Burning the bridge at Lick Creek
In November 1861, a talented potter [one who makes pottery by hand] named Christopher Alexander Haun—most often called ‘Alex’—lives in a part of Greene County known as Pottertown, a Unionist enclave in the Confederate State of Tennessee. Several other potters have their homes there as well, and they all use excellent clay found near Lick Creek to make their wares. These are rural potters who run businesses selling their clay creations, often as a supplement to farming. Their finely crafted earthenware is still highly prized today. Alex Haun and the other potters staunchly support the Union.
7 NOVEMBER 1861
On the eve of the bridge burning, Jacob Harmon, also a local potter, visits his Unionist neighbors and asks for their help in burning the bridge. When Harmon knocks at Alex Haun’s door, he agrees to assist in burning the Lick Creek bridge the following night.
8 NOVEMBER 1861
On 8 November 1861, forty to sixty men, including Alex Haun, arrive at Jacob Harmon’s home and are immediately sworn into Company F of the Second Tennessee Voluntary Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army. They then travel to the edge of Harmon’s farm, where the railroad bridge crosses Lick Creek.
The Unionists find several Confederate soldiers camping under the bridge and immediately take them into custody. The burners make quick work of firing the bridge, while others bridge burners force the guards to swear an oath to the Union and promise not to tell what they have witnessed that night, then releases them. They do not keep their word.
9 NOVEMBER 1861
Confederate authorities are livid at this guerrilla action from the Unionists of Northeast Tennessee, and they quickly strike back. Within hours of the bridge burning, the Rebels capture several bridge burners, including Alex Haun, aged 40, Jacob Harmon, 43, and his son Henry Harmon, 22, and throw them into the jail at Knoxville.
10 DECEMBER 1861
A Confederate court-martial at Knoxville finds Haun guilty of treason for participating in the burning of the Lick Creek Bridge. From the jail, Alex Haun corresponds with his wife, Elizabeth Cobble Haun, trying desperately to prepare her for life without him and how to support herself and their children.
11 DECEMBER 1861
Alex Haun’s sentence is death. By hanging. On the day of his execution, he writes again to his wife. His thoughts are with her and their children, whom he knows he will never see again.
Haun then writes to Colonel Baxter, an officer at the Knoxville jail:
And again to Elizabeth:
11 DECEMBER 1861: Execution of a bridge burner in Knoxville
One of the bridge-burners, convicted by the Court Marshal (sic), now in session here, will be hung today near Camp Sneed, on the railroad, just west of the Marble Works. Considerable curiosity was manifested by the public yesterday at the sight of the gallows which was being erected. A number of people visited the place in the afternoon, under the impression that the execution would take place yesterday.
~ Knoxville Register.
11 DECEMBER 1861: Executed by hanging at 12 o’clock to-day
Hon. J. P. BENJAMIN, Secretary of War, Richmond, Va.
SIR: In pursuance of your instructions by telegraph of yesterday the sentence of death pronounced by court-martial upon [C. A.] Alex Haun, the bridge-burner, was executed by hanging at 12 o’clock to-day. The court-martial is still in session engaged in the trial of a number of others charged with complicity in the same crime. I am not advised of the nature or extent of the proof that can be brought against them but should it be sufficient and the court find them guilty the sentence whatever it may be will be promptly executed unless otherwise directed by you.
WM. H. CARROLL,
Alex Haun leaves a pregnant wife and four young children.
Paula Gammell, “Christopher Alexander Haun,” accessed 15 May 2021, easttennesseeroots.com/_28__Christopher_A__Haun.pdf
Sarah Elizabeth Hickman, “Christopher Alexander Haun,” Tennessee Encyclopedia, Tennessee Historical Society, 8 October 2017, accessed 15 May 2021, tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/christopher-alexander-haun/