Brutal, Bloody War : April set aside to remember time when States weren’t united

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye  This home on Blue Springs Road in the Stoney Creek Community was built in the 1820s and was once the site of the Brooks Family Farm. The farm was a hub of confederate activity in the county during the Civil War. The home is currently owned by Dr. Daniel Shumaier.

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye
This home on Blue Springs Road in the Stoney Creek Community was built in the 1820s and was once the site of the Brooks Family Farm. The farm was a hub of confederate activity in the county during the Civil War. The home is currently owned by Dr. Daniel Shumaier.

Today marks the beginning of Confederate History and Heritage month in Carter County.

Each year, a proclamation is issued by the county government declaring April as a time to remember that tumultuous period in our nation’s history when our country was divided. The month of April was selected because it was in that month that the Civil War began in 1861, and it was also the month when the war ended in 1865.

“The knowledge of the role of the Confederate States of America in the history of our nation and our state is vital to understanding who we are and what we are,” the proclamation said.

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In Carter County, some residents supported the Confederacy, other supported the Union and some remained neutral.

“You can’t study the Confederate history in Carter County without learning the Union history, too,” County Historian Scott Bowers said. “I personally don’t feel there was an overwhelming feeling one way or the other,” he said, adding that opinion is based on what he has seen in county records from that time period.

One thing that is evident from the records, the people of Carter County suffered greatly during the Civil War. Areas such as Carter’s Depot in Watauga, Stoney Creek, Tiger Valley, Fish Springs, Little Mountain in Happy Valley, Holston Mountain, Bogarts Knob in Watauga, Crab Orchard and O’Brien’s Forge in Valley Forge were all sites of raids and skirmishes. Carter County saw occupation by troops from both sides of the war during the conflict. Food and supplies began to run short for families as troops would take the things they needed.

“People were starving and struggling to survive,” Bowers said.

Local citizens were particularly mistreated by occupying Union troops, Bowers said.

“An actual order had to be issued to Union Troops to stop abusing the people of East Tennessee,” he said.

While many people talk of bravery on the battlefield and the glorious deeds of soldiers, Bowers has a different idea on who the heroes of that day and time were.

“The true heroes, the unsung heroes, were those families who did what it took to survive the war,” he said.

Sometimes, that meant switching their allegiance to save their own lives or the lives of their families. Bowers related a story from a journal about a man whose home was invaded by Union soldiers demanding he renounce the Confederacy and swear allegiance to the Union. When the man refused, he was dragged from his home and the soldiers began to hang the man. Faced with death, the man swore allegiance to the Union and was allowed to return to his family.

“When we talk about people changing sides, it was at the end of a gun barrel, the point of a knife or the end of the hangman’s noose,” Bowers said.

While some people romanticize the Civil War, Bowers said he understands that it was a brutal and bloody period in the nation’s history. Not only did soldiers line up and do battle on the field, both sides used guerilla fighting tactics to ambush the enemy, Bowers said.

“And then you had the outlaws,” he said. “The outlaws were the type of people who took advantage of the war to take their revenge.”

“You had people that used the war to settle decades old feuds,” he said, adding often times they would accuse others of war atrocities or other crimes.

One of Carter County’s most notorious group of outlaws during this time was the Heatherly Brothers – George and Godfrey – Bowers said. While their father Thomas Heatherly was well liked and respected in the community, the sons were another story, Bowers said, adding court records show they had been charged with theft, larceny, assault, horse thievery and even prison escape.

The Heatherly Brothers murdered two prominent Confederate officers – Lt. William Brooks and Lt. Robert Tipton.

“Brooks was killed in an ambush,” Bowers said. “He was warned ahead of time, but he said he would not be cowardly and turn away from his duty.”

The murder of Tipton was even more heinous, Bowers said.

“They came to his home while he was sleeping and woke him up,” Bowers said, adding the Heatherly brothers pretended to be Confederate soldiers in need of aid. “They took him a few miles away from his house before they killed him. They had his brother with them too and he was greatly affected by Tipton’s death.”

The brothers and an accomplice attempted to shot Tipton with a pistol, but it misfired twice. However, on the third try the pistol fired, and Tipton was shot in the chest. As he lay dying, George Heatherly took the pistol and shot Tipton between the eyes and executed him, Bowers said.

The two murders by the brothers were condemned by all of Carter County, Bowers said.

“When Brooks and Tipton were killed, both sides – the Confederate and Union citizens – were in an uproar,” he said. “The lines drawn in the war didn’t matter to the people of Carter County because they considered Brooks and Tipton good people.”

To escape what they had done, the brothers fled the area and joined the 13th Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry of the United States Army, Bowers said, adding they returned home after the war.

“Godfrey lived quietly after the war, but George liked to run his mouth and brag,” Bowers said.

One night after the war, George Heatherly was bragging to a group of men about how he and his brother had murdered Tipton and one of the man stood up and shot him between the eyes, just like Tipton had been shot, Bowers said.

Carter County also saw raids by Thomas’ Legion – a feared fighting force of 400 Cherokee led by Confederate Col. William Thomas – who swept through the area looking for Union fugitives.

“The mountains were too hard to find people, so they brought in the Cherokee thinking they could find them,” Bowers said, adding Col. Thomas could be a dangerous man to cross. “Thomas felt he answered only to two people, God and Gen. Robert E. Lee personally, so he pretty much did what he wanted.”

While Bowers said he prefers the history of the Revolutionary War, he focuses a lot of effort on preserving the history of the Civil War because it is in danger of being eradicated because it was such a volatile time in our nations history and dealt with the controversial topics of slavery and being traitors to the nation.

“The families that supported the CSA and men who fought for it, were no more traitors than General Washington and the men who fought under him,” Bowers said. “Let’s face it, from the American Revolution, the Lost State of Franklin, to the War Between the States, secession is one of our oldest traditions. A tradition based on people standing up for whatever cause they chose.”

“Any cause that a man would be willing to lay down his life for, is indeed an honorable cause,” he added. “It’s their memory that we should honor.”