At about 4:00 a.m. on March 23, the strains of cavalry bugles sounding reveille echoed through “the hills and vales” of East Tennessee. “Frank” Frankenberry got up, fed his horse, and had breakfast himself, and then saddled his mount. “The bands play, the bugles sound and all is lovely…. Pull out and are away,” he wrote. The raid was now begun in earnest.
Elements of the cavalry division left Mossy Creek as early as 7:00 a.m., and the bulk of the division was on the road within the hour. Despite a swirling wind that blew all day, the day started with promise; above the skies again dawned clear and underfoot the road was good. Setting a leisurely pace, Stoneman steered the cavalry and Tilson’s infantry and artillery toward Morristown, Tennessee, where he planned to supply the division. The trip was easy and picturesque, through a rolling, agrarian landscape. “Move on over a very pretty country,” Frankenberry thought. In the distance, low hills shadowed the column, while closer at hand occasional dwellings and cultivated fields bordered the road. In between, streams obstructed the way, but they were easily forded. By early afternoon Morristown came into view. Barely one year had passed since Longstreet’s army had wintered around this key crossroads town. Its citizens remembered the hardships the Confederates had wrought, and welcomed Stoneman’s raiders warmly. “Had a cordial, hearty welcome from the loyal citizens,” wrote a raider. “These people came from all the surrounding country to see us, and while perched on their rail fences greeted us with smiles and many a ludicrous expression,” he reminisced.
Equally welcoming were the rations and forage distributed at Morristown from Tillson’s trains. Each man also received ammunition, four horseshoes, and nails. Most appreciated this bounty, but H.K. Weand presciently worried that it had “a smack of a hard campaign in it.” And not everyone was quite so lucky. In Tillson’s 4th Tennessee Infantry, Thomas F. Hutton did not get to draw rations because he was on picket duty.
Mundane activities claimed the rest of the day. The Tennessee brigade camped north of town. Elsewhere, in the bivouac of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Frederic Antes took a few horses out to graze. Lieutenant Mallaby unfurled his flags and tried to establish signal communication with Federal forces to the east but failed. At least two signalmen wrote letters home, with “Frank” Frankenberry including three pictures of himself. Other horsemen, warned to be ready to march early the next morning, simply relaxed and rested or talked. A camp rumor stated that Confederate President Jefferson Davis had resigned; another, more accurate rumor indicated that the armies of Sherman and Schofield had joined in North Carolina. Among those paying social calls that night was Sgt. Colton, who had helped gather carbines and horses for the 15th Pennsylvania. Stopping by First Brigade headquarters, Colton and his friend Colonel Palmer sat by a campfire and talked about minerals.
For more, see Chris J. Hartley, Stoneman's Raid, 1865.