H. A. Crawford wrote the following in one of his newspaper articles, “The rough, unpretentious old house at Gum Spring has long since ceased to occupy the small space on which it stood. It answered a good purpose in its day. It was used in wartimes by Col. Cline, of German extraction, and his men as a camp. It is said the command was engaged in guarding choppers who were denuding the adjacent hills of a very fine pine forest for the government, without leave or license, and in the time cutting the meadows and otherwise despoiling the farms in the surrounding country.” (Notice that Crawford spelled Kline’s name with a C instead of a K, as it was spelled in official records.) From the book, War of the Rebellion, one of the entries from Brigadier-General, James G. Spears, Commanding Officer, to Major General J. J. Reynolds, Chief of Staff, Department of the Cumberland, states the following, “at Gum Springs, the Third Battalion, Third Indiana Cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel R. Klein.” Nothing else is mentioned in relation to the camp at Gum Spring. Also, in the History of the Third Indiana Cavalry, by W. N. Pickerill, there is nothing written about the camp at Gum Spring. However, an entry dated September 24, 1863, shows Lieutenant-Colonel Klein at Pikeville, Tennessee, with his detachment of the Third Indiana Cavalry. No mention is made of Gum Spring or why Klein and his men were there.
Gum Spring seemed to be a place dear to the heart of W. G. Allen, since he wrote that he professed religion at Gum Spring in August of 1850. Allen stated that the place was located in the seventh district of Rhea County, and that he joined the Southern Methodist Church. Also, Allen noted that he had served as steward of the church, and had been a trustee of church property for sixty years. He further wrote that he was “prouder” of his church record than any other thing he had ever done.
Another item of interest from W. G. Allen is information relating to the War Between the States. He wrote many articles about the Fifth Tennessee Regiment and its action during this time in our country’s history. In one of these articles, he mentions that it was near the Gum Spring School where Gid Smith, Brimmer Blevins, C. W. Henry, J. F. Duncan, Snelson Henry and others, captured thirty-three Yankee prisoners in October of 1863.
Tennessee was a border state during the War Between the States, and, according to historical writings, saw more major battles than any other state, except Virginia. Also, Tennessee was divided during the war; Middle and West Tennessee were pro-Confederate, with East Tennessee being mostly Union. Everywhere in the state families were divided, with many in East Tennessee joining guerrilla and bushwhacker groups of fighting men. Most of these unorganized troops stole supplies and killed just for the sake of war; many of these groups came from the regions on the Cumberland Plateau. Since these guerrilla and bushwhacker bands terrorized those who disagreed with their politics, Home Guards sprang up in many of the smaller communities to defend their homes and property. These Home Guards were groups of men in these small communities who united to form a local force for defending life and property. Also, Tennessee was the last of the southern states to secede from the Union; therefore, it was just begging for disagreement.
Since the state of Tennessee was divided, families within the state were also divided, with many family members never seeing each other again. In an article written by W. G. Allen, and dated April 28, 1922, Allen gives information about the Hale, Spence, and Knight families of Rhea County. Allen writes that James Spence, oldest son of George M. D. Spence, married Mahala Hale; Stephen Spence, Jr. was killed fighting for the South; Frank Spence was killed at Chickamauga; Mary Ann Spence married Richard Knight; Stephen Spence’s son, John, who married Tennessee Knight, went to Missouri and was murdered for his money; Thomas Knight lived in the Seventh District and was a Baptist preacher and a “notorious Union man”; Thomas’s son, T. J. Knight, was in the Federal Army, and his son-in-law, James Prater, was a “notorious Yankee soldier” . As one can tell, W. G. Allen did not think much of anyone who fought on the Union side during the war!
According to information from the late Virginia Knight Nelson, James Prater, son of Thomas and Charlotte Prater, was born April 6, 1838, in Bledsoe County. On October 7, 1860, James married Tennessee “Tennie” Virena Knight, born November 11, 1841. She was the daughter of Thomas and Philadelphia Ryan Knight. James and his brother, Thomas, enlisted in the Union Army on April 11, 1862, at Cleveland, Tennessee. At that time, East Tennessee was controlled by Confederates, and the brothers had to go secretly out of East Tennessee into Kentucky to join the Federal army. They were mustered into service at Camp Pine Knot, Kentucky, on May 21, 1862, and became members of Company G, Fifth Tennessee Infantry Regiment. Next, on May 14, 1864, in battle at Resaca, Georgia, Thomas Prater was killed, and James was severely wounded. James received a bullet fracture of the left side of his face and lost the sight of one eye. After a lengthy recuperation, he returned to duty, and served until the end of the war. He was mustered out at Nashville on May 15, 1865.
After the war, James Prater was a farmer in what came to be known as the New Union community of Rhea County. He acquired considerable land along Mud Creek, and built a frame house which stood for almost one hundred years. James and “Tennie” Prater were members of Salem Baptist Church, but became members of New Union Baptist Church when it was established in 1890. Then, in 1891, James and “Tennie,” along with H. A. and Ann Crawford, donated land for the church building. Also, James and “Tennie” gave the church a right of way to, and the use of, water from the Prater well. James served as a trustee of New Union Church. James died on June 26, 1927, and “Tennie” on June 5, 1925; both are buried in Spence Cemetery. They had a family of eight children.
Another line of Virginia Knight Nelson’s family was Thomas J. and Ruhamah Fisher Knight. Thomas J. Knight was born on November 8, 1845, and was the son of Thomas and Philadelphia Ryan Knight. Thomas was recruited and sworn into the Union Army on December 23, 1862, soon after his seventeenth birthday. On his way to Kentucky to join the Federal forces, he was taken prisoner and put in jail. He later escaped and, on May 17, 1863, arrived at Somerset, Kentucky, where he was mustered into service in Company D, Second Regiment, East Tennessee Infantry, Federal. He served until the end of the war and, and was mustered out at Nashville on May 27, 1865.
After the war, Thomas was a merchant, and later, became a farmer in the Seventh District of Rhea County. He also served for some time as a county deputy sheriff. Thomas married Ruhamah Fisher on April 5, 1872 in Rhea County. She was born November 15, 1852, the daughter of Henry and Sarah Purser Fisher. Thomas J. and Ruhamah had seven children. Ruhamah died on May 1, 1903, and Thomas died November 18, 1928; both are buried in Spence Cemetery. However, the burial of Thomas had to be postponed because the lowlands near Spence Cemetery were flooded, and the water had to recede before interment could take place.
Another bit of information relating to the Knight family: there was also division within the family as to which side to fight for. Richard C. Knight, born 1837, in Sevier County, became an officer in the Confederate Army, serving in Company E, 26th Tennessee Infantry Regiment. However, Thomas Knight, born in 1816, in North Carolina, was loyal to the Union. When the Confederates took control of the government in East Tennessee, Thomas and his son, Thomas J. fled to Kentucky for safety. In the 1870’s, Philadelphia Ryan Knight, wife of Thomas was compensated by the U. S. Government for provisions furnished the Union soldiers when they were encamped near the Knight home in the winter of 1863-’64. One of the seven children born to Thomas and Philadelphia Knight was Tennessee “Tennie” Virena Knight, who married James Prater. James Prater was the person W. G. Allen called a “notorious Yankee soldier”! Also, from the War Between the States damages claim of Philadelphia Knight, widow of Thomas Knight, we find the deposition of their son, Richard C. Knight (1847-1925). This deposition states that a portion of the hogs and the cow were taken by an army encamped near on an adjoining farm to the claimant’s (one who makes a claim), and there remained about one month in all. Knight states, “I did not know any of the Quartermasters, but knew Lieut. Col. Robert Cline for whose use the property was supposed to have been taken.” (This is another reference to Lieutenant- Colonel Robert Kline.)
It is hard to imagine that a tiny place called Gum Spring could hold so much history and touch so many lives! Of course, there have been many changes through the years, but the footprints of its people are still there. Even though many of the same family names may be confusing, Gum Spring remembers each one who lived in the area. Yes and even W. G. Allen’s “notorious Yankees” contributed much to the history and the ancestry of a place that was once known as Gum Spring!
This specific part of our Rhea County history also reminds us to study the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.