Knoxville Civil War Preservation South of the River – Then & Now

The following excerpt is from a chapter in a forthcoming book on the Knoxville Campaign

By James R. Doncaster

While most of the major action in and around Knoxville occurred north of the Tennessee River—the Battle of Campbell’s Station on November 16th, Sanders’ delaying action on the Kingston Pike on the 17th and 18th, and of course the climatic assault on Fort Sanders on the 29th—the areas south of the river were not without conflict. As Longstreet and Burnside maneuvered above the river, General Joseph Wheeler with portions of four brigades of cavalry was dispatched by Longstreet to approach Knoxville via Maryville in a southern approach to the city. Contesting their advance were elements of Sanders’ cavalry who fought delaying actions near Rockford and Stock Creek before being driven back into the city on the 15th. All that kept Wheeler from crossing the pontoon bridge in pursuit were Union infantry supported by artillery placed on the hills south of the river. Heavy skirmishing on the 15th and 16th occurred on the lower heights of what would soon become Forts Dickerson and Stanley and in the valley in between them.

The most significant action south of the river occurred on November 25th when Robertson’s and Law’s Confederate brigades, the same brigades that had fought at Gettysburg’s Little Round Top less than five months before, clashed with Cameron’s blocking brigade of Union infantry. After scores of casualties were inflicted on both sides, the attacking force of Confederates returned to their lines on Cherokee Heights. Burnside and Poe examined the field and assessed the continuing threat the next day. The result was the creation of a battery position with supporting infantry trenchwork on a neighboring hill christened Fort Higley.     

Due to the topography of the land south of the Tennessee River, sites important to the contending armies generally have not suffered the fate of those north of it. The rugged hills opposite town rise from the southern riverbank to eminences more than three hundred feet in height, stymying development. Not all the land of historical significance there has been preserved, but much of it has thanks to the ongoing efforts of the City of Knoxville, the Aslan Foundation, and the Legacy Parks Foundation, with support from the American Battlefield Trust and the Knoxville Civil War Round Table. Because of the varying involvement of the different groups in the preservation efforts, the hills and crowning forts and fortifications will be addressed individually. Moving from west to east, they are Cherokee Heights, Armstrong Hill, Fort Higley, Fort Dickerson, and Fort Stanley.      

Cherokee Heights (Cherokee Bluff)

The lower slopes of Cherokee Heights on the eastern side from which Law and Robertson launched their attack on Cameron’s brigade is as rough and wooded now as it was in 1863 and is totally undeveloped. The flat top of the bluff above where E. Porter Alexander, the Confederate First Corps artillery commander, trained the guns of Captain William Parker’s Virginia battery on the federal lines across the river, sadly was lost to development in the late twentieth century. A gated condominium village now occupies this once lofty Confederate position.

Armstrong Hill  

Drury Armstrong owned the parcel of land that bore his name and became the site of the largest fight of the Knoxville campaign south of the river. The land, accessible by the Cherokee Trail today, remained in private hands for the next 150 years until it was purchased by Legacy Parks Foundation in 2009. Legacy Parks raised $1.5 million, including a $10,000 donation from the American Battlefield Trust, to acquire the River Bluff property which encompasses Armstrong Hill. Legacy Parks then deeded the property to the City of Knoxville in November of 2015 for inclusion in Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. Hiking trails and interpretive signage on the Armstrong Hill fight are currently under study by the city and the foundation.

Fort Higley

After the fight at Armstrong Hill  Poe thought it expedient to strengthen the western edge of the city’s southside defenses. Thus, guns from Fort Stanley were emplaced and infantry trenchwork in a figure 8 pattern were dug in what soon would be called Fort Higley. No significant action occurred in this sector after these defensive moves were made. Fort Higley remained in private hands well into the twenty-first century. When the prospect of condo development loomed, however, the charitable Aslan Foundation in 2008 intervened, purchasing a 39-acre tract that held the fort. After archeological work was conducted at the site, Aslan developed the area into a public park that opened in 2013. Today, High Ground Park, which remains under Aslan’s stewardship, contains abundant signage and well-maintained trails that lead to the old earthen fort, an old Military Road, and to overlooks with sweeping vistas of the area. The park is accessible via the Cherokee Trail and is open to the public daily.

Fort Dickerson

By far the best-preserved remnant of the Civil War in Knoxville is Fort Dickerson. Begun in the days leading up to the siege to protect the southern approaches to the city and completed in February of ‘64 after the siege was lifted, the fort remains the best example of a Civil War earthen fort in East Tennessee. The fort remained in private hands until it became an 85-acre city park in 1957. Fort Dickerson was the site of a large centennial reenactment of the Battle of Fort Sanders in 1963, and it has been the site of annual reenactments and living history weekends conducted by the Knoxville Civil War Round Table for almost forty years. Over the years, the fort has been gradually restored by the Round Table and the City of Knoxville. Trees and vines have been removed, viewsheds opened, and three artillery pieces were purchased and placed in the fort’s embrasures by the Round Table to approximate the look of the fort in war time. The Aslan Foundation in 2017 created a beautiful new Fort Dickerson Gateway to welcome visitors entering the park at 3000 Fort Dickerson Road off Chapman Highway. Aslan also has been funding kudzu removal in the park and is making plans to build boardwalks beneath the ramparts of the fort to protect its earthen walls.    

Fort Stanley

The hill upon which Fort Stanley sits is just to the east of Fort Dickerson across present-day Chapman Highway. Together the two forts commanded the approaches to the city from the south. Union trenchwork and rifle pits defined Fort Stanley during the siege, and afterwards tents covered hillsides cleared to provide fields of fire. Today, little of Fort Stanley remains, and that which does exist is vine-covered and overgrown. Nevertheless, the Aslan Foundation purchased 22 acres of the hill in 2011 to protect the site and is considering purchasing additional acreage to protect the viewshed from the city.

The Future

One of the most enticing features of life in Knoxville today is the development of the Knoxville Urban Wilderness. According to the Visit Knoxville website, “Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness is a spectacular outdoor adventure area where you can hike, bike, climb, paddle, or just wander in the woods—all within the heart of the city. Over 50 miles of trails and greenways connect you to a beautiful nature center, pristine lakes, historic sites, dramatic quarries, adventure playgrounds, five city parks, and a 500-acre wildlife area.”

The Urban Wilderness master plan calls for the forging of a new series of trails called the “Battlefield Loop”. The loop trail as proposed would link the Armstrong Hill battlefield with Forts Higley, Dickerson, and Stanley–in effect connecting all the extant Civil War sites south of the river. Much of the trail already exists, though some connecting links are yet to be defined. Still, thanks to the visionary thinking of leaders in city government, area foundations, and local civic organizations the future for historic preservation, restoration and interpretation in Knoxville never looked brighter. The Battlefield loop was not even a pipe dream twenty years ago. Soon it will be a reality.

ANOTHER KNOXVILLE REPARATION WAR CLAIM

Fabian Varin, born 1817, was a Canadian, born in Montreal, Quebec who emigrated to the U.S. probably around 1842. Like many others, he came for the job opportunities available here. The 1850 Federal Census finds him in Wilmington, North Carolina working as a carpenter, perhaps with a local railroad company. Here he married a local girl, Caroline (26), and by 1850 they had a three year-old daughter named Adeline as noted on the census. Her name was later listed differently by census takers and she was carried forward as Emma Ozaline (1845-1923). Ozaline is on her tombstone so that must be correct. She was born in Delaware, which may have been Fabian’s first U.S. destination.

By 1860 Fabian has been settled in Knoxville since at least 1854 but his family was much different. Caroline was no longer listed and it is suggested that she passed away. Fabian is now married to 22 year-old Mary Annie (nee Lewis).  Emma Ozaline still resides with the family as do John Fabian (born 1854) and Mary Josephine (born 1856). They have a home valued at $1,000 and have taken in a boarder, Ann Lonis. Fabian is still a carpenter but is employed by the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad and the family is living in the railroad machine shop.  Their rail line was extended from Loudon, TN to Knoxville in 1855. It originated in Dalton, GA in 1852.

On July 20, 1858, Varin purchased a lot in the county for $450 from John W. Thomas described as “about 1 mile west of the court-house, on the stage road, leading from Knoxville to Clinton”.  The property adjoined that of Abram Thomas, Dale Street and that of Major Swan. Notwithstanding this good description, the property has not been specifically identified. Dale Street is not shown on the 1855 or 1871 Knoxville maps. In the 1859 Business Directory the property of William G. Swan is identified as “one mile east of the depot and on the west side of the East TN & VA railroad”. However, the Abram Thomas property is described as on the “south side of Asylum between Bridge and Second Creek”. Although in the same general area, these three descriptions seem to be somewhat in conflict with one another. Nonetheless we know the general area in which Fabian Varin was to build his home and develop his property.

Fabian Varin probably began to build a home for his family soon after acquiring the property. The home had a brick foundation, was two stories high and had two chimneys. It was “18 feet x 47 feet, divided into six rooms, one a storeroom with counter and shelves, three of the rooms with presses, all of the rooms ceiled and painted”. There was also a separate outside privy measuring 5 by 8 feet. Eventually Varin added 682 feet of plank fence enclosing 50 evergreen shrubs and 22 fruit trees. It seems as if Varin ran some sort of side business from the home property.     

At the beginning of the Civil War, when the Confederates controlled Knoxville, the family home location would not have been in jeopardy. The situation changed drastically in September 1863 when the Federals took the town and began to destroy much of the war machinery and buildings the rebels built. If the Union didn’t need the machinery or buildings, it was destroyed or repurposed. Allegiances and loyalties were questioned. Working for a southern railroad company as he did, Fabian was in a vulnerable position. Clear fields of fire were developed by the soldiers who destroyed homes and businesses throughout the area in which the Varin’s lived and worked. Unfortunately, this area was very vulnerable during the siege of Knoxville, leading to the destruction of all that Varin worked so hard to establish.

Varin did not remain long in Knoxville after the siege and destruction of his property. By late March 1864 he was in Nashville working as a foreman of mechanics at the depot of the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad. In the written report from the House of Representatives, he requested of the military that they furnish him a house near his work for himself and his family of eight. While the Federals could not furnish him a dwelling he was allowed to take for his use “about 1,500 brick now piled on College Hill”. It is not known if he made use of these bricks to build a new home.

Varin was considered to be of “unquestionable loyalty” throughout the war as reported when he made his first claim for damages on November 1, 1864. The claim referred to the “United States forces burning his dwelling-house, fence and out buildings, destroying his shrubbery and fruit trees during the siege of Knoxville”. The total estimate for damages was $4,000: $3,490 for the burned dwelling-house; $75 for the privy; $285 for the plank fence, and; $150 for the shrubs and fruit trees. The estimate was made and confirmed to William F. Seay, the Justice of the Peace for the Knox County Court by William Baumann and Nathan Currier. Varin’s loyalty was sworn to by Joseph Armbruster and Thomas P. McNichol. This filing was submitted well in advance of the establishment by Congress of the Southern Claims Commission on March 3, 1871.

Varin’s claim was not acted upon by the Claims Court and was eventually submitted from the Committee on War Claims to the U.S. Congress House of Representatives as bill H.R. 9801 in the first session of the 50th Congress on May 15, 1888. Note that this is almost 24 years after the initial submission! The House, however, was to pass the buck on this claim. They suggested that a judicial hearing be obtained from the Court of Claims. It is unknown if the claim was ever paid. The records of the Southern Claims Commission do not show this claim being paid, so it was likely never paid. Fabian Varin endured the loss as did 68% of all the other claimants.

By 1870 Varin and his family moved to Huntsville, Alabama where he continued to work for the railroad for the final 21 years of his life. In September 1872 he was granted a patent for an Improvement in Track Lifters device. Fabian Varin departed this life on March 23, 1891 and is buried in the family plot in Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville. He served his adopted country well but surely never forgot the personal cost the Civil War brought upon him and his family. Mary Annie outlived Fabian by another 37 years and rests with him today.

A Military Ball, 161 Years Ago

Today, February 22, the real birthday of George Washington, a Military Ball was held in 1861 at Knoxville’s Lamar House sponsored by and for the benefit of the Knoxville Guards. They were raising money for the organization to buy uniforms and weapons. The Guards had a recent influx of new members; no doubt brought about by the prevailing war fever. The Lamar House was the premier hotel in the city and had been for many years. “The best of music is engaged” read the invitation which was in the form of a dance card. The four page card was embossed and the lettering was in gold, topped by a standing figure of a soldier in a dress uniform. The ball was to commence at 8:00 PM with no end time being specified.

The only known existing invitation was one addressed to Miss A.P. Shields of Grainger County by an unknown hand. Amanda Priscilla Shields was 16 years old and may have been a student at the Knoxville Female Academy. This could be how she came to be invited to the ball. Priscilla, the name by which she was known throughout her life, lived with her family on a farm northeast of Morristown. Whether she attended the ball is not known. However, the ball was important to her as she kept the dance card throughout her life and the card was passed on to family members for over 150 years.

The Knoxville Guards membership, which totaled at least 100 men, came from all ages and walks of life within the Knoxville community. The membership contained both professional and non-professional men. Attorneys, doctors, and wealthy merchants were counted among their membership as were clerks, bookkeepers and railroad workers. Certainly members must have been conflicted because of the events of the past few months. By Washington’s birthday, seven southern states had declared themselves succeeded from the Union. Certainly not all members of the Guards were secessionists. One can only wonder about the political discussions which must have taken place in the days before, and on the evening of the ball. Nonetheless, the ball went on and was apparently a success. Later, in April, after the attack on Fort Sumter, the Guards voted to offer their services to Governor Isham Harris in support of the Confederate cause. Their services were accepted and the Guards became Company E of the 19th Tennessee Infantry. They immediately went into training at the fairgrounds east of town.

Thus ended the short history of the Knoxvile Guards which began in 1859. If Priscilla Shields attended the ball, it was no doubt a highlight of her life for many years to come.

A KNOXVILLE CIVIL WAR DAMAGE CLAIM

Very little is written about Knoxville Civil war damage claims yet there are some. Knoxville was an occupied city throughout the war, from the very beginning through the capitulation and into the Reconstruction era. Just after the succession of the state a military training ground and camp was established east of the city in what is now Chilhowee Park. The Knoxville Guards, a pre-war militia group was accepted in late April by the governor as a Confederate regiment and took up residence at this camp. Knoxville was occupied by Confederate troops prior to September 3, 1863 and by Federal troops afterwards. At times the troop levels were three and four times greater (15,000 – 20,000) than the civilian population of the town.

As a result, literally anything that could be used by soldiers for food, clothing, shelter, or animal forage was appropriated for use and without payment. Wooden fencing, buildings, barns, even privies were dismantled to create fires for cooking and warmth. Private homes and other buildings including brick homes in the field of fire of troops from both sides were taken down or burned so as not to provide a safe haven for sharpshooters. Warehouses and smokehouses were emptied to feed the hungry troops. The animal populations of private citizens (bovines, chickens, goats and other animals) rapidly ceased to be seen throughout the city. Wild animals such as rabbits and even rats became scare to non-existent. Even pets were not safe. While the enlisted men slept in the open air or in their shelter tents, officers of all ranks commandeered rooms in private homes and businesses for office and residential space. Floor rugs were cut up for blankets. It was in this environment that Knoxvillians lived and worked during the entire war.

One would expect a large number of war claims emanating from such conditions; however few are known to exist. Dr. Earl J. Hess, in his definitive 2012 book, The Knoxville Campaign, outlines a few on pages 273-274. There were no Confederate claims as the Confederacy no longer existed. Claims were made to the U.S. government for commodities used by Union troops; and their use must be proven to be eligible for compensation. The Southern Claims Commission was established by Congress on March 3, 1871, six years after the conflict ended, to consider claims by southerners. Prior to 1871, a few citizens filed claims directly with the Union high command as noted by Dr. Hess. However, such claims had no validity since no formal claims procedure had yet been established. 

William Blount Turk was a 42 year-old blacksmith from Maryville, TN who moved his business to Knoxville sometime after 1850 but by 1859 he ran a grocery business in town. His business and residence was on the west side of town, just north of the railroad on Bellevue Street between Broad Street and Jacksboro Road. His wife, Nancy, was 11 years his junior. The couple had five children ranging in age from one year-old to 15. The family also had an 18 year-old student boarding with them. They were not wealthy by any means; their real estate was valued at $1,000 and personal property valued at $75. William served for eight months in the Mexican war as a musician with the rank of private in the 5th TN infantry. He mustered out July 20, 1848 as the chief musician of the regiment. At the outset of the Civil War William was 43 years old and chose not to serve either side. While his exact allegiance remains unknown, it is presumed to be Union as the family moved to Federal occupied Nashville in 1864 after the siege of Knoxville.

William Turk’s life took a tragic twist when he was stabbed to death in Nashville on November 16, 1864 by an employee of his “Bear Show”. Being a musician, William had a compulsion for performance as he acquired a large trained bear and entertained folks with performances of his music and his performing bear. 

After the war and the establishment of the claims commission, his widow, Nancy J. Turk, filed a claim for “value of buildings destroyed at Knoxville, Tenn., by order of Major-General Burnside”. A report in the Senate of the United States August 15, 1876 stated the following;

            “The claimant in her memorial states that for twenty years prior to and during the year 1863, she was a resident of the city of Knoxville, Tenn.; that she was the owner, in her own right, of a certain dwelling-house and out-houses in the Fifth ward of said city; that on the 18th day of November 1863, when Knoxville was occupied by the Union Army, under General Burnside, and was besieged by the rebels, under General Longstreet, it became a military necessity that said buildings should be burned, and the same were burned by order of General Burnside, for the following alleged reasons: 1st, that the same were an obstruction to the range of the guns of General Burnside’s batteries; and 2d, that they would be a shelter and would furnish a protection to the rebel sharp-shooters in the advance of the enemy upon the lines of the Union forces; that said buildings were consequently burned by the officer of the day after he had notified the claimant to vacate the same; that the same were of the value of $1,230, all which is due and unpaid, and that the claimant has always been loyal to the Government of the United States”

The report goes on to state that the evidence shows that the buildings were in fact burned but there is “no evidence of her loyalty nor of her ownership of the buildings, except the statement in her petition, to which she makes oath”. The report goes on to state that even if her loyalty was proven, the facts of the petition are not grounds for a claim against the United States. 

            “The evidence tends to show, and leaves little doubt, that the claimant’s buildings would have been destroyed in the shock of battle had they not been burned as they were. There is no principle upon which the United States can be held liable to pay for them, and the payment would be dangerous as a precedent.”  (Italics added)

Consequently, the claim was not paid and Nancy Turk remained without compensation for her loss. She would also be out whatever attorney’s fees she paid to file her claim. The Turk case is not unusual in the findings of the United States government for Civil War claims. Of the 22,298 claims submitted to the Commission, only 7,092 (32%) met the stringent tests the Federal government used to prove both loyalty and the validity of the claim.       

November 1863/1864 – Significant in Knoxville and Tennessee Civil War History

The second half of November 158 years ago in 1863 and in 1864 was significant in the Civil War history of Knoxville and in the state of Tennessee. The events that occurred would change the complexion of Knoxville and other areas in the state forever. Such events deserve to be remembered.

November 17: The Siege of Knoxville by Confederate forces begins.

                         Union General William P. Sanders is mortally wounded.

November 18: General Sanders dies at the Lamar House.

Significant during the siege was the mortal wounding of newly promoted U.S. cavalry General William P. Sanders on November 18 and the Battle of Fort Sanders on the early morning of November 29. General Sanders died of his wounds on November 19 at the Lamar House hospital (today the Bijou Theatre). His low key funeral was held that night so as not to arouse suspicion among the Confederate troops. Sanders was interred in the churchyard cemetery of the Second Presbyterian Church which surrounded the church building. Not wanting to upset the troops, General Burnside did not make a general announcement of the death of the very popular general until a day later. However, by that time, many of the troops were aware of his death.

Later, when the Second Presbyterian Church relocated to west Knoxville along Kingston Pike, General Sanders was moved to the national cemetery in Chattanooga, where he rests today.

Six years ago, the KCWRT dedicated a plaque near the front entrance of the Bijou Theatre commemorating the death of General Sanders in this historic building.

November 19: The new unfinished cemetery at Gettysburg is dedicated with a memorable short oration by President Abraham Lincoln.

Tennessee had 775 soldiers in three regiments present at Gettysburg. Of those, 16 were KIA, 118 wounded, 37 wounded and missing, and 245 initially missing. This total of 416 men is equal to a 54% casualty rate against those present. Some of the 245 missing likely found their way back to their regiments within a few days.  

November 23: Battle of Orchard Knob in Chattanooga.

November 24: Battle of Lookout Mountain at Chattanooga.

November 29: Battle of Fort Sanders: Confederate casualties 813; Union casualties 13.  

November 30, 1864: Battle of Franklin

From November 1863 the war would drag on for another 17 months inflicting further hardship on the citizens of Knoxville and all of Tennessee.

Suggested Reading: Dr. Earl J. Hess, The Knoxville Campaign, Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee

Fort Dickerson Living History Weekend

Everyone is invited to attend weekend of November 13 and 14, 2021. Fort Dickerson, the Civil War earthworks atop a hill on Knoxville’s southern riverfront, will once again be populated with soldiers in Blue and Gray as the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable and the City of Knoxville present a Living History weekend on November 13 and 14 , 2021. Local reenacting units, historians, and authors will commemorate the Siege of Knoxville that took place in November 1863. The free event is sponsored by the City of Knoxville’s Parks and Recreation Department and hosted by the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable.

To visit Fort Dickerson drive toward Sevierville on Chapman Highway (US-441). After crossing the Henley Street Bridge, proceed about 7/10 mile south of the Tennessee River, and turn right at the 3rd light signal. The entrance to the park is clearly marked.

Fort Dickerson was one of sixteen earthen forts and battery positions surrounding Knoxville that were built by the United States Army during the Civil War. It was one of three constructed upon the heights across the Holston (now Tennessee) River from Knoxville, the other two being Fort Stanley and Fort Higley. The middle fort was named for Captain Jonathan C. Dickerson, 112th Illinois Mounted Infantry, who was killed in action near Cleveland, Tennessee.

The Living History Weekend runs from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on Saturday November 13, 2021, and from 11 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on Sunday November 14 , 2021. Activities will include living history campsites, infantry drilling with rifle firing demonstrations, a Civil War medical and surgical exhibit, ladies fashions, battle reenactments, cannon firings, and a salute to all veterans including an American flag retirement ceremony. Visitors are invited to park for free at “Wee Care Shoppe” parking lot at 2537 Chapman Highway, across from Shoney’s, where they can board a free shuttle to Fort Dickerson courtesy of the Knoxville Department of Parks and Recreation.

Program Schedule: 158th Anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga            September 18-20, 2021

Last Tuesday the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (NMP) posted to the NMP’s website the schedule of programs planned to recognize the 158th Anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga on Saturday through Monday, September 18-20, 2021.  Since many KCWRT members live close enough to make a day trip of at least one of the days, if the deadline hasn’t already passed, you all might want to review the schedule and attend one or more of the events.

The complete program schedule, including times and descriptions, is available online at the following web address: https://www.nps.gov/chch/chickamauga158.htm

For more information about programs at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, contact the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center at 706-866-9241, the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center at 423-821-7786, or visit the park website at http://www.nps.gov/chch.

Below is a version of the schedule.   I would make one note………given the unfortunate new rise in COVID-19 cases and therefore increasing event cancellations, anyone who is considering attending should probably call on Friday or Thursday before to make sure some directive hasn’t been issued that forces the NMP to cancel the programs. 

Saturday, September 18

9:30 am – “Occupied after a Brief Skirmish: ” Buckner Seizes Thedford’s and Dalton’s Fords

Braxton Bragg’s designated crossing of the steep-banked Chickamauga on September 18, 1863, included Thedford’s and Dalton’s Fords. Alexander Stewart’s and William Preston’s divisions of Buckner’s Confederate Corps were to cross there. National Military Park Historian Jim Ogden will lead this 2 ½ hour, three mile hike to the creek and back and will examine the action at these two key but often overlooked crossings on the “River of Death.” This program will begin on Alexander-Viniard Road. Follow the “Special Program” signs from the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center to Alexander-Viniard Road via Alexander’s Bridge Road.

9:30 am – Chickamauga Battlefield Bicycle Tour

The national military park and Outdoor Chattanooga will offer a free, historical bike tour through Chickamauga Battlefield. Ride length is approximately 3 to 4 miles on flat to moderately hilly terrain and lasts about 2.5 hours. The ride is appropriate for adults and children ages 8 years and older, when accompanied by an adult. Children must be able to ride confidently, without training wheels. All participants are required to wear helmets. Loaner bicycles will be available for riders 5 feet and over at no charge, thanks to sponsorship from the National Park Partners and the Chattanooga Bicycle Club. The number of loaner bicycles are limited and reservations for them are required by visiting http://bit.ly/outdoorchatt or by calling 423-643-6888. If you bring your own equipment, no reservation is necessary.

10 am – Ranger-led Car Caravan Tour of Chickamauga Battlefield

Meet a park ranger at the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center to begin a caravan tour of the battlefield exploring various sites associated with the Battle of Chickamauga. This tour lasts approximately 2 hours.

10:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm, and 3:30 pm – Artillery Demonstrations

Living historians, portraying members of the 11th Indiana Battery, will conduct demonstrations at Lytle Hill, in Chickamauga Battlefield. Please follow the “Special Program” signs to the parking area at the Recreation Field.

1:30 pm – The Fight at Alexander’s

The West Chickamauga Creek Bridge at John P. Alexander’s was supposed to be one of the key crossing points for Confederate General Braxton Bragg on September 18, 1863. As Confederates approached, however, they found that they were going to be in for a fight. In this 90-minute program, National Military Park Historian Jim Ogden will relate the events that unfolded on what was the largest farm on the battlefield and how those events shaped the developing battle. This program will begin on Alexander-Viniard Road. Follow the “Special Program” signs from the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center to Alexander-Viniard Road via LaFayette Road.

2 pm – Ranger-led Car Caravan Tour of Chickamauga Battlefield

Meet a park ranger at the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center to begin a caravan tour of the battlefield exploring various sites associated with the Battle of Chickamauga. This tour lasts approximately 2 hours.

4 pm – Hood Sweeps up the Chickamauga

“…on crossing at or near Reed’s Bridge, will turn to the left by the most practicable route and sweep up the Chickamauga.” Those were about the only instructions Confederate General John B. Hood received when, on the afternoon of September 18, 1863, fresh off the train from Virginia, he joined a Confederate column crossing at Reed’s Bridge. Join National Military Park Historian Jim Ogden for the part car caravan, part walking tour exploring the role of Hood and his column west of the Chickamauga on the afternoon of the 18th. This program will begin at Jay’s Mill. Follow the “Special Program” signs from the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center.

Sunday, September 19

10 am – Walthall vs. the Regulars

The growing fight in the woods west of Jay’s Steam Sawmill drew troops from both sides, sent by superiors who could offer little more direction than to move to the sound of the firing. In this two hour, roughly two mile walking tour, National Military Park Historian Jim Ogden will relate the action that primarily unfolded in the woods northeast of Winfrey Field. This program will begin at the intersection of Alexander’s Bridge Road and Brotherton Road. Follow the “Special Program” signs from the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center.

10 am – Ranger-led Car Caravan Tour of Chickamauga Battlefield

Meet a park ranger at the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center to begin a caravan tour of the battlefield exploring various sites associated with the Battle of Chickamauga. This tour lasts approximately 2 hours.

10:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 2:30 pm – Artillery Demonstrations

Living historians, portraying members of the 11th Indiana Battery, will conduct demonstrations at Lytle Hill, in Chickamauga Battlefield. Please follow the “Special Program” signs to the parking area at the Recreation Field.

1:30 pm – William Carnes’ Troubles

The woods of the valley of the “River of Death” were proving to be a problem for the artillery. The youthful Captain William Carnes’ ordered his Confederate batterymen to unstrap the axes from the limbers to cut some trees in order to get the carriages through the forest. He was determined to support the Tennessee infantry brigade to which he was attached, but then, the situation began to turn south for the young officer and his men. National Military Park Historian Jim Ogden will relate Carnes’ fight of the afternoon of September 19, 1863, in this two hour, two mile walking tour. This program will begin on Brotherton Road near Brock Field. Follow the “Special Program” signs from the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center to Brotherton Road via Alexander’s Bridge Road.

2 pm – Ranger-led Car Caravan Tour of Chickamauga Battlefield

Meet a park ranger at the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center to begin a caravan tour of the battlefield exploring various sites associated with the Battle of Chickamauga. This tour lasts approximately 2 hours.

For events of Monday, September 20, please consult park website.

DESCRIPTION OF “CASTLE FOX” AND TEMPERANCE HALL JAILS

Recently, while doing some of my seemingly never ending Civil War research (quite by choice), I was using the book, A Very Violent Rebel, The Civil War Diary of Ellen Renshaw House, and came across an interesting footnote. Footnote #8 on page 81 referred to a book which contained a description, spaced over fifteen pages, of “Castle Fox” and its inmates. Curious to read this description, I had to order the mentioned book, Ancestry of Williams Sperry Beinecke (1974) on an Inter Library Loan. After a reasonable wait, the book arrived. I was not disappointed.  

The jail descriptions were extracted from the diary of Jacob Austin Sperry (1823 – 1896) as published in Appendix J of the above referenced book. Sperry was the editor and publisher of the pro-Confederate Knoxville Register from 1861 -1864. He was arrested in Bristol, East Tennessee in mid-December 1864 and jailed in Knoxville’s infamous Castle Fox beginning December 22, 1864. Castle Fox was named after Confederate jailer Robert F. Fox. This jail was also known as the Knoxville County jail and also as the Confederate prison. During the Union occupation of Knoxville the jail housed Confederate prisoners, of which Confederate editor Jacob Sperry was one. His description of the interior of Castle Fox and the Temperance Hall jail is the only such description that I have ever read. His vivid description of both buildings is copied below.   

Castle Fox: “With the appearance of its exterior I was familiar, having lived for a year in the neat frame house down by the riverside only a few hundred yards distant. Of the repulsiveness of its interior, even as a place of temporary abode, I had heard much during Fox’s administration, but was not prepared for the horrible reality of its present management. The upper story, where I found myself this morning, consists of three apartments – a large one on the west side, extending the whole length of the building, containing three massive iron cages, about eight feet square, leaving passage ways around and between them of three or four feet. In front, bisected by the stairway, are two smaller apartments, each containing a similar cage. The filthiness of these rooms and their general forbidding aspect is indescribable” At this point, Sperry names several of the military and civilian prisoners on this floor. 

Note: One room on each floor was set apart for county prisoners other than Confederates, and these were designated Federal rooms.

Next Sperry mentions the jail yard and that several visitors were admitted from the outside. “In the morning we had attended roll-call in the jail yard, in which occasion a number of visitors had been admitted from without (meaning outside the jail).” 

“In the afternoon we were ordered to form messes of fifteen to draw rations. These consisted simply of a few ounces of blue beef and bread. The beef was raw, and the little fires in the small hearths of the jail were monopolized by a few of the more selfish of the prisoners, and as we had no utensils to cook in, even if we had access to the fires, we should have fared badly but for the fact that the prisoners in the federal rooms, up and down stairs, had for sale hot coffee, bread and meat, pies, cakes, etc., so that the few of us that were fortunate enough to be provided with currency were able to avoid suffering from hunger. I was invited to join the mess of paroled officers in the middle cage, where it was much more comfortable than in the Babel-like confusion of the crown outside. There were nine of us in the cage, and our united stock of blankets enabled us to sleep in comparative comfort at night.”

Temperance Hall Jail: There was also a military prison in East Knoxville (just east of First Creek) that had originally been Temperance Hall. It was used as a place of duress for Federal soldiers guilty of crimes of misdemeanors. It was now known as the Federal prison, in contradistinction to the county jail, which was called the Confederate prison.

“The (two-story brick) building, located at the intersection of Clinch and Temperance Streets  (modern Hall of Fame Drive and Howard Baker Avenue), was surrounded by a high fence with scaffolding promenaded by sentries. Iron bars had been added to the windows. The room in which men were received was large and clean, with a cheerful fire blazing on the hearth, and seventy or eighty sleeping bunks commodiously arranged. The upper room had formerly been the lodge room of the Sons of Temperance, a small anteroom opening into a large hall.” The room also contained sleeping bunks and a large wood fireplace in one end of the room.

Conditions in both of these facilities were less than ideal, but seemingly far worse at Castle Fox. After two days at Castle Fox, Sperry was transferred to Temperance Hall. On December 27th Sperry was assigned to work on the fortifications on Temperance Hill, overlooking the railroad. A ball attached to a short eighteen inch chain was attached to his ankle. The short chain caused him much discomfort as he could do nothing to relieve the weight of the ball. The ball chain was too short to place the ball in his wheelbarrow or throw it over his shoulder as did other prisoners. “The painful progress to the scene of our labors defies description…I plied my allotted task for two hours with dogged resolution, determined that neither the black guards who were taskmasters, nor the white black guards who were spectators, should have the chance to gloat over my sufferings.”  Sperry was to remain a prisoner in his own town until the end of the war.

Remembering Memorial Day, 2020 and 2021

by Norman C. Shaw

Even though there has not been an official Memorial Day ceremony at Knoxville’s National Cemetery for 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19, four Knoxville CWRT members banded together to give a ceremony to anyone visiting the cemetery at 11 a.m. on Memorial Day Monday! These four RT members are: Norman Shaw (RT founder and 3-term president), Dennis Urban (president for 3 consecutive years), Dewey Beard (well-known Civil War reenactor, historian and musician) and Randy North (bagpipes player, member of Knoxville Pipes and Drums). For 2020, during the early days of the pandemic, about 40 people observed our efforts, but this year the crowd was larger at around 150!

With each RT member playing a part, the ceremony took about 45 minutes in this order: Dewey Beard–Since the early 1990s, reenactors for the 79th New York Highlanders have given a full ceremony for Memorial Day, including a color guard, 7 soldiers bearing muskets, and musicians to play the fife and drum! The last two years, Dewey led an abbreviated presentation, with only a sole drummer and him marching to the small memorial monument for the 79th, defenders of Ft. Sanders on Nov. 29, 1863. Dewey gave a brief history of the 79th and explained the origin and meaning of Memorial Day. Both men then laid thistles, the Scottish badge of honor, on the several headstones of the 79th and its unique memorial stone.

Randy North–played three tunes on the bagpipes, including the popular “Scotland the Brave” and the always moving “Amazing Grace.

 Norman Shaw, after explaining the presenters were members of the KCWRT, briefly pointed out some of the interesting historical aspects of the National Ceremony, such as the Union monument, the grave site of Gen. Neyland of UT football fame, the lone Confederate grave, some of the USCT (U.S. Colored Troops) headstones, and the six graves of “Sultana” survivors.

Dennis Urban— at the headstone of Union soldier George Messer, 107th Illinois, told the sad story of George’s death, who, afflicted with severe diarrhea, died on Dec. 30, 1863, at the Lamar House (present day Bijou Theater) in downtown Knoxville. Dennis has done extensive research on Messer and showed his wedding photo and one of his original letters.

Dewey Beard–played TAPS to conclude the ceremony. Note: Chad Rogers, Director of Wreaths Across America for Knoxville’s National Cemetery, gave information about the 2021 event scheduled for mid-December. Based on positive feedback from spectators in the two audiences, one year apart, we knew our efforts were effective in remembering Memorial Day!

Notes: Photos from the event are posted in the July 2021 KCWRT newsletter, The Scout.

Colonel John T. Wilder; His East Tennessee and Knoxville Connections

By Dennis D. Urban

For those of you who participated in National Park Service Historian Jim Ogden’s Saturday March 20 tour of Colonel John T. Wilder’s actions at the Battle of Chickamauga, you witnessed another superb history lesson from Jim. It was refreshing to see such excellent attendance and so many new faces to participate in Jim’s well-researched and entertaining presentation. He never disappoints.

What many of our membership probably did not know, and I certainly among them, was Wilder’s post-war life and business career which was centered in East Tennessee and in Knoxville. This was not mentioned on the tour, but whether you were on the tour or not, his personal and business dealings in our region should be of interest to you. This article should complete the loop on his post-war career.

Pre-war Wilder was trained as a draftsman and a millwright, a builder of several successful mills, a foundry owner, a patented inventor of hydraulic machines, an early industrialist, and an entrepreneur. He was certainly not your usual civilian turned military officer. These pre-war experiences guided his post-war career and steered him to East Tennessee and Knoxville.

The discovery of iron in Roane County led to extensive mining and milling operations in the area. John T. Wilder came to the area shortly after the war to establish a business. The town of Rockwood was founded as a company town serving the employees of the Roane Iron Company and its president, William O. Rockwood, from whom the town took its name. Wilder lived in Rockwood between 1867 and 1870. During this time, Colonel Wilder also established a business in the Chattanooga area manufacturing rails for the railroad industry. During his years in Chattanooga, circa 1870 – 1884, he was very active in civic affairs and local politics. Driven by business and moving around East Tennessee Wilder established iron manufacturing and commercial businesses in Johnson City where he lived from 1884 to 1892. By this time, Wilder became very wealthy. Unfortunately, his wife, Martha Jane (Stewart) Wilder, passed away in Johnson City at the young age of fifty-four. Wilder maintained several homes around East Tennessee where he had business interests. His principal residence from 1892 to 1897 is undetermined but it may have remained in Johnson City.      

Wilder’s residence in Knoxville began in 1897 when he was appointed a Federal pension agent by President William J. McKinley. Upon relocating to Knoxville, Wilder boarded with two of his daughters at the Oxford Hotel, 408 W. Clinch Avenue. His office was in the Customs House (now the East Tennessee Historical Society). His daughter, Mary, worked with him as a clerk in the office.  Soon the family moved to a single family residence at 931 9th Street in what was originally the City of West Knoxville. West Knoxville was annexed by the City of Knoxville circa 1897 and 9th Street became the current 17th Street in the Fort Sanders neighborhood. His home would have stood near the present intersection of 17th Street and Cumberland Avenue. He resided in this location until about 1904.

Wilder constructed another home, this time east of the city, beginning circa 1903. The single family home was located on Boyd’s Ferry Road (later Boyd’s Bridge Pike) along the river. He called this small farm Cherry Hill. This home may have been built as a summer residence. The home still stands today at 2027 Riverside Drive and is listed on the National Register.  About this same time, the seventy-four year old Wilder was hospitalized in Knoxville. He and his young nurse, twenty-nine year-old Dora Lee, an aspiring medical student, fell in love and were married in 1904. He certainly financed her education at the University of Tennessee from which she graduated with a medical degree in 1910. About this time, he resigned his position as the pension agent in Knoxville. The Wilders resided in their east side home until 1913 when the couple moved to Monterey, Tennessee where Wilder maintained a home since his Rockwood days. This became their main residence.  

On October 20, 1917 while on his annual Florida vacation in Jacksonville with his wife and daughters, Colonel John T. Wilder died unexpectedly. His wife and daughters were at his bedside as he passed into eternity. While best known as Colonel, Wilder was promoted to brevet Brigadier General just two months before his resignation from the Federal service in August 1864 and well after his insightful and forward-thinking actions on the southern portion of the Chickamauga field September 19-20, 1863. His military legacy was intact from that point, while his many accomplishments in the business and entrepreneurial sphere, especially in East Tennessee and Knoxville, have been mostly forgotten. His life was remarkable in many ways and for his many accomplishments. It is well to recall both areas of achievement of this truly American success story.   

Sources: www.ajlambert.com, Ancestry.com, Wikipedia, and various internet sources      

Mr. Urban is a historian and former President of the KCWRT. His book, The Making of a Civilian Soldier in the Civil War, the First Diary of Private William J. McLean,was released in September 2019.