Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

March 11, 2014

Devil Step Hollow a route for Union troops escaping to Kentucky

CROSSVILLE — Let’s continue our journey through the Union history in our area.  One other route of the Underground Railroad moving Union troops through the county into Kentucky was located at Devil Step Hollow, and run by Aunt Polly Hand. She took 50 men one night, 30 another and sometimes 5 or 10 at a time. She said she was working for Polly Arms because someone was watching her and her husband, and they were afraid of having the route discovered.

 “Tennesseans in the Civil War” lists Capt. Beaty’s Tennessee Company, Independent Scouts. They were organized in Fentress County in early 1862, by David “Tinker Dave” Beaty. The unit was never mustered into the regular U.S. Service. Beaty claimed to have a letter from Gen. Burnside giving him permission to, “go in the mountain forks and bushwhack the Rebels and keep the roads open;” however, Beaty never produced any such letter. Beaty said his band was never paid by the government, but were furnished horses and ammunition by the Federal forces.

In Tinker Dave Beaty’s testimony at Captain Champ Ferguson’s trial, when asked how many men his band had killed, Beaty said, “I don’t know how many men we bushwhacked and killed, but I suppose we killed 25 or more during the War.” Much of their degradations were carried on in Overton and Fentress Counties. The band, including Harve Shillings with a group under Beaty’s command, did raid and murder in Cumberland County. The “Tales of Hebbertsburg” record an incident when these raiders killed a man in that community.

The famous portrait painter, John Wood Dodge, from New York, lived in the Pomona Community when the war began. Dodge saw his neighbor, John Calvin Crook, 52, barely escape Union bushwhackers with his life by hiding under an overturned wagon bed when they came to kill him. That night, Dodge took his family and went back to the North until the war ended. About 1886, John Dodge and his family returned to Pomona.

John Calvin Crook’s daughter, Elizabeth Lowe Crook, married Andrew Ralph Kemmer, thus beginning the long line of men named John Crook Kemmer in our county. His son, David Crockett Crook, would become a well-known Methodist minister in Alabama and other Southern states. David served as a Colonel in the 28th Regiment, Tennessee Infantry (2nd Tennessee Mountain Volunteers) Confederate Army, notably serving in the battles of Fishing Creek, Shiloh, Port Hudson, Murfreesboro to Atlanta, and Chickamauga. Very few men of this unit were left at the surrender April 26, 1865. Forgive me for interjecting a Confederate here; it seemed the most logical place to relate why Union bushwhackers would want to kill John Crook. It was not unusual for such raiders to kill the family of men serving in opposing armies.

Next week we will look at one of the bushwhacking murders in the county, Moses Dorton, as we begin articles on the service of the Dorton family in the Union army, and as merchants in the county during the war years.

• • •

Old Uncle Gib is a weekly historical feature published each Friday. Old Uncle Gib is a pseudonym that was used by S.C. Bishop, who founded the Chronicle in 1886. Bishop actively published the Chronicle until 1948.

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