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A narrative of service with the Third Wisconsin Infantry/Reorganizing Lincoln County

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Reorganizing Lincoln County

Lincoln County was one of the richest, as well as the most violent of Secession counties in Tennessee. Its people boasted that it had cast 2,500 votes for Secession, and not one for the Union; the few Union men in the county had not dared to go to the polls. A few months previous to our coming a small detachment of Northern troops had been captured there by guerrillas. The prisoners had been taken to the bank of the Elk River and three of them deliberately murdered. A fourth had only escaped by leaping into the river and swimming off in the confusion. When he had reported the matter to headquarters, Colonel Ketcham of the One Hundred Fiftieth New York had been sent to collect an assessment of $30,000 from the citizens of the county for the benefit of the families of the murdered soldiers.

Our mission in Lincoln County was to hunt down the guerrillas who infested it, and to care for the refugees from Chattanooga and other places in the rear of the army, who had lost their means of gaining a livelihood. We supported the refugees by forced levies of corn and bacon from the wealthy planters of the vicinity, while our mounted force soon disposed of the guerrillas, capturing a number and frightening the rest out of the county. We had a novel way of administering justice. For instance, about two months after our arrival a number of these young offenders, whose parents lived in the vicinity and were substantial farmers, stole from a citizen mules valued at $400. The Colonel immediately assessed the amount on the fathers, and with the money thus collected paid for the mules. That was our policy all through—to make the wealthy Confederates pay for the damage done by their lawless colleagues. And this method had a good effect, for it soon put an end to the thievery.

Shortly after we arrived, our mounted men captured a Confederate officer named Boone, a grandson of the famous Daniel. On him was found a list of all the guerrillas in the county. When I examined him, he told me that he had been sent to muster these fellows into the Confederate army; but his plans were spoiled. Instead he went to Johnson's Island, a prisoner, and his little memorandum book remained in my possession.

Among the names on the list were those of two Miller boys, whose mother and sister lived in town. The Captain of our mounted men, and several other officers, boarded with the family, for the people in Fayetteville were usually glad to take in Union officers as boarders, in order that they might secure from our rations the otherwise unobtainable luxuries of sugar and coffee. Several days after the capture of Boone's list, the Captain brought in both of the young Millers as prisoners. They were forwarded to Corps headquarters at Tullahoma. The elder, instead of being sent North as a prisoner of war, was tried by court martial and sentenced to be hanged in the public square of Fayetteville. That did not suit some of us; so we found means to send Mrs. Miller to Shelbyville, where she secured Judge Cooper, a well-known Unionist and former member of Congress, to go to Washington, and lay the case before President Lincoln. It was well known that no death sentence was ever executed with the President's consent, if there was any reasonable excuse for avoiding it. His usual magnanimity did not fail in this case, and the boy was sent North as an ordinary prisoner of war.

When the President's amnesty proclamation was issued, we were given the duty of reorganizing Lincoln County under its provisions. I was appointed provost marshal, and in that position administered oaths of allegiance to several thousand repentant and unrepentant Secessionists. When the election was held, returns were made to me, and by me tabulated, and sent to the military governor at Nashville. Commissions were then issued by him to the officials who had been elected, so that when we left, the county was ready to resume civil government.

In administering the oath of allegiance, the demand for blanks was so great that the ordinary sources could not furnish a sufficient supply. It was necessary, therefore, for me to open a printing office. So I took possession of an old printing establishment, and set several men to work. The press was broken down and the type badly "pi'd"; but we soon had the machinery repaired, and by combining the stock of three printing offices, secured sufficient type to run our establishment with success.

In addition to these other duties, I had to listen to everyone in the county who sought redress for a grievance of any kind. Some had had horses taken by our army, or by bushwhackers; some had been robbed of money or other valuables; some wanted permits to carry firearms, which were of course never granted; and others needed assistance from the Government to keep from starving. One man came with a case parallel to that of the woman who wanted a "pass to raise geese." He wanted a "pass to raise a crup." I told him to go on and raise his crop, or do whatever he pleased, so long as he remained loyal to the Government. He said his neighbors had told him he could not raise a crop without a permit from the Federals, and that every man who took the oath of allegiance was branded in the forehead with the letters "U.S."

One day a woman came to me, who said she had heard that we paid $10,000 to the widows of men killed by guerrillas. I explained to her that we had done that only for the widows of three Union soldiers. I told her, however, that if she could give me any information about where the guerrillas could be found, we would capture and punish them. She said she did not know, but that she had heard some shots in the woods. She had not seen her man since, and she was sure they had killed him. After parleying awhile she started out of the door. But before she went out, she turned and called back to me, "That ai'nt the wust of 't; they stole my old mare, too!"

When we first arrived at Fayetteville not a person was to be seen on the streets, although before the war it had been a place of 2,000 inhabitants. There was not a vestige of any kind of business left in the town. Even the stores and taverns were vacant. The people soon made their appearance, however, when they found that we had come to stay, and before very long we had established the most friendly relations with them. By the time we were ready to leave, almost every family in town had its friends among the soldiers. They were very sociable, and always seemed glad to have the Federal officers call on them. The young ladies would sing and play the piano beautifully, and make things quite homelike for us after the routine of the day's work. Twenty years later, while passing through Fayetteville on my way to Atlanta, I received courtesies from a citizen who only knew me by reputation as one of the officers of the Third Wisconsin.

It was curious to see what a difference slavery had made in the social life of these people. Everywhere work was considered disgraceful for a white man, and as only the occupation of the "nigger." In order to succeed socially, it was necessary to own slaves. The idea of hiring labor, or of being rich without negroes, was apparently incomprehensible. And in fact it was true that all of the people who had obtained any sort of success, intellectually or otherwise, had owned slaves.

Most of the men who resided in the vicinity had served in the Confederate army. Some had been discharged on account of wounds or sickness, while others, and probably most of them, had deserted when they became sure that the fight was hopeless. My office was a common resort for these people after they had taken the oath of amnesty. They would sit around by the hour, and spin their yarns about the Confederate service. The recent deserters had to be sent to headquarters at Tullahoma for examination; and as we could communicate only with a strong escort, I would sometimes have half a dozen of them paroled to report to me daily until I could arrange to send on a party.

In all my dealings with these people, I found scarcely any who really desired the success of the Union cause. There were plenty of them, probably the majority, who thought the Confederacy a failure, and wished to get back into the Union on the best possible terms; but they still clung to their old ideas. However, that did not interfere with our friendship and the good time that we had while we were there. And when the day at length came when we were obliged to leave, I think that they really were, as they professed to be, sorry at our going. And well they might be, for the regiment of Tennessee Union Cavalry, that occupied the town after we left, proceeded at once to kill several of the most prominent men who had not taken the amnesty oath, and at least one who had.

On the morning of April 28, 1864, we said farewell to our Fayetteville friends and started out on the campaign which a year later was to end at Raleigh, North Carolina, with the surrender of Johnston's army and the end of the war. With us was a company of Tennessee Union Cavalry, commanded by Captain Brixey, which had been sent to Lincoln County to hunt bushwhackers. On leaving Fayetteville they had taken a horse belonging to Judge Chilcote, a prominent citizen, who had been of much assistance to me in the provost marshal's office in restoring civil government, and who had at the election been chosen county clerk. The Judge followed us, and asked to have his horse restored. Colonel Hawley of our Regiment at once compelled Captain Brixey to give it up. He did so with apparent reluctance, and then secretly sent a number of his men over a by-road to intercept the Judge on his return and kill him. This cowardly deed accomplished, the men rejoined their command. Brixey then pushed on ahead to Tullahoma, and on the next day left for the mountains of East Tennessee. The murder was reported to us that night. The Colonel sent back Captain Gardner with his mounted men to investigate, but the murderers had fled as soon as their deed became known, and nothing more could be done. After this outrage, Brixey never dared to rejoin our army. Some time later he was killed by Confederates in northwestern Georgia.

During our stay at Fayetteville our Corps and the old Eleventh of the Army of the Potomac were consolidated, and became known as the Twentieth Corps of the Army of the Cumberland. The command was given to General Hooker. Our portion of the army would very much have preferred General H. W. Slocum, who was sent to Vicksburg. In the reorganization we became the Second Brigade of the First Division, with General Thomas H. Ruger commanding the Brigade and General A. S. Williams commanding the Division. At the suggestion of the officers of the Eleventh Corps, our old badge, the five-pointed star, was retained as the badge of the new corps.