John William Evans

John William Evans

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J. R. Findsen

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Echoes From The Past: A Civil War Letter

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Union soldiers reading letters from home.

Tomorrow we celebrate 241 years of American Independence. Through hard fighting and perseverance that is the hallmark of the American spirit, our forefathers separated from the British Empire. Eighty-five years later, our fledgling country faced an internal threat. The Civil War broke out with a fury. Devastating losses were felt by Union and Confederates alike. However, through the destruction, our country survived. Like many American’s today, my lineage has soldiers who fought for the Union and the Confederacy. In celebration of Independence, I would like to honor one such soldier.

Ebenezer Henry Gurney was my 3rd great grandfather. Born in Hanson Massachusetts, he was the son of Ebenezer Bourn Keene Gurney and Almira Jane Josselyn. In the records, I have found that Ebenezer Henry Gurney went by the name E. Henry Gurney or Henry Gurney. During the American Civil War, he fought as a private in the 3rd Massachusetts Infantry, Company A for the Union. Henry enlisted on 14 Apr 1861. He served for three years.

During his initial training at Fort Monroe, Henry wrote a letter to his brother Lieut. Thomas Gurney who was serving with the 58th Massachusetts Infantry at the time. In his letter, he describes the conditions of camp life and training. Fort Monroe is located in Hampton Virginia along the southern coastline of the state.

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Fort Monroe, Virginia

 

Fort Monroe
Saturday 11th, May, ’61

My dear Brother,
I received your letter of the 28th of April, last Thursday, so you see that it was a long time on the way. I would like to have you here this day just to see our style of living and how we work too, but I shouldn’t want you or anyone else to come here and live as we do, unless it was for the preservation of our country’s flag, as it is with us. I always thought I was not so hard and tough as the other boys from home, but I find, to my astonishment, that I go far beyond the endurance of the other boys. All of the other boys except Wallace (e.g. Wallace Hood, Pleasant Street) have been hauled up with something or other and I have been tough as a bear. Edwin Thayer has been in the hospital three or four days from a swelling in the neck. Willard is sick from boils. Otis (e.g. Otis Bonney, Washington Street) is not very well this day and the others have been complaining about something almost every day. All from our mode of living, which is pork and bread to eat, almost every day. I never felt better in my life than I have since I have been here, notwithstanding I never worked so hard before. I get up at quarter before five in the morning and shake my blanket; then I have to go out on company drill until breakfast, when we have pork and bread; never anything else. After breakfast we have our own time until eight o’clock when we have regimental drill for three hours. Afternoon we have our own time until four and then drill for two hours. We have to keep awake until 9 o’clock for roll call and do not get to sleep until 10 or after on account of the boys making so much noise. There are 150 of us in one room.
This is our parade duty. On guard and fatigue days we get up as usual and shake our beds but do not have to go out on line until 8.00 a.m. Our fatigue duty is the easiest and our guard duty the hardest. They are bound to put us through every day. As I have very often explained , our victuals are just right to create humors. I don’t eat anything except the bread, beans once in a week, meat once in ten days, rice once a week and what I buy from the officer’s wives or from the cooks. Nothing but pork and bread for breakfast and bread and coffee for supper. This is to serve one’s country.
Our place here is well fortified beside the fort. Yesterday the Pawnee, Cumberland, Harriet Lane and Monticello were all here as blockade; Pawnee, 10 guns, Cumberland, 3p., Harriet L, 6 or 8, and Monticello, 1 large 10-inch gun besides two small ones on deck (Howitzers). Today the Pawnee went out and the Quaker City came in. The Harbor is full of sail stopped by the blockade. We don’t know whether the rebels will be bold enough to attack us or not, but every place is being strengthened and guns put in order. Today they are covering the magazine with bags of sand to prevent all possible explosions. Last night was a busy night over in Hampton for the secessionists. Drums were going all night and this morning the scouts reported a sand battery in process of erection. If they get too fast, they may be used up before they expect. That big gun weighs 19.099-11 marked on it. Will throw a shot or shell from 4 to 7 miles and costs $100.00 everytime it is fired. It is a 15-inch Columbiad and is called the Floyd gun. It is four feet and over through the “britch”. I have stood on it and it was about 15 feet from the ground. I wish you to write as often as you can and tell me all the news. My love to all.

Your brother Henry

 

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A drawing of Fort Monroe receiving wounded.

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Canons at Fort Monroe.

In a note written by the hand of Josephine Gurney, Henry’s younger sister, she details that Henry ran off with three other boys, Horatio Sooter, George Hayward and Albert Josselyn, to enlist in Boston. Henry’s first enlistment lasted only three months but he relisted right away. He was a musician and during his second enlistment, he was Chief Bugler in the First Rhode Island Cavalry.

One of the stories remembered by his family was that Henry rode with General Sherman on that “scorching raid through Georgia.” In another one of his letters, Henry reported entering a beautiful Georgia mansion where the soldiers were destroying everything in sight. There was a fine piano in the house. Henry refused to let them touch it. He sat down and played until they left the room. In a flyleaf of a piano book, he found the name “Semple”. When his first daughter was born, he named her Amy Semple Gurney.

 

Thank you for reading. 

J. R. Lowe

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Three Kingsport Men

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Three Kingsport Men

2 March 1946

Three Kingsport men, including in a list of nine East Tennesseans, recently received honorable discarges at the Camp Chaffee Personnel center, Camp Chaffee, Ark.

Kingsport men were: Pvt. James M. Collins, 80 Dale Street; Sgt. George E. Cloud, Route 6: T/3 Robert W. Hagie, 137 Warpath Drive.

Other East Tennesseans were: T/4 Charles E. Hale, Route 4, Johnson City; M/Sgt. Charles F. Weaver, 1503 E. Uriaka Street, Johnson City: Pfc. Roby B. Lowe, 108 E. Main Street, Johnson City; Sgt. Wade H. Carter, Route 4, Jonesboro; T/5 Cecil V. Kilby, 510 W. Main Street, Johnson City.

 

Thank you for reading.

J. R. Lowe

Defensive Position of Tazewell During The Frontier War

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Annals of Southwest Virginia, 1769-1800
by Lewis Preston Summers

Defensive Position of Tazewell During the Frontier War, page 1480

In order to appreciate the true situation of the frontiersmen during the long wars which so devastated the settlements, it is essentially necessary that the reader should know the exact position which they occupied, and how much depended upon their own exertions. For this purpose, has this chapter been set apart.

Previous to 1776, the settlers were engaged in erecting suitable houses to protect their families from the in clemencies of the weather, as well as to render them more secure from the attacks of the Indians. Their lands had to be opened, and consequently, they were much in the forest. As there was an abundance of game, and few domestic animals, their meat was taken mostly from the forest; this likewise took them from home. They were few, and to raise a house, or roll the logs from a field, required the major part of a settlement. This likewise left their families exposed; yet such work was usually executed during the winter months, when the Indians did not visit the settlements. To give further protection to the families of the settlers, in every neighborhood block-houses were, as soon as convenient, erected, to which the families could repair in times of necessity.

After 1776, forts and stations were built, as it became necessary for many of the settlers to join the army. In these forts, and particularly at the stations, a few men were left to defend them. But the extent of country to be defended was so great, and the stations so few, that there was, in reality, but little safety afforded to the families of the settlers.

De Hass has given correct descriptions of block-houses, forts, and stations, to which I beg to refer the reader. There was a fort erected by William Wynn, a strict old Quaker, and one of the best of men., on Wynn’s branch; another at Crab Orchard, by Thomas Witten and one at Maiden Spring, by Rees Bowen – two men whose names will be cherished in the memories of the people of Tazewell for ages to come.

There was a station on Linking Shear branch, containing a few men under the command of Capt. John Preston, of Montgomery; another on Bluestone creek, in command of Capt. Robert Crockett of Wythe county, and another at the present site of the White Sulphur springs, in command of Capt. James Taylor of Montgomery. It is also said that there was a station in Burk’s Garden; I imagine, however, that it was not constructed by order of the Government.

The following persons, citizens of the county, were posted in these forts and stations, viz:

  • Bailey, John
  • Burgess, Edward
  • Bailey, James
  • Belcher, Robert
  • Belcher, Joseph
  • Brewster, Thomas
  • Chaffin, Christopher
  • Maxwell, John
  • Connelly, James
  • Maxwell, Thomas
  • Crockett, John
  • Marrs, ____?
  • Cotterel, John
  • Peery, James
  • Evans, John, Sr.
  • Pruett, John
  • Evans, John, Jr.
  • Thompson, Archibald
  • Gilbert, Joseph
  • Witten, James
  • Godfrey, Absalom
  • Wynn, Oliver
  • Hall, William
  • Wright, Michael
  • Lusk, David
  • Ward, John
  • Lusk, Samuel
  • Ward, William
  • Lusley, Robert
  • Wright, Hezekiah
  • Martin, James

 

These men were to hold themselves in readiness to act as circumstances might demand. To make them more efficient, spies were employed to hang upon the great trails leading into the settlements from the Ohio. Upon discovering the least sign of Indians, they hurried into the settlements and warned the people to hasten to the forts or stations, as the case might be. They received extra wages for their services, for they were both laborious and important, and also fraught with danger. For such an office the very best men were chosen; for it will be readily seen, that a single faithless spy might have permitted the Indians to pass unobserved, and committed much havoc among the people, before they could have prepared for defense. But it does not appear that any “spy” failed to give the alarm when possible so to do. They always went two together, and frequently remained out several weeks upon a scout. Great caution was necessary to prevent the Indians from discovering them, hence their beds were usually of leaves, in some thicket commanding a view of the war-path. Wet or dry, day or night, these men were ever on the lookout. The following persons were chosen from the preceding list, to act as spies, viz:

  • Burgess, Edward
  • Martin, James
  • Bailey, James
  • Maxwell, John
  • Bailey, John
  • Wynn, Oliver
  • Crockett, John
  • Witten, James

 

The last of whom, was one of the most sagacious and successful spies to be found anywhere on the frontier. His name is yet as familiar with the people as if he had lived and occupied a place among them but a day ago.

Such as were too old to bear arms in the government service, usually guarded the women, children and slaves, while cultivating the farms. Tazewell had but a small population at this time, yet from the number engaged in the regular service, we should be led to think otherwise. The following table will convey a good idea of their dispersion over the country, their families, in the meantime, exposed to the horrors of the tomahawk and scalping-knife

 

Names Where Engaged Where Killed/Wounded
Bowen, Rees King’s Mountain King’s Mountain
Bowling, Jarrett    
Brown, Low Clark’s Ex. to IL  
Cartmill, James Alamance  
Dolsberry, Lyles Pt. Pleasant, etc.  
Ferguson, Saml Alamance  
Harrison, Thos Brandywine,

Germantown,

And Yorktown

 
Harper, Jesse    
Lasly, John Clark’s Ex to IL  
Maloney, Archer Brandywine,

And Stony Point

 
McGuire, Nealy Clark’s Ex. to IL  
Moore, Capt. James Alamance  
Peery, William Alamance,

And IL Ex.

 
Peery, Thomas Alamance Alamance
Peery, John Alamance Alamance
Stratton, Solom Clark’s Ex to IL  
Tomlinson, Ism. Brandywine,

Germantown, etc.

 

 

It is a little strange that the frontiers should have furnished so many men for the army, when their absence so greatly exposed their families. But when we reflect that no people felt the horrors of war more sensibly than they did, and that no people are readier to serve the country in the day when aid is needed, than those of mountainous regions, we shall at once have an explanation to their desire, and consequent assistance, in bringing the war to a close. Besides, the people of Tazewell have ever been foremost in defending the country; showing at once that determination to be free, which so eminently characterizes the people of mountainous districts.

The reader, by consulting the Map, and learning that during the Indian wars the population did not much exceed five hundred, will see at once that Tazewell county afforded an open field for the depredations of the Indians.

 

Notes:

  1. James Witten was born January 7th, 1759, in the colony of Maryland, and emigrated to Tazewell with his father, Thomas Witten, in 1773. At this time, though only about fifteen years of age, he was much distinguished as a hunter and woodsman. He was brave and generous to a fault; and was remarkable for decided action even at this early age. He married in 1783, and became at once a conspicuous character in the border war, which had not yet ceased. From 1794 to ’96, he was employed as a regular spy. When any duty requiring bravery, firmness, and prudence, had to be performed, James Witten was the man invariably chosen, as he possessed these qualities in an eminent degree. many incidents of interest are related of him, which should be preserved.
  2. The following list of persons who served in the war of 1812-1814, will corroborate the above statement, viz,
  • Asbury, William
  • Higginbotham, James
  • Tabor, Daniel
  • Bowen, Col. Henry
  • Higginbotham, Wm.
  • Thompson, Henry B.
  • Barns, William
  • King, Isaac
  • Vandyke, Charles
  • Belcher, James
  • Lusk, David
  • Vandyke, John
  • Bostic, Isaac
  • Peery, Capt. Thomas
  • Witten, William
  • Brooks, James
  • Peery, Jonathan
  • Wynn, Peter E.
  • Bainheart, George
  • Peery, Solomon
  • Ward, Alexander
  • Davidson, John
  • Robertson, David
  • Wilson, Hugh
  • Earley, Jeremiah
  • Stevenson, Matthew
  • Wynn, Samuel
  • Franklin, Pleasant
  • Smith, William
  • Walls, Joseph
  • Green, William
  • Shannon, John
  • Young, Nathaniel
  • Gose, Peter
  • Thompson, Rees B.
  • Young Israel

The companies offered their services to the government to engage in the Mexican war; they were not accepted, however, as a sufficiency of men had already been received. James Wynn and Wesley Hubbard, however, joined the Washington troops; with these exceptions, Tazewell may be said not to have participated in the war with Mexico.

 

Thank you for reading.

J. R. Lowe

Today We Remember

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Today we celebrate Memorial Day. It is a time where America remembers the men and women who fell in service to our country. Many visit gravesites, come together as families to share in elaborate meals. Some go camping to enjoy the beginnings of warm weather. Others party like there is no tomorrow.  When did Memorial Day start? What are the roots of the national holiday we look forward to every year? I could not answer my own question. The historian in me felt appalled. Apparently, it was time for a Google search.

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Here is the scoop. Memorial Day was made an official national holiday in 1971. It evolved from Decoration Day, an unofficial holiday that commemorated soldiers who gave their lives on the battlefield during the American Civil War. Historians theorize that honoring fallen comrades has ancient origins. The first account was 480 B.C. in Athens. If you would like to know more, have a look at this History.com article.
https://www.history.com/embed/21150699

 

Have a safe and happy Memorial Day!

Thank you for reading.

J. R. Lowe