History 2019

Day 01

May 16


This is the beginning of a trip quite unlike one I have ever done. The distance covered in this trip will be in time not in miles. Several years ago I found that my great, great grandfather, James Knox Polk Lowrance, had fought in the War Between the States for the South. As as small child, I remember his son, my great grandfather. So I was literally one physical touch from this man which really gave me a connection to my research. After over two years of digging through all sorts of information, I was able to create a timeline of where he started - Big Creek Gap - and where he ended up - Elmira POW Camp in Elmira, New York. I found his unit, his company, the battles he fought in, and where his unit was located on pretty much each battlefield. I even found his physical description on his oath of allegiance to the United States -

  My goal on this ride is to visit the battlefields in the order in which he did and to end up at the site of the POW camp where he fought a different sort of battle. I want to stand where he stood and try to imagine what it must have been like in those days. My sister, who also loves history like me, has decided to chase us around in her Miata. So with Frost all loaded up, I head out for Cracker Barrel on the east side of town to meet 'Sissy' (as I call her) and Andy, my long time riding buddy.  
  Fortunately for me, it is early enough that Nashville traffic has not picked up yet. I am able to whizz across town without having to dodge the numerous mobile phone booths that are cleverly disguised as automobiles and will appear in bunches like bananas later on.  
  As I suspected, Sissy gets there first though she had the longest distance to come. I give her a big hug and we wander on into the Cracked Barrel.  
  This one is on Andy's side of town and in the general direction we need to go to get to JKP's muster point near Lafollette, Tennessee.  

We talk about where we are headed and what I expect to find. I have prepared a pretty thick notebook of all of the data I have gathered and Sissy has been reading over it for the past few weeks. We consume the requisite pork products and hen fruit and then head east on I40 for a while.



Andy's Ducati has about 140 mile ranged til reserve, so we use that as our fueling parameter since none of us like pushing motorcycles alongside the road.


We manage to slip through Knoxville proper without a hitch and hit I75 which will take us closer to our first stop.


I notice on the way up the sign for Rocky Top, which was the source for one of the official songs of Tennessee.

Wish that I was on ol' Rocky Top
Down in the Tennessee hills
Ain't no smoggy smoke on Rocky Top
Ain't no telephone bills
Once I had a girl on Rocky Top
Half bear, other half cat
Wild as a mink, but sweet as soda pop
I still dream about that

Rocky Top, you'll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol' Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee

Once two strangers climbed ol' Rocky Top
Lookin' for a moonshine still
Strangers ain't come down from Rocky Top
Reckon they never will
Corn won't grow at all on Rocky Top
Dirt's too rocky by far
That's why all the folks on Rocky Top
Get their corn from a jar

Rocky Top, you'll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol' Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee



From his service records I know that he served in Company B of the 17th Tennessee Infantry, CSA.


And from The History Of The 17th Tennessee Infantry History -

Nine of the companies composing the regiment assembled in May at Camp Harris where they were organized as companies. The regiment was mustered into Confederate service on August 15, 1861, at Big Creek, Campbell County.

So this is where it all started for him at the young age of 16.


It's not much of a creek, but it must have been interesting for a young man who had never left his home up to this time. My sister and I muse over just how long it must have taken him to get here from Middle Tennessee. We wonder if he travelled alone or with others from his area.


Nearby, some one has constructed a nice flow for the spring that comes down out of the mountains. I'm pretty sure this was not there when he was here, but he more than likely enjoyed the fresh spring water that supplies it on that hot August day.

  Orders were given for his unit to head north to Kentucky to secure that state from Union possession. And as off he went through the Cumberland Gap, so do we. It is amazing as we head northward that there are no breaks in the mountains. Bear Creek was one of the few, and the Cumberland Gap was another one. These were strategic points that both armies desired to control as they were the key for moving men and munitions to this part of Tennessee.  
  Fortunately for us, we can quickly pass under the mountains though the Cumberland Gap Tunnel, only one of two mountain vehicular tunnels in the United States that cross a state line. The tunnel itself is 4,600 feet long - nearly a mile in length.  

There's a gas stop just after you leave the tunnel, so we take advantage of it to fuel and defuel.



I have a pretty decent idea of where the next stop should be - the Camp Wildcat Battleground. Although it is a US Forest Service facility, there are no signs on the main highway indicating it's location. We are the mercy of the GPS and he thinks we should go swimming. I expected some gravel road to involved with getting to this one, but I left my ST Flotation Equipment at home. I yell back to Sissy -

"I think it's just a little too deep for your Miata!"

Since none of us feel like swimming across, we somehow manage to get turned around on the one lane gravel road and head further north.

  Thoroughly confused, we pull into the next little village. I see a map and scan it closely looking for the location and if there is another way to get there. Things sure aren't starting out very well on this one. Sissy hikes across the street to see if anybody is at home in the City Hall, but no luck there either. Finally I spot the location of battleground down in the corner of the map and we now have a plan to get there.  

Well, at least we think it is a plan. We twist and turn and go up and down hollers and hills and one lane roads - expecting the banjo music to start playing at any moment. I see a feller sitting on his front porch, so I stop and ask him -

"Do you know where the Camp Wildcat site is?"

He replies -

"Oh, it's just a 1/2 mile down the road. Can't miss it."

I'mg glad he wasn't smoking or he might have blown both of us up. Well, his half mile is a lot longer than the half miles I'm used to. But I do believe we are getting closer when we come upon a curious sight - two log trucks and a school bus sitting dead center in the road in a sort of Mexican standoff. My first thought is that there has been a head-on collision so I ride up to see what is going on. As it turns out, the bus driver cannot back up the bus out of the way. The two logging trucks are tractor trailers, so trying to back them up is not a very good option. Since this could take a while and I'm still not sure of location of the battleground I manage to edge by to continue my pursuit. I figure it could take a while to get this sorted out and Sissy is stuck in her Miata until they do. Finally I spot a local lady and I ask her -

"Ma'am, do you know where the Camp Wildcat site is?"

"Well, go down there a pretty good piece and the road forks. You probably can't get through on the right fork, so follow the left fork. If you get to the railroad tracks, you've gone too far" she tells me.

With that knowledge in hand, I hope it's better than the other feller's 1/2 mile instructions. I ride and ride and ride and still don't see no railroad tracks. I figure they should have that mess sorted out by now, so I'd better turn around and head back to where Andy and Sissy should be waiting. There's a man waiting in a pickup truck to get by so I ask him -

"Do you know where the Camp Wildcat Battleground is?"

He pretty much confirms the lady's instructions says the sign is small and you will go right by it if you're not careful. With that in hand, I figure I just didn't cover enough 1/2 miles to get there. With the mess finally cleared up, Andy lets me know that the bus driver had to call his supervisor to come back the bus out of the way of the trucks. Finally we are all on the way we hope to where we think we are headed.

  I come tearing down a hill as daylight is a wasting and sure enough there are the railroad tracks. It registers on my brain that I passed a sign just a little ways back, but it faced the opposite way I was headed. I do an aboutface with the gang behind me and sure enough it is the sign we've been looking for.  
  The road is mostly gravel and potholes, but we finally make it to the first major battlefield where JKP fought.  

Since this place is out in the middle of nowhere, after you take a left and go a far piece, it makes us wonder why they clashed here. What we really wonder is how in the world did they even find each other in this place. Then we see the explanation for it all on one of the placards at the site. The road we just came up to get here was originally part of the Wilderness Road, a route that Daniel Boone used. The northern generals viewed it as a promising invasion route into Tennessee. The southern generals saw it as a direct route into the heart of Kentucky. Both sides knew that whoever controlled Kentucky, controlled the rivers which were the major supply route of goods in the area. As it turned out, the road was in such poor condition that it was of no value to either side. As Mr. Fletcher of the 33rd Indiana Infantry said -

"We found the road for three miles lined with a train of wagons stuck in the mud, mules unto their bellies.."

  But as usual, the governments rush in where no one with good common sense would consider. And to add to the whole thing, the northern government pulled an officer out of the Navy to set up the infantry camp here in this remote location.  
  This was one of the first Civil War Battles fought in Kentucky and the first battle for JKP.  
  The Confederates approached the Camp in the pre-dawn darkness of October 21, 1861. Many of the Union soldiers were just getting their breakfast together. Colonel John Colburn and 350 men of the 33rd Indiana rushed to what was know as the Round Hill, later to be know as Hoosier Knob as the Confederates approached it.  

We know that Hoosier Knob is our goal if we are to stand where JKP stood from the report of Colonel Newman of the 17th Infantry -

Report of Col. Taz. W. Newman, Seventeenth Tennessee infantry. NEAR ROCKCASTLE HEIGHTS, October 21, 1861.
As ordered, I formed my regiment from hilltop to hilltop at open intervals to move in rear of Colonel Rains' regiment and support him. Lieutenant-Colonel Miller was ordered to take command of the left wing, composed of Companies A, D, F, and I, commanded by Captains Hoyle, Finch, Hunter, and Mathews, and for the movements of said companies upon the field I refer you to the report of Lieutenant-Colonel Miller, which is hereto appended and made a part of my report.* The six companies, viz, B, C, E, G, H, and K, commanded by Captains Marks, McDearman, and Armstrong, and Lieutenants Davis, Holden, and Harrison, constituting the right wing, were under my immediate command, and moved forward in line of battle in the direction of the heights in front of our position.
Upon reaching a point within eighty yards of the heights, we discovered a number of men ascending the heights and entering the fortifications, but supposing these men to be a portion of Colonel Rains' command, I did not order them to be fired upon.
At this point we received a heavy volley of rifles and musketry. The command moved on, however, without returning the fire, until within forty paces of the enemy's works, before we discovered they were not Colonel Rains' men, at which time the men were ordered to cover as well as they could and to return the enemy's fire. In this position we maintained a heavy fire for twenty-five minutes, when I ordered Captain Armstrong and Lieutenant Harrison to move their companies around to my extreme right, to prevent a flank movement of the enemy, which I saw they were about to make. These officers executed the order with promptness and alacrity under fire. The fire was kept up by all the companies for an hour and ten minutes, and seeing that it was impossible to fall back without great loss, I ordered the works to be charged. Four companies gallantly charged the works as ordered, officers and men seemingly vieing with each other as to who should be first to reach the works of the enemy.
After the fortification was reached, and many of my men had got within the works, driving the enemy from the first parallel, not receiving {p.214} any support, and being nearly destitute of cartridges, I ordered my command to fall back, which it did in good order. While this was being executed the other two companies maintained their position as ordered.
I take pleasure in stating that the officers and men all acted with great coolness and firmness, such as would do credit to veteran troops, and for more than an hour sustained a heavy fire.
Killed, 11; wounded, 34.
All of which is respectfully submitted.
TAZ. W. NEWMAN, Colonel Comdg.
Seventeenth Regiment Tennessee Volunteers.

F. K. ZOLLICOFFER, Brigadier-General, Commanding.

The battle map combined with Colonel Newman's report lets us know that Company B, JKP's unit, breached the breastworks on that fateful day.

  We see the sign that says that Hoosier Knob is only 3/4 of a mile away. We will find after our journey, that the government does not know how to measure distance any better than that the feller that told me the battleground was only 'a 1/2 mile away'.  
  As we leave the main site, we see a cannon replica on display.  
  It's fortunately a very shady walk, though a very difficult one through some serious elevation changes.  
  As we struggle up to the top of Hoosier Knob, we try to imagine what it would have been like that day in October for JKP to make up this hill with bullets and cannon balls flying all around him, loaded down with what gear he had.  
  This was where the hardest fighting took place. For both sides, this would be their first taste of mortal combat.  
  After the 17th breached the breastworks, they ran out of ammunition and had to retreat back down the mountain.  
  It is had for us to even think what it must have felt like with one of these monsters hurling its deadly contents down on you.  
  We get Andy to snap a shot of both of us since this is where the 17th Tennessee breached the Union Line. We know that within 100 yards of here our great great grandfather stood on that day in October as a young man of 16. It is hard to comprehend that we are standing where he stood in his first major battle. What a shock it must have been to see eleven men that joined up with him lying dead and dismembered on the surrounding ground and thirty four of his fellow soldiers wounded.  
  There is nice memorial for both sides back at the main site.  
  I get a close up of the Confederate side since it lists the 17th of Tennessee as one of the participants.  

I decide on the way back to follow the road across the tracks just to see where we end up. As it turns out, less than a mile later we pop back out on the 4-lane highway that we came up. But there is no sign anywhere to indicate that this is the way to Camp Wildcat. But at least we know the 'secret' now for future reference. As we approach our motel in Corbin, Kentucky I see supper on the way in.

  After our 3/4 mile hike that turned into more like a 3 mile hike, we are ready to see this sign.  
As we waddle our way back from a scrumptious supper, we are rewarded with a beautiful sunset painted only as the Master Painter can provide.
  It's been a very interesting and fulfilling day to say the least. we figure after all the 'adventure' of getting to the Camp Wildcat site, we should be able to deal with about anything. I slip off into a peaceful slumber, still thinking about that hillside at Camp Wildcat.