Tullahoma Campaign history written in a Confederate cemetery

Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery became reality in 1866, when Southern veterans moved comrades killed at Hoover’s Gap during the Tullahoma Campaign to a nearby civilian cemetery. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

About halfway between Chattanooga and Murfreesboro exists a cemetery containing soldiers killed during the Tullahoma Campaign.

And, as I learned, few cemeteries provide so much information about the fighting that put these men in their graves.

The sign for Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery and Park faces nearby Interstate 24, where Chattanooga-bound trucks head toward nearby Hoover’s Gap, site of a major battle during the Tullahoma Campaign. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Headed to Murfreesboro from Chattanooga on Interstate 24, my son, Chris, and I came through Hoover’s Gap and approached Exit 97, which accesses Beech Grove and Route 64. Number 97 is a quarter-cloverleaf, removing and adding northbound traffic within a short distance, so I was watching other vehicles and just glimpsed a Confederate flag dangling next to a cemetery near the highway.

I also spotted the cannon near the flagpole. Figuring the cemetery had a Civil War connection, we got off at Exit 89, re-entered southbound, and got off at Exit 97. We turned into Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery and Park, as the sign identifies this place.

Piled stones mark some early graves at Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery and Park in central Tennessee. Beyond these graves rise the headstones of Confederate soldiers killed during the June 1863 Tullahoma Campaign. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Beech Grove Cemetery opened during pioneer times; one restored headstone honors Joseph Carney, born in January 1730 and dead in June 1811. Another headstone belongs to Isaac Eoff, a private in the “Continental Line” during the American Revolution. Born in 1761, he died in 1841.

Inside the Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery in central Tennessee, a headstone marks the grave of an unidenfitied Confederate soldier killed during the June 24-26, 1863 fighting at Beech Grove and nearby Hoover’s Gap. (Brian F. Swartz)

Piled stones (perhaps limestone or granite) mark some older graves.

Unaware of any major battles fought out here, I wondered why this Confederate cemetery existed. We started reading the information panels and “discovered” the Tullahoma Campaign.

Mainers immersed in Gettysburg and Vicksburg seldom hear about this campaign, and Chris and I learned a lot about it by the time we left the cemetery. I later got a better education with Christopher L. Kolakowski’s book, The Stones River and Tullahoma Campaigns.

Planned by Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans and brilliantly conducted by his Army of the Cumberland (some 70,000 troops), the Tullahoma Campaign took place in late June 1863. Focused on Vicksburg, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and the Army of Northern Virginia running amok in Pennsylvania, the Union press largely ignored Rosecrans’s campaign, which pried central Tennessee from Southern hands and opened the road to Chattanooga.

Created long before the Civil War, Beech Grove Cemetery in central Tennessee became the burial site in 1866 for approximately Confederate soldiers killed during the Tullahoma Campaign. The site is now known as Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery and Park. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Expecting a Rosecrans move against the city, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg had spread his smaller Army of Tennessee (about 43,000 men) across the roads leading into the Cumberland Plateau. A rugged region rising in Alabama and running northeast across Tennessee to eastern Kentucky, the plateau “today is a labyrinth of rocky ridges and verdant ravines” and deep gorges, according to The Nature Conservancy.

In mid-1863, the Tennessee River provided the easiest access into the Cumberland Plateau. Few roads penetrated it between Murfreesboro, where Rosecrans was headquartered, and Chattanooga, vital to the South. Among the existing roads is modern Route 41, which hugs the Tennessee River shore beneath Lookout Mountain before running through the mountains toward Murfreesboro.

Bragg had to defend every possible point where Yankees could punch onto the plateau. Advancing his much better-armed troops in four columns, Rosecrans prevented Bragg from shifting units to meet every threat.

Route 41 (called the Manchester Pike at Beech Grove) was “the main road to Chattanooga,” according to Tennessee Backroads Heritage, and southeast along this road marched a column commanded by Maj. Gen. George Thomas, the future “Rock of Chickamauga.” Rain fell, all the Yankee-used roads turned to slop, but Rosecrans kept his men advancing.

Plagued by wind-driven rain and muddy roads, Union artillerymen struggle to advance during the late June 1863 Tullahoma Campaign in central Tennessee. (Courtesy Midwest Civil War Artillery Association)

By capturing Manchester southeast of Beech Grove, Thomas could block Bragg from retreating to Chattanooga. The Manchester Pike passed through the mountains at Hoover’s Gap beyond Beech Grove, toward which Col. John T. Wilder and 2,000 mounted Yankee infantrymen (equipped with the new Spencer rifle) rode on Wednesday, June 24.

Fighting engulfed Beech Grove and Hoover’s Gap that rainy afternoon. The 72nd Indiana Infantry Regiment fought inside Beech Grove Cemetery, and Capt. Eli Lilly (think pharmaceuticals) and his 18th Indiana Battery “did considerable damage to the advancing Confederate infantry with double rounds of canister,” indicates an information panel provided by the Midwest Civil War Artillery Association.

The Yankees won, the Confederates withdrew, and the war left Beech Grove alone.

The 18th Indiana Battery memorial at Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery and Park recalls the role played by the battery and its commander, Capt. Eli Lilly, during the June 24-26, 1863 fighting at Beech Grove and Hoover’s Gap. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

In 1866, Maj. William Hume led other Southern veterans seeking Confederates buried from Beech Grove to Hoover’s Gap. As at Manassas, Fredericksburg, and elsewhere, the victors — in this case the Yankees — quickly buried their dead opponents in shallow graves.

Hume and his companions found some skeletal remains partially exposed; Union troops marching north to Gettysburg noticed similar graves while tramping across the Manassas battlefield in June 1863. With a war on, little time was available for proper grave-digging.

According to Tennessee Civil War Trails, Hume’s veterans disinterred dead Confederates and buried them at Beech Grove Cemetery, on land that David Lawrence owned (he apparently was a local veteran). A Tennessee Historical Commission information panel indicates these men were “soldiers who fell at isolated places in the Beech Grove-Hoover’s Gap engagement, June 24-26, 1863.”

A monument located at Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery and Park describes the June 24-26, 1863 Battle of Hoover’s Gap from the Confederate viewpoint. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Hume later wrote that each soldier was buried in “a nice walnut coffin,” with each grave marked by a headboard, “but being unable to put any name, as all were unknown.” Some 50 Confederates were laid to rest at Beech Grove, and his veterans “also put a nice paling fence around the graves.”

Other Confederate veterans were apparently buried here in later decades, based on some headstones marked with names.

The State of Tennessee restored Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery in 1954. It’s a poignant place to learn about the Tullahoma Campaign.

“Swartz delves into the personal stories of sacrifice and loss…” — Civil War News

If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.