Humphreys’ Brigade and the 13th regiment marched to Tyner’s Station, northeast of Chattanooga. The plan was for them to take a train from there northeast to Sweet Water.
Indeed, the Confederates had rail transportation almost to Loudon, two thirds of the way to Knoxville. But there weren’t enough trains for all of Longstreet’s 11,000 infantry to make the journey at the same time.
Complicating things further, Longstreet had to move pontoon boats which he would need to bridge the Tennessee River at Loudon.
So when they did ride, the troops had a long wait between stations, and a hungry wait, at that, for rations had not been supplied. And the rides were in box cars or on open flat cars, and the weather was turning breezy and cold.
The trains shuttled back and forth, pausing frequently, according to historian Robert K. Krick to take on wood and water for the steam engine’s boilers—wood the men were expected to cut and water they had to fetch. The sixty-mile trip from Tyner’s Station to Sweet Water, for some, took all afternoon and most of the night.
Humphreys Brigade rode in this manner from Tyner’s to Ooltewah just in time for what Spartan Band diarist William H. Hill said was a “heavy frost” that Saturday morning, Nov. 7. The next day, Sunday, they were in Sweet Water, greeted by “another large frost,” Hill wrote, and again no rations.
Longstreet wrote later that the general in command in Sweet Water told him “that he had not been advised of my move, and so far from being ordered to have rations or supplies for us, he was ordered to send everything of the kind to” General Bragg at Chattanooga.
Years later, writing of Bragg’s logistical deficiencies, Longstreet remembered that they argued via telegraph about the missing rations but solved nothing and: “It began to look more like a campaign against Longstreet than against Burnside.”
Cold weather was a hardship for men without blankets or shoes. Longstreet: “We were recently from Virginia—coming at the heated season—where we left most of our clothing and blankets…”
There was a light snow on Monday, Nov. 9, and more frost on Nov. 12, when the brigade and the rest of Longstreet’s Corps finally left the trains behind at Sweet Water. The brigade left their camp at midnight on Nov. 13 and took to the roads through Philadelphia, and on to Hough’s Ferry, about two miles below Loudon. They marched all that cold night, arriving at daybreak and camped.
The march and the pontoon bridge were necessary because the Yankees had burned the railroad bridge over the Tennessee River. Building the pontoon bridge had begun after dark on Nov. 13. The next morning, elements of Hood’s Division crossed first and immediately got into a skirmish with some of Burnside’s advance guard who were awaiting them on the far side of the river.
Longstreet’s artillery chief Colonel Porter Alexander later wrote: “For three days there ensued a sort of running skirmish covering the whole distance to Knoxville, about thirty miles.”
After a stormy night of wind and rain, Humphreys’ Brigade broke camp about 8 a.m. on a cold Sunday morning, Nov. 15, and crossed the river on the pontoon bridge.
With the rest of McLaws’ Division, they marched on to Eaton Crossroads on the Kingston Pike—a road that was axle-deep in mud.