Uncommon courage

Never to be forgotten, on the first day of August 1861, in open defiance of the occupying Confederate Army, Company B of the First Tennessee Infantry, was formed at Jacksboro, forever securing the small county seat, scarcely a village as a site of national historical significance.

The uncommon courage displayed that day was of both symbolic and strategic importance to the Union cause.

Their Captain, Milton L. Phillips, a young man of 23 years, grew up above the forks of the Clinch and Powell Rivers, on what is now the Central Peninsula of Norris Reservoir.

He died of disease on Christmas Day in 1863.

His body was returned for burial to the beautiful valley that runs up from the forks of the river. Phillips was a lieutenant colonel at the time of his death.

Company A, the second federal unit formed in Tennessee, was organized at Jacksboro on Aug. 2 under the leadership of Joseph A. Cooper.

Also a local boy, Cooper — who grew up at Cherry Bottom — was the only man who went in to the Union Army a private and came out a general.

More units were formed the following week at Clinton, Maynardville, Tazewell and Kingston. The first Tennessee Infantry participated in the Battles of Mills Springs and Stones River and was engaged with Sherman in the campaign for Atlanta when on Aug. 10, 1864, Major General Schofield of The Army of the Ohio issued the following order:

“The term of service of the 1st Regiment East Tennessee Infantry having nearly expired, the regiment will be relieved from duty with the army in the field on the 11th inst (instant), will move by rail, if practicable, to Knoxville, Tennessee, and will there be mustered out of service.

This gallant regiment, first among the patriotic men from East Tennessee to take up arms in defense of the Union, has gained an enviable reputation by its three years of faithful, and efficient service, and, especially during the present campaign, has won, together with its comrades of the XXIII Corps, enduring fame. To Col. Byrd and the officers and men of his regiment,

I tender a soldier’s appreciation and regard for soldierly fidelity and gallantry, and bid them farewell, with the hope that they may soon find in their homes in Tennessee the peace and prosperity for which they have fought so long and so well.”

The following letter, addressed to Col. Robert Byrd, commanding officer of the First Tennessee Infantry, signed by William G. Brownlow. Thomas Humes, Horace Maynard, Thomas A. R. Nelson, Oliver P. Temple, and twenty-five other East Tennessee Unionist, was published in the Aug. 24,1864 edition of Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig and Rebel Ventilator: “Having learned that the gallant regiment, under your command, the First Tennessee Infantry, after three years of active participation in the glorious campaign of Gen. Sherman, to be mustered out of the ranks of war, we citizens of East Tennessee, would be glad of an opportunity to give them a public reception and extend to them our kindly greetings before they receive their final discharges.

If our request shall meet your approval please arrange the time and manner to suit your official convenience and enable us to communicate the same to our fellow citizens.”

According to the same editor of Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig and Rebel Ventilator, “Tuesday was agreed upon, and in front of the court-house these war worn veterans, who had served three years were arrayed, their “tattered and torn”, but ever glorious banner floating above them, and in the presence of a very large audience of soldiers and citizens, speeches were made...It was a great day, and the occasion of of interest. The point with us, was the hearty greeting with which the strong, not to say radical sentiments of some of the speeches met from the soldiers and citizens.

No man who spoke was more patriotic and utlra than Col Byrd himself, yet his sentiments met with a hearty response, a few traitors and rebel sympathizers looking grum, and indicating that they were not of the “faith and order’”.

One hundred fifty years to the date, at 3:30 p.m. Saturday an observance to honor these brave men will be held beside what is now the Old Knox County courthouse, on South Gay Street and West Main Avenue, in conjunction with the seventh annual East Tennessee History Fair. (The event will be to honor all eleven companies of the First Tennessee Infantry).

Writer’s Note: Resources are available at the Campbell County Historical Society, 235 East Central Avenue, LaFollette, and the McClung Historical Collection at the East Tennessee History Center, 601 South Gay Street, Knoxville, for readers interested in exploring their own Civil War history.

The Original Members of Company B

• Black, Isaac

• Black, John W. 

• Blain, James W. 

• Blakeman, Claiborne

• Branson, Thomas

• Bratcher, George W.

• Bratcher, John L. 

• Clapp, James

• Collins, John

• Cox, James

• Cox, William

• Cunningham, James H. 

• David, Sampson

• Davis, William B.

• Dossett, John

• Drake, Thomas J.

• Duncan, Hartwell

• Duncan, John

• Dyer (Dyre), Marion

• Elkin (Elkins), Alfred

• Francis, Jacob

• Goodman, John W.

• Graham, George W.

• Graves, Gideon

• Gray, James H.

• Green, John

• Green, William N.

• Haggard, Warren

• Harmon, Aaaron

• Harmon, Francis

• Harmon, Isaac

• Hayes, Eli M.

• Hayes, John M.

• Hicks, Caswell

• Hicks, James

• Hicks, John

• Hicks, Nathaniel

• Hicks, Rhodes

• Hicks, William G.

• Hill, John

• Hines, Francis M.

• Hollingsworth, John C.

• Johnson, Christopher L.

• Johnson, William B.G.

• Jones, Johnson N.

• Ledgerwood, James L.

• Ledgerwood, Washington L.

• Lewellin, John Sr.

• Marcum, Squire H.-Marietta Cemetery (Concord, Tenn.)

• Massingill (Missiongill), John

• McCelland (McLelland), James D.

• Messer, Newton A.

• Mize, Henry J.

• Mize, James F.

• Mize. John W. 

• Mize, William A.-Knoxville National Cemetery

• Monroe, John F.

• Monroe, Nathan

• Moore, Robert

• Morton, Isaac

• Murry, Alexander

• Murry, Ewen (Erving) G.

• Musser, James A. 

• Mynatt, James M. 

• Newby (Nuby), Benjamin

• Newby (Nuby), Joseph

• Norton, Thomas

• Orick, James

• Parker, William

• Parks, Samuel J.

• Patterson, John 

• Patterson, Samuel

• Pearce, John J.

• Pearce, Peter

• Pearce, Thomas Jr.

• Phillips, John T.

• Phillips, Milton L.

• Pierce, Thomas Sr.

• Poindexter, William H.H.

• Polston, Elias

• Privet, Robert H. 

• Pugh, Samuel

• Rahagan, Frederick

• Rogers, Thomas J.

• Romines (Romaines), Zachariah

• Russell, Edward

• Russell, John

• Rutledge, John

• Sawyers, John M.

• Shelton, Joseph

• Shelton, William

• Skaggs, Benjamin F.

• Smith, John L.

• Smith, Marion S.

• Smitty (Smithy, Smiddy), Reuben

• Stephens, Allen R.

• Stephens, Peter R.

• St. John, Napoleon

• Thomas, James B.

• Vitteto, James M.

• Walter, Henry

• Webb, James B. (R.?)

• Williams, Calvin

• Willoughby, John

• Willoughby, Preston

• Yount, John F.

• Yount, Joseph H.


Joe Stephens is a local historian whose columns appear weekly in the LaFollette Press.