Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Burnside - Fulkerson Kerfuffle: June 17, 1864

Monday evening while browsing through issues of the Bristol News (VA & TN) from 1868, I came upon the advertisement above for attorneys York and Fulkerson. The name Fulkerson certainly rang a bell for me. When I lived in Tennessee and reenacted, I participated with the 19th Tennessee Infantry. The original 19th Tennessee, a Confederate regiment raised in a heavily Unionist East Tennessee, fought in most of the western theater battles. Abram Fulkerson first served as captain of Company K and then as major in the 19th. Later he received a promotion to lieutenant colonel and the colonel of the 63rd Tennessee.

Fulkerson's family came from Lee County in far southwest Virginia, near the Cumberland Gap. The Fulkerson's had a long line of men in military service. Abram's grandfather fought in the the Revolutionary War and his father, Abram Sr., fought in the War of 1812. Abram was educated at the Virginia Military Institute, where he learned from Thomas Jonathan Jackson. When the Civil war broke out Abram was teaching in Hawkins County, Tennessee. He joined with other Southern-minded neighbors to form Company K of the 19th Tennessee. Fulkerson's brother, Samuel Vance Fulkerson, an attorney in Washington County, Virginia (Abingdon), who had fought in the Mexican-American War, joined in the 37th Virginia. Samuel was killed fighting in the Battle of Ganines' Mill on June 27, 1862.

After Abram Fulkerson transferred to the 63rd Tennessee, the regiment was relocated to Virginia and fought in Bushrod Rust Johnson's Brigade. Johnson's Brigade was assigned to Gen. Beauregard's forces on the Bermuda Hundred, but were called to Petersburg when Gen. Grant's first offensive threatened the city. During the initial fighting at Petersburg, Johnson's Brigade received heavy assaults from the attacking IX Corps Union forces east of the Cockade City. On June 17, Fulkerson's position was overrun and he was captured.

Fulkerson recalled the incident and his subsequent interrogation by IX Corps commander Gen. Ambrose Burnside (pictured above) in an 1894 piece he wrote for the Southern Historical Society.

"About daylight, on the morning of the 17th, the troops in our front, having been largely reinforced during the night, made a charge in three lines on our position, overlapping us on the right, and carrying our works by storm. A large portion of Johnson's Brigade was captured, including myself and about half of my regiment.

The prisoners, in charge of an officer and a detail of men, were quickly marched through the Federal lines to General Burnside's headquarters, located in a field about half a mile to the rear. The General had dismounted, and was seated on a camp-stool, and was surrounded by a line of negro guards.

The prisoners were halted at the line of guards, and the officer in charge announced to the General that they has captured the colonel of a regiment, many officers and men, three flags, and several pieces of artillery. Rising from his seat, General Burnside approached us, and, addressing me, enquired what regiment I commanded, and being informed that it was a Tennessee regiment, he asked from what part of the State.

From East Tennessee, I replied. With an expression of astonishment, General Burnside said: 'It is very strange that you should be fighting us when three-fourths of the people of East Tennessee are on our side.' Feeling the rebuke unjust and unbecoming and officer of his rank and position, I replied, with as much spirit as I dared manifest, 'Well General, we have the satisfaction of knowing that if three-fourths of our people are on your side, that the respectable people are on our side.' At this the General flew into a rage of passion, and railed at me.

'You are a liar, you are a liar, sir, and you know it.' I replied, 'General, I am a prisoner, and you have the power to abuse me as you please, but as to respectability that is a matter of opinion. We regard no man respectable who deserts his country and takes up arms against his own people.' To this General Burnside replied, 'I have been in East Tennessee, I was at Knoxville, I know these people, and when you say that such men as Andrew Johnson, Brownlow, Baxter, Temple, Netherland, and others, are not respectable, you lie, sir, and you will have to answer for it.' At this point I expected he would order me shot by his negro guards, but he continued, 'not to any human power, but to a higher power.' With a feeling of relief I answered, 'O, General, I am ready to take that responsibility.'

'Take him on, take him on,' the General shouted to our guards, and thence we were marched some two or three miles towards City Point, to the headquarters of General [Marsena] Patrick, the Provost-Marshall General of Grant's army, where we were guarded during the day in a field, without shelter, and under a burning sun. In other respects we were treated with consideration due prisoners of war by General Patrick, whom we found to be a gentleman."

Sent to Charleston, South Carolina, Fulkerson became part of the Immortal 600 group of prisoners. Eventually he was transferred to Fort Delaware, where he was finally released in July 1865. After the war Fulkerson went into law and then politics, serving in the Virginia legislature and then the U.S. House of Representatives. He, along with William Mahone, was one of the founding members of the controversial biracial Readjuster Party in Virginia. Fulkerson died in Bristol in 1902 and was buried in East Hill Cemetery. 

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