On a cold New Year’s eve in 1862, a long series of crowded box cars left the railroad station at Dalton, Ga. headed to Vicksburg, Miss. On board was a company of men from Sevier County who earlier that year had enlisted in the 31st Tennessee Mounted Infantry, a regiment devoted to the Confederate cause.
James W. Chambers, a Boyd’s Creek farmer, had been commissioned Captain, and had recruited from his neighborhood enough men to comprise a company, of which he was given command. Napoleon Goforth, a Boyd’s Creek pastor, was appointed as their chaplain.
These men had enlisted in the Confederate Army, either by choice, or by passage of the Conscription Act. The Conscription Act passed by the Confederate Army on April 16, 1862 required every white man between the ages of 18 and 35, be drafted into the Confederate Army. This act came about by virtue of the state of Tennessee now being under Confederate control after the start of the war.
Most Sevier County men would revolt, and pledge their loyalty to the Union. These men, however, had become Company A of the 31st Tennessee Mounted Infantry. The regiment itself was commanded by William Bradford, a Jefferson County man. Up until now, they had done duty at various locations in East Tennessee, including Cumberland Gap.
Arriving in Warrenton, about six miles below Vicksburg, the men settled into camp. Here they remained doing picket duty along the Mississippi River, and building fortifications.
About the first of May, they were ordered to Fort Gibson 40 miles away, where General Grant and his Union army had effected a landing the day before. The regiment was in the Battle of Bakers Creek, and on May 17th, they fell back to Vicksburg. General Grant and his forces converged on Vicksburg, investing the city, and entrapping the Confederate forces in the trenches.
The Federals cut off all supplies going into Vicksburg, and by the 10th day the Confederates were reduced to half rations. Eventually the rations were cut down to one biscuit and a small bit of bacon per day.
Living in narrow trenches, without shelter, the men were exposed to the broiling sun and drenching rain. They engaged from dawn till dark, and often during the night, in one ceaseless conflict with the enemy. They would spend 47 long days and nights in the trenches.
During these times of extreme hardship, Goforth ministered to his men, with daily prayer and words of encouragement. Three known Sevier County men were killed during the siege. They were Pvt. Henderson Shields, a 24-year-old farmer of Sevierville; and Robert Hill, a 31-year-old farmer of Henry’s Cross Roads. Also Radford Douglas of Henry’s Cross Roads died at Vicksburg. Douglas had served in the 43rd Mounted Infantry, which served alongside the 31st Mounted Infantry.
On July 3, the Confederate commander sent a note to General Grant proposing an armistice. Grant replied his only terms were unconditional surrender.
In the trenches when Vicksburg fell were the following men of Sevier County:
Captain James Chambers, and his brother Andrew Chambers; John Ellis, Chaplain Napolean Goforth and his brother, George Washington Goforth; Ezekiel Haggard; John Henry; Abraham Hicks; Blount Preston Love; Spencer McCroskey; Archibald Ogle; Bradford Ogle; Caswell Ogle; Gilbert Ogle; John Romines; Laten Romines; George W. Smith; Jehu Stinnett; George W. Stephens; Calvin Thomas; and Albert Ward.
These men, except for Chaplain Goforth would sign an oath of allegiance, end their service, and head for home in Sevier County. Of these men, John Romines and Laten Romines would later enlist in the Third Tennessee Cavalry, be captured by General Nathan Bedford Forrest at the battle of Sulphur Trestle, Alabama and both were onboard the steamship Sultana when it exploded on the Mississippi River while transporting newly-released prisoners of war.
Blount Preston Love returned to Sevier County, where he established the first newspaper, the Sevier County Vindicator.
Chaplain Goforth was one of the few who would remain with the regiment, feeling compelled to continue his ministry to the men until the end of the war. Goforth later served 10 years as president of Mossy Creek Baptist College, in Jefferson County.
— Beulah Maples Carr grew up in Sevier County and currently resides in Southfield, Mich. This is part of the Upland Chronicles series, celebrating the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column, or have comments, contact McMahan at 453-6411 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or e-mail to email@example.com.