Alvis Duncan Hicks in the Civil War

& The 2nd Tennessee Volunteer Infantry

A Story of Southern Men in the Union Army

by Garry D. Nation

c.  2010, 2011.  All rights reserved.

Who Was A. D. Hicks?

Alvis Duncan Hicks is one of my direct ancestors, the grandfather of my maternal grandmother, the father of her father David Francis Hicks.  That’s who he is: a name in a genealogy.  It’s not too hard to find the name of a fourth generation ancestor.  The question is, who was he?  To know the name and the dates is not to know the man.

How much can we know about an ancestor who is unheard of by historians, who left no written diary or memoir, and whose story has been passed down in sketchy oral histories that contain observable anachronisms, inconsistencies, and contradictions?

Quite a bit, actually, especially when, through choice and circumstance, that ancestor involved himself in a monumental event that changes the course of a nation’s history.  When providence brings one to such a time and place, even a man of small means establishes vast connections.  The service of even a private soldier in a great war has a magnified impact, and shares in the greatness or infamy of the endeavor.

From our perspective in time we can actually know and understand more (in some ways) than our ancestor did about his own service in that war.  Seldom does the private know the whys and wherefores of the orders he’s been given, of the marches that wear him out, or of the fight into which he is sent.  We may not be able to recreate in detail his firsthand experiences, but we can imagine them authentically and empathetically.  On the other hand, from our vantage point a century and a half later, we have a gauge of the vastness of the conflict that he could never hope to have.

Following threads of evidence from the little we start with, we can learn more from investigation.  But once we have learned so many details that we did not know before, we still have not finished our task.

It is my purpose to understand and describe, not only the several experiences of my great-great grandfather, but to place his life and military service in the larger context of the great Civil War in which he fought—the war that changed the destiny of the United States, even as it altered the destiny of his personal life and that of his descendants.

I believe that a life is not small and inconsequential because it is without fame; that great historical events lend their greatness to the individual lives that participate in them; and that those events have acquired their great historical significance through the participation of thousands of unsung individuals like Alvis Duncan Hicks.

But this is more than the story of one man.  Can it be that there truly is a story of the Civil War that hasn’t been told?  In researching the experiences of my ancestor I discovered a history that has never been given its due, a story that even Ken Burns’s great series The Civil War gave very little play.  It is the story of thousands of men who fought for the Union—but don’t call them Yankees!  They were Southern men, Tennessee men.  In telling the story of Alvis Duncan Hicks I’m telling their story as well, and in telling theirs I am telling his.

I   THE CAUSE: A Choice Forced upon us   

               August 1861

Why did Alvis Duncan Hicks and thousands of other East Tennessee men leave their homes and families to join the Northern cause?  Were they traitors to the South?  What were their intentions? What were they fighting for?

II   CAMP DICK ROBINSON: How Long ‘til We’re Soldiers?

              September-October 1861

Camp Robinson has been called the U. S. Army’s first modern basic training camp.  It did not get off to a smooth start.  What was the experience like for those first volunteers?  And what was it like to be the first soldiers under the command of a fellow Southerner, who would become one of the best Union generals in the war?


              October 21-23, 1861

The men from Tennessee were anxious to get a crack at the Rebels and hopeful that they could soon drive them out of their home state.  When Gen. Zollicoffer invaded Kentucky, it looked like they would finally get their chance to prove themselves.

IV        BURNING BRIDGES, Part 1: An Audacious Plan

               September-November 1861

The plan was detailed, well-thought out, and absolutely audacious.  If they could pull it off it would mean the liberation of East Tennessee, and perhaps hasten the end of the Confederacy. How could it not succeed?

V        BURNING BRIDGES, Part 2: Flames of Rebellion

               November 8, 1861 and Aftermath

All their hopes of a quick victory and a short war are now reduced to smoke and cinders—and they’ve scarcely fired a shot.

VI        MILL SPRINGS: Soldiers at Last

               January 19, 1862

After enduring week after week of discouraging news, hard weather, frustrating orders, and still without proper uniforms and equipment, the men from Tennessee finally get a chance to show in battle what they are made of.  Their reward is to participate in the first significant Union victory since the debacle at Bull Run—the least-remembered, most under-appreciated victory of the Civil War. (First installment)

Still to Come....

  1. Cumberland Ford, January-May 1862

  2. CUMBERLAND GAP, June-August 1862

  3. RETREAT!  September-October 1862

  4. March to Nashville, November-December 1862

  5. THE BATTLE OF STONES RIVER, December 31, 1862 - January 2, 1863

  6. Mounted IN PURSUIT OF MORGAN, April-August, 1863

  7. TAKING BACK EAST TENNESSEE, August-November 1863

  8. THE ROGERSVILLE DISASTER, November 6, 1863

  9. PRISONER OF WAR, November 1863 – December 1864

  10. NEW LIFE, 1865 and Afterward