The Rhea County Spartans

The Rhea County Spartans (HM1B81)

Location: Spring City, TN 37381 Rhea County
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Country: United States of America
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N 35° 41.61', W 84° 51.623'

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Women's Cavalry

Walden's Ridge, directly ahead, was a natural obstacle to east-west military movements during the war. In 1862-1863, Confederate authorities ordered three Rhea County cavalry companies to patrol the passes there between Emory Gap (north) and Sale Creek (south) to keep Federal forces out of the Tennessee River Valley.

In the summer of 1862, thirty young, socially prominent women organized a nonmilitary unit called the Spartans. Mary McDonald (age 28) gave herself the rank of captain, and her sister-in-law Caroline McDonald was first lieutenant. The Spartans first met for support and friendship but became more active partisans during the periods of Federal occupation. A mounted soldiers' aid group, they carried food and clothing to fathers, brothers, and sweethearts in the patrolling cavalry. Their bold initiative was very unconventional for that time.

Some historians believe that the Spartans carried out limited espionage for the Confederacy.

In April 1865, Rhea County native Capt. John Walker, 6th Tennessee Infantry (USA), had them arrested. To teach them a lesson, he marched them to the Tennessee River and then sent them by riverboat to Chattanooga. There, Gen. James B. Steedman ordered their immediate release if they signed oaths of loyalty to the United States and reprimanded Walker for wasting army time and resources. Federal officers escorted the Spartans back here, but left them at the landing to find their way home.

They were not prosecuted, but they suffered during Reconstruction from vengeful Union partisans. Within a few years, most of the women had left the county, five moved to Texas. Capt. Mary McDonald Sawyer, who died in 1914, is buried in Buttram Cemetery in Dayton.

During the war, most women performed traditional homebound roles such as making clothes for soldiers (above left). Some came to the camps to cook, mend, and clean (left) or followed the troops to sell them tobacco and personal items (above). A few took to the field to ferry supplies to their soldiers (right).— Courtesy Library of Congress
HM NumberHM1B81
Series This marker is part of the Tennessee: Tennessee Civil War Trails series
Placed ByTennessee Civil War Trails
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 at 4:21pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)16S E 693596 N 3952063
Decimal Degrees35.69350000, -84.86038333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 35° 41.61', W 84° 51.623'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds35° 41' 36.60" N, 84° 51' 37.38" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)423
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 431 Front St, Spring City TN 37381, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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