On Sunday, Dec. 13, 1863, Spartan Band diarist William H. Hill wrote that Humphreys Brigade was put to work against General Burnside’s pursuing Yankees. It was raining steadily again and rations were short.
“The roads are very muddy and the marching is disagreeable,” he recorded:
“Our Brigade was ordered this morning to drive into the Yankees pickets. They run them back eight miles to their main force at Beans [sic] Station where they made a stand, and afterwards they drove our force back 2 miles. The Brigade returned to camp tonight very fatigued and worn out.”
They marched again, Monday morning, back southwest to Bean Station, an old stage line stop village with a large hotel and about twenty other houses, all set in cultivated rolling valley. “The enemy are posted there in large force,” Hill wrote. “Our forces skirmished with them this evening and took several prisoners.”
For some in Longstreet’s two-division corps, Hill continued, there was cause for celebration:
“Our Cavalry under Colonel Giltner [Wheeler’s Division], captured a train of 40 wagons from the Yankees today on Clinch Mountain. The wagons were loaded with commissary stores and a large amount of sugar and coffee which is a rare luxury in our camp. Coffee has not been issued to us since before May 1862.”
There was more fighting on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Humphreys Brigade was not involved.
The troops who were, Kershaw’s and Gracies Brigades, had a “hard fight of 3 hours,” Hill recorded, and “succeeded in routing [the enemy] and drove them back several miles….the enemy have retreated to Rutledge, Grainger County [southwest of Bean Station], and are entrenching themselves there.”
Humphreys Brigade was called out on Thursday, Dec. 17, according to General Humphreys and marched to “the gap in Clinch Mountain [to] attack the enemy in that position.
“Arriving at the gap [about 3 miles from Bean Station] about 10 o’clock, I found the One Hundred and Seventeenth Regiment Indiana (six-months men) had retreated on the crest of the mountain toward Notchey Gap, leaving all their baggage and transportation behind them.
“I immediately dispatched Major Donald, in command of Thirteenth Regiment, in pursuit, who followed them to Notchey Gap, and finding they had succeeded in making their escape toward Rutledge, returned with 6 prisoners. We captured in all 12 prisoners, 6 wagons, 12 mules, all their tents, cooking utensils, clothing, and commissaries.”
The brigade returned to Clinch Gap and camped, but if there was any substantial amount of coffee and sugar to be had in the 117th Indiana’s captured baggage, neither Humphreys nor anyone else mentioned it.