The 63rd was the last front-line regiment from East Tennessee and one of the last, if not the last, regiment from the entire state.
Even though there would be “Home Guard” units like the “Zollicoffer Mounted Rifles” in Sullivan County, “The Young Rebels of Jonesborough” in Washington County and the “Beech Creek Jerkers” in Hawkins County, all of which would form in June 1863, when it came to fighting outfits Tennessee was approaching its last full measure with the bloodiest fighting of the war yet to come.
The 63rd Tennessee was a blend of experiences, with Sullivan County contributing two companies, one old and one new, to its service.
Company F was the new company formed in the county and supplemented with men from the Sullivan County Company K, 26th Tennessee, who had either been sent home after being wounded in battle or released in a prisoner exchange too late to get back to their original unit and were reassigned to Company F, under the command of Captain A. M. Millard.
Company E was the other Sullivan County regiment in the 63rd Tennessee, and its story was very different from Company F. Company E was originally Company K of Col. John Vaughn’s 3rd Tennessee, organized May 29, 1861. Crockett R. Millard was elected captain of the company, which shipped out to Knoxville and saw action ahead of the men of the 19th Tennessee.
As Company K of the 3rd Tennessee, the men from Sullivan County were sent to Lynchburg, Va., to join with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and — as part of the reinforcements sent from the Shenandoah Valley — they came to the aid of Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson at the battle of First Manassas, repelling the final effort of Union forces to turn Jackson’s left flank.
During reorganization of regiments from the Provisional Army of Tennessee into the Confederate Army, Company K was detached from the 3rd Tennessee while stationed in Knoxville on May 14, 1862, and was reassigned to the 63rd Tennessee in November.
There were also three companies in the 63rd Tennessee from Washington County and one from Hawkins County.
Company I from Washington County was originally a company of cavalry but found themselves horseless and thus assigned to the infantry. In total, the 63rd Tennessee initially had 843 men. The 19th Tennessee initially had 1,064 men when organized.
Commanding the 63rd Tennessee was Col. Richard G. Fain, a West Point graduate from Hawkins County. Second in command of the regiment was Lt. Col. Abraham Fulkerson, formally of the 19th Tennessee, and John A. Aiken from Washington County was assigned as major.
Fulkerson was a school teacher in Rogersville before the war
and a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, where he was a student of then professor Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.
Fulkerson came from a military family. His father, Abraham Fulkerson Sr., was a captain commanding a company of Virginia Militia during the War of 1812, and his grandfather, James Fulkerson, joined with the Overmountain Men and fought at the Battle of Kings Mountain during the Revolutionary War.
At the start of the war, Fulkerson was instrumental in forming the men of Hawkins County into Company K of the 19th Tennessee Volunteer Regiment. Fulkerson was elected major of the 19th Tennessee and served with them until wounded at the Battle of Shiloh.
After his wounds healed, he was reassigned to the 63rd Tennessee. Although Col. Fain was in charge of the regiment, his age and poor health prevented him from carrying out his normal duties at times, so Lt. Col. Fulkerson would see to the affairs of the regiment.
The first assignment of the 63rd Tennessee was to guard the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia railroads before being assigned to the Cumberland Gap as part of Brigadier Gen. Archibald Gracie’s brigade, primarily made up of troops from Alabama. A report on the regiment at the time noted, “The regiment is pretty well drilled, well armed, and would be very efficient if we had plenty of clothing and shoes.”
Two notable events took place while the 63rd Tennessee was stationed in Cumberland Gap. One was a visit by President Jefferson Davis and the second was the death of Jackson. Both events were noted in a letter written by Lt. Col. Fulkerson to his wife in May 1863.
“One of our pickets came in the other day and reported that a Mr. Davis was at the lines and desired to enter. This report took me very much by surprise, for although you had mentioned the probability of his coming yet I did not look for him,” wrote Fulkerson. “He only stayed a few hours. After dinner, a very poor one without apology to him, I went to show him some of the curiosities of Cumberland Gap, which he seemed to think would compensate anyone for making the visit. He went back up the valley and expected to get home by Wednesday next.”
Fulkerson then followed with the news of the death Jackson, his former teacher at VMI.
“The intelligence of the death of Gen. Jackson came upon us like a shock. We feel that his death is a national calamity” he wrote. “The poorest soldiers among us appreciated his worth, loved the man and mourn his loss. I knew him well. He was my preceptor for more than four years and whilst during that time I did not appreciate the man, as schoolboys are not like to do, yet I always had great reverence for the man on account of his piety and uprightness of character. Among the many heroes of this revolution, none have lived so much adored, none have died so much deplored, and none have left a character as spotless as that of Stonewall Jackson. Could his life have been spared till the close of this cruel war, the unanimous voice of a grateful people would have proclaimed him chief ruler of the nation. But God has seen proper to take him from us, and what He does is right and for the best. It is therefore that we make the sacrifice cheerfully, though we cannot see why our country should be deprived of his services at this her hour of greatest need.”
The only other notable event for the 63rd Tennessee in the Cumberland Gap was successful raids into Harlan County, Ky., in which the regiment was able to secure 56 beef cattle.
On June 19, 1863, the 63rd Tennessee left the Cumberland Gap for Knoxville and then moved by rail to Tullahoma, Tenn., where the 19th Tennessee was stationed and assigned to protect the left flank of Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee against the increasing probes of the Union Army of the Cumberland, which was beginning to move.