This command was originally intended for local defense in the mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, and was generally known as part of "Thomas' Legion of Indians and Highlanders." Colonel W. H. Thomas, its founder, was an old-line Democrat, and a leading citizen and politician in Western North Carolina was a man of considerable means, and was personally well known to President Davis and Cabinet. He was born in Haywood county and raised to manhood close by the Cherokee Indians and at an early day espoused their cause, and prevented the forced removal to the West, of those in Western North Carolina, by General Scott in 1836 to 1838. He was adopted by the Indians and upon the deaths of their old chiefs, Yona-gus-kee and Juna-lus-kee, he was made chief and for twenty-five years prior to the war was also the Government Agent for these Indians.
When the war had progressed for a year and conscription had become a necessity and a certainty, this command was organized at Knoxville, Tenn., into a regiment, and a battalion.
Several of the companies had been in service for several months, but General E. Kirby Smith, commander of the Department of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina (an old West Point army offer), was very much opposed to a temporizing or conservative policy, and would not allow Colonel Thomas the latitude he wanted; but the latter being a personal friend of President Davis, generally carried his points, and often went to Richmond to consult with him.
The organization of the regiment was completed at Knoxville, Tenn., 27 September, 1862, by the election of the following Field and Staff officers:
William H. Thomas, Colonel, Jackson county, N. C
James R. Love, Lieutenant-Colonel, Jackson county, N. C.
William W. Stringfield, Major, Strawberry Plains, Tenn.
Luther C. May, Adjutant, Virginia.
James W. Terrell, A. Q. M. Jackson county, N. C.
Lucius M. Welch, A. C. S., Haywood county, N. C.
John W. Lawing, Surgeon, Lincoln county, N. C.
John C. Love, Assistant Surgeon, Jackson county, N. C.
Hezekiah West, Chaplain, Haywood county, N. C.
Alex R. Carmack, Sergeant Major, Pennsylvania.
Company A Indian Company Matthew Hale Love, Captain, Waynesville, N. C.; Wm. S. Terrell, First Lieutenant, Sonoma, Haywood county, N. C.; John Astoo-ga Sto-ga, Peter Graybeard and David Whitaker, Second Lieutenants, all of Swain County, N. C. Total officers and men, 113.
Company B Indian Company G. M. Hanks, Captain, July, 1862, Monroe county, Tenn.; James Taylor, Captain, November, 1862; H. R. Morris, First Lieutenant; Cam. H. Taylor, Second Lieutenant, all of Cherokee, N. C. Total officers and men, 118.
Company C Haywood County Dr. Elisha G. Johnson, Captain and Major; Wm. R. Trull, First Lieutenant and Captain; John H. Smathers, First Lieutenant; W. D. Hall, E. W. Morgan and W. H. Moore, Second Lieutenants, all of Haywood county. Total officers and men, 123.
Company D Jackson County, N. C., and, Jefferson County, Tenn. Wm. B. Love, Captain, Jackson county, N. C.; Ganium C. McBee, First Lieutenant, Grainger county, Tenn.; Thomas R. Smart and Henry Needham, Second Lieutenants, Jefferson County, Tenn.; W. W. Jones, Second Lieutenant, North Carolina. Total officers and men, 125.
Company E Haywood County Julius M. Welch, Captain; Thomas J. Ferguson, First Lieutenant and Captain; J. H. Moody, First Lieutenant, and Wm. C. Brown, Second Lieutenant, all of Haywood county. Total officers and men, 137.
Company F J. M. McConnell, Captain; Wm. T. Welch and Robert T. Conley, First Lieutenants; James West and Jas. Conley, all of Jackson county. Total officers and men, 127.
Company G Jackson County Daniel G. Fisher, Captain; D. M. Raby, First Lieutenant; D. J. Allen and J. B. Raby, Second Lieutenants, all of Jackson county. Officers and men, 71.
Company H Cherokee County Thomas J. Cooper, Captain, and Jas. W. Cooper, Captain; Lafayette George, First Lieutenant; Eli Ingram and ______ ______, Second Lieutenants, Cherokee county. Number of officers and men, 114.
Company I Cherokee County Willis Parker, Captain, and Jos. A. Kimsey, Captain; Sol. E. Egan, First Lieutenant, all of Cherokee county; N. G. Phillips, First and Second Lieutenant, and P. B. Gailer, Second Lieutenant, both of Graham county. Number of officers and men, 109.
Company K T. A. Butler, Captain; Lewis Rector, First Lieutenant; D. H. Gallahar, Second Lieutenant, all of Union county, Tenn. Number of officers and men, 91.
Total number of officers and men in the regiment, 1,125.
As above organized this regiment presented quite a formidable array with a muster roll of nearly 1,200 men most of them vigorous, patriotic and gallant. The officers were representative men in their several counties, and while unassuming to diffidence in private life and in camp, were a "lion-hearted host," in battle and upon the toilsome march. The officers were chosen from the ranks, but were not of necessity greatly, if at all, superior to their men. The response to this call left few men at home, but stern duty called and its summons was obeyed.
The practical leader of this regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel James R. Love, was a native of Jackson county, N. C., and had seen hard service in Virginia under Jackson, Hill and Lee. He was Captain of old Company L, of the Sixteenth North Carolina, and at request of Colonel Thomas, he and his entire company was transferred to the Legion.
Colonel Love was a graduate of Emory and Henry College, studied law and was a member of the North Carolina Legislature, also after the war a member of the North Carolina Constitutional Convention (1868), and later of the State Senate; also a member of the Tennessee Senate, after his marriage and removal to that State, where he subsequently raised a family; died twelve or fifteen years since, honored and respected by all.
William W. Stringfield, the writer of this sketch, was a native of Nashville, Tenn., and raised near Knoxville, Tenn. He was of old North Carolina stock, being a grandson of Jos. Williams, of Yadkin county. He was a private of the First Tennessee Cavalry, 1861. Captain of Company E, Thirty-first Tennessee Infantry, 1862, and Assistant Provost Marshal at Knoxville, 1862; elected Major of the Sixty-ninth Regiment 27 September, 1862, Lieutenant-Colonel, January, 1865.
After the war, married and located near Waynesville, N. C. member of the North Carolina Legislature in 1882 and 1883, and of the State Senate in 1901. In 1895 was elected commander of the Confederate Veterans of Western North Carolina, and as a member of Military and Veteran Committee, feels and takes great pride and interest in all that pertains to the fame, fortune, welfare and success of all his old comrades, their widows and children.
Captain Elisha G. Johnson, of Company C., was promoted to Major of the regiment after its return from the Valley campaign in November, 1864. Major Johnson was an intelligent gentleman and a singularly brave soldier. He moved to Florida soon after the war, was elected to the State Senate, and finally was murdered at his own home in 1875 or 1876.
Captain James W. Terrell was Captain of Company A, succeeding William H. Thomas and preceding M. H. Love. He was Chief Quartermaster of the regiment and faithful. He had the confidence of his neighbors, and has represented them (Jackson county) in the Legislature. He now resides in Webster, N. C.
Dr. Lawing was a good doctor and a kind man. Nothing known of him since the war. Dr. John Love was a kind man and good doctor. Died soon after the war from its exposures.
A. R. Carmack, Sergeant-Major, a Pennsylvanian by birth, was the son-in-law of a strong Union man in East Tennessee. He was a man among men, cool, clear-headed and brave; was wounded and captured at Cedar creek; lived in Kansas since driven from East Tennessee in 1860-'67, and died recently, 18 December, 1900, in Texas, beloved by all.
Lucius M. Welch, Assistant Commissary, is a native son of Haywood county. He was quite young in those days, but made a faithful Commissary. He now lives near Waynesville.
The Adjutant of the regiment, Captain L. M. May, was a graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., a Virginian by birth and an elegant gentleman.
Aside from this the entire command was composed of citizen soldiery educated for peace, but not afraid of war. After the organization and equipment of the regiment the companies were scattered throughout upper East Tennessee, between Knoxville and Bristol. The battalion of our legion whose story will hereafter be told, was sent below Knoxville, toward Chattanooga, and Cleveland, Tenn., and Dalton, Ga., was raised to a regiment (Eightieth North Carolina) and becoming a part of Bragg's army was never reunited to the old Legion.
About this time the enforcement of the conscript law was begun in earnest, and consequently it was a serious time in the short life of the Southern Confederacy and thinking men were fully alive to the herculean (sic) task before us. East Tennessee was placed under martial law and many of the most prominent citizens were in rebellion against the South. The celebrated Parson Brownlow, editor of the Knoxville Whig, a widely circulated paper, who was afterwards elected Governor of Tennessee, and after the war was United States Senator, took bold grounds against the South. His paper had some circulation in Western North Carolina, and quite an influence with the old Whig element. Brownlow was a kind man at heart, to those that did not cross him personally. If he had been reasoned with instead of being bitterly denounced he and numerous others would have espoused the Southern cause. But, then, as now, party passion often dethrones reason. Brownlow, with such men as Governor Andrew Johnson, then United States Senator, and afterwards President of the United States; Horace Maynard, member of Congress; Thos. A. R. Nelson, John Netherland, R. R. Butler, members of Congress; Rev. N. G. Taylor, also an old Congressman, father of Governor Bob. Taylor, with scores of smaller, but equally determined men, boldly threw themselves into the breach, openly defied the South, and in large numbers daily left Tennessee, crossing the Cumberland mountains and joined the Federal army in Kentucky and Ohio.
The wisest statesmen of the South were divided as to the best policy to pursue, but Southern blood was aroused and Southern men were expected to stand by the South, right or wrong. There was much homogeneousness between these mountain people of Tennessee and North Carolina, and there is an independence of thought, speech and action in the average mountaineer, not usually found elsewhere, superinduced perhaps by their grandly beautiful surroundings, combining, as some think, to the development of a high type of physical, intellectual and spiritual manhood.
A great majority of the people were poor and had no interest in slavery, present or prospective. But most of them had little mountain homes, and. "be it ever so humble, there is no place like home." So when husband, father and brother went into the army the wife, sister and daughter had largely increased home cares, and often went into the corn field.
No grander type of womanhood is developed anywhere than in these mountains. Neither the men or women were cowards, but when the Federal army occupied East Tennessee and threatened North Carolina, the women in their lonesome homes naturally became restless and timid, made more so when spies and forays of the enemy penetrated this country. Soldiers in the army would have been unnatural protectors of home, had they not become uneasy also, and oft times desperate, especially when informed, as hundreds were, that their homes had been robbed and the country pillaged, as was the case for two years in all the border counties along the Tennessee line from Ducktown to Watauga, a distance of near 200 miles. No people were more zealous for the South than Western Carolinians, after the rejection by the Lincoln regime of the peace overtures made by the border States. East Tennessee and Western North Carolina had a common heritage of ancestral heroes through the Seviers, Tiptons, Averys, Campbells, Lenoirs, Loves, McDowells, Brittons, and others, who fought at King's Mountain, Cowpens and Guilford Court House; in later years at Lookout, Emuckfau, Horseshoe, and New Orleans, and later still in the numerous battles of Mexico. Such an element may be easily led, but, never forced. In Tennessee this anti-war element was fully aroused and as soon as conscription was fully determined upon, Colonel Wm. H. Thomas at once went to Richmond to get a modification of the law. His efforts were unavailing, the law must be enforced, it was enforced and 33,000 were added to the Federals and a few thousand fire-tried veterans to the Southern army. Colonel Thomas largely recruited his own command, forming soon afterwards another regiment, with two companies of Sappers and Miners, and one company of artillery (Levy's Battery).
He had some unique ideas concerning these matters, and while known to be intensely loyal to the South, he had gained the confidence of this East Tennessee disloyal element and several thousand at various times had agreed to form companies for local defense, and for road and bridge building. Not being allowed to do this, these men went to the Federal army and ever afterwards were troublesome enemies.
From September, 1862, to June, 1863, there was little to break the monotony of camp life and provost duty. There was much of an unpleasant, nature to be done by men of similar characters. Enforcing conscription disarming the people the impressment of property, forcing magistrates and civil authorities to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy, was disagreeable work. Much hard work was done in building block houses and stockades on the entire railroad line, 250 miles. This was a fine agricultural region and an indispensable line of communication between the armies of Lee and Bragg.
President Davis consented to evacuation only as a trap for Burnside's army, but the cowardly surrender of Cumberland Gap by General J. W. Frazer, 9 September, 1863, however, proved it a double triggered trap for us. The Federal authorities were fully alive to the importance of grasping from us and holding this section, so fertile for all, and so loyal to them, being urged thereto by the highest consideration of honor, duty and interest.
The Sixty-ninth Regiment was never idle, especially after current rumors of. Federal invasion early in 1862, following the defeat and death of the noble Zollicoffer at Fishing Creek. This defeat practically made the Cumberland Mountains our line of defense. The Union element became restless and defiant and many were arrested and sent South to prison.
Several companies of the Sixty-ninth were ordered to Powell's Valley in 1862, between Jacksboro and Cumberland Gap one Indian company at Baptist Gap had quite a battle with some Federals, killing, wounding and driving back their force. The Indians were led by Lieutenant Astooga Stoga, a splendid specimen of Indian manhood and warrior, who was killed in the charge. This noble Indian is worthy of a lengthy sketch but the writer has not the data, if he had time and space. Like most of the leading Indians of his tribe, he was a professed Christian, and largely by his efforts the New Testament was translated into the Cherokee language by the great American Bible Society. The Indians were furious at his death and before they could be restrained, they scalped several of the Federal wounded and dead, for which ample apology was made at the time. In the Spring of 1863 the regiment in General A. E. Jackson's Brigade was in the Department of East Tennessee commanded by Brigadier-General Daniel S. Donalson. In March, 1863, it was at Strawberry Plains and in April at Jonesboro, and in July; at Zollicoffer, Tenn. 35 Official Records Union and Confederate Armies, 711, 792.
Some time afterwards Bragg's army entered Kentucky from middle Tennessee, and after quite a campaign there, returned to Tennessee by way of Cumberland Gap to Knoxville. This campaign caused a temporary lull in East Tennessee affairs, but the retreat of Lee from Maryland and Pennsylvania and the surrender of Vicksburg was followed by outspoken defiance all over East Tennessee.
Spies and recruiting officers from the Union Army were almost everywhere. Several cavalry raids burned and attempted to burn railroad bridges and depots until finally, on 4 September, General Burnside captured Knoxville, the stronghold of East Tennessee, without firing a gun or meeting an enemy. Some time prior to this all the white companies of the regiment and several companies, of Walker's Battalion (of our Legion) were concentrated for drill and discipline at Greenville, Tenn., and were brigaded with the Sixtieth and Sixty-second Regiments and Twelfth Battalion, Georgia Troops, and several Virginia, Georgia and Florida Regiments.
After Burnside's occupancy of Knoxville there was a general "On to Richmond," "On to Chattanooga," and "On to Atlanta" cry in the Federal army. The hopes of this cry were realized afterwards, but at very great cost of life to the enemy. Those were gloomy days to those of us who left our homes and loved ones at the mercy of the enemy. This territory was never reclaimed, afterwards almost every foot of it was fought over, time and again, and its occupancy was costly to the enemy, but of great political significance to them.
Part of the Sixty-ninth and most of the Eightieth (Walker's Battalion, which had been raised to a regiment), with detachments of the Twenty-ninth, Thirty-ninth, Sixtieth and Sixty-second North Carolina Regiments, fell back to the gap of the Smoky Mountains, or the North Carolina line, there to guard against the invasion of that region.
The greater part of the Sixty-ninth, with part of Singleton's, Berry's, Whitaker's and Aikin's companies of the Eightieth, fell back towards Bristol, Va. Immediately upon his occupancy of Knoxville, Burnside sent forces up the railroad which had been surrendered without, a struggle, or the destruction of a bridge, to Jonesboro, Tenn., also sent cavalry to Blount, Sevier, Cocke, and Washington counties, Tennessee, guarding against surprises from that direction, and .threatening North and. South Carolina by way of Murphy, Webster, Waynesville and Asheville, and attempting to capture Colonel Thomas' forces, good turnpike roads penetrating these mountains. But the "fighting end" of Thomas' Legion was not idle in upper East Tennessee, and marched and counter-marched in every county in that end of the State, and up to Saltville, Va., leaving the bones of their comrades (since kindly gathered at Knoxville by the noble women of Tennessee) all over that section.
When Tennessee was fully surrendered great gloom overspread the soldiers from the border States, and many Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina troops returned to their homes. Bragg's army with a muster roll of 83,767, had few over 40,000 guns, and guns are all that count in battle.
General Bragg wrote to General Lee that after seven months of conscription, not a soldier was added to his army; that Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina troops could not be depended upon, a very unjust aspersion cast upon all, especially North Carolinians, most of whom, even after leaving their regiments in the East and West, did good service at home. No section of the Union furnished as many soldiers to the Union Army according to the population as East Tennessee. With such surroundings as these it is no wonder that so many were induced to desert, or more properly stated, returned to their homes.
The same day that General Burnside occupied Knoxville, Colonel Thomas, with several hundred men, fell back from Strawberry Plains, passing through Sevierville to the North Carolina line, taking all the Indians and many whites. He was closely followed by the Federals and had quite a skirmish near Sevierville, on 7 or 8 September, 1863, but he crossed the Smoky Mountains and at once securely blockaded all the roads leading in that direction from near Paint Rock to near Ducktown.
Lieutenant-Colonel Love and Major Stringfield, with 600 or 700 men, were ordered to fortify and hold Carter's Depot at the railroad bridge across the Watauga, about twenty miles west of Bristol.
General John S. Williams, of Kentucky, since United States Senator, then commanded the Department of East Tennessee which was abandoned to the foe, after the shameful surrender of Cumberland Gap 9 September, 1863.
Burnside's forces, composed largely of native Tennesseeans, rather recklessly took charge of the country. One regiment of troops (One Hundredth Ohio) went to Jonesboro on the cars 5 September, 1863, and several hundred ventured up to Carter's and demanded the surrender of the fort. The next day Major Stringfield was ordered to take 200 of his men and a battalion of cavalry (McLin) under Captain D. D. Anderson, and reconnoitre the position of the enemy. He took this force to Jonesboro and below. On 7 September General A. E. Jackson came up with the balance of the Sixty-ninth North Carolina, the Fourth Kentucky Cavalry and Sixteenth Georgia Cavalry and Borrough's Battery, and learning that the enemy were fortifying in and around the old limestone blockhouse and a stone mansion near by, the Sixty-ninth was ordered up by General Jackson and at 3:00 a. m. on the 8th, we drove them from Telford's depot to Limestone, where they made a determined stand, evidently being handled by some veteran officers. Closing in upon them on all sides, we forced them to surrender with a loss of 20 killed, 30 wounded and 314 prisoners, with 400 splendid small arms. Our loss was six killed and fifteen wounded. Our regiment was immediately armed with the guns here captured (Enfield rifles). The enemy were the One Hundredth Ohio Regiment (Infantry) and were a fine looking body of men. Knowing that this capture would arouse the enemy, we fell back towards Carter's. Ten days afterwards the enemy approaching in force with several regiments of cavalry, battle was given them at Carter's. Our cavalry was much weaker than theirs. Owing to the general advance movements by the enemy, the capture of Cumberland Gap, or rather its shameful surrender by General Frazer 9 September, 1863, and advance movements all up to the Salt Works and into West Virginia a long line of defense we were compelled to draw in our line and concentrate our forces.
Our position at Carter's on the east bank of the Watauga river, was impregnable, and the enemy, after two assaults, flanked us at Devault's Ford on the north, and Taylor's on the south side, causing us to fall back to Zollicoffer, or "Union Depot," now Bluff City. The enemy about this time hearing about our great victory over them at Chickamauga, hastily retired towards Knoxville. We followed them to Bull's Gap, the Sixty-ninth being the only infantry regiment. On 5 October, 1863, the cavalry had a fight at Greenville, killing seven, wounding twelve and capturing ten of the enemy, with a loss of three killed and seven wounded, General Jno. S. Williams, of "Cerro Gordo" fame, commanding our troops. On 15 October, after several days skirmishing with the enemy, General Williams gave battle at Blue Springs with his 1,800 dismounted men, holding in check Burnside's 7,000 veterans. The Sixty-ninth was ordered to his aid, but hearing of a flank movement of the enemy, we were ordered to retreat towards Jonesboro, and finally to Abingdon, Va. In our retreat three miles above Greenville, our cattle, wagons, artillery and infantry, in order named, were surrounded before we knew it. General Burnside had thrown General Foster with 3,000 cavalry in our front, attempting our capture. The first intimation we had of their presence was in the capture of our Adjutant, L. C. May, and Captain Tip (H. H.) Taylor, Acting Adjutant-General of our brigade. Captain May escaped and gave us warning.
In a few moment after the presence of the enemy was known Colonel Love turned back the wagons, ordered forward the Sixty-ninth at double quick, threw it in line of battle across the road, and bringing forward the artillery, began at the earliest dawn of day a furious artillery fire upon the enemy in corn fields and meadows confronting us, fortunately for us, bursting shells in their very midst. Before they could realize the sudden change of the situation, the Sixty-ninth, with the "bear hunter's rebel yell," was upon them. Our men realized at once that quick and deadly work must be done, or we would all be captured. The entire 600 men at sunrise dashed forward at the enemy in a heavy skirmish line, Love upon the right and Stringfield upon the left, with company officers all in place, all cheering and directing their men. Lieutenant Welch, of Company F, afterwards killed at Winchester, was shot through the thigh by the side of the writer; very few others hurt. This was a running fight for ten miles. Two Federals were killed in the yard of Senator Patterson, son-in-law of President Johnson. Twelve or fifteen, others were killed. General Williams, while slowly retreating before Burnside, heard our artillery open upon the enemy. Dashing forward at a gallop, he materially aided us in the achievement of one of the most brilliant retreats of the war. General Williams was profuse in his compliments, personally and in special orders, to our regiment. We retreated sixty-two miles in thirty hours, fighting and driving the enemy much of the way towards Jonesboro, but not losing cattle or wagons and but few men. The retreat did not stop until we reached Virginia and fortified Abingdon, and covered Saltville, where we were reinforced by the brigades of Corse and Wharton, Virginia troops, under General Robert Ransom. We remained quietly here until 1 November, when we began another forward movement towards Knoxville, Tenn. While here a beautiful Carolina maiden, having heard of the heroism of our men and of complimentary orders about them, sent the following acrostic to our gallant Colonel, J. R. Love, who several years since has "crossed over the river and is resting under the shade of the trees."
"J oined to a gallant band,
'R ound their colors sworn to stand;
L egions 'gainst you, rushing came,
O you drove them back again.
V otes of thanks, so well deserved,
E ver greet such men of nerve."
While we were waiting a few days near Blountsville, Tenn., our cavalry under William E. Jones, made a nice capture of twelve or fifteen hundred of the enemy's cavalry at Rogersville, and near 100 wagons of the Second Tennessee (United States) and Seventh Ohio. The citizens here-abouts were mostly our friends, something unusual in East Tennessee, and had noble kindred in our army, mostly with Bragg.
While around Blountsville, company and regimental drill was daily enforced. Lieutenant Thomas Ferguson, a good soldier, afterwards made Captain and captured at Piedmont, joined us here with 75 recruits. A painful example for discipline was made here, one poor fellow of Company K, a Tennesseean, with two others of Tennessee troops, captured at Rogersville, Tenn., by General W. E. Jones, in the uniform of the enemy, were court-martialed and shot at the stake. The army then moved down the Rogersville and Kingsport Valley towards Knoxville, on the north side of Holston river, wading the river and creeks in the ice.
General Robert Ransom was a fine disciplinarian and fighter. Sometimes unpopular in camp, or upon the march, but universally popular in battle, where it was an inspiration to see him. He did not "snuff battle from afar," but rushed into the thickest fray, to cheer and guide his men. In all this dread winter campaign the Sixty-ninth were cheerful and obedient. Winter quarters were built near Rogersville in December, but were occupied only one week. After this neither the men or officers had tents or houses, but faced the storms of rain and snow, mud and ice, in tramps several miles above and below Rogersville, down towards Knoxville.
General Alfred E. Jackson was our brigade commander this winter in all our campaigns. He was a cultivated gentleman and personally a brave man. He was a good man and always managed the men to the best advantage in so hostile a region. He was personally and scrupulously honest, and demanded the same of his men; but he was a little too strict for the "old soldier" ideas of those who wanted to prowl. The marches below Rogersville and down to Blaine's Cross Roads were mostly made in bad, and very cold weather. When we met Longstreet's returning forces after his repulse at Knoxville, and our great defeat at Missionary Ridge, the entire army fell back near Rogersville, and the Sixty-ninth, with others crossed the Holston river and went into camp on the railroad near Russelville on 1 January, 1864. Soon afterwards the Sixty-ninth returned to our old quarters at Carter's Depot, where with that as a base of operations we could "swing around" the mountains on several trips, after "renegades," blockade stills and deserters.
About 1 April, 1864, Longstreet's army returned to Richmond and several of Burnside's regiments returned to their old game of annoying us. On 26 April we were assaulted by the Third Indiana and Ninth Michigan Cavalry at Carter's, but we nicely repulsed them. Our loss, one killed and five captured. Theirs, twenty killed and wounded our regiment alone engaged. At this time and place the writer, with 250 men, was ordered to cross the railroad bridge and reconnoitre the enemy. The troops were left in the railroad cut at the end of the bridge, under Captain J. W. Cooper, a brave and gallant Southron, while I looked ahead and around a little, taking Lieutenant Gallahar, of Company K. We walked a quarter of a mile ahead through the fields. While here I discovered a flank movement of the enemy on the ridge, south and west, and ordered the men by a wave of the hand into the fort. In the meanwhile, the enemy seeing their movements discovered, charged up through the fields and woods, 1,800 strong, with yells and the huzzahs peculiar to themselves. Captains Welch, Cooper and McConnell, Lieutenants Conley and Gallahar and the men, every one of them, acted with conspicuous bravery. Seeing ourselves outflanked on both aides of the fort, I ordered the men back to the friendly protection of an old time saw and grist mill on the river bank, and here in a hand-to-hand fight up to the water's edge, we fought, and finally drove the enemy back, killing a Major of the Ninth Michigan and a Lieutenant and a number of the men at the very side of the water. We were ordered to retire to the east side of the Watauga river, recrossing the bridge, but the enemy were too close upon us, and the river at our backs. It was "hilt to hilt" indeed. We had the right wing of the enemy to fight four or five to one. Their left wing was upon the north side of the railroad and up to the railroad bridge, thus completely cutting off our route across the bridge, but our friends on the east side of the bridge, while cut off from us, were by no means idle. With six or eight cannon and long range guns, they materially aided us in driving back the enemy. I wish also, in addition to officers named, to add the names of Captains Butler and Phillips, Lieutenants Peck, Raby and Sergeant-Major Carmack and others who were conspicuous for their gallantry.
After this repulse the enemy remained quiet till night, during most of which they "shelled the woods" and our army, flanking our position next day and again forcing us to fall back to Zollicoffer (now Bluff City) and on to Bristol.
The first week in May we were ordered to the Salt Works, Virginia, where we remained till 1 June, when we were sent to the Valley of Virginia. While at Saltville, Va., our men were constantly drilled and disciplined. While here the enemy in the meanwhile were making tremendous efforts to take and hold all of East Tennessee and South West Virginia. The Salt Works were an especial object of interest and around here were raids and fights all the balance of the war. While here the railroad having been cut and held by the enemy, we had double rations of rice, salt and water for near three weeks, and nothing else.
The Valley campaign being one of the most exciting as well as one of the most interesting of the war, is deserving of a more extensive notice than can be given in this sketch. At the time of our hasty departure from Southwest Virginia for the Valley, orders had been issued by the War Department for our transfer to Western North Carolina. Colonel Thomas had manfully worked to that end. He claimed with truth and much force that troops were needed in North Carolina to protect that section, as well as upper South Carolina and Georgia. Many of the men had joined the regiment upon the express understanding that it was for home defense; but Hunter's raid up the Valley demanded our immediate attention and we must go. Several East Tennessee cavalry regiments went with us. We left horses and "bag and baggage" behind, regimental officers and all. The First, Third and Fourteenth Tennessee Cavalry, under General John C. Vaughn, Colonel James E. Carter and Lieutenant-Colonel Key the latter since well known as United States Senator, Postmaster-General under President Hayes, and Federal judge at Knoxville, since dead. Colonel Carter, of the First Tennessee Cavalry, was a brave and knightly Southron, cool, clear-headed and fearless "Sans peur et sans reproche." The same may be said of General Vaughn. Several Virginia infantry regiments also went with us from New River bridge the Thirty-sixth, Forty-fifth, Fifty-first and. Sixtieth. These were good men and had recently passed through a fiery ordeal in Southwest Virginia, where most of their regimental and company officers were killed, wounded or captured. Colonel Thomas A. Smith, Colonel of the Thirty-sixth Virginia, was also along, and after the killing of Colonel Brown, brigade commander, at Piedmont 5 June, Colonel Smith continued to command us while in the Valley. He was always kind, considerate and knightly in camp or upon the march in battle he was little less than bridled lightning. He was a great favorite with our men.
We reached Staunton via Lynchburg, Gordonsville and Charlottesville in June, on the 2d day of the month in the afternoon. At once drew and cooked three days rations and marched towards the enemy, brigaded with the Virginians as above. For several days we were marched around, seemingly in circles, to get at the enemy's infantry, held back behind their cavalry, who were desolating the country, burning houses, barns, mills, grain and frightening the poor unarmed women. About this time it was seemingly agreed between Sheridan, Hunter, Grant and Sherman that they could not whip the men until they had desolated their homes, insulted and driven off their families and destroyed property, as was done in Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia.
But this is a digression, warranted however, we think, by the terrible destruction seen all around. On the morning of 5 June the enemy's infantry having been located, General Wm. E. Jones, after a march and double quick of sixteen miles, threw his army across the valley, crossing the turnpike between the villages of Piedmont and New Hope, eight or ten miles north of Staunton. Our cavalry in the meanwhile was holding the enemy in check till the infantry was in position. The middle or right centre of our line ran up at right angles and eastward, and then south with the Valley turnpike, one-fourth mile or more; thence eastward again, to the Blue Ridge, on the extreme right. The position of the Sixty-ninth as developed in the battle, was the most perilous of any of our forces, being on an elevation facing cleared fields north, west and east, and being at the angle on the turnpike, six companies on the line west of and two running south with the pike.
Generals Imboden and Rosser and other cavalry on our flanks, did noble service, but as all of our general officers were killed and no one left was fully conversant with the country and troops, no one has written any report that I have seen, nor has any special report been made by General Hunter. It is impossible, therefore, to give an intelligent idea of the battle, but from the best, information gathered, General Jones kept the most of his troops on his left flank up to, and probably across the Shenandoah river, and with the Sixtieth, Fifty-first, Forty-fifth and Thirty-sixth Virginia Regiments, and such others as he had still further west held the line. Our cavalry had engaged the enemy hotly from early dawn on both sides of the turnpike, and when our regiment got into position, and in haste, threw up breastworks of rails, the enemy rushed upon us, but meeting so warm a reception, they retired in disorder. Coming again and again, we drove them back nicely every time. The right wing of our line rested upon and went south with the turnpike.
The enemy's wagons, plainly visible one mile distant, turned back and began a retreat. Our men were jubilant and wanted to pursue, but a flank movement was discovered and the enemy being reinforced by Averill with 6,000 or 8,000 troops, our right flank was turned and we were driven back in some disorder, but with the lose of no wagons or cannon except the small battery of four guns, at the angle of our line and immediately supported by the Sixty-ninth. This battery was furiously fired upon and silenced in the early morning fight by thirty of the enemy's guns. Being defeated all along our lines the enemy attempted this flank movement which was finally successful. General Jones hearing of this movement, bravely ran his horse out between the lines and instantly comprehended the gravity of the situation. Dashing back for aid he called out as he passed us, "Brave Carolinians, I'll bring you help." He did return very soon with the Thirty-sixth and Sixtieth Virginia Regiments; but it was too late. He vainly attempted to repel this assault, now furiously made all along the lines. He was killed in this action, madly dashing at the very guns of the enemy. Upon the fall of Jones, our forces retired, a while in disorder, but soon rallied. Colonel Jones, of our brigade, was also killed, with several other valuable officers. The Sixty-ninth lost a number of brave officers and men. Captain Julius M. Welch, of Company E, a heroic, Christian soldier, Lieutenant James Conley, Lieutenant Adam Peck, Company D; Sergeant Welch, Company F, and several others whose names are forgotten by the writer. Southern men seldom fought better than upon this occasion. Every officer and man seemed to imbibe the dauntless spirit of our leaders.
Our forces retreated slowly and sullenly towards Staunton. The loss of the enemy was very great in killed and wounded, with only two prisoners. Our loss was 100 killed, 250 wounded. and near 955 prisoners. Loss of the Sixty-ninth, 20 killed, 30 wounded and 21 missing. Our loss in prisoners was great because of the loss of our leaders and guides who knew the country and our men were picked up by the enemy's cavalry. Finally Brigadier-General J. C. Vaughn, of the Tennessee troops, succeeded in taking our men off of the field with little confusion and no loss of guns or wagons. A short while after the Tenth New York (Cavalry) charged upon our rear, with sabers glittering in the sunlight, and the cheers of victors. General Vaughn gave them a warm reception with grape and canister in an open field. The rear guard of the Sixty-ninth, commanded by Major Stringfield, also repulsed them in a hand-to-hand fight, and in a personal combat he killed one and captured another of the enemy. This stopped their pursuit.
After this our army fell back to Rockfish Gap, awaiting another battle with the enemy; but they much preferred burning houses and desolating the country, which they did at Staunton, Lexington and Lynchburg. In a day or so, General Breckinridge assumed command of our army. We then rapidly passed down Rockfish river through Amherst Court House and to Lynchburg. There in the breastworks we were largely reinforced by General Early. He at once assumed command and took the offensive, rapidly following General Hunter, who being greatly pressed and, as he says, out of ammunition, dodged off into and went down the Kanawha Valley, leaving our forces in the undisputed possession of the Shenandoah Valley.
Here began Early's celebrated campaign. The march down the valley was a triumphal one of twenty to twenty-five miles per day. In passing through Lexington, the West Point of the South, the home of Stonewall Jackson, and where his honored remains were buried, our entire army marched through the cemetery and around his grave with reversed arms and bowed heads, and memories thrilled with thoughts of this world renowned hero.
The Federals also seem to have visited his grave in great numbers, and carried off as individual trophies the flagstaff and head-board these being literally cut into splinters. What a grand sight to see the soldiery of two great opposing armies honoring this noble dead! Onward marched our army of 12,000 men.
|"Proudly they tread, that gallant Southern host.
Forth marched they from mountain grove and coast;
Their hearts beat high, they thunder on the foe,
And like a whirlwind to the conflict go."
We passed through Staunton, New Market, Harrisonburg, Strasburg and Winchester. At this last place we met an ovation indeed. The entire populace crowded the streets and nearly wild with joy mothers, wives and sisters embraced sons, husbands and brothers, as they marched on none being allowed to stop. On we went. "On to Washington" was our cry, and on to Washington we went, capturing a splendid 4 July dinner at Martinsburg. We crossed the Potomac 5 July, wading through it and camping on the old battle ground of Antietam. On 6 and 7 July our army went near to, but did not capture Harper's Ferry. On 8 July we passed Middletown; on the 9th, Frederick City. At this place our gallant General Rodes whipped Lew Wallace and sent him whirling a la "Ben Hur chariot race," towards Baltimore.
Our corps (Breckinridge's) camped upon the battlefield at night, although we had no part in the battle as a regiment. On Sunday, 10 July, we marched twenty-two miles toward Washington City, forty miles distant. On 11 July we reached the outer works, Fort Stevens. General Early demanded the surrender of the city, and captured their outer lines. We burned the palatial mansion of Postmaster-General Blair, in retaliation for the burning, by Hunter, of Governor Letcher's residence at Lexington, Va., one month before. It was the universal opinion of the army that we could have taken the city, although those in General Early's confidence say that he was well posted as to the movements of the enemy. As we neared the city and the country and village people saw our army, they were amazed, and many persons told us we would have no trouble to capture the city. The truth is, as developed since, the Federal authorities had no idea of our numbers until after Lew Wallace's defeat at Monocacy two days before. Up to two hours before his repulse he had sent vainglorious dispatches to Secretary Stanton as to how he was going to thrash out "Mosby and his crowd." After that repulse, however, when Baltimore and Washington were both at our mercy, they became really alarmed Governor Curtin, of Pennsylvania; Governor Dix, of New York; President Lincoln, Secretary Stanton, President Garrett, of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and others, became frantic.
Our men were much displeased at the tardiness of General Early, who has been severely criticized, both North and South, but notwithstanding all the criticisms of those times, General Early had a warm friend in General Lee, who refused to remove him. In the afternoon of 12 July our army slowly began a retreat towards the Virginia line, taking immense supplies of horses, cattle, mules and commissary stores. On the 13th we marched to Poolsville, Md. On the 14th we crossed the Potomac, back into Virginia, still unmolested by the boastful foe who was going to "gobble up" the whole of us.
Thus ended one of the most remarkable "raids" of the war. General Early deserved much credit for its success, even without the capture of Washington City. On 15 July we rested near the historic battlefield of Leesburg and Ball's Bluff. While here the enemy tried a little "bluff game" upon us; but our regimental sharpshooters and others, under the gallant Captain Robert Conley, drove them into the river at Snicker's Ferry. I am sorry that I cannot recall the names of our twenty sharpshooters. Privates Thomas Love and Kimsey Collins are all whom I can now name. They were all splendid fellows. Collins is a well-to-do merchant of Bryson City, N. C., and was last year commander of the Western North Carolina Veterans.
From 16 to 24 July we leisurely moved back, to and up the Valley, passing Berryville, Newton, Millwood, Middletown, to Strasburg, several days in line of battle.
On the 24th the enemy, 16,000 strong, under Cook, Averill and Mulligan, pressing us pretty strong, we turned upon them, our division (Wharton's) making the flank movement and routing them, "horse, foot and dragoons," drove them "pell-mell" through Kernstown and Winchester. General Mulligan was killed in front of the Sixty-ninth, or mortally wounded, and died a few hours afterwards in the tent of General Rodes. He probably would not have been killed but for the persistency of his color guard in waving a flag over his prostrate form. As we made our movements by the right flank, it threw us in advancing upon the enemy touching elbows with the "Old Stonewall Brigade" on our left, and when known to our men, a shout rent, the air. The fruit of this victory was the capturing of 1,200 or 1,500 prisoners, and several stands of arms, wagons, cannon, etc. Generals Breckinridge, Wharton and Col. Tom Smith, our Corps, division and brigade leaders, and Colonel Love, Major McKamy and all company officers and men did well and were conspicuous for gallantry.
On 25, 26 and 27 July, we again went down the valley to and along the Opequon.
On 1 August our cavalry went over into Maryland, where we again took a ten days tramp from Shepherdstown around to Williamsport, etc. On 8, 9 and 10 August we fell back from Darksville, Berryville and Bunker Hill, to Strasburg, as the enemy was largely reinforced and led by Sheridan, who gave us battle every day. Their cavalry was daring, but their infantry were not of much force, made up of city scum and foreign mercenaries.
On 18 August we gave the enemy battle at Kernstown and again drove them two miles north of Winchester. Our regiment led in this assault upon and capture of the fort, northwest of the town. General John C. Breckinridge, our corps commander on foot, and wearing a linen duster, was along leading the charge, which continued till after dark, and we became separated from the line on the east of Valley pike and the town. In this charge a cannon ball passed under the writer, tearing a great hole in the ground.
We halted on the north side of the fort, after capturing a Dutch or Hessian picket of thirty men, and after readjusting our line fell back a half mile to our main army.
On 21. August we had another "spat" with the enemy, our sharpshooters only engaged. This was near the historic town of Charleston, where
"Old John Brown was hung,
The last word he sung,
Oh don't keep me long here remaining,
So they took him up a slope
And hung him with a rope,
And cast him in the happy land of Canaan."
On 28 August we fought the battle of Leetown, losing 25 men in an ambuscade. Sheridan's entire cavalry force confronted us. Early expecting only a small skirmish, was leisurely riding along with his staff. Our sharpshooters being severely pressed, were reinforced by the entire Fifty-first Virginia Regiment of our division and brigade. Generals Breckinridge and Wharton, our corps and division commanders, with their staff, were also along. This writer being that day on Breckinridge's staff as officer of the day, was close up to the front, when suddenly a battery of several guns was unmasked close upon us, on the pike. Several men and horses were killed and wounded in the rapid flight down the half mile lane, Generals, Colonels and other staff officers not standing much "on the order of their going," and it would have seemed superlatively ludicrous but for the perils of the moment. In our flight I rode along near General Breckinridge, who was one of the handsomest men I ever saw. He was mounted on a splendid Kentucky thoroughbred and never lost his equipoise of manner or bearing, although his long linen duster, flowing in the wind, resembled a flying kite.
General Breckinridge said to me: "Major, look out for yourself and tell General Wharton to bring up his division and post it behind that hill," pointing to a gently rolling hill in our front, "and hurl those fellows back over there," pointing to a brigade of Sheridan's cavalry, led by Custer, that neck and neck were advancing through the fields north of us, only a few hundred yards off. Colonels Smith, Love and others, however, were on the alert and at the proper moment rose to their feet and delivered a well directed and destructive fire and sent them whirling back through the field, leaving numbers of horses and men behind them.
On 3 September Sheridan's cavalry ran over ours on the pike in the forenoon, to be themselves hurled back soon thereafter. On 4 September at Berryville we felt the enemy and finding them well posted, after driving them awhile, we retired.
On 5 September, we fell back to Bunker Hill and the enemy following rather closely, our gallant Rodes whirled upon and scattered them. Private E. C. Conner, of Company F, Swain county, a bright and brave lad of 17 years, was killed. He was carried back a half mile and buried in an open grave, all within a half an hour and during our retreat.
On 10 September the Sixty-ninth on the Opequon skirmished with the enemy and drove them across the river. During this period there was much rain and disagreeable weather. None of our brigade having tents, officers or men, many were made sick. We were compelled to camp often upon the battle ground of the previous days, and. where corpses of horses and men were often exposed and unburied, making horrid the atmosphere and water. About this time fully one-third of our army was detached from us to go to Lee's Army and Vaughn's Tennessee Cavalry also leaving, we were entirely too weak to cope with our foxy adversary. So on 19 September Sheridan Came at us with fully 30,000 men, all along the line from Berryville to Winchester. We repulsed every assault, but from the force of numbers we gradually fell back upon the hills around Winchester. The enemy had three full corps of infantry, Sixth or Eighth, Thirteenth and Nineteenth. In the afternoon on our left wing, where the Sixty-ninth had been holding a large force in check, while most of our division had been sent to repel the final assault upon our centre, we were again assaulted in great force and finally surrounded by Custer's and Averill's Cavalry and driven back, losing, however, no wagons and only two cannon. Our men fought like heroes, deploying and fighting as in squad drill and holding the enemy in check till Early could bring back his infantry line; but for this dare-devil spirit shown by our men, and their utter refusal to surrender, great damage would have resulted. We lost numbers of our best men, killed, wounded and captured, 75 in all, in our regiment. Lieutenant-Colonel McKamy, Captains Singleton and Young, and Lieutenants Jones, George and others captured.
In killed we lost numerous good men. Lieutenants Welch, Company F; Jones, Company D, and George, Company K. General Ramseur was also killed. Our army was much dis-spirited by this defeat, especially the Sixty-ninth, as our loss was greater than that of any other regiment. This was owing to our position on the extreme left where our little brigade of a few hundred had to repel the assault of 7,000 cavalry. We made a hasty retreat up the Valley for two days, followed by the enemy, who took most of our wagons. They attempted to run over us again on the 21st and the 22d, but with the loss of only our sick and wounded, we beat them back.
Sheridan sent wonderfully boastful dispatches back to Secretary Stanton, claiming the capture of Early's entire army. A few days later Stanton asked: "Where are your 5,000 prisoners?" Answer: "One thousand two hundred only, and mostly wounded; my army too exhausted to follow." See Official Records of Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. ____, page ____.
A letter written by Colonel Love from Strasburg, 15 October, 1864, says of this battle: "We have 600 wounded at Winchester, the enemy has 6,000." Our army fell back to, or near Staunton, and after resting there for several days, again turned down the Valley. At this time Major Stringfield was ordered to go to Western North Carolina and take command of that portion of the Legion there and in East Tennessee. This he did through a circuitous route through the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, arriving at Asheville about 1 November, 1864.
After turning down the Valley towards Winchester, the Sixty-ninth now reduced to only 150 men, was in all the movements of Early's army, including the ill-fated battle of Cedar Creek, 19 October, where its gallant men again bore testimony of their faith in, and devotion to, the South. In that battle our position was on our left the enemy's right and at early dawn we were ordered to carry the enemy's works, and before they knew of our flank movement that was then up and in motion to drive them from behind all their works. This assault was at first unsuccessful and we left a number of our men, killed and wounded, between the lines. Soon, however, the attack was renewed. The flank movement was a success. Our troops bearing down upon the enemy like a Western tornado, carried everything before them. This was followed up for several miles down the valley towards Middleton in the early forenoon, thus gaining one of the completest victories of the war. Our army took sixteen or eighteen hundred prisoners, five or six hundred wagons and thirty-six cannon, with lots of small arms and supplies.
The prisoners were safely taken out, but all the other spoils were recaptured with an equal amount from us. All together we only had ten or twelve thousand men, the enemy thirty thousand. It was the same old story somebody blundered badly and the battle was worse than vain for us. The few thousand that first drove the enemy followed them for miles, but their rear was not properly protected. Some troops stacked their guns and had a regular picnic for hours. Sheridan coming up with his "long range glasses," soon saw the situation. He did what 500 officers of his army could have done, simply ordered a charge upon those "Confederate picnickers" and gained a victory out of the defeat of the forenoon.
The Sixty-ninth got none of the spoils; received only hard licks and lost some of its best men. After driving the enemy all morning, we repelled their assaults all evening, and away up into the night, protecting our wagons and guns, as best we could.
A little sober second thought would have spoiled a lot of war monuments, mounted them differently and faced them the other way. But such is life and war. Early generally managed his retreats well and did this after the first afternoon.
This was the last trip of the Sixty-ninth up the Valley. Upon reaching Staunton the long delayed order to go to Western North Carolina was received. From seven hundred reduced to about 100, was a terrible tale to tell, a heroic record. Here the war practically ended with these noble fellows, and while the very last to actually surrender in North Carolina (at Waynesville, 10 May, 1865) they came on to their own loved mountain homes and turned up again later on. As mentioned heretofore the writer of this arrived at Asheville about 1 November, 1864, and took command of this part of the regiment, now largely increased in numbers and extending from the French Broad river in the east to Notlay, beyond Murphy, in the west.
The department was under the command of General Jas. G. Martin, with Colonel John B. Palmer in the field. I can only detail operations that connected my men with the commanding general. There had been some friction between the head officials of the various regiments on duty in these mountains. I took no part in any of it. I simply tried to discharge my duty, both to those above me and to those under me. That part of the regiment with Colonel J. B. Palmer that operated in East Tennessee between Hot Springs, N. C., and Morristown, New Market, Newport and Bull's Gap, etc., and along the foot of Smoky Mountains by Sevierville, Maryville, etc., is reported to have done faithful service under Lieutenant-Colonel B. G. McDowell, of the Sixty-second, who had refused to surrender at Cumberland Gap and was a gallant officer.
The enemy in the meanwhile were not idle, but were not having the picnic that they expected anywhere. Raids were made up all the rivers towards and into the North Carolina mountains. Several parties of this kind nearly reached Asheville. Two reached Waynesville, one came to Bryson City and still others were made up the Tennessee river, Hiawassee and Valley rivers to Murphy, but no permanent lodgment was made or held by them.
Colonel J. R. Love after recruiting up a week or so arrived at Asheville and made a trip into Yancey county, heading off the notorious Kirk. About the same time the writer went with 300 men up into Greene and Washington counties, Tennessee, heading off Kirk also, below the "Red Banks of Chuckey," nearly opposite, and about ten miles south of Jonesboro, Tenn., about where the town of Unicoi is now located. This was about 1 January, 1865, and a snow fall of eighteen inches on the mountains and near the same in the Valley, made locomotion quite difficult. It also made the pursuit of war difficult and hazardous. This it will be remembered, was the enemy's country indeed. We were greeted with no cheers from the brave or smiles from the fair. Meeting with neither disaster or success, I felt it my duty to retrace my snow-trodden pathway to Paint Rock and thence soon on to Waynesville, Webster, Quallatown, near Cherokee, in Swain county, on down Tuckaseegee, passing the present site of Bryson City at Bear's Ford, thence to the Tennessee river at the mouth of Tuckaseegee and mouth of Nantahala, up the same crossing the Cowee Mountains and finally the Nantahala Mountains at Red Marble Gap and down the Valley river to Murphy. I left behind me all the troops under Colonel Love, who went into winter quarters at Locust Old Field (Canton, N. C.) This was my task the balance of the war, a lonely, perilous and desolate one, often travelling twenty, thirty to fifty miles absolutely alone. This was then almost a pathless wilderness. Now the pathway of the Western North Carolina Railroad, it was then a wild section, sparsely settled, especially along the route named.
Fortunately for our country, the Cherokee Indiana inhabited the wildest section and were loyal to us to the last. These big mountains extended from the great Smoky range and the Tennessee line back to the South Carolina and Georgia line on the Blue Ridge. The Nantahala, Cowee, Balsam and Newfound or Pisgah ranges connected these two great ranges, and cut the water courses asunder. This route along the railroad, beautiful and grand now to behold from car windows and rear platforms where "distance indeed lends enchantment to the view" in the hours of peace, was then my rough "field of operations" by day and night.
In January, 1865, while I was in Cherokee county, several hundred Indiana cavalry came up the Tennessee river and captured a small party of my men at the mouth of Deep creek, now Bryson City. This was a surprise but was of little value to them, costing them much more than gained. Ghormley and Everett's Cavalry, of the Eightieth North Carolina (Walker's) Regiment, followed and harrassed (sic) them greatly. Clay, Cherokee and Graham counties were protected by that regiment mostly. Those counties were much infested. by the Union element, some very good men among them. There were some very indiscreet and very unwise men and soldiers on our side in this section. Much bad feeling existed. This was a sort of half-way ground between Tennessee and South Carolina and Georgia. Negroes, horses and other property were stolen in Tennessee, carried to Georgia and South Carolina and sold. My soldiers from the Valley of Virginia did not like this and I had plenty of help to put it down. I gave protection to such as deserved it and ordered the others to leave the State. Several bands of "scouts" caused much of this trouble. I ordered these to their commands, took horses, cattle and other property from them, several times at muzzles of their pistols.
Early in March, 1865, Colonel G. W. Kirk invaded Haywood county via Cataloochee. He had about 400 cavalry and 200 infantry. It had been reported in Tennessee that Federal troops would be welcomed in North Carolina. They were, but "with bloody hands to hospitable graves." Several good citizens, however, were killed and numerous horses stolen. Colonel Love met and fought them in Haywood county and Lieutenant Conley fought and drove them across the Balsam Mountains at Soco Gap.
On the morning of 6 March, 1865 the troops located in Jackson county and Swain, met and fought them on Soco creek, thence driving them across Smoky Mountains towards Sevierville, Tenn., the writer travelling all of two nights and one day to get there. This fight, insignificant within itself, was an era with the Indians and was only noticeable from its locality. It was fought upon a historic spot. At or over an old town house there the celebrated creek chief, "Tecumseh," held a council of war with the old Cherokee Chief Yonah-guskee, about the year 1812, when Tecumseh tried in vain to get the Cherokee to join in this great Indian war, but this "Old Father of the Cherokees" flatly refused. And now on the same spot both white and Indian descendants of the noble sires that fought side by side under Jackson, bravely fought the invaders of their soil, and but for the want of ammunition would have badly worsted, if not destroyed Kirk's entire force. It is but fair to say that some of Kirks men and officers refused to obey many of his beastly orders. This raid had a good effect upon the people, drawing them more closely together and intensified Southern sentiment. The Indians themselves were always friendly to the whites and loyal to their neighbors, which fact had a potent influence ever after in keeping out army raids. Soon after this the enemy everywhere became more active and aggressive. The end was now rapidly approaching, as slow as our people were to believe it.
On 10 March, 1865, General J. G. Martin reported 1,745 present for duty, of which the fragments of the Sixty-second, Sixty-fourth and Sixty-ninth North Carolina reported 488.
Colonel Bartlett, of New York, came up the French Broad river to near Asheville, surprising and almost capturing that place. But for the prompt and vigorous steps taken by Colonel G. Westly Clayton, of the Sixty-second North Carolina, the place would have been taken. This was shortly prior to its final capture. Colonel J. R. Love, of the Sixty-ninth, was ordered to hold the gap at Swannanoa tunnel against the enemy approaching from Salisbury. He met them and drove them back to Mill Creek, McDowell county, 17 April, 1865.
About this time rumors of the surrender of General Lee were current, although the people discredited them. Colonel Love returned with his forces to Asheville and there with General Martin went on to Waynesville and Balsam Gap. About 25 April, General Martin sent written directions to the writer to go with a flag of truce to Knoxville, Tenn., to General Stoneman regarding terms of the surrender of this Department. On this very day a soldier of the Ninth North Carolina (First Cavalry) came to my headquarters at Franklin, Macon county, and said that General Lee had surrendered. I put him in jail till that evening or the next morning, when another soldier came in with a proper parole, showing sure enough that Lee had surrendered. The first soldier was, of course, released. The flag of truce went directly on to Knoxville, Tenn., one hundred miles through the mountains, but did not return. The bearers were all thrust into jail for refusing to take the oath after having been grossly insulted upon the streets, and our flag trampled under foot. Captain W. B. Reese, Captains Everett, M. H. Love, Thomas Butler, John Henderson and others, twenty-three in all, were in the party.
The day before out a few miles south of Maryville, we were all halted and inspected by a party of eighty-four Federals. After quite a parley I was ordered to surrender three of my men, Captains Love, Everett and Henderson, which, of course, I refused to do, whereupon we were severely threatened, but finally allowed to pass on. General Martin hearing nothing from us at Franklin, went towards Waynesville with Major Gordon, of his staff, and while spending the night at John B. Love's, near Webster, Colonel Love, his son, came in from the front and told of hie fight with Federals that day, 9 May, above and around Waynesville, and that he and Colonel Thomas had demanded the surrender of Bartlett's forces, and that next day, 10 May, was fixed for a further consultation. This was the last gun fired during the war in this State.
During one of these parleys Colonel Thomas, who was usually very cool and discreet, became quite boisterous, especially when told that Bartlett's men were traversing the entire county and taking every horse and fat cow or ox. He demanded the surrender of Bartlett's forces and went into town with twenty or twenty-five of his biggest and best warriors all painted and feathered off in good old style. Colonel Love arrived about this time with his 250 men. Colonel Thomas and Lieutenant Conley had three hundred more whites and 200 more Indians, all the Indians making the welkin ring with their war whoop. Terms of surrender were suggested and soon agreed to. All the officers and men were paroled and all allowed to retain their arms, ammunition, etc. This concession was agreed to on account of the disturbed condition of the country. Kirk was told by Bartlett that he must control his men and by Love and Thomas that if he did not that they would.
Most, of the officers and men of the old Legion have gone to their long home. Those still living are numbered with the best citizens of the land, loyal to their State, section and nation and not ashamed, of their Confederate record, while there is no bitterness to our late foes.
The writer as the last field officer of the regiment, while feeling it his duty to write, feels his entire inability to do justice to all, especially to the private soldiers, whose names even cannot be given here, but nobly generous North Carolina has preserved these in four volumes of Moore's Roster. For ours, see Vol. 4, page 152, etc.
W. W. Stringfield
Waynesville, N C.,
10 May, 1901.
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