Following the Union defeat at Chickamauga and subsequent retreat to Chattanooga in September 1863, the survival of the Union Army of the Cumberland, along with any future hope for success in Southeastern Tennessee, was put in jeopardy. After Chickamauga, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg and his Army of Tennessee began conducting a siege of Chattanooga, leading to many of the overland supply routes into the city falling into the hands of the Confederates. This created a massive supply crisis for the Union Army. A solution was drawn up to have all supplies transported along a 60-mile system of rugged and poorly maintained wagon roads, starting at the Union supply depot in Bridgeport, Ala., and terminating in Chattanooga.
One such route within this 60-mile system was the Anderson Road, running off from East Valley Road in the Sequatchie Valley, now modern-day State Highway 283, crossing Walden's Ridge, and ending at the bottom of Rogers Gap Road, known today as the "W" Road. The road was built to be used as a toll road by a wealthy farmer by the name of Josiah Anderson in the 1840s. It allowed farmers in the Sequatchie Valley to transport their produce into Chattanooga. Anderson owned a mill and house near where his toll road and the East Valley Road intersected, and thus this crossing was known as Anderson's Crossroads, or, in some cases, as simply Anderson. During the late summer and early fall of 1863, the Union army transported upwards of 50 to 80 wagons daily through Anderson's Crossroads and across Walden's Ridge to supply the troops defending Chattanooga.
On Oct. 2, 1863, the already precarious Union supply system was thrown into a major crisis. On Oct. 1, a Confederate cavalry force under Gen. Joseph Wheeler punched through Union cavalry positioned near Decatur, Tenn., and crossed the Tennessee River. Once across the river, Wheeler shifted his focus south along the Sequatchie Valley aside Walden's Ridge, hoping to disrupt or destroy the Union supply efforts around Anderson's Crossroads. At dawn on the 2nd, Wheeler began his movement down the valley, surprising a small force of Union cavalry and routing them entirely from the field. This small force of Union cavalrymen happened to be the advance guard for a massive supply train moving toward Chattanooga, a point Wheeler quickly realized when he eventually collided with the supply wagons at Anderson's Crossroads.
It cannot be understated how large this Union supply train was. According to Wheeler's own estimates, the number of wagons was somewhere between 800 to 1,500. One of Wheeler's cavalrymen commented, "On arriving at Anderson's Cross Roads, upon the level valley, as far as the eye could reach, and all the way up the mountains, nothing but the white tops of the immense wagon train could be seen." Guarding the supply train were two brigades of cavalry and two brigades of infantry, all of which were routed after a short fight with Wheeler's cavalrymen, leaving the supply wagons practically unguarded.
What followed was eight hours of death, destruction and pillaging. Wheeler's men ran up and down the supply train, burning wagons, shooting mules, taking prisoners and raiding the contents of what wagons they had yet to burn. One can only imagine the smells and sounds that residents of the area endured during the raid, with the smell of burning mule flesh and hair being added to this hell-like chaos. In total, Union Gen. William Rosecrans, commander of the Army of the Cumberland, reported that around 500 wagons and 1,000 mules were destroyed during the raid.
Union cavalry sent from Bridgeport to counter Wheeler's movements the day before eventually reached Anderson's Crossroads and attacked Wheeler's troopers, driving the Confederates back up the valley and westward toward Murfreesboro. While the loss of the supply was severe for the Union, wagon trains continued to flow through the valley and up Walden's Ridge until the Cracker Line was eventually established to provide troops supplies via the Tennessee River.
Aidan "Mitch" Shakespeare, a student at Sewanee: The University of the South, currently works as an intern at McCoy Farm and Gardens. Visit chattahistoricalassoc.org for more information.