Although the Battle of Wauhatchie, Tennessee, is not among the better known battles of the War, it nevertheless stands as one of its few significant night assaults. On the evening of October 28, 1863, during the Chattanooga campaign, Confederate troops under the command of General James Longstreet attacked the Federal forces of General John W. Geary. General Joseph Hooker had left Geary's troops to guard the road along which ran the "Cracker Line," the round-about route by which Union troops were forced to supply occupied Chattanooga. Although the fighting was disorganized and confused, it raged until 4:00 the following morning and ended in Confederate failure to break the Cracker Line.
One of the more enduring and amusing stories to emerge from the Battle of Wauhatchie concerns a purported "charge" by a herd of Union mules, who broke loose from their skinners and dashed headlong into Confederate lines. In his account of the engagement, which appears in Battles and Leaders, overall Union commander Ulysses S. Grant claimed that Southern troops under General Evander Law mistook the runaway mules for a cavalry charge and fell back in confusion.
As delightful as the anecdote may be, however, there is no real evidence that it ever happened, since Law's men had been driven back by Generals Hector Tyndale and Orland Smith long before the mules slipped their harnesses and began their precipitous flight towards freedom. Nevertheless, the story spread quickly and was accepted as truthful; there was even talk of brevetting the mules as horses.
This poem, an obvious parody on Alfred Lord Tennyson's famous "Charge of the Light Brigade," was probably composed shortly after the incident and gained widespread circulation.
Many thanks to Jim Epperson of Causes of the Civil War for bringing this poem to our attention and for keyboarding it as well.
"The Charge of the Mule Brigade"