The battle of Morristown was a fierce battle pitting brother against brother and son against father. General John Vaughn was the Confederate commander and General S. C. Gillem was the commander for the Union. Gillem's men, almost 3,000 strong were ready with repeating rifles. Vaughn’s force, almost 2,000 in number, were armed only with muskets. The battle started in the early afternoon. Vaughn deployed his men in two lines. One was on a hill where Morristown College now stands, and another extended from there to Radio Center. The Union, General Gillem, attacked the Confederates first line of defense. Artillery took up a position near where Lincoln Heights School is today. The Union had the advantage of fresh regiments arriving. Gillem ordered the cavalry regiment to make a full scale, mounted charge with swords drawn against the Confederates. This attack resulted in the Confederates retreat. General Vaughn left 200 men and 2 pieces of artillery in the Union hands. General Vaughn barely escaped while he was exchanging shots with Union horsemen. The Union cavalry raced into Morristown and chased Vaughn's men into Russellville. The capture of Morristown was a Union victory. About ninety men were killed, mostly Confederates.
Parson Brownlow, a controversial unionist partisan in East Tennessee, scored a victory at Morristown.
The New York Times reflects on the strategic significance of his exploit.
Dec. 6, 1861:
The first battle for the Union has been fought in Tennessee, and the National cause has signally triumphed. That steadfast patriot, Parson BROWNLOW, with a force of three thousand men, met the rebels at Morristown, on the line of the Great Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, on the 1st inst., and totally defeated them — the Memphis papers of the 2d, from which the news is taken, admitting a total route of the rebel forces.
Dec. 7, 1861:
The important news which we published yesterday of the exploit of the gallant Parson BROWNLOW in East Tennessee, is again directing universal attention to that quarter of the scene of operations. The patriots of that region have become wearied out waiting on the dilatory and wavering movements of the National forces in Eastern Kentucky, and have been driven to desperation by the outrageous persecutions of the rebel authorities, State and Confederate; and now, after having destroyed the bridges on the various railroads over which the rebel hordes might be precipitated upon them, they have taken the field, drawn the sword, and won the first battle that has been fought in that State.
It is a striking and significant fact that the mountainers dwelling along that part of the great Appalachian range which sweeps through the middle Slave States have been, and still are, warmly devoted to the National Union. In Western Maryland, Western Virginia, Western North Carolina, Eastern Tennessee, Northern Georgia, and Northern Alabama, the people were strongly opposed to secession, and bitter against all the schemes of the conspirators; and when, finally, by fraud and villainy, the latter succeeded in achieving their ends, these men not only refused for months to succumb to the secession traitors, but, at different points, began organizing in various ways, both peaceful and belligerent, so as to reverse their doings, and to regain a position in the old Union and under the old flag. (The fact that the slaves are comparatively few, and thinly scattered along this mountain range, may account for the predominance of Union feeling and conviction. There is settled all through here a free, independent yeomanry, with all the traditions and conditions of liberty, and with but little interest in African Slavery.)
Western Virginia may now be said to be redeemed; for, though the rebel bushwackers may keep up a petty warfare for an indefinite period, the National forces are fortified in strong mountain positions from which no rebel force can ever expel them, while the newly organized State Government will see to it that peace is maintained, and that the marauders are driven from every foot of the soil over which its boundaries may be extended.
The scene now opens further westward in the adjoining State of Tennessee, and the campaign begins with a success under BROWNLOW precisely as did the campaign in Western Virginia under KELLY. Operations at the present point, however, are of far greater importance to the war, in its general [???] than those that have taken place in any other part of the Southwest. We have urged over and over again, in this journal, the fundamental importance to the Union cause of our obtaining possession of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad.
It requires but a glance at any correct Railroad map to establish this proposition. The road may be said to begin at Memphis, on the Mississippi River, and proceed by way of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad to Chattanooga, in the southeast corner of Tennessee, and thence through Knoxville, by way of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, to Richmond. This is the sole route used by the rebel States of the Southwest in this war, in reaching the army of rebellion in Virginia. Along this long fertile line are found the men of war and the provisions for war. And by this route alone is it possible to draw supplies to Virginia in sufficient abundance and with necessary dispatch, to support the army that JEFF. DAVIS has in the field. For a distance of 240 miles, that is to say, from Chattanooga, Tenn., to the State line near Abingdon, Va., this road lies wholly in East Tennessee, and in the midst of as loyal and warlike a population as can be found in the Union.
Morristown is not far from the centre of this district, and on this line of road. Geographically, it is situated in Granger County, East Tennessee, about thirty miles south of Cumberland Gap, and 226 miles east of Nashville. Militarily, it is a strategic point of vast and vital importance.
If Gen. BROWNLOW has really gained the reported victory, and if the loyal mountaineers of East Tennessee — of whom there are at least forty thousand –flock to his standard in sufficient force to enable him to maintain himself, he will not only have outflanked and cut off ZOLLICOFFER and LEE, and raised the National banner well down in the centre of the rebel territory, but he will also command the great rebel railroad of the Southwest.
We publish this morning, however, three items of news which cannot be agreeable to Parson BROWNLOW. One is, that the National troops at Camp Hoskins, Pulaski County, Ky., which, since the disgraceful retreat of Gen. SCHOEPF, are the nearest reinforcements to the East Tennesseeans, are about to retire northward before the rebels, thus isolating BROWNLOW even more than he has been. The second is, that Gen. ROSECRANS, a part of whose forces were reported some time ago to be preparing for a diversion into Kentucky or East Tennessee, has gone northward as high as Wheeling, Va., for the Winter. And third, instead of his going to East Tennessee, his adversary, the rebel thief FLOYD, and his command, had been ordered there, and on the 3d inst. were within thirty miles of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad. And yesterday morning it was announced that the rebel, Gen. CRITTENDEN, had arrived at Knoxville, in BROWNLOW’s rear, to take the field with his forces.
These things look bad enough, undoubtedly; but Gen. Parson BROWNLOW is a man of resources, and if FLOYD, ZOLLICOFFER or CRITTENDEN come up on him with an overwhelming force; he can at all events destroy the railroad, disband and retire his forces to the mountains, and there wait for the bright morning, which we hope is not far off, when, from the gray Cumberland Mountain peaks the persecuted loyalists can descry the flag of the Union advancing from old Kentucky.