8 MARCH 1862
Col. James P.T. Carter USA and his troops are ordered on 8 March 1862 to proceed to Big Creek Gap, Tennessee and capture or disperse the Confederate forces that are blockading roads and molesting the Unionist civilians. Col. Carter is the youngest of the Carter clan from Elizabethton—brother of bridge burner W.B. Carter and brigadier general Samuel P. Carter, who is also serving in Northeast Tennessee.
10 MARCH 1862
On the morning of 10 March 1862, Col. Carter leaves with his command, which consists of the First East Tennessee Regiment, the Second East Tennessee Regiment, a detachment of the First Kentucky Cavalry, and Company B of the Forty-ninth Indiana Regiment led by Lt. Col. James Keigwin.
Big Creek Gap: Natural Opening
The road in front of you winds through Big Creek Gap, one of the few natural openings through the Cumberland Mountains in the region. During the Civil War, this corridor was much narrower and steeper, and even lightly loaded wagons found travel extremely hazardous. Cumberland Gap, one the main migration route[s] from the eastern states to the west and a strategic gateway during the Civil War, is about thirty miles northeast of here.
Early in the conflict, Confederate military engineers ringed Cumberland Gap with defensive works and considered the pass impregnable from the north and east. East Tennessee citizens who supported the Union alerted Federal commanders to the possibility of flanking the fortifications via Big Creep Gap. After a rigorous march, a detachment of Union soldiers, including a company of Campbell County men under Capt. Joseph A. Cooper, first penetrated the narrow passage here in March 1862 and routed the Confederate cavalry posted nearby. A more substantial offensive effort under U.S. Gen. George W. Morgan occurred in June, producing a bloodless Confederate withdrawal from Cumberland Gap. Subsequently, control of the Gap changed hands several times.
Across the highway, on a small knoll above and the right of the old rock quarry, are remnants of the earthworks that defended Big Creek Gap. They are the only know[n] Civil War-era fortifications in Campbell County. In the summer of 1861, the 19th Tennessee Infantry (CS) and other units stood watch here to guard the state border and prevent local men from joining the Union army in Kentucky. Rifle pits, gun emplacements, and ammunition dumps by soldiers from both are still extant.
(upper right) “Drawing Artillery Across the Mountains,” Harper’s Weekly, Nov. 21, 1863.
(lower right) Gen. Joseph A. Cooper Courtesy http://www.generalsandbrevets.com and USA Gen. George W. Morgan, Leslie’s Illustrated History.
Erected by Tennessee Civil War Trails.
Location. Marker is in LaFollette, Tennessee, in Campbell County at the intersection of North Tennessee Avenue and North Indiana Avenue (U.S. 25W)
13 MARCH 1862
Carter and his soldiers arrive at the foot of the north side of the Cumberland Mountains at 6 o’clock pm and learn that two companies of the Confederate First Tennessee Regiment Cavalry are encamped at Big Creek Gap. With the road completely blocked, Col. Carter sends the Union cavalry unit around another road. Carter and his men set off again at 9 o’clock pm, planning to meet on the other side of the mountain, about nine miles away. They are troubled during their march by the total darkness of the night and the necessity of walking single file through the narrow passageways in the mountains.
14 MARCH 1862
At about 6 o’clock am, after an intense skirmish of about 15 minutes, the Carter’s troops completely rout the Southerners, capturing dozens of horses and mules, and several wagons. Because of the poor visibility and bad roads, the cavalry did not arrive until after the skirmish.
Report of Big Creek Gap: Col. James P. T. Carter
HDQRS. SECOND EAST TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS, Camp at Flat Lick, March 23, 1862.
GEN.: In obedience to your order of the 8th instant to proceed to Big Creek Gap and Jacksborough, Campbell County, Tennessee, and capture or rout the rebel forces which were reported to be in that vicinity blockading roads and molesting the persons and property of Union citizens, I left with my command on the morning of the 10th instant [‘instant’ means the 10th day in the current month], accompanied by Lieut. Col. James Keigwin, of the Forty-ninth Indiana Volunteers, and marched to Big Creek Gap via Boston.
My force consisted of the Second East Tennessee Regt. Company A, of the First East Tennessee Regt., Capt. Cooper; Company B, of the Forty-Ninth Indiana Regt., Capt. Thompson, and a detachment of Lieut. Col. Munday’s First Battalion Kentucky Cavalry. We arrived at the foot of the Cumberland Mountains, on the north side, on the 13th instant, at 6 o’clock p. m. I then learned that two companies of the First Tennessee Regt. rebel cavalry were encamped at Big Creek Gap.
Finding the road completely blockaded, I detached the cavalry, and sent them around by another road, with orders to meet the main body of the command at a certain point on the opposite side of the mountain. Procuring the services of a guide, I divided my command, placing one portion under charge of Lieut.-Col. Keigwin. We took up the line of march at 9 o’clock p. m., intending to meet at a point on the opposite side of the mountain about daybreak. The distance we had to march was about 9 miles, yet so difficult was the ascent of the mountain that it was only by the superhuman exertions, as it were, of the men that the march was made. The men, however, bore it patiently, and moved on “eager for the fray.”
Having to pass through narrow ways in single file, and the night being very dark, a portion of the infantry got lost, and did not arrive in time to take part in the skirmish. About 1,300 of the infantry came upon the camps of the rebels, under command of Lieut. Col. John F. White, at about 6 o’clock a.m. of the 14th instant, and after a sharp skirmish of about five minutes the rebels were completely routed. The rebel loss was 5 men killed, 15 wounded, and 15 taken prisoners, among whom were Lieut.-Col. White and Lieut. Hoyl. We captured 86 horses (27 killed), 7 mules, and several wagons, a large amount of camp and garrison equipage, a quantity of powder, and a large amount of quartermaster and commissary stores-a sufficient amount of the latter to supply the command during their stay.
It being impossible to bring off the quartermaster stores I caused them to be burned and the powder destroyed. Owing to the darkness of the night and the impassability of the roads the cavalry did not arrive till after the skirmish. Had the troops been able to get up in time I am satisfied that we could have succeeded in capturing the whole force. On the arrival of the cavalry we marched to Jacksborough, distance 5 miles, and there overtook the rear guard of the cavalry; killed 1 man and captured Capt. Edward Winston, of the Corps of Sappers and Miners. We hoisted the Stars and Stripes over the town, and on the 15th instant marched to Fincastle, and from thence to Woodson’s Gap, where we encamped a few days.
Learning that there was a manufactory of saltpeter in the neighborhood, I sent a detachment of cavalry with orders to destroy the same. They destroyed about 1,000 pounds of saltpeter, broke up the kettles, burned up the shed, and destroyed about 11,000 pounds of bacon and 20 sacks of flour. Our loss was 1 wounded-Lieut. Myers, Company H, Second East Tennessee Volunteers. His wound, however, is not dangerous.
Officers and men behaved admirably, and proved that they are ready and willing at all times to meet the rebels. The people through the section of country over which we passed are truly loyal in their sentiments and hailed the advent of our troops with unbounded enthusiasm. Everything they had was freely tendered to us. We found forage and provisions abundant on the route after we left Boston.
The position we had at Woodson’s Gap was a very strong one, and could have been held against a large force, and had we been permitted to remain we would no doubt have had an opportunity of meeting the forces at Cumberland Gap which had been sent out to attack us, but on the 19th instant I received an order from you to report at headquarters with my command at the earliest possible moment. I accordingly took up the line of march for this place on the 20th instant, and arrived here on the 23rd instant without the loss of a single man.
Your obedient servant,
JAS. P. T. Carter,
Colonel, Second East Tennessee Volunteers.
Later Acting Brigadier-General, Comdg., Twelfth Brigade.
Big Creek Gap, Northeast Tennessee
Report of Big Creek Gap: Gen. E. Kirby Smith, C. S. Army,
HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE,
Knoxville, March 15, 1862.
GENERAL: I have the honor to report that the enemy, having passed the Cumberland Mountains, yesterday surprised and captured, without the fire of a gun, I believe, the larger number of two companies of the First East Tennessee Cavalry near Jacksborough. Their force consisted of a regiment of infantry.
Couriers who arrived last night bring the intelligence that they are moving in this direction. I have ordered forward to Clinton two Alabama regiments, the Third Regiment Tennessee Volunteers, a battalion of North Carolina Volunteers, a section (two pieces) Third Maryland Artillery, and a portion First East Tennessee Cavalry (an aggregate of 2,000 men), the whole under the command of Colonel D. Leadbetter, who had received such instructions from me as I thought necessary for the exigency.
From what I have learned of the character of the troops from East Tennessee in our service, of their strong Union proclivities, greatly increased by their near relationship to and from intimate association with many citizens who have fled the country and espoused the Federal cause, I am satisfied the capture near Jacksborough was the result of treachery. Pickets detailed from them cannot be relied on, and even officers are not free from suspicion of more fidelity to the Federal than to out service.
It is not an individual opinion that some of the regiments from this section are disloyal, but it is the conviction of many of our friends, who know the public sentiment prevailing in those counties in which they were raised and the strong personal ties which would influence them to become so. There is a want among them of that confidence in the loyalty of each other which would make them faithful in the discharge of their duty to their fellow soldiers and to the country, and this is aggravated, too, by the opinion, which exists to some extent, that East Tennessee cannot be defended by the force we have in the field, and must be abandoned upon the advance of the Federal Army.
I cannot, therefore, too strongly urge upon the Department the propriety, if not the necessity, of removing these troops to some other point, where they cannot prove traitors, either by purchase or from love to the Federal Government, and where, if they do not make efficient soldiers, they cannot be tampered with by the enemy. If this be done, and their numerical strength be supplied by troops from other States, I am persuaded it would in every respect be to the advantage of the service.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
E. KIRBY SMITH,
USA Col. James P. T. Carter claims victory for his brave soldiers and the pro-Union sentiment in the surrounding area.
CSA Gen. E. Kirby Smith thinks the Union victory is the result of treachery.
Conflict in Campbell County: War in the Mountains
The Civil War in Campbell County was often personal. Few residents owned slaves, and a large majority – 1,094 to 60 – voted against secession in June 1861. Local men formed what became Co. A and Co. B, 1st Tennessee Infantry (US), at the courthouse in Jacksboro on August 1-2, 1861. Despite the strong Unionist sentiment, Confederate forces occupied the rugged mountain region later that year to secure several strategic gaps and to block any large Federal advance from Kentucky.
Confederate control did not last long. In March 1862, Union forces won an engagement at Jacksboro, raised the United States flag at the courthouse, and then marched north to destroy a saltpeter operation near here. The Federals noted that “the people…are truly loyal in their sentiments and hailed the advent of our troops with unbounded enthusiasm.” The expedition destroyed 1,000 pounds of saltpeter (essential to the manufacture of gunpowder), numerous kettles, 11,000 pounds of bacon, 20 sacks of flour, and a shed.
Travel through the mountains was challenging and dangerous. One night in April 1863, William Sloan carried dispatches from Kentucky to Confederates near Jacksboro. He confided to his diary, “the darkness was at times so pitchy that it gave me the sensation of passing through a tunnel, or dark underground passage; but of course there was some light else my horse could not have found his way, but such light was not discernible to my senses. Altogether it was the most dismal ride I ever took in my life, to say nothing of being uncomfortable.”
Erected by Tennessee Civil War Trails. Location.
Marker is near Jellico, Tennessee, in Campbell County on Indian Mountain State Park Circle in Indian Mountain State Park.
15 MARCH 1862
The Federals raise the United States flag over Jacksborough and march to Fincastle, and from there to Woodson’s Gap, where they camp for a few days. Col. Carter soon receives an order to report to headquarters with his command as early as possible.
For a short period of time the entire area of Big Creek Gap and Jacksborough are involved in the Civil War.
“BIG CREEK GAP AND JACKSBOROUGH, TENN.,” War of the Rebellion, Serial 010, Page 0019-0021, Chapter XXII, The Ohio University, accessed 9 November 2021,
“Operations in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Mississippi, North Alabama, and Southwest Virginia. March 4-June 10, 1862,” Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Chapter XXII, accessed 7 November 2021, perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2001.05.0057
Dallas Bogan, “Union, Confederate Forces Faced Off Skirmishes At Big Creek Gap, Jacksborough,” History of Campbell County, accessed 8 April 2021, tngenweb.org/campbell/hist-bogan/UnionatBigCreekGap.htm