Carter’s Raid

Although Tennessee voted to secede from the Union in June 1861, East Tennessee remained loyal. The residents of Carter County voted against secession, 1,343 to 86. One of those residents, Samuel P. Carter (1819-1891), served in the navy as a midshipman beginning in 1840, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1846, and was at sea when the Civil War began.

Rear Admiral and Brigadier General Samuel Perry Carter


In 1861 U. S. Navy Lieutenant Samuel P. Carter writes a letter to then-Senator Andrew Johnson pledging his loyalty to the United States if there is a civil war. The Senator uses his influence at the U. S. War Department for Carter to be detached from the Navy. 

Carter is ordered to organize and enlist Unionists within his native East Tennessee, but the Confederates soon occupy the region in July 1861. Instead Carter raises a brigade of infantry from among the hundreds of East Tennesseans fleeing to Kentucky.

During this operation, he adopts Powhatan as a code name when secretly communicating with Unionists who remain behind Confederate lines.

1st and 2nd East Tennessee Regiments
Lieutenant Samuel P. Carter is assigned as acting brigadier general to the 1st and 2nd East Tennessee Regiments. These regiments serve together most of the time until 6 August 1863.

Carter’s Brigade is designated as the 12th Brigade of Brigadier General George H. Thomas’ 1st Division. The 12th serves at London and Somerset, KY and in front of Cumberland Gap.


Carter leads an infantry brigade at the Battle of Mill Springs on January 19, 1862.

The 12th Brigade then returns to duty at London and along the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

General S. P. Carter is part of a force that surprises and captures Lieutenant Colonel John F. White and two companies of the 1st East Tennessee Cavalry CSA at Jacksboro, Campbell County, Northeast Tennessee.

21-23 MARCH
The brigade takes part in skirmishes near Cumberland Gap.

14 APRIL 1862
General Carter’s Brigade is designated as the 24th Brigade, of Gen. George W. Morgan’s 7th Division, of the Army of the Ohio. The brigade serves in the operations around Cumberland Ford and Cumberland Gap.

MAY 1862
Carter accepts a commission as Brigadier General in the Union Army without resigning from the Navy. He is the only officer in American history to wear two stars in both the navy and the army.

17 JUNE 1862
Carter participates in operations under Brigadier General George W. Morgan that results in the occupation of Cumberland Gap by Union forces on 17 June 1862. The 24th Brigade is involved in numerous actions in that area.

Samuel P. Carter: Admiral and General Marker
Although Tennessee voted to secede from the Union in June 1861, East Tennessee remained staunchly loyal. The residents of Carter County voted against secession, 1,343 to 86. One of those residents, Admiral and General Samuel P. Carter (born August 6, 1819), lived here in Elizabethton. He was the only officer in American history to wear two stars in both the navy and the army. He served in the navy as a midshipman beginning in 1840, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1846, and was at sea when the Civil War began. Then-Senator Andrew Johnson had Carter detailed to Tennessee for “special duty” to recruit soldiers for the U.S. Army, and he received a general’s commission. Before the end of 1861, Carter led a cavalry raid across the mountains to destroy bridges on the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad. His raid gave hope to East Tennessee Unionists and disheartened Confederate supporters.
In the summer of 1863, Carter commanded the Union army’s XXIII Corps cavalry during the Knoxville Campaign. His October victory at the Battle of Blue Springs contributed to the success of the Union advance in the region. He was brevetted to the rank of major general in May 1865.
After the war, Carter left the army and resumed his naval career, commanding USS Monocacy. Before he retired in 1882, he was promoted to rear admiral. He died in Washington, D.C., on May 26, 1891.
Erected by Tennessee Civil War Trails.
Marker is in Elizabethton, Northeast Tennessee at the intersection of North Main Street and East Elk Avenue at the southwest corner of the Carter County Courthouse grounds.

Carter’s hope that he might convince Morgan to invade and occupy East Tennessee is dashed. While moving north to take part in the Confederate invasion of Kentucky, Major General E. Kirby Smith threatens Gen. Morgan’s supply line. Morgan evacuates Cumberland Gap, withdrawing into eastern Kentucky and marching north to Greensburg KY on the Ohio River.

31 OCTOBER 1862
Morgan is now in command of the District of Western Virginia, which includes Gen. S. P. Carter’s 3rd Brigade of that District.

Gen. Carter is separated from the brigade for special assignment.

Carter raids Northeast Tennessee
Gen S. P. Carter successfully lobbies his superiors for permission to conduct a raid into East Tennessee and cripple the vital East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad. The result is the first large-scale Federal cavalry raid of the war.

With a force of just under 1,000 men Carter moved through the rugged mountains of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee during the last week of 1862.

30 DECEMBER 1862
Carter’s raiders destroy railroad bridges at Zollicoffer [now Bluff City] and Carter’s Depot (now the town of Watauga). He repeatedly defeats the Confederate forces in his path, captures a moving train, destroys tens of thousands of dollars of military stores, and returns safely to Kentucky on January 2, 1863.
Plans to follow the raid with an invasion and occupation of East Tennessee, a move urged by Lincoln, are canceled when Carter reports the route impracticable for a large force.

7 JANUARY 1863
CINCINNATI, OHIO, January 7, 1863.
GENERAL: I have just received a dispatch from Major-General G. Granger that the cavalry force of about 1,000 men which he sent to East Tennessee on the 21st ultimo, by my order, under the command of Brig. General S. P. Carter, to destroy the East Tennessee Railroad bridges, &c. has been heard from.

General Granger has just received a dispatch from General Carter at Manchester, Ky., on his return, stating that on the 30th ultimo he entirely destroyed the Zollicoffer and Watauga Bridges, with 10 miles of railroad. Five hundred and fifty rebels were killed, wounded, and taken prisoners. Seven hundred stand of arms and a large amount of flour, salt, and other rebel stores, also a locomotive and two cars, were captured and destroyed.

A brisk skirmish took place at the Watauga Bridge and another at Jonesville [VA]. We lost but 10 men. This expedition, as characterized by General Granger, has been one of the most hazardous and daring of the war, attended with great hardships and privations, owing to the almost impracticable nature of the country, the length of the route (nearly 200 miles each way), and the inclement season.

The important results of this expedition can hardly be overrated, severing, as it has, Virginia and the Southwest; and Gen. Carter, his officers and men, deserve the thanks of the country. Great credit is also due to Maj.- Gen. Granger, under whose immediate supervision the expedition was fitted out, and whose long cavalry experience was a guarantee that nothing tending to its success would be neglected or forgotten.
Major-General, Commanding.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 20, pt I, p. 86-87.

7 JANUARY 1863
Cincinnati, Ohio, January 7, 1863.
Major-General G. GRANGER,
Lexington, Ky.:
General Carter has done well. He has severed the great rebel artery of communication between the North and South, the importance of which at this time can hardly be overestimated; has killed, wounded, and captured more than half of his own numbers, with the loss of only 10 men; has destroyed large amounts of rebel stores, arms, &c., and has brought back his own command in safety.

The result of the expedition has been telegraphed to the General-in-Chief, with an expression of my views as to the importance of the results accomplished. While waiting a reply from Washington, please present to General Carter, his officers and men, my congratulations upon the success of their efforts, and my full appreciation of the hardships and privations endured by them on their long and hazardous march over an almost impracticable country.
Major-General, Commanding.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 20, pt I, p. 86-87.

Brigadier General Samuel Perry Carter

9 JANUARY 1863
Report of Brig. General Samuel P. Carter
U. S. Army, commanding expedition.
Major-General H. W. HALLECK,
General-in-Chief, Washington, D. C.
LEXINGTON, KY., January 9, 1863.
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the expeditionary force to East Tennessee, which was intrusted to my command.

Although a movement on East Tennessee was proposed as early as November 25 last, it was not until December 19 that arrangements were completed and the necessary order given for the movement of the troops. It was hoped that the force to be sent on this hazardous, but most important, expedition would have been much larger than that which the commander of the department felt could be detached for such service when the final arrangements were made.

My original design was to have divided the force into two columns, and strike the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad at two points at the same time, distant 100 miles apart, and, by moving toward the center, have completely destroyed the road for that distance; but, on the junction of the different detachments, I found that the number was too small to risk a division, and I was reluctantly compelled to keep them united, or within easy supporting distance during the whole of my operations.

{All action from December 20-28th, 1862, take place in Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia.}

… The enemy, deterred by the resolute advance of our brave men, fled from [Estillville, VA] toward Kingsport, East Tenn. (as I afterward learned), without firing a gun. A rebel lieutenant and several soldiers, with their arms, were captured on the south side of the gap, on the Blountville road.

During the remainder of the night we moved forward, as rapidly as was practicable over unknown roads, picking up rebel soldiers by the way. Owing to the darkness of the night, a portion of the command lost their way and became separated from the main body. A small force of rebel cavalry, which was hovering about our rear, killed a sergeant of the Second Michigan and captured two others who had wandered from the road.

At daylight on the morning of the 30th we reached the town of Blountville, Sullivan County, East Tennessee, surprised and took possession of the place, captured some 30 soldiers belonging to the Fourth Regt. Kentucky (rebel) Cavalry, in hospital, and paroled them. …

We were informed that at Bristol, 8 miles distant, there was a large amount of stores, [but] … we were reluctantly compelled to leave it … and move toward the railroad bridge at Union [called Zollicoffer during the Civil War], 6 miles from Blountville.

I accordingly sent forward Lieut. Col. Campbell with a portion of the Second Michigan, under the direction of Col. James P. T. Carter, of the Second East Tennessee Infantry, toward Zollicoffer, with orders to take the place and destroy the railroad bridge across the Holston River.

As soon as the remainder of the troops, which got separated from us during the night, came up, I moved them rapidly forward in the same direction. When we reached Union, I found the town in our possession, and the railroad bridge, a fine structure some 600 feet in length, slowly burning.

The rebel force, about 150 strong, consisting of two companies of the Sixty-second North Carolina troops, under command of Maj. McDowell, had surrendered without resistance, the major himself having been first captured by our advance while endeavoring to learn if there was any truth of our reported approach.

The trestle at Carter’s Depot held immense strategic importance during the Civil War, as the ET&VA was part of a vital supply line connecting Virginia with the rest of the South. The trestle was among those targeted by the East Tennessee bridge burnings in November 1861, though the conspirators found it too heavily guarded by Confederates. In late December 1862, General Samuel P. Carter conducted a raid into the region, overwhelming the Confederate detachment at Carter’s Depot before destroying the trestle.

The prisoners were paroled, and a large number of them were that afternoon on their way to the mountains of North Carolina, swearing they would never be exchanged. Their joy at being captured seemed to be unbounded.

The stores, barracks, tents, a large number of arms and equipments, a considerable amount of salt, a railroad car, the depot, &c., were destroyed …

As soon as the work of destruction was fairly under way, I dispatched Col. Walker, with detachments from the Second Michigan, Ninth Pennsylvania, and Seventh Ohio Cavalry (in all 181 men), the whole under guidance of Col. Carter, toward the Watauga Bridge, at Carter’s Depot, 10 miles west of Union.

On their way they captured a locomotive and tender, with Col. Love, of Sixty-second North Carolina troops, who, having heard of the approach of the Yankees, had started on the locomotive to Union to ascertain the truth of the rumor.

On reaching the station, about sunset, they found the enemy, consisting of two companies Sixty-second North Carolina troops, estimated by Col. Walker at nearly 200 men, falling into line. Col. Walker gallantly attacked them, and, after a brief but firm resistance, they broke and fled to the wood.

The gallant Maj. Roper, of the Sixth Kentucky Cavalry, with two companies of the Ninth Pennsylvania Regiment, under Capt. Jones, of that regiment, made a dashing charge, and captured and destroyed many of their number. Our loss was 1 killed, 1 mortally and 1 severely wounded, and 2 slightly wounded. …

The railroad bridge across the Watauga River, some 300 feet in length, was soon in flames, and entirely destroyed; also a large number of arms and valuable stores. The captured locomotive was run into the river and completely demolished, destroying in its passage one of the piers of the bridge.

The men and horses, especially the latter, were much worn and jaded from constant travel and loss of rest. The alarm had been given; the rebels had the road open to Knoxville, and could move up a strong force to resist us.

I also learned that some 500 cavalry and four guns, under Col. Folk, were within 3 miles of us; that an infantry force would be concentrated at Johnson’s Depot, 6 miles west of Carter’s Station, by daylight; and, further, that Humphrey Marshall, who was at Abingdon, was moving his troops to occupy the passes in the mountains, and thus cut off our egress. It was deemed prudent, therefore, to return.

We left Watauga about midnight, and, after a hard march, reached Kingsport, at the mouth of the North Fork of the Holston River, at sunset on the 31st ultimo. After feeding and resting a short time, and issuing a ration of meat to the men, we were again in the saddle.

We passed some 8 miles north of Rogersville, and reached Looney’s Gap, in Clinch Mountain, late in the afternoon; passed through without opposition, and about 11 p. m. of January 1 reached a place in the edge of Hancock County, Tennessee, where forage could be obtained, and bivouacked for the night. This was the first night’s rest we had been annoyed during the day and night by bushwhackers, but we, providentially, escaped with only 2 men slightly wounded.

Soon after daylight, on the morning of the 2nd instant, we resumed our march toward Jonesville, Lee County, Virginia, with the intention of reaching the foot of the Cumberland Mountains, on the Kentucky side, before we halted. …

Notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, the severity of the marches, and the scanty supply of rations for no inconsiderable portion of the time, both officers and men bore their hardships without a single murmur or a word of complaint.

They returned, after a journey of 470 miles, 170 of which were in the enemy’s country, in high spirits and in good condition, proud to think they had accomplished a feat which, for hazard and hardships, has no parallel in the history of war. …

I am, general, respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. P. Carter, Brig.-Gen. of Volunteers.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 20, pt. I, pp. 88-92.

Samuel P. Carter Marker
Born in this house. After attending Washington College and Princeton, graduated from U.S. Naval Academy; serving in the Navy until May 1, 1862, he was appointed brigadier general, U.S. Volunteers. His most conspicuous service was a raid into East Tennessee with a cavalry brigade late in 1862. Brevetted major general, he returned to the Navy as a commander, retired as a commodore in 1881, and was named a rear admiral on the retired list in 1882. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
Erected by Tennessee Historical Commission.
Marker is at 829 East Elk Avenue, Elizabethton TN 37643.

Birthplace of Samuel P. Carter
Alfred Moore Carter House 
Elizabethton, Carter County, Northeast Tennessee.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: