<BURNING BRIDGES BACKSTORY>
1850s: East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad
The East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad Company is established on 27 January 1848. The construction of the railroad is financed by the residents of Northeast Tennessee, who purchase stocks and bonds in the Company. The company builds 130.7 miles of 5 foot gauge railroad. It runs from Bristol down to Knoxville and through these Northeast Tennessee counties: Carter, Greene, Grainger, Jefferson, Sullivan, and Washington.
After its completion in 1858, the ET&VA Railroad becomes the main transportation line going through this region. It also connects with the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad, which runs from Knoxville down to Chattanooga. After the American Civil War begins, the ET&VA becomes the main railroad of the Confederacy, operating through a largely Unionist territory.
Northeast Tennessee Railroads in 1860: ET&VA stations thomaslegion.net/confederaterailroadseasttennesseevirginia.html
1860: The Northeast is not much changed
One would think that farmers in Northeast Tennessee would grow the southern cash crops of cotton and tobacco in larger quantities—now that the railroad provides a much larger market. However, the New York Times Opinionator Pages begs to differ:
“Few East Tennesseans, however, live close enough to the railroad … to capitalize on the growing market connections to the rest of the South. For the most part, the region remained defined by small farms and communities, with few connections to, or sympathy with, the slaveholding economy of the Coastal and Lower South.”
1860-1861: Secession crisis in Northeast Tennessee
During the secession crisis of 1860-1861, two elections are put before the citizens of Tennessee to vote yea or nay, for or against, seceding from the United States of America—one in February and one in June. On 9 February 1861, East Tennessee votes a resounding no to calling a secession convention, and the statewide vote is also nay, but not by a very wide margin.
Between the two votes, Presbyterian minister and Unionist William Blount Carter (1820-1902), a native of Elizabethton, Carter County, Northeast Tennessee, becomes an active Union leader. He campaigns tirelessly to drum up support for the United States; travels throughout the area, giving speeches; and serves as a delegate to the East Tennessee Conventions held at Knoxville in May and at Greeneville in June.
At the 8 June 1861 secession vote, Middle Tennessee and West Tennessee heavily favor joining the Confederate States of America. W.B. Carter and his fellow Unionists suffer the heartbreak of losing their beloved state to their arch enemy. Plus, the Greeneville Petition to allow East Tennessee to become a separate Union state is summarily dismissed by Governor Isham Harris, a secessionist from West Tennessee, and the General Assembly. And Tennessee secedes.
8 JUNE 1861: Tennessee Ordinance of Secession
Adopted 6 May 1861 without the consent of the voters
Ratified 8 June 1861 by a vote of 104,471 to 47,183
First. We, the people of the State of Tennessee, waiving any expression of opinion as to the abstract doctrine of secession, but asserting the right, as a free and independent people, to alter, reform, or abolish our form of government in such manner as we think proper, do ordain and declare that all the laws and ordinances by which the State of Tennessee became a member of the Federal Union of the United States of America are hereby abrogated and annulled, and that all the rights, functions, and powers which by any of said laws and ordinances were conveyed to the Government of the United States, and to absolve ourselves from all the obligations, restraints, and duties incurred thereto; and do hereby henceforth become a free, sovereign, and independent State.
Second. We furthermore declare and ordain that article 10, sections 1 and 2, of the constitution of the State of Tennessee, which requires members of the General Assembly and all officers, civil and military, to take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States be, and the same are hereby, abrogated and annulled, and all parts of the constitution of the State of Tennessee making citizenship of the United States a qualification for office and recognizing the Constitution of the United States as the supreme law of this State are in like manner abrogated and annulled.
Third. We furthermore ordain and declare that all rights acquired and vested under the Constitution of the United States, or under any act of Congress passed in pursuance thereof, or under any laws of this State, and not incompatible with this ordinance, shall remain in force and have the same effect as if this ordinance had not been passed.
SUMMER 1861: Carter to the rescue
Soon after the General Assembly rejected the Greeneville Petition, Reverend William Blount Carter, [W.B. Carter I will call him; I will introduce you to his brothers later] wants to help his fellow Unionists who are suffering harassment, arrests, and violence from Confederate troops. He leaves East Tennessee, heading North, hoping to find some relief for his countrymen and women. Carter soon comes up with a plan to cripple the Confederacy by burning the main railroad bridges of the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad from Bristol to Knoxville.
28 JUNE 1861: Rumors causing much consternation about East Tennessee
CSA Senator Robert Toombs received a letter from his friend Sam Tate:
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. It is currently reported and believed that [Senator Andrew] Johnson has made an arrangement at Cincinnati to send 10,000 guns into East Tennessee, and that they have actually been shipped through Kentucky to Nicholasville, and are to be hauled from there to near the Kentucky line and … to be conveyed to Union men in Tennessee. They openly proclaim that if the Legislature refuses to let them secede they will resist to the death and call upon Lincoln for aid. Nelson, Brownlow, and Maynard are the leaders.
President of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad
26 JULY 1861: CSA Governor Harris sends troops into Northeast Tennessee
After the Unionists hold the East Tennessee Conventions and submit a petition to become a separate state, Confederate officials go a little nuts. Fearing outright rebellion from the Northeast Tennesseans, Governor Isham Harris orders CSA General Felix Zollicoffer and 4,000 soldiers to Knoxville on 26 July 1861. This force will be in position to suppress any resistance to secession.
8 AUGUST 1861: Harris gets another term
Isham Harris is re-elected CSA governor of Tennessee on 8 August 1861, giving him more time to harass the Unionists. On 18 August 1861 he orders General Zollicoffer to arrest and, if necessary, banish pro-Union leaders from East Tennessee.
SEPTEMBER 1861: A reign of terror
Confederate general Albert Sydney Johnston orders General Felix Zollicoffer to march his troops north to the Cumberland Gap and repel any Union invasion from Kentucky. Secessionists and untrained soldiers unleash what Oliver P. Temple—author of East Tennessee and the Civil War—calls “a reign of terror” against Union sympathizers. They are subjected to interrogation, false arrest, and imprisonment.
“Bridge-burning part one: Union men take action but where is the army?” Kingsport Times News, accessed 7 February 2021, timesnews.net/news/local-news/bridge-burning-part-one-developing-the-plan-to-liberate-east-tennessee/article_2e69ad76-4009-5d17-a003-dc7c0f81b791.html
“Bridge-burning part two: Union men take action but where is the army?” Kingsport Times News, accessed 7 February 2021, timesnews.net/living/features/bridge-burning-part-two-union-men-take-action-but-where-is-the-army/article_7c6eafa7-5b5e-530e-95dd-2b5971044746.html
“East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad,” Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, accessed 8 February 2021, tnvacation.com/civil-war/place/2330/east-tennessee-virginia-railroad/
Meredith Anne Grant, “Internal Dissent: East Tennessee’s Civil War, 1849-1865,” 2008,Electronic Theses and Dissertations, East Tennessee State University, accessed 7 February 2021, dc.etsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3314&context=etd
Aaron Astor, “The Switzerland of America,” New York Times Opinionator Pages, 7 June 2011, accessed 8 February 2021, opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/07/the-switzerland-of-america/
Paul A. Whelan, “Unconventional Warfare in East Tennessee, 1861-1865,” University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Thesis, 1963, accessed 1 April 2021, core.ac.uk/download/pdf/268808064.pdf
<AUTUMN 1861: UNDERMINING CONFEDERATE AUTHORITY>
15 SEPTEMBER 1861: General Thomas takes command
In August 1861, George H. Thomas was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers. On 15 September he assumes command at Camp Dick Robinson, a Union recruiting camp in southeastern Kentucky. Thousands of Northeast Tennessee Unionists have made the arduous trip across the mountains to enlist in the Union Army at that camp; thousands more will follow.
30 SEPTEMBER 1861: Carter reveals his plan to liberate his countrymen
On 30 September, William Blount Carter travels to Camp Dick Robinson and meets with USA Generals Thomas and William Tecumseh Sherman. Carter reveals a comprehensive plan to burn the main bridges of the East Tennessee and Virginia [ET&VA] Railroad. Carter’s proposal calls for several groups of East Tennessee Unionists to burn nine railroad bridges, on the same night, at the same time. He believes this will cripple the Confederacy; it certainly will keep them from sending more troops into the area by rail. General Thomas likes the plan, and although General Sherman is initially skeptical, he soon endorses the project as well.
Four of nine bridges targeted in Northeast Tennessee are over these rivers:
The Holston River at Zollicoffer, sometimes called Union, now Bluff City
The Watauga River at Carter’s Depot, now the town of Watauga
Lick Creek, near the town of Mosheim in Greene County
The Holston River at Strawberry Plains, northeast of Knoxville
OCTOBER 1861: A trip to Washington DC
WM. BLOUNT CARTER carries this message from General Thomas to General George B. McClellan in Washington DC:
HEADQUARTERS, Camp Dick Robinson
Major General GEORGE B. McCLELLAN
Commanding Department of the Potomac
GENERAL: I have just had a conversation with Mr. W.B. Carter of Tennessee on the subject of the destruction of the grand trunk railroad* through that State. He assures me that he can have it done if the Government will entrust him with a small sum of money to give confidence to the persons to be employed to do it. It would be one of the most important services that could be done for the country, and I most earnestly hope you will use your influence with the authorities in furtherance of his plans which he will submit to you together with the reasons for doing the work.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. H. THOMAS,
Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers, Commanding.
*The ET&VA Railroad was known as the Grand Trunk Railroad because it linked the lower southern states to the North. Soldiers, supplies, and other materiel passed through Northeast Tennessee.
OCTOBER 1861: Meeting with President Abraham Lincoln
In a meeting with President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward, and General McClellan, W.B. Carter presents his plan. Federal officials wholeheartedly approve the proposal. The Secretary of State gives Carter $2,500 to cover whatever expenses he might have. Carter also proposes that, after they destroy the bridges, the Union army will swoop down from Kentucky, liberate the Unionists, and run the Confederate forces out of their homeland. General McClellan promises to aid in the movement by sending an army into East Tennessee as soon as they burn the bridges.
MID-OCTOBER 1861: W.B. Carter returns to East Tennessee
Carter returns to his home in Elizabethton, Carter County, Northeast Tennessee in mid-October to organize the Unionists who will destroy the railway bridges. He is accompanied by two Union officers who have been assigned to help execute the plan—Captains William Cross from Scott County and David Fry of nearby Greene County. Carter sets up a command post in Kingston, Tennessee, southwest of Knoxville.
22 OCTOBER 1861: : Sherman directs Thomas to proceed
In a consultation between Generals Sherman and Thomas, Sherman directs Thomas to proceed with his expedition into East Tennessee. Thomas leaves Camp Dick Robinson with his little army on or about 22 October 1861.
22 OCTOBER 1861: You need not fear to trust these people.
NEAR MONTGOMERY, MORGAN CO., TENN.,
SIR: I reached here at 2 P. M. to-day. I am within six miles of a company of rebel cavalry. I find our Union people in this part of the State firm and unwavering in their devotion to the Government and anxious to have an opportunity to assist in saving it. The rebels continue to arrest and imprison our people. You will please furnish the bearers with as much lead, rifle powder. and as many caps as they can bring for Scott and Morgan counties. You need not fear to trust these people. They will open the war for you by routing these small bodies of marauding cavalry.
I am obliged to send this note unsealed.
In haste, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
WM. BLOUNT CARTER.
26 OCTOBER 1861: Letter about unlawful arrests in East Tennessee
MEMPHIS, October 26, 1861.
ROBERT JOSSELYN, Esq.
DEAR SIR: More than 100 persons have been arrested in East Tennessee without warrants in some cases, marched great distances and carried into court on no other charge than that they were Union men. In one case an old man named Duggan, a Methodist preacher, was arrested, carried fifty miles on foot (he a large, fleshy men), refused the privilege of riding his own horse, and all they had against him was that in February last he prayed for the Union. …
I have spent much time this summer and fall in trying to conciliate the people of East Tennessee. I thought I had succeeded. Just as the people were quieting down, getting reconciled, raising volunteers, &c., they commenced these arrests which have gone far to poison the minds of the people against the [CSA] Government, and if tolerated and persisted in the people of that end of the State at a critical moment will rise up enemies instead of friends. You ask me who makes these arrests. As far as I can learn they are instigated by a few malicious, troublesome men in and about Knoxville. I always hear the names of W. G. Swan, William M. Churchwell, John H. Crozier, [John] Crozier Ramsey and the postmaster at Knoxville mixed up with these matters. It is these men [who] have private griefs and malice to gratify and they aim to bring down the avenging arm of the Government to satiate their passions.
Crozier Ramsey is the [Confederate] attorney-general [for Knox County]. It is said he in most cases causes the arrests and makes the affidavit. Just think of this—an attorney degrading himself by turning [into] an affidavit man. You may inquire what is the remedy? I answer turn out Ramsey; put some man in Middle or West Tennessee in his place who has dignity and character; turn out the postmaster at Knoxville.
If the President [Davis] will then make it known to all officials that he discountenances all frivolous arrests, things will quiet down. If, however, he refuses to do this, retains Ramsey, then we may look for great trouble in that end of the State. If the President will write Landon C. Haynes, Senator-elect, and any other respectable man in East Tennessee he will be at no loss what course to pursue.
I address this to you to be certain the President will get it and receive attention.
[An attorney in Memphis, Tennessee and member of the CSA General Assembly.]
Referred to the Secretary of War [Judah P. Benjamin], that such inquiry may be made and action taken as will prevent as far as we may such proceedings as are herein described.
27 OCTOBER 1861: Men and women weep for joy …
NEAR KINGSTON, ROANE CO., TENN.,
October 27, 1861. (Received November 4.)
[Shows how slowly messages can travel in the mountains]
SIR: I am now within a few miles of our railroad, but I have not yet had time to obtain all the information I must have before I decide on the course best for me to adopt. If I can get half a dozen brave men to ” take the bull by the horns,” we can whip them completely and save the railroad. If I cannot get such leaders, we will make a desperate attempt to destroy all the bridges, and I firmly believe I will be successful.
There are 1,400 rebel troops at Knoxville, some poorly armed, some not armed, and many of them sick. There are 160 at the Loudon Bridge. I know of no other troops in East Tennessee except the 300 about whom I wrote to you from Montgomery. They have gone to Wolf River. Zollicoffer has 6,000 men all told; 1,000 of these are sick; 600 or 800 are not armed ; 1,600 of the 6,000 are at Cumberland Gap; the balance beyond the gap.
Our enemies here are very uneasy for the safety of Zollicoffer, and have been calling on [Confederate President] Davis for help; but, as I am informed, Davis says he is so pressed on the Potomac that he can spare none of the Virginia troops. I can gain no reliable information from Kentucky by way of Nashville. I hear of no troops passing over our railroad. We hear, by way of Knoxville, that [General Kenner] Garrard has driven Zollicoffer back 6 miles. I suppose it is true, as secessionists tell it.
This whole country is in a wretched condition; a perfect despotism reigns here. The Union men of East Tennessee are longing and praying for the hour when they can break their fetters. The loyalty of our people increases with the oppressions they have to bear. Men and women weep for joy when I merely hint to them that the day of our deliverance is at hand. I have not seen a secession flag since I entered the State. I beg you to hasten on to our help, as we are about to create a great diversion in General McClellan’s favor. It seems to me, if you would ask it, he would spare you at once 5,000 or 10,000 well-drilled troops. Will you not ask for more help?
I know you will excuse a civilian for making suggestions to a military man, when you remember that I am risking my life and that I am about to ask my people to do the same. I find more deficiency in arms in this part of East Tennessee than I expected. You must bring some small-arms with you. I am satisfied that you will have to take the road by Monticello and Jamestown, unless you come by Cumberland Gap.
I can assure you that whoever is the leader of a successful expedition into East Tennessee will receive from these people a crown of glory of which any one might well be proud, and I know of no one on whom I would more cheerfully bestow that crown than on yourself.
I regret that I can give you no more information, but I will communicate with you as circumstances may require. Perhaps it would be well for you to let General McClellan know that I have reached East Tennessee, as I know he is very anxious for my success.
I write in great haste, but believe you may rely on all I have written.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
WM. BLOUNT CARTER.
28 OCTOBER 1861: To advance into East Tennessee …
Brig. Gen. W. T. Sherman, Commanding Department of Cumberland, Louisville, Ky. General : I have just returned from the Rockcastle Hills [KY]. Our troops have a decided victory, repulsing the enemy upon very nearly equal terms, and feel very much elated and are anxious for an advance. We are informed that [CSA General Felix] Zollicoffer has retired to his old position behind the Cumberland [Mountains], and intends to make a stand there. I am very sorry that we are not in a condition to march upon him at once, as I believe he could be easily driven out of Kentucky; but the men have no clothing, and we are scarce of forage. …
To advance into Tennessee, I ought to have four more regiments from some other State than Kentucky to follow after us as a reserve, and money in the hands of the quartermaster and commissary to defray necessary expenses. By taking in a train along with the army, two months’ supply of sugar, coffee, and other small stores, I think we can get on without any very serious difficulties. If you approve of my advance, let me know as soon as possible. I shall move in a day or two to Crab Orchard.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. H. THOMAS
31 OCTOBER 1861: Thomas is 40 miles from the Tennessee border
General George H. Thomas arrives at Crab Orchard, a supply depot in Southeast Kentucky, 40 miles from Cumberland Gap on the Tennessee border.
Meredith Anne Grant, “Internal Dissent: East Tennessee’s Civil War, 1849-1865,” 2008, Electronic Theses and Dissertations, East Tennessee State University, accessed 7 February 2021,
“Union insurrection in East Tennessee,” War of the Rebellion: Serial 114 Page 0889, The Ohio State University, accessed 20 February 2021, ehistory.osu.edu/books/official-records/114/0889
“Union insurrection in East Tennessee,” War of the Rebellion: Serial 114 Page 0890, The Ohio State University, accessed 20 February 2021, ehistory.osu.edu/books/official-records/114/0890
1 NOVEMBER 1861: I am fully conscious of the difficulties …
Headquarters Department of the Cumberland, Louisville, Ky.,
November 1, 1861. General George H. Thomas, Crab Orchard, Ky.:
Dear Sir: Yours of yesterday is received. I am fully conscious of the difficulties you describe as to the Kentucky regiments. The telegraph is now completed to Nicholasville. Please have some trusty persons there to telegraph me news from yourself and Somerset. There are several regiments at Cincinnati, but I deem it wise to hold them in reserve till the development of the game, whether they go to Nelson, yourself, or McCook. From all I can learn, no large force can come in by the Gap this season, but the case is different towards Somerset and Nashville. I trust you have got clothing for your men, and that you have well secured the bridge over the Kentucky.
W. T. SHERMAN, Brigadier- General, Commanding.
1 NOVEMBER 1861: Our Camp Calvert Correspondence
New York Times article covering the time period when General Thomas was marching his army toward Northeast Tennessee.
CAMP CALVERT, Friday, Nov. 1, 1861.
After the plucky little fight at [the Battle of] Wild Cat [southeastern KY, 21 OCTOBER 1861], “Your Own” concluded that things in the mountains were beginning to warm up, and that he had better be in to see the sport. Accordingly he started and reached Nicholasville [KY], the terminus of the Covington and Lexington Railroad without let or hindrance. But once there his troubles began, nor do they seem disposed to come to an end.
Mounted on the back of an old gray horse whose early education had been sadly neglected in the matter of gaits—the only step he learned being a cross-eyed trot, half pace and half canter, that sent “yours truly” bounding Heavenward like Sancho Panza in the blanket, he started in pursuit of the advancing army. At Camp Dick Robinson he found one regiment guarding stores that should have been forty miles on the advance. Twenty miles further on is Crab Orchard or Camp Frey, where two more regiments were rusticating in the comforts of good quarters, and enjoying themselves hugely on Uncle Samuel’s beef and crackers.
But from Crab Orchard to Wild Cat, twenty-four mortal miles, is the roughest country upon which the sun shines. It is up hill and down dale, over rocks and through bogs. Now muddy as Egypt after the Nile has overflowed, and then sandy as the Jersey Pines. It must have been the creation of some of nature’s journeymen, for surely the mother of all good things never made such an abortion.
I stood in the battle-field of Wild Cat, and looked from the brow of Hoosier Hill, where the gallant Thirty-third Indiana so nobly repulsed the hordes of [CSA General Felix] ZOLLICOFFER, with amazement. Up its steep and rugged sides the foes of our land essayed to climb, and well nigh did they succeed, for had not the Fourteenth Ohio and its battery arrived on a double quick, after a forced march of thirty-five miles, there would have been no Thirty-third Indiana and no Third Kentucky Regiments to-day. They would have been slaughtered beyond salvation, and have poured out their blood a rich libation to the demon of procrastination’ who has so long presided in the councils of our nation. Beyond Wild Cat the country improves; though still rugged and mountainous, it is no longer sterile and inhospitable. Though $5 per acre would buy the best farm in the land, and thousand of square acres can be bought for a silver quarter each, still the country is self-supporting, and might even supply our army with much of its stores, if we had the ready money to pay for them.
Gen. SCHOEPF, the commander of the army in the Cumberland Mountains, (I said commander, which I believe is untrue, for he dares not to move a peg until he has the sign manual of Gen. THOMAS, who stays back at Crab Orchard or Dick Robinson,) is a Hungarian, well qualified, so far as I can judge after a week’s acquaintance, for the command. But he is stopped, checkmated, fretted, worried, tormented and annoyed every hour by the necessity of asking the consent of Gen. THOMAS to do this, that or the other thing. He hardly dares to post a picket or send out a scout without the permission of the Crab Orchard General first had and obtained. Then again, the Quartermaster sends up his stores by the mouthful. At no one time since the army advanced have we had three days provisions in camp.
If Gen. SCHOEPF is worth a row of pins, he surely is worthy of being trusted with some discretion, and ought not to be compelled to keep an army of 5,000 men doing police duty while the golden moments in which the conquest of East Tennessee and Kentucky ought to be completed, are slipping unmarked and unnoticed like the sand in the glass. We have with us the Thirty-fifth Indiana, the Fourteenth and Seventeenth Ohio, the Third Kentucky, half a brigade of Tennessee Volunteers, two batteries, and two hundred cavalry, commanded by Major HELVERTIA, a fine officer. The enemy has, perhaps, a few more men, say 6,000, at Cumberland Ford, 40 miles distant, strongly intrenched, but unequipped, ununiformed, poorly armed and badly demoralized. We have a road by which we can advance, pass to his rear and cut off his communication.
If this brigade were permitted to move and properly supplied with money to purchase stores, we would be in Knoxville, the home of Parson BROWNLOW, in less than a week. But we must possess our souls in patience while red tape and sealing-wax are blundering along. A messenger came in yesterday from Gen. THOMAS saying that the rebels were advancing against Somerset, a town 37 miles west of us.
Camp Calvert is at London, the county seat and about 14 miles beyond Wild Cat. They were represented as being 3,300 strong, while Col. HOSKINS has but 600 Kentuckians at Somerset. One regiment and a company of cavalry were started from Crab Orchard to reinforce him, and we sent out a courier, who has not yet returned. I think this movement means a reinforcement from [CSA GENERAL SIMON BOLIVAR] BUCKNER to ZOLLICOFFER.
We ought to be on the march to intercept them. When the history of the Kentucky campaign comes to be written there will be a sad day of reckoning for somebody. From its first inception to the present moment it has been a progressive series of blunders, or something; worse.
Camp Dick Robinson ought never to have been established, nor would it have been under any ordinary pressure. The history of its creation is this: DICK ROBINSON, a clever gentleman residing in Kentucky, ten miles from Nicholasville, sold $22,000 worth of mules to the South on time, mortgaging his estate to pay for them. The South repudiated, property depreciated, his creditors knew they could not make their money out of the land, so they, with their friends and his to the number of thirty-eight, procured the establishment of the camp. DICK ROBINSON has made from the rent of his land, his bar, and other incidental sources, the neat sum of $33,000. The location of this camp is on the middle of a turnpike, where teams must be unloaded and their burdens divided between four wagons, so that they can traverse the wild-cat country, while they might as well retain their original loads till they reach Crab Orchard, twenty miles beyond. Besides this, the Government owns a barracks, with plenty of land and buildings, at Harrodsburg, only 3 miles further from Nicholasville. Verily, there is something rotten in Denmark. There will certainly be a movement of some kind in a few days.
“THE CAMPAIGN IN KENTUCKY; OUR CAMP CALVERT CORRESPONDENCE. A VISIT TO THE BATTLEFIELD OF WILD CAT. THE ARMY IN THE CUMBERLAND MOUNTAINS; HOW IT IS HAMPERED. MOVEMENTS OF THE REBELS,” The New York Times, reported 1 November 1861, published 9 November 1861, accessed 26 July 2021, nytimes.com/1861/11/09/archives/the-campaign-in-kentucky-our-camp-calvert-correspondence-a-visit-to.html
4 NOVEMBER 1861: A mistake to suppose East Tennesseans are submissive …
Knoxville, Tenn., November 4, 1861.
CSA General S. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General
Sir: The dispatches from General Zollicoffer state that he has reason to believe that the enemy with a force of 9,000 is approaching by Jacksborough or Jamestown [Tennessee towns]. Information from Assistant Adjutant-General Mackall says that there are about 10,000 men between Camp Dick Robinson and Cincinnati. This information has been received by the Union men in East Tennessee, and they are openly preparing for rebellion. Men are arriving here daily from the adjoining counties, bringing information that the Unionists are talking exultingly of the approach of the Lincoln Army and their intention to join it. The state of the country here is evidently worse at this time than at any previous period. General Zollicoffer bas taken all the troops from here, except about 1OO infantry and one company of cavalry, and most of the latter are absent on special duty. The necessity for a larger force at this point is urgent. Our commissary and quartermaster’s stores are liable to be seized at any moment, as also the railroad.
The state of the country here is evidently worse at this time than at any previous period. General Zollicoffer has taken all the troops from here, except about 1OO infantry and one company of cavalry, and most of the latter are absent on special duty. The necessity for a larger force at this point is urgent. Our commissary and quartermaster’s stores are liable to be seized at any moment, as also the railroad.
The state of the country here is evidently worse at this time than at any previous period. General Zollicoffer has taken all tbe troops from here, except about 1OO infantry and one company of cavalry, and most of tbe latter are absent on special duty. The necessity for a larger force at this point is urgent. Our commissary and quartermaster’s stores are liable to be seized at any moment, as also the railroad.
It is a great mistake to suppose that the people of East Tennessee are submissive or willing to acquiesce. They have only been held quiet by the force which was at Knoxville, and now that it is gone, they are evidently preparing for a general uprising if the Lincoln Army should make any advance into Tennessee. I need at least a regiment at this place to give protection to the stores of the Government and preserve quiet. There are three companies of infantry here under the late call of the governor for 30,000, but they have no arms. I communicate directly to the Department, because I think the exigency admits of no delay, and have no doubt it will meet with the approval of General Zollicoffer, to whom I send a copy.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. B. WOOD, Colonel, Commanding Post.
5 NOVEMBER 1861: Four regiments of disciplined men …
HEADQUARTERS, CRAB ORCHARD, KY.
BRIG.-GEN. W. T. SHERMAN.
GENERAL: I inclose copies of two communications from Mr. William B. Carter. If we could possibly get the arms and the four regiments of disciplined and reliable men we could seize the railroad yet. Cannot Gen. McClellan be induced to send me the regiments?
Very respectfully, your ob’dt servant,
GEO. H. THOMAS,
Brig.-Gen. U. S. V., Commanding.
5 NOVEMBER 1861: Thomas must be on the border …
W.B. Carter’s East Tennessee bridge-burning plan calls for General Thomas to be on the Tennessee / Kentucky border by 8 November, the day Carter has set for the bridges to be burned. After that part of the operation is complete, Thomas is to make a quick march to Knoxville, seize control of the railroads, and protect the bridge burners from Confederate retaliation.
5 NOVEMBER 1861: Sherman cancels the invasion …
With his little army of only a few regiments, General Thomas is on his way to East Tennessee. His superior, General William Tecumseh Sherman, is worried about the invasion to liberate the Unionists in that region. He comes to believe that sending unseasoned troops through the Cumberland Mountains with Confederate forces occupying Cumberland and Big Creek Gaps can come to no good end. Sherman cancels the invasion.
In a report issued in 1863, Union colonel Samuel Gilbert discusses the logistics required to move a 5,000-man army into East Tennessee, which sheds light on Sherman’s reluctance to continue the invasion. According to Gilbert, the nearest Union supply depot lies at Nicholasville, Kentucky and foragers have already picked the farms clean along the way. The invaders would have to transport food, ammunition, and other supplies via mule train over rough and mountainous roads. Gilbert estimates that they would need 924 wagons and 5,544 mules, traveling in sixteen-day circuits to move the small army to Cumberland Gap. And that is only the beginning.
Sherman might have been right to call off the invasion, but in the process, he creates a disaster for the Unionists who are expecting him to come to their rescue. They will suffer months and years of arrests, imprisonments, executions, and unimaginable hardships on the East Tennessee home front.
5 NOVEMBER 1861: W.B. Carter launches the bridge burning operation
Carter selects Senator Andrew Johnson’s son-in-law, Daniel Stover, to burn the two bridges at the very northeast tip of Northeast Tennessee—the bridge across the Holston River at the town of Zollicoffer in Sullivan County and the bridge across the Watauga River at Carter’s Depot in Carter County.
On his way to Kingston [southwest of Knoxville], where he will oversee the entire operation, Carter chooses Union soldier Captain David Fry to burn the Lick Creek bridge in Greene County. Fry recruits father and son, Jacob and Henry Harmon, Matthew Jacob Hinshaw, Alex Haun, Harrison Self, and Hugh Self [no relation] as his assistants.
For the Strawberry Plains bridge, fifteen miles northeast of Knoxville, Carter recruits former Sevier County sheriff William Pickens. Pickens selects several fellow Sevier Countians, among them David Ray, James Montgomery, and Elijah Gamble.
By the time Sherman cancels the invasion, W.B. Carter and the bridge burners are deep in the Northeast Tennessee wilderness, ignorant of the change in plans.
Word spreads among the Unionists of Northeast Tennessee that the smoke from the burning bridges will be the signal for all loyalists to rise up in arms against the Confederate States of America.
7 NOVEMBER 1861: I have done all in my power …
Crab Orchard, November 7, 1861.
Senator ANDREW JOHNSON, London, Ky.
DEAR SIR: I have done all in my power to get troops and transportation and means to advance into Tennessee. I believe General Sherman has done the same. Up to this time we have been unsuccessful. If the Tennesseans are not content and must go, then the risk of disaster will remain with them. Some of our troops are not yet clothed and it seems impossible to get clothing.
Very respectfully and truly yours,
GEO. H. THOMAS,
Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers.
7 NOVEMBER 1861: I sympathize most deeply with the Tennesseans
Headquarters, Crab Orchard, Ky., November 7, 1861.
Brigadier-General [Albin Francisco] Schoepf, Commanding,
Camp Calvert, London, Ky.
General: It is time that discontented persons should be silenced both in and out of the service. I sympathize most deeply with the Tennesseans on account of their natural anxiety to relieve their friends and families from the terrible oppression which they are now suffering; but to make the attempt to rescue them when we are not half prepared is culpable, especially when our enemies are as anxious that we should make the move as the Tennesseans themselves; for it is well known by our commanding general that [CSA General Simon Bolivar] Buckner has an overwhelming force within striking distance whenever he can get us at a disadvantage. I hope you will therefore see the necessity of dealing decidedly with such people, and you have my authority and orders for doing so. We must learn to abide our time, or we shall never be successful.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. H. THOMAS
Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers.
[General Schoepf is a Polish military officer, trained in Europe, is fighting for the Union in the American Civil War.]
8 NOVEMBER 1861: Haynes letter to President Davis
Landon Carter Haynes was a lawyer and politician who served as a Confederate States Senator from 1862 to 1865. In the early 1840s, Landon Carter Haynes works as editor of the Jonesborough-based newspaper, Tennessee Sentinel. He became famous for his frequent clashes with Parson Brownlow, editor of the Knoxville Whig. Haynes must have had a crystal ball when he sent this message to Jefferson Davis—on the very day the railroad bridges are burned.
His Excellency President DAVIS.
DEAR SIR: Many friends here have urged me to address your excellency this note. What I have to say is in regard to Gen. Zollicoffer’s perilous position at Cumberland Gap and the danger of invasion by the Lincoln forces of East Tennessee by way of Jamestown, Fentress County.
It is thought here, by all who are acquainted with things in East Tennessee, that re-enforcements, if practicable, ought to be sent forthwith. It is I fear a grand mistake to suppose the Union party in East Tennessee has lost its hostility to the Confederacy. At the election day before yesterday [election of state officials] with perfect unanimity that party refused to cast a vote for men who had been its late leaders because they were running for seats in the Confederate Congress; and if a force shall be thrown into East Tennessee or on the line which now seems probable and which General Zollicoffer is unable to defeat the flames of rebellion will flash throughout East Tennessee; the railroad will be destroyed, the bridges burned and other calamities not necessary to mention will follow. I regard the state of affairs from all the information I possess as perilous. Respectfully, your obedient servant,
LANDON C. HAYNES
<8 NOVEMBER 1861: TWO NORTHEAST TENNESSEE RAILROAD BRIDGES BURNED>
Please read these posts about the Northeast Tennessee bridges that were burned:
Alex Haun burns Lick Creek bridge
Daniel Stover burns Zollicoffer bridge
Steven Bradley Davis, “From Death, Life: An Economic and Demographic History of Civil War Era Knoxville and East Tennessee,” Masters thesis, 2006, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, accessed 20 April 2021, From Death, Life: An Economic and Demographic History of Civil War Era Knoxville and East Tennessee
“Union Rebellion in East Tennessee,” War of the Rebellion: Serial 114 Page 0891, The Ohio State University, accessed 20 February 2021, War of the Rebellion: Serial 114 Page 0891 UNION REBELLION IN EAST TENNESSEE. | eHISTORY (osu.edu)
<CONFEDERATE REACTION TO BRIDGE BURNING AND UNIONIST UPRISING>
9 NOVEMBER 1861: Bridges burned on ET&VA Railroad
KNOXVILLE, November 9, 1861.
Hon. J. P. BENJAMIN: Two large bridges on my road were burned last night about 12 o’clock; also one bridge on the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad at the same time, and an effort made to burn the largest bridge on my road. There is great excitement along the whole line of road, and evidence that the Union party are organizing and preparing to destroy or take possession of the whole line from Bristol and Chattanooga, and unless the Government is very prompt in giving us the necessary military aid, I much fear the result. The only hope for protection must be from the Government. Unless the Government gives us the necessary aid and protection at once, transportation over my road of army supplies will be an utter impossibility. It cannot be done. We have arrested four of the individuals engaged in burning one bridge, and know who burned another, but for want of the necessary military force fear we cannot arrest them.
JOHN R. BRANNER, President East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad.
9 NOVEMBER 1861: A worse state of feeling never prevailed in East Tennessee
KNOXVILLE, November 9, 1861. J. P. BENJAMIN, Secretary of War
DEAR SIR: I have just time to say that … the bridge at Charleston over Hiawassee River, on East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad, was burned last night by the Lincolnites, and that the bridge at Strawberry Plains, on East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, over the Holston, was set on fire and the guard badly, if not mortally, wounded. It shows that there is a concerted movement among them to destroy the railroad bridges and cut off communication from one portion of the Southern Confederacy with the other. A worse state of feeling never prevailed in East Tennessee than at the present moment. The belief that the enemy are about to enter our borders has emboldened them to such an extent that there is no telling what damage they may do. I believe it important that you should have this information at once. On this account I have thus hastily given you such information as I have obtained.
R. G. FAIN, Brigade Commissary.
9 NOVEMBER 1861: Watauga bridge threatened by Union guerrillas
BRISTOL, November 9, 1861.
Hon. JOHN LETCHER.
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 whose handwriting was testified to by George Pile and Jos. R. Anderson I do hereby inform you that the bridge across the Holston 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 burning 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.
MINI BIO: W.B. Wood
Early in the Civil War, the fair grounds two miles west of Knoxville, were converted into a Confederate enlistment camp. On 26 July 1861, General Felix Zollicoffer arrived and assumed command of the Confederate forces in East Tennessee. Zollicoffer remained in Knoxville until September 1861, when he was ordered to march his troops to Cumberland Gap, leaving Col. W.B. Wood in charge of the camp at the fair grounds. This really is a mini bio, because there is little information about Col. Wood, but pay close attention to the following letters he sent and received during the bridge burnings and the Unionist uprising of November 1861. Some of his correspondence with CSA Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin is chilling.
11 NOVEMBER 1861: A general uprising in all the counties
KNOXVILLE, November 11, 1861.
Adjutant-Gen. [SAMUEL] COOPER:
Three bridges burned between Bristol and Chattanooga, two on Georgia road. Five hundred Union men now threatening Strawberry Plains; fifteen hundred assembling in Hamilton County; and a general uprising in all the counties.
I have about 1,000 men under my command.
W. B. WOOD, Col.
11 NOVEMBER 1861: The whole country is now in a state of rebellion
KNOXVILLE, November 11, 1861.
Gen. S. COOPER, Adjutant and Inspector Gen.
SIR: My fears expressed to you by letters and dispatches of 4th and 5th instant have been realized by the destruction of no less than five railroad bridges—two on the East Tennessee and Virginia road. … The indications were apparent to me but I was powerless to avert it. The whole country is now in a state of rebellion. A thousand men are within six miles of Strawberry Plains bridge and an attack is contemplated to-morrow. I have sent Col. Powel there with 200 infantry, one company cavalry and about 100 citizens armed with shotguns and country rifles. Five hundred Unionists left Hamilton County today we suppose to attack Loudon bridge. I have Major Campbell there with 200 infantry and one company cavalry. I have about the same force at this point and a cavalry company at Watauga bridge.
An attack was made on Watauga yesterday. Our men succeeded in beating them off, but they are gathering in larger force and may renew it in a day or two. They are not yet fully organized and have no subsistence to enable them to hold out long. A few regiments and vigorous means would have a powerful effect in putting it down. A mild or conciliating policy will do no good; they must be punished; and some of the leaders ought to be punished to the extent of the law. Nothing short of this will give quiet, to the country. Gen. Zollicoffer at great inconvenience to himself has sent me Col. Powell’s regiment numbering about 600 effective men which I have disposed of as above stated.
I have arrested six of the men who were engaged in burning the Lick Creek bridge and I desire to have instruction from you as to the proper disposition of them. The slow course of civil law in punishing such incendiaries it seems to me will not have the salutary effect which is desirable. I learn from two gentlemen just arrived that another camp is being formed about ten miles from here in Sevier County and already 300 are in camp. They are being re-enforced from Blount, Roane, Johnson, Greene, Carter and other counties. I need not say that great alarm is felt by the few Southern men. They are finding places of safety for their families and would gladly enlist if we had arms to furnish them. …
W. B. WOOD,
Col., Commanding Post.
11 NOVEMBER 1861: I felt it to be my duty to place this City under martial law
KNOXVILLE, November 11, 1861.
Gen. S. COOPER, Adjutant and Inspector Gen.
SIR: I have had all the arms in this City seized and authorized Maj. Campbell to impress all he can find in the hands of Union men who ought now to be regarded as avowed enemies for the use of the new companies. I felt it to be my duty to place this City under martial law as there was a large majority of the people sympathizing with the enemy and communicating with them by the unfrequented mountain paths, and to prevent surprise and the destruction of the commissary and quartermaster’s stores.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. B. WOOD, Col., Commanding Post.
11 NOVEMBER 1861: They threaten to burn Watauga Bridge to-night
BRISTOL, November 11, 1861.
Hon. J. P. BENJAMIN, Secretary of War|
I have just returned from the burned bridge. We have at the next bridge, 10 miles beyond, about 250 men, under Capt. McClellan. They have two cannon, which they found on the cars … The camp of the enemy is at N. G. Taylor’s, 5 miles distant, with about 400 men. Another camp, at Elizabethtown, 2 miles farther, is said to contain 500 men. The two may be confounded. There is no doubt but that re-enforcements are every moment reaching them from Watauga County, North Carolina, and Johnson, Carter, and Washington Counties, Tennessee. These counties can furnish about 2,000 Lincolnites, and each fresh occasion emboldens them. They threaten to burn Watauga Bridge to-night. Should they be successful, it will bring forward hundreds now quiet. It is all important they should be disposed of before they unite their different forces, now ranging from 50 to 500. A fight occurred last night [10th] between 22 of our scouts and the main camp of the enemy. We captured 2, killed 9, and lost none. I have given orders for all trains to give way to the troop trains now coming forward. They will reach here to-morrow morning.
Can I do anything for you?
RO. L. OWEN,
President Virginia and Tennessee [V&T] Railroad
[The V&T extends westward from Lynchburg, Virginia to Bristol, Tennessee, a total distance of 204 miles.]
12 NOVEMBER 1861: 500 Tories threaten movement on Strawberry Plains
JACKSBOROUGH, November 12, 1861. Gen. S. Cooper:
Col. Wood, Knoxville, writes that 500 tories threaten movement on Strawberry Plains, and 1,500 from Hamilton County moving towards Loudon Bridge. Col. Churchwell, Cumberland Gap, has information indicating a strong force along from 6 miles beyond Barboursville to Rockcastle Camp, fortifying as they advance. I will have the pass blocked in two days. Gen. Carroll has one armed regiment, but has not forwarded it. Please cause Churchwell’s requisition of 22d October for ammunition and implements for three 8-inch howitzers to be filled and expressed to him.
F. K. ZOLLICOFFER, Brig.-Gen.
12 NOVEMBER 1861: Governor Harris requests aid from His Excellency
NASHVILLE, November 12, 1861.
His Excellency JEFFERSON DAVIS:
The burning of railroad bridges in East Tennessee shows a deep-seated spirit of rebellion in that section. Union men are organizing. This rebellion must be crushed out instantly, the leaders arrested, and summarily punished. I shall send immediately about 10,000 men to that section; cannot arm larger force at present. If you can possibly send from Western Virginia a number of Tennessee regiments to East Tennessee, we can at once repair the bridges and crush out the rebellion. I hope to be able very soon to collect a large number of sporting guns in the State to arm our volunteers, and will co-operate with the Government to the fullest extent of my ability in all respects. If a part only of the Tennessee troops in Western Virginia shall be sent, I would prefer Anderson’s brigade.
ISHAM G. HARRIS.
13 NOVEMBER 1861: The Lincolnites are encamping at Elizabethton
JONESBOROUGH, TENN., November 13, 1861.
J. P. BENJAMIN, Acting Secretary of War:
The Lincolnites are forming an encampment at Elizabethton [Carter County]; now have from 1,000 to 1,300 men, and more coming, within 6 miles of our railroad, at Watauga Bridge. They also have from 600 to 1,000 men near Strawberry Plains Bridge, the most important and expensive bridge on our road, and still collecting in greater numbers, and threatening to take and burn the bridge and take possession of the [rail]road. If these two bridges are burned our road stops. The demonstrations are such in East Tennessee that a much larger force is necessary. They are cutting the telegraph wires as fast as we put them up.
JOHN R. BRANNER,
President East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad.
13 NOVEMBER 1861: You shall be amply protected.
JOHN R. BRANNER, President R. R. Co.,
Troops are now moving to East Tennessee to crush the traitors.
You shall be amply protected.
J. P. BENJAMIN Acting Secretary of War.
13 NOVEMBER 1861: A force of Unionists some 1,000 strong
BRISTOL, TENN., November 13, 1861.
Gen. A. S. JOHNSTON, C. S. Army, Bowling Green, Ky.
SIR: Agreeable to instructions from the Adjutant-Gen.’s Office, I have the honor to report that I have been assigned by the War Department (Special Orders, No. 216) to the command of troops to be stationed for the protection of the railroad from this point to Chattanooga, rebuilding bridges, and keeping open the communication. Stovall’s battalion Georgia Volunteers is hourly expected from Richmond, and a regiment from Gen. Bragg’s command is ordered to report at Chattanooga as the force for this service.
The country traversed by the [rail]road is represented as being in a very disturbed condition. Two bridges have been burned between this and Knoxville … The telegraph wire is down. It is currently reported that Andrew Johnson was expected at Greeneville, his place of residence, on Sunday, the 10th, and that his country friends assembled to greet him. They were disappointed. A force of Unionists, some 1,000 strong, is known to be assembled at Elizabethton, on the Watauga [River], about twenty-five miles from this place, and I propose to move against them at the earliest possible moment. Another force is known to be encamped at Strawberry Plains, well on toward Knoxville. Passengers continue to traverse the road, the only difficulty being detention from the destruction of bridges at the points named.
Very respectfully, sir, your obedient servant,
D. LEADBETTER, Col., Provisional Army C. S.
14 NOVEMBER 1861: I have sent 4,500 rifles
RICHMOND, November 14, 1861.
Gen. L. P. WALKER, Huntsville, Ala.:
I have sent to Gen. A. S. Johnston 4,500 rifles, being half of all that we have received.
J. P. BENJAMIN, Acting Secretary of War.