Battle of Jonesville

(The Frozen Fight)

January 3, 1864

By

David Chaltas and Richard Brown

The year of 1864 was in its infancy being only three days old. A blanket of wintry weather covered the area with a frozen glaze and the hearts of men were frozen by the war as well as the cold. War at any time is a terribly hard experience but to fight in the extremely freezing weather during January of 1864 is inconceivable. During the Civil War there were no special winter clothing such as Gore-Tex lined coats or boots. Neither were there any waterproof gloves or thermal knit underwear. Both armies were usually scantily clothed with the boys in blue slightly better off than their brothers in gray. Rubber coated blankets were a luxury very few soldiers had and good boots even less available. Horror stories of soldiers marching without shoes or socks were common among the whisperers of tales. Winter was dreaded and as the temperature fell below the 0 mark to 6 below all became chilled to the bone. With all that suffering came the added worry that someone was trying to kill you. Unfortunately for some of the troops in the Powell River Valley, a fierce frozen fight was in store for them. The battle would be fought on one of the coldest January mornings of the war. On January 3, 1864, a battle in Jonesville, Virginia would be remembered by the men who fought there as The Frozen Fight.

Jonesville is a small town located in the Powell River Valley in Lee County, Virginia. The valley is known for its fertile and productive fields. Unfortunately for the farmers and citizens in this area, both union and confederate armies were well aware of that fact. Both would need to forage the area to maintain the existence of their men, as supplies were hard to transport into the area. The area was totally enclosed on the north and south by mountain ranges. Jonesville was uniquely located. It was less than four miles south of Harlan County, Kentucky and six miles north of Hancock County, Tennessee. The Union stronghold of Cumberland Gap and Tazewell, Tennessee was not very far to the west. The Confederate stronghold of Rogersville, Tennessee was just to the south of the sprawling little town. The roads to all of these areas connected at Jonesville, such as spokes of a wheel with the town being the hub. This fielder has suggested that there exists a similarity to Gettysburg in terms of both being the hub of action and that destiny would meet both parties when both parties found each other at that location.

The union commander of the region was Colonel W.C. Lemert who spent most of his time traveling between Cumberland Gap and Tazewell. His subordinate was Major Charles H. Beeres, a West Pointer. Major Beeres was considered by many citizens of the area to be a supporter of total warfare, much like General Sherman. His troops burnt the courthouse in Jonesville for no apparent reason. He later burnt the Franklin Academy under the excuse that it was being used as a confederate hospital. Most of the citizens of the Powell River Valley area despised and feared him. Since most confederate soldiers in this area had family and friends here, they harbored ill feelings toward him as well. The confederates hoped for a chance to catch him on one of his foraging parties and to defeat him, exacting some revenge. They would soon get their wish as Colonel Lemert ordered Major Beeres to take the 16th Illinois Cavalry and the 22nd Ohio Battery, a force of approximately four hundred-fifty men and attack the small confederate force camped near Jonesville.

General William " Grumble" Jones, CSA, was the commanding officer of the Department of southwest Virginia and east Tennessee. He was a very capable and daring leader, believing in leading from the front. This courage and daring would later cost him dearly as he would lay down his life on the altar of freedom for the cause that he was devoted. On June 5, 1864, he would be killed while leading his men at the Battle of Piedmont in the Shenandoah Valley. General Jones was headquartered in December of 1863 in Rogersville, Tennessee. General Jones received a courier on December 31 from Lieutenant Colonel Auburn Pridemore of the 64th Virginia Mounted Infantry. The message that was delivered reported that Lieutenant Colonel Pridemore had been informed by reliable sources that Major Beeres had left Tazewell and was moving on Jonesville. General Jones as much as anyone wanted to rid the country of Major Beeres and his men, considering them scourges of the earth. He immediately assembled a force of men and left Rogersville on the bitterly cold morning of December 31, 1863. His thrown together force included the 8th, 21st, 27th and 37th Virginia Battalions. The 64th and the 10th Kentucky Mounted Rifles (later in the spring of 1865 they were reorganized and designated as the 13th Kentucky Cavalry) were camped just outside of Jonesville at Yocumís Station. A trap was in the making.

The trip from Rogersville to Jonesville was a bitterly cold one for the gray-clad cavaliers, artillery, and infantry that marched with General Jones, with some reports of temperatures of minus six degrees. At least one soldier would freeze to death on this cold ride, with some reports of as many as four men freezing to death. The Yankee soldiers would suffer on their trip from Tazewell to Jonesville as well, though no men from their unit were reported to have frozen to death. The deaths of the Rebel soldiers may have been contributed to them having to ford the Powell River, enhancing the killing power of the deadly cold. Jones would spend the night of December 31 at Beanís Station, Tennessee and by the second of January were in the Powell River Valley, west of Jonesville. He noted in his official reports that at every stop along the way, fires would be started and that some men could not be started when the march would restart. Major Beeres arrived and set up camp at Jonesville on approximately the same day that Pridemore and his men had melted into the cold woods on the east side of the town, not yet engaging the Yankees. All Rebel soldiers in the area that were home on leave or convalescing were called on to help entrap the union forces. The call that went out did not have to be repeated twice, Beeres and his men were hated all up and down the valley. Pridemore had approximately two hundred-thirty men (130 men of the 64th and 100 men of the 10th Kentucky) to confront Beeres and his men.

Major Beeres knew that a small force of confederates were in his front on the east side of Jonesville but he did not know that General Jones was moving up on his flanks with a considerable force of men. He set his artillery (the 22nd Ohio Battery) on the high hill west of town facing Pridemore. On the bitterly cold morning of January 3, 1864, the 64th charged into Jonesville, pushing the union pickets back. Pridemore had Major James B. Richmond take command of a portion of the 64th on the right. He then ordered Captain David J. Caudill to form his men of the 10th on the left. As the attack began, Pridemore saw that the right flank could be over run. He then brought the men of the 64th that were in reserve over to the right, moving Major Richmond and his men to along side Captain Caudill and his men of the 10th. Amazingly the Rebel soldiers kept up a steady fire. Normal loading of an Enfield rifle under combat conditions can be an un-nerving experience but one cannot imagine trying to load and fire a muzzle-loading gun with frozen hands. Many a cartridge and primer cap probably hit the ground.

Pridemore saw that the Yankee line was wavering, and came to the realization that the time was right to charge the enemy. With a rebel yell that permeated the mountains and valleys, the entire length of the 64th and the 10th surged forward, valiantly charging into the shot and canister of the Yankee artillery. Amazingly they overtook the artillery and captured it. The Rebel soldiers were probably glad to charge, as the running would warm their cold bodies. At this point of the battle, Major Beeres managed to stop his retreating troops whom outnumbered the confederates in their front and counterattacked. They were successful and pushed the Rebels back, recapturing the cannons. Again the cannons were turned on the Rebel forces in the front of the Yankee lines. At this time General Jones and his men arrived on the flank of the Yankee soldiers and pressed the union forces from their entrenchments. Major Beeres knew he was in a trap and tried to flee north on the Harlan Road towards Cranks Gap that lead into Kentucky. Pridemore already knew that this was the only escape route for the Yankees and immediately moved the 64th and the 10th to the north and cut them off. Major Beeres knew that further resistance would be futile, and raised a white flag. Adjutant J.A.G. Hyatt of the 64th approached Major Beeres to accept his surrender, but in his arrogant style, the Major refused to surrender to someone of less rank that his own. Before hostilities could begin again, Lieutenant Colonel Pridemore arrived upon the scene and accepted the surrender of Major Beeres and his men. Lieutenant Colonel Pridemore would use the Majorís sword and pistol for the remainder of the war. General Jones and his men arrived shortly on the scene. Though not having to fight in the battle as much as the 64th and the 10th, they were instrumental in capturing almost all of Major Beeresí force. The ride they had conducted would be relived whenever the story of the frozen fight was told.

The casualties of this frozen fight were high for the Union Army, approximately 350 captured including 48 wounded and 12 killed in action. The Confederate Army had four killed and 12 wounded soldiers. The cold but exuberant rebel soldiers captured almost 400 guns and other needed supplies. Also an additional three pieces of artillery and 27 support wagons were now in the Confederate arsenal. Major Beeres and his men were sent to prisoner of war camps, with most of them being sent to Andersonville Prison. Lieutenant Colonel Pridemore was promoted to Colonel for his successful role in ridding the valley of the threat of total warfare. He was also accredited with the following verse:

"No area ever had truer sons,

No cause, nobler champions,

No people, bolder defenders-

Than the boys in Gray from Lee."

Lieutenant Colonel Pridemore would state in his official report that the 64th and the 10th had fought gallantly. The camaraderie and friendship between these two units would continue throughout the war. They would fight alongside each other throughout the East Tennessee campaign and in battles in Virginia including the Battle of Saltville. Tragically, General William "Grumble" Jones would not survive the war. The people of the Powell River Valley always honored the brave general with reverence when they spoke of him. They realized what he and his men had gone through to rid them of the constant threat of total warfare. Though the war would continue through another cold winter, the men who participated in this battle would forever more remember it as "The Frozen Fight". Mother Nature had increased the hardships of war, possibly to teach both warring sides the warmer side of peace.

Resources:

Adjutant Reports, Confederate States of America

Adjutant Reports, United States of America

Battle of Jonesville; Civil War Days Publication; May 31-June 2, 2002; pages 3-7

Battle of Jonesville; Richmond Sentinel; January 16, 1864

Report of Brigadier General William E. Jones, C.S. Army Commanding Cavalry Brigade; Headquarters Jonesí Cavalry Brigade; Jonesville, Virginia; January 7, 1864

Report of Brigadier General William E. Jones, C.S. Army Headquarters Jonesí Cavalry; Morganís Farm; Lee County, Virginia; March 14, 1864

64th Virginia Infantry Regimental History; Weaver Jeffery; H.E. Howard Publisher; Copyright 1992;