17-ca. 30, Confederate Conscript Sweeps in Middle Tennessee
Confederate conscript gathering, also known as recruiting, missions have not traditionally been thought of as military actions. This may be because they did not involve combat, or because it was assumed young Tennesseans were delighted and anxious to join the Confederate army. Yet the following documents indicate that "conscript sweeps," or "conscript rakes" were necessary because young men did not want to join the army.
As head of the Bureau of Volunteers and Conscripts, Brigadier-General Gideon J. Pillow, a remarkably wealthy Tennessee planter, as well as a bombastic and incompetent officer, wrote to General Braxton Bragg from his headquarters in Fayetteville on January 17, 1863. Portions of his letter reveal the methods and intrigue involved in the effort to obtain fresh soldiers for the Army of Tennessee after the Battle of Stones River:
I reached here this afternoon and immediately entered upon the duty preparatory to the organization.
I expected to get everything ready for a forward movement by Wednesday morning. My purpose was first to rake Bedford County, in which there are 1,500 men liable to duty under the conscript law. I was anxious to clean out that county by one movement, and doing it at once to avoid giving alarm.
A partial movement over one portion of the county will give the alarm, and cause the conscripts to scatter and hide out.
* * * * *
I will rapidly sweep Middle Tennessee to the enemy's lines if the cavalry is furnished....
I shall, with such force as can be armed and fitted for the field, leave on Wednesday morning for the movement on Bedford.
There is no paper or books of any sort to be had in this place.
GID. J. PILLOW, Brig.-Gen., C. S. Army, Chief of Bureau of Volunteers and Conscripts.
OR, Ser. IV, Vol. 2, p. 362.
HDQRS. VOLUNTEER AND CONSCRIPT BUREAU, Fayetteville, January 18, 1863.
To the PEOPLE OF TENNESSEE AND THE CONFEDERATE STATES:
Having been directed by General Bragg to organize a volunteer and conscript bureau for the purpose of recruiting and strengthening his army and making it self-sustaining, I appeal to you to come promptly to its support.
Upon that army depends the safety of your homes and all that you hold dear. We are no longer in doubt as to the character of the Lincoln despotism. The ruin and desolation which is everywhere felt in the track of its Armies attest its vandalism
The late proclamation of the tyrant and usurper, proposing to free all our slaves [emphasis added] and taking them into his Army, and inciting the slaves to insurrection and massacre of their owners and their families, places him and his Government without the pale of civilization. Men who will not resist such a despotism do not deserve to be freemen. I will receive all who come to me as volunteers and allow them to select the company and regiment which they will join; and they will be entitled to the bounty and all the privileges of volunteers. Those who will not join as volunteers will have to come as conscripts.
OR, Ser. IV. Vol. 2, p. 362.
Shelbyville, Headquarters V&C Bureau, January 25, 1863.
To-day I have worked through six brigades; will continue the work to-morrow. Colonel Biffles's regiment has moved north in the field work, and will to-morrow rake this country from near the enemy's lines south. I have made provisions with General Wharton to cover the movement and protect the command. General Forrest is present and informs me that Dibbrell's regiment is on the way through Marshall County to Fayetteville. I have sent a courier for him and will order him directly to the starting-ground to sweep the four corners of the counties referred to in my dispatch yesterday. I will then sweep over Williamson and Maury. I applied to General Cheatham for an officer to carry forward my instructions to Tullahoma and place the details from that corps under working orders, but he declines allowing me even for that temporary service any officer that I think equal to the work. I cannot put that duty on one in whom I have not full confidence. I see no alternative but to come forward myself, but it would have greatly advance my work if he would have allowed me the use of a satisfactory officer. If I had the corps of Lieutenant-General Hardee under working orders I could see my work going on satisfactorily. The general may rely on my doing all that it is possible to accomplish.
* * * *
Gideon J. Pillow, Brigadier-General
OR, Ser. 4, Vol. 2, p. 371.
HDQRS. VOLUNTEER AND CONSCRIPT BUREAU, Shelbyville, January 26, 1863.
Col. CAMPBELL, Principal Assistant for Middle Tennessee:
Col. Avery has instructions to sweep the county of Lincoln, arresting stragglers, absentees, deserters, and all men liable to the operations of the conscript law and bring them in to you. Having performed that duty, you will hold him in hand and use his command as actively as possible in gathering up stragglers and conscripts in the counties of Franklin, Lincoln, Giles, Lawrence, and in that portion of North Alabama laying along the Tennessee line within the counties above indicated. I will put a working force in the other counties myself. I inclose you a copy of General Orders, No.___. You will furnish copies of it to your surgeons. You will find also a copy of the instructions under which this working force is placed in the field on this duty. You will give like instructions to Col. Avery on the duty to which you may assign him. For the present leave that command under your orders for the service in the counties indicated above. You will exercise your own judgment as to the best plan of operations, but accomplish the work in the shortest possible time consistent with its proper execution. In very bad weather it will be proper to suspend the work and avoid exposing Avery's command too much. The roads will soon become so very bad that small commands, barely enough to perform the duty assigned, should be sent out.
I have applied to Gen. Bragg to provide you a surgeon. I shall proceed to Columbia to-morrow to organize subdepartments below and direct the operations of two other regiments of cavalry I have in hand. From there I will proceed to Huntsville.
GID. J. PILLOW, Brig.-Gen., C. S. Army, Chief of Bureau.
OR, Ser. IV, Vol. 2, p. 374.
17, Affair near Dandridge
No circumstantial reports filed.
RUSSELLVILLE, January 18, 1864.
Gen. S. COOPER, Adjutant and Inspector Gen.:
A part of Martin's cavalry is a part of the sharpshooters of Hood's division. Brig.-Gen. Jenkins' command had a successful affair near Dandridge yesterday. We were getting into position, but the enemy returned during the night. It is supposed that he was attempting to turn our left.
J. LONGSTREET, Lieut.-Gen., Cmdg.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 52, pt. II, p. 603.
FIGHT NEAR DANDRIDGE, TENN.
Camp near Strawberry Plains
East Tennessee, January 19
Wood's division of Granger's corps drove the rebel cavalry out of Dandridge January fifteenth; Sheridan's division came up the sixteenth. There was sharp skirmishing on the evening of the sixteenth, but the enemy was driven back. There was a tough fight Sunday [17th], lasting from three o'clock P.M. till dark. La Grange's brigade of cavalry, One Hundred and Twenty-fifth, Ninety third, and First Ohio infantry – One hundred and twenty-fifth commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Moore, Ninety-third and First by the major of the Ninety-third-were the forces chiefly engaged on our part. The infantry regiments were on picket; and the forces in the order form left to right as named above.
In addition to this a section of a battery was posted on a hill in [the] rear of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth. The rebels came on in strong force, five to one. The cavalry videttes were soon driven in; then the infantry outposts, supported by the outpost reserves, were hotly engaged; and finally, and indeed very soon, the grand reserves went in, and the fight became general and severer. Our troops fought desperately, especially the infantry. The outposts, as skirmishers, excelled praise. Captain Bates, of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Ohio, commanding skirmishers on the right of that regiment, made a charge, and, gallantly supported by the Ninety-third and the first on his right, drove the rebs nearly a quarter of a mile back, clear to their main body. Infantry skirmishers on the left also fought most stubbornly; but the cavalry being driven back, they were flanked and forced to the grant reserve. In the open ground, looking up the road to Bull's Gap, was a semi-circular depression, a sort of natural rifle pit, in which the one Hundred and Twenty-fifth, grand reserve, had been posted. This proved to be the key to the whole position. The men fired by volley, and were exposed as they rose up to deliver their fire. The ground not only sheltered them, but concealed their strength from the enemy, who tried by artillery, infantry, and sharp-shooters posted in tree-tops to dislodge them. And, though flanked on the right and left they-"Tigers" General Wood named them at Mission Ridge, and they deserve the name-held their ground till dark, and then retired across a ravine, and took up a new position, from which they poured in a volley, which ended the progress of the rebels for that day. There they remained, until Colonel Garrard, with his splendid regiment, dismounted, advanced and occupied the ground. The regiment was the, by order of Colonel Garrard, posted on the crest of the hill next in [the] rear, where it was relieved near midnight by the Fifteenth Wisconsin.
The stubborn fighting of the infantry alone saved the town from capture, and, perhaps, the entire command from defeat, for preparations for retreat had been going on all day, and the troops engaged were not reinforced for fear of bringing on a general engagement, for which we were not ready. The retreat was made over two routes, our forces falling back across the Holston to Strawberry Plains.
Newmarket was occupied by the rebels yesterday [18th] The forces here are ready for any emergency, and expect an attack from Longstreet, who has been heavily reinforced. Still, if the enemy is as strong as reported, you need not be surprised to hear of us next at Knoxville.
Rebellion Record, Vol. 8, pp. 338-339.
17, Report on skirmishes with Confederates during the December 10-29, 1864 Expedition from East Tennessee into Southwestern Virginia
No circumstantial reports filed.
KNOXVILLE, January 17, 1865.
Lieut. Col. G. M. BASCOM:
Col. Kirk, Third North Carolina Mounted Infantry, has come in. Capt. [sic] Kirk wounded, two men killed, three men wounded. He had several skirmishes, in which he was infirmly successful, killing over 100 of Palmer's men and the guerrillas, and wounding a large number; he captured 32 prisoners and 56 horses. He did not penetrate into North Carolina beyond Warm Springs.
DAVIS TILLSON, Brig.-Gen.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 45, pt. II, pp. 609-610.
 It appears here that Pillow "played the race card," appealing to ethnic prejudice and racial fears. When taken with the January 17 letter above it must seem clear that he did not expect to find many volunteers willing to protect "all our slaves." There seems to be no other reason why he would declare it necessary to "rake Bedford County....to clean out that county by one movement, and doing it at once to avoid giving alarm. A partial movement over one portion of the county will give the alarm, and cause the conscripts to scatter and hide out." Had the Confederate cause been a popular one in these areas it would not have been necessary to conduct such conscript sweeps. By referring to "all our slaves" he was addressing only 25% of the white population at best.
 In this excerpt from another letter from the Headquarters of the Bureau of Volunteers and Conscripts in Shelbyville, Pillow wrote to General Bragg on January 25, 1863. Excerpts from that letter provide insight into scope and the methods used to gather conscripts for the Army of Tennessee. It is also demonstrates that efforts to gather conscripts can clearly be defined as a military action.
 Not found as an inclosure and not otherwise identified.
 There is no way to determine exactly where and when these skirmishes took place.
James B. Jones, Jr.
Tennessee Historical Commission
2941 Lebanon Road
Nashville, TN 37214