13th TN Cavalry veterans' reunion during the early 20th century.
Called “home Yankees” by Confederate sympathizers, a band of North Carolina farmers and amateur soldiers turned ferocious fighters during the Civil War gained notoriety for their deeds in East Tennessee behind enemy lines in a regiment known as “The Dreaded Thirteenth.”
The 1,400-man regiment, also nicknamed “Marauding Mountain Men,” formed what would become a feared and historically significant Tennessee Union Cavalry unit at the outbreak of the war between the states. Virtually no soldiers’ letters or diaries survived. But after stumbling upon a few reunion photographs during a genealogical project, East Tennessee State University American History Professor Melanie Storie’s curiosity got the best of her.
“Eventually, I discovered that several members of my paternal ancestors fought in the Civil War and had served with a volunteer Union cavalry regiment from East Tennessee,” Storie said. “About half of them were from Carter County.”
The more anecdotal evidence she found, the more her interest in the subject grew. The result: A new book titled, “The Dreaded Thirteenth Tennessee Union Cavalry: Marauding Mountain Men.”
“I began scouring local newspapers from the late 19th Century for any scrap of information about the veterans’ reunions,” she said. “Among the sparse and torn newspaper copies of the Elizabethton Mountaineer, I finally found an article detailing the very first reunion ... in Butler, Tenn.”
Storie came upon a private collector who had kept unpublished photographs of soldiers, including 15-year-old James R. Allen, who lied about his age in order to serve his country.
“It’s more a story of personal hardship and personal loss,” she said.
She discovered interviews conducted in 1960 with Thomas Guy, of Watauga, N.C., who talked about the hardships recounted from stories told to him by his grandfather.
Guy said the Thirteenth had a reputation for brutality and as “a mean bunch of men” marched through the region and “shot all the home guards they could find.”
Storie even tracked down how each Upper East Tennessee county voted when the push for secession final came. Only Sullivan County voted to do so.
“It was about revenge, because these guys had seen their homes burned down,” she said. “They went into North Carolina looking for payback. But they also became targets at which Confederate Tennesseans took special aim, believing they were not fit to live among civilized Southerners.”
One of the regiments’ biggest claims to fame was the killing of Confederate General John H. Morgan. In September 1864, after locating Morgan’s headquarters in an individual’s home outside Greeneville, members of the Thirteenth, along with members of the Ninth Cavalry, surrounded the home.
Morgan and his top officers were roused by the sound of gunfire. Capt. James Rogers, a member of Morgan’s staff, recalled that he and Morgan saw a soldier ride up to the back of the house where the men tried to conceal themselves.
Andrew Campbell, an Irish immigrant enlisted as a private with the Thirteenth, pointed a gun at the men and demanded they surrender. Morgan fled but was shot in the back and killed.
One of Morgan’s staff came forward, looked down at the body and said, “You have killed the best man in the Southern Confederacy.” Campbell rode back to camp with Morgan’s body draped over his horse not even knowing who it was he had killed. Others reported that Union soldiers paraded the body through the streets for almost two hours and left it on a train depot platform.
“They really felt like they were getting revenge,” Storie said. “They remained intact through the end of the war and were among the soldiers chasing Confederate President Jefferson Davis as he tried to make it safely to Texas. Some came back and rebuilt their homes; others moved on to other parts of the country. But they did hold reunions every year.”
Storie earned her master’s of arts degree from ETSU in 1991. She has been a teacher there ever since. She lives in Elizabethton with her husband and two children.