Private James Keelan: Thomas' Legion

Thomas' Legion
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Private James Keelan, Thomas' Legion, on November 8, 1861

East Tennessee Civil War History
East Tennessee Railroads during the Civil War.gif
East Tennessee Railroads during the Civil War

A correspondent of the Knoxville Register thus describes a visit he lately made to James Keelan, the man who so nobly defended the bridge at Strawberry Plains [East Tennessee] against an attack upon the property of Union men: "We went to the residence of Mr. Elmore, the Rail Road Agent, where he found the brave sufferer [James Keelan]. He was shot in three places-the back, thigh and elbow. His hand was severed at the wrist. Many gashes are found upon his person. From his coat I judge twenty attempts were made to cut his throat. When I saw him he was perfectly calm and sensible, bearing his pains with patience and fortitude. He will probably recover. He is a poor man, with a large family depending upon his labor for the subsistence of life. He fought sixteen men, probably killing their leader. whilst in the act of firing the bridge, and finally drove the enemy away without their accomplishing their fiendish purpose. He done all that [a] human could, unaided by any one in defence of his Government and the people. Indeed, it was not known by anyone of the citizens, until in a bleeding and exhausted condition he reached the house of Mr. Elmore, where he sank down from great weakness, exclaiming: 'They have killed me, but I saved the bridge.' He is a hero, and has physically done more for the welfare of his country than any man in the Confederacy. He deserves well of his countrymen, and let a grateful people do something for the relief of his family. Let such a testimonial be made as will show how a generous people appreciate men who know their duty and dare to do it."
Nashville [Tennessee] Daily Gazette, November 17, 1861.

Recommended Reading: East Tennessee and the Civil War (Hardcover: 588 pages). Description: A solid social, political, and military history, this work gives light to the rise of the pro-Union and pro-Confederacy factions. It explores the political developments and recounts in fine detail the military maneuvering and conflicts that occurred. Beginning with a history of the state's first settlers, the author lays a strong foundation for understanding the values and beliefs of East Tennesseans. He examines the rise of abolition and secession, and then advances into the Civil War. Continued below...

Early in the conflict, Union sympathizers burned a number of railroad bridges, resulting in occupation by Confederate troops and abuses upon the Unionists and their families. The author also documents in detail the ‘siege and relief’ of Knoxville. Although authored by a Unionist, the work is objective in nature and fair in its treatment of the South and the Confederate cause, and, complete with a comprehensive index, this work should be in every Civil War library.

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Recommended Reading: Bridge Burners: A True Adventure of East Tennessee Underground Civil War. Description: When the East Tennessee and Virginia Railway line was completed, dignitaries gathered in celebration as the final spike was hammered into the last tie in Greene County. Opening new doors of growth and economic development in the Region, the railroad would become a point of conflict only three years later. When the Civil War began, the line became a vital link in transporting Confederate troops and supplies into Virginia. Continued below...

The railroad was vulnerable since many hostile Unionists remained in the region. Confederate authorities were understandably worried about the rail lines and how to protect them. Inevitably the stage was set and on a cold Friday night, November 8, 1861, the Unionists proceeded with plans to burn the key railroad bridges of East Tennessee; President Abraham Lincoln had approved the plan. This thoroughly researched, easy-to-read narrative tells the incredible true story of the people and events in the ‘insurrection gone wrong’


Recommended Reading: Valor in Gray: The Recipients of the Confederate Medal of Honor. Description: Gregg Clemmer writes in detail about the events that occurred that caused these men to be remembered. He has spent countless hours researching the character of each recipient and their heroic-selfless actions. Whether a descendant of the North or the South, this book will make you feel the emotion that drove these men to risk their lives for their values and beliefs. Each chapter is devoted to a separate Confederate Medal of Honor recipient. Valor in Gray is destined to be one of the best books on Civil War history.


Recommended Reading: Courage in Blue and Gray: Tales of Valor from the Civil War. Description: This is a rich sampling of Civil War stories - tales of courage and valor - culled from letters, diaries, newspapers, periodicals, battle reports and pamphlets, which feature some well known and not so well known people who faced danger and uncertainty and showed great courage throughout this difficult time in our nation's history. Continued below…

Collected in this volume is the story of how Walt Whitman was drawn to the Civil War; the tale of George Armstrong Custer's life-long friendship with a far less famous Confederate general; the drama of America's greatest amphibious assault prior to World War II; the contrast between the post-war fate of Confederate Generals James Longstreet and Turner Ashby; the excitement of the Battle of Mobile Bay; the hardships faced by the new Confederate Post Office; the chronicle of a neurosurgeon's pioneering techniques that were later used in World War I; the adventure of a Prussian nobleman who fought with JEB Stuart; and the mystery of how a copy of the Bill of Rights stolen during Sherman's march to the sea was finally recovered by the FBI nearly one hundred and forty years after the Civil War. Here, in vivid detail and with a dramatic flair, are the voices of soldiers and sailors, friends and enemies, doctors, correspondents, generals and politicians, all told in a way that only history from the heart can tell. These tales convey the vitality, the humor, the courage and the valor of a people and their volatile era. These colorful stories offer a glimpse into the personalities, attitudes and events that at once enhance our understanding of the Civil War, a conflict that claimed more than 620,000 lives. About the Author: Ken Kryvoruka is a Washington, D.C. lawyer and a professor at the George Washington University Law School. Although born in New Jersey and a graduate of Rutgers College, he has spent most of his life in Northern Virginia, the major theater of the Civil War. Courage in Blue and Gray is his first collection of essays about the War. He lives in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife, two sons and their cairn terrier, Rudy.


Recommended Reading: Civil War Railroads: A Pictorial Story of the War Between the States, 1861-1865 (Hardcover: 192 pages) (Publisher: Indiana University Press). Description: With more than 220 black and white photographs from the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and private collections across the country, this is the essential pictorial guide for all those interested in the role of the Iron Horse in the American Civil War. Like all wars, the Civil War was not all gunfire and panic. It was supply and transport, trains and trouble on the line, men in Blue and Gray fighting against almost unbelievable odds with lumbering, woodburning engines. Continued below...

About the Author: George B. Abdill, Civil War Railroads: A Pictorial Story of the War Between the States, 1861-1865, before his death, was a railroader's writer--A working hoghead on the Southern Pacific's Portland Division and historian of the great days of steam. His special gift was as a collector of truly remarkable photographs illustrating the pioneering days of the railroads. And he had a special place in his heart for military railroaders since he, himself, served with the 744th Railway Operation Battalion during World War II, running his engine in France, Belgium, and Germany. He had first-hand knowledge of railroading under fire.

Recommended Reading: War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869. Description: One of the most divided regions of the Confederacy, East Tennessee was the site of fierce Unionist resistance to secession, Confederate rule, and the Southern war effort. It was also the scene of unrelenting 'irregular,' or guerrilla, warfare between Union and Confederate supporters, a conflict that permanently altered the region's political, economic, and social landscape. In this study, Noel Fisher examines the military and political struggle for control of East Tennessee from the secession crisis through the early years of Reconstruction, focusing particularly on the military and political significance of the region's irregular activity. Continued below...

Fisher portrays in grim detail the brutality and ruthlessness employed not only by partisan bands but also by Confederate and Union troops under constant threat of guerrilla attack and government officials frustrated by unstinting dissent. He demonstrates that, generally, guerrillas were neither the romantic, daring figures of Civil War legend nor mere thieves and murderers, but rather were ordinary men and women who fought to live under a government of their choice and to drive out those who did not share their views.

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