The Sale Creek 65 And Their Civil War Fate

  • Monday, December 5, 2022
  • David Brown

The “Sale Creek Sixty-Five” was a group of 65 Union sympathizers in the Civil War who met in Sale Creek in November 1861 to pledge allegiance to the Union. They were mostly young farmers who came from North Hamilton County and surrounding areas with surnames including Hixson, Levi, Harvey, Gann, Lasley, Vandergriff, Brown, Crow, and Weese just to name a few.

Following the meeting at Sale Creek, they burned two bridges across North Chickamauga Creek and then walked under the cover of darkness over 13 nights to eventually join the 2nd Tennessee Infantry in Cumberland Ford, Kentucky. Over half the soldiers in the group perished in the war with most of them dying at the notorious Andersonville Prison. The regiment they joined, the 2nd Tennessee Infantry, had the 3rd highest mortality rate of any regiment in the Civil War. Two diaries, an honors theses, letters of the one of the soldiers, research by local historians, and a published book about the 2nd Tennessee Infantry, give new insight into the tragic history of this group and why they had such a high mortality rate.

The group, primarily composed of men from the North Hamilton County region, joined the 2nd Tennessee Infantry where they gained fame for burning bridges in East Tennessee and capturing the elusive Confederate General John H. Morgan. The Sale Creek group was among 400 Union soldiers captured at the disastrous battle of Rodgersville, Tennessee in Nov. 1863. One of the 400 captured soldiers, not from Sale Creek, kept a diary which was eventually published as a book. In the book, the East Tennessee loyalist are mentioned several times.

The Sale Creek group, along with the other soldiers, were taken first to Richmond, Virginia for a few months. In Feb. 1864 they were moved south to Andersonville prison in Southwest Georgia where, according to sources, they were singled out for mistreatment. The diary, claims that the East Tennessee prisoners were often singled out for being “traitors” to the Confederacy. At Andersonville they suffered one the highest mortality rates of any Union regiment with only a handful making their way back to the North Hamilton County region after the war’s end in 1865.


Included among the men who died at Andersonville were three Hixson bothers, Michael Weese and his son William, two Brown brothers, James Crow (my G3 Grandfather), James Levi, Alfred Vandergriff, Morgan Harvey, and many others, all of whom have marked graves at Andersonville Prison Historic Site. A 2014 article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press written by local historian Sam Elliot details some of their stories at Andersonville. Henry Hixson died on May 11, 1864, of dysentery, Samuel died of the same illness on Sept. 11, and James Hixson died at age 26 on Aug. 14 (NOTE: The spelling on the tombstones of the graves of James and Henry is Hickson).

James Levi of Harrison died at Andersonville on June 3, 1864, of smallpox, leaving behind a wife and two young children. Alfred Vandergriff, a farm laborer with a wife and two children, died at Andersonville on Aug. 1. Michael Weese of Soddy enlisted in the 2nd Tennessee with William, his 18-year-old son also from Soddy. Michael and William were both captured at Rogersville. Michael died first at Andersonville, of pneumonia on April 4, 1864. William died two weeks after his father, of smallpox on April 23.

James Crow, from Sale Creek, died on June 16th from diarrhea. His wife moved to Rhea County after the war to raise their three children alone on a small pension. Morgan Harvey of Flat Top Mountain died of scorbutus in July of 1864. Morgan’s brother Francis Marion, was one of the few soldiers who survived Andersonville (NOTE: a different Francis M. Harvey joined the 5th Tennessee Union Infantry at Harrison Tennessee in 1862)

By late summer of 1864, most of the Sale Creek group were dead from hunger or disease and buried in mass graves on the prison grounds. In total, over 13,000 prisoners died at Andersonville, most of them between April 1864 and February 1865. After the war the leader of the prison was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death. The East Tennessee soldiers who died at the prison were each given their own headstone which includes their name, prison number and regiment.

Thanks to recent efforts by historians, their graves can now be viewed at the Andersonville Prison page on Findagrave.com. Here is a link to the site where you can search for their name to find a picture of their tombstone and more information: https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/32522/andersonville-national-cemetery

The 2nd Tennessee Infantry in History and Literature

Andersonville Prisoner poet John W. Northrop memorialized the service and sacrifice of the East Tennesseans at Andersonville in several of his poems. Historian Eddie M. Nikazy’s book Forgotten Soldiers: History of the 2nd Tennessee Volunteer Infantry Regiment (USA) 1861-1865 includes a short biography of every soldier who joined at Sale Creek. Prisoner John McElroy would survive to write a novel, based on his diary, with the East Tennessee Unionists as the heroes. Here is a quote from John McElroy’s Novel about the East Tennesseans at Andersonville:

“At one of the stopping places I had been separated from my companions by entering a car in which were a number of East Tennesseans, captured in the operations around Knoxville, and whom the Rebels, in accordance with their usual custom, were treating with studied contumely. I had always had a very warm side for these simple rustics of the mountains and valleys. I knew much of their unwavering fidelity to the Union, of the firm steadfastness with which they endured persecution for their country’s sake, and made sacrifices even unto death; and, as in those days I estimated all men simply by their devotion to the great cause of National integrity, (a habit that still clings to me) I rated these men very highly. I had gone into their car to do my little to encourage them, and when I attempted to return to my own I was prevented by the guard.” McElroy went on to say that occasionally passers by would fling opprobrious epithets at “the East Tennessee traitors”.

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