Friday, March 31, 2017

The "Old Red Fox" (No, the other one).

If you go to Google, and type in Old Red Fox, the image and story of East Tennessee Unionist Dan Ellis pops up. The Carter County native piloted dissidents through the mountains for most of the war, only joining the 13th Tennessee Cavalry in the last months of the conflict. He wrote about his exploits in a widely quoted book The Thrilling Adventures of Daniel Ellis. The book was published in 1867, just two years after the war ended. Many of the events were still fresh. However, many of the events that Ellis write about cannot be substantiated through other period sources.

Ellis was often called the "Old Red Fox." The Carter County Historical Marker talking about his life is even listed as "The Old Red Fox."

This past week I stumbled upon a North Carolina version: John Quincy Adams Bryan. He was also known as "The Old Red Fox."

Bryan's obituary (he died in 1905) states that he was "one of the most interesting characters that ever figured in the political history of the State." Bryan was born in Wilkes County, North Carolina, on October 10, 1833. There is not much to go on regarding his pre-war life. I believe I did find him in the 1860 census, still living at home and working as a farmer, but with $500 in real estate and $450 in personal property. Bryan was undoubtedly conscripted into Confederate service, but given the commonness of his name "John Bryan," I was not able to find him (yet).

The other "Old Red Fox": John Quincy Adams Bryan.
We know that Bryan was serving as a guide through the lines. In early November 1863, he was in Wilkes County recruiting for the 10th Tennessee Cavalry (US). It was Bryan who started with the group and wound up in the front yard of Doctor Bell's home in then Carter County on November 19, 1863. Confederate cavalry burst upon the scene, and out of the group of 57 men, seven were killed, plus Doctor Bell's brother James. Bryan escaped, and the party continued to work their way west. Bryan was officially enrolled in Company H, 10th Tennessee Cavalry, on February 12, 1864. He was mustered in as a first lieutenant. He is listed as present on all but one of the remaining muster roll sheets. At the end of the war, he was promoted to the rank of captain. An account from 1897 states that Bryan was "severely wounded and was for some time confined in the officer's hospital at Nashville." His wounding was placed in the battle of Nashville time period, but his compiled service record says nothing about the matter. Bryan was mustered out on August 1, 1865.

After the war, Bryan was elected to serve in the 1865 Constitutional Convention, and again in 1868. He also served under Kirk during the Kirk-Holden War, was an officer in the Grand Army of the Republic, and was assistant assessor in the Revenue Department and deputy collector. He also served in the General Assembly.

But how about the claim that he was "The Old Red Fox"? Turning again to his General Assembly biography, we find these details: "In 1863, when piloting recruits to the Federal lines, they disobeyed his commands and ventured into the valley near Lime Stone, Tennessee. Here they encountered a band of Confederate scouts (cavalry) and were quickly surrounded and most of his men captured and put to death on the spot. Seeing that he would not be treated as a prisoner of war, he cut his way through the ranks of the enemy and retreated to the mountains near by, pursued by several cavalrymen. Fighting doggedly as he retired, several saddles were emptied and more than one 'boy in gray; bit the dust as a result of too close contact with the desperate Unionist. During the war the soldiers of both armies gave him the sobriquet of "Old Red Fox," because of his skill in eluding the Confederate spies and Home Guards, who were hunting him down, and in the successful piloting of recruits through the mountain fastnesses to the Federal lines."

I could find no other mention of Bryan ever piloting men through the lines.


Bryan died in 1905 and is buried in Wilkes County. Unlike Dan Ellis, there is no state historic marker commemorating the life of John Quincy Adams Bryan.


1 comment:

Glenn Land said...

Hi Michael, Ellis mentions this incident in his book. He names Bryant as their guide, and the Confederates being led by Lt. Col. Vincent A. Witcher, (called "Clawhammer" by his men), of the 34th Virginia Battalion.

Another nemesis mentioned by Ellis was Captain Barton Roby Brown, a citizen of Johnson County, Tennessee, and one of the Home Guard in that county. He was a native of Ashe County, but living in east Tennessee. On 7/19/1861 he mustered into "D" Co. NC 1st Cavalry. 2nd Lieut 5/20/1862. He was discharged for promotion on 10/10/1862. On 10/10/1862 he was commissioned as a Captain into "F" Co. NC 7th Battalion of Cavalry. He was transferred out on 8/3/1863. On 8/3/1863 he transferred into "A" Co. NC 6th Cavalry. Wounded 9/13/1862 Middletown, VA.

He died and is buried in modern-day Mountain City, east Tennessee

Glenn Land
(East Tennessee Roots)