The Civil War in Cumberland County (Part 2)

Post #2 of the Civil War in Cumberland County

War on the plateau came in a different form. It was not the battles we’ve come accustomed to. It was terror and abuse of local businesses. Reason being is the plateau’s unique geography. 

“Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau is a physiographic region of stunning beauty, imposing rock faces, geologic oddities and paradoxical importance in the geography of Tennessee… it is clear to any observer that the Cumberland Plateau is an actual, distinctive geomorphic region with a continuous elevation along the rim at around 1,800 feet. It is also a region that experienced war that both resemble the kind of internecine conflict found elsewhere in Appalachia and resembled nothing else at all.” (The Civil War Along Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, Astor, p. 11)

The geological paradox that is the Cumberland Plateau caused problems with the Civil War soldiers tasked with controlling the region. As a result a multitude of  guerilla gangs and raids took place in the area. “It is also the longest hardwood forest plateau in the world.” (Astor, p. 16)

“The small-scale, guerrilla-style raid mixed forces of enlisted soldiers and ad hoc militiamen, many of them kin to one another, foreshadowed the kind of fighting that would take place throughout the Cumberland Plateau region during the Civil War.” (The Civil War Along Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, Astor, p. 9-10)

“John Walker had his blacksmith shop out at what was later Howard’s Spring’s on Frost Road and did a lot of horse-shoeing at gunpoint during the war. ‘A band of scoundrels (wrote J.W. Dorton in one of his columns) would come along one day, claiming to be from the South and compel him to shoe horses for them all that day. The next day another band would come along, claiming to be for the Union, and he’d have to shoe their horses all day. He had to do all this without pay, but he did learn how to be an expert horse shoer.” (Cumberland County’s First Hundred Years, Bullard & Krechniak, p. 53-54)

“Confederate guerrillas came up from the south through Flynn’s Cove and Champ Ferguson’s Raiders, a strong band of rebels, came from Sparta. Gen. George Dibrell from Sparta ran many Union sympathizers out of Cumberland County. ‘Tinker Dave’ Beatty and the Beatty Gang operated for the Union from their base in Fentress County and the Bushwackers and Harve Shilling, also Union, were based in the northern part of the county between Clear Creek and Wyatt Creek in the old Indian hideaway. Between them they burned a great many houses and stands, notably the Lowry Stand. It was burned to the ground by rebels in 1863.” (Cumberland County’s First Hundred Years, Bullard & Krechniak, p. 54)

Much of Cumberland County did not see actual war but were terrorized by the gueriilas, espescially businesses. Imagine trying to support your family and live quietly in the community that you and others had just established, but guerillas of war refuse to leave your family and business in peace.

“New residents from the North were especially in danger from guerillas. Down in Grassy Cove was a family named Palmer which had settled on a rocky hill on the bank of White’s Creek. They built a large fine house and put out an apple orchard and many small fruits, such as currants, raspberries and gooseberries, which they were the first to introduce. When the war broke out, so the story goes, they were threatened many times. Finally, one night their house was surrounded and they were fired upon. Mrs. Palmer loaded the guns while her husband fired them and they managed to hold out, although all the windows were shot out. The next night Mrs. Palmer mounted a horse and with one child in her lap and the other behind her, rode into the woods where she stayed until daylight. The next night she rode with the children to Dr. Haley’s place at Haley’s Grove and her husband joined her there a few nights later. Their house was burned to the ground.” (Cumberland County’s First Hundred Years, Bullard & Krechniak, p. 54)

“…the census of 1870 are proof enough of the desolation of the war, for in a land where 5.8 children was the family average, the ten-year increase in population was exactly one human– from 3,460 in 1860 to 3,461 in 1870.” (Cumberland County’s First Hundred Years, Bullard & Krechniak, p. 55)

*Photos from the Library of Congress

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