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The Seals Family

Part 3

After the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860, the southern states began their slow but steady withdrawal from the Union. South Carolina was first on Dec. 20, 1860, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas and North Carolina over the next five months. No state that ultimately seceded was more divided than Tennessee. A February 1861 referendum on secession had failed by a margin of 54% to 46%. East and Middle Tennessee largely voted against secession. After the fall of Ft. Sumter and Lincoln's call for volunteers, however, many Middle Tennesseans changed their position and secession was approved on June 8, 1861, making Tennessee the eleventh and last state to secede.

Most East Tennesseans did not accept their state's decision to secede and remained loyal to the Union. Despite being under Confederate occupation in the early years of the war and subject to arrest, imprisonment and execution, many East Tennesseans engaged in a guerrilla war against those they considered to be traitors to the Union by burning bridges, cutting telegraph wires, and spying for the North. Although they were subject to a Confederate draft, the men of East Tennessee defied the authorities and overwhelmingly volunteered for the Union Army.

It wasn't easy for the men of East Tennessee to volunteer their services for the Union cause. In his personal "History of the First Regiment of Tennessee Cavalry" W. R. Carter described how "thousands left their homes, made their way safely across the cold and cheerless mountains" to reach the Union camps in Kentucky. "[M]ost of these long and dangerous marches were made by night, to better escape the watchful eye of the enemy. These midnight tramps were made in companies of fifty to one hundred, and even larger numbers were safely taken through the lines." Sometimes, the East Tennesseans had to fight pitched battles with Confederates just to get to a Union camp to volunteer.

We do not know what our Seals ancestors did during the early stages of the Civil War. Being staunch Unionists, we can assume they voted against secession, but we don't know if they participated in the guerilla war waged by many East Tennesseans. However, we do know that by early 1862, many of the Seals men, along with their relatives, friends and neighbors, were joining the long line of men who left the mountains to enlist in the Union Army. Here is the roll of Seals men who enlisted in 1862 and 1863:

In addition to these Seals men, others who joined the Union Army included men from related families - Mayes [Mays], Green[e], Lawson, Stubblefield and Mathis - and countless neighbors and friends.

In May 1862, after only a brief period of organization and training, the 4th Tennessee Infantry Regiment moved south with General George W. Morgan's division to the Kentucky-Tennessee border to face Confederate General Stevenson who was entrenched at Cumberland Gap. Using flanking maneuvers, Morgan forced Stevenson to abandon his entrenchments on June 18 at which time his division moved in and began the process of fortifying Cumberland Gap. This position was only a few miles from home for many in the 4th Tennessee. Unfortunately, on July 28, 1862, John C. Seal died from gangrene in a hospital at Cumberland Gap. It's not known how or when he was injured.

In early September 1862 Confederate General Braxton Bragg invaded Kentucky and threatened to cut off Morgan's supply line. As a consequence, the division was forced to retreat from the Cumberland Gap area. The decision to retreat was made on Sept. 14 and, according to W. R. Carter, "the troops received the order to abandon the position with considerable indignation and regret, many believing that the place could be held until relief could reach them." Carter described the retreat as "a sad and trying moment to the Tennessee troops.... The homes of these brave men ... were now to be abandoned and left to the mercy of a hostile foe." Faced with the decision to retreat north or stay in Tennessee, several in the 4th Tennessee, including Enoch and Orvil Seal, decided to go home. It probably took more courage to walk south from the Cumberland Gap area and risk imprisonment or execution rather than proceed north with their regiment. After a long and contested retreat through eastern Kentucky, the 4th Tennessee Infantry, and its three remaining Seals, was sent across the Ohio River to Camp Dennison, Ohio, where, on Nov. 1, 1862, they were mounted and equipped as the 1st Tennessee Cavalry Regiment. The men exchanged their muskets for breech-loading carbines, revolvers and light sabers, making each trooper, in the words of W. R. Carter, "a whole arsenal in himself." The difficult march through eastern Kentucky proved too much for the 41-year-old Noel Seal who left his regiment at Camp Dennison, spending time in the hospital before joining the Veteran Reserve Corps or Invalid Corps as it was also known. He continued to serve in this capacity until he was mustered out at Nashville on April 10, 1865.

Over the next two and a half years, the 1st Tennessee Cavalry served throughout Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama and participated in numerous engagements with the enemy. Sometimes, it seemed that in the blink of an eye, the 1st Tennessee Cavalry might pop up anywhere. In one two-month period in late 1863, it was estimated that the regiment traveled more than 750 miles. An exhaustive list of engagements would take too much space to list. Highlights of their actions included: their first saber charge in February 1863 near Triune, Tenn. where they beat back the 4th Alabama Cavalry; reinforced the garrison and engaged the enemy at Franklin, Tenn. in April when it was threatened by Van Dorn and Wheeler; June 1863, at Eaglesville and Manchester, Tenn.; July 1863 in Huntsville, Alabama, then back to Tennessee; September 1863, engaged the enemy at Rawlingsville, Al., Alpine, Ga., Lafayette, Ga., Crawfish Spring, Ga., and several places around Chattanooga, Tenn.; routed Wheeler at Anderson's Cross Roads outside Chattanooga on Oct. 2, 1863; on Dec. 29 beat back Longstreet's cavalry in the Battle of Mossy Creek in Tenn.; conducted another saber charge and extended fighting at the Battle of Dandridge in Tenn. on Jan. 17, 1864; later in January continued skirmishing in East Tennessee and fought Indians in western North Carolina; after a prolonged relatively quiet period, fought Wheeler's cavalry near Burnt Hickory, Ga. on May 26, 1864; June 3-6 met the enemy in several engagements around Acworth, Ga.; in late July and early August, conducted extensive actions west and south of Atlanta, behind enemy lines; July 31 to early August, had to fight their way back to Union lines against superior forces which had surrounded them southwest of Atlanta; lost so many men and horses in the operation that the 1st Tennessee was ordered to Nashville to be re-equipped; Sept. 1, 1864, at Lavergne, Tenn. fought Wheeler in heavy hand to hand fighting; 1st Tennessee made a dismounted charge up a "steep and rocky" hill to keep Wheeler from holding it, then held the hill themselves against several charges by the enemy; Thomas L. Seal was killed in action on Sept. 1; fought Wheeler and Forrest in several engagements in Tennessee during September; after Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood abandoned Atlanta on Sept. 2, he headed north while Sherman started his March to the Sea; 1st Tennessee skimished against Confederate cavalry before moving towards Franklin on Dec. 1 to cover General Schofield's retreat to Nashville; the 1st Tennessee played a major role in repulsing Hood at Nashville on Dec. 15 and 16 and participated in the pursuit of Hood's retreating army through Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi; in early February 1865, with the war in the West winding down, the 1st Tennessee Cavalry was relieved of duty at the front and ordered to Nashville to be mustered out of service.

The 1st Tennessee Cavalry Regiment was mustered out of service on June 14, 1865. W. R. Carter wrote years later:

Here ended the military service of this gallant body of men, whose dead lie scattered over seven different States, in which they rendered distinguished service. The First Tennessee during its three years' service marched over fourteen thousand miles, which, together with its large death-roll and its "staying qualities" in battle, made it a noted regiment in the Army of the Cumberland, where it performed the greater part of its service.

The 8th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment did not have as distinguished a record of service as the 1st Tennessee Cavalry. From the outset they were poorly trained and suffered high turnover in their leadership. The regiment took part in the capture of Cumberland Gap on Sept. 9, 1863. They continued various operations in East Tennessee until late 1864 when they participated in an expedition under Gen. Burbridge to Marion, Va. On March 21, 1865, elements of the regiment joined Gen. George Stoneman on his raid into Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The 8th Tennessee was engaged in the battle at Salisbury, N. C., on April 12, 1865 and was at Hendersonville, N. C. on April 23, when it received word of the truce and returned to Greeneville, Tenn. On April 27, 1865, the regiment was one of those ordered out on an expedition to intercept President Jefferson Davis after he fled Virginia on his way to being captured in Georgia. The 8th Tennessee Cavalry was mustered out of service at Knoxville on Sept. 11, 1865.

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