The Heritage of Daniel Haston


Legends & Stories of White County, TN
By Coral Williams
Chapter V     Civil War

             The stories and legends of this chapter treat of incidents and adventures of individual citizens, of the raids and murders of the bushwhackers, and the battles of the regular armies.

            There were high feelings and great excitement throughout the county when war was declared between the states in 1861. Even long before that time, political interest ran high, and it was not uncommon for an election to result in personal conflicts.

            As soon as war was formally declared, patriotic meetings were held both by Northern and Southern sympathizers in which many speeches of honor and loyalty were delivered. One Southern speaker said that his wife’s thimble would hold all the blood that would be shed during the war. Another in a stirring speech made this remark, "Boys you’ll finally whip the North, but you’ll wade through blood shoe mouth deep, and if any of you think you cannot stand it, you better have your name taken off." One said that he could not stand that; he was led to the door and kicked out.

            Young and middle-aged men volunteered, believing that they would be gone from home only a short time. The women cheered the men on and shouldered the work at home with a will that was worthy of high praise. In addition to the work of the men which they attempted, the women washed wool, carded, spun, wove cloth, and cut and made uniforms for the braves at the front. It was speeches from the women that cheered the boys onward. Mothers, wives, and sweethearts said, "Be loyal and true; be valiant and never get shot in the back," and again, "Go, I would rather be a soldier’s widow than a coward’s wife."

            Uncle Meredith Carter, an expert blacksmith, was hired to make cannons and butcher knives to be used as weapons of war. The first cannon he made seemed perfect, but when it was tested out, it exploded and Uncle Meredith decided to make only butcher knives. James Overton hired him to make a butcher knife for him with a D carved on one side which stood for danger and on the other an H for hell.1

            The military spirit has always been strong in White County. She responded to Governor Blount’s call for volunteers, during the bloody war against the Creek Indians, with two full companies which were commanded by Captain Rotan and Captain Randals. During the war with Mexico, White County sent a company, commanded by Captain Anthony.

            When the call to arms came in 1861, White County furnished several companies for the Confederacy and one company for the Federal Government besides portions of other companies in adjoining counties. Daniel T. Brown organized the first company which became a part of the Sixteenth Tennessee Infantry. In July, 1861, three companies were organized in the county and reported to Camp Zollicoffer, in Overton County. In August, three companies commanded by Capt. B. M. Southerd, Capt. W. G. Smith and Capt. J. H. Snodgrass were added to the Twenty-fifth Tennessee Infantry organized at Camp Zollicoffer. George G. Dibrell was elected lieutenant-colonel of the Regiment. In October of the same year, F. P. Sims organized a company which joined the twenty-eight regiment. In December, Capt. David Snodgrass and Capt. William M. Simpson each organized a company and became identified with Comb’s Battalion and in later part of 1862, Capt. Thomas Edward Taylor organized a company and joined Murray’s Battalion of Cavalry. Over half of Shields’ company was made up from White County. Also, the greater portion of Abraham Ford’s company was citizens of the county.

            On September 4, 1862, George G. Dibrell organized at Yankeetown a full regiment of cavalry, of which he was elected colonel. The White County companies were commanded by Jefferson Leftwich and J. M. Barnes. The regiment was placed under the command of General N. B. Forrest at Murfreesboro on October 8, 1862.

            In 1862, Captain Edmond Pennington organized a full company in the northwestern part of the county and joined Jarrett’s Fourth Regiment, Tennessee Mounted Infantry.

            The experiences of war are always fearful and the White County boys received their share of the horrors of war, but they were always willing to find a smile in their heavy toil.

            On May 15, 1861, some boys from White and Warren Counties left home to become a part of the Sixteenth Tennessee Infantry. They met at Wiley Miller’s where they were cheered by a fiddle and a drum. They traveled to McMinnville where they spent the night; they were taken from there to Nashville by rail. One boy had never seen a train and he became very interested in that piece of machinery. After thoroughly examining the coach, he dropped to his knees, peered under the car, and exclaimed, "Well, where is the injun to pull us?" Another boy, after having been told what the telegraph wires were, said, "I don’t see how the hell letters get through them bottle necks." In the crowd was Gabe Elkins who had been preaching for several years, but he exchanged his Bible for a fiddle and played "Pewter" while the boys cut the pigeon wing. Some of the boys expressed their fear, while here, that the war would be over before they got there.

            From here the men moved to Alisonia where they drew rations but did not receive cooking vessels for two or three days. They, also, drilled daily but were furnished with no guns while there.

            The suffering of the soldiers were great, but perhaps their agony was not as great as that of those at home. Many stories have been handed down to the younger generation of the hardships endured both by the soldiers in battle and the individuals at home, but many such legends have long since been forgotten as no attempt has ever been made to preserve them.

            Each side accused the other of committing the more dastardly and cowardly crimes. Besides the battles and skirmishes in the county between the regular troops, there often occurred trouble between the bushwhackers and the citizens or the bushwhackers and the regular troops.

            At one time a Confederate soldier who had been wounded was left at the home of Billie Officer; to recuperate. The Federals under the leadership of Tinker Dave Beatty discovered him there while making a raid on the Officer home. When the sick soldier found that the home was surrounded by Yankee soldiers he attempted to hide. The raiders saw him going up the stairs and fired, hitting Mrs. Officer. The daughter left her in charge of the negroes and left immediately to warn her father and other Confederate men who were several miles away at the home of Jim Officer. She passed the Yankee invaders by telling them she was going for a doctor for her mother. As soon as she arrived, the Rebel soldiers left at once, saying they would return for breakfast if the Yankees did not come. Since they were not warned of the presence of the Yankees, they came early the next morning. Just as they were ready to eat, a girl came running across the field, and the Rebels knew, immediately, that the Federal soldiers were approaching and left before their enemies came up. An old slave told the Yankees that the men had just left. (The Rebels later killed him for this. He broke to run when he saw them coming, but they shot him as he reached the bank of the river; he fell dead into the water.) The Yankees, angry because they did not find the men, attempted to destroy everything that could not be eaten. Finally, they demanded of Mrs. Little the direction in which the Rebels departed, She pointed, as she had been told to do, in the direction the men departed. Just then the Confederates fired on them from the opposite direction. There were about thirty Yankees and only six Rebels, but the Yankees did not know just how many were opposing them and scampered away for shelter in the barn and out houses. The Rebels took all the horses and departed but were met by a group of Yankees and forced to lose part of them.

            One Confederate was separated from his companions, and stood on an opposite hill daring the other men to come to him. They would not accept the challenge because they were not sure of the number of Rebels. The oldest boy of the family was sent to him for protection and thus escaped to his father.3

            Bill Flatt enlisted in the Union Army for twelve months, served his time out, and was discharged. He came home to stay with his widowed mother. Ferguson learned that Bill was at home and sent some of his men to kill him. They hid behind a wood near his home and called, "Hey, Bill, get our horse and let’s go to town."

            Bill suspected that something was wrong but answered, "All right, wait until I put mother on a backstick." At this the men became bold and rode up in front of the house. Bill, who was well fortified in the house, fired from a crack in the door. One man fell dead and a second mortally wounded; the remainder fled in terror. Bill took one of the horses and started after the fleeing men yelling, "Come on, Boys, and let’s get the rest of them."

            When Bill returned, he took charge of the deserted horses, the guns, and ammunition of the dead men. He cut the ears from the body of Pleas Pore who was such a notorious character that he was paid for killing him.4

           During the war Mr. George Henry, his wife and brother-in-law were traveling on a lonely road in Board Valley. While leisurely riding along, they were surprised by shots and shouts from hidden assailants. Mr. Henry fell from his horse dead; the other man dropped from his horse as if wounded and rolled under the rails of a gap near by. The bushwhackers rushed forward and poured a volley of bullets into the body of the dead man, and a volley of oaths into the air because they let the other man escape. They felt sure he would die because he had fallen wounded from his horse. Mrs. Henry was not harmed.5

            Late in the autumn of 1862, John and Bill Emory, bushwhackers, rode hurriedly down the dusty road toward a bridge near Young’s mill. The men and horses were tired but still they pressed forward, crossed the bridge, rode down the river for several miles, and crossed the river again, near Joe Taylor’s home. They climbed the hill to a still run by Mr. Taylor. Here they bought and consumed a large amount of whiskey. Again they traveled down the river, reached a place where the Calf Killer empties into the Caney Fork, and turned inland for a distance of one mile to the home of John Baker, a relative. They told Mr. Baker that they feared the Yanks were after them for they had been in trouble with them in the lower counties.

            The boys were up soon after daybreak, and were nearly ready for departure when a band of Union soldiers dashed up. There was little chance for escape and John seemed powerless to move; he was shot where he stood. Bill made his escape out the back door and ran for the river. He was caught just as he was entering a thicket where could have concealed himself. He was shot while running.

            The boys are buried at Greenwood cemetery, one mile east of Doyle.6

            Milas Southard joined the Confederate army when nothing more than a boy. He was captured by bushwhackers, and on account of his age was not killed but punished in different ways for their amusement. He was placed in a rail-pen and whipped. For this, he made a vow to kill the leaders of this act.

           Soon after the war, Milas and his brother, John, went to the mill. Two of the leaders Milas had vowed to kill were there. When Milas saw them he picked up a stick and raised it to strike one of the men; as he did so the other man shot Milas. John rushed forward, grabbed the man with the pistol and threw him into a big box. He then went to the side of his brother whom he found in a critical condition. Milas died in a few moments and his vow remained unfilled.

            A man named Miller who was a devoted Unionist went from White to Jackson County in order to kill a Confederate soldier. He and his men were refused admittance, and when he found that the door was barred, he went to the old stick-and-clay chimney and attempted to enter the home in this manner. As he entered the room one of the daughters struck him with an ax and cut his head nearly off.8

            Bledsoe, a Confederate, came from Fentress County and bought land on Cherry Creek in White County. Soon after they moved, he went again into the army, but Mrs. Bledsoe became ill and wrote for him to come home. The Yankees learned that he was at home and came to kill him. Mary Sims, a neighbor girl, saw them coming and ran to warn Bledsoe. She was just in front of the charging Yankees, and the spectators expected to see her fall under the horses’ feet at any moment. Bledsoe heard her cries and tried to escape. He took time to block the Yankees by replacing the bars which they made their horses jump as they came up. When Bledsoe saw that the men were going to catch him he left his horse and ran into a large briar patch. He became entangled in the undergrowth and was killed. The Yankees searched him, took his guns, ammunition, and other valuables.

            When the wife heard the shots, she jumped out of bed and ran to her husband. She, also, had to be carried back to the house. Bledsoe had become so pricked and scratched that it was necessary for the women to pick the briars out of this face before burial.9

            At the battle of Yankeetown many soldiers were slain. There was a Lowe boy, fighting with the Confederates, who was riding a spirited horse. The boy was wounded and fell forward on his saddle. The horse become frightened and finding no resistance from his master, broke to run. The boy then lost his seat in the saddle and, as he fell, his foot caught in the stirrup. The dragging body scared the steed more and he made a break for home, a distance of one and one-half miles. He made no stop at the creek but dragged the boy through the water, over rocks, roots, and other obstacles. The neighbors saw the flying animal but were powerless to aid; they knew the boy would be killed and as they followed found his brains had been beat out along the way. When they arrived, the boy was not dead, even though his brains were quite visible and could be seen to move with each breath. He lived in this condition three or four days.

            During the war a meeting was in progress at the Presbyterian church on Cherry Creek. Several bushwhackers were present, also Diana Bradley, a sister of one of the bushwhackers, and her former sweetheart, Jeff Snodgrass. That day Jeff started off with another girl, Martha Sims, when Diana called to him, saying, "Take back what you said about me." Jeff turned and she shot him in a breast killing him almost instantly. As he fell, her brother, John, ran up and shot him again.

            Martha Sims and Arva Cameron where rushed away for it was feared Diana had planned to kill them also. Bill Beason, however, shot Jim Quarles, the boy Diana was with, in the neck and he was bleeding freely; therefore, Jim and Diana left immediately and this stopped the shooting.

            Everyone feared that the trouble had not ended and all were afraid to go back for the dead. Jeff lay there until two o’clock when an old negro slave was sent, with a steer wagon, to bring the body home.

            At this time no law existed and Diana was never arrested for the crime. After the war she went West with the bushwhackers.10

            At another time Jessie Hickman was holding meeting at the same place; he had been warned not to hold night meeting for the bushwhackers had planned a raid on the church house that night. Four Union soldiers were attending, but they had posted a guard below the house. He was to fire a shot in case of danger. The bushwhackers surprised the guard and he fled without firing as he had been instructed. The bushwhackers surrounded the house, spotted the Union boys and fired. One bullet entered Sam Poteet’s head in the back and came out at the forehead. He fell dead. As the boys fled, the bushwhackers fired time after time. No other soldier was hit but some of the bystanders were struck by stray bullets.

            When Poteet was shot the bushwhackers entered the house and one called, "If you don’t hush, I’ll make it silence for you in hell." There was complete silence for a moment but suddenly an old woman rushed to the back door, jerked it open and yelled, "God-dern, come out of there, I’ve got the door open now." There was another general stampede as the bushwhackers fired again and again.

            Poteet was left lying in the church until the next day, when the Union boys reinforced came back and took the body for burial. He had been stripped of his boots and other clothing. Hildreth, one of the bushwhackers, was discovered with them on his person when he was shot under his own woodpile by Mont Weaver. Weaver drew the body out from its hiding place and ran his horse over the body. He was put in jail, after the war, for his brutal murder of Hildreth, but the case thrown out of court when tried because it was committed in the war period.11

            William Matlock, a wealthy slave trader, lived about seven miles north of Sparta near O’Connor. One day five guerrillas, who were in sympathy with the Federals, came to Matlock’s home determined to make him tell where his money was hidden. While they tortured the old man, they commanded the servants to cook breakfast. Mr. Matlock was forced to remove his boots and one of the guerrillas put them on. They pinched his toes with pinchers and were threatening to pull the nails out by the root. Just then a band of Confederates appeared and the robbers attempted to make their escape. John and Josh Hickey were captured, Lever and Bear were killed near the house and Bill Slaughter who had run out the back door, escaped.

            John Hickey begged Mr. Luke to ask for his life. Luke replied, "How can I show you mercy when you have on my dead boy’s clothes?" The father, Josh Hickey, then begged them to kill him but to spare his son. The Confederates replied, "We will kill your son first so that you may see his agony." The two were slain.

            Mr. Bear was buried, in a box made by William O’Connor, near where the bridge now crosses the O’Connor bridge. Mr. Alexander Goodwin came after the bodies of the father and son and they were buried near Almyra.12

            During the war two masked men entered the home of William Green and asked for his money. When he refused to give it to them, they placed a noose around his neck and started to hang him. As he had no weapon with which to protect himself, he gave them his pocketbook. They searched the bag thoroughly and took fifty-five dollars in cash but cast away a one hundred dollar bill wrapped in a small piece of paper. The marauders planned to plunder the place but became afraid of detection and fled.13

            A group of Rebel bushwhackers were camped at the Blue Spring school house. They robbed and stole from the surrounding neighborhood. Bryce Little had a beautiful field or corn which they took possession of, even using the rail fence for fuel. Mr. Little had his fattening hogs in a pen and they killed them as they wished.

            Two men from the Texas Rangers had been cut off from their company and were boarding at the home of Bryce Little. They gave Little a pistol and told him to go down and settle with the captain. He met the leader at the hog pen and told him he had come to settle their difficulty. The captain promised not to bother anything else, but still the stealing went on.

            Finally, the Texas Rangers said they had a plan by which they could free the neighborhood of the bushwhackers. That night they gathered all the horses on the farm and all the stray horses they could find, took them upon the hill above the school house, and turned them loose on the run. At the same time, the two men began shooting, yelling and making all the noise it was possible for two people to make. The bushwhackers thought a whole company was after them and they ran quickly for their horses and fled without attempting to fight or to see who the invaders were.14

            One day a soldier came leisurely riding up to the home of Mrs. Simpson Little, a widow. He came in, spoke to the daughter who was weaving, and after a thorough examination of the house, disappeared. Pretty soon he came back and said to the girl, "Young lady, the army is passing this way and I’m looking for a place for the general’s headquarters."

            She replied, "The lady of the house is not here and if it suits you as well I’d rather you would go some other place." He told her that he preferred that home and that it would really be better for them because the general would not allow the soldiers to bother the family. When she saw he was determined she asked which army and how many would remain there. He told her that they were Confederates and that there were 1500 men but only the general and his staff of twenty-eight men would be in the house.

            When the general came he asked for a place to rest, and told the girl to call him if the soldiers annoyed in any way. Soon she saw the soldiers coming with all their horses; she told the general, and he made them turn every horse loose.

            After the army passed on, the children started over the farm to see what damage had been done; they met two or three hundred belated soldiers. An old man was riding a mare that Mrs. Little depended on for work. The daughter ran up, grabbed the bridle and ordered him to get off. He began to beg her to let him keep the horse. Just then she gave him a quick push and jerked the animal to one side. The old man fell heavily to the ground. The other soldiers cheered heartily and were heard laughing and repeating the incident far down their line of march.15

            The Confederate soldiers were camped near Jim Officer’s. Early one morning a young man appeared at the home of Bryce Little and asked for milk and butter for a sick brother. The mother told him that she could not spare any for she had four wounded soldiers in her home to be cared for. He disappeared but he was found at the gate, by one of the little girls, weeping. When he told her his trouble, she promised to get him some milk and butter if he would meet her at the spring house. She ran in, slipped the key to the spring house lock and took the water bucket. She found the soldier waiting and filled his canteen with milk and gave him a ball of butter. He left with many thanks.

            The next morning early the boy returned with a beautiful horse for his little benefactor. He said the horse’s back was hurt and he could not be used for service. The horse became a pet and was dearly loved by the little girl, but he was stolen soon afterwards by the Rebel bushwhackers. After the war he was returned to the child.16

            A confederate soldier, Thom Little, was wounded in a skirmish with the Yankees, and after the battle was taken to a Federal hospital. Here the Confederates were allowed to send doctors to care for their wounded soldiers. The doctor found Thom severely wounded in the breast and felt that he could not live. He told the nurse that Little could not live until morning and, therefore, to give him enough morphine to ease him until death.

            The next morning when the doctor arrived, Little’s cot was empty, and he felt certain that his patient was dead. As he walked down the line the doctor felt a weak tug at his overcoat. He turned to face Little who said, "That’s a fine overcoat you are wearing, Doctor." The doctor replied, "Well, if you are able to wear it you shall have it." He pulled the coat off and presented it to the wounded boy.

            A lady who had been a frequent visitor to the hospital became interested in this young man and determined to slip him out of the hospital for she felt that he was not able to go North as a Federal prisoner. She solicited the aid of the doctor, and with his help and that of her slaves she carried him to her carriage whence he was taken to her home. His father came after him and he remained at home until he was able to enter the ranks again.17

            Two noted bushwhackers had made many robbing and stealing raids in White and adjoining counties. They could not keep their booty at home so they carried it to the home of an old lady who had been invalid for years. She had a large closet in her room, in which all the stolen goods were placed, and the bed of the sick woman pushed against the door. None of the soldiers ever bothered this home.

            One of the bushwhackers was killed before the war was over and the second carried away two wagon loads of dresses, hats, quilts, jewelry, knives, forks, and other stolen valuables.

            Long after the war some people, from an adjoining county, were passing the home and saw some quilts hanging on the fence. They stated that some of the quilts belonged to them and their neighbors.

            At one time during the war the wife of one of these bushwhackers saw some Rebel soldiers coming to search the house. Her husband had just bought home a silver cup; she placed the cup in the clothes of the baby and held the child during the search.18

            Idyle Stone’s boys, Walter and Roderick, with Tom Wisdom, stole and robbed for a living and at the same time escaped conscription into the army. One night on their way home, they came by the home of Jim Howard in the Flat Woods. The boys knew he had money and tried to force him to tell where it was hidden. They punished him terribly, but still he refused to tell his secret. At length when his body was torn and bleeding they threw him into a hog pen as a dead man.

            The boys sent back to the house and made the women tell where the money was hidden. Mr. Howard had bored a hole in a block of wood, placed the money in the opening, plugged the hole, and thrown the block in a wheat field. After finding the money, they went to their home in Stones Hollow. They expected the room to be empty and went in with bloody clothes to make the division of money. When this task had been accomplished, they noticed a little Negro boy sleeping in one of the beds in the room. Dick Stone, the little colored boy, had only pretended to be sleeping, for he knew that it would mean certain death if they suspected that he knew. Many years later the Negro told what he had heard and seen that night.19

            In the sixth district near Old Zion, an old couple lived in a small log cabin and barely had enough on which to exist. They took no part in the war but feared they might be robbed or killed. The old man made a resolve to kill at least one if they were ever molested by the bushwhackers.

            One dark night the man was awakened by the clatter of horses’ hoofs; they drew nearer as the old man made ready to protect his home. When they halted before the window, the old man shot the leader of the gang; he then realized this act meant death for him. His mind worked clearly and swiftly. He grasped the round of a ladder, which rested on some loose boards in the attic above, shook with all his might and at the same time yelled, "Come down, boys, we have one of the rascals and we can get every one of them." He fired into their ranks again. The guerrillas, believing the house to be full of boys, fled.

            The bushwhackers were making their headquarters at the home of the captain of the band. They reached there about midnight, and the mother of the slain captain met them at the door with this remark, "You didn’t stay long tonight. Have any luck, boys?" One of the members replied, "Yes, we had too much luck; we lost our captain."20

            A disabled Rebel soldier was boarding at a certain home in the county until he was able to go into service again. It was rumored through the county that he had a large sum of money with him. One of the girls of the family asked him to go squirrel hunting with her. He accepted the invitation and the two left bright and early. The girl returned late in the afternoon with both guns but gave no account of what had happened to her companion. The boy was never heard of again.

            Soon the girl began to dress in the costliest material money could buy for that time. This was thin material which cost fifty cents a yard. All other girls wore home-made linsy dresses.21

            At another time a wounded soldier was staying at this home and he suddenly disappeared. Again it was rumored that he had been murdered for his money, and that an old Negro slave had been forced to carry him to a cave far back of the home.

            Twenty-five years later, a man, who had heard these things from the older residents, began a search for the bones. He discovered some human bones far back in the cave. The teeth were still clear and white and the bones had not fallen apart.22

            The girls from this family were known far and wide for their bravery and foolhardiness. They took a lot of grain to the Gibbon’s mill to be ground and had to wait all day for it to be ground. The girls were each riding large white horses and the Yankees, who were ravaging the country, attempted to take the horses for their own use. One of the girls saw them and jerked a pistol out of a hidden pocket in her skirt and dared the men to touch them.

            One time the Rebels were fleeing from some Yankees and one of the girls rushed to the gap, let the gap down and they thus escaped.

            The Yankees carried the two girls into their camps where they were confined for several days because they had been accused of bearing news from one army to the other.23

            A young man from the Rebel army was boarding with Bets Wilhite. One day some bushwhackers came by and asked him to go with them to a spring above the house to play poker. Lake in the afternoon, the members of the party returned but the Rebel boy did not come with them, nor was he ever heard of again. Twelve years later several small children who were playing near the spring unearthed the skeleton of a human. They brought the bones to the house and buried them in their orchard.24

            Before and during the war there lived in Quebeck two very close friends, Mr. Temple Sparkman, who fought for the South, and Mr. Anderson, who joined the Northern ranks. Mr. Sparkman came home for a few days furlough, was taken by the Federals as a guerrilla, and was to be hanged for a spy. The death noose had been placed around his neck when Mr. Anderson appeared on the scene; for a few seconds he stood aghast but finally rushed forward and yelled, "Don’t hang that man – he is no bushwhacker." His life was spared on the word of his true friend.

            In 1861, there was a free Negro who had become famous as an herb doctor. He had no home but went from place to place doctoring those left at home. He had been treating Mrs. Nancy Bradley for some time and at length asked for some money. The woman told him that her son John would pay him when he returned. The son was a bushwhacker and the day he would return was uncertain; therefore, the darky would not wait for his coming.

            Soon after he left the house, he met the son and told him what the mother had said. The boy answered, "Yes, I’ll pay you," and with that drew his pistol and shot the old colored man. When he reached home, John told his mother what he had done and she grabbed the battling stick and gave him such heavy blows he was forced to leave the house to escape them. She screamed, "Now kill me; you know your father and I cannot be cured now." His father died soon afterwards.

            The doctor was buried by an old negro slave who built a rail pen around his grave.26

            A band of Federals were hand pressing some Rebel soldiers, when one of the Rebels fell from his horse as if dead. A Yankee to make sure of death fired a shot at him, as he passed, that cut a wisp of hair from his head. A second fleeing Rebel left his horse and sped through a field where he found a man working. By the time he reached the worker, he was breathless from his recent race; he jumped on the back of the man and began to spur him as he would a horse. He forced the man to carry him to safety.

            Both men lived in White County long after the war, but the man who had been treated as a horse would never speak to the other.27

            Frank Coatney came home on a furlough to see his family. The bushwhackers heard that he was on leave of absence and came to kill him. He saw them approaching and ran out the back door. They saw him leave and were certain he was making a desperate effort to reach the creek as a means of escape, and they came faster. In the meantime Coatney, in his flight, passed the wash place, and seeing an old-fashioned wash tub hewn from a log, turned the trough over and slipped under it.

            The bushwhackers searched the surrounding country for nearly an hour. The trees were searched, both banks of the creek were watched closely, and bullets were fired into the bushes along the bank in case he should be hiding there. Coatney, who lay under the trough, could hear the horses’ hoofs strike the top of his hiding place as they jumped over the log. The murderers left cursing because they had let him escape.28

            Blackburn was sent into White County to scatter the bands of bushwhackers who were devastating that section. One day Blackburn and his men went into Geer Cove on their mission. Blackburn left his men, and went to the top of a nearby hill to search the surrounding country with field glasses. Suddenly he heard a command to surrender. Blackburn turned, jerked out his pistol and began firing. The first shot hit France square in the forehead and he fell dead; the second struck Ferguson in the thigh. This is said to have been the only wound he received during the entire period of the war. The third shot took a large wisp of hair, just above the ear, from the head of Hudgens. The two had had enough and fled. The shots brought Blackburn’s men to his side but, the enemy had disappeared.29

            Two Payne boys joined Pennington’s command and when the bushwhackers found that they had become Unionists, they went to the home, robbed the house, and abused the mother and sisters.

            Near the close of the war the Payne brothers returned; when they heard of the deed, they vowed it would cost the men their lives. They went to the home of Hudson and shot him in his crib. They then went in search of Alex Irving. He was raking straw at a thresher. One of the boys went to him and told him that someone wished to see him and that he would take his place so that he might go. The brother who was waiting shot Irving as he appeared, and the two boys left the place of the murder at once.30

            There is also this version of the murder committed by the Payne boys. In August, 1864, a band of seven or eight Confederate soldiers were separated from their regiment and they stopped at the home of Daniel Lyda about seven miles north of Sparta for breakfast. They left immediately after eating.

            There were a notorious band of bushwhackers led by the Payne brothers, Louis and Alex. They heard that Mr. Lyda, also Bill Hudson and Ike Irving had fed the Confederate soldiers. On the third morning after Mr. Lyda had fed them, this band of bushwhackers, twenty in number, visited the men. They came first to the home of Hudson, carried him to a woodland, and shot him. Alex, then, took half of the men and went to the home of Ike Irving whom he shot at his place at the wheat thresher. The remainder, led by Lewis, went to the home of Lyda. When called, Mr. Lyda walked coolly toward the group, but no man fired. He replied in the same manner, when asked why he had fed the Confederates, "It is my duty as a Southerner to feed all Southern soldiers who wish to eat." The bushwhackers accepted this as an invitation to eat. They joked with Mr. Lyda during the meal, and left immediately after finishing, traveling in the same direction they had come.

            At their meeting Alex was anxious to know why Lyda had not been slain; Lewis promptly answered that he could never slay a truthful man.31

            Jessie Hickman was a distinguished Presbyterian preacher in the county. He remained neutral throughout the war. At one time he and George Simpson were taken captives by the Federals and condemned to be shot. All preparations were made for the killing and the two prisoners were called before the firing squad. When all was in readiness, the preacher asked for a word of prayer. The request was granted. He then invited the captain and the guard to kneel. The prayer was so fervent that at the close of that prayer, the captain ordered that the two prisoners be freed and that they be escorted home.

            At another time the bushwhackers raided a church house during the moment of prayer. Hickman was praying, when the men entered, shooting, but continued until his prayer was property concluded even though two members had been killed and four wounded.32

            General Dibrell wanted an important message carried to General Forrest. He asked for volunteers but none came. Eventually an eighteen-year old boy, Will Little, presented himself for service. General Dibrell ordered one of his own boys to get off of his horse and let the boy have the steed. The son was not pleased with this, but Dibrell said he was not going to have the boy lose his horse as well as to risk his life.

            The boy took the message and started; he had only gone a short distance from camp when his horse was shot from under him. When he returned, Dibrell ordered a second son to furnish a horse for the boy. Again the horse was shot from under him. On his return General Dibrell ordered another horse for the hazardous journey. On the third attempt his horn was shot from the saddle but the young scout pressed forward with his important message and carried it safely to Forrest.

            In the Sparta Expositor, 1902, this bit of history of the Dug Hill battle is given:

          Of all the skirmishes of the war, the fight at Dug Hill was the most fatal that occurred in this section. There were about two companies of Federal soldiers. The Federals belonged to Stokes’ Cavalry, and from sixty to eight-five of them were killed. Colonel Exom was in command, while Stokes was making a speech to the citizens of Sparta. The nearest information that we can gather is to the effect that about one-third of the Federals survived. Several men who live in White County were in that fearful fight, and the exact number of killed was never known. After all the dead could be found on that day were hauled away and buried, others were found along the road, and skeletons were found scattered in the woods the next winter. One Confederate, who had been chasing the Federal soldiers through the mountains, stopped at a house for water on his way through Board Valley. He told the man of the house that he had killed a "damn Yankee" just above his home. The man, not knowing whether to believe the story or not, was afraid to go to the spot. The next day he went to the place that the Confederate told him the murder had occurred and he found that the body had been eaten by dogs.34

            Hale gives a full account of this battle:

          The most noted battle in which the detachment under Colonel Doughtery participated was the Dug Hill fight on February 22 with about an equal force of Colonel Stokes Cavalry. They soon routed Stokes’ Cavalry, killing about fifty and stampeding the remainder, and greatly demoralizing the crowd that had assembled in Sparta to listen to the 22nd of February oration being delivered by Colonel Stokes.

          This must have been the affair known locally as the battle of the Calfkiller. In the winter of 1864 Stokes’ Regiment was stationed in Sparta. At other times Colonel Garrett’s Federals, says General Dibrell, were harassing the people. A number of Southern men – some of them belonging to the regular commands were cut off from them – retaliated bitterly. These were called bushwhackers. Some of the alleged bushwhackers were George Carter, who was captain of Company A, Eight Tennessee Cavalry; John M. Hughes, colonel in S. S. Stanton’s old regiment, Twenty-fifth Infantry – in 1864 he had been sent to middle Tennessee for some purpose, but rejoined his regiment in Virginia before the war closed; W. S. Bledsoe, a captain in Stanton’s regiment and Champ Ferguson. Under the direct leadership of each of these men when back at home were five or six others just as brave and reckless, all making, with a few Texas rangers, about forty men.

          Stokes, it is said, had raised the black flag as far as these men were concerned – sent word that he would give no quarter. Their reply to the threat was that his proclamation just suited them, and they would not give any of his regiment quarter.

          So this was understood. In February Stokes sent out a number of men – probably about eighty – to scour the country for guerrillas. They were to take the old Kentucky or Cookeville road to Cookeville, and return through Dry Valley, where the Calf Killer river heads. The force was commanded by Captain E. W. Bass of Liberty.

          Ferguson and his friends had been informed of the movement, and gathered in the hills sloping down to Dry Valley. All told, they numbered forty men.

          Captain Carter was a person of fine physical and tremendous strength. Ferguson, Hughes and Bledsoe were strong and hardy, also. In fact, the entire body was of this character, for the leaders would not tolerate a comrade who was not able-bodied and of tried courage. But perhaps John Gatewood was the most remarkable personage of that band of mountain fighters. He was only eighteen years of age, but stood six feet and weighed almost two hundred pounds. His red hair hung in locks below his shoulders, and it was his manner to wear a wide-brimmed hat, tilted back from his forehead. There has perhaps never been a more reckless dear-devil.

          The plan of the guerrillas was to form an ambush, and send forward two men to decoy the Federals on their return. They selected the precipitous borders of the Dug Hill road. This road leads out of Dry Valley into the mountains. On either side were immense boulders and scrub cedars and laurel – an ideal place for concealment; and besides this desolate road they waited patiently for their prey.

          After awhile – it was afternoon – the Federals filed into the valley, reaching the Dug Hill road. They were suddenly startled by a shot, and discovered two men riding rapidly up the hill. It was natural for them to start in pursuit, not dreaming of an ambuscade. When nearly all had turned out of the valley into the jaws of death – into the mouth of hell – the roadsides blazed, there was a deafening volley, and men in blue began tumbling headlong from their saddles.

          The scene of conflict in that wild region was weird and strikingly impressive. The sharp, cruel cracks of pistols and their infinitely multiplied reverberation from mountain to valley – the cries of the dying blended with the metallic clanging of the hoofs of scampering and riderless horses – must have been long remembered by the survivors.

          The Federals fled everywhere and any where – many turned back, while a few dashed up the mountain. The guerrillas had hitched their horses some distance off, and the pursuit was on foot. John Gatewood, knowing the region better than he perhaps did his, intercepted five of the Yankees with an army pistol in each hand he called on them to surrender. Not thinking him alone, they did so. But after seeing that he was by himself, two broke away after the surrender. Fearing the remaining three would follow their example, Gatewood was in the act of shooting them when Captain George Carter appeared on the scene.

          "Hold on John," he called as he gathered up one or two stones. "Don’t waste your ammunition, as we have to fight for all we get."

          The next day when Stokes sent out wagons for the dead troopers, forty one were found. They were laid side by side in an old store in Sparta. Thirty-eight had been shot through the head, and the heads of the other three had been crushed with stones, the work of the athletic Captain Carter.

          There was a wild race for safety on the part of the survivors. One of them, Russell Gan, had been knocked from his horse in the valley but fortunately there was a hollow log near and into this he crawled, making his escape after darkness and silence had settled over the scene. Captain Bass fled to Sparta bareheaded, which town was reached the following forenoon.

          Colonel Blackburn later on challenged Colonel Hughes to meet him and seventy-five picked men in pitched battle. The challenge was accepted. The place selected was an open field at Yankeetown five miles north of Sparta. Blackburn was an extremely handsome man. Attired in his uniform and with a great plume in his hat, I think he was the finest looking soldier I ever saw; but when he returned – well that is another story – his uniform was riddled with bullets, and he had other marks of the terrible ordeal he had gone through. It was generally thought he bore a charmed life. I have heard – and men who could kill squirrels with their pistols – say that they had taken deliberate aim at him, but always missed.

          On the designated field the Federals found the forty or fifty guerrillas drawn up to receive them. They charged, and the hand-to-hand fight was something terrible. The battle lasted some time, when the retreat was sounded and Blackburn’s force dashed headlong for Sparta.35

            Several skirmishes occurred during 1862 in White County, the first of which took place at Simpson’s Mill between Colonel Wharton’s Texas troops and the advance under General Nelson. Little is known of that battle except that the advance of the Federals was checked after several men were killed.36 The following story is recorded by the Sparta Expositor:

          In August of the same year General Dibrell’s Cavalry, 400 strong, had a lively skirmish with Minter’s37 troops, 4000 strong, at Wild Cat Creek, near the Calf Killer. The above occurred before dinner resulting in twelve men being killed and twenty-four wounded on the Federal side and one killed on the Confederate. In the afternoon the Federals having been reinforced, returned to the attack. General Dibrell had been reinforced by two companies from Starnes’ Regiment, and the Federals were again driven back, with considerable loss.38
            There were many stories told about this battle. Wyeth gives a different version of the same battle. Dibrell reached Sparta July 29, (1862?) and encamped on his own plantation.
          On August 9, Colonel Robert H. G. Minty endeavored to surprise Colonel Dibrell and his troops. He took the Fourth Regulars, Seventh Pennsylvania, Fourth Michigan, and a battalion of the Third Indiana, numbering, as he states seven hundred and seventy-four effectives, and marked all night to pounce upon this single regiment of three hundred men, and managed to put in a very busy day when he found them. Four miles away, Dibrell’s pickets at daylight fired into Minty’s advance-guard, and broke for camp. The Fourth Michigan followed at full tilt, but the Tennesseans beat them in, and kept up such a racket as they ran that the Confederates in camp were aroused, saddled up and were ready for the surprise party. A single company was left in front to check their advance, while Dibrell led the other companies behind Wild Cat Creek, where the banks were high and steep, and by reason of a mill dam, no crossing could be made except over a narrow rickety bridge, which the Confederates covered with their rifles. As the Union troopers charged in at full speed, Dibrell, at close range, opened on them with great effect, three them into confusion, and caused them to retreat perceptibly. They reformed, and on foot made a rush for the bridge, only to meet with a second repulse. They now made a wide detour around Dibrell’s position, which caused him to retire to Blue Spring Creek, one mile to the rear. There he took another strong position; but Minty had had enough, and withdrew. Colonel Dibrell reports a loss of four wounded and captured. He found twelve dead Union troopers on the field, and twenty dead horses. Colonel Minty reports: "Our loss, I regret to say, was heavy."39

            J. L. Quarles and Dr. Jim Sims, old Confederate veterans, who were present at this battle say that the number of Federals who fell that day is uncertain. Some of the Confederate soldiers were stationed on a high hill hidden by large trees. A large part of the army was allowed to pass them in an attempt to reach the bridge before they were fired upon. When the Federals realized that they had been tricked into a trap from which there was little chance of escape there was a general stampede and many were slaughtered before they could retreat.

            Captain Walker from the Confederate army was shot in the face. He was left at the home of Jim Officer until he was able to join his forces again. One of the pickets was killed by a sabre.

            At the time the pickets appeared and announced the advance of the Yankees, three men were at the home of a Mr. Gibbons for provisions. The men broke to run, but two were captured, one of whom had been severely wounded by a sword.

            Dibrell, who knew the surrounding country better than his enemy, prepared for battle when the first picket arrived in camp. Over a ford that led to his approach he cut down trees blocked the ford, and tore down the bridge. Before the battle began the soldiers from the Federal army would exchange handkerchiefs with the men of the opposing force by tying the handkerchief at the end of a long pole which was held out to the Confederates.40

            Thirty years after the war a Civil War veteran from the Federal army came to Sparta on a visit. He asked for Civil War veterans and was sent to J. O. Quarles to talk over old war time. During the conversation the visitor remarked. "I barely missed being killed in Sparta." Mr. Quarles asked the circumstances. He said that he and a companion were riding toward Dibrell’s command when they saw a small Confederate sitting on his horse under an apple tree. The Federal soldier fired and cut the weeds near his opponent of war. In turn the Confederate took aim and the bullet went through his arm. Mr. Quarles asked if he would know the boy if he should see him. He said that he would not. Mr. Quarles then replied, "I am he, but I am glad that I did not kill you even though I tried my best at that time." "Well," rejoined the other, "you nearly got me."41

            General Dibrell gives the following account of this battle:
         On the morning of the 9th of August, 1863, our pickets, eight miles from our camp on the road to Spencer, were charged by Col. Minty’s brigade of cavalry. The picket was Capt. Leftwich’s Co. D. A running fight from there to camp, two miles above Sparta, was kept up. Capt. Leftwich, being on a fleet horse, would check the advance until overpowered, would then press on and urge his men out of the way. When the firing was heard as they came running at full speed through Sparta, at least two-thirds of our horses were loose in the fresh pasture just opened, and by the time we could get our horses the enemy was near us. Capt. McGinnis, with Co. B, was sent to meet and check the advance, but they only did so for a few minutes, when, by superior force and numbers, they broke his line and came thundering upon our rear as we were moving the rest of the regiment into position across Wild Cat Creek, just above its mouth, where it empties into the Calf Killer River, and below Fisk’s mill on the creek. Capt. Dixon A. Allison took charge of the head of the regiment, and formed it upon the left bank of the river; while the writer took the companies of Capts. Mounce L. Gore and B. M. Swearingen, and formed them in front of the bridge over Wild Cat Creek, the enemy were allowed to reach the bridge before we opened fire on them, and in the space between the bridge and the creek there must have been one hundred horsemen when we began the attack. Our gallant boys never acted more bravely than upon this occasion. Being at their own homes they found with desperation, and repulsed every effort of the enemy to charge or dislodge us. After they had retired we moved farther up the river to Blue Spring Creek, where we thought we had a better position; but Col. Minty failing to pursue us, we took up the line of march after him, and pursued him until we learned he had recrossed the Caney Fork River and left the county. This being a hot August Sabbath, we would not overtake him. Our loss was two or three wounded and about eight of the pickets captured. Their loss was twelve killed and a number wounded, with twenty-four horses killed.***

          On the 17th of August, 1863, Col. Minty was reenforced and made another dash upon us in daylight and coming up the main road from McMinnville. We had been reenforced by Col. W. S. McLemore, with two hundred of his regiment, and were camped near the same place. Our scouts met them twelve miles from camp, when they charged the scouting party and pursued them hotly to camp. The Fourth Tennessee took our former position at Wild Cat Creed, and the Eighth Tennessee took position half a mile above at Meredith’s mill, when the battle began about four o’clock P.M., and lasted until after dark. They lost heavily in killed and wounded and in horses, while we lost two men killed and eight or ten wounded and a few captured. The battle was spirited and fierce until the darkness of the night put an end to the fray. Fearing the enemy would effect a crossing of the river above us, we left a strong picket and withdrew to the top of Cumberland Mountain to a very strong position, and expected the fight to be renewed early next morning; but in this we were disappointed, as when morning came Col. Minty with his command, moved across the mountain in the direction of Chattanooga, saying he would leave us in full possession of the country about Sparta.

          In the engagement of the 9th not more than two hundred of the Eighth Tennessee were engaged in the battle, and not more than three hundred in that of the 17th of August, 1863, while Col. Minty had not less than fifteen hundred or two thousand men well armed and equipped. Their loss in the last battle was very heavy in killed and wounded. They sent many of their dead and wounded to McMinnville, and we buried the dead left on the battlefield.

          The support given us by Col. McLemore’s reenforcements enabled us to repulse the enemy on the 17th, and no set of soldiers ever fought more bravely when they knew they were fighting against such odds. But we were at home, fighting for our own dear ones, and we preferred death rather than defeat. Minty’s men made various efforts to charge us and drive us from our positions at Wild Cat Creek and Meredith’s mill, but the true and gallant boys of the eight met every charge with a yell and a volley that sent them to the rear in great confusion. Of the wounded I only remember Lieut. James Walker, Rowland Terry, Evan Bartlett; of the captured Jesse Beck and others.42

            The legends and stories in this chapter fall into four groups, first, those which treat of the main battles that took place in the county. Second, the legends that deal with adventures and perils of men from the regular armies, and third, the traditions which treat of the skirmishes between the bushwhackers of Southern sympathy and those of Northern sympathy or between the bushwhackers and private citizens. The last group deals with experiences and adventures of private citizens during the war.

           As revealed through the stories in this study, there were five important and severe battles fought on White County soil. In four of these battles, the Confederates were decidedly victorious and in the fifth "the advance of the Federals was checked after several men had been killed." There are sixteen legends which record happenings from the regular army or life of the men who belonged to the regular troops. Through the seventeen legends that deal with the bushwhackers, it is shown that White County suffered more from their irregular warfare, and, therefore, these are the stories that remain longest in the minds of the old soldiers and are handled down to the younger generations. There are only six traditions which treat of individual citizens in which war does not play the leading role.

            The legends in this chapter reveal the bitter hared that existed between the people in sympathy with the Southern cause and those who favored the Northern cause.


1. Scrapbook, "Reminiscences of the 16th Tennessee Infantry."

2. (missing)

3. Mrs. Paul, Personal Conversation, Sept., 1930

4. Charlie Coatney, Personal Interview, Jan., 1930.

5. Barney Cravens, Personal Interview, Sept., 1930.

6. Thomas Orr, by William Hollingsworth, Manuscript.

7. Mrs. Bill Wilhite, June, 1930.

8. Mrs. Paul, September, 1930.

9. Mrs. Arch Prater, August, 1930.

10. Mrs. Bill Wilhite, June, 1930.

11. Ibid.

12. Edward Lance, by Mrs. George Saylors and Mrs. Ida Lance, Manuscript.

13. William Green, Manuscript.

14. Mrs. Paul, September, 1930.

15. Aunt Mary Jane Officer, September, 1930.

16. Mrs. Paul, September, 1930.

17. Mrs. Paul.

18. Mrs. H. E. Randolph, July, 1930.

19. Cleora Weaver, by Dick Stone, Manuscript.

20. Lela Sullivan, Manuscript.

21. Mrs. Bill Wilhite, July, 1930.

22. Mrs. G. W. McLaughlin, January, 1930.

23. Mrs. H. E. Randolph, June, 1930.

24. Mrs. Bill Wilhite, June, 1930.

25. Mrs. H. E. Randolph, June, 1930.

26. Charlie Coatney, January, 1930.

27. Dr. Jim Sims, September, 1930.

28. Mrs. G. W. McLaughlin, January, 1930.

29. Charlie Coatney, February 18, 1930.

30. Ibid.

31. James Geer, by Emily Lyda Baker, Manuscript.

32. Paul E. Doran, Personal Interview, September, 1930.

33. Mrs. Paul, September, 1930.

34. Oscar Williams, Personal Interview, Sept., 1930.

35. Will T. Hale, A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans, III, 651-654.

36. Sparta Expositor, 1902.

37. Usually spelled Minty

38. Ibid.

39. John Allan Wyeth, Life of Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, 236-237.

40. Mrs. H. E. Randolph, July, 1930.

41. J. L. Quarles, September, 1930.

42. John Berrien Lindsley, Military Annals of Tennessee Confederates, 658-659.

Thanks to Dona Terry for her work as the word processor on this project.  (November 2002)