The Story Of The Old 19th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry
Though some sporadic incidents had happened prior, it is said that the War Against Northern Aggression officially began on April 12, 1861 at 4:30 in the morning when General Pierre Beauregard's gunners opened fire on Maj. Robert Anderson union garrison on a tiny island in Charleston, South Carolina's harbor called Fort Sumter. The Confederate and Union cannoneers engaged in a n artillery duel lasting some 48 hours, and when the guns stopped and the smoke cleared two days later, the only casualty of the great battle was on Confederate horse. Thus was the bloodless opening battle of the bloodiest war in American History.
When the bells of war tolled in Eastern Tennessee, Southerners answered the call. Men of the counties of the region organized companies of about 100-120 men each, usually in the county's seat, in April of 1861. :These men then traveled to Knoxville where they were mustered into the Confederate Army in June 1861 as the 19th Tennessee infantry Regiment, composed of about 1,200 soldiers from Johnson County to Chattanooga. Company B of the 19th hailed from Washington County, Companies C and G from Sullivan County, Company E was know as the "Knoxville Grays", and Company K, also know as the "Hawkins Boys" was from Hawkins County.
The Regiment first saw service while garrisoned at Cumberland Gap with the purpose of guarding the mountain pass that connected Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to Kentucky where the soldiers complained that they had to tie themselves into their beds to keep from rolling off the steep mountain slope. Then the Regiment was moved north were they engaged the Yankees at Barbourville, Kentucky on September 12, 1861. Lt. Robert D. Powell of Hawkins Co was killed in that battle, making the 19th Tennessee the first Regiment to lose a man in battle outside of Virginia.
The 19th Tennessee was decimated in the Battle of Shiloh. So many men were wounded and killed that the Regiment was forced to reorganize. Many of the wounded men who were able to return to active service were reorganized into the 63rd Tennessee Infantry. Capt. Zeb Willet of Company B was killed at the Battle of Shiloh. His remains were returned to Jonesborough by his family for permanent burial. The grave can still be found, today at the cemetery in Jonesborough.
The 19th was to fight at Fishing Creek, Vicksburg, Baton Rouge, Stones River, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain, Chattanooga, the Atlanta campaign, Franklin, and Nashville. The 19th fought her last major engagement in March 1865 at Bentonville, North Carolina, the Army of Tennessee's last battle prior to its surrender at Greensboro. The Regiment served in every major battle and campaign of the Army of Tennessee except Perryville, having been heavily engaged at Vicksburg at the time.
Of the 1,200 men who began the war with the 19th Tennessee only 42 answered the final roll call in Sprig of 1865 on the 100 plus men of Washington county Company B, only 6 were present at the war's end.
The 19th Tennessee's Battle Flag was never surrendered to the Yankees in Greensboro, North Carolina in April 1865 and its location remains a mystery to this day.