Alvis Duncan Hicks in the Civil War
Garry D. Nation.
2010,  All rights reserved.
Chapter IV
Burning Bridges
Part 1:
An Audacious Plan
September-November 1861

The Tennesseans marched down from Camp Wildcat to London, Kentucky on Monday, October 28.  Their blood was up and they were ready for a fight. They were certain that within a few days they would be crossing the mountains back into their home state, overcoming all the Rebels that did not have the good sense to flee before their advance. It seemed that they had hardly gotten started when in mid-afternoon they were ordered to stop and make camp at an intersection three miles north of London, but they welcomed the opportunity to rest for a day before marching on.  General Thomas, accompanied now by a couple of new staff officers, was seen riding through the camp and conferring intently with General Schoepf.  Everyone was sure the liberation was imminent.
One day turned into a week as October crept into November, and though the men continued to drill and to improve their skills every day, the orders to march south that they so eagerly anticipated never came down.  The enlisted men began for the first time to grumble against Ol’ Pap Thomas, wondering if he was truly “Old Slow Trot” after all. Their officers complained boldly to their generals—and also to their political representatives—about the perplexing delay.  Some of the men and even the junior officers began to engage in rash and dangerous talk about taking matters into their own hands, even going renegade.
The Tennesseans’ impatience was not the result of boredom or a loss of interest in being soldiers.  Every new refugee or recruit that came into the camp from their home state, “stampeders” as the Rebels called them, brought a new report of Confederate oppression: bullying, threats, vandalism, theft, forced evictions, forced conscription, arrests, beatings, and worse.
Their news had to come from the stampeders, because Parson Brownlow’s Knoxville newspaper, unrepentant and stridently anti-Confederate to the end, had finally been shut down in the past month and his building and printing presses confiscated.  What is surprising is how long a run Brownlow’s paper had after secession.  Felix Zollicoffer was himself a newspaperman who believed in freedom of the press, and had let Brownlow continue publishing for a long time despite considerable pressure from Confederate sympathizers who found him intolerable.  Though the Federal volunteers did not think so, he truly was sympathetic toward the Unionists and had tried to abide by a moderate and conciliatory policy toward dissenting citizens, while still maintaining Confederate order in East Tennessee.
The citizen general from Nashville could not control everything in his jurisdiction, however.  There were many who used the political changes to settle old scores and establish their own seats of power.  Knoxville saw a number of its prominent men arrested, Rebel informants were everywhere, and disagreements between neighbors often turned into charges of sedition.  In the countryside home guards “helped” the military patrols, often helping themselves to people’s possessions while harassing those known to have pro-Union sentiments or relatives who had stampeded north.  Suppression of dissent sometimes turned violent.  Brownlow’s Sketches of the Rise, Progress, and Decline of Secession (1862) includes drawn illustrations of such, including one of a Tennessee Unionist being flogged on a bare back with bundles of cut tree branches while uniformed Rebels show rowdy approval.
The Tennessee men must have regarded all of this as evidence that their loved ones were in greater peril and hardship every day that passed.  People still made it through the Rebel roadblocks and pickets into Kentucky, but they generally were either people of ample means who could afford the expense of vacating, or people of no means who had nothing to lose by leaving.  Folks of modest means tended rather to stay put until their situation became absolutely intolerable.  
The volunteers were almost entirely of the latter type, whose mothers and children and sweethearts remained behind.  The anxiety the men felt for them must have been acute.  Troops from Indiana and Ohio where families and friends were secure had no idea what the Tennesseans were feeling and did not understand why they were so upset all the time.
None of them knew how much their commanding general shared their frustration, being stymied both by the worries of his superiors and by the ineffectiveness of the U. S. Army supply line.  Even less did they know of the secret sabotage operation behind enemy lines to support an invasion that would never take place.  They would learn of it later, and it would make the cancellation of their operation all the bitterer.1
Back on May 21, 1861, just over a month after the surrender of Ft. Sumter, General-in-Chief Winfield Scott laid out the final draft of an overall strategy for war. Scott drew up a military and economic encirclement of the Confederacy from the Mississippi to the Atlantic.  Essentially it constituted a grand siege, achieving victory by isolating the South and strangling its government.  It was the only grand strategy ever formulated by either side for the conduct of the war. 
The Anaconda Plan (as it came to be called) was immediately tabled by the Union high command.  The generals, the politicians, the president, and the press all derided it as passive, pessimistic, and impractical. Ironically it eventually became the de facto platform for the final Union victory—but only by the failure of every other approach.
One of the remarkable facts about the Civil War is that, until the battle of Gettysburg in mid-1863, neither side fully recognized that its opponent was in it to the bitter end.  Consequently neither side embraced a strategic vision for fighting a long war, and both instead kept looking for the checkmate, The Big Victory, the Napoleonic knockout punch that would bring a quick end to the fighting.
This is the story of one of those Big Victory ideas.  It did not directly involve the 2nd Tennessee Volunteer Infantry as a regiment (although a few of its members took part), but it had a direct impact upon them all and is an important part of their story.

It has already been noted that from the time of his arrival at Camp Dick Robinson on September 15, Brigadier General George Thomas had been working toward an incursion into East Tennessee.  He wanted to drive through the Cumberland Gap following the same route into Tennessee that Zollicoffer would soon take northward into Kentucky.  Though his time and attention were consumed by the task of single-handedly organizing, equipping, and training his fledgling army, he continually kept in view the objective of taking Tennessee in the east.
Lincoln and his advisors had been discussing this very strategy from the beginning of hostilities.  It was what Lincoln had in mind when he authorized the enlistment of volunteer regiments from East Tennessee. The White House envisioned a swift Union takeover of that region before the Rebels had a chance to entrench themselves there.  If that could be accomplished it would bisect the Confederacy and cut its only rail line through the Appalachian divide: the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, also called the Grand Trunk.  For several months it remained only an idea under discussion.  
Shortly after the Union defeat at Bull Run in July, Lincoln issued a memorandum containing the suggestion that a military expedition be launched from Cincinnati into East Tennessee.  In late September he wrote another memorandum in which he stated more pointedly, “On or about the 5th of October … I wish a movement made to seize and hold a point on the railroad connecting Virginia and Tennessee, near the mountain pass called ‘Cumberland Gap.’”  Still, a viable plan was lacking, but Washington was now putting constant pressure on Thomas to come up with one.
At his first opportunity Lt. Samuel P. Carter, USN—one of Thomas’s few subordinates with significant military experience but still awaiting his appointment to the army rank of general—told him of a detailed plan that could fulfill his objective.  
It involved loyalist agents working from within that would prepare the way for the invasion force.  These agents would burn key railroad bridges and destroy telegraph communications.  With transportation and communications disrupted, a swift-moving army led by federal volunteers from Tennessee—men who knew the ground because it was their home territory—could immediately move in with minimal resistance from a crippled and confused Confederate force.  This army would reestablish that zone as a Union territory and base of operations all the way from the Virginia border to Chattanooga, and thus cripple, shorten, and perhaps even end the rebellion in one economical blow.
The author of this ambitious 5th column plan was a former pastor, the Rev. William Blount Carter, Jr.—the brother of Samuel P. and James P. T. Carter.2
Middle-born of the three brothers, the 40-year old W. B. Carter followed his older brother Samuel to Princeton, but chose divinity for his studies and secured ordination as a Presbyterian minister.  Returning to Tennessee he served for a few years as the pastor of the Rogersville Presbyterian Church until 1845, when personal illness and the loss of his young wife to disease led him to retire to a life of farming in Elizabethton.  In 1850 he remarried, and by the beginning of the war had fathered two children.  Oliver Temple admiringly describes W. B. Carter as one who had few equals “in scholarship, astuteness of intellect, and in logical analysis.” While his brothers answered to a military calling, William thought his skills of persuasion and organization could be put to a better use in the cause.  Lacking the physical vigor and aggressive disposition of his brothers, he probably thought of himself working in the political and diplomatic field—likely not anticipating that he would also be involved in espionage.
Sometime after the Greeneville Convention, W. B. Carter traveled north to Kentucky.  While his older brother Samuel was in Barbourville forming volunteer regiments and the younger James was in Tennessee canvassing for recruits to fill them, William was writing letters, making contacts, and developing an underground network in East Tennessee.  He was also investing a good deal of thought in the railroad bridge-burning operation.
The plan piqued Thomas’s interest, and all the more when he learned that it was Carter’s clergyman brother who had developed it.  The general was interested enough to invite the plan’s author to explain it to him in person—and not just to him, but also to his superiors.
On September 30, 1861, barely two weeks after assuming command of Camp Dick Robinson, George Thomas hosted a meeting at his headquarters.  William Carter came accompanied by his older brother.  Brigadier General W. T. Sherman, the department’s second-in-command, represented Robert Anderson who probably was invited but could not attend because of poor health.  The two most prominent loyalist civilian leaders from East Tennessee were also present: Sen. Andrew Johnson3 and Congressman Horace Maynard.  To these latter individuals W. B. Carter needed no introduction, for they were already well acquainted through partnership in the political storms of the past year.
We do not have the minutes of the meeting, but the outline of what was discussed is clear.  Thomas described his strategic intention toward East Tennessee: first, to seize and hold the railroad; and second, “to relieve from oppression the patriots of East Tennessee” by extending the front line of the Union army into that region and thus securing it as a safe Federal zone.  He then recognized the Reverend Carter, who laid out a persuasive case that the liberation of East Tennessee could be accomplished in one well-timed blow.   It was based on his certain knowledge that most natives of that region remained loyal to the Union, and could comprise a formidable partisan force that would overthrow the Rebels with the support of Thomas’s troops, men who were themselves native Tennesseans eager to liberate their homeland.  Their signal—and this was the key—would be the simultaneous destruction of the railroad bridges across the state.   Carter laid out his plan, and then asked for authorization and for funds.

Johnson and Maynard probably knew of Carter’s plan and were already in favor of it before they arrived at the meeting.  Thomas threw his full support behind it, but Sherman was deeply skeptical and his approval was crucial.  After much discussion and jawboning Thomas won his reluctant friend over, but the money would have to come from Washington.  (The report from a Congressional hearing in 1891 contains a curious note indicating that Thomas had expected that Johnson himself would immediately provide necessary funds, because he had been entrusted with money from Washington “for the defense of East Tennessee…. But in this [Thomas] was disappointed.” Cited in Oliver Temple, East Tennessee and the Civil War, 375.) 
Carter therefore set out for the nation’s capital, using the travel time to sharpen his plan and to identify nine target bridges along the 270-mile railroad.  He carried with him a letter that Thomas had dashed off immediately following the September 30 meeting that he could place in the hand of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, who by now had replaced Winfield Scott as general-in-chief in all but title.  Interestingly Thomas spoke only for himself without reference to the other notables at the meeting:
GENERAL: I have just had a conversation with Mr. W. B. Carter of Tennessee on the subject of the destruction of the grand trunk railroad through that state.  He assures me that he can have it done if the Government will intrust [sic] him with a small sum of money to give confidence to the persons to be employed to do it.  It would be one of the most important services that could be done for the country, and I most earnestly hope you will use your influence with the authorities in furtherance of his plans which he will submit to you together with the reasons for doing the work.
Thomas knew that McClellan would be favorably disposed to the plan because he had already discussed the matter of East Tennessee with him before he even embarked for Kentucky.  As anticipated, McClellan promptly ushered Carter to the White House for a meeting with Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward.  Lincoln was pleased with the good reverend’s plan and authorized Carter to draw $2500 from the treasury to finance it.  McClellan gave his personal pledge of support, promising to send an army to East Tennessee as soon as possible, and assuring Carter that he would keep the Rebel army in Virginia too busy to come to the aid of their western confederates.  He also promised that he would direct federal armies in Louisville (Anderson/Sherman) and Paducah (Halleck) to put pressure on Johnston and thus keep him from counterattacking from the west.
With money and assurances in hand Carter returned to Camp Dick Robinson.  His trip to Washington took a little over two weeks.
Within a day or two after the meeting with Carter and the others, Thomas sent formal notice to Robert Anderson of his near readiness to advance into East Tennessee, contingent upon arrival of reinforcements and adequate equipment and provisions for his troops.  Again he pleaded the urgency of his need for men and supplies.
Anderson, however, was not long to be the commander to whom he must report.  On October 8 the 56 year-old general, plagued by ill health since Ft. Sumter, stepped down from his demanding post and semi-retired to an army desk job in New York.  The logical choice to take Anderson’s place was his protégé and second-in-command, William Tecumseh Sherman.  
Sherman would soon disclose his own stress-related problems, however.  He had been battling “melancholy” from the beginning of the war, and some modern historians suggest he was suffering at the time from what today would be diagnosed as chronic clinical depression.  Until now he had not let it overwhelm him or become a performance issue.  Immediately, however, Sherman was faced with issues that pressed the weight of command hard on his shoulders.  One of the first things Sherman had to do, for example, was to resolve the conflict created when Thomas received notice of Mitchel’s promotion over him and threatened to resign4—and that was a small problem, a mere headache compared to all that was before him.

In the midst of the Thomas-Mitchel kerfuffle Secretary Cameron arrived in Kentucky to see firsthand how the transition was going and why there was still no action on the East Tennessee front.  (This explains his absence from the White House meeting with W. B. Carter: he was not in the capital.)  Camp Dick Robinson was one of his stops, and there he saw what Thomas had put into place and how well things were progressing organizationally, but how critical the supply and troop situation really was.  The war bureaucracy in Washington, so far removed from the Western theater, had regarded “Slow Trot” Thomas’s pleas for aid as an exaggeration, an excuse for not moving more quickly.  
Once on the ground, seeing the Tennessee volunteers performing their drills with no uniforms, muskets that were practically obsolete, and virtually no officers or sergeants with regular army experience, Cameron understood that if anything Thomas had understated the problem.  He wired Lincoln on October 16 that “matters are in much worse condition than I expected to find them,” observing that the fault was not in the commanders but in the lack of supplies and in poor troop readiness.
The following day Cameron heard a briefing from Sherman on the tactical situation in the Department of the Cumberland.  Sherman laid out for him the intelligence he had been receiving on A. S. Johnston’s movements in Tennessee and Kentucky.  Cameron at first thought Sherman was joking when he said he would need 60,000 fighting men just to defend Kentucky, and 200,000 in order to invade the South and defeat it. “Great God!” Cameron exclaimed throwing up his hands. “Where are they to come from?”
 “There are plenty of men in the North ready and willing to come if you, Mr. Secretary, will only accept their services,” Sherman replied. He bluntly pointed out that the War Department had turned away new regiments formed in the Northwestern states under the assumption that they would not be needed. He emphatically pressed his case with great urgency.  Realizing that Sherman was speaking in all seriousness, the secretary grew alarmed— not regarding the Confederate threat, but regarding the state of mind of his general.  Cameron knew Sherman was no fool, but when he looked into his eyes he saw a man who was rattled, lacking his customary self-confidence, and concealing fear.
Cameron returned to Washington, leaving behind a staff officer from the War Department as an observer in Louisville.  Before long Sherman’s remarks to Cameron leaked to the press, which in turn had a field day with them and sold out hot editions of newspapers carrying sensational headlines that the general had lost his mind.  It is one of the ironies of history that a prediction made by a general admittedly on the verge of a nervous breakdown turned out to be an accurate forecast of the war to come.
W. B. Carter arrived back at Camp Dick Robinson and conferred with Gen. Thomas.  He brought with him the encouragements of President Lincoln and whatever advice and direction McClellan may have contributed.  At this meeting the two men finalized plans and, at least in Carter’s mind, agreed on a range of operational dates and a plan of attack.  It is most likely that the time for the attack on the bridges and telegraph hinged on Thomas’s forecast for an invasion.  Ideally that would come within days, perhaps a week, following the sabotage operation.
There is no doubt Thomas intended to make good on his commitments to Carter and to the underground patriots in Tennessee.  It is probable, however, that Carter overestimated what Thomas promised him, because all of the general’s movements would be contingent on certain issues beyond his direct control—not the least of which was acquiring more men and securing arms, munitions, and supplies for them.  He had been assured that everything he had asked for was on its way, but there was no certain date of their arrival.  Moreover, all Thomas’s commitments likewise hinged on what the enemy did or did not do in the meantime, and even more on whether Thomas’s superiors would continue to give him liberty to move in this direction.  At this point, however, there was so much pressure on Thomas to “go in” that no one would have guessed he would soon be told to back up.
Thomas let S. P. Carter, now at last a brigadier general,5 hand pick some officers to assist his brother.  Carter chose Captain William Cross and Captain David Fry.  Cross was one of the leaders among a still-growing group that in December would be mustered as the 3rd Tennessee.  Fry came from the 2nd Tennessee, and was the captain of F Company.  A farmer and sometime preacher from Greene County, Fry had gathered his own group of recruits from a rally held at a church in early September that took on the atmosphere of a revival, complete with patriotic preaching, singing, clapping, and shouts of “amen” and “glory to God” mingled with “give the Rebels hell, Davy!”  Cross and Fry, along with 1st Lt. Thomas J. Tipton of C Company and at least one other enlisted man (possibly Sgt. John McCoy, whom we know was with Fry in the days after the bridge burning), would join William Carter behind enemy lines in an espionage operation that would put them all at the end of a rope if they were caught.
Gen. Thomas and W. B. Carter had one more meeting before the former preacher and his company embarked.  It was the last direct communication they would have in this affair until it was all over.  Perhaps the greatest flaw in Carter’s plan was the failure to arrange two-way communication with headquarters in case of a change of circumstance or plan.  Once he and his assistants crossed into enemy territory, he might send messages out (and he did at least twice), but could not receive messages in.  There was no way for him to adapt to changes Thomas might be forced to make, to know whether to abort the mission, or even to be able to abort once things were set in motion.  Being a civilian and an idealist inexperienced either in the ways of the military or the ways of espionage, he probably thought nothing of it.  He was an honorable man dealing with honorable men, and they would all do the right thing when the time came.  As for the fortunes of war, God’s will be done.
Carter and his companions left Camp Robinson on October 18.  Within a day or two they crossed over a secret passage into East Tennessee and began to do reconnaissance and recruitment.  Carter may have used some of his money from Washington for travel expenses (food and mounts), but he reserved the greater balance for those leading the bridge attacks to buy incendiary supplies and especially to provide incentive pay for those who joined the mission.  We know for example that he assigned David Fry $1000 to distribute in that way.6
Meanwhile Zollicoffer had been plodding northward along the Wilderness Road for weeks, but now he was in London and on the doorstep of the last major obstacle to his advance.  Albin Schoepf arrived in camp barely a day after Carter’s departure.  With Zollicoffer threatening Camp Wildcat, Thomas ordered Schoepf to take the brigade of Hoosiers and Tennesseans without delay to reinforce Col. Garrard’s Kentuckians.  It is unknown what specifically Thomas had in mind when he released Carter to conduct his behind-the-lines mission, but he did so in full knowledge of the impending Rebel attack.  Probably he intended to defeat Zollicoffer at the Rockcastle heights, destroy his force before he could escape Kentucky, then cross over into Tennessee and gain control of Knoxville in time to capitalize on the disruption caused by Carter’s people.  When Schoepf repulsed the Rebel attack at Wildcat things seemed promising, although Zollicoffer’s easy getaway must have been a disappointment.  On October 29 the 2nd Tennessee marched into London, Kentucky along with the other units under Schoepf’s command.
Thomas had settled it in his mind that an advance into East Tennessee was necessary and feasible.  He had also determined, however, that he would need a full division to accomplish it.  He had been requesting the reinforcements for weeks and his movements suggest that he was depending upon their arrival within days, but now headquarters was inexplicably dragging its feet.  Around November 1 he wrote to Sherman that he was prepared to advance into Tennessee as planned, but he needed four more armed and trained regiments and several more supply wagons.  It was not a new submission, but a formal reminder of a standing request that had already been nominally approved.  Thomas announced his objective to seize the railroad and to attack Zollicoffer, and urged his old classmate to dispatch a force up the Big Sandy River to support his advance through Barbourville across the border.  Since he was now making the move that Sherman himself had suggested, he fully expected men and materiel to be arriving soon.  While his men grew increasingly restless, he waited for Sherman’s reply.
On October 30 Lt. Thomas Tipton, a Sevier County native, rode up to W. B. Carter’s home in Elizabethton and was received by Carter’s wife, Elizabeth.  From there he sent for Daniel Stover, the son-in-law of Andrew Johnson and one of Carter’s key contacts.  Two of the nine target bridges were in Carter County, at Carter’s Station and at Zollicoffer (formerly called Union, but that name was offensive to the local Confederates so they changed it in honor of the general—who modestly continued to call it by the original name).  These targets were expected to be among the most difficult to destroy.  Tipton asked Stover if he would take them as his assignment, and Stover accepted.  Within days he would be elected colonel and given charge of his sector.
Clandestine meetings such as this were being held throughout East Tennessee as Carter and his assistants crisscrossed the region, enlisting task force leaders without attracting attention.  Carter chose one leader in the locality of each bridge to be destroyed; each leader was then to recruit his own squad of five or more.  All participants were “sworn in” to the service of the United States so that, to their own minds at least, they were not criminals or spies but soldiers in service to their country.
Unlike his brothers, W. B. Carter had a low profile (there has never been a published photograph of him), and apparently that helped to keep him undercover in Rebel territory.  Still, avoiding detection could not have been easy. Many Confederate sympathizers suspected that the railroad was vulnerable to a sneak attack and were watching for something.  Besides, all of the people involved were amateurs untrained in the arts of espionage, and no one had any idea how many leaks were springing in the secret plan every time it was discussed.
That secret plan was being discussed widely and often as leaders of each task force brought new men in on the job.  It was also talked about by others seeking popular support for it, including Parson Brownlow, who looked for the burning bridges to become signal fires for a general uprising.
The coordinated attack was set for after dark Friday, November 8.  The moon was in its first quarter and would set early.  A moonless night would conceal their movements and hopefully be to their advantage.  

On Monday, November 4, Brownlow and Rev. James Cumming came down to Maryville.  Brownlow’s appearance would have been noticed simply because of who he was, but was not unusual for him to visit the city.  When scores of pro-Union men also began arriving in town, however—a local Confederate sympathizer estimated 300 to 500—it attracted attention.  There was supposed to be speech by a Unionist orator the following day, but those who were asked indicated that they were not there for the speech.  They were vague, however, on why they had come, and nothing stirs curiosity so much as a friendly question unanswered.
Late in the morning Brownlow and Cumming went to the home of one of their minister friends, the Rev. W. T. Dowell. (People were used to seeing ministers in meetings with others, and by making contacts through them Carter and his associates were able to avert much suspicion that their travels might otherwise arouse.)  They had met there with a small group the previous week to talk about the impending event, and now their presence drew large numbers of others who had heard about it and sought an update. Some pro-Confederate men followed them out to Rev. Dowell’s place just to keep an eye on this curious gathering.  Although they were blocked from getting too close, it was clear to them that “something was going on that pleased the Union men exceedingly.  They seemed in very good spirits and more confident and defiant than they had been for months.”7
There Cumming confided to a member of his church that Brownlow had vacated Knoxville and would go into hiding until the federal invasion expected at the end of the week; then he would return to Knoxville and renew publication of The Whig.  That one conversation between pastor and parishioner on Monday afternoon apparently was the source of the fast-spreading rumor Tuesday morning that Thomas already had a 12,000-man army at Jamestown in Fentress County, and that it was presently advancing on Knoxville.
On Wednesday, November 6 Jefferson Davis was elected president of the Confederate States of America.  Davis had been the leader of the Confederacy for months, so it was not so much an election as ratification.  Still, it was an important symbolic statement to the world that a legitimate, permanent, democratic government had been established in Richmond.  Inauguration was set for February 22—Washington’s birthday, of course, to identify this Second American Revolution with the ideals of the first. This election was proof to a watching world that the southern states stood together in resolute unity against the aggression from the North.
In his acceptance speech Davis condemned Lincoln’s “tyrannous” behavior. He castigated the President of the United States for “making war without the assent of Congress,” suspending “the writ of habeas corpus so sacred to freedom,” trampling justice and law “under the armed heel of military authority,” and dragging “upright men…to distant dungeons upon the mere edict of a despot.”  All Richmond applauded, and the Southern newspapers cited the new president’s rhetoric with approving editorials. 
While rumors swept through East Tennessee that Thomas had bypassed Gen. Zollicoffer and was marching on Knoxville from the west, Sherman was that very day issuing orders for Thomas to hold his position at London and await further developments.  Based on reports he had received, he was convinced that A. S. Johnston had a massive force at Bowling Green under the command of Simon Bolivar Buckner, and that he was poised to attack Louisville and then to sweep eastern Kentucky. Buckner was indeed near Bowling Green, but his force was about one third the size Sherman believed, and all of Johnston’s movements along that line were a feint.
Thomas did not agree with the order to delay, but there was nothing he could do.  Not only was the commanding general deferring his request for reinforce-ments, it looked like he was on the verge of revoking his approval of the whole operation.  For now Thomas had orders to hold Zollicoffer in check in south Kentucky but to advance no further.  He was painfully aware that his covert operatives across the state line would be left in the lurch if he did not move soon—and there was nothing he could do about that either.
Meanwhile Thomas took the heat for Sherman’s jitters.  On November 7 he received a letter from Andrew Johnson, making one of his many visits to the camp in London,8 complaining of Thomas’s delay in the invasion of Tennessee.  The last thing Johnson had heard from Sherman was the go-ahead for the invasion, and he apparently knew nothing of that general’s increasingly cold feet. The senator’s constituents in Thomas’s army had sounded off to him, and he felt the need to voice their unhappy concerns.  Johnson also apparently had heard rumors that troops would be pulled back from London, and warned the general that his troops were restless for a fight even if they had to find one on their own without orders.  
Anticipating a southward advance Thomas had moved his headquarters following the battle at Wildcat from Camp Dick Robinson to Crab Orchard.  From there he responded:
I have done all in my power to get troops and transportation and means to advance into East Tennessee. I believe General Sherman has done the same. Up to this time we have been unsuccessful. Have you heard by what authority the troops from London were to fall back? Because I have not and shall not move any of them back, unless ordered, because if I am not interfered with I can have them subsisted there as well as here. I am inclined to think the rumor has grown out of the feverish excitement, which seems to exist in the minds of some of the regiments, that no further advance is contemplated. I can only say that I am doing the best I can. Our commanding general is doing the same, and using all his influence to equip a force for the rescue of East Tennessee. If the Tennesseeans [sic] are not content and must go, then the risk of disaster will remain with them. Some of our troops are not yet clothed, and it seems impossible to get clothing.
… In conclusion I will add that I am here ready to obey orders, and earnestly hope that the troops at London will see the necessity of doing the same.
 He forwarded Johnson’s letter “for your information” to Albin Schoepf, who was in charge of the troops at Camp Calvert in London, and instructed him to clamp down on the disgruntled Tennesseans. 
It is time that discontented persons should be silent, both in and out of the service. I sympathize most deeply with [them] on account of their natural anxiety to relieve their friends and families from the terrible apprehension which they are now suffering. But to make the attempt to rescue them when not half prepared is culpable, especially when our enemies are perhaps as anxious that we should make the move as the Tennesseeans [sic] themselves, for it is well known by our commanding general that Buckner has an overwhelming force within striking distance, whenever he can get us at a disadvantage.  I hope you will therefore see the necessity of dealing decidedly with such people, and you have my authority and orders for doing so. We must learn to abide our time or we will never be successful.
The “well known” facts of Buckner’s “overwhelming force” were not true, but they were sufficient to freeze Union forces in Kentucky for another month.  Meanwhile the opportunity for a timely invasion of East Tennessee was lost, but no one yet knew or understood how long it would be before the United States flag would fly over that land. 
Information for this chapter and the next has been gleaned from numerous sources, most being in the public domain, including the Official Record.  As throughout this book, all quotes and citations from Oliver Temple refer to East Tennessee and the Civil War (1899).  I’ve tried in this chapter as throughout the book to keep citations to a minimum, but quotations from copyright works have been footnoted, along with use of other unusual or infrequently cited material.  One source, however, has been especially helpful for the writing of these chapters.  Novelist Cameron Judd has written a non-fiction narrative of this little known facet of history, The Bridge Burners (Johnson City, TN: The Overmountain Press, 1995).  Judd identifies characters, effectively profiles them in context, and elucidates the timeline while telling the tale in an entertaining way.  It has been an invaluable help to me as I sought to keep this very complicated story straight.
William Blount Carter, Jr. was the namesake, not of his father Alfred Moore Carter, but of his uncle (1792-1848), a Tennessee statesman and former Congressman.
Since he had previously served as governor and was later appointed military governor of the state, some contemporaneous accounts refer to him anachronistically as “Governor Johnson” rather than by the “lesser” title of senator.
See Chapter III, “First Fire at Camp Wildcat.”
There were other official dispatches received at Camp Robinson on October 10 besides the one from Ormsby Mitchel that disturbed Gen. Thomas.  One of them was Special Order #12, which contained S. P. Carter’s brevet commission from the War Department, backdated to September 16.  He continued to wait well into January for Congressional approval.
Years after the war A. M. Cate, one of the bridge burners, petitioned Congress for federal compensation with the plea that he did not receive the pay promised by Carter. See Judd, 117.
Jesse G. Wallace, quoted in Judd, 38.
The prickly senator’s visits were not always well-received. On one occasion he got into an open shouting match in the Crab Orchard town square with Gen. Schoepf, troops and officers passing by.  “I am a United States senator!” Johnson was heard to exclaim as he challenged the general to throw him out of the camp. Thomas came out from his office and, without a word, literally pulled the Prussian-born officer by the arm into the headquarters before the argument came to blows. See Christian J. Einolf, George Thomas, Virginian for the Union (Norman, OK: 2007), 113.

Read the Rest of the Story Here:
Chapter V
Burning Bridges, Part 2
Flames of Rebellion
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