One hundred and fifty years ago today, a small incident occurred in the mountains of southeast Tennessee that became known as the Madden Creek Massacre. The incident served as an example of Sherman’s maxim that “War is Hell” and typified the ugly and almost forgotten war-within-a-war that sprang up in the mountainous regions of the South.
On November 29th, 1864 a small group of seven Georgians, ranging in age from 16 to 22, made their way from their homes in Fannin County across the border into Polk County, Tennessee, on their way to join the 5th Tennessee U.S. Cavalry, then recruiting in Cleveland, Tennessee. Some of the men had previously been conscripted into the Confederate Army before deserting while the others, now moved by their Unionist sympathies, saw their opportunity to fight for their beliefs.
Their mission came to a tragic halt near Madden Creek where they were confronted and captured by John Gatewood and fifty of his men. Gatewood was a notorious guerilla who, although claiming to serve the Confederacy, tended to only serve himself. Gatewood and his band were on a raid from their normal area of operations in northwest Georgia and had raided the town of Benton and murdered several civilians already when they came across the Unionists. Gatewood had the men lined up along the banks of the Ocoee River and proceeded to execute each man, shooting them in the head.
Seeing what was happening, two men manage to escape, though not unscathed. The leader of the group, Peter Parris, was shot six times in his legs, shoulder, and hand as he ran up the side of nearby ridge while Wyatt Parton jumped into the river. Though shot several times, he made his escape, making it all the way to Chattanooga, where he receive medical attention. He did eventually enlist in the 5th Tennesseee, although due to his injuries, he served only one week before being discharged.
The other young men lay dead alongside the road. They were later buried nearby, and then exhumed and buried in the Chattanooga National Cemetery after being posthumously enlisted into the 5th Tennessee.
The events of the Madden Creek Massacre illustrate the brutality of the war in the mountains and, although often eclipsed by great battles, serve to illustrate how bitter the war had become by 1864.