Upland Chronicles: Many Sevier County men enlisted in Second Tennessee Regiment
Like most of the able-bodied males of East Tennessee, hundreds of Sevier County volunteers enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War. Most of them journeyed to Kentucky to sign up, or found a recruiting officer who wasn’t too scared of retribution, in order to join the Union cause locally.
They came in droves, most joined by family. Many volunteers had neighbors, and in some cases relatives, who supported the Confederate cause. They knew the confrontations to come were going to be tragic.
The men from Sevier County showed up to enlist riding a mule or horse, or on foot. Some carried a knife, a musket, a blanket and a burlap bag of food. They wore a straw hat or cloth cap, coat and maybe shoes or boots if available.
When these volunteers were mustered into a unit, most received a new, ill-fitting, woolen uniform, brogans and either a kepi, a forge cap or broad-brimmed felt hat. They were also issued a belt set that included a cartridge box, bayonet and scabbard, a haversack for rations, a canteen and a blanket roll or poncho.
After June 8, 1861, the day of the election on “separation” or “no separation,” excitement prevailed throughout the county. People came to Sevierville in large companies carrying federal flags and proclaiming pro-Union sentiments.
A company of cavalry was organized with Andrew Lawson chosen to serve as captain; C.M. Ray, first lieutenant; Robert A. Montgomery, second lieutenant; and John W. Andes, third lieutenant. They numbered 100 men who uniformed themselves and began drilling regularly every Saturday.
For the next six months, anxious uncertainty prevailed among Union loyalists. They hardly knew what to do or say. Gov. Isham G. Harris declared the state out of the Union, and on Nov. 8, a crisis arose. Several bridges on the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railway line were burned, and the destruction of others was attempted.
The entire county was thrown into a state of excitement by a rumor that Confederate troops had crossed the French Broad River at Underdown’s Ferry, and were killing Union men and burning their property.
Armed with every conceivable weapon, hundreds of men had gathered in Sevierville by late evening, and by midnight, the town overflowed with an uncontrollable, rowdy crowd. The rumor proved to be false, and an apprehensive quiet again prevailed.
By this time, companies were being organized to cross the rugged mountains into Kentucky, for the purpose of joining the Union Army. Meanwhile, others were organizing Confederate companies. On March 7, 1862, newly elected county officers were installed, and a posse of soldiers came from Knoxville to require them to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy, which they declined.
Throughout 1862, Union scouts and recruiting officers were busy organizing companies to cross into Kentucky and enter the Federal service. When a company was organized and the recruiting officer was ready to start, a signal was given by kindling a big fire on Bluff Mountain.
If the route was clear, this was responded to by fires on high peaks and ridges between there and the Cumberland Mountains. Confederates had taken all the private arms in the county, so volunteers improvised by crafting knives, 15 to 20 inches long, made of anything that could be converted at the blacksmith shops.
By late autumn 1862, the mountains were full of Union men who were fleeing from Confederate conscripting officers. Several hundred were holed up on Bluff Mountain. They were supplied with provisions through the hospitality of charitable families residing at Walden’s Creek.
The Confederates were scouting in every part of the county and pressing men into service, regardless of whether they sympathized. Many joined out of fear of retribution on their families and property, and later deserted to join the Union forces.
Companies formed in Sevier County, such as a group of 450 men led by a pilot from Powell Valley named Bowlinger, attempted to go to Kentucky. Bowlinger rallied his forces on the evening of Sept. 23, 1862, on a bluff on the farm of Jesse Stafford.
About a month later, the men arrived at London, Ky. The weather was cold, and many of them were without coats, hats or shoes. Their bruised and frozen feet bled. But they persevered and struggled on. The hardships they encountered on their trip through Kentucky equaled anything they endured during the conflict.
At Lexington, the men were furnished transportation by train to Covington, where they arrived Nov. 4. Filthy, ragged and exhausted, they were at last given their uniforms and donned the blue.
They embarked on a steamboat and traveled on the Ohio River to Gallipolis to join their regiment, which would be known as the Second Tennessee Cavalry and was commanded by Col. Daniel M. Ray.
After several weeks of training, these volunteers trampled into battle, discarding much of the issued gear, the weight being almost unbearable. Measles broke out, and owing to exposure, several soldiers died. The regiment arrived in Nashville on Christmas Eve, a week before engaging in the Battle of Stones River.
By the time the Battle of Stones River ended, thousands lay dead. It was their first battle, but the Second Tennessee Cavalry came out of it with a record for gallantry, courage and efficiency.
They were not formally organized and mustered until Jan. 26, 1863, when they were mustered to date back to the time of their enlistment. They then had 12 full companies armed and equipped.
The Second Tennessee Regiment Volunteer Cavalry went on to fight gallantly in the Tullahoma Campaign, Battle of Chickamauga and the Battle of Nashville. They moved to Vicksburg, Miss., and New Orleans, La., before being ordered back to Nashville where they were mustered out on July 6, 1865. The regiment lost a total of 224 men during service; two officers and 14 enlisted men were killed or mortally wounded, and 208 men died of disease.
Much of what is known about the regiment is from a book titled “Loyal Mountain Troopers: the Reminiscences of Lieutenant John W. Andes and Major Will A. McTeer,” which was compiled by Charles S. McCammon and published in 1992 by the Blount County Genealogical and Historical Society.
Throughout Sevier County, monuments marking the graves of soldiers who served in the Second Tennessee Regiment can be found in older cemeteries. Along with those who served with other regiments, they are a reminder of the brave men who struggled and sacrificed for the cause in which they believed.
Carroll McMahan is special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County historian.
The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email@example.com.