Battle of Bean's Station


Although a tactical victory for Longstreet, he failed to trap the Federal troops as planned.

The Bean’s Station battle was a result of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet’s retreat into East Tennessee following his repulse at Knoxville. The Confederate army passed through Bean’s Station and encamped near Rogersville. Upon learning that pursuing Federal cavalry at Bean’s Station was ahead of its supporting infantry, Longstreet tried on December 14 to encircle and destroy his pursuers.

With superior numbers, he counted on surprising the Federals with a sudden thrust. He also ordered his cavalry, under the command of William Martin, to move behind the enemy at Bean’s Station and cut off their line of retreat. Longstreet’s encircling movement was tactically sound but failed in execution.

The Federals, resting on both sides of the Rutledge Road, were centered on Bean’s Station Tavern, a large brick L-shaped hotel. The Federal commander, Brig. Gen. J. M. Shackleford, positioned his artillery behind a stream west of the hotel on either side of the road.

The Confederate force, with Johnson’s Tennessee Brigade maneuvering below the road and Gen. Archibald Gracie’s Alabama Brigade above it to the north, was met with determined fire from Federal batteries behind the creek and riflemen inside the tavern itself.

Confederate artillery batteries advanced to pour fire into the hotel, and Longstreet sent Kershaw’s brigade around Gracie’s northern flank to envelop the Union left. Federal commanders detected the movement and decided to execute a fighting retreat towards Rutledge. Although hard pressed, the Federals retired in good order.

On the morning of December 15, Longstreet pursued the Federals towards Rutledge, hoping to deliver them into the hands of Martin’s waiting cavalry. Unfortunately, Martin was not in position as planned due to a confrontation with Federal cavalry at a river crossing, and the retreating Federal army managed to entrench behind hastily constructed breastworks. Federal reinforcements from the direction of Rutledge forced the Confederate forces to withdraw to Bean’s Station, and the action was over.

  • Federal commanders executed a fighting retreat towards Rutledge, with Longstreet pursuing.
  • Delayed by a skirmish, Martin's cavalry was not in position to attack.
  • Reinforced Union troops forced Longstreet back to Bean's Station.