Between the North Carolina line and the Cumberland Plateau is East Tennessee, which is entirely located within the Appalachians, a region with densely forested mountains and broad river valleys. The Tennessee Valley begins in the upper headwater portions of the Holston River, the Watauga River, and the Doe River in Northeast Tennessee with the headwaters of the French Broad and Pigeon rivers, all of which join where the French Broad and the Holston Rivers meet to form the Tennessee River in Knoxville.
9 FEBRUARY 1861
Northeast Tennessee voters say no to a secession convention.
1 MAY 1861
Pro-Confederate meeting in Greene County
On 1 May 1861, a newspaper ad calls for a pro-Confederate meeting requesting that “the friends of their homes and their firesides… to come en masse… to attend a meeting that we may unite as one man in Greene county, to resist the coercive war policy of Lincoln.”
The secessionists who wrote the ad call for the pro-Confederate population to band together, illustrating that Northeast Tennessee contains a substantial number of secessionists, arguing that “Tennesseans will never be subjugated! No, never! never!!”
Northeast Tennessee is home to the smallest numbers of secessionists, yet both Sullivan and Washington Counties—in the northernmost tip of the area—have sizeable secessionist populations. In the secessionist referendum, Sullivan County votes more than 70% and Washington County 40% in favor of secession. The Nashville Union and American newspaper writes that the Unionists have caused others in the region to “refuse to assist with their sympathies, their purse and their arms.”
7 MAY 1861
Tennessee forms an alliance with the Confederate States of America.
May 7, 1861
Tensions Between Secessionist and Union Supporters Lead to Knoxville Riot, Shiloh National Military Park, accessed 14 November 2021,
25 MAY 1861
Murder will out
Publication of William G. Brownlow’s editorial in the Knoxville Whig, “Murder will out.”
William G. Brownlow is publisher of the pro-Union newspaper, the Knoxville Whig. He is called ‘Parson Brownlow’ because in previous years he was a circuit-riding preacher. He uses his paper to attack Confederate authorities in Northeast Tennessee. Many of his editorials come straight from his wildly vivid imagination. In the 25 May edition of the Whig, Brownlow states that he has heard a rumor that he and several other steadfast supporters of the Union—[Andrew] Johnson, Thomas A. R. Nelson, [John] Baxter, [Oliver P.] Temple, [Connally Findlay] Trigg, [Horace] Maynard, George W. Bridges—
are to be arrested after the election in June by a military force and taken in irons to Montgomery and either punished for treason or held as hostages to guarantee the quiet surrender of the Union men of East Tennessee. … The thousands of Union men of East Tennessee devoted to principle and to the rights and liberties of those who fall at the hands of these conspirators will be expected to avenge their wrongs. Let the railroad on which Union citizens of East Tennessee are conveyed to Montgomery in irons be eternally and hopelessly destroyed. …
If we are incarcerated at Montgomery or executed there or even elsewhere all the consolation we want is to know that our partisan friends have visited upon our persecutors, certain secession leaders, a most horrible vengeance. Let it be done, East Tennesseans, though the gates of hell be forced and the heavens be made to fall.
OR, Ser. II, Vol. 1, pp. 911-912.
30 MAY 1861
East Tennesseans are greatly troubled by their state government’s repeated attempts to join the Confederacy. They call for a meeting of delegates representing the twenty-eight counties of East Tennessee, hoping to find a way to keep East Tennessee in the Union. Thomas A. R. Nelson and other Unionist leaders canvass Northeast Tennessee, making speeches and trying to drum up support for the Union.
30 MAY 1861
East Tennessee Convention
On Thursday, 30 May 1861, a large number of delegates representing the people of the various sections of East Tennessee assembled at Knoxville, in pursuance of the following call: EAST TENNESSEE CONVENTION. The undersigned, a portion of the people of East Tennessee, disapproving the hasty and inconsiderate action of our Gen. Assembly, and sincerely desirous to do, in the midst of the troubles which surround us, what will be best for our country and for all classes of our citizens, respectfully appoint a convention to be held in Knoxville on Thursday, the 30th of May, instant; and we urge every county in East Tennessee to send delegates to this convention, that the conservative element of our whole section may be represented and that wise, prudent, and judicious counsels may prevail, looking to peace and harmony among ourselves:
F. S. HEISKELL, S. R. RODGERS, JOHN BAXTER, DAVID BURNETT, JOHN J. CRAIG, O. P. TEMPLE, W. G. BROWNLOW, C. H. BAKER, DR. W. RODGERS, C. F. TRIGG, JOHN WILLIAMS, W. H. ROGERS, JOHN TUNNELL, AND OTHERS.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 52, pt. I, pp. 148-149
Senator Andrew Johnson delivers a speech against secession on 4 June 1861 at this place, the Scott County Court House in Huntsville, Tennessee.
Rumor had it that [Parson] Brownlow and [Andrew] Johnson were marked for the slaughter, and so seriously was it regarded that the Parson made a special effort to have Johnson warned of his danger. He sent one of his sons to rescue the East Tennessee Senator from a trap, and shortly thereafter … the Union leaders, concluding that Johnson was in danger as long as he remained in Tennessee, spirited him out by way of the Cumberland Gap.
~ Excerpt from William G. Brownlow Fighting Parson of the Southern Highlands
By E. Merton Coulter, The University of Tennessee Press / Knoxville, p. 156
31 MAY 1861
Resolutions of the East Tennessee Unionist Convention in Temperance Hall in Knoxville
1. That the evils which now afflict our beloved country, in our opinion, are the legitimate offspring of the ruinous and heretical doctrine of secession; that the people of East Tennessee have ever been, and we believe still are, opposed to it by a very large majority.
2. That while the country is now upon the very threshold of a most ruinous and desolating civil war, it may with truth be said, and we protect before God, that the people (so far as we can see) have done nothing to produce it.
3. That the people of Tennessee … in February last, decided … that the relations of the State toward the Federal Government should not be changed; thereby expressing their preference for the Union and Constitution under which they had lived prosperously and happily …
4. That in view of so decided an expression of the will of the people … on whose authority all free governments are founded … we have contemplated with peculiar emotions the pertinacity with which those in authority have labored to override the judgment of the people and to bring about the very result which the people themselves had so overwhelmingly condemned.
5. That the Legislative Assembly is but the creature of the constitution of the State and has no power to pass any law … in their recent legislation the Gen. Assembly have … transcended their legitimate powers and we invoke the people … to visit that hastily, inconsiderate, and unconstitutional legislation with a decided rebuke by voting on the 8th day of next month [June] against both the act of secession and of union with the Confederate States.
6. That the Legislature of the State, without having first obtained the consent of the people, had no authority to enter into a military league with the Confederate States …
7. That the forming of such military league … has afforded the pretext for raising, arming, and equipping a large military force, the expense of which must be enormous and will have to be paid by the people; and to do this the taxes … will necessarily have to be very greatly increased and probably to an extent beyond the ability of the people to pay.
8. That the Gen. Assembly, by passing a law authorizing the volunteers [soldiers] to vote wherever they may be on the day of election, whether in or out of the State … have … stretched their authority to an extent not within their constitutional limits …
9. That government being instituted for the common benefit, the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.
10. … and in the spirit of freemen, with an anxious desire to avoid the waste of the blood and the treasure of our State, we appeal to the people of Tennessee while it is yet in their power to come up in the majesty of their strength and restore Tennessee to her true position.
11. We shall await with the utmost anxiety the decision of the people of Tennessee on the 8th day of next month …
12. For the promotion of the peace and harmony of the people of East Tennessee it is deemed expedient that this convention should again assemble. …
Resolved, That when this convention adjourns it adjourns to meet again at such time and place as the president, or vice-president in his absence, may determine …
Resolved, That the proceedings of this convention be published in the Knoxville Whig, Jonesborough Express, Kingston Journal, and the Louisville (Kentucky) Journal, and that 5,000 copies of the proceedings be published by the Knoxville Whig for general circulation among the people.
[Previous] Governor [Andrew] Johnson then continued his remarks. He spoke about three hours and commanded the earnest attention of the convention throughout his entire speech.
At the close of his remarks, on motion, the convention adjourned subject to the call of the president.
T. A. R. NELSON, President.
JNO. [John] M. FLEMING, Secretary.
Official Records, Ser. I, Vol. 52, pt. I, pp. 153-156
8 JUNE 1861
Although nearly two-thirds of East Tennesseans reject secession and remain sympathetic to the Union, the majority of Tennessee voters opt to secede from the Union. Tennessee joins the Confederacy.
Brownlow defends Unionists
In the weeks following Tennessee’s secession on 8 June 1861, Brownlow uses the Whig to defend Unionists accused of treasonous acts by Confederate authorities.
17-20 JUNE 1861
Greeneville session of the East Tennessee Convention
After Tennessee secedes, the East Tennessee Convention delegates convene for a three-day meeting on 17 June 1861 at Greeneville. They create the East Tennessee Petition which requests the Tennessee General Assembly in Nashville to allow East Tennessee to form a separate state and remain in the Union. The legislature rejects their petition.
20 JUNE 1861
East Tennessee Unionist resolutions to secede from Tennessee and remain in the Union
KNOXVILLE, TENN., June 20, 1861.
To the GEN. ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:
The undersigned memorialists, in behalf of the people of East Tennessee, beg leave respectfully to show that at a convention of delegates held at Greeneville on the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th days of June …
First. That we do earnestly desire the restoration of peace to our whole country, and most especially that our own section of the State of Tennessee shall not be involved in civil war.”
Second. That the action of the State Legislature in passing the so called ‘declaration of independence’ and in forming the ‘military league’ with the Confederate States and in adopting other acts looking to a separation of Tennessee from the Government of the United States, is unconstitutional and illegal, and therefore not binding upon us as loyal citizens.”
Third. … That in order to avert a conflict with our brethren in other parts of the State … we do therefore constitute and appoint O[liver] P. Temple of Knox [County]; John Netherland of Hawkins, and James P. McDowell of Greene, commissioners, whose duty it shall be to prepare a memorial [the Greeneville Petition] and cause the same to be presented to the Gen. Assembly of Tennessee, now in session, asking its consent that the counties composing East Tennessee … may form and erect a separate State.” …
In that election the people of East Tennessee [8 June 1861], by a majority of nearly 20,000 votes, decided to adhere to the Federal Union … while the rest of the State is reported to have decided by a majority … to leave the Federal Union and to join the body politic recently formed under name of the Confederate States of America. …
It has occurred to the undersigned … that your body should take immediate action in the premises by giving a formal assent to the proposed separation …O[liver] P. TEMPLE.
JAS. P. McDOWELL.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 52, pt. I, pp. 178-179.
The 19th Tennessee Infantry and other Confederate troops guard the Tennessee border to deter Unionists from crossing the mountains and joining the Union army at Camp Dick Robinson in southeastern Kentucky.
28 JUNE 1861
From Sam Tate, President of the Memphis to Charleston Railroad
To Robert Toombs, Confederate Secretary of State
June 28, 1861, Chattanooga
Honorable Robert Toombs Richmond:
I came through East Tennessee yesterday. Saw some of our friends but many more of our enemies. There is truly great disaffection with those people. … They openly proclaim that if the Legislature refuses to let them [i.e., East Tennessee] secede [from the state] they will resist to the death and call upon Lincoln for aid. [Thomas A. R.] Nelson, [Parson] Brownlow, and [Horace] Maynard are the leaders. If they were out of the way we would be rid of all trouble. That they will give us trouble I doubt not unless they are promptly dealt with. They rely on aid from Southeastern Kentucky and Lincoln. … Governor Harris has ordered one regiment to the various passes on our northern border, but the people here say they are not sufficient. …
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 52, pt. II, p. 116
9 JULY 1861
No time to be lost …
Major General Leonidas Polk, C. S . Army, telegraphs to Richmond authorities:
NASHVILLE, July 9, 1861.
No time is to be lost in East Tennessee. I examined the case thoroughly. There are 2,000 men of various arms now there. I think at least 10,000 ought to be there and at once. … I would strongly recommend making a department of East Tennessee and … the appointment of General F. K. Zollicoffer, of the Tennessee army, to its command as a brigadier of the Provisional Army. Governor Harris concurs in this earnestly.
26 JULY 1861
Confederate occupation of Northeast Tennessee
On 26 July 1861, Governor Isham HARRIS appoints CSA Gen. Felix ZOLLICOFFER—former Nashville newspaper editor and U.S. Congressman from Tennessee (1853–1859)—to command the District of East Tennessee and to “preserve peace, protect the railroad, and repel invasion.”
Harris orders Zollicoffer and 4,000 raw recruits to Knoxville to be in position to suppress any resistance to secession. The region thus comes under Confederate control from that day until September 1863, more than two years away.
4 AUGUST 1861 – OCTOBER 17, 1862
Confederates arrest U.S. Congressman Thomas A. R. Nelson
8 AUGUST 1861
Confederate Act Respecting Alien Enemies
On this day, Confederate States Congress passes an ‘Act Respecting Alien Enemies’ which states:
“Immediately after the passage of this act, the President of the Confederate States shall … require all citizens of the United States, being males of fourteen years and upwards, within the Confederate States and adhering to the Government of the United States … to depart from the Confederate States within forty days … and such persons remaining within the Confederate States after that time shall become liable to be treated as alien enemies. … Alien residents within the Confederate States … who shall not be chargeable with actual hostility or other crime against the public safety, shall be allowed the time for the disposition of their effects and for departure.”
“The Daily Dispatch: August 9, 1861,” Perseus Digital Library, accessed 27 February 2021, perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2006.05.0240%3Aarticle%3D12
In his paper, Parson Brownlow sometimes suggests that the Unionists of Confederate-occupied Northeast Tennessee to resist the enemy. After President Davis’ issues the Confederate Act Respecting Alien Enemies, Brownlow urges Unionists to ignore the order and remain in their homes.
15 AUGUST 1861
Department of the Cumberland
The states of Kentucky and Tennessee are included in the Federal Department of the Cumberland.
7 SEPTEMBER 1861: Kentucky stays with the Union
With Kentucky no longer neutral, the entire northern boundary of Tennessee becomes exposed to possible invasion. CSA Gen. Felix Zollicoffer promptly advances his forces to Cumberland Gap, where Tennessee and Kentucky meet.
14 SEPTEMBER 1861
First Occupation of Cumberland Gap
In an effort to prevent a Union Army advance into Northeast Tennessee, CSA Gen. Felix Zollicoffer takes the initiative and marches his troops to Cumberland Gap, a vital passage through the mountains where Northeast Tennessee meets southeastern Kentucky. He easily overcomes the local Home Guard, occupies the Gap, and builds fortifications to strengthen his position. The rugged terrain in and around the Gap offers little sustenance. The greatest threat to soldiers manning the various forts on the hills overlooking the Gap is hunger.
17 SEPTEMBER 1861
Gen. Zollicoffer sends a force through Cumberland Gap along the Wilderness Road to drive the Union Army from Barbourville KY.
18 SEPTEMBER 1861
Gen. Zollicoffer announces that the safety of Tennessee depends on the occupation of the Cumberland Gap and refuses to leave.
19 SEPTEMBER 1861
Eight hundred of Zollicoffer’s men under Colonel Joel Battle ambush the Union force of about 150 home guards while they are foraging and pushed them out of Barbourville at the minor Battle of Barbourville KY.
21 SEPTEMBER 1861
CSA Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston calls upon Tennessee for 30000 men.
Last pro-Union newspaper in the South
By the autumn of 1861, Brownlow’s Whig is the last pro-Union newspaper in the South. He is quoted as saying, “I will fight secessionists until hell freezes over and then fight them on the ice.”
<30 SEPTEMBER 1861 – 9 NOVEMBER 1861 >
Burning railroad bridges in Northeast Tennessee
Before the war, the East Tennessee and Virginia (ET&VA) Railroad was the primary means of transportation in Northeast Tennessee, for passengers and freight. Now the ET&VA is vital to the Confederacy because it connects Virginia with the Deep South without going around the bulk of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Union leaders also recognize the railroad’s importance.
Shortly after the General Assembly rejects the Greeneville Petition, Rev. Wm. Blount Carter of Elizabethton devises a plan to undermine Confederate authority in Northeast Tennessee. On 30 September 1861 he travels to Camp Dick Robinson in southeastern Kentucky. He meets with Gen. George H. Thomas and reveals his plan to burn four wooden railway bridges on the East Tennessee and Virginia [ET&VA] Railroad:
The bridges to be burned from northeast to southwest are:
- the bridge over the Holston River at the town of Zollicoffer (now Bluff City)
- the bridge over the Watauga River at Carter’s Depot (now the town of Watauga)
- the bridge over Lick Creek, near the town of Mosheim in Greene County
- another bridge over the Holston River at Strawberry Plains, northeast of Knoxville
Wm. Blount Carter travels to Washington DC to meet with President Abraham Lincoln, who is pressured almost daily by Tennessee Senator Andrew Johnson and Congressman Horace Maynard to provide aid to East Tennessee’s Unionists. The president agrees with the plan. Carter returns to Camp Dick Robinson to begin setting his plan in motion.
8 OCTOBER 1861
USA Gen. William T Sherman assumes command of the Department of the Cumberland, which includes the state of Tennessee. His headquarters is in Louisville KY.
26 OCTOBER 1861
Last issue of the Knoxville Whig
This issue of the Whig must necessarily be the last for some time to come … The Confederate authorities have determined upon my arrest and I am to be indicted before the grand jury of the Confederate court … in Nashville. … I have the fact of my indictment and consequent arrest having been agreed upon for this week from distinguished citizens, legislators, and lawyers at Nashville of both parties. …
I presume I could go free by taking the oath these authorities are administering to other Union men; but my settled purpose is not to do any such thing. I can doubtless be allowed my personal liberty by entering into bonds to keep the peace and to demean myself toward the leaders of secession in Knoxville who have been seeking to have me assassinated all summer and fall.
I expect to go to jail and I am ready to start upon one moment’s warning. … I am prepared to lie in solitary confinement until I waste away because of imprisonment or die from old age. … The real object of my … imprisonment is to dry up, break down, silence and destroy the last and only Union paper left in the eleven seceded States and thereby to keep from the people of East Tennessee the facts which are daily transpiring in the country. I shall in no degree feel humbled by being cast into prison whenever it is the will and pleasure of this august Government to put me there; but on the contrary I shall feel proud of my confinement. … I am proud of my position and of my principles. …
Exchanging with proud satisfaction the editorial chair and the sweet endearments of home, a cell in the prison, or the lot of an exile,
I have the honor to be,
WILLIAM G. BROWNLOW,
Editor of the Knoxville Whig.
“Union Rebellion in East Tennessee,” War of the Rebellion, Serial 114, pp. 0912-0914, accessed 25 March 2021, The Ohio State University, accessed 30 November 2021
LATE OCTOBER 1861
Bridge Burners selected
Gen. Thomas sends Captain David Fry, whose home is in Greeneville, Northeast Tennessee, to aid Carter with the bridge burning operation; Carter assigns him to burn the Lick Creek bridge. Daniel Stover, son-in-law of Senator Andrew Johnson, is chosen to burn the two bridges in the far northeast corner at Zollicoffer and Carter’s Depot. For the Strawberry Plains bridge, former Sevier County sheriff William C. Pickens is selected. Each of these men then recruit reliable Unionists to assist them in burning the bridges. Since all are sworn to secrecy, the names of many of these operatives are still unknown.
While Carter recruits arsonists, Gen. Thomas’ Union forces at Camp Dick Robinson prepare to march south into Northeast Tennessee. However, Gen. Sherman begins to worry that the supply line to keep Thomas’ troops fed and moving will be stretched too thin.
31 OCTOBER 1861
Gen. Thomas and his Union troops arrive at Crab Orchard, Kentucky, approximately forty miles from Cumberland Gap. While Thomas keeps moving south, Sherman worries as the supply line gets longer.
4 NOVEMBER 1861
Brownlow leaves Knoxville
On 4 November 1861, Parson Brownlow decides to skip is arrest and confinement by Confederate authorities. He leaves Knoxville and goes into hiding in the Great Smoky Mountains, where there is a strong pro-Union presence. There he remains for several weeks staying with friends in Wears Valley and Tuckaleechee Cove.
Area where Parson Brownlow hid out in November 1861
7 NOVEMBER 1861
Sherman calls off the Union invasion
Gen. Thomas pleads with Sherman to authorize his movement into Northeast Tennessee. Sherman calls off the invasion on 7 November, too late to get word to the bridge burners.
<8 NOVEMBER – 9 NOVEMBER 1861>
Burning the railroad bridges of Northeast Tennessee
The bridge burners proceed with their plans on the night of 8 November, still believing that the Union Army is coming to protect them.. When Daniel Stover and his helpers reach the bridge over the Watauga River at Carter’s Depot, they discover that it is guarded by a company of Confederate cavalry. The arsonists are no match for trained soldiers on horseback; they abandon that operation and move on to the town of Zollicoffer and burn the bridge there.
Captain David Fry finds that the Lick Creek bridge is guarded by several sentries, but they are easily overpowered. After the bridge is set afire, Fry must decide what to do with the guards. They plead for their lives, and he lets them go.
At the Strawberry Plains bridge, Pickens and his crew encounter a single Confederate guard, James Keelan. When Pickens attempts to fire the bridge, Keelan attacks him. In the ensuing melee, both Keelan and Pickens are badly wounded. Keelan eventually flees, but Pickens has lost the group’s box of matches in the darkness. Unable to light a fire, they abort their mission and return to Sevier County.
<9 NOVEMBER – 20 NOVEMBER 1861>
Confederate reaction to bridge burnings
News of the bridge burnings shocks Confederate authorities in Northeast Tennessee. The government in Richmond is flooded with exaggerated reports of Unionist activity in the region. CSA Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin issues an order:
All such as can be identified in having been engaged in bridge-burning are to be tried summarily by drumhead court-martial and, if found guilty, executed on the spot by hanging in the vicinity of the burned bridges. All such as have not been engaged are to be treated as prisoners of war and are to be transported and held as such.
Confederates arrest Northeast Tennessee Unionists
Gen. Zollicoffer, who has been somewhat lenient, rounds up and jails dozens of known Unionists, bridge burners or not. So do other commanders in the area. Among the detained Unionists are several Lick Creek bridge burners, who have been identified by the Confederate sentries they allowed to go free.
Imprisoned at Tuscaloosa
Following Benjamin’s order, Unionists not directly involved in burning the railroad bridges are imprisoned in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Several die there. More than 150 people are arrested and jailed on suspicion of supporting the bridge burnings or inciting other acts of violence.
Southerners suspect Brownlow
Confederate authorities immediately suspect [William] Parson Brownlow of engineering the bridge burnings. In an editorial in his newspaper, he writes, “let the railroad on which Union citizens of East Tennessee are conveyed to Montgomery in irons be eternally and hopelessly destroyed,” and he goes into hiding in Blount County a few days before the bridge burning.
<9 NOVEMBER – 10 NOVEMBER 1861>
Northeast Tennessee Unionists rise up!
As dawn breaks, hundreds of Unionists armed with shotguns and rifles gather to seize key positions along the ET&VA while waiting for the arrival of the Union army from Kentucky.
A Union force is now assembling
BRISTOL, November 9, 1861.
Hon. JOHN LETCHER [Governor of Virginia].
DEAR SIR: Upon the oath of J. H. Rudd, conductor of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad Company, and news received from A. M. Millard, the representative of Sullivan County, Tenn., by note … I do hereby inform you that the bridge across the Holston [at Zollicoffer] was burned last night by about fifty Union men and that a Union force is now assembling near Watauga bridge [Carter’s Depot] reported to number about 500 for the purpose of attacking Capt. McClellan’s troops now stationed at the bridge … and ask aid as we are unable to form any idea of the result of this; and furthermore state that all communication between this place and Nashville by railroad and telegraph is cut off and ask that you appeal to President Davis to call out the militia of East Tennessee to suppress rebellion.
WM. F. MOORE,
Justice of the peace,
Washington County, Va.
By nightfall on 9 November, more than 1,500 men have gathered at Nathaniel Taylor’s farm near Elizabethton, Carter County, Northeast Tennessee. The men are anxious to rout Capt. David McClellan’s Rebel Cavalry, who had prevented them from burning the bridge there the previous night.
At Nathaniel Taylor’s Farm, where Unionists assemble
Taylor’s father and namesake, Gen. Nathaniel Taylor, built this two-story Federal style house after returning home from the War of 1812. It is now restored and open to the public as part of Sycamore Shoals State Park.
REPORTED FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES
SUNDAY, 10 NOVEMBER 1861
The Carter County Rebellion
We have received the particulars of the skirmish near Carter’s Station last Sunday night. In consequence of private intelligence received at Bristol of the doings of the Union men in East Tennessee, Capt. MILLER picked up a party of 22 young men, accompanied by Mr. J.R. HOWARD as a volunteer, and started from Bristol by the railroad on Sunday evening [10 November] at 6 o’clock. They sent lanterns ahead of the train and found the track torn up between Watauga and the Union Station [ZOLLICOFFER] bridge, but the damage was soon repaired, and they passed over safely.
Arriving at Carter’s Station, they stopped and threw out pickets, and about midnight the scouting party under Capt. MILLER started to explore the country. They had proceeded some three and a half miles through Carter County, Tennessee, when they were met by a pretty heavy fire from rifles and shot guns, which was promptly returned, and the skirmish was kept up with spirit for half an hour.
The Lincolnites were some three hundred strong, and constituted the advance of a body of eight hundred, stationed in Elizabethton, the mountain stronghold of the traitors. We may state here that these men expected a reinforcement of 500 men from Watauga County, North Carolina — a disaffected region adjoining Johnson County, Tennessee. In the fight the enemy were driven out of the woods, nine killed and five taken prisoners. The remainder retreated, and our scouts returned toward their camp. Capt. .MILLER received a charge of buckshot through his coat, and two of his men were slightly wounded. The prisoners were taken to the cavalry camp at Carter’s Station.
WEDNESDAY, 13 NOVEMBER 1861
LYNCHBURG, VA, Wednesday, Nov. 13.
The following dispatch was received here this morning from the President of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad:
The Union men have a camp of from a thousand to thirteen hundred men near the North Carolina line, and about 20 miles from Bristol. They also have another of about seven hundred men near Strawberry Plains. Their forces are increasing at both these places, and they threaten to take possession of the railroad and burn all the bridges.
16 NOVEMBER 1861.
Wm. Blount Carter reports to Gen. George H. Thomas USA at Camp Dick Robinson the outcome of his bridge burning operation.
20 NOVEMBER 1861
Col. W. B. Wood informs CSA Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin that the East Tennessee rebellion will soon come to an end.
HEADQUARTERS, Knoxville, November 20, 1861.
Hon. J. P. BENJAMIN, Secretary of War.
SIR: The rebellion in East Tennessee has been put down in some of the counties and will be effectually suppressed in less than two weeks in all the counties. Their camp in Sevier and Hamilton Counties have been broken up and a large number of them made prisoners. Some are confined in jail at this place and others sent to Nashville. …
I have been here at this station for three months, half the time in command of the post, and I have had a good opportunity of learning the feeling pervading this country. It is hostile to the Confederate Government. They will take the oath of allegiance with no intention to observe it. …
The prisoners we have tell us that they had every assurance that the [Union] army was already in the State and would join them in a very few days; that the property of Southern men was to be confiscated and divided amongst those who would take up arms for Lincoln. …
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. B. WOOD, Col., Cmdg. Post.
… to the Union people, it was full of terror, suffering and woe.
This quote from Oliver P. Temple’s East Tennessee and the Civil War tells you about the atmosphere in East Tennessee after the bridge burnings and the Unionist uprising, better than I could ever hope to say:
The excitement and fear continued … At the very time the Confederates were in the wildest state of excitement … the Union men … were hiding, or seeking safety in the hills and mountains, or secretly fleeing to Kentucky. The reported uprising was greatly exaggerated, and in some cases imaginary … There were not one hundred men in all East Tennessee, well armed, nor two thousand even half armed, nor ammunition for a half hour’s fight. It might be easily suspected that the incident of the bridge burning was used as a pretext for arresting, disarming and imprisoning Union men. …
Violent wrath and apprehension seized the Confederate army. Confederate citizens were thrown into a panic. The storm of anger naturally burst on the heads of Union men, and all were suspected. Arrests were made until the prisons overflowed. The poor, frightened Union men fled terror-stricken to such places of safety as they could find. … Strange that those in authority did not see, could not see, that it was better to let these determined, these lion-hearted people alone in their quiet pursuits and secluded homes than to force them into active hostility.
If there were those, at the time the bridges were burned, who thought that their destruction was a good thing for the loyal people of East Tennessee, surely they must have been convinced of its folly during the long, sad, dismal months that followed. With the wild excitement and the blind panic which everywhere filled the minds of the Confederate people, there soon came to the Union people an overwhelming sense of insecurity.
For the first time, they began to realize fully that they were among enemies, who counted the success of the new government above all things else—above kinship, above old friendship, above the most sacred ties hitherto uniting them. This sense of personal insecurity … extended to every Union fireside in East Tennessee. There was not a man so high, nor one so noble, but felt that he was liable to be accused, seized and thrust into prison at any moment.
<LICK CREEK BRIDGE BURNERS EXECUTED>
30 NOVEMBER – 17 DECEMBER 1861
All of the bridge burners brought to trial are from the group who burned the Lick Creek Bridge in Greene County. Among those captured are:
Hugh Self is only sixteen years old; he is released to his father.
Harrison Self’s daughter sends a telegram to President Davis, begging for her father’s life. Davis sends a last-minute pardon, and Self is not hanged. He will spend the balance of the war in prison.
Five men are sent to trial.
Jacob ‘Matt’ Hinshaw
C. Alexander ‘Alex’ Haun
Pro-Union attorneys John Baxter and Oliver Perry Temple provide legal defense, though they realize the accused stand little chance of acquittal.
30 NOVEMBER 1861
Henry Fry and Matt Hinshaw
Found guilty of bridge burning and sentenced to death.
Hanged near the railroad depot at Greeneville, Northeast Tennessee.
10 DECEMBER 1861
Imprisoned in Knoxville.
Condemned to die for the crime of bridge burning.
Hanged at a gallows north of Knoxville.
17 DECEMBER 1861
Jacob Harmon and his son Henry
Convicted and received the death penalty.
Hanged at Knoxville.
Daniel Stover, who burned the bridge at Zollicoffer, escaped but suffered health problems from hiding out in the Northeast Tennessee mountains in November. He died at a very young age.
For a timeline of all Northeast Tennessee bridges targeted, please read
Northeast Tennessee Railway Bridges Timeline