GATEWAY TO THE WEST
By J. M. Moseley
The Civil War: Hostilities
Two decades passed after the “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” campaign. Then came the dark war clouds of ‘61. The same spirit of liberty, and the lack of large plantations, which minimized the use of slavery in Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee, had marked influence. There remained much loyal sentiment in favor of the Union and less enthusiasm for the Rebellion and secession.
Senator Andre Johnson of Tennessee spoke in strong support of the Union. He was backed by two other congressmen from East Tennessee, Horace Maynard and Thomas Nelson. With these, Reverend William G. Brownlow, Knoxville newspaperman, helped make strong moral backing for the pro-Union spirit of East Tennessee and the adjoining mountain sections.
Samuel Powhatan Carter, Lieutenant of the U. S. Navy when the war came up, and Lieutenant William Nelson, also of the U. S. Navy, formed a strong working team in the anti-secession movement. Personally, these two men were widely different. Carter, 42 years of age, was neat, blue-eyed, handsome and of medium build, while Nelson was a 300 pounder, with black curly hair and nerves of steel. These two men were southerners, Carter from Tennessee and Nelson from Kentucky. But they were first and firmly and always for the Union.
It was Carter’s strongest desire to help the 300,000 East Tennesseans in their strong pro-Union sentiment and efforts. Carter was greatly disturbed because Governor Harris was trying to draw Tennessee into the War. But before he could reach East Tennessee and start raising an army of defenders. President Davis had seen the weak spot and sent Felix K. Zollicoffer with an armed force to hold the section.
This situation naturally turned attention to the Wilderness Road and the strategic gateway at Cumberland Gap. This was the shortest route from the North into East Tennessee. Cutting the railroad in the Holston Valley was an obvious objective in any strategy to reach and relieve East Tennessee.
In June, 1861, middle and western Tennessee voted to go over to the Confederacy. East Tennessee refused to go with the rest of the state, and proposed to form a new state. But Zollicoffer’s quick move in closing Cumberland Gap and other strategic points closed the gateway to help from the North.
Thus Samuel Carter was prevented from going to his home section to raise an army, but he set up a camp in Kentucky forty miles from Cumberland Gap which he named Camp Andy Johnson in honor of the Tennessee Senator who later became President. Then hundreds escaped from East Tennessee and came to his camp, armed with squirrel rifles, axes, hatchets, knives, and any weapons they chanced to have. In a few weeks more than a thousand men had joined him there. He organized two regiments of East Tennesseans, but had no supplies for them.
William Nelson also organized a camp for Kentucky recruits, which he called Camp Dick Robinson, at Danville, KY. It was soon decided that Carter should join Nelson, and General George H. Thomas of Virginia was put in command of the loyal troops there, and Nelson was moved farther north.
On September 9, 1861, Zollicoffer sent three regiments to invade Kentucky, and began stronger fortifications at Cumberland Gap. The recruits of Carter and Nelson at Danville chafed because they could not get at the invasion forces. Zollicoffer’s forces contacted Union men in Rockcastle Co. and were repulsed. He was threatened by Carter’s forces in Kentucky and troubled by growing agitation in East Tennessee. He continued to fortify the Gap, and brought in some heavy guns. On November 8, 1861, demolition crews burned two bridges on the railroad that was hauling troops between Chattanooga and the east. Nine suspects were hanged and many others were trying to escape to the North. Excitement was stirred to a high pitch. But time wore on, and no decisive action was taken to reach East Tennessee with help from the North.
On January 9, 1862, there occurred the first major encounter on the invasion in Kentucky in the battle of Mill Springs near Summerset, and Zollicoffer was killed. His forces were repulsed.
Colonel J. E. Rains was put in command of the Confederate forces at Cumberland Gap, and he appealed for reinforcements. Two more regiments were sent there, and six more pieces of heavy artillery. Carter’s forces held the Wilderness Road to the Ford of the Cumberland, and threatened the Gap continually. Carter was anxious to make an attack on the Gap. East Tennesseans continued to make their way through, and join the Northern forces. Bushwhackers were becoming active in Powells Valley under the name of “Witcher’s Men”. This outlaw movement was also active all along the Clinch and Holston Valleys.
Word continually came to the Loyalists in Kentucky of how badly their people in East Tennessee were being treated - hanged, robbed, or forced into the Confederate Army. The men chafed for action against Cumberland Gap.
On April 11, 1862, Major General George W. Morgan of Ohio arrived to take charge of the army on the Wilderness Road, and with Carter’s brigade to advance upon Cumberland Gap. He found very poor conditions there. Two more regiments of Tennessee troops were formed of refugees. There would be reinforcement troops from Kentucky, Ohio, Indians, Michigan and Wisconsin, in all 8,000 men. With Morgan was a tough Irish brigade commander Colonel John Fitzroy de Courcy.
The plan of attack was by a flank movement into Powells Valley. They would make as if to attack in front on the Kentucky side, then leave the Wilderness Road and cross Cumberland Mountain eighteen and thirty-five miles to the west, and come up Powells Valley on the Tennessee side. A direct attack on such a strong position was never deemed feasible from the north.
But the crossing of the mountain was a very severe task. There were no roads. Much of the way had to be cut out. De Courcy was in command of the Artillery, which consisted of 20 heavy guns weighing four tons each. He had 120 wagons. It took a dozen mule teams to pull each gun, with all the help the men could give with ropes, chains, blocks and tackles, and unimaginable labor.
When a crossing had at last been effected, counter orders came to retreat for fear of being trapped by General Kerby Smith’s forces from Knoxville. In dismay the men began the painful task of recrossing Cumberland Mountain to the Kentucky side. Twenty-four hours of struggle and unthinkable hardship, and the disheartened men had reached the north side again.
Just then a soldier arrived and reported that he had gone along the top of Cumberland Mountain and saw that the Confederates in the fortifications at the Gap were in commotion and evidently were abandoning the place. Quickly the orders came once more to advance, and the terrible ascent was undertaken all over. In forty-eight hours of terrible crossing of the Cumberland Mountain the task was accomplished for the third time. By the time they reached Powells Valley this time, Colonel J. E. Rains and his army were escaping into Clinch Mountain in Tennessee.
On the night of June 16, 1862, a loyal woman made a long daring ride on horseback to warn Morgan’s men and keep them from being trapped by a part of Kerby Smith’s forces, as they came up Powells Valley.
On June 17, 1862, General George W. Morgan’s full force was in the fortifications at the Gap. Colonel J. E. Rains and his Confederate forces had evacuated, destroying everything. They had spiked five of their six heavy guns, and shoved Long Tom from the Pinnacle down 200 feet over the cliff. They had cut up their tents, and destroyed their provisions. They had scattered and buried tons of shells among the rocks. By 2:00 p.m. the American Flag floated on top of the Pinnacle.
On the crest of the mountain about a mile southwest of the “Saddle” stood a log storage room 180 feet in length. At the north end of this building a dump or cache of 30 lb. breech loading Parrott shells had been hurriedly buried. The building was later burned but the shells lay there undisturbed for many years. There were more than a hundred of them, some explosive and some solid shot.
The explosives were 12 ½ inches in length and weighed 25 lbs. empty and without detonators. The solid ones were 10 inches in length and weighted thirty pounds. All were 4.1 inches in diameter, and had copper bands about the base which were lipped to fit the five rifles in the gun. (These Parrott shells were discovered by Rhea Parsons of Pennington Gap, VA, November 15, 1942, after they had lain undisturbed for eighty years.)
The last of these shells remained there until August 6, 1950. Samples of them may be seen in the Gap at Cudjo’s Cave, Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, TN, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, TN, Southwest Virginia Museum at Big Stone Gap, VA, Pennington Gap High School at Pennington Gap, VA, and some other palecs.
Hundreds of East Tennessee soldiers with Morgan were visited by their wives and loved ones at the Gap. More recruits came from Tennessee, Kentucky and Southwest Virginia, as many as 800 in three weeks. On one occasion 600 came at one time.
Morgan began to gather supplies with a view to launching a campaign in Tennessee. He had 10,000 men, and expected strong reinforcements. Long Tom was dragged around the mountain side and pulled back to the top of the Pinnacle and remounted. The Wilderness Road was repaired, and ammunition and supplies were hauled in from the North. But at best the road was bad, and supplies and reinforcements were not forthcoming in sufficient quantities to give any encouragement. Some foraging was done in Powells Valley.
But Morgan’s position soon became precarious, General Kerby Smith’s forces crossed the Cumberland and invaded Kentucky, holding the Wilderness Road there. A company moved up Powells Valley under Stevenson, and laid siege to the Gap on the south side. General Humphry Marshall was in Southwest Virginia. Helplessly penned up, Morgan’s rations gave out. Feed for the mules was exhausted. At length the men had to eat the flesh of the starving mules. The point of surrender had come, but instead Morgan decided to risk a retreat into Kentucky and take a chance of escape.
There were three special guns of the Parrott type (The Japanese made a gun patterned after the Confederate Parrott gun but smaller and using two metal bands to adjust to rifles.) made in England and shipped to the United States, landing at Charleston, SC, before the outbreak of the Civil War. These were of long barrel construction, 105 m.m. Each shell had a soft metal band around the base, lipped to coincide with the rifles for breech loading. The Parrott gun was invented by Robert Parker Parrott, an American inventor. The original Parrott gun was a cast-iron muzzle loader with rifled barrel, throwing heavy shot or loaded shells. The Parrott feature was the rifles.
Of the three long heavy Parrott breech loading guns, one exploded at Gettysburg, another was placed on Lookout Mountain, TN, and the third was mounted at Cumberland Gap, and had interesting history, changing hands three times during the War. It has been presumed that the Cumberland Gap long gun was later floated to Knoxville on a raft and junked. But there are those who do not accept this as being authentic. There is a possibility that other disposition was made of it, and that it may some day be found. There were several Parrott guns of the muzzle loading type used in the Civil War, but only three of the long barrel breech loading type affectionately called “Long Tom.”
General Order No. 64 brought sadness to the hearts of the Tennesseans who had hoped so long to enter their beloved East Tennessee. This was the order for evacuation. The army moved out in the night, leaving a detachment of men under Lt. Col. George W. Gallup to destroy the camp. Everything was mined and ready to blow up. A gentle rain added to the cover of the night as the ragged and hungry men marched down Yellow Creek.
Long Tom was again shoved from the Pinnacle down the 200 foot bluff. Far in the night of the 17th, Col. Gallup gave his orders, and soon all the buildings were on fire. Then came the mine explosions, rending the rocks of the mountain and lighting up the whole country for miles around. The 180 foot storage building burned and fell in, exploding the stored ammunition in it.
It was three o’clock in the afternoon of the 18th before General Stevenson could follow, or enter the gap with any safety because of the explosions. By this time Morgan’s starved army was well over into Kentucky. But they were continually in danger from bands of Confederates from Smith’s invading forces. They had to each man forage for himself, gathering whatever they could chance to find along the way - corn, pumpkins, green pawpaws, acorns. Their shoes gave out and they trudged on sore and bleeding feet.
Soon Smith’s Army entered the Gap, most of the forces having returned to Knoxville under Gen. Braxton Bragg. Smith’s forces were reduced to equal extremity and exhaustion.
One can hardly imagine the hardships Morgan’s Army had to face. Most of the way all the men could depend upon for food was just whatever each chanced to grab along the way. The weather was dry and hot, and added to their discomfort. Through it all there were skirmishes with bands of Confederate invaders. The tragic retreat took from September 17 to October 2, to reach the Ohio and safety.
Sam Carter’s Raid
For a year Samuel P. Carter had longed to return to his beloved East Tennessee for a stroke at the enemy. On December 28, 1862, he was poised with 980 cavalrymen for the plunge. Three important months had passed since the retreat from Cumberland Gap with Morgan. At Crank’s Gap in the Cumberlands north of Jonesville, he could see the folds of mountains to the southeast where wound the Wilderness Road from Lee Co. eastward into the Holston country. He watched with longing eyes the purple haze fade out at the setting of the sun.
At the border of Lee Co., the pack mules were turned back, and each of his men was equipped with only very light necessities and limited rations. The stroke of 200 miles into enemy territory was to be swift and furious. He had kept his plan secret until ready to plunge into Lee Co.
At night they advanced over rough terrain, passing well east of Jonesville, through Ben Hur, and across country into the Wilderness Road, fording the river at Station Creek. They reached the top of Wallens Ridge at daylight, December 29. There they dismounted for a brief rest and breakfast. After two hours they galloped away again, reaching Pattonsville by a little after noon. They avoided the crossing at Kanes Gap and took a little used mountain trail. By the end of the day they had reached Clinch River. There they paused at a mill for another brief rest. Warning had reached Marshall’s forces at Abingdon, and a Confederate ambush had been placed at Moccasin Gap. These were dispersed promptly, and Carter pressed on to Blountville near Bristol. From there they dashed down to the long railroad bridge across Holston at Bluff City, then called Union.
The bridge was guarded by Major B. G. McDowell with 200 men. They were completely taken by surprise and captured, and the 600 foot bridge destroyed. Carter surprised McDowell and his men again by releasing them on parole, and many of the prisoners vowed not to take up arms for the Confederacy again.
Another bridge ten miles from there was burned. An engine carrying a crew of telegraph lineman under Captain Love was captured. The engine was run into the river at the burning bridge.
Carter and his triumphant cavalry returned by Kingsport and Rogersville, and back into Powells Valley at Looney’s Gap east of Cumberland Gap. From there they dashed up the Valley to Jonesville at sundown on January 2, 1863.
General Humphry Marshall had hurried from the east along the Wilderness Road to Jonesville to try to cut Carter off there. A force from Cumberland Gap pursued in the rear, all forces converging on Jonesville, only to see the last of Carter’s men vanishing in the darkness toward the north. Shots were fired at the fleeing cavalry at Jonesville, but to no avail.
Five days and 17 hours they were on this raid, with only 36 hours of rest. They traveled 470 miles. Many of the horses gave out on the return up Cumberland Mountain. The men were exhausted. But the raid was a military success. Carter was honored as a hero, and called the “Sailor on Horseback.”
In August, 1863, he was off on another raid 50 miles west of Cumberland Gap, in connection with Burnside’s advance upon Knoxville.
The Surrender of Cumberland Gap
General Ambros E. Burnside invaded Tennessee in August, 1863. He joined Sam Carter’s division at Craborchard, KY. From there he ordered Col. John F. de Courcy to advance along the Wilderness Road on an independent mission to attack Cumberland Gap from the Kentucky side. De Courcy had been with Morgan at the Gap the year before, and was familiar with the place. But the tall lean Irishman did not look with favor on not being allowed to march with the main army. Sam Carter with his cavalry was crossing into Tennessee fifty miles to the west. Burnside was crossing into Powells Valley to make a flank movement on the Gap from the south. With him was General James M. Shackleford.
Col. De Courcy had in his command the 86th Ohio Infantry under Col. Wilson C. Lemert, the 129th Ohio under Col. Howard D. John, and the 22nd Ohio Battery under Capt. Harry M. Neil. His cavalry units were the 8th, 9th and 11th Tennessee, untrained East Tennessee recruits. The son of the Rev. William G. Brownlow, editor of the Knoxville Whigg paper, Col. James P. Brownlow was in command of one of the cavalry units. De Courcy had only about 1,700 troops in all. 800 of these belonged to the 8th Ohio Infantry.
This outfit was not equal to the task that lay before them. For some reason De Courcy could not get equipment and supplies, though he repeatedly begged for them. His forces left Burnside’s main army about 100 miles from the Gap, at Camp Nelson. On the way he sent back calls for bread, meat and ammunition. These could not be obtained in sufficient amounts. There were perhaps thirty rounds of ammunition to each man when only fourteen miles from the Gap. He knew he could not make a serious attack. Strategy not strength was his only course. But he did not give up the idea of capturing the formidable stronghold somehow.
He began his strategy on the way by juggling the brass numbers on the soldier’s caps to make the impression of a much larger army. From the number 86 he made it appear the 8th, the 6th and 9th and the 98th. The same was done with with 129th, and the Battery number 22. Spies selling cakes and pies to the soldiers along the way would likely report these numbers and the trick could be worked to make the Confederates think there was a big army coming, consisting of 16 regiments. The last four miles of the approach to the Gap were in plain view of the fortifications, and field glasses would be used.
The men were worried and tired, and fretted when De Courcy began to march them down the slope 400 at a time, and then turn them aside in the forest and return them to march down again in view of the enemy. But he was carrying out his well laid plan of strategy to make up for what he knew was impossible in strength. He had the six light Rodman (Rodman Cannon were smooth-bore, muzzle-loading, cast-iron guns) cannon brought down the slope, covered with green brush, and then slipped out and pulled back through the woods to be brought down and camouflaged again. This was repeated to make the impression of several times the strength he had, simulating 50 or 60 guns instead of only 6. The cavalry galloped down the road in a cloud of dust so that no one could suspect the number. In fact this meager outfit, if it had offered an attack, would have been wiped out immediately by the six heavy cannon that commanded the long slope, and the 2,000 Enfield (Enfield rifles were muzzle-loading rifled muskets, .577 caliber made in England) rifles. But De Courcy was showing real generalship under such circumstances.
General Shackleford, of Burnside’s army, came up on the opposite site of the Gap from the south. Being superior in command, he sought to restrain De Courcy’s actions. De Courcy wrote him the following letter by messenger:
Crawford’s, (This referred to Crawford’s dwelling house at the Ford of the Cumberlands) September 8, 1863, 9 a.m.
Sir: I have received your dispatch of the 7th and I shall fully inform your guide of my position and circumstances. I do not feel that it would be prudent to do so in a written communication, I fear you have not been made acquainted with the roads and locations on both sides of the Gap, and further that I have been in the military profession almost continually since my sixteenth year. For the above reason, I was chosen, I believe, by General Burnside, and appointed to this independent command, receiving directly from him verbal, but not detailed instructions, as I believe he trusted my experience and local knowledge.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
John F. De Courcy
Colonel Commanding U. S. Troops on north side of Gap.
Gen. John W. Frazer was in command of the Confederates at the Gap. The place was still covered with wreckage from Morgan’s evacuation the year before. There were 2,500 troops composed of the 64th Virginia Regiment under Col. Campbell Slemp, the 55th Georgia Regiment under Maj. D. S. Printup and the 62nd North Carolina Regiment under Maj. B. G. McDowell who had replaced Col. William B. Garrett.
The Carolina troops were not enthusiastic for the Confederate cause. Some were rebellious even to the point of desertion. The situation was anything but promising for Frazier. Water had to be hauled from the Cave Spring with oxen. But food supplies were ample. The mill below the Spring ground corn day and night for the soldiers. At midnight, September 7, there were rifle shots and excitement. Sam Chance with a detachment of Shackleford’s army managed to approach from the direction of Poor Valley, and threw bags of shavings into the mill which they had fired. There was great excitement and wild running and firing of guns about the place. The big store of grain on which Frazer depended was burned up with the mill.
Col. De Courcy continued his intricate plan and carried it out well, though his light force was ill fed and poorly equipped with Austrian muskets and only six pieces of light artillery. Shackleford certainly could not direct his forces from the other side of the mountain. It was plainly his only course, to use his own judgement and initiative in this particular situation. He managed to get the 86th Regiment over into the Harlan road, which led northward out of the Gap behind the Pinnacle, in a very well sheltered position. He ordered his men to not load their guns. He wanted to avoid any firing. He sent a bluff message to Frazier, regretting the useless loss of life if he had to make an attack. His messengers even passed Frazer’s consulting officers liquor. Finally two gallons of whiskey were sent to Frazer himself.
Soon white flags were hoisted, and Frazer surrendered to De Courcy. But some 400 of the Confederates escaped from the Pinnacle, following the mountain to the northeast. Among these were Col. Campbell Slemp of Virginia, and Maj. B. G. McDowell. Gen. Burnside arrived an hour later. The Confederates regretted the loss of the position without a battle. McDowell and Slemp denounced Frazer for surrendering under such circumstances.
On the other hand, jealousy was evident because of De Courcy’s successful tactics, and Burnside had him put under guard and sent to Lexington, KY. Frazer had repeatedly refused to surrender to Shackleford, because he could see the forces on the south side of the Gap, but he had been led to think that De Courcy had ten thousand to thirty thousand men. Then the liquor had got in its paralyzing effect. The fact was the De Courcy’s 800 men, who really arrived at the time of surrender, still carried unloaded, inferior rifles, while the surrendering force still held 2,100 good loaded rifles with bayonets fixed.
During the parley Frazer had asked De Courcy to tell him what size force he had. This, of course, the Colonel was not going to do. He told Frazer he had not brought his artillery into action, but was getting some pieces in position, and would fire if he did not surrender by noon the next day. Looking back on it now, one can imagine what a spectacle it would have made to have fired a little six-pounder against the frowning fortifications of the “Gibraltar of America.” It would have betrayed his weakness in a moment. This we can see was a masterpiece of strategy. The greatness of it is further attested by the jealousy it aroused. Col. Wilson C. Lemert was put in command of the Union forces at the Gap to replace De Courcy.
When the President of the Confederacy, Davis, received the report of the surrender, made by McDowell later, he called it a “shameful abandonment of duty.” Col. Campbell Slemp began at once to get up another company of soldiers. But he never surrendered at any time.
Lt. R. W. McFarland, who was with the 86th, and an eyewitness, wrote a remonstrance and sent to President Lincoln protesting the treatment of De Courcy, after Burnside declared that the cause of his arrest was the letter he wrote to Shackleford before the surrender. De Courcy was never courtmartialed, but was honorably discharged March 31, 1864.
Burning of the Jonesville Courthouse
One day in October, 1863, ten months after Sam Carter’s Raid, a small band of about 200 Union soldiers came up from Cumberland Gap and entered Jonesville. They occupied the courthouse and other buildings about town, even the porches of the people’s dwellings.
Capt. Hurd was in command of a small force then camped in Poor Valley near Ben Hur. The Yankees burned the Courthouse during the night, either through carelessness or design. Hurd marched on Jonesville early next morning with about forty men. They charged the picket guard at Crockett Spring on Town Branch and captured the men. A single gun was discharged, perhaps by accident. This gave the alarm in town, and the Yankees evacuated, retreating rapidly toward Cumberland Gap.
When Hurd’s men entered the town, the courthouse was in smouldering ruins. Fortunately, Judge Henry J. Morgan had removed the record books from the courthouse before this occurred, hauling them away in a wagon, to John Graham’s residence on Powells River near Green Hill, south of Dryden, where they were kept safely until the end of the War. This was near the Green Hill Cave north of the brick dwelling a part of which was used for a church and called Green’s Chapel. Later Green Hill Church and school were built a quarter of a mile westward. The brick house has since been removed and another house erected in its place. The home of John Graham was located near the River north of Green Hill, off the Fincastle Road and in an isolated place. The remains of an old chimney has been visible to the present time.
Battle of Jonesville
Near the end of December, 1863, Col. A. L. Pridemore was camped south of Dryden near the DeBusk Mill, where Capt. Joshua Hobbs later built and lived. The Federal troops under maj. C. H. Beers came up from Cumberland Gap on a foraging expedition and occupied Jonesville, going into camp north of the town.
Lt. James Wesley Orr, at home on Sugar Run, learned of their coming and hastened to report to Pridemore. He went to his brother’s house that night near Green Hill. The cavalry moved down the valley during the night of the 2nd, a very cold time. Gen. William E. Jones was in command of forces in Southwest Virginia. He came up at that time from East Tennessee, crossing by Blackwater to join Pridemore at Jonesville. Maj. Beers hardly expected any military movements in the sub-zero weather, and did not bother to put out pickets on the Fincastle Road nor on the Hurricane Road that entered Jonesville on the south.
On the late evening of January 2, Col. Pridemore’s cavalry came down the valley by Hickory Flats, crossed Schafers Ford and dismounted at Wynn’s Mill on Schafer Branch at the mouth of Long Hollow. This was later called the Baumgardner Mill, which was near the site of the present Collier Mill. The soldiers picked up what supplies they could get at the mill and in Dave Wynn’s home. They found among other poor supplies a large crock of frozen milk. The crock was set on fire to thaw, but soon there was a sharp snap and the crock burst, spilling the contents into the fire.
Mr. Wynn had a fine stallion which the soldiers wanted. Col. Pridemore was heard to tell the men to leave the horse alone. But after he passed on, a soldier remarked that the horse was too fine to leave. They brought “Jack”, the four-year-old from his stall walking on his hind feet. The cavalry moved on toward Jonesville at night. That night the temperature went down to six below zero.
At dawn Sunday, January 3, 1864, Col. A. L. Pridemore’s cavalry reached Town Branch on the east skirts of Jonesville, and dismounted. Lt. J. W. Orr and Bob Woodward rode to the top of the hill to reconnoiter. The Yankees fired at them with one of their three pieces of light artillery. One of these guns was mounted at the junction of the Hurricane Road and the present Highway No. 58 in the west end of Jonesville.
Pridemore’s forces moved up the slope on foot. Orr and Woodward made another reconnisence trip in the direction of the Park, and were again fired on. The women of the town gathered on the hill in south Jonesville where the Maj. J. A. G. Hyatt house was later erected. The Yankees fired over them with a cannon and dispersed them. Then the battle was on. Pridemore’s men fought bravely along the Harlan Road to prevent the escape of the enemy through Cranks Gap near Oconita.
Gen. W. E. Jones came by the Hurricane Road and joined in the battle from the south. The gun at the road junction in west Jonesville changed hands repeatedly during the hot fight. The battle continued all through Sunday, January 3, 1864. Late in the evening Maj. Beers surrendered with 383 men, three pieces of light artillery, and 27 six-mule teams. Strange to say, only two of Pridemore’s men were killed in the battle, and four wounded, and a few more were killed and wounded from General Jone’s brigade. The Federals lost 40 men killed and wounded. Two of Jones’s men froze to death. There was great suffering in the sub-zero weather with snow on the ground.
No other buildings were burned in Jonesville at the time. The Confederates put up fortifications of logs, rails and any material in reach, and were ready for a battle until the evening, but the Yankees did not return. This courthouse stood near the foot of the hill in the southeast end of the town. After the burning of the courthouse and before the end of the year 1863, a demolition squad came through Hunters Gap from the direction of Rogersville. They burned the Sims Mill on Wallens Creek, and then came on to Jonesville and burned Franklin Academy, claiming that it had been used as a Confederate Hospital.
After the burning of the courthouse, the court was held in the old Presbyterian church until the new courthouse was built on the hill in the county seat. That house was accidentally burned February 14, 1933, and the present courthouse was built on the same site. The present jail house there was erected in 1950-51.
After the fight was over, old Jack the stallion was found, shot, where he had been tied to a tree on Town Branch. He was so badly wounded that he had to be killed.
Lt. Wesley Orr tells the following incident:
Just after the battle, I met a young Federal Lieutenant from the State of Ohio. He had on two beautiful spurs. I offered him $2.00 either in shin plaster or Confederate money, and he sold them to me at that price. I told him that would buy him a breakfast on his way to Richmond. He complained that one of the soldiers had taken his blanket and that he would freeze to death. I told him that I would assist him in finding the blanket. It seemed that one of Captain B. F. Poteet’s men had gotten hold of the blanket, and when we apprised Capt. Poteet of the fact, he very courteously agreed to find the blanket, which he did.
After the surrender, Col. Pridemore got up on a stump and made a speech to his men, praising them for their gallantry and accomplishment in the fight.
Battle of Wireman’s Mill
On one occasion a group of Union soldiers under Col. Davis was at Wireman’s Mill on Indian Creek, five miles east of Cumberland Gap. Gen. W. E. Jones with his troops attacked them there in a sharp combat, and drove them away. There were several Negro troops with Davis, which suffered considerable loss. Col. Davis was wounded severely, but managed to make his escape.
Although there were several skirmishes, the fight at Jonesville and the encounter at Wireman’s mill are the only two engagements in Lee Co. that can be called battles.
Hardships at Cumberland Gap
Long Tom had been restored to the high position on the Pinnacle. It was used by the Federals as a signal gun. The watchman could see for miles toward the south. When that gun fired, the men sprang to arms. Many false alarms were made a the sight of perhaps a light in some farmhouse far away.
Another means of defense was telegraph wires stretched across the road on the Tennessee side, from tree to tree, so as to throw a rider from a horse should one gallop along the road. These would be changed each night and removed each morning.
The Union garrison had a hard time keeping rations. They as well as the Confederates had to often report to foraging the country to keep going. Maj. Beers was their chief foraging officer. When he was captured at Jonesville, this struck the Union forces at the Gap a severe blow due to short rations. They were at times on quarter rations or less. Jones and Pridemore hardly knew how near they came defeating the Federals.
In the winter of 1863-64, Lt. Col. R. W. McFarland stated that he counted the carcasses of 258 horses and mules that had perished on the road between the ford of the Cumberland River and the Gap while trying to haul supplies to the garrison there, with pieces of broken wagons enough to have reached the whole 13 miles if placed end to end.
General Grant at Cumberland Gap
On the 6th of January, 1864, Gen. U. S. Grant came up from Chattanooga and visited Cumberland Gap. He wanted to view the Wilderness Road and the Gateway as a possible direct approach to East Tennessee. He spent the night there with Col. Lemert. He found trying conditions. Smallpox had made its mark, and there had been many deaths. Many men were unable for service. Powells Valley in Lee Co. had been stripped. All unburned meal from the ruins of the mill was scraped up and used. Then the news of the surrender of Maj. Beers at Jonesville was discouraging. But Grant admired the great natural fortifications. A bridge had been built across the Gap so that forces and supplies could be easily transferred from side to side. Grant told his forces there to hold the fortification at any cost. This meant something coming from him. The place was never surrendered again. But the Wilderness Road was found most discouraging by the General as he rode northward into Kentucky. Soon after this, Gen. Grant was made Commander in Chief of the Union Forces.
During the War there were many deaths at Cumberland Gap, both Confederate and Union. There were perhaps more deaths from Smallpox than any other one cause. The soldiers were buried in a field on the low piney spur just east of the present town of Cumberland Gap. Many of them were claimed by relatives and removed after the War was over. There was also a burying ground on the north side of the mountain toward Middlesboro.
A dark page in the history of Lee Co. and surrounding territory must be written on account of the work of one Capt. Witcher and his eight or ten men who operated in the mountains of Southwest Virginia and Eastern Tennessee during the Civil War. Witcher and his men claimed to be serving the cause of the Confederacy against the Union sympathizers. The coolness of the mountain section toward secession gave rise to such a condition. In those dark and trying days, while both Union and Confederate soldiers were raiding the county in search of supplies. “Witcher’s Men” added terror to the already distressed section. They were not true soldiers. They were really bushwhackers, murderers and robbers, living off the women and old people at home, taking whatever came in reach, and murdering on the slightest pretext or none at all.
A camping place of Witcher’s Men was at Blue Spring Church near Stickleyville. This old church was made of hewed logs, and floored with hewed puncheons. On one occasion Witcher held captive 13 men and 13 horses. Two of the captives, small men, managed to pry up a puncheon and crawl under the floor and thus made their escape when the band moved away. The men were killed, and the horses taken away for the use of the outlaws.
One of Witcher’s victims was Rufus Glass, who was taken into Powells Mountain near Kanes Gap and killed on the north side of the mountain there. A favorite method of execution by these outlaws was beheading. The victim would be stretched upon a log and his head chopped off. Thus was Rufus Glass executed. The bodies were usually pitched into somebody’s yard at night, leaving the task of burying them to the women.
Davis Sage, who lived at the old Tritt house on Powells River west of Woodway, fell a victim of this desperate band. The Tritt house is one of the century old houses of the county. This was a two-story, four-room, hewed log house, erected in 1850. Sage was captured by Witcher’s Men near Jonesville, and carried beyond Kanes Gap on the south side of Powells Mountain and killed. Jack Myers was captured and taken to Kanes Gap and killed.
Further down Wallens Creek a man named Newberry was murdered and decapitated. At Hunters Gap two young men who were trying to get to Kentucky from Tennessee to join the Union Army were intercepted and killed by Witcher’s Men. One mile north of Stickleyville, on Dry Creek, near the end of the War, a man named Statzer was waylaid and killed by Witcher’s Men. He was in the Confederate Army and was coming home on a furlough. The claims of the outlaws was action against pro-Union people, but Confederates and their families often fell victims of them the same, as their purpose was murder and robbery, and not military duty. Statzer was killed in the trail beneath the pines and rhododendrons, and rolled over below the path by the Creek.
On Blackwater, three or four who said they were Witcher’s Men went to the home of an old man, Joe Wallen. He and his aged wife were all that were left in the home. Their sons were in the Confederate Army. The men announced that they had learned that Wallen was a Union sympathizer, and that they had come to kill him. His aged wife began to plead desperately for his life. They told her that if she would fix them a good supper, they would let him go. So the old lady anxiously went to work and prepared supper the very best that she could for them. They ate and enjoyed her hospitality. After supper the men took the old man Wallen out and hanged him to a tree. When he was dead, they cut him down and pitched him into the yard and left. The aged and berieved wife remained by him all night.
Such were many of the deeds done by the bushwhackers under the name of “Witcher’s Men,” in addition to frequent raids by both northern and southern soldiers in quest of badly needed supplies. Thus the valleys of ioslated Lee Co., the suffering no-man’s-land of many conflicts, has had a rugged history.
An old Confederate soldier, John M. Vencill of Russell Co., VA, told the writer of an execution he witnessed in the Civil War, where Pennington Gap, VA now stands. His company camped two weeks on the grounds there. While at that place they court-martialed a young man named Harper, who had gone home on a furlough and had not returned on time. He was charged with desertion. The narrator sympathized with the youth, but he was convicted. The usual proceedings of court-martial were carried out relentlessly, and the young man was shot by a firing squad. They buried him there on a rocky slope, in uniform, with the shackles on his ankles, just as he was shot. The old soldier’s memory was verified by the fact that thirty years after the close of the War the lad’s remains were found by workmen while excavating for the L & N Railroad. He was some thirty feet south of where the water tank stands, just east of the Pennington Gap depot. His remains were removed and buried elsewhere. The buttons on his uniform were sound. The shackles were still on his feet.
The End of the War
On April 9, 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. U. S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse 75 miles west of Richmond, VA. This virtually ended the war. The rounding up was soon accomplished, all troops being surrendered and disbanded. All in Lee Co. and adjoining territory were required to go to Cumberland Gap to surrender. Gen. Grant’s noble words to his men were: “Remember the Rebels are our countrymen again.” And Gen. Lee’s equally noble words to his men were: “Go home, raise a crop, and obey the law.”
To Be Continued..........