Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Jingling Hole

It is often said that there were 10,500 "battles, engagements, and other military actions" during the Civil War. That is somewhere around seven engagements per day, for those four years of the war. But at the same time, the war "happened" at tens of thousands of places. Troops mustered in front of courthouses, they boarded trains at depots and ship at wharfs. They were surprised and captured at sites where no shots were fired. As I have written before, the war happened locally, in my backyard, just like it happened at Chancellorsville and Chickamauga. Yet no one really ever talks about these minor events. While not on the same scale as say, Gettysburg, they were just as destructive to local communities.

The Johnson County-Ashe/Watauga County area from a 1865 map. 

Johnson County, Tennessee, is tucked up on the border of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. The 1860 census lists 5,018 residents. When it came time to vote on the secession issue, Johnson County voters voted 787 to 111 against secession. To my knowledge, no one has ever broken down the 1860 Johnson County census to examine who remained loyal to the Union, who joined to Confederacy, and who simply attempted to stay out of the conflict altogether. I will add that voting overwhelmingly to remain with the Union is not a good litmus test regarding military enlistment.  Neighboring Watauga County, North Carolina, voted 536 to 72 against calling a convention, yet sent 793 men (and one woman) to the Confederate army.

It is often written that Johnson County was a Unionist stronghold, and that might very well be true. The pro-Confederate clerk was reportedly forced to flee from the area. Captain Roby Brown supposedly led the Johnson County home guard (Confederate). He was a member of the group led by Col. George N. Folk who attacked a group of dissidents at Fish Springs on the Johnson-Carter County border. It was a group of Unionists or dissidents that raided into the Bethel Community of Watauga County in August of 1863, plundering the farms of George Evans, Paul Farthing, and Thomas Farthing. The latter was killed in the skirmish. Later, Levi Guy, the father of two of the raiders, was caught and hanged. John Hunt Morgan's men supposedly raided into Johnson County, burning the homes of thirty-seven Unionists. Bushwhacking was so bad that in 1864, local pro-Confederate residents petitioned Confederate officials for protection, writing that "our county is infested with several bands of bushwhackers, murders, and deserters, who are committing depredations upon the lives and property of Southern citizens to such an alarming extent that a great many of them had to leave their homes." (Tennessee Civil War Sourcebook)

One of the most famous stories about Johnson County and the war was published by Christopher Coleman in 1999. Coleman writes of a local geological feature known as "The Jingling Hole." The origins of the Jingling Hole are unknown. It could have been a natural formation, or an old mine worked by Native Americans or maybe even the Spanish (my speculation). Regardless, according to Coleman, an iron bar had been placed over the top, "just the right thickness for a man to wrap his hands around." "A prisoner would be taken to the Jingling Hole and at gunpoint made to grip the iron bar and hang suspended over the pit. At first they would just let the prisoner dangle there a while, laughing and making crude jokes as his hands gradually went numb. Then he would finally lose his grip and plunge into the blackness of the pit. After a time, though, this sport got a little dull, so they improved on it a bit. As the prisoner dangled over the abyss, the booted bushwhackers would proceed to stamp on his hands. First one hand, then the other, then back to the first. As they pounded their victim's hands with the boot heels, their spurs would jingle a sprightly rhythm punctuated by the occasional cry of pain from the poor prisoner. Hence the name Jingling Hole." (89)

Of course, this may all be just legend.  Coleman's book is entitled Ghost and Haunts of the Civil War: Authentic Accounts of the Strange and Unexplained. There is also a mention of the Jingling Hole in the 1970 book Tennessee Legends. There is also a Jingle Hole in Madison County, Kentucky, and a Jingle Hole near Stainforth, North Yorkshire, Great Britain.

We will probably never know if the Jingling Hole was really the site of nefarious deeds during the War years. As I have often said, there is probably some truth there someplace. The site, not far from Mountain City, is just one of thousands that have a war-time connection but that that don't exactly fit on the 10,500 list.

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