SEAC: CONFEDERATE RECONNAISSANCE
Lieutenant General Wheeler briefed Captain Shannon, his Chief of Scouts, on the details of the plan (Dodson n.d.). Pointing south, Lieutenant General Wheeler told Captain Shannon to take his men and conduct a thorough reconnaissance of the ground west of the swamp and learn as much about the camp as possible. Lieutenant General Wheeler stressed an interest in knowing Brevet Major General Kilpatrick’s location within the camp.
Captain Shannon briefed his men on their mission. With his hand-picked soldiers following, he started into the woods. The group followed a ridge, parallel to the west side of the swamp. Aided by a few small fires in the camp and lanterns within the house, the scouts rode the length of the camp, observing it over the growth in the swamp. Some 500 yards into the journey, a group of men were seen ahead. Without a word, the scouts rushed forward, surrounding them. Quietly, the men were given notice of their capture and quickly led away. Their attention had been directed elsewhere, allowing their capture before they could sound the alarm.
The entire west side of the camp was now open to Captain Shannon and his men. Riding back north toward the road, Captain Shannon stopped across the swamp from the farmhouse. He needed to learn more about the camp to determine Brevet Major General Kilpatrick’s location. He also wanted to know the location of Confederate prisoners, his friend Lieutenant Reynolds being one of them. The camp appeared fast asleep, with no pickets and no camp guard.
The swamp extended to the edge of the camp, providing excellent concealment. Captain Shannon, famous for his daring, decided on a bold plan: he would allow volunteers to approach the camp from the swamp and enter it if afforded the opportunity. He presented his plan to his men, who responded with approval. To assure success, only the most stealthy among them were chosen to go. Those who were not going would hold the horses and keep watch.
The men split into small groups, some moving to the right, some to the left, to be able to enter from different directions. Captain Shannon moved to higher ground to observe.
Lieutenant General Wheeler, anxious to find out what Captain Shannon had learned, rode into the woods to locate him. After traveling a short distance along the ridge, Lieutenant General Wheeler encountered two of Captain Shannon’s men.
A.F. Hardie, Shannon’s Special Scouts, Wheeler’s Corps (Brooks 1911):
Lieutenant General Wheeler questioned the whereabouts of Captain Shannon (Brooks 1911). The men told him Captain Shannon was further down the ridge. Lieutenant General Wheeler continued along the ridge and found Captain Shannon waiting. As Lieutenant General Wheeler approached, Captain Shannon rose in his saddle, indicating someone approaching from the swamp. Scouts Joe Rogers and B. Peebles were returning from their foray in the camp. Both were leading several horses. The two panting and smiling troopers recognized the Lieutenant General and approached to show off their prizes.
Lieutenant General Wheeler was astonished that they could bring the horses out of the Federal camp without being noticed. He asked them about the location of Brevet Major General Kilpatrick’s headquarters and the Confederate prisoners. To the two scouts it appeared Brevet Major General Kilpatrick was in the house and the Confederate prisoners were behind it. Lieutenant General Wheeler complimented the two men on their new mounts. Turning to Captain Shannon, he instructed him "to place his scouts in close as if they were pickets."
Lieutenant General Wheeler rode out of the woods and down the Morganton Road to where his units were gathering. A large portion of his command was now present. Without a picket to alert the camp, Lieutenant General Wheeler started moving his right, Harrison’s Texas Brigade, into position.
The regiments were led into the woods and told to stay on the opposite side of the ridge from the camp. In the process of moving into position, several soldiers availed themselves of the opportunity to acquire fresh mounts.
Natt Holman, 8th Texas Cavalry, "Terry Texas Rangers" (Holman 1911a):
Brigadier General Humes’ Division’s proposed position was on the extreme right. His Division was to locate on the southern end of a north/south ridge line that paralleled the swamp. The swamp would be to their immediate front and would have to be crossed during the attack. This section was narrow. However, the swamp was quite deep because of heavy rains. Having traversed much more formidable flows over the last weeks, this crossing was anticipated to be no more than an inconvenience.
In total darkness, Brigadier General Humes’ men moved into the woods south of Morganton Road. Coming upon men from Allen’s Division at the base of the ridge, they went right. Using the ridge to conceal them from the Federal camp, Brigadier General Humes’ men felt their way along its base for several hundred yards to the south. The column soon came to a halt. The lead regiment had encountered much thicker vegetation and ever deeper standing water. Apparently, the regiment had drifted too far left and ridden into the swamp. A correcting turn to the right quickly had the command back on higher ground. Brigadier General Humes’ men continued along the west edge of the swamp for several hundred additional yards, placing them an appropriate distance south of Allen’s Division. Facing east with a swamp to their front, Brigadier General Humes’ men organized themselves along the southern end of a north south ridge line.
The swampy area the lead regiment had ridden into had been the head of another stream feeding the swamp along Nicholson Creek. Turning right and moving less than 20 yards had taken the command out of the swamp. As a consequence of this seemingly insignificant navigational error, an additional 200 yards of swamp stood between Brigadier General Humes’ men and the Federal camp.
Joseph A. Jones, Company K, 51st Alabama, Partisan Rangers (Jones 1911):
If he was in the house, his vulnerability was obvious. He was between the Federal main camp and the positions from which the Confederates intended to attack. The Confederate charge would reach him before it struck the Federal main camp.
Recognizing the opportunity, Lieutenant General Wheeler instructed Captain Shannon to head for the house once the attack was underway and capture Brevet Major General Kilpatrick.
Major General Butler, also appreciative of the chance, chose a detail from Young’s Brigade, commanded by Colonel Gilbert J. Wright, C.S.A., to accomplish the task.
Major General Butler, Commanding, Butler’s Cavalry Division (Butler 1909a):
Arriving during the early morning hours, Brigadier General William Wirt Allen, C.S.A., commanding a Division of Wheeler’s Cavalry, quickly recognized Brevet Major General Kilpatrick’s precarious position and organized his own party to capture him.
Posey Hamilton, Hagan’s Alabama Brigade, Allen’s Division (Hamilton 1921):