, for the purpose of capturing the rebel pickets. I selected the best swimmers in the regiment, put our guns in a canoe, and started over. As soon as Capt. Wiley saw that I had nearly reached the opposite shore, [he and his men] charged very bravely, but missing the ford, when half way over, he and every man went plunging in over their heads, and just then the rebels opened fire upon them, and compelled every man to seek shelter under the large rocks in the river, as best they could. Capt. Wiley was now in such a condition as to be unable to advance or retreat, and unfortunately left me and my ten men on the enemies [sic] side of the river, without help, and with a prospect of going to Atlanta sooner than we desired, destitute of even so much as a shirt. Not fancying this, and acting upon the maxim that ‘he who never bets never wins,’ I determined to charge upon the rear of the rebels, who were firing at Wiley’s party. My charge was a success, I completely surprised them and took them prisoners, and with them I captured a long ferry-boat, and returned to my command. The sergeant in command of the rebels was a New York Dentist, who told me that he had been living in the South but a short time.–He said he never was more surprised, and did not think any person was bold enough to swim a river and attack them. Gen. Sherman is said to have been pleased with our exploits, and the ‘Special Artist’ for Harper’s Weekly has prepared a sketch of our charging the Chattahoochee.
It is now five months since I was at home, and nothing would afford me more pleasure than to visit there, but duty requires me to remain in the field. Give my kind regards to friends, and believe me, as ever,
James M. Brownlow
Colonel Commanding, & c.
Harper’s Weekly published the sketch by Theodore R. Davis in its August 3, 1864 issue. The drawing of “Colonel Brownlow on a Picket Hunt,” was accompanied by the article printed below.
Another illustration on this page represents Colonel Jim Brownlow, with a small party of men in Georgia costume, crossing the Chattahoochee to capture the rebel pickets. The expedition was a successful one, but it broke up the friendly communication which had been several days established between the pickets across the river. This was before SHERMAN had crossed. The morning after the occurrence notice was given of the changed situation by a Reb yelling out across the stream:
“What do you want, Johnny?”
“Can’t talk to ‘uns any more!”
“How is that?”
“Orders to dry up!”
“What for, Johnny?”
“Oh! JIM BROWNLOW, with his d—–d Tennessee Yanks, swam over upon the left last night, and stormed our rifle-pits naked–captured sixty of our boys,and made ’em swim back with him. We ‘uns have got to keep you ‘uns on your side of the river now.”