After the fall of Fort Sumter irregular fighting flared up all across the South and the Border States, and secessionist crowds took over Federal and state armories. In Maryland on April 19, 1861, a pro-Southern mob attacked the 6th Massachusetts Infantry as they changed trains in Baltimore on their way to defend Washington, DC; four soldiers and 12 rioters died, becoming perhaps the first casualties of the war. Bands of secessionists proceeded to burn bridges, cut telegraph lines and tear up track on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, isolating the capital until reinforcements arrived later that month. President Lincoln then sent troops to pacify Maryland, and most militant secessionists fled to Virginia to join the Confederate army.
Rioting continued elsewhere, and trains carrying Federal troops in the Border States often found themselves under fire or delayed by sabotage. In the rugged hills of what would later become the state of West Virginia the majority Unionist population found themselves isolated from the Union army, which was preoccupied with protecting the capital and securing Maryland, and Unionist and secessionist guerrilla bands embarked on a bitter low-level conflict that would last throughout the war. This also happened in the Unionist region of eastern Tennessee, where many men fled into Kentucky to join the Union army or stayed home to fight a guerrilla war against secessionists.
The most effective early Unionist partisan in Tennessee was the Rev William Carter, who along with his brother Lt James Carter proposed to burn nine bridges between Bristol, Virginia, and Stevenson, Alabama, blocking supplies to Virginia and opening east Tennessee to Union invasion. On November 8, 1861, Carter's partisans destroyed five of the bridges. The Confederacy moved troops into east Tennessee, declared martial law, and decreed that all bridge-burners would be hanged. A roundup of Unionists netted a thousand prisoners, although
William Carter managed to slip away to Kentucky, Four men who were found guilty were duly hanged next to the newly repaired bridges, and engineers slowed down their trains so that passengers could get a good look at them.
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