Affair at Philadelphia


To prevent Union reinforcements from reaching Chattanooga, Confederates pinned Wolford’s Union cavalry on “Federal Hill” in a wild battle, capturing men, supplies and artillery.

In October, Confederate General Braxton Bragg had detached Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson’s Confederate cavalry division up the Great Valley of East Tennessee to block any attempt by Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside to link up with William S. Rosecrans in Chattanooga. On October 20, two brigades of Stevenson’s force commanded by Colonels James J. Morrison and George G. Dibrell moved to attack Col. Frank Wolford’s Union cavalry brigade at Philadelphia. Brig. Gen. John C. Vaughn, a Sweetwater native, fortuitously joined Dibrell’s brigade when it passed through his town, conveniently assuming command when the Confederates decided to detain a Union escort accompanying a detail of southern prisoners under truce. Dibrell claimed to have scruples about violating the flag of truce, but Vaughn seemingly had no problem detaining the escort to prevent the Union troops from reporting the Confederate position. Dibrell’s brigade, now commanded by Vaughn, attacked Wolford’s troops at Philadelphia, pinning them in place on what became known as “Federal Hill” so that Morrison’s men, coming from the west, could close the ring around the Union brigade. In the wild melee that ensued, Wolford detached two regiments to protect the brigade’s wagon train, which had blundered into Morrison’s men to the west. Finding themselves surrounded behind enemy lines, some troopers of the hard-pressed Union regiments cut their way back out to Wolford, leaving behind dozens of their comrades as Confederate prisoners. The northern commander on Federal Hill, short on ammunition, gathered his survivors and frantically dashed to the safety of Loudon after jettisoning most of his supplies and artillery. By any measure a resounding military setback for his brigade, Col. Wolford valiantly attempted to pluck victory from defeat by later reporting, “We had several men killed and wounded, and several taken prisoners (sic). I am confident we killed more of them, and took more prisoners, than they did of us.” Wolford lost nearly 500 men, certainly more than the “several” he later claimed. Confederate losses totaled about 150 killed, wounded, and missing.

  • Vaughn attacked Wolford at Philadelphia, pinning his troops in place
  • Wolford tried to protect his wagons but lost men, supplies and artillery as they retreated to Loudon.