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blount county courthouse, Maryville, tn
the gar memorial at fort hill cemetery, Cleveland, tn
One of only three GAR memorials in the State of Tennessee. An indirect ancestor of McTeer member Tim McCoy, James O. A. Still (5th Tennessee Mounted Infantry USA), served on the committee that oversaw the efforts to place this memorial.
civil war “no man’s land”
The marker reads:
“After the battles at Chattanooga in November 1863, and before the Atlanta Campaign the following May, southern Bradley County lay between Union and Confederate lines at Cleveland, Tennessee, and Dalton, Georgia. Both armies scouted the area. Soldiers and guerrillas looted farms and businesses. Here in February 1864, elderly Unionist Joseph Lusk II fought off rebels trying to steal his mules. One rebel was killed. Lusk’s home was burned in retaliation.”
the hurst nation
Lieutenant Colonel Fielding Hurst, 6th Tennessee Union Cavalry, hailed from that part of the Western District known as “The Nation.” The Hurst Nation. A land settled by great tribes of the Hurst family and their related lines from Bethel Springs in McNairy County to Chickasaw State Park in Chester and Hardeman Counties. A land of rolling hills, red dirt, and sandy bottoms not unlike other areas situated along the Highland Ridge of West Tennessee. Homogeneous as yeomen farmers and shop keepers, politically Whiggish before the War, and radically Republican thereafter. A hotbed of Union sympathy and dedicated to little else but the wholesale obliteration of all their surrounding neighbors who tended to disagree. Hurst himself felt driven by divine mandate to slay the Phillistines, cleanse the land of rebels and like Joshua before him, to spare not even the ox nor its manger.
Fielding Hurst was born in 1818, the son of Elijah Hurst, and moved to the McNairy County area in the 1830’s. Before the War he made his living as a surveyor, farmer and slaveholder. He voted against secession, as did four of his brothers. The other sibling, David, went against the tide and supported the Southern Confederacy.
Governor Harris led Tennessee and her Provisional Army into the Confederacy, but the line of the Cumberland moved steadily southward. Henry, Donelson, Nashville . . . the Legislature moved to Memphis – and then the loss at Shiloh. Along with the life blood of valiant Albert Sidney Johnston flowed the hope of West Tennessee. Andrew Johnson became military governor of the occupied state, and the Tories rushed to form regiments. Five companies of the 6th Tennessee Union Cavalry were formed out of the “Nation,” and Fielding Hurst, accompanied by his two negro servants, Lloyd and Sam, assumed command on August 14, 1862.
The progression from training to scouting to terrorism was swift, and only local legend preserves the names of the smallest hamlets torched during his forays. Eventually, he set out for Purdy, seat of McNairy County, and thoroughly Southern in sympathy. While the men paid the price of their convictions on the field, the women and children of Purdy paid their price in the scorching flame of their homes and places of worship. “It was Hurst who played the role of Nero in Purdy, even singing songs and praying while the churches were burning.” On April 16, 1863, Col. E.W. Rice (US) wrote to his commander Maj. Gen. Oglisly: “Colonel Hurst’s 1st W. Tenn Cavalry (6th Tn US) from Bolivar is at Purdy for the purpose of destroying property – has ordered the furniture removed from some of the houses and threatens to burn them. The colonel passed through line this morning but did not report to my headquarters, and I do not know by what authority he destroys the property.”
Numerous early reports from Union command continually ask “Where is Hurst?” The same question was beginning to form on the silent lips of young mothers whose defenders marched with the Army of Tennessee (CS). The summer of 1863 found Hurst in Jackson, Tennessee There he ravaged and robbed the personal property of a Mrs. Newman, who filed a complaint with Federal authorities. After an intense investigation, Col. Hurst was found guilty of theft and charged $5,139.25 as recompense to Mrs. Newman. With things hot in Jackson, Hurst struck back out into rural West Tennessee. In August, Hurst surrounded and captured Captain Wharton and a portion of his men on the road from Purdy to Pocohontas. They were murdered. Ms. Emma Inman Williams writes in Historic Madison that they were buried as mile markers along that road. Mr. G. Tiliman Stewart, Henderson County historian until his death in 1986, remarked in 1977 that only the bodies were buried . . . the heads were placed on mile markers already existing on the road from Purdy to Lexington. In any event, the murders must have been horrible as various civilians wrote Confederate authorities about the matter. That of Mr. D. M. Wisdom reached Jefferson Davis himself.
By November 1863, Maj. Gen Hurlbut was becoming anxious about all the activity within his command. He wrote to Gen. Stevenson “Try to find out where Hurst is, and get him under your command. Both the 6th and 7th Tennessee have behaved badly.” It seems, however, that it was only a matter of authority – in December, 1863 Hurst was granted “a roving commission . . . to ‘grub up’ West Tennessee” by Gen. William Sooy Smith.
The year of 1864 reads like a roll call of the damned. On January 1, a deformed and helpless cripple named Ree Doroughty – just 16-years-old was arrested and brutally murdered. Next the roving eye of Hurst was trained upon the men of Wilson’s 21st and Newsome’s 18th Cavalries (CS). On February 5, Pvt. Martin of the 21st was shot to death, and burial denied for four days. From there the 6th Tennessee rode on to Jackson, Tennessee, arriving on February 7.
Hurst decided he was due reimbursement for the fine levied against him by U.S. authorities in the matter concerning Mrs. Newman and demanded the $5,139.25 from the citizens of Jackson. Should the amount not be paid in full in five days, in either U.S. or Kentucky notes, the city of Jackson would be burned. On the 12th, a group of concerned citizens paid the levy-Hurst took the money and later burned the city.
Heading back towards the “Nation,” Hurst captured three men of Newsome’s 18th Cavalry: Lt. Joseph Stewart, Pvt. John Wilson, and Pvt. Samuel Osborn. Three days later their bodies were found in Haywood County shot to death. The month of March repeated the same agenda of burning and murder. On March 8, Pvt. Alex Vale of Co. H., Newsome’s 18th, was arrested and shot in Madison County.
Lt. J.W. Dodds, CSA, August 20, 1843-March 9, 1864, Captured and brutally murdered. He was a constant member of the Baptist Church, a dutiful and affectionate brother and a gallant soldier. So reads his tombstone at Unity Baptist Church on Hwy 22A between Middlefork Village and Jacks Creek. He was an officer in Co. F., Newsome’s 18th Cavalry, and had returned home on furlough. Most of the men in the 18th were either relatives or neighbors and young Willis Dodds was bright, brave and a favorite among the troops. A dispatch of Gen. Forrest reads “Pvt. Silas Hodges . . . states that he saw the body of Lt. Dodds very soon after his murder, and that it was horribly mutilated, the face having been skinned, the nose cut off, the under jaw disjointed, the privates cut off, and the body otherwise barbarously lacerated and most wantonly injured, and that his death was brought about by the most inhuman process of torture.”
On March 10, Forrest wrote to Col. T. M. Jack, Asst. Adj. Gen., that “Hurst is still reported in West Tennessee, and a portion of Jackson and Brownsville have been burned by his men.” The travesty compounded by Hurst, largely ignored by Federal Command as something between Southerners of divergent local politics, had now gained the attention of Bedford Forrest.
When asked to report by command on the conditions in West Tennessee, Forrest replied “From Tupelo to Purdy, the country has been laid waste, and unless some effort is made by the Mobile & Ohio RR or the Government, the people are bound to suffer for food. They have been, by the enemy and roving bands of tories, stripped of everything.”
Forrest also asked that higher command deliver his reports on the atrocities committed by Hurst to the newspapers . . . “such conduct should be made known to the world.”
Forrest also sent correspondence to Gen. Hurlbut and to Gen. Buckland on the conclusion of his investigation of the Hurst murders. He also requested that Hurst and the men responsible for these various crimes be turned over to Confederate authorities for criminal prosecution.
Though it seems that General Grierson convened a court-martial, Hurst was never turned over to the Confederates. On March 22, 1864, Forrest had the following dispatch delivered throughout the surrounding territory:
“Whereas it has come to the knowledge of the Maj. Gen. commanding that Col. Fielding Hurst . . .has been guilty of wanton extortion upon the citizens of Jackson, Tennessee and other places guilty of depredation upon private property, guilty of house burnings, guilty of murders, both of citizens and soldiers of the Confederate States . . . I therefore declare . . . (them) outlaws, and not entitled to be treated as prisoners of war . . . .” Forrest was never to personally capture Hurst, although men of his command still skirmished with the 6th Tennessee. On April 20, Gen. James R. Chalmers wrote that Col Neely had “. . . drove Hurst hatless into Memphis, leaving in our hands all his wagons, ambulances, papers, and his mistresses, both black and white.”
The rest of 1864 saw the same pattern as the first. In May, Hurst’s men looted and burned Commerce, Mississippi. Again Forrest petitioned Federal Command for the surrender of Hurst, this time, in June to Maj. Gen. CC Washburn in Memphis, that Hurst “. . . deliberately took out and killed seven Confederate soldiers, one of whom they left to die after cutting off his tongue, punching out his eyes, splitting his mouth on each side to his ears and cutting off his privates.” Meanwhile, Federal commanders such as Col. Waring at White Station, were worried about unexplained ordnance accounts and Hurst’s refusal to discuss them. Col. E. W. Rice (US) was still concerned about the money extorted in Jackson, Tennessee “which he (Hurst) has not turned over to the government, but has it deposited for his own private benefit.” In August, one Federal commander wrote headquarters demanding that “if Hurst is under my command that he be arrested and confined.”
With pressure mounting from both Union and Confederate authorities, Hurst submitted his resignation “due to bad health” on December 10, 1864. No action was taken, although the resignation was received by higher command on January 8, 1865.
In May, Maj. Gen. Edward Hatch wrote to Headquarters, Fifth Cavalry Div. (US) “I learn a Mr. Chandler, calling himself a Captain, a brother-in-law of Fielding Hurst, is levying contributions upon the citizens of McNairy Co., Tennessee, amounting to $50,000. Hurst has already taken about $100,000 out of West Tennessee in blackmail when Col. of the 6th Tennessee . . . .” With the War over, Gen. Rosecrans granted Hurst a discharge through Special Order #8 on July 26, 1865, effectively backdated to his resignation.
Hurst never paid for his crimes during the War, and fanatics like Brownlow found Hurst the perfect purveyor of Reconstruction justice. His tenure as 12th Circuit Judge would fill another saga of vindictiveness, leaving those of us outside the “Nation” with nothing more than bitter memories-even after 125 years.
fort hill and the yellow bank trestle at waverly, tennessee
Fort Hill was the headquarters of the 13th U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) led by Col. John A. Hottenstein, from the fall of 1863 to the end of the war. The fort defended the army-operated railroad that ran from Johnsonville on the Tennessee River east to Nashville. The hillside location provided a commanding view of the railroad and overland approaches to Waverly. In September 1863, the Bureau of U.S. Colored Troops began recruiting thousands of fugitive slaves in both urban and rural areas, including Waverly. Many of the slaves were contraband camp residents who fought for their freedom through military service. By the end of the war, 20,000 Tennessee blacks had served in the Union army. In October 1863, Union Gen. Alvan C. Gillem organized and armed nearly 1,000 black men to build a railroad through Waverly. Federal troops, primarily the 12th and 13th USCT, the 8th Iowa Cavalry and the 1st Kansas Battery also contributed to the construction and defense of the rail line. In the winter of 1863-64, these units built Fort Hill. The 13th USCT fought at the Battle of Nashville in December 1864. Lt. James Nicholas Nolan of the 1st Kansas Battery returned to Waverly after the war, and in 1870 he built a house on the hill opposite the fort where he served. A successful businessmen, he later served as a city alderman and mayor of Waverly. Fort Hill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Humphreys County was not the center of many Civil War battles, but one noted exception occurred when Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest took on the Union navel forces at Johnsonville. General Forrest and his troops sank at least three Union navel vessels and troop barges.
Another lesser known engagement is recorded by Union Lt. John B. Colton in a report dated October 29, 1862. According to Lt. Colton, Federal forces left Fort Donelson in Stewart County on October 22nd. The forces consisted of 140 infantry, 30 Calvary and a group of rifled men. On Wednesday afternoon, when the troops were within six miles of Waverly, the advance guard of the Union Calvary was fired on by mounted Confederate guerrillas. At sunset, they were advanced upon by a “band of 75 guerrillas which was stationed in a thicket only half a mile from the Waverly fort.”
From the Confederate prisoners taken, Lt. Colton estimated that the Confederate forces consisted of “7 to 8 hundred well mounted Confederate men.” The next morning the Union Forces were ordered to fall back about 14 miles. They camped in the White Oak Creek area. The Union soldiers were ordered back to Fort Donelson on October 25th. Humphreys County was the scene of other smaller skirmishes. The Waverly Fort was mentioned in several reports as a major outlook and vantage point.
The Saltworks Campaign
In May 1864, Federal soldiers in West Virginia under Gen. George Crook moved into southwestern Virginia, determined to destroy the saltworks and cut the vital Virginia and Tennessee railroad by burning the “Long Bridge” over the New River at Central. Crook detached Gen. William Averell’s cavalry to attack Saltville. But once in Virginia, Averell learned that the defense of the salt operations was in the hands of the formidable Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his terrible men. Thinking better of his assignment, Averell chose to attack Wytheville instead; however, Morgan caught him at Crockett’s Cove just north of Wytheville and punished Averell’s command. Averell and Crook eventually withdrew their troopers to West Virginia without inflicting serious permanent damage on the area. The next major military action involving the saltworks occurred in fall 1864.Two Civil War battles were fought in Saltville — the first was fought on October 2, 1864, and resulted in the defeat of a Union army of 5,200 men. The second battle on December 20, 1864, was led by Stoneman and it resulted in the destruction of the Saltworks. Dusk, October 1, 1864 , in the fading twilight, Union General Stephen G. Burbridge must have stared anxiously at the low range of hills before him in the rugged country of southwestern Virginia. Tomorrow, Sunday, he would send his 5,000 soldiers to wrest these heights from their entrenched rebel defenders, for on the other side lay Saltville and its crucial brine wells, pumps, evaporating kettles and furnaces, and mounds of crystal-white salt. Tomorrow, men would fight and die to determine whether North or South would control Saltville and its massive salt production facilities, by far the single most important source of this precious mineral in the entire Confederacy. Though Burbridge and his 5,000-strong force were repulsed, it signaled to the Rebs that the Yanks have embarked on what Breckinridge believed was going to be one helluva fight over salt.
The objective being salt was a necessary staple to preserve food year round and for curing leather. The location, however, was guarded by a determined Rebel garrison, commanded by Gen. John C. Breckinridge, because the Confederacy relied greatly on the Virginia saltworks. The Saltworks Campaign consisted of the Battle of Cloyd’s Moutain, May 9, 1864; Battle of Cove Mountain, May 10, 1864; First Battle of Saltville, October 2, 1864; Battle of Marion, December 17-18, 1864; and the final destruction of the Saltworks during the Second Battle of Saltville, December 20-21, 1864.
Upon hearing the news that the Confederacy’s prized saltworks had been laid to ruins by Stoneman, it was Stanton who was one of the first to congratulate the former repudiated trooper.
The Bridge Burners
An account of the bridge burning incident in East Tennessee
November 8, 1861
Special thanks to Richard Nelson Current, Donahue Bible and George Hoemann
The 2nd Tennessee Infantry Regiment was an integral part of a grand scheme that would backfire and become a major problem for the people of East Tennessee. When Tennessee voted to secede from the Union on June 8, 1861, voters in the eastern third of the state rejected the idea by a margin of 2 to 1. The Lincoln administration was very aware of the union sentiment that bitterly divided East Tennessee from the rest of the state. Lincoln personally looked at the area with great interest. Not only did the region offer the fertile prospect of statehood, but there was tremendous potential for recruiting if they could only get in there to organize. It also held strategic importance because the railroads that ran through East Tennessee were vital links to the rest of the Confederacy.
Nevertheless, for a number of logistical reasons an early plan to take East Tennessee was rejected. Still, in spite of grave danger, thousands of East Tennessee men in small groups walked more than one hundred miles through the mountains to join Tennessee regiments for the Union that were being organized in southeastern Kentucky. Naval Lieutenant Samuel P. Carter from Carter County, Tennessee was in charge of raising those regiments. James P. T. Carter, Samuel’s brother, was appointed to command one of the Union regiments, designated as the 2nd Tennessee Infantry Regiment. James Carter had already been actively involved in a failed plan with his brother Samuel to get arms into East Tennessee.
However, another plan to liberate East Tennessee was quickly proposed, this time by yet another Carter brother. William Blount Carter, a former Presbyterian minister who had resigned from the ministry for health reasons, suggested the plan to General George Thomas at Camp Dick Robinson on September 30, 1861. General Thomas liked the plan and immediately sent the following telegraph to General George B. McClellan in Washington:
” I have just had a conversation with Mr. W. B. Carter, of Tennessee, on the subject of destruction of the Grand Trunk Railroad through that State. He assures me that he can have it done if the Government will intrust 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.”
Accordingly, William Carter went to Washington and was able to secure $2,500 to finance the campaign. He returned to Camp Dick Robinson in Kentucky to begin discussion and implementation of the plan with General Thomas. William Carter and Thomas enlisted the services of Captain David Fry of Company F of the 2nd Tennessee Infantry Regiment. The trio decided that Carter, Fry and Captain William Cross from another regiment would scout East Tennessee and come up with a plan to set on fire each of the main bridges on the railroad between the Virginia border and the Georgia border, a distance of more than 150 miles. They would use couriers to stay in touch with General Thomas who remained at Camp Dick Robinson.
William Carter and Captain Fry left camp around mid October, and over the next couple of weeks went from county to county setting their plan in place. They decided to burn 9 bridges. Each of the strikes would be carried out by a neighborhood leader with 5 or 6 trusted assistants, all loyal to the union cause. Under cover of darkness on the night of November 8, each of the selected bridges would be set on fire. Word was spread that the fires would be the signal for all local union loyalists to rise up in arms against the Confederacy. With no way out and in a state of confusion, the confederates would be trapped. This would be immediately followed by an invasion of General Thomas’ Union troops who would secure the area and liberate East Tennessee. The bridge burning part of the plan went off as scheduled. 5 of the 9 bridges were destroyed, and most of the others sustained varying degrees of damage.
Unfortunately for the people of East Tennessee, things did not go forward back at Camp Dick Robinson. Camp Dick Robinson was now under jurisdiction of the Department of the Ohio, commanded by General Don Carlos Buell. By this time General Thomas was a division commander under Buell. In spite of urging on the part of McClellan, Buell was not eager to make a move on East Tennessee. General Thomas was now even less inclined to make a move than Buell. He felt he needed more men. After the bridge burners made good on their end of the plan to liberate East Tennessee, the Union Generals failed to come through. Thomas had actually begun the march into East Tennessee and was at London, Kentucky when he was called back to camp. The union hierarchy decided at the last minute the campaign into East Tennessee had to be put on hold. They felt West Tennessee was more important. The people of East Tennessee were left holding the bag and now in grave danger. After the bridge burning, Samuel Carter wrote from the camp in Kentucky, “Recruits are arriving almost every day from East Tennessee. The Union men coming to us represent the people in East Tennessee as waiting with the utmost anxiety [for] the arrival of the Federal forces…if the loyal people who love and cling to the Government are not soon relieved they will be lost.”
Confederate response was swift. Colonel Danville Leadbetter was immediately ordered to East Tennessee with engineers to repair and protect the railroad. The following excerpts from an exchange of telegrams between Colonel W. B. Wood, commanding the post at Knoxville and Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of War for the Confederacy, best describes what was ahead for the East Tennesseans:
Col. Wood to J. P. Benjamin on November 20, 1861: ” …The rebellion in East Tennessee has been put down in some of the counties, and will be effectually suppressed in less than two weeks in all the counties…We have now in custody some of their leaders, Judge Patterson, the son-in-law of Andrew Johnson, Col. Pickens, the senator from Sevier, and others of influence and some distinction in their counties….They really deserve the gallows, and , if consistent with the laws, ought speedily to receive their deserts…”
The chilling response from Benjamin was sent 5 days later: ” Sir: Your report of the 20th instant is received, and I now proceed to give you the desired instruction in relation to the prisoners of war taken by you among the traitors of East Tennessee. First. All such as can be identified in having been engaged in bridge-burning are to be tried summarily by drum-head court martial, and, if found guilty, executed on the spot by hanging in the vicinity of the burned bridges. Second. All such as have not been so engaged are to be treated as prisoners of war, and sent with an armed guard to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, there to be kept imprisoned at the depot selected by the Government for prisoners of war…”
There immediately followed a complete sweep of the area and hundreds of arrests. Colonel Leadbetter had this to say, “At the farm houses along the more open valleys no men were to be seen, and it is believed that nearly the whole male population of the country were lurking in the hills on account of disaffection or fear. The women in some cases were greatly alarmed, throwing themselves on the ground and wailing like savages.” Many prominent men were among those already arrested. They included Andrew Johnson’s son-in-law Judge David T. Patterson, Congressman Thomas A. R. Nelson, Senator Samuel Pickens and editor William G. Brownlow . Levi Trewhitt, father of Daniel C. Trewhitt who was Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd Tennessee Infantry Regiment, was one of those arrested. The elder Trewhitt later died while still in captivity at Tuscaloosa on January 31, 1862.
Also in accordance with Benjamin’s instructions, five men, all potters from the Pottertown area of Greene County, Tennessee were hung within the next several weeks. Henry Fry and Jacob Madison Hinshaw were executed near the railroad station at Greeneville on November 30 for the role they played in the burning of the Lick Creek Bridge. Fry’s 17 year old son was forced to watch the execution. It was passed down in Fry’s family that Fry was told at the hanging he would be spared if he would pledge allegiance to the Confederacy. His last words are said to have been, “When there ceases to be fleas in a hog pen and rebels in hell is when I will pledge allegiance to the Confederacy”. Colonel Leadbetter had originally ordered their bodies to hang for four days, but they were cut down after thirty-six hours because of the stench.
Christopher Alexander Haun was hung at Knoxville on December 11. The following day, Jacob Harmon Jr. and his son, Henry Harmon suffered the same fate. Harrison Self of Greene County had also been sentenced to hang with the Harmons, but he was pardoned after an emotional plea submitted by his daughter, Elizabeth Self. The Harmons were convicted on testimony of guards who were at the burning of the Lick Creek Bridge. The guards heard one of the bridge burners say, “Who has Henry Harmon’s gun?” All five men were posthumously enrolled in Company F of the 2nd Tennessee by a special act of Congress passed in 1862. However, soon after the end of the war, Captain David Fry stated in affidavits that he had actually enrolled all five bridge burners into the Second Tennessee just before the bridge burning incident.
The bridge burning incident had a profound effect on the men of the 2nd Tennessee and all citizens of the area. The liberation of East Tennessee from the Confederacy, which would not be realized for another two long years, became their battle cry. On Christmas Eve later that year, even Colonel Leadbetter understood that the apparent calm was only superficial. He wrote, “Notwithstanding the favorable aspects of things generally in East Tennessee, the country is held by a slight tenure, and the approach of an enemy would lead to prompt insurrection of an aggravated character.”