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Execution Of The "Bridge~Burners"
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member PersonsMD
N 36° 12.558 W 083° 00.846
17S E 318943 N 4009043
Quick Description: Sign outlining the execution of 5 men during the civil war.
Location: Tennessee, United States
Date Posted: 11/28/2008 2:56:44 PM
Waymark Code: WM58KD
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member Lat34North
Views: 47

Long Description:
Sign Reads:

"1C 75
Execution of the "Bridge~Burners"
During a five-week period in late 1861, five pro-Union men from the Pottertown community were hanged by Confederate authorities. This was in retaliation for the destruction of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad bridge over Lick Creek, approximately three miles southwest. Henry Fry and Jacob M. Hinshaw were hanged at Greeneville. Jacob and henry Harmon, father and son, and C.A. Haun dies on the gallows at Knoxvile."

The following is sited from: (visit link)


The Bridge Burners
An account of the bridge burning incident in East Tennessee November 8, 1861

Special thanks to Richard Nelson Current, Donahue Bible and George Hoemann

The 2nd Tennessee Infantry Regiment was an integral part of a grand scheme that would backfire and become a major problem for the people of East Tennessee. When Tennessee voted to secede from the Union on June 8, 1861, voters in the eastern third of the state rejected the idea by a margin of 2 to 1. The Lincoln administration was very aware of the union sentiment that bitterly divided East Tennessee from the rest of the state. Lincoln personally looked at the area with great interest. Not only did the region offer the fertile prospect of statehood, but there was tremendous potential for recruiting if they could only get in there to organize. It also held strategic importance because the railroads that ran through East Tennessee were vital links to the rest of the Confederacy.

Nevertheless, for a number of logistical reasons an early plan to take East Tennessee was rejected. Still, in spite of grave danger, thousands of East Tennessee men in small groups walked more than one hundred miles through the mountains to join Tennessee regiments for the Union that were being organized in southeastern Kentucky. Naval Lieutenant Samuel P. Carter from Carter County, Tennessee was in charge of raising those regiments. James P. T. Carter, Samuel's brother, was appointed to command one of the Union regiments, designated as the 2nd Tennessee Infantry Regiment. James Carter had already been actively involved in a failed plan with his brother Samuel to get arms into East Tennessee.

However, another plan to liberate East Tennessee was quickly proposed, this time by yet another Carter brother. William Blount Carter, a former Presbyterian minister who had resigned from the ministry for health reasons, suggested the plan to General George Thomas at Camp Dick Robinson on September 30, 1861. General Thomas liked the plan and immediately sent the following telegraph to General George B. McClellan in Washington:

" I have just had a conversation with Mr. W. B. Carter, of Tennessee, on the subject of destruction of the Grand Trunk Railroad through that State. He assures me that he can have it done if the Government will intrust him with a small sum of money to give confidence to the persons to be employed to do it. It would be one of the most important services that could be done for the country, and I most earnestly hope you will use your influence with the authorities in furtherance of his plans, which he will submit to you, together with the reasons for doing the work."

Accordingly, William Carter went to Washington and was able to secure $2,500 to finance the campaign. He returned to Camp Dick Robinson in Kentucky to begin discussion and implementation of the plan with General Thomas. William Carter and Thomas enlisted the services of Captain David Fry of Company F of the 2nd Tennessee Infantry Regiment. The trio decided that Carter, Fry and Captain William Cross from another regiment would scout East Tennessee and come up with a plan to set on fire each of the main bridges on the railroad between the Virginia border and the Georgia border, a distance of more than 150 miles. They would use couriers to stay in touch with General Thomas who remained at Camp Dick Robinson.

William Carter and Captain Fry left camp around mid October, and over the next couple of weeks went from county to county setting their plan in place. They decided to burn 9 bridges. Each of the strikes would be carried out by a neighborhood leader with 5 or 6 trusted assistants, all loyal to the union cause. Under cover of darkness on the night of November 8, each of the selected bridges would be set on fire. Word was spread that the fires would be the signal for all local union loyalists to rise up in arms against the Confederacy. With no way out and in a state of confusion, the confederates would be trapped. This would be immediately followed by an invasion of General Thomas' Union troops who would secure the area and liberate East Tennessee. The bridge burning part of the plan went off as scheduled. 5 of the 9 bridges were destroyed, and most of the others sustained varying degrees of damage.

Unfortunately for the people of East Tennessee, things did not go forward back at Camp Dick Robinson. Camp Dick Robinson was now under jurisdiction of the Department of the Ohio, commanded by General Don Carlos Buell. By this time General Thomas was a division commander under Buell. In spite of urging on the part of McClellan, Buell was not eager to make a move on East Tennessee. General Thomas was now even less inclined to make a move than Buell. He felt he needed more men. After the bridge burners made good on their end of the plan to liberate East Tennessee, the Union Generals failed to come through. Thomas had actually begun the march into East Tennessee and was at London, Kentucky when he was called back to camp. The union hierarchy decided at the last minute the campaign into East Tennessee had to be put on hold. They felt West Tennessee was more important. The people of East Tennessee were left holding the bag and now in grave danger. After the bridge burning, Samuel Carter wrote from the camp in Kentucky, "Recruits are arriving almost every day from East Tennessee. The Union men coming to us represent the people in East Tennessee as waiting with the utmost anxiety [for] the arrival of the Federal forces...if the loyal people who love and cling to the Government are not soon relieved they will be lost."

Confederate response was swift. Colonel Danville Leadbetter was immediately ordered to East Tennessee with engineers to repair and protect the railroad. The following excerpts from an exchange of telegrams between Colonel W. B. Wood, commanding the post at Knoxville and Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of War for the Confederacy, best describes what was ahead for the East Tennesseans:


Col. Wood to J. P. Benjamin on November 20, 1861: " ...The rebellion in East Tennessee has been put down in some of the counties, and will be effectually suppressed in less than two weeks in all the counties...We have now in custody some of their leaders, Judge Patterson, the son-in-law of Andrew Johnson, Col. Pickens, the senator from Sevier, and others of influence and some distinction in their counties....They really deserve the gallows, and , if consistent with the laws, ought speedily to receive their deserts..."


The chilling response from Benjamin was sent 5 days later: " Sir: Your report of the 20th instant is received, and I now proceed to give you the desired instruction in relation to the prisoners of war taken by you among the traitors of East Tennessee. First. All such as can be identified in having been engaged in bridge-burning are to be tried summarily by drum-head court martial, and, if found guilty, executed on the spot by hanging in the vicinity of the burned bridges. Second. All such as have not been so engaged are to be treated as prisoners of war, and sent with an armed guard to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, there to be kept imprisoned at the depot selected by the Government for prisoners of war..."

There immediately followed a complete sweep of the area and hundreds of arrests. Colonel Leadbetter had this to say, "At the farm houses along the more open valleys no men were to be seen, and it is believed that nearly the whole male population of the country were lurking in the hills on account of disaffection or fear. The women in some cases were greatly alarmed, throwing themselves on the ground and wailing like savages." Many prominent men were among those already arrested. They included Andrew Johnson's son-in-law Judge David T. Patterson, Congressman Thomas A. R. Nelson, Senator Samuel Pickens and editor William G. Brownlow . Levi Trewhitt, father of Daniel C. Trewhitt who was Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd Tennessee Infantry Regiment, was one of those arrested. The elder Trewhitt later died while still in captivity at Tuscaloosa on January 31, 1862.

Also in accordance with Benjamin's instructions, five men, all potters from the Pottertown area of Greene County, Tennessee were hung within the next several weeks. Henry Fry and Jacob Madison Hinshaw were executed near the railroad station at Greeneville on November 30 for the role they played in the burning of the Lick Creek Bridge. Fry's 17 year old son was forced to watch the execution. It was passed down in Fry's family that Fry was told at the hanging he would be spared if he would pledge allegiance to the Confederacy. His last words are said to have been, "When there ceases to be fleas in a hog pen and rebels in hell is when I will pledge allegiance to the Confederacy". Colonel Leadbetter had originally ordered their bodies to hang for four days, but they were cut down after thirty-six hours because of the stench.

Christopher Alexander Haun was hung at Knoxville on December 11. The following day, Jacob Harmon Jr. and his son, Henry Harmon suffered the same fate. Harrison Self of Greene County had also been sentenced to hang with the Harmons, but he was pardoned after an emotional plea submitted by his daughter, Elizabeth Self. The Harmons were convicted on testimony of guards who were at the burning of the Lick Creek Bridge. The guards heard one of the bridge burners say, "Who has Henry Harmon's gun?" All five men were posthumously enrolled in Company F of the 2nd Tennessee by a special act of Congress passed in 1862. However, soon after the end of the war, Captain David Fry stated in affidavits that he had actually enrolled all five bridge burners into the Second Tennessee just before the bridge burning incident.

The bridge burning incident had a profound effect on the men of the 2nd Tennessee and all citizens of the area. The liberation of East Tennessee from the Confederacy, which would not be realized for another two long years, became their battle cry. On Christmas Eve later that year, even Colonel Leadbetter understood that the apparent calm was only superficial. He wrote, "Notwithstanding the favorable aspects of things generally in East Tennessee, the country is held by a slight tenure, and the approach of an enemy would lead to prompt insurrection of an aggravated character."
Marker Name: 1C 75 Execution Of The "Bridge~Burners"

Marker Location: Roadside

Type of Marker: Other

Marker Number: 1C 75

Group(s) Responsible for placing Marker:
Tennessee Historical Commission


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