Alvis Duncan Hicks in the Civil War

Garry D. Nation.

2009,  All rights reserved.


Chapter I

The Cause

A Choice Forced Upon Us

August 1861

Twenty-one year old Alvis Hicks arrived at Camp Dick Robinson, Kentucky late in the afternoon on Tuesday, August 20, 1861—one man in a company of about three hundred sixty.  Their march through the rolling hills of the Bluegrass region the past couple of days made for a mild end to a journey that began so roughly over a week ago.

Footsore and wearing the dust of travel, he stood in line behind his 25 year-old brother, Will.  They were among the first to enlist in the newly formed 2nd East Tennessee Infantry (Volunteer), U. S. A., and were assigned along with dozens of their neighbors to “A” Company—pending formal designation as a U. S. Army regiment. They would

Pvt. Alvis Duncan Hicks

ca. 1862

soon be joined by thousands of men and boys from East Tennessee who held Union sympathies.  Theirs was one of the large columns.  Others would come in smaller groups, while a few straggled in by ones and twos. 

Alvis Duncan and William J. Hicks were the sons of Adry Hicks, a farmer born about 1814 in North Carolina who had migrated west to settle in Morgan County, Tennessee.  That’s apparently where Alvis was born on February 2, 1840.  We are not completely sure.  He never spoke to his offspring and relatives of his birthplace except in generalities.

Adry Hicks and his family are listed for the first time in the 1850 Morgan County census.  He and his wife Nancy, both 36, are listed as natives of Tennessee, a mistake by the census taker since other reliable sources indicate they were both born in North Carolina (but much of Tennessee was sectioned off of what originally was North Carolina territory, so both statements may be factual).  Adry was a farmer owning real estate in the value of $300.1  The record tells us that Adry and Nancy had nine children.  It also says that Adry could read and write.

Will was the second born, after elder sister Elvira who 16 when the census taker came in 1850.  He was followed by James E. who was two years older than Alvis.  Alvis was the fourth child, age 10 at the time of the census.  The others were Mary (8), Lucinda E. (6), Addison L. (4), Francis (3), and Margaret A. (2 months).  Will, James, Alvis, and Mary had attended school the previous year.  There weren’t many schoolhouses in the area—probably the school they attended held its sessions in a church house—and those who sent their children had to contribute money or goods to keep it going.  Adry was a literate man, and it must have been important to him to see that his children also had the rudiments of an education.

Adry died in 1855 at the young age of 41.  We don’t know whether it was from illness or injury.  Alvis was only 15.  According to his own testimony, living at home was a hardship for the boy, but we have no details of the conflicts he experienced.  He left home soon afterward, and worked at farming and carpentry.  He would become a master house builder.  Later, probably around age 20 or 21, he married a girl named (according to an oral history) Nancy Jinkings.  The curious thing about this is that his mother’s maiden name was Nancy Jenkins, born in North Carolina in 1814 and died we-know-not-when.  It is at least possible if not probable that there is a garbled account here, and that we do not know at all the name of the young girl Alvis married when he left home—and will never know unless a record of their marriage (or divorce) can be found.

According to his enlistment record Will’s home was Roane County, Tennessee.2  We’re not sure where Alvis was living in 1861.  Maybe the clerk just failed to write down the information, or perhaps Alvis failed to put it down on his card.  Or else he did not have a permanent residence at the time, and may have been—together with his young wife—dwelling with his brother’s family when he made the decision to join the perilous hike to cross the state line. Most of the men in that group were from Roane County.

Alvis and Will Hicks came to Camp Dick Robinson accompanied by other kinfolk.  Their brother James (23) and some cousins had already arrived a day earlier with the group from Kingston led by Robert K. Byrd, and had joined the 1st Regiment that mustered under Byrd’s command.3

Besides these, five other men named Hicks enlisted in the 2nd Tennessee, all but one of them on the 20th and 21st of August.4  They included Winfield Hicks from Roane County, age 40 (or maybe 50!—there are two different records), who was given a medical discharge less than a year later; and 19 year-old Joseph B. Hicks, also from Roane County.  There is very good reason to believe that young Joe was Alvis’s first cousin, the son of his uncle whose own name was Joseph.5  Indeed, the fact that all but two of the Hicks men were assigned to A Company along with Alvis and Will is a strong indication that all these men were related.  It was the common policy of the U. S. Army (and the C. S. A. also for that matter) to assign troops to the same unit who were from the same town and family. 

Also there that day was 20 year-old Andrew Jackson Snow.  Everybody called him “Jack.”  Also from Roane County, he was personally acquainted with the Hicks brothers and was a comrade of theirs in A Company.  Jack was reared on one of the many small family farms in the region, and was a stout lad standing 6 feet—tall, but not towering over the other Tennesseans, whose average height was a full inch taller than soldiers from other states.  He passed though the same adventures and privations as Alvis Hicks, including internment in Andersonville, yet lived to the age of 99.  In 1935 he was interviewed by a journalist, and his story so closely follows the track of Alvis Hicks that reading it is about as close as we can get to a written war memoir of our ancestor—a wonderful and rare (virtual) first-person account that provides many of the details in this book.6

Apparently by the time Alvis enlisted, his wife Nancy (if that was her name—it was a very common name) was pregnant or had just given birth to a baby daughter.7 Why would a young man with a newly growing family freely enlist in the army?  Three possible reasons come quickly to mind to us who are so far removed from that time: (1) domestic unhappiness, (2) dire financial need, or (3) both. 

We must remember that in the summer of 1861 it was still thought by most on both sides that the war would be of short duration.

Practically all the men who signed up for the 2nd Tennessee (like the rest of their fellow Americans on both sides of the conflict) were expecting that their military career would last several months at the most.  I’m sure that the struggling young farmer, probably a hired hand living not much above a subsistence level, felt that a secure U. S. Army paycheck would compensate for his absence from home.  He may also have felt the need to move his young family north for safety’s sake, since East Tennessee was rapidly turning into a war zone.

But these are the pragmatic concerns of those who are living in a time of peace trying to imagine the motivations of those who are going to war.  Less tangible but far more powerful is the motivating power of heartfelt patriotism and national loyalty in a time when people feel their home and security are threatened.

A man’s own conscience and sense of honor are fundamental things. These East Tennesseans who gathered at Camp Dick Robinson may have been simple, poor farmers, but they were also men with deep convictions and well-defined beliefs.  Though their pro-confederate neighbors derisively called them “Lincolnites,” it was not for Lincoln that they signed up to fight—they had no sense of personal loyalty to him. (Indeed, Lincoln’s name and party were not even on the Tennessee ballot in 1860.) Neither were they interested in the abolition of slavery—some in fact were adamantly opposed to that, and some even owned slaves.  The Union was their cause.

The Union was not an abstract concept to them, but the embodiment and protector of their way of life, an extension of their own selves.  Seeing that their way of life was endangered, the same sense of honor that spurred their fellow Southerners to seek independence from the United States likewise spurred these men to make the opposite choice.  These were true non-conformists who stood against the tide, who left behind their homes in order to defend them.

Without question it was this mix of patriotism, conviction, and honor that led Alvis, along with his brothers and kin and neighbors, to leave home and family in order to join a cause greater than any private interest.

We can get some insight into the thoughts and feelings of many of these men through the words of Paul Grogger, who joined the 2nd Tennessee in early fall.  In his memoir he describes the terrible mixture of excitement, resolution, and dread he experienced as he signed up at Camp Robinson.  Back in the spring of 1861, while the State of Tennessee was still debating secession, Paul’s mother died.  Still grieving over the loss and struggling to maintain the family farm, he and his younger brother were also in a quandary as to what to do now. 

We remained that summer by ourselves and made a small crop, although we felt very much lost and alone.  Besides, we felt in trouble.  What would become of us as the war commenced to rage over our country and the rebels began to imprison the union men and conscript and force the people into the rebellion?  In this part of the country, all the young men that felt unsafe by staying at home and wished to give their assistance to the union cause left for Kentucky to join the union or federal army.

I was from all my heart a union man and felt myself under as much obligation as any other loyal men protected by our government to go and fight for it, instead of cowardly laying back to hide in the rock houses.  So consequently I made up my mind to leave my old beloved home and my dear little brother.  I also left my property in the hands of other people, trusting everything to their care and management.  I gave my farewell to little Adam, who I left with one of my neighbors, not knowing whether it would be the last farewell in this world.  I departed from him, trusting that heaven would look down upon us with mercy and guide us through all the perils and dangers that seemed to await our destiny.8

“I was with all my heart a Union man.”  There is something profoundly American in Paul Grogger’s self-description beyond the obvious—and it is something that characterized men on both sides of the great controversy.  It is the conviction of free men that their beliefs are important, regardless of whether they have wealth, power, education, or pedigree.  Their beliefs are important because they are free men; and at the same time, their beliefs put them under obligation because they are free men.  Here is a young man, barely out of adolescence, but though no once forces him, he has chosen in his heart to be a Union man. No one outside of God, his family, and his neighborhood may know who he is or know his name, but what he believes matters, because he is free.


East Tennessee was an island of Unionism surrounded by a sea of secession.  Two months had gone by since Tennessee voted to secede.  The Unionists of the eastern region were fired up, and their fervor was stoked by pressure from fellow Tennesseans whom they perceived to be stricken with a collective madness.  Their allegiance was being challenged, and there was but a narrow window of opportunity to escape forced conscription into what they considered to be an illegitimate rebellion. 

The controversy that now provoked a decision had been brewing since the attack on Ft. Sumter in April.  When Lincoln called on Tennessee to contribute volunteers to help put down “the rebellion,” Governor Isham Harris—an ardent secessionist—was defiant, and regarded the very request as a provocation.  “Tennessee will not send a single man for the purposes of coercion,” he declared, “but 50,000, if needed to defend our rights and the rights of our southern brothers.”

Harris convened a special session of the state legislature, which on May 6 passed a bill declaring Tennessee’s independence. The governor immediately used his executive powers to enter a military alliance with the new Confederate States of America.  With his enthusiastic approval upwards of 20,000 Confederate troops, mostly from other states, were deployed throughout Tennessee.  Their very presence was meant to intimidate any Unionist opposition, and it did that very well.  Secession was well-accomplished at this point, but the legislature issued a referendum so it could be ratified by popular vote.

Prior to the plebiscite a number of prominent men, including former governor and current U. S. Senator Andrew Johnson, had met in Knoxville to rally the Unionists in the state.  They regaled one another with hours of speeches and passed numerous resolutions, fervently condemning the actions of the governor and legislature—nothing that would change anything.  They did, however, issue two calls that had some consequence.

First, the Knoxville Convention called for the recruitment of a force from Tennessee to answer President Lincoln’s call for volunteer troops. As part of the resolution they appointed Lt. Samuel Carter, USN, to command the volunteers and ascribed to him the rank of brigadier general. 

Samuel Parry Carter9 was a scion of the prominent ironworks family of Carter County (for whose grandfather the county was named).  At a young age he had left behind the family business in order to enter the U. S. Navy.  At the time he was serving on a ship anchored in Brazil.  His name had come to the notice of the anti-secession movement through a passionately pro-Union letter he had written, recently published in “Parson” William Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig.   Denouncing secession as treason, he implored Tennessee to adhere “to the Constitution & the Union, even if she has to stand alone among the slave-holding states.” Carter’s military appointment by the Knoxville Unionists was purely symbolic, but it would have an influence.

The second measure of consequence was a call for another convention to be held in Greeneville on a date after the results of the secession vote would be known, so that a suitable response could be formulated.

On June 5, 1861 the statewide ballot on the matter brought out 156,632 voters—including some of the soldiers from other states—who went two to one for Secession.10

In East Tennessee, however, the vote was two to one against.  The thought of the breaking of the Union was as abhorrent to these people as the thought of the abolition of slavery was to their neighbors to the west.

The Greeneville Convention did convene on June 17.  There it was proposed that East Tennessee (in effect) secede from the rest of the state and forcibly resist any compulsion to join the Confederacy. The conventioneers realized, however, that such a declaration would bring a swift and harsh response from the governor, and chose instead to make a more moderate appeal.

The resolution that actually passed was not so much a declaration of separate statehood as a conciliatory request that this region be left alone to abide in the Union.  No one realistically thought the offer would be accepted, but the delegates felt it necessary to express their convictions without provoking further hostilities.  They also hoped to buy a little time for the people of East Tennessee to make up their own minds as individuals what they should do.  At least they could say that they held out an olive branch.

During the convention a company of colorfully dressed Zouaves who called themselves “Louisiana Tigers” rode through Greeneville on their way to Virginia.  Incensed by the Stars and Stripes flying over the convention, they struck down the flag, threatened the conventioneers, and committed some vandalism before leaving town.  Those present regarded it as a herald of hostilities that would soon become much more serious.

Of course Governor Harris declined the offer to let East Tennessee sit out the impending war.  For a few weeks there was an uneasy calm before the storm.  Scott County sued in state court for the right to secede from the state, and was denied (although the court also mootly decreed that the state itself had no right to secede from the Union).  In Washington County a certain community that became known as “Bricker’s Republic” also tried to declare independence from the state—a movement that simply fell apart before anyone got seriously hurt.11

In mid-July Harris sent Gen. Felix Zollicoffer with 4000 raw troops to Knoxville to contain the unrest.  Zollicoffer was actually sympathetic toward the Unionists and tried to practice restraint, but the very presence of these soldiers implied a threat that offended the dissidents of East Tennessee.  The immoderate zeal of the inexperienced Confederate patrols only aggravated the situation and increased resistance.

In his memoir Fentress County native Cordell Hull, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, describes the spirit of the time: "I remember old soldiers telling me that everybody of military capability was expected to go to war. It really did not make so much difference which side he fought. He had the privilege of selecting his own side, but he could not lie around the community, shirking and dodging.  He had to go out and fight."  Many a young farmer like Alvis Hicks found himself caught up in a tide of events that compelled him to make a decision.


From Jack Snow we find out that for many of these men the day of decision was Sunday, August 11, 1861.  Appropriately it was a decision they made at church, the old Union Baptist Church12 of Stockton Valley, about half a dozen miles as the crow flies from Loudon to the northeast, and from Philadelphia to the southeast (both in present day Loudon County). 

The weather was typical for August—sunny, hazy, hot, but not as dry as usual.  This year it was almost as rainy as May, and the countryside was unusually and comfortingly green, if uncomfortably humid.  All around as the temperature rose was the loud whirring of the cicadas (“locusts,” as they called them), the familiar song of summer.  Farmers and their families from miles around had gathered for preaching, maybe around 150 in attendance, maybe more. After the preaching the women stood in the shade, watched the children play, and conversed with unusual seriousness—some formed a prayer circle—while inside the meetinghouse the men engaged in a fateful discussion.

Jack Snow’s memoir specifically names 34 men who were present, along with capsule memories of what became of them (such as who survived imprisonment and who did not).  The youngest in the group was 16 years old.  Included in the list is “Will Hicks, who with Jack Carroll survived 13 months in Confederate prison camps.”  Also named is J. B. (Joe) Hicks, “who was captured but escaped from the Richmond prison hospital.”  Alvis Duncan Hicks is not mentioned by name, though he certainly did join the regiment along with this group.  It is possible that Alvis was picked up along the way, perhaps in neighboring Morgan County.  Or else he was in fact at the meeting though not specifically named.  The remarkable thing is how many names Jack Snow accurately recalled and related to a reporter 70 years after the war!

There were no Secessionists here.  Yet though these men were not slave owners, neither were they Republican abolitionists.13  To a man they had in voted the November election for Tennessean John Bell and his running mate, former Harvard president and famed orator Edward Everett.14 Originally Whigs, they liked the platform of the new Constitutional Union Party and they embraced its slogan: "the Union as it is, and the Constitution as it is."  When they read a “big city” newspaper it was probably William Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig, and they were surely influenced by his passionate editorials opposing secession.

They were disappointed in the outcome of the presidential election, but didn’t see it as cause for terminating the Union.  They were disturbed about the peeling away of the Southern states, and bitterly disappointed in the vote of their own state two months ago to join them.  The clouds were gathering and the drums beating, yet these men had farms and families, and not many were eager to take up arms against their fellow Tennesseans.  Imbued with an independent spirit, most had probably hoped to remain neutral.  They wished to be let alone and not drawn into the hostilities. 

That wish was becoming increasingly unlikely. There were reports that Confederate officials were sending soldiers throughout the pro-Union region to compel men to prove their loyalty to a Confederate Tennessee by fighting for it.  Some were rumors, but most of the stories were verified.

A 29 year-old farmer named John Bowman stood to call the meeting to order.  Bowman had represented Roane County at the Greenville convention.  He brought to the meeting news that Lieutenant S. P. Carter, USN, of the well-known fa
mily from Carter County, had been authorized by the President of the United States to organize a brigade of volunteers from his home state for the defense of the Union.  The gathering place was across the Cumberland in Kentucky, almost 200 miles away.  It would be part of an army led by a Kentuckian, General Robert Anderson, the hero of Ft. Sumter.  For his part, Bowman had already signed the papers yesterday up

Brig. General Robert Anderson

Kingston.  He was going, and was authorized to enroll others with him.  Mr. Byrd up in Kingston had already left with a large group.15

The proposal was not well received by all.  As the Declaration of Independence says, men ought not to change their governance “for light and transient causes.”  Most of them had not personally felt any persecution.  Many were not sure it was necessary to make this decision right now.  Maybe the problem was just being exaggerated by high emotions, and would not seem so bad after everyone cooled down.  The discussion became vigorous, the dispute heated.  The inclination of many was to wait and see.

Certain ones, however, passionately insisted that the time for decision was at hand and that delay would be fatal. The Secessionists were constantly condemning the federal government for a “train of abuses and usurpations.”  Yet with stunning hypocrisy they were now turning around and inflicting those very abuses on fellow Southerners who did not share their belief that the election of Lincoln was the breaking point.

One man objected that they were being asked to leave their homes and families defenseless.  What would their loved ones do if the Rebels came after them?  The answer: What will they do if the Rebels come after them now?  Even if all the men present should join with every other man in this part of the county, they had not the numbers to resist the Confederates—and they certainly didn’t have the guns.  But if they few joined with the thousands of others already gathering across the state line, soon they would be an army strong enough to march right back in and set things straight.

At this point someone must have stood to play the role of a Patrick Henry.  Perhaps it was John Bowman, standing up to his full six-foot height, dark eyes flashing.  Or perhaps it was the swarthy, raven-haired James Melton.  Whoever it was, he argued persuasively that there would be no escape from war, and that the only choice they had was whether to serve their own conscience or the Confederacy.  He also pointed out that the time for making that choice was rapidly closing, for soon the Rebels would be making the choice for them. So prominent a man as Mr. Thomas A. R. Nelson, who had presided over the Knoxville and Greeneville Conventions and had been elected to Congress after the secession vote, had been intercepted and arrested on his way to Washington; he now sat in jail in Knoxville awaiting an unknown fate.  Zollicoffer was in Knoxville, practically had the city under martial law right now, and his troops were spreading out from there to quash dissent and close the border.  It would not be a matter of months or even weeks, but days—and then there must be a reckoning.  The Unionists were already isolated, and if they did not act now they would soon be cut off.

At last the congregation of valley farmers, craftsmen, and mountaineers determined that they must serve conscience.  These Southern men would go to join a band of their fellow Southerners in defense of the United States and its Constitution.  They elected John Bowman to be their leader and spokesman.  The meeting adjourned and the men dispersed to their homes. They shared a last Sunday dinner at home, bid farewell to their families and sweethearts, and began gathering for their trek to Kentucky.

The northward march began at Prospect Baptist Church16 and then on through Stockton Valley, collecting men as they went along.  The column soon numbered about 40 men.

Their original travel plan was to rendezvous with other Unionists at the south Kentucky town of Barbourville.  The journey was not going to be an easy one. Virginia had already lost its own mountain territory to the Federals. Knowing that East Tennessee was a pro-Union stronghold, the Confederates were determined to hang on to it.  They had already exerted control over all the big towns and were patrolling the main highways.  The only option for the would-be Federals was through little known, seldom traveled Indian paths and buffalo trails through the wooded hills.

Despite a late start and a rough hike overland, they made 10 miles or more (depending on the route they had to take) and camped that night at Swan Pond near present day Harriman, just a few miles south of the Morgan County line.  This was on the sprawling farm of Robert K. Byrd, the most prominent and vocal Unionist in Roane County, a leading property owner—and a slaveholder.  He would have been there to greet them, but he had left the previous day leading a large company who had signed up with him in Kingston.  He would be appointed commander of the 1st Tennessee Volunteer Infantry at the rank of Colonel. He would serve throughout the war at that post with an exemplary record, including service under Sherman in the Atlanta campaign, until the regiment was mustered out in August 1864.

The next morning they continued their journey, avoiding the road and walking pine-wooded paths whenever possible, and watchfully crossing open fields only when necessary.  Other men continued to join their march, so that by the time they crossed the state line three days later there were 360 of them.

Their numbers swelling, it was becoming even more difficult to move without attracting attention.  Cutting north through the notch at Harriman, the company covered about twenty miles to Montgomery, the Morgan County seat.17  The next day they made another twenty north to Pine Top and arrived at the Tolliver Staples farm.18

Benjamin Tolliver Staples was a prominent man in that county and one of the most interesting Civil War characters that almost no one has heard of.  An attorney, he was also named the first postmaster of Pine Top in 1856.  He was a former county surveyor, County Clerk and Master of the Chancery, was active in state and local politics, and had run for various offices.  An ardent pro-Unionist who had supported Bell for president, he dedicated his days post-secession to helping men escape Confederate hands to join the Union army.  He was one of those later arrested and taken to Knoxville in the sweep following the burning of railroad bridges by Unionist partisans.  He was suspiciously absent from home that night, but authorities had no evidence that he was a participant in the affair.  After his release (or more accurately, his expulsion from the state) he joined the Federal forces as a colonel or adjutant of volunteers.  There is some confusion in the record regarding his specific service, but evidently he was killed in the war in 1863.  According to one account he was murdered by Champ Ferguson’s guerillas while being transported under their guard as a prisoner of war.

Staples had sufficient means and local prestige to host a large assembly on his property without fear of harassment from Rebel patrols.  His place was spacious enough for them to set up camp and had an ample spring or well for water.  He probably even provided victuals.  Most of the travelers do not seem to have had any personal knowledge of their host, however.

Sometime during the evening, probably while they ate their supper, John Bowman introduced to them a guide who would take them to Kentucky.  The gentleman, he explained, would be leading them from here until they were safely across the state line.

They looked at the man skeptically.  He looked old.  Some would remember him as “Old Man Staples.”19  Some, like Jack Snow, would just remember him as an old man.  He must have been an amazing character, seemingly a throwback to the old frontier.  With a weathered face and white hair hanging down to his stooped shoulders, he looked like he might have been a guide to Davy Crockett back in the day, but scarcely able even to survive the trip now.

Was this Benjamin Tolliver Staples himself?  It’s possible, but I don’t have direct evidence to say so at this point. Certainly a man who had been county surveyor and postmaster would have a detailed knowledge of the backwoods and hidden paths.  Tolliver Staples was only 44 (b. 1817), but he may have had the appearance of a much older man.  On the other hand, the legendary and mysterious “Old Man Staples” could have been—and I think probably was—one of his older brothers, Thomas (b. 1807), or William (b. 1802).  In any case, the “old man’s” outward appearance belied the true vigor of his frame—as we shall see.

Staples informed them that from here they were going to take a detour.  A direct route to Barbourville via the highway through Huntsville and Oneida up to Pine Knot was too dangerous.  The Rebels were aware that many, not just this group, were headed for the border, and they had pickets and roadblocks all along that way.

Instead they would turn northwest toward Fentress County.  Though not strictly part of East Tennessee, the vast majority of its population was of Unionist sentiment.  Also the area was sparsely populated, and though it was hilly, the mountains were not high.  The guide knew the woodland trails and passes intimately.  He assured them that if they stuck with him, he would get them there. 

He surveyed what weapons they had with them.  According to Jack Snow, “there were only a few guns in the crowd, but every man had a butcher knife.”  As the dusky light faded away the old man admonished them to get the best rest they could tonight, because tomorrow they would cover more ground than they thought possible.  Tomorrow night, he pledged, you will pitch your bedroll in Kentucky.  The way he said it made them think he believed it, and it gave them confidence.

It was still dark when their leaders roused them for breakfast.  At daybreak they were moving out.  It did not take them long to realize that the old man was far from frail.  The young men had to struggle to keep up with him as he led them “over mountain and valley, through forest and creek, with the agility of a deer.”  By mid-morning they were crossing the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.  It was a deep ford.  Six foot-tall Jack Snow said that the water “came up to my neck and some of the fellows had to be helped across.”

Snow remembered how “when we crossed the road about three miles from Jamestown where a Rebel Army was camped, the guide told every man to have a stick on his shoulder” as though he were carrying a rifle.  “We aimed to make them think we were ready to fight.”  It was the closest they came to contact with the enemy on their journey.  They managed to pass undetected or at least unchallenged, but Old Man Staples continued to push on.  For a good part of the afternoon it rained on them.  Even for young men used to a strenuous life the pace was grueling, but no one fell out, and none turned back.

The sun had set, and as the last light of day faded away the old man suddenly stopped and indicated that the company would camp here.  They weren’t home free yet, but they were now in Kentucky, he assured them.  He also told them that they had traveled 65 miles this day.  No one questioned the fact.  Years later Jack Snow said, “Such a bunch of worn-out, wet, and tired fellows you never saw in your life, as we were that night…. Our feet were scalded and our muscles sore.”

When the men rose Thursday morning Old Man Staples was already gone and they never saw him again.20   They still had a lot of ground to cover, but they were now freer to take the roadways and travel was easier and speedier.  Kentucky was still “neutral,” but most of the population in this region was pro-Union and nervous about all the Confederate activity around their border.  They were glad to see the column of Tennessee volunteers and were hospitable.  By Saturday or Sunday they reached Williamsburg and stopped long enough to let the folks treat them to a barbecue given in their honor.  Likely it was there they were told that Lieutenant Carter had taken the early comers away from Barbourville and gone on up to a new camp outside of Nicolasville.21 By the following Tuesday afternoon they had reached Camp Dick Robinson and were standing in line to sign the enlistment cards.

For the next three and a half years, the story of Alvis Duncan Hicks will be one with that of the 2nd Tennessee.  The regimental story will belong in turn to the Army of the Ohio and of the Cumberland.  While in history these armies have stood in the shadow of the great Army of the Potomac, the part they played in the war was by no means inconsequential.  Indeed their role was decisive, and even those who became subject to captivity made a vital and costly contribution to the outcome of the war.


  1. 1. To assess the comparative value of this property, consider that in 1850 the average daily wage of a common laborer on the Erie Canal was $.88, and for a skilled carpenter $1.50.  So for a simple farmer in East Tennessee, $300 would represent the savings of about a year’s wages. Adry Hicks’s family was not affluent by any standard, but considering that several Hicks family households in the same neighborhood likely shared in a cooperative arrangement, neither were they the poorest of the poor.  By pooling their resources, together they had enough acreage to grow a marketable crop, probably of wheat or corn or tobacco.

  2. 2. Until 1870 Roane County encompassed much of what is now Loudon County, including the town of Loudon.

  3. 3. I can’t (yet) verify conclusively that the James Hicks on the 1st Tennessee roll (“B” Co.) was indeed the brother of Alvis and Will Hicks, but it is highly probable.  There is no other war record for James and I have eliminated the possibility that he served in the Confederate army.  Many families were split that way, but apparently not the Hicks family. There were in fact 5 men named Hicks in Co. B. of the 1st Tennessee, including James—a strong indication that these men were kin and from the same neighborhood. Whatever the reason he joined the 1st Tennessee and not the 2nd with his brothers, by doing so he avoided the disaster at Rogersville and subsequent capture and imprisonment at Andersonville.

  4. 4. Others who joined the 2nd Tennessee Infantry in August 1861 that shared the Hicks family name include William R. (age 18) and James F. (21), place of residence unknown.  Both were assigned to C Company.  Private Marion Hicks (21) did not join the regiment until December 12, and was attached to D Company. It is less certain that these men were related to “our” Hicks family, but it’s probable that at least some were cousins.  All these men except Marion (and of course Winfield) would be captured and taken prisoner along with most of their regiment by CSA cavalry at Rogersville, Tennessee in November 1863.

  5. 5. The name Joseph Hicks shows up in the Morgan County census of 1830, 1840, and 1850.  The 1850 census reveals that 53 year-old farmer Joseph Hicks and his 59 year-old wife Nancy were living in a neighborhood populated by three Hicks families, including the family of Adry Hicks.  That’s a strong indication of kinship.  Although a younger Joseph is not mentioned by name, all indications together point almost conclusively to a blood relation between the Joseph Hicks who enlisted in the 2nd Tennessee and Alvis and Will Hicks.

  6. 6. All references to “Jack Snow” are from “Adventures of Jack Snow” [transcribed from Civil War Centennial 1861-1961 by Dave Mathews at, --a website that, unfortunately, is now extinct.  I am indebted to Mr. Mathews for much of the source material in this book.].

  7. 7. The little girl, name unknown, is said to have died at age 5 about a year after Alvis was paroled from Andersonville and discharged from the army.  He was discharged in January 1865, so she was probably born some time in 1861.

  8. 8. Mathews, “Memoirs of Paul Grogger,” hereafter designated in the text as “Paul Grogger.”  Sic, without revision for spelling and punctuation.

  9. 9. It has been conclusively demonstrated that the initial “P” stands for “Parry” or “Perry,” after his mother’s maiden name.  Some records—-including some official citations and otherwise competent histories—have incorrectly attributed his middle name as “Powhatan” according to an alleged family connection to the famed Indian chief.  One probable reason for the confusion is that Carter seems never to have announced his middle name and always used only the initial. Powhatan may have been a nickname, and apparently Carter also did use Powhatan as a code name at one point.  For documentation see William Garrett Piston, Carter’s Raid: An Episode of the Civil War in East Tennessee (Johnson City, TN: The Overmountain Press, 1989), 2.

  10. 10. Technically Tennessee did not secede, but rather declared itself an independent state and later aligned itself with the Confederate States of America.  In other words, it seceded.

  11. 11. “Bricker’s Republic” was actually Bricker’s District in Washington County.  Only fragmentary records remain.  Following the logic of secession, certain leaders of this district proposed that if a state could secede from the Union, then a county could secede from a state, and a district from a county.  They proceeded to do so, and even elected a President, Jacob Hill, along with a Congress to govern them.  They then published an appeal for others to join them.  It was an extremely short-lived movement, more of a demonstration than a rebellion, something that seemingly would be grist for a Mark Twain satire rather than a serious political move. It remained a lively memory for those who lived through it, however, and members of that generation continued for decades to call that section of the county “Bricker’s Republic,” much to the puzzlement of the younger folk.  See Paul M. Fink, Jonesboro: The First Century of Tennessee’s First Town, 1776-1876, 2nd ed. The Overmountain Press (2002).

  12. 12. The name “Union Baptist Church” has no political implications.  There were several varieties of Baptists—East Tennessee was thick with them—and the “Union” designation for a church indicates a group of Baptists willing to put their sectarian differences aside in order to have enough members to form a congregation and have regular services.

  13. 13. All the line officers of the 2nd Tennessee owned slaves at one time or another.  At the time of the war’s outbreak probably the leading slaveholder was Maj. Eli Mathus “Matt” Cleveland of Hamilton County. A prosperous man owning a $25,000 estate with eight slaves, Cleveland enlisted with the 2nd Tennessee at Camp Dick Robinson on September 28, 1861 at the age of 39. He mustered with Company F but was immediately promoted to Major of the regiment. However, in a letter dated February 7, 1862 he resigned due to poor health. His resignation was effective February 22, 1862.”

  14. 14. Everett would later deliver the two-hour keynote speech to dedicate the national cemetery at Gettysburg—the “Gettysburg Address” that no one remembers.

  15. 15.James Hicks apparently was a member of this group.

  16. 16. Although it is not completely clear in Jack Snow’s account, the Prospect Church where the march began is probably not the same as the Stockton Valley church where they had the meeting.  The Prospect community is about 3-4 miles east of Stockton Valley.

  17. 17. Montgomery is located west of Lancing off state Highway 62.  Though it shows up on no contemporary map, in 1861 Montgomery was a thriving town and still the business and political center of the county.  Its businesses included two whiskey distilleries, a maple sugar refinery, a tan yard, a bark mill, a cigar factory, a turpentine distillery and a blacksmith shop.  Yet even then Montgomery was being eclipsed by the fast-growing German-Swiss settlement of Wartburg.  Prior to the Civil War efforts had been made to move the county seat to Wartburg, and in 1870 it was actually done.  After that Montgomery swiftly declined and soon became a ghost town.  All that remains of it today, literally, is a pile of rocks from the old courthouse chimney.

  18. 18. The name “Tolliver” is rendered in Jack Snow’s account as “Talliaferro,” no doubt correctly—Tolliver is the phonetic spelling reflecting how everyone pronounced it, and is the spelling that endured after his death. After the war Pine Top’s name was changed to Stapleton in honor of Staples, but when the railroad was built in 1879 the station was named Sunbright. The town subsequently took on that name, and Sunbright is the name the town holds today.

  19. 19. The name “Old Man Staples” comes from a separate oral history.  See

  20. 20. Assisted by a man named Davidson (from one of the oldest families in the county) as a contact person, the mysterious old frontiersman continued to guide other groups of defectors and refugees from Confederate Tennessee to Kentucky.  Ibid.

  21. 21. Williamsburg is on the way to Barbourville, but out of the way to Nicolasville by the route they must have traveled.


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