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The Sullivan County soldiers who saved Stonewall Jackson

Ned Jilton • Feb 10, 2018 at 9:30 PM

I’ve always been amazed by the role men from Sullivan County played in the Civil War.

There’s the 19th Tenn. with its two Sullivan County companies, C and G, which played important roles in such battles as Shiloh, Chickamauga and Franklin.

Then there’s the 26th Tenn. with its Company K from Sullivan County, which played a key role at the Battle of Fort Donelson, helping Nathan Bedford Forrest to escape with nearly 1,000 men. The men of Company K then stayed behind to hold the line until they became prisoners of war when the fort fell to U.S. Grant.

And there’s the 59th, 60th and 61st Tenn. With their Sullivan County companies, they opposed Grant’s Vicksburg campaign. After the fall of Vicksburg, Kingsport’s J.W. Bachman, who commanded Company G of the 60th, one of two Sullivan County companies in that regiment, was married between the lines during a cease-fire while a prisoner of war.

But I have written quite a bit about those regiments and companies.

Today I want to tell you about the first Sullivan County company to see a major battle in the Civil War, Company K, 3rd Tenn. The company that helped save Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of First Manassas.

The first group of volunteers from Sullivan County arrived in Knoxville only to be quickly organized as a company, assigned to a regiment and then on June 2 shipped to Lynchburg, Va., where they were designated as Company K, 3rd Tenn.

By June 17, the regiment was placed in a brigade under the command of then Col. A.P. Hill, (who was to become one of Robert E. Lee’s best division commanders), and by June 19 they were in action, attacking and destroying a railroad bridge on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad near New Creek, Virginia, and capturing two pieces of artillery.

By June 30, the regiment was assigned to the Army of the Shenandoah, then under the command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, and was placed in a brigade under the command of Col. Arnold Elzey.

To give you an idea of how fast things were moving for these men, the second group of volunteers from Sullivan County, who left home only a few days later, were formed into companies C and G of the 19th Tenn. in Knoxville on June 11 and wouldn’t leave there until July 1.

But now we come to the events of July 21, 1861, the Battle of First Manassas.

Most of us have heard the story.

The battle was not going well for the Confederate forces as they were being pushed back, their lines starting to break and men starting to run.

But on Henry House Hill stood a brigade of Virginians holding the line under the command of Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, who coolly sat on his horse watching the battle develop. Gen. Barnard Bee pointed to Jackson and shouted to his men, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians.”

The Confederate forces did rally, repulse the Federal attack and then Jackson gave the order for the men to charge and “Yell like furies,” giving birth to the famous Rebel Yell.

What is left out of this story is when Jackson gave that order to charge, a Union brigade under the command of Col. Oliver Otis Howard had moved onto Chinn Ridge with the opportunity to attack the Confederate left flank and rear. This was a final chance for Federal forces to crumble the “stone wall” and regain the advantage they had lost.

It was at this moment the last Confederate reinforcements arrived on the battlefield. It was Col. Elzey’s brigade with the 3rd Tenn.

Those troops, joined by Jubal Early’s brigade, charged into the Federal brigade’s right flank, thus flanking the flankers and driving them from Chinn Ridge.

With Jackson charging the Union left and Elzey and Early charging the Union right, the Federal soldiers figured it would be a good time to run. And to make sure they kept running, J.E.B. Stuart launched a cavalry charge into the retreating soldiers.

The Confederacy won the first major battle of the Civil War, and playing a role in that victory by securing the left side of the line was the 3rd Tenn. with Company K, the first volunteers from Sullivan County.

Ned Jilton II is page designer and photographer for the Times News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at njilton@timesnews.net.

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