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Confederate soldier honored 150 years after Civil War

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, but the long years since that devastating conflict ripped the nation in two has not seen a loss in public interest or in the minds of those who share a direct lineage with the dedicated soldiers who fought on both sides. In fact, a growing number of Americans today are digging into their family histories, visiting old battlefields, and wondering through lonely graveyards to discover and preserve the stories of the men who fought and died for their homes and people.
In the Appalachian region the fighting between the Union and the Confederacy was particularly personal, as families became divided and brother fought brother. East Tennessee was largely a stronghold of Union support surrounded by larger numbers of Confederate supporters in Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina. This placed Johnson County in a dangerous position and although the majority of the county voted against seceding, there was still a large group of Confederate supporters and sympathizers.
One of those who felt the call to defend the south was Thomas Jefferson Potter. A resident of the Forge Creek community, Potter was born in Ashe County, NC but had lived many years in Tennessee. In 1862, a year after the war began, he made his way to Mountain City, then known as Taylorsville, and enlisted with the Confederate Army.
Potter was originally assigned to Company F of the 7th North Carolina Cavalry. Farther into the war the 5th and the 7th were combined into the 6th Cavalry and Potter was reassigned.
Records show that the young man brought his own horse and was paid by the Confederate government for its use. For 11 months Potter fought in various battles and skirmishes across East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, before being taken captive in Monroe County, TN in 1863. He was taken as a prisoner of war to a camp in Ohio, before being transferred to Rock Island, Illinois. In total Potter was a POW for 20 months and was finally released June 16th 1865, two months after the war ended.
Returning to Johnson County after the war, Potter settled back in Forge Creek with his wife, and although he never had any children of his own, helped raise many of his nieces and nephews. It was the descendant of one of these extended family members who dug up Potter’s story and eventually located his grave at the Dunn Cemetery in Forge Creek.
Interested in his family’s Civil War connections, Thurl Potter Jr. began his search for his great, great, great uncle, after seeing his name listed in a book titled “Upon A Lonely Hill,” by Jeff Carrier. Seeking out the grave site, Thurl Jr. found the tattered remains of a funeral home marker still bearing the name of his ancestor but no headstone. Feeling that this was an injustice he began looking into the possibility of getting one placed and discovered that the US Veterans Administration will supply a headstone for any veteran that needs one.
A member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), Thurl placed the order for the stone and set up a ceremony to be held at the graveyard on Oct. 1st. The SCV is an organization dedicated to the preservation of the history and heritage of the Confederacy and, among other things, works within communities to find, clean, and maintain graveyards that contain Confederate veterans. Members must be of blood descent from a Confederate veteran. The organization now has more than 40,000 members nationwide.
The SCV is divided into divisions, which are further divided into camps. Answering Potter’s call, members of Camp 15 out of Asheville, NC made the 100-mile trip to the Dunn Cemetery. As part of a mechanized cavalry, several members completed the journey by motorcycle, despite being unusually cold and rainy. Arriving at Mountain City Funeral Home to pick up the headstone, the procession made its way to the cemetery to have it officially placed.
A Confederate re-enactor was present to fire three ceremonial shots on a functioning replica Springfield musket. As the stone was finally placed Potter began telling his ancestor’s story and the ceremony closed with a solemn prayer. Standing with his father, Thurl Potter, Sr., Thurl Jr. was very proud that he was able to help preserve the memory of his family’s sacrifices and dedication to the cause they so believed in.
Stories similar to this have kept the members of the SVC busy over the past few years, but the knowledge that their actions are preserving the history and heritage of these long deceased soldiers is incentive enough to keep the work going. For many, such as Thurl Potter, Jr. the connection is more personal, keeping alive the spirit of independence that these men were willing to sacrifice everything for. Thomas Jefferson Potter may have passed away decades ago, but thanks to the efforts of his dedicated family, no one will now forget that he was here.