Russell Gregory was my great-grandfather four times removed, who settled into Cades Cove after 1818.
The American government removed the Cherokee Native Americans and made the cove available to white settlers. Russell started his farm and family of eight children in the wide open freedom of Cades Cove’s seamless, untamed territory. He made his home at the base of a large foothill known today as Gregory’s Bald. In the spring and summer, they would live on top of the cool altitude of Gregory’s Bald. Spring is a beautiful site when multiple colors of wild azaleas bloom over the vast scenery of the Great Smoky Mountains. In the fall and winter, they would live at the base of Gregory’s Bald for protection against the cold winds and snow storms.
Russell attended Primitive Baptist Church and was a strong pillar of the community.
When the Civil War started in 1862, they stopped having services at the church because of all the vicious political tensions of the time. Russell did not believe in slavery and was a very strong supporter of the American government. Most of the cove people felt this way, but there was a radical Confederate minority that lived in the cove and attended the same churches.
Charles Gregory, Russell’s son, was a member of the radical minority and joined Colonel William H. Thomas’ Legion from North Carolina Company F on September 24, 1862.
The residents of Cades Cove put their young children at the top of the mountains surrounding the cove and would blow horns when they saw the raiders from Company F coming across the old Indian trails.
The horns would warn the people below, and they would run into the woods and hide, leaving their farms to the mercy of the raiding Confederates. The Confederates would take what they wanted and then set fire to the farms before leaving. When it was safe, the cove people came out of hiding trying to get back to everyday life as much as possible.
Elements of this legion, probably Colonel Thomas ‘ Battalion Company F, would sneak into Cades Cove over old Cherokee mountain trails between North Carolina and Tennessee. They would burn barns, steal livestock, rape women, and rough-up or kill the pro-union folks that lived in the Cove.
This whole situation put Russell Gregory into an emotion of great hatred towards the Confederates. In 1864 it was time to stop hiding and to take serious action instead. Russell mustered the old men of the cove and organized a group of minute men ready to take action the next time that the children blew the horns. The plan was to ambush the Confederates where Forge Creek and Abrams Creek intersect and cut a tree down to block their advance.
The day came when the horns blew and the old men grabbed their rifles and rode a fast horse to the set point. They quickly cut a tall tree down to set the trap. Today that point is behind the modern-day Cades Cove Visitor Center. No park markers are in positions to bring attention to this historical point. They waited for the Confederates to ride into range of their long rifles. Finally they could see grey uniforms on top of horses in the very distance. The old men held their positions quietly as the Confederates rode into very close range. Russell gave the signal and the first group fired and started to reload as the second group fired. The Confederates were taken by total surprise and the rout started. They finally were able to retreat back across the ridges of the mountains into North Carolina. What a feat, the old men shouted and celebrated the victory. The one-handed Russell Gregory gleamed with satisfaction, hoping that the victory would put a stop to the raids since it was late in the war.
The Confederates regrouped after an embarrassing rout.
Charles Gregory stepped forward and told the commanding officer of the remaining group that he recognized the sound of the long rifle used by the bushwhackers as his father’s rifle “Long Tom.” There would be hell to pay now, the Confederates snuck back across the Old Cherokee trails in the cover of darkness that same night. No horns would sound this time as they made their way down into the cove to affix revenge. Charles pointed out his father’s house and the Confederates burst through the front door.
Russell Gregory gripped “Long Tom” and started to raise it to fire, but the Confederates were too close and Russell lost his balance and dropped “Long Tom.” His hated enemy forced him outside and shot him dead with his own rifle and dropped it to the ground. They delivered a message that they were in total control of Cades Cove. “Long Tom” is still in the Gregory family today.
Today you can go to the cemetery at the old Primitive Baptist Church and see Russell Gregory’s tombstone reading “Murder by North Carolina rebels in 1864.” His son, Charles Gregory, is buried behind his father’s grave several feet away.
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