Rhea County of Long Ago…
Researched and written by Clyde Roddy February 1976
When the storm cloud of the sixties swept over the Country, the hardy citizens of Rhea County knew something of the approaching storm; they were intelligent and patriotic and knew that compromise after compromise had been made through Congress to avoid the impending struggle. On the twenty-second day of February 1861, the question of calling a convention looking to the secession of Tennessee was voted down by an overwhelming majority. Rhea County gave a large majority against calling a convention, hoping that something would intervene that would avoid war or a disruption of the Government. After the fall of Fort Sumter and President Lincoln’s call for seventy-five thousand volunteers to coerce the Southern States who had adopted ordinances of secession, the Tennessee Legislature, in extraordinary session, adopted an ordinance of secession from the Federal Union and Rhea County gave a large majority for separation.
After Mr. Lincoln’s call for troops to suppress the rebellion, miliary companies were being organized all over the State. Companies of one hundred men or more were enrolled, met at designated points and, by ballot, elected their commissioned officers – a captain and three lieutenants. These companies would, on notice of their captain, go to a designated rendezvous. From Rhea and Meigs County, six such companies were organized for the Confederate cause and an equal number enlisted with the Federal forces. The first company to leave Rhea County for the defense of the South was organized at Washington, Tennessee in May 1861. In a report by Brigadier General George Crook, U.S. Army, commanding the Second Cavalry Division, he wrote:
I have the honor to report that on the 23rd of September 1863, I was ordered by the Commanding General of the Department to proceed to Washington, Tennessee with my command, numbering about two thousand effective men, for the purpose of guarding the fords along the Tennessee River for a distance of some fifty miles.
It was at one of these intermediate points (Cotton Port) that the enemy, ascertained to number five to six thousand men, dismounted, crossed and established themselves on the North bank of the river, with a force far superior to mine, commanded by Major General Wheeler, I immediately informed General Rosecrans of the fact, who ordered me to gather all the Cavalry and mounted men and pursue the enemy who had crossed the river for the purpose of making a raid in the rear of our lines. Learning the enemy was crossing Walden’s Ridge opposite Smith’s Cross Roads, I collected together the First and Second Brigades of my division and ascended the mountain some five miles south of Smith’s Cross Roads. Colonel Miller, commanding a brigade of mounted infantry at Blythe’s Ferry, was directed to join me on top of the mountain that night but he did not join me until the next morning, when I resumed the march into Sequatchie Valley.
In the waning years of the War Between the States, the Boys in Gray were feeling the need of clothing and other comforts that were not available at the front. Young women, daughters of a number of leading families of Rhea County, took it upon themselves to prepare, collect and forward to their kinsmen and friends such necessary supplies as could be obtained. Captain John P. Walker heard of this military force and set out to dislodge it. The young ladies were rounded up and held as “prisoners of war” at Vine Grove Church in Morgantown until placed on an army steamer at Bell’s Landing and transported to Chattanooga for the meting out of proper punishment. The prisoners were marched up Market Street, through a sea of mud, and turned over to the Provost Marshal. The officer thought very little of the coup and ordered the girls released. Those who participated in the adventure were Misses Mary, J. McDonald, Virginia Hoyal, Kate Hoyal, Jane Locke, Annie Gillespie, Martha Early, Tennessee Thomison, Sidney McDonald, Ann Paine, Caroline McDonald, Fannie Allen, Louise McDonald, Mollie McDonald, Maggie Keith, Sallie Mitchell, Rachel Howell, Mary Crawford and Mary Keith.
Captain Allen wrote that when he returned to Washington in 1865, after an absence of 1,169 days in the Confederate Army, he found the brick Academy, old Monmouth Church and many of the best residences and other buildings burned. The Court House had been a military camp and rendezvous and in bad order and dilapidation, with the records in disorder and many of them destroyed; not a store, no hotel, nothing to eat, nowhere to stop. Only five of the old citizens were in town — Dr. R.N. Gillespie, Dr. John Hoyle, John James, the tinner who could not walk, the lame shoemaker and C. W. Cobb, the one-legged tailer – not a cow, hog, horse or mule in town except Dr. Hoyle’s riding mare.
After the war, there was a meeting at Old Washington to plan some relief of conditions and changes in the affairs of the Country. General William B. Tate, General John C. Brown, Colonel James D. Porter, General George G. Dribrell and many other statesmen and politicians were met to plan the election of DeWitt C. Center as Governor of the State and restoration of the people to citizenship and rights in the affairs and Government of the State.
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