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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Murder At Nickajack Gap?

Map Courtesy of Fold3
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On April 21, 1864, Lieutenant Horace C. Scovill, of Ogle County, Illinois, took command of a small force of pickets belonging to the 92nd Illinois Mounted Infantry.  Newly arrived at Ringgold, Georgia, the 92nd was armed with Spencer repeaters, having fought at Chickamauga in Wilder’s Brigade.  Scovill, of K Company, had just been approved for promotion to captain.  Thirty years old and single, he would one day hold political office in Rockford, Illinois, including mayor and town clerk.  Yet all his subsequent experiences, to the day he died, would be shaped by a few tragic and horrifying hours in the hills of northern Georgia at a place called Nickajack Gap.

      Just over the Tennessee state line from Chattanooga, Taylor’s Ridge runs north-south in Catoosa County, Georgia.  About five miles southeast of Ringgold is Tunnel Hill, where Confederate General Joseph Wheeler’s Cavalry Corps was headquartered.  Eight miles south and slightly to the west, lies Nickajack Gap, scene of much hard fighting in the spring of 1864.  Connecting Ringgold, Tunnel Hill and Dalton, the Western & Atlantic Railroad was the key to Atlanta, 151 miles into the heart of Georgia.  Sherman’s army group would have to dislodge the Army of Tennessee from its fortified positions at Dalton and then supply itself by the railroad, or any attempt to capture Atlanta would fail.  One mission of the cavalry of both sides was to watch the strategic mountain passes, known locally as gaps, giving their army commanders vital intelligence on enemy movements.  Lieutenant Scovill had the unenviable task of picketing Nickajack Gap, highly vulnerable due to its relative distance from Ringgold and close proximity to Tunnel Hill.

      Scovill’s force numbered sixty-three men, which he posted in squad-sized units, their horses available if needed.  Fewer than half a dozen were mounted as videttes, patrolling between the picket posts, whose strength varied from seven to twelve men.  The largest group was the eighteen-man reserve squad, which bedded down at Lyle’s farm in the low ground west of the ridge.  Scovill would remain with the reserve so that he could dispatch support to any section of the line that might come under Confederate attack.  These deadly attacks were initiated by both sides, one having taken place on the 20th at Spring Place, a few miles east of Dalton.  Union forces had surprised Confederate pickets there, capturing roughly thirty Tennesseans, as well as killing their lieutenant.

      Such fights had been going on since February, barely meriting a few lines in newspaper columns and official reports.  Rarely ever involving more than a company or two on either side, nonetheless, this type of fighting brought in valuable horses, equipment, and most of all, prisoners.  Captured men would be hustled off to headquarters, where they would be interrogated for military intelligence before being sent off to prison camps.  Many would die in the camps from starvation, disease and exposure, or simply be shot by trigger-happy guards.

      Quite new to this sort of fighting, the 92nd Illinois had only acquired mounts in the summer of 1863, allowing them to transfer to Wilder’s “Lightning Brigade,” eventually arming themselves with Spencers.  Yet when they arrived at Ringgold, they were told by General Washington Elliott, commander of the Union Cavalry Corps, that they would not receive fresh mounts.  In fact, Elliott wanted to dismount and rearm them with Burnside carbines and pistols.  Resistance from the officers of the regiment had prevented any of that from happening, still, the official word on the 92nd was that they were thoroughly demoralized.  Running courier lines in Alabama, as well as a  miserable, rain-soaked, mud-slogging trek over the mountains to Ringgold, had taken their toll.

     The Illinois troopers also found the command structure of the cavalry in constant flux, with regimental commanders sometimes heading up brigades or even divisions.  Colonel Eli H. Murray of the 3rd Kentucky wore all three hats until the arrival of General Judson Kilpatrick from the Army of the Potomac.  Kilpatrick relieved Murray of command of the 3rd Division on April the 17th.  Murray would eventually command the new brigade to which the 92nd had been assigned, relieving Col. Robert Minty, who had been in temporary command for less than two weeks. 

      At first, Kilpatrick seemed inclined to go ahead with the plan to replace the Spencer rifles that the Illinois troopers had become so attached to.  However, he agreed to give them a chance to prove themselves and their repeaters before making any final decision.  Meanwhile, the order for the 92nd to picket Nickajack Gap came down.  Knowing how dangerous the assignment was, Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin F. Sheets protested it in writing.  When the order stood, Sheets turned in his resignation, effective April 23rd, the day all hell broke loose.

      Scovill, a transplanted New Yorker and former school teacher, would not have known all the men he led out on the 21st.   Since they were drawn from every company of the regiment, effective command over them would be dubious in such an exposed position.  A vivid eyewitness account shows just how tenuous Scovill’s command and control was.  Without that account, piecing together what happened would be next to impossible.     
      In his diary, Corporal John M. King recalled; “The cavalry guarded every little cow path over the mountains for miles up and down the ridge, and trouble along the picket line was almost a daily occurrence.  The rebels being well acquainted with every cow path, peak, and hiding place, they had the advantage.  It was nothing unusual for a rebel with a field glass to mount some high peak and examine our position thoroughly.  Picketing became more and more dangerous every day.”1  King described Nickajack Trace thus: “This little steep, rugged path…wound its way in a zig-zag course around huge rocks, knolls, and broken cedars, until it reached an altitude a half a mile up.  This path was so steep that a horse could not climb it…” 2   

      On the night of Friday the 22nd, fifty hand-picked men of the Confederate 1st Kentucky Cavalry Battalion, led by Lieutenant Joseph Vincent of B Company, crept over Taylor’s Ridge.  Where the Old Alabama Road converged with Nickajack Trace, a rail fence provided something essential to Vincent’s plan.  After dismounting his troopers, Vincent had them pile the rails chest high into a horseshoe-shaped breastwork to cover and conceal his men.  This construction had the added benefit of being virtually escape-proof.

       A native of Oldham County, Kentucky, the twenty-seven year-old Vincent stood an imposing six-foot-three.  Two of his brothers also served in B Company before their capture in different engagements.  Vincent’s part in the upcoming fight was described in some detail in a letter to a Memphis newspaper, at the time published in Atlanta.  Writing from the camp of the 1st Kentucky, the author of the letter signed it “Gentillus.” 3  Other than naming the commander of the raid, Gentillus said almost nothing of the other Confederates forming up for the attack.

      Meanwhile, Scovill’s troopers had settled in.  The night air being chilly in the mountains, where snows had fallen as recently as early April, the men wore their overcoats.  Those not actually up and manning a post huddled around campfires, sleeping uneasily, their horses tethered lower down the ridge.  One of the videttes, Private Edwin Elliott, would be the first to sound the alarm, just before 4am.  What he saw as he straddled his horse were the silhouettes of a large body of mounted men ascending the eastern slopes of the ridge.  He could hear the snapping of twigs as they advanced, as well as the orders quietly spoken by their officers.  In overwhelming force, having achieved almost complete surprise, the Rebels were coming!

      As can be seen from correspondence in the Official Records, this was no random attack. Rather, it was Wheeler’s answer to a stinging dispatch regarding the Union raid at Spring Place.  Gen. William W. Mackall, Johnston’s chief of staff, had written Wheeler a terse note, strongly implying that he and General Johnston had only learned of this incident from citizens, rather than from Wheeler, who ought to have known about it and reported it.  Johnston had already sent Wheeler a note earlier on the morning of the 22nd, asking him to find out if the enemy was fortifying near Ringgold.  To comply, Wheeler either needed to send scouts into enemy lines or capture some prisoners to interrogate.  Wasting no time, Wheeler turned to Colonel Reuben R. Ross, a colorful Tennessean and West Pointer, class of 1853.   Married and the father of three children, Ross had won honors for his skillful direction of one of the heavy artillery batteries that turned back the naval flotilla attacking Fort Donelson in February 1862.  Two years later, Ross was officially the inspector general of Davidson’s Brigade, Humes’s Division.  He was also its intelligence officer, having run “scouts” in Middle Tennessee all through 1863, signing their lodging vouchers in the name of the Confederate Secret Service. 4

      Ross chose the men who would make the assault on Taylor’s Ridge from two regiments of Tennesseans.   General Davidson’s escort, Company K, 1st Tennessee Cavalry (Carter’s), was, by a twist of fate, commanded by a Texan and former medical student named Captain Richard M. Swearingen.5   No other companies of Carter's regiment were stationed at Tunnel Hill (the rest being in East Tennessee), making Swearingen's men its only participants.  Ross also selected men from Lieutenant Colonel Paul Anderson’s 4th Tennessee (also known as the 8th),  probably because they had been picketing the Confederate side of the gap for several weeks.  They knew the terrain better than anyone else, and they had lost men at Spring Place.   Finally, Company B, 1st Kentucky Battalion (formerly a regiment now downsized due to losses) would be the anvil against which the Tennesseans would hammer away at Scovill's pickets.  A number of lieutenants and captains would have been involved in the coming fight, most of them unnamed, while Lt. Vincent played the most conspicuous part.

Confederate Veteran Magazine
      Vincent’s Kentuckians had recently returned from resting and refitting in Alabama.  However, in November 1863, as a part of Butler’s 1st Kentucky, he and his men had picketed Nickajack Trace.  That assignment would have given them complete familiarity with the terrain.  Neither well-educated nor politically connected, Vincent had worked as a surveyor before the war, another possible reason why he was chosen to carry out the most hazardous part of the mission.  Bearing the scars of three separate wounds, he was a natural leader and a fearless combatant.  Once the shooting started, he would play a major role in the brief but bloody fight.  For now, though, his mission was to lie in wait.

      The assault force ascending Taylor’s Ridge was divided into three battalions.  One attacked from the north down the ridge, another from the east, out of Houston Valley, while a third came up from the south.  Their plan of attack was to converge at the crest of the ridge, forcing the retreating Federals into Vincent’s ambush.  Union reports estimated their numbers at perhaps as much as a hundred men per battalion.  Colonel Ross was in command, most likely riding with Swearingen’s Company, rather than with the battalion
now bearing down on Private Elliott.

      Once he spotted the Confederates, Elliott hurriedly woke the men around their campfire near the crest, missing John M. King in the confusion.  Elliott then decided it was his duty to ride back to his post and stand his ground.  Meanwhile, the sleepy-eyed troopers began to pull themselves together to meet the assault.  Elliott’s stand may have bought them a few seconds, but his misplaced sense of duty sealed his fate.  He was probably the first man captured in the raid.  

      Hearing the ruckus, King roused himself, only to hear something that made his hair stand on end.  A doleful voice cried out in desperation, “For God’s sake!  Don’t shoot me again! You have shot one of your own men!” 6 Next, a lone figure approached within yards of his position.  King could not be sure if the man was friend or foe, so he covered him with his Spencer.  As King continued to watch him,  unable to decide what to do, the dark form propped his weapon against a boulder.  Once the lone man again took up his weapon, he pointed it straight at the wary corporal King.  The intruder gave the game away when he turned to look over his shoulder.  King heard him say, “Lieutenant, these are Yanks down here.” 7  King fired one round.  He did not think it was possible to have missed, and he may well have killed the only Confederate reported to have died that day. 

      King had no time to investigate.  Since his little squad had no chance against the onrushing Confederates, he quickly gave the order to fall back.  (His sergeant was too busy firing his Spencer to make that call.)  Eventually, King lost his rifle, overcoat, and horse in his mad scramble down the ridge in the dark, falling over a steep crag at one point.  Skulking through the cedars, he somehow managed to keep his wits about him, while everywhere men were running, some falling off their horses, others having their horses fall.  It was their fate to be shot or taken prisoner, while few men anywhere on the ridge were making a stand. 

      Lieutenant Scovill was kept busy doling out the reserves, first to one point of attack, then to another, until he determined to personally lead the last group in a desperate attempt to break out.  Meeting up with King’s retreating squad, the lieutenant headed them in the direction of the Old Alabama Road.  It was a tragic mistake, for no help lay in that direction.  A gap in the lines between the 92nd Illinois and 3rd Kentucky pickets had allowed the Confederates to execute a stunning attack, cutting the Federals off from each other in the confusion.  King’s stealthy Rebel with a field glass had indeed spotted their weakness.  Scovill’s men, in the words of Gentillus, “ran pell-mell, helter-skelter, right down on the ambush.” 8  At least one man was killed and another wounded before they realized they were trapped, their horses unable to jump the barricade.
      Once Scovill and his squad were captured, Vincent's men turned their attention to King and the others making their way along the base of the ridge.  King was one of the lucky ones who managed to escape, along with an unnamed sergeant who played dead as Vincent’s men nearly rode over him.  With King no longer a witness,  we turn to Gentillus for this chilling statement.  “Lieut. Vincent killed ten of them dead in the lane and captured forty-three others.  Nearly all of them were wounded in some way, and none went back to tell the story.” 9  Though the numbers are obviously exaggerated, the words can be read in a far more sinister way than Gentillus may have intended.  The question, simply put, is what did Vincent do with his prisoners?  Thirteen can be accounted for, but there were others—men whose treatment would soon be described as “murder.”  
      As the retreating Confederates made off with their spoil, small bands of Yanks retook their abandoned positions.  The stories they would hear that morning both appalled and enraged them.  About a mile from Vincent’s ambush, Private William Castenach was found, shot twice, but still alive.  He told his friends that a Confederate lieutenant had shot him after he surrendered.  He would later die of his wounds.  The body of Private William Hill was found by a woman who told of seeing him shot in the chest after handing over his weapon.  At the ambush site, Private R. J. O’Conner was also found alive, but mortally wounded.  He would die later that day, but not before telling a story similar to Castenach’s. 

      Private James W. Rhodes was shot twice, the second shot hitting him as he was trying to find a place to lie down.  He, too, lived long enough to give a statement.  Adding to the growing testimony, a local man told of witnessing the murder of a trooper who had surrendered.  Then three of the men of the 92nd signed a sworn statement saying they witnessed the death of Castenach, agreeing that he had been shot while in the hands of the enemy.  Both Castenach and O’Conner told of being shot for not running fast enough to keep up with their mounted captors, who were hurrying them toward Tunnel Hill.  Regimental surgeons wrote that some of the bodies exhibited powder burns on their skin, and that Hill’s coat had caught fire from the pistol blast.  Their conclusion: some six or seven men had been deliberately murdered after they surrendered, two died in the fight, while the other cases were ambiguous.10  All witnesses agreed that a Confederate lieutenant had done the shooting, or in one case, a captain of a Tennessee regiment.

      Of the 64 men on picket at Nickajack Gap, perhaps thirty were killed, wounded or captured.  Lieutenant Scovill and twelve men were brought back to Tunnel Hill, while ten others died that day.  Three more would die by the 25th, another two within weeks.  Private Elliott and eight others later died at Andersonville.         
      While Scovill and his men were on their way to the prison camps, Eli Murray and Benjamin Sheets compiled their reports, attaching those of the surgeons.  Civilized warfare had been abandoned by the Rebels, they asserted, and the time had come to answer in kind. 11  The reports were detailed and lengthy.  Meanwhile, someone styling himself “Dr. Adonis” used virtually identical language in a letter published in a Louisville paper.12

      After the reports reached General George Thomas at Chattanooga, he sent a brief reply.  First, he criticized Sheets for not patrolling aggressively enough.  However, he added, the nature of the ground meant that such surprises were bound to happen.  Finally, he promised that the “outrages” would be “attended to.” 13  Yet on April the 27th, he received a report from Kilpatrick telling of another Confederate raid on Nickajack Gap.  A few horses had been lost, but no men.  Then, on the 29th, Kilpatrick mounted a reconnaissance through Ringgold Gap, taking with him 1500 cavalry, 300 infantry and section of artillery.  The Confederates fell back, allowing their camp at Tunnel Hill to be shelled.  Having barricaded the gaps with felled trees, they preferred to fight from prepared positions. 

      Humes reported losing twenty men, while back at Dalton, W.W. Mackall sent Wheeler a dispatch ordering him to come up at once.  However, since the Confederates would not come out to meet him in the open, Kilpatrick withdrew.  He again came out on May 2, with similar results.  Disappointed, he left Wheeler a note at the home of a civilian—a note which Mackall described as far more “dignified” than he would have expected of a man of Kilpatrick’s reputation. 14 However dignified, it was still a schoolboy’s taunt, daring Wheeler to come out in the open and take his lumps.  Somehow, Kilpatrick and all concerned, including the men of the 92nd, felt that Nickajack Gap had been avenged, their honor restored. 15 Thomas apparently agreed, for, other than giving Kilpatrick a vague order to “punish” the Rebels, there is no record that he ever “attended to” anything.  While there are accounts of retaliation at the company or regimental level, no official orders to do so have survived.   No doubt Confederate prisoners were summarily executed during at least one of these pushes by Kilpatrick, but the furor over Nickajack Gap had died down by the first week of May.  Sherman's army group was preparing to outflank the Confederate position on Rocky Face Ridge, opening the way to Atlanta and causing all interest in what happened on April 23rd to rapidly fade. 

      Two years after the war, in October 1867, Horace Scovill, now living at Rockford, Illinois, responded to an ad run in newspapers throughout the North.  The US House of Representatives, said the ad, was investigating the treatment of Union prisoners while in Rebel hands and would like to hear their testimony.  Scovill responded with a letter, but was never interviewed.  He wrote that his men had been marched about two miles from where they were captured, where he was pistol-whipped by one Lieutenant Pointer of General Wheeler’s staff.  He added that Pointer had shot most of the five or six men who had been gunned down after they surrendered.  At Tunnel Hill, he was interrogated by Wheeler for about an hour.  He told the general about the shootings, but Wheeler “feigned it could not be true.”  A Colonel King had led the party who had captured his men, Scovill confidently asserted. 16  In one brief paragraph, Scovill pointed the finger at two individuals, one of whom has had a black mark on his record ever since.  Lieutenant Pointer was accused of shooting Castenach and O’Conner in all subsequent Union versions of the affair, including John M. King’s diary and Fox's Regimental Losses,17 both published in the 1880s.

      Marcellus Pointer, of Holly Springs, Mississippi, had just turned twenty-three at the time of the raid.  He had served on Wheeler’s staff since before the Battle of Perryville, having been wounded at least twice.  On December 28, 1863, Pointer had been briefly captured at Charleston, Tennessee, in a botched raid. 18 One of Joe Vincent’s brothers had also been captured there.  Pointer, however, had managed to shoot one of his captors, and was simultaneously shot by the other one before breaking out of the trap.  It was the second time Pointer had shot his way out of a trap, protecting Wheeler both times, making it possible for the general to escape as well. 

      Needless to say, Wheeler was indebted to his young aide.  When General W. W. Mackall,
through his aide and nephew, Lt. T.B. Mackall, asked him for a report of the Nickajack incident, Wheeler proceeded cautiously.  On the 27th, he wrote Lt. Mackall, saying he had investigated the matter and found that none of his staff officers had acted improperly.  This one-paragraph note is the only official Confederate report that has survived.  Wheeler alluded to one that Mackall was supposedly preparing for Col. Edwin Harvie, Johnston's inspector general, saying he had not received it yet, and asking the names of those involved.  “Exaggerated and false reports concerning this matter…should be corrected without delay,” Wheeler concluded. 19

Gen. W.W. Mackall

      Lt. Mackall’s report has yet to be found.  All other Confederate references to the Nickajack fight are found in less than half a dozen newspaper accounts, one mention of it in Joe Vincent’s bio, published in 1899 20 , and a brief reference published in Nashville in 1878.21  The most detailed account is the letter Gentillus wrote the day of the raid.   As previously quoted, he claimed that Vincent had shot ten Yankees dead, and that none of his wounded prisoners “went back to tell the story.”

      Thus we have precious little from the Confederate side, none of which plainly tells of any prisoners being murdered. The letter signed by Gentillus, written on the day of the raid, comes closest to giving a clear description of possible atrocities.  While he commends Lt. Vincent for a brilliant affair, he at the same time inadvertently raises  the question of whether Vincent executed any of his wounded prisoners.  On the other hand, all the subsequent allegations against Marcellus Pointer can be traced to Horace Scovill’s un-vetted written statement made in 1867, three and a half years after the fact.  In naming Pointer, John M. King obviously relied on Scovill’s account.

    King, however, inconsistently accuses Pointer of riding back from his detail in order to shoot Castenach, then of wandering over the field and executing other wounded men where they fell.  King did not seem to comprehend how foolish such an action would have been, given that the fight was over and any Confederate caught under such circumstances could have been executed on the spot.  As it was, Private Bellows of Swearingen's company was quickly spirited away before any of the irate troopers of the 92nd could do him any harm.

    Several sources hint at retaliation for the Nickajack incident, one even mentioning that the 10th Ohio Cavalry executed some prisoners at an out-building on April 29th during Kilpatrick's first reconnaissance foray out of Ringgold Gap.  This incident seems highly unlikely, but one regimental history of the 92nd Illinois says they gave the battle cry "Remember Nickajack!" that day but never after. John M. King explicitly states, "We took no prisoner that day as the men were determined to avenge Nickojack [sic]." 22

Captain Richard M. Swearingen
Handbook of Texas Online
      As to the allegations of Confederate murders, Lt. Scovill's letter remains the strongest evidence against Lt. Pointer.  No other members of the 92nd wrote to the House investigators, nor were they interviewed.  Scovill himself could easily have traveled to St. Louis to be interviewed, but there is no record that he ever did.  Unfortunately, the events as he lays them out are not entirely clear and lack corroboration.  Still, we can test Scovill’s recollection that a Colonel King led the party that captured him.  Two colonels named King served in Wheeler’s Corps at the time of the raid.  One was being held in a Northern prison camp, 23  while the other had been put out of action by a serious wound in February 1864.24  There was a Col. King at Nickjack Gap, but he was second in command of the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry, a Union regiment.  Furthermore, Scovill eventually told reporters in Rockford a different story.  Failing to mention any murders, he said the “brutal officer” who captured him relieved him of his boots and overcoat. 25  When Marcellus Pointer was shot through the body at Charleston, four months before Nickajack, he was wearing an overcoat, which the bullet penetrated.  Every account of that incident contains this detail.  His wound disabled him, and, as of January 31st, 1864, he was on leave, according to his compiled service records.  Whatever his clothing deficiencies, they could easily have been supplied by his father, a prosperous Mississippi cotton planter.  If Pointer had no need of an overcoat, it is highly unlikely that he would take Scovill's.  At any rate, Scovill seemed to be accusing his original captor of this, not the officer in charge of the detail moving him and his men to Tunnel Hill. 

      In July 1909, long after the war, Scovill read Pointer’s obituary, commenting that he wasn't sorry to hear he was dead.  As might be expected, he spoke harshly of Pointer, all but calling him a war criminal.  Yet Scovill again failed to repeat the allegation that Pointer had shot any prisoners the day of the raid. 26  Had it all been a case of mistaken identity?  As mentioned, Vincent stood six-foot-three, whereas, at five-eleven, Pointer was four inches shorter.  In Vincent's defense, one would think witnesses would notice the height of an officer as tall as Vincent and include that in their testimony, but physical descriptions are absent from all known accounts.  Based on this lack of descriptive detail, the evidence against Pointer is based solely on Scovill's 1867 letter naming him.  Scovill had received a blow on the head, then been a prisoner for a year, only writing two and a half years after the end of the war.  Thus the letter written by Gentillus on the day of the raid, along with Wheeler's letter to Lt. Mackall, written three days later, should be given more weight.  It should also be reiterated that John M. King did not personally witness any part of the fight other than the opening assault on his position. Whatever he wrote about Lt. Pointer, he got second hand. 

     There is certainly enough evidence from Union reports in the Official Records to say some of the captured men were shot while in Confederate hands by a lieutenant and possibly a captain.  However, after a century and a half, we may never know whether these men were murdered or shot while putting up resistance.  We certainly do not have enough evidence to positively identify their killer (or killers).  What is missing is clear evidence that Lt. Vincent transferred thirteen live prisoners over to Lt. Pointer's sole custody.  While General Wheeler is on record as saying none of his staff officers acted improperly that day, his report cannot entirely be relied on for any vindication of his staff.  It was too brief, named no names and quoted no testimony.

      In the final analysis, more than one Confederate officer may possibly be implicated. However, Captain Swearingen's post-war record casts him in a favorable light.  As a doctor, he volunteered in 1878 to go to Holly Springs, Mississippi, to tend the victims of yellow fever.  Thus, he doesn't seem the type to execute prisoners.  Other lieutenants and captains certainly took part in the raid, though we do not know their names.  What can absolutely be established from the facts is that the Confederates took at least thirteen prisoners.  In addition, Vincent was alleged to have killed ten men, the number generally reported dead in the actual fight.  No surviving document or account establishes transfer of custody of any prisoners from Vincent to Pointer.  What does seem clear is that all of the killings except one took place at or near Vincent's ambush, rather than en route to Tunnel Hill.  Whether Vincent fired the fatal shots or not, the ultimate responsibility for the incident lies with the commander of the raid, Col. Reuben R. Ross.  He certainly should have filed a report, but whatever Ross may have written or said about Nickajack Gap is lost to history.  He left nothing in writing that has surfaced; and he died near the end of the war, resisting capture, in what must be the height of irony, refusing to surrender.
Drawing of Gen. Wheeler
from the Nov 14, 1863,
Issue of Frank Leslie's Illustrated
 The clipping was folded as if to fit in an envelope and was probably sent home by Marcellus Pointer shortly after a fight with the 11th Ky Cav (US) on that date near Maryville, Tenn. 
                                              End Notes

1.      King, John M., and Claire E. Swedberg. Three years with the 92nd Illinois the Civil War diary of John M. King, p192
2.      Ibid, 192
3.      Gentillus. "Letter From Tunnel Hill." Memphis Daily Appeal [Atlanta] 27 Apr. 1864,  
Evening ed.: 2.  He was not one of the three regular correspondents of the paper, whose real names we know.  Those three were each imbedded with a Confederate army in the field. The only clue to his identity is that, in corrupt Latin, he styles himself  "a gentile," possibly meaning he has anti-semitic beliefs. 
4.      Compiled Service Records, Col. Reuben R. Ross, pp35-36
5.      Compiled Service Records, Pvt. James Bellows (Bellers), the only Confederate captured in the raid.  He belonged to Swearingen’s Company.
6.      King, 194
7.      Ibid, 194
8.      Gentillus
9.      Ibid
10.  Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, V 32 (part 1) pp684-685. One of the seven men listed as murdered actually survived the war.
11.  Ibid, 685
12.  Adonis, "Barbarous Affair At Nickajack Trace, Georgia." Louisville Daily Journal 2 May 1864: 1.
13.  Official Records, Series I, V 32, (part 3) pp470-71
14.  Mackall, William. "Papers and letters of William Whann Mackall." UNC Library Wilson. Folder 3, May 3, 1864, pp80-81
15.  Ninety-Second Illinois Volunteers, p139
16.  Report on the Treatment of Prisoners of War by the Rebel Authorities During the War of the Rebellion " Report No. 45, p1138
17.  Fox's Regimental Losses, Chapter VII, Muster-Out-Rolls, Anthropological Statistics."
18.  Dodson, Carey. "Campaigns of Wheeler and his Cavalry, 1862-1865, p158, Appendix, p371
19.  Wheeler, Joseph, Order Book, April 1864, p41
20.  Confederate Military History, V-9, pp565-66
21.  Annals of the Army of Tennessee, Dec. 1878, Supplement, p49. Dr. E.L. Drake may have had inside knowledge, since he names “Wheeler’s Scouts” as the Confederates taking part.
22.  King, p202
23.  Compiled Service Records, Col. Henry Clay King, 1st Confederate Cavalry, captured June 27, 1863, at Shelbyville, Tennessee.
24.  Dodson, Appendix, p371. Col. Hugh M. King, of Wheeler’s staff, was wounded in the hip on Feb. 26, 1864. On April 24, he wrote a letter to the War Department in Richmond, protesting the dropping of his name from the rolls. (Compiled Service Records)
25.  Horace Curtis Scovill (1833 - 1912) - Find A Grave Memorial, Transcribed Obituary. Private William Reynolds, also mortally wounded, had told of having his boots forcibly taken, as did R. J. O’Conner, in statements summarized in the Official Records.
26.  E-mail from Jeff Giambrone, author of Remembering Mississippi’s Confederates, attached scan of Daily Register Gazette, Rockford, Il, 24 Jul. 1909

Works Cited
Adonis, "Barbarous Affair At Nickajack Trace, Georgia." Louisville Daily Journal 2 May 1864: 1. Tennessee State Library and Archives, Digital Collections. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. 
Annals of the Army of Tennessee and early western history - Google Books. Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. .  Dr. E.L. Drake, editor and publisher
Compiled Service Records ,"Fold3 - Historical military records." Fold3 - Historical military records. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. . 
Confederate Military History; a library of Confederate States history, written by distinguished men of the south, and edited by Gen. Clement A. Evans of Georgia ... - Kentucky Digital Library." Kentucky Digital Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. .
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Post Script:
One of the most troubling aspects of doing the research for this piece is the lack of Confederate documentation. There is a pattern running through this that makes this writer extremely suspicious. Lt. Joseph E. Vincent's record card for March-April 1864 is missing, while everything else in his compiled service records is there. Many of Marcellus Pointer's records are missing as well. The Mackall report, referred to by Wheeler, is missing. No official reports of any Confederate officer involved, neither Col. Ross, Col. Anderson, nor General Davidson are in the Official Records. Wheeler left off all mention of the incident in his 1878 reply to Dr. E.L. Drake, who was publishing the Annals of the Army of Tennessee in Nashville. Wheeler's tables, with lists of actions his command fought, are otherwise quite detailed. Lt. T.B. Mackall's diary has been published online, but it begins on May 5, 1864. The list goes on and on, but one very unusual gap in the records seems more than suspicious. W.W. Mackall's gossipy letters to his wife, generally written on a daily basis, are entirely missing from March 22, 1864, until April 27, four days after the raid. At that point, Mackall describes riding sixteen miles over the mountains to confer with Hardee, and significantly, Davidson, who was Col. Ross's commanding officer. Mackall quotes the scripture, tells of praying for his family and confides that he was uneasy and had spent a sleepless night. What could have been troubling him so much?  If any documents or reports were destroyed, W.W. Mackall was ideally placed in every case. That Wheeler's brief note survived at all is because it was in his own order book. 

In addition, there are some striking things in the service records of Col. Ross. While on parole at his home in Clarksville after the surrender of Fort Donelson, he wrote to Federal authorities asking them to expedite his exchange, not for any zeal for the cause, he claimed. No, he was certain that he might be of service in giving aid to Federal prisoners in Confederate hands. This strangely presages later remarks made in his records after he became a prisoner for the second time. On September 5, 1864, Ross was captured near Pulaski, Tennessee, during Wheeler's post-Atlanta raid into Middle Tennessee. Two of his cards state that Ross was a very humane officer who had often rendered valuable assistance to Federal prisoners of war. The implications are profound, given that he commanded the Nickajack raid. Was someone on the Union side attempting to help defend Ross against charges of murder at Nickajack Gap? 

Ross escaped while en route to Johnson's Island by jumping off a moving train, only to be killed resisting capture in December 1864 at Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Given what he knew, and how he might be implicated, he may have preferred to go down fighting rather than face execution. His bio says he refused to surrender in a hand-to-hand combat during Lyon's raid into Kentucky. (This forlorn hope was ordered by John Bell Hood as a screen for his Tennessee Campaign, leading ultimately to the the Battle of Nashville.) Ross, if anyone, should the bear full responsibility for Nickajack Gap, and he should have been in a position to know the facts. All that being said, the essay appearing here comes closer than any other account to uncovering what actually happened that morning in April 1864.

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