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Southeast / Tennessee

THE RED FOX Our best-remembered here was a conductor and a Union scout on the underground railway. Richard Flynn, the "Red Fox," was a great hunter and woodsman. We find his story best told by his old friend and fellow-unionist, Capt. Jim Lowe, who wrote this account for the Crossville Chronicle in 1905: "Uncle Dick knew all the country from Chattanooga to the Kentucky line, even on the darkest night that ever came. When the Conscription Act was being put in force by the Confederacy he conducted the underground railroad in order to assist Union refugees from northern Georgia and Alabama in getting through the Confederate lines. Now the modus operandi was this: A, B, C and D, residing at Chattanooga, wanting to reach Federal lines in Kentucky, would steal a canoe and cross the Tennessee River at night and go to the house of Peter Thundergudgeon on Walden's Ridge. Peter is a conductor on Uncle Dick's road. Peter gives them all the signs and passwords needed for their journey. He then raises steam and calls out, 'All aboard for Y. C. Sniprips,' which is the next station, in Sequatchie Valley. After good Mrs. Sniprip has provided food for the refugees, Conductor Sniprip calls for Red Fox Station on Big Laurel Creek in the third district. They hear the little bell of the Red Fox tinkling in the laurels and they follow for rest and food under the fond eye of Aunt Zilpha; then all aboard for Possum Creek, Kentucky!" The Red Fox sincerely believed it was wrong and contrary to the teachings of the Bible to own slaves, and the thought of a division of the Union seemed to him so destructive of liberty that he gave to the Union every honorable assistance in his power. He was often heard to repeat that immortal declaration of President Jackson: "The Federal Union! It must and shall be preserved." His duties as Union scout included the carrying of vital messages over the mountain under the most trying and dangerous conditions. On one occasion he had been entrusted with valuable papers by a colonel in Sequatchie Valley and instructed to deliver them to Col. Stokes near Sparta. He and a companion crossed the mountain and were within a few miles of their destination when, turning a sharp bend in the road, they came face to face with a band of Confederate soldiers. It was too late to run. The rebels questioned him closely, but the Red Fox tactfully evaded them. Finally, be told them that they were wasting time, and if they did not hurry Col. Stokes' men would "gobble" them. Then they asked him for his credentials. To the Red Fox this was a signal that it was time to hunt his hole. He leaped over a high rail fence and took off so fast that he lost his coon-skin cap. They yelled "Halt! Halt!" after him, but he said afterwards he was going so fast he could not halt. He could hear the bullets whizzing past, and one of them cut through his coat sleeve, but he outfoxed them and delivered his papers. When the rebels learned from his companion that they had let the Red Fox escape, they were really disgusted, for they bad been searching for him for years. They tore up his coon-skin cap and cursed each other for bunglers. Back of his farm along the bluff be had what be called a blockade. He felled large trees in a way which prevented anyone from approaching his house unless they knew the hole through which the Red Fox crawled. Aunt Zilpha, his wife, recalled long afterward that once thirty-two Union soldiers came to their home for the night. She fed them by "putting the wash kettle on full of meat and baking dozens of pones of corn bread." Early the next morning the Red Fox guided the band to the home of a man in Fentress County. The Red Fox played a part in one of the most famous exploits of the whole war, the capture of the Confederate locomotive called the "General." This was on the Western Atlantic Railroad between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Andrews' Raiders, a crack band of disguised Union soldiers, was ordered to board a certain train at Marietta, Georgia, and ride seven miles to Big Shanty where they were to detach the engine, run north, obstruct the track, cut wires and burn fifteen bridges en route to Chattanooga. Between Tonggold and Graysville the enemy caught up with them and they abandoned the exploit and took to the woods. All of them were captured and eight were executed. Eight others escaped from prison in Atlanta, and were rapidly passed along the underground route to the Red Fox's place. They were great heroes by this time and Aunt Zilpha gave them the tenderest of care. Early the next morning she gave one of them named Dorsey a small amount of money to assist him and his comrades on their journey northward. The Red Fox delivered them safely across the Kentucky border and within the Union lines. (In 1906, Mr. Dorsey paid Aunt Zilpha a visit and when he was saying good-bye, be banded her the sum of money she had given him 46 years before, plus interest.) Taken from: "Cumberland County's First 100 Years", Hellen Bullard & Joseph Marshall Krechniak, published by the Centennial Committee, Crossville, TN, 1956. There was a 2nd printing in 1972


Submitted By:

Derek Hastings, Tennessee,
derek_hastings@hotmail.com