Francis Marion Wilcox Journal
Francis Marion Wilcox Journal
We are now nearing the borders of East Tennessee and perhaps inside of Johnson County. This county although rough and possessed of precipitous hills and mountains could boast of many loyal sons and daughters who after our exit bore many hardships and persecutions even some unto death. It was in this Johnson County later on that some of the first blood in defense of the Union and the loyal homes of East Tennessee was shed. A Rebel doctor, whose name we cannot recall shot and killed a Union man near Taylorsville, the county seat of said county. The union man's name has been forgotten also. This was in the spring of 1862. The deed committed was a foul murder, yet at the time it served among Rebels to stamp this doctor as brace, courageous and a true southern gentleman. Union men being largely in the minority had to bear these atrocities and murders and look forward to a day of reckoning which came through slow in the line of progress. Taylorsville was a small valley of some 500 inhabitants, divided in sentiment. Yet as many southern men, all soldiers quartered near here, increased. The Unionists had to remain mute and not tell what their principles were.
We travel some 30 miles this day, ascend and camp on the south side of Rich Mountain at the bank of Roans Creek. We were now in the state where we first saw daylight and must say, from the elevated summit of Rich Mountain, a spur range of the Blue Ridge, we not very favorably impressed with the land of our nativity. We camped, cooked, ate and drank water, discussed many topics yet uppermost in our minds was one of home which they claimed we would reach by the next p.m., as we were now in Watauga County, North Carolina - once a portion of old Ashe. We arose early, donned our clothing, washed and ate breakfast, yoked the oxen and horses. We had a pair of each, the horned animals working the lead and soon bid our camp adieu. We rolled on like jolly fellows and about noon crossed the county line.
Upon our north set Elk Knob, the most elevated spot on earth that I had ever seen and this day its grey summit seemed to say, "young man, we bid you welcome to the county that gave you birth. I have stood here for centuries, have welcomed your grandfather, father, relations and friends to my summit and ere you return home, you must pay me a visit and stand upon my most elevated crest like Moses and view the landscape over", to which I bowed in assent, provided I remain long enough and let me say that in October of the next year or the last days of September 1862, I payed my vow in the company of Isaiah Greer, Phillip Greer and George W. Lowrance. We could see 100 miles north and behold a thousand hills at one look. I may speak of the peak later on, but let me say for the present that my name or initials are cut there in a small water birch or mountain birch among hundreds of others.
We passed near the base of this mountain and all day long I would constantly gaze at its elevation and grandeur and must say, although a boy in his teens, there was something that seemed to convince me of an almighty power whose work in rearing those stupendous elevations were beyond man's comprehension. They were acts of creation such as nothing but an almighty God could do. They taught lessons of inspiration to youth and old age. They were monuments destined to perpetuate the workings of an all wise and independent God until the last loud trumpet shall sound to summon all to a final roll call upon the shores of the great beyond - the inhabitants of earth, those sleeping and those who will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. We urged our weary, sore footed team forward and at the close of this day arrived at Uncle Owen Trivett's whose name and family we described in some past page of this scratch. They welcome us and we accept their greeting with cordiality and they say, "rest your wearied feet and feast, you are hungry birdies and when rested up and all the dust washed off, we will see what you look line." These remarks are from Aunt Dicy and she did even examining us closely for land marks of our father and mother with whom she had spent so many days and years yet had not seen for over twelve years. After eating and sleeping we proceeded to dust ourselves and get into clean clothes and present ourselves for that inspection and soon had the satisfaction of knowing that we resembled Father and Mother, both. We remained here with Isaiah and Uncle Owen Trivett for some two or three weeks, got well rested and in fact made Isaiah's our headquarters or home so to speak. After our rest we started out to visit our kith and kin and found them numerous, kind and clever, all Rebels and in favor of a Southern Confederacy. This did not suit me but the southern people were not running things my way just then.
I hastened to get around to see all my relations in order that I might return to Kentucky inside of six weeks to two months at the farthest. Things passed along well until a month had passed. Many were enlisting and were going to the front, as they called it, to fight for the Southern Rights. War clouds gathered more darkness as time moved along. Jeff Davis, the arch traitor and president of the Confederacy say that in order to check loyal Tennesseans and other Union men in the south from going north, issued an edict to all persons desiring to go north. So many days would be given, after a lapse of certain dates anyone going would be subject to arrest and liable to be placed in prison or made to enlist and fight for the Southerners of States Rights. This Edict was not published until about the time the dates expired and not one man in a thousand ever knew such an Edict had been made. 'Twas only a ruse and delusion or pretext to force men to do what they had resolved not to do, yet being surrounded by enemies on all sides, they had to accept the situation, remain at home in hopes of a brighter period which failed to come soon and to many loyal Union hearts it never did.
We took stock of the situation at once here. We were in Dixie's land among friends and relatives, nearly all Rebels. Our home was in Kentucky where they were strong for neutrality. Our promise to our loyal Union father was, "I'll never go into a Rebel army or fight for Southern Rights". I truly believed at that time that Southern Rights would consist of about fifteen feet of hemp chord for each placed around the leading Rebels' necks and then caused them to look up and count the stars. Our hearts, though silent, beat for the Union. My impulse, if I dared to express it, was in favor of the old flag to be once more waving over our nation and undivided and free. Yet not one sentiment dared we utter for fear of being arrested and put in prison. Hence we held our peace as best we could and listened with or ears to catch the sounds of discontent reported as being alive in a state that had cast a 60,000 majority for remaining in the Union, but afterwards was dragged out by a frightened Rebel Secessionist's Legislature.
The first sound was all wrong. The war cry was uppermost. Old men, middle aged and even little boys were all ablaze and many were enlisting for the fray. The women, old and young, stood by their husbands, sons and brothers and urged them on. They imagined that should they fail in their efforts to establish a Confederacy, they would become prey to an almost uncivilized race of beings, not fit for the lowest mulatto in their midst to associate with. Hence their devotion and input grew out of misguided ignorance and false declarations. Those who ought to have know better but in reality were like their devoted women were misled and thought to believe these things. Things that had not a shadow of truth in them. The masses became fired.
Two Regiments were made up in this country, the First North Carolina Cavalry and the 26th North Carolina Infantry. The latter was early to the fray and last to come away and when they did come with a final surrender at Appomattox there was only a remnant left of the more than 1,200 that first enlisted. This Regiment was baptized in blood and had the honor, if it be an honor, to loose a larger percent in battle than any Southern regiment enlisting during the war, leaving over 500 men killed, wounded and missing in battle at Gettysburg. Cousins Jacob, Jesse and Wash Houck were members of this gallant Regiment. The former a lieutenant, the latter had his arm shot off at the battle of Petersburg, Virginia. Jesse died near Petersburg, Virginia and Jake lived through.
After these two Regiments were recruited others were in demand. The fife and drum was constantly heard. Mass meetings were announced and generally featuring speech makers - more or less, and new recruits kept "falling in" and were off for the fray. New uniformed Rebel soldiers would return and these uniforms set the yeomanly [sic] all on fire. Well do we remember the young lassies of the South and how they would idealize those brave yet misguided men. We often thought that we would like to be in those soldier's places while at home here in uniform and be the one to be played to and caressed by some of Dixie's fair daughters, but then we remembered that no morning lasts a whole day and that there are two sides to everything. So we would rather do with the attentions than to wear the attractions of a Rebel soldier, dressed in Rebel Grey arrayed in opposition to the dear old stars and stripes that had so long waved in triumph over a united country and whenever unfurled brought a new wave of hope and higher aspirations for the emblem and country it so proudly represented. Hence we, although cut off and in a country where the stars and strips had been pulled down and the stars and bars raised in their stead, once more resolved that we would never raise our feeble arms against the Government that had afforded one and all equal rights and protection under the laws enacted by and for the people.
The period for our return home to Kentucky was now up. The rightness anticipated on our leaving home and the peace looked for had not come. The clouds of war had become more dark. The reins of the Rebel government were drawn more tightly. The Rebel chief, high in his usurped authority had issued a proclamation or edict granting those of adverse opinions or cherishing Union opinions a few days to cross the lines and leave Dixie, at the same time notifying his subjects in arms to arrest all such as those going north to be traitors and cause them to enlist and fight for the would be Confederacy. The writer never heard of this proclamation until after the expiration of days had passed to leave. Had he attempted to leave he would have been arrested and forced to enter the Rebel army or would have been sent to a Rebel prison to linger and to die of starvation. So as he was in the land of his birth, among friends and kindred relations and only seventeen years old, he resolved to remain longer and wait for daybreak.