Nine days before Mary Love was General Grant’s courier to General Burnside at Knoxville, Union Sgt. Cornelius M. Hadley, Company F, 9th Michigan Cavalry, carried a different message from Grant to Burnside and carried Burnside’s messages back to his command. Not only did Sgt. Hadley’s harrowing trip occur nine days before Mary Love’s, but he went from Cumberland Gap while Mary left from Kingston, TN. His actions were related years later and were those which won him the Medal of Honor which was awarded on April 5, 1898. This writer was alerted to Hadley’s daring trip by an heir of Sgt. Hadley who read the Mary Love posting.
Grant knew that Burnside was besieged and isolated at Knoxville. He was determined to reinforce him if he could. Grant sent the following message to General Orlando Willcox, commanding the Union forces in and around Cumberland Gap, approximately fifty miles north of Knoxville: “I shall attack Bragg on the 21st (at Chattanooga), and if successful, will start immediately to the relief of Knoxville, if you can hold out. Grant. “
General Willcox had his subordinate choose 4 sergeants, two from the 9th MI Cavalry and two from the 7th OH Cavalry to carry the dispatch to Knoxville. The Michigan Sergeants were Cornelius M. Hadley and William B. Rowe. They started their journey together on November 20, 1863. Sgt. Rowe took sick near Knoxville and Sgt. Hadley completed the trip alone. The message was successfully delivered after 9:00 pm on November 20. Burnside had four dispatches he wanted returned to General Willcox, so Hadley began his return trip the following morning. Sgt. Hadley hooked up with Sgt. Rowe and they began the return journey together. While descending Clinch Mountain, they were discovered by the rebels and separated to escape. Sgt. Rowe was captured and was imprisoned first at Richmond and later at Andersonville. Sgt. Hadley made it safely back to General Willcox headquarters. He had ridden and walked over 100 miles and wore out two horses to successfully deliver all messages in both directions.
Sgt. Hadley’s account of the trip, written years later, is as follows. “My bunkmate, brought me a Confederate uniform that we had captured a few days before… We met at Clinch River, a mile out of camp, and I was disappointed to see that the Ohio boys were wearing full uniform. They could not get a disguise, and neither could Rowe. We crossed the mountains and Holston River together and then separated, the Ohioans taking one road and Rowe and I another. Hard riding had used up my horse at 2 P. M., and I had to borrow another from a stable nearby, the owner protesting. At four o’clock (PM) we passed New Market, and were now within sound of our artillery, but with two rivers and one range of mountains to cross, and twenty thousand rebels to pass. We succeeded in crossing Bull Mountain and French Broad River, then going south of the city, we reached our lines near Knoxville. Here Sergeant Rowe was taken sick, and I rode alone into the city, reaching General Burnside’s headquarters at 9 P. M., after having been continually in the saddle for nineteen hours. I expected to remain in Knoxville until the siege was raised, and was surprised when General Burnside asked me to undertake to return with dispatches at four o’clock in the morning. Taking me into a private room, he produced four dispatches written on tissue paper, one to General Wilcox, one to General Grant, one to the Secretary of War, and one to Mrs. Burnside, in Rhode Island, and placing them in my revolver, he said: ‘Sergeant Hadley, if captured, be sure to fire off your revolver before surrendering.’ After passing the last picket, I found Sergeant Rowe better and determined to return with me. I cannot tell how long we maneuvered before we got through the enemy’s lines, but all at once, about two o’clock in the morning, as we were descending Clinch Mountain, we discovered the camp fires of some rebels, and had gone out but a few steps when we were ordered to ‘Halt.’ We turned to retreat, but a volley was fired at us. Our horses being jaded, the rebels gained on us, so we determined to dismount, and foot the rough mountain. Rowe thought he could evade the rebels by lying down, but they stumbled over him, and he was captured and sent to Andersonville. As for me, I could take no chances, for I was wearing a Confederate uniform and I knew I would be executed as a spy if I was caught. I kept on around the side of the mountain till I was exhausted and could not go a step farther. I found a big hollow log that had been split open, and I lay down in that with my revolver under my head. When I awoke it was daylight and I could hear the rebel pickets talking close by me; they had captured our horses and were looking for me. I was relieved when I heard their officers calling them in. Watching my chance I crept down the mountain, passed between their pickets, and crossed the road about eighty rods from their main camp. I came to a house which fortunately was occupied by a Union woman… She pointed out a ravine, by following which I could get across the valley without being seen, and strike the timber. I followed her directions and came to a road at the other end of the timber. While I was considering which direction I should take, a rebel horseman came riding slowly along. I dropped on one knee and drew my revolver on him, but he passed within ten feet of me without seeing me. I got to the Clinch River at last and found it too high to swim across. There was no ferry and no one was willing to row me across, as one bank was lined with rebels and the other with Northern troops. Finally I got a man to attempt it, and as we got to the other shore, a squad of Union soldiers came down to meet us. I told them who I was, and they gave me a horse. I rode to General Wilcox’s headquarters, where I delivered my dispatches. I was completely exhausted, for I had ridden and walked over 100 miles and had tired out two horses, but was thankful to have escaped with my life, and accomplished the purpose of my journey.”
Mary Love’s message from Grant to Burnside, assuring him that help was on the way, was sent nine days later and was dated on the same day as the Battle of Fort Sanders. Cornelius M. Hadley survived the war and went back to farming in Litchfield, MI. He passed away at the age of 63 on March 22, 1902.