Tennessee Mountain Stories

1871 Murder

Isaac Wood 1833 - 1871

Isaac Wood 1833 - 1871

As we look back on history it may seem easy to align yourself with one side or another, with one ideology or political agenda.  However, when I read about the struggles of our people during The American Civil War I recognize that the choices were not so cut and dried.  The Cumberland Plateau lay smack in the middle of two worlds.  Without large plantations, a need for slave labor or money to support it, the question of slavery hardly touched the people of the mountains but a fierce independence and memory of persecution in Ireland no doubt drove many to Confederate sympathies.  On the other hand, a deep spiritual conviction that no man should be owned by another and strong patriotism no doubt caused others to lean toward the Union.

Champ Ferguson and some of his company

Champ Ferguson and some of his company

Much has been written about the splits among families and communities as folks allied themselves with North or South.  But do we ever think about the back side of the war?  What about those who did manage to return from battle?  How did they live among neighbors who chose differently?  How did communities reunite after men went different directions with many husbands and sons never returning at all?

Tinker Dave Beaty

Tinker Dave Beaty

Two rather famous guerillas from our region were Tinker Dave Beaty and Champ Ferguson.   Beaty was from Fentress County, Tennessee and Ferguson hailed from Clinton County, Kentucky – less than 30 miles north.  It’s not hard to imagine the men of their companies overlapped in origin significantly.  While Beaty may not have been the hero that Grant or Hayes was he had chosen the winning side of the war while Ferguson was hanged as a war criminal – one of only two men who would be tried and executed following the war. 

I happened upon a story about Isaac Woods who rode with Tinker Dave Beaty and returned to Jamestown, Tennessee following the war.  In 1871 he was gunned down in the street in Jamestown and the family legend says the murderer was one of Ferguson’s men.  A September 1871 article in The Nashville Union and American cites a proclamation by then-Governor Senter offering $250 reward for the capture of Stephen Bannon in connection with the crime. I wasn’t able to ascertain whether Bannon was ever tried, but I understand that some of Mr. Woods’ descendants have done extensive research on this story and when that work is publicly available, I’ll certainly pass the information along to you.

As with any story, much is known and reported about the officers and leaders of Civil War units.  However, the common man’s story is often lost and I find those to be the most fascinating.  While letters and journals have been collected that give hints into the everyday life and thoughts of soldiers, little is written about their struggles in the post-war era.



Historic Media

I ran upon a copy of The Chattanooga Daily Rebel when a reader recently introduced me to www.newspapers.com.  Published between 1862 and 1865, this was the longest running Confederate periodical.  Originally containing four pages, it quickly shrank to a single sheet yet circulation seemed to be restricted only by availability of paper stock.  As the Union Army moved southward – eventually occupying Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1863 – the paper operated nomadically until it was finally captured in Selma, Alabama and printed its last copy on a hand press on April 27, 1865.

Chattanooga Daily Rebel.jpg

Now anyone who studied journalism at any level was taught to report the news without bias.  Despite our opinions of this agency or that one, newspaper-men have always needed to sell papers and therefore there is a certain pressure to write what their customers want to read.  So you can imagine this wartime publication was filled with news of the war with a slant toward its Confederate readership. 

The copy I’ve clipped from April 22, 1864 shares a story of a sergeant escaping the Union Army disguised as a female slave.  Presented anecdotally, he secured weapons and transportation from the enemy and high-tailed it back to his company.  Certainly the terminology used in this article would never be accepted today, but it’s funny to imagine this man dressed in drag and smeared with soot as he races across the countryside.  During those terrifying times I imagine the people needed a little humor as much as they did information.

There is an update from various forts and areas of the front.  The nearby city of Dalton, Georgia shows a 2 day old report that includes weather and road conditions.  And then there is the startling count of losses over the past year – 93,770 men lost.

A short article reminds readers of the necessity of eating salt.  During intense economic depression, it seems folks were wont to spend precious pennies on this natural flavoring.  So the article “throw[s] out these hints for the benefit of those of our people who are deterred from buying the essential supply of salt on account of the high prices” that not only will salt preserve foods, “but it is now well known why the animal loves salt and why it ultimately falls into disease if muriate of soda is for a time withheld.”

The Chattanooga Daily Rebel also introduced an up and coming publication, Smith & Barrow’s Monthly Magazine whose scope would be “Tales, Poetry, Sketches of life and manners, Official Army and Navy Intelligence, Instructive Miscellany, and Articles on Political Economy.”

We are so bombarded with news and entertainment these days that you hardly know what to believe and sometimes I just feel like I want to escape it.  Yet looking at the things that were written or sung in years past, it’s clear there is much to be learned from it.