Organization begun at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, August, 1862; five companies mustered into service at Murfreesboro, January 27, 1863; additional companies organized in 1863 and 1864; mustered out of service at Pulaski, August 3, 1865.
Governor Andrew Johnson authorized Wilham C. Pickens, of Sevier County, to raise a regiment of cavalry, and the first recruits for Co. "A" were received at Cumberland Gap on August 10, 1862. Brigadier General George W. Morgan evacuated Cumberland Gap on September 17, 1862, and Co. "A" of this regiment accompanied him on his withdrawal to Sciotoville, Ohio. From here it moved to Covington, Kentucky, where it was first mustered into service, and then to Louisville, Kentucky, where recruits for Companies "B", "C", "D", and "E" reported for duty. These five companies were ordered to Nashville, as guards for Government stores. They reached Nashville on December 24, 1862, where field officers were appointed on January 1, 1863.
At Nashville, it was assigned to Brigadier General Robert B. Mitchell's 4th Division, Center XIV Army Corps, but detached for service with Brigadier General James G. Spears' 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, and Colonel Daniel McCook's 2nd Brigade, 4th Division. General Spears reported that 300 men from the 3rd, under Colonel Pickens, formed part of his force which guarded a train of 303 wagons from Nashville to the Army at Murfreesboro on January 2, 1863. On arrival, the cavalry was turned over to Major General David S. Stanley. Colonel McCook reported 150 men from the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry with his force which escorted a hospital train and an ammunition train on January 3. On January 8, the regiment was assigned to Colonel Robert H. G. Minty's 3rd Brigade of Stanley's Cavalry Division. On January 27, at Murfreesboro, the regiment, with five companies, was mustered into U. S. Service.
On January 31, 40 men from the 3rd were with the 2nd Tennessee Cavalry in an engagement at Middleton, Tennessee, in which Major DeWitt C. Douglass, and other officers and men of Douglass's Cavalry Battalion, C. S. A., were captured. On April 20, 1863, the regiment, under Lieutenant Colonel Thornburgh, took part in an expedition which defeated Brigadier General John II. Morgan and captured McMinnville, Tennessee.
On May 1, 1863, in the reorganization of the Cavalry, the regiment was assigned to Colonel Edward M. McCook's 2nd Brigade, of Brigadier General Robert Mitchell's 1st Division. It continued to be reported as a member of this brigade, but on detached service, through the balance of the year. During this time it was at Camp Spear, Nashville, Tennessee, where Brigadier General Alvan C. Gillem was in command, During this time companies "F", "G", "H" and "I" were recruited and mustered into service. On August 31, seven companies were reported. On October 26, Brigadier General R. S. Granger, at Nashville, reported the 3rd East Tennessee Cavalry, with an effective force of only 189.
On December 28, 1863, the regiment left Nashville with Brigadier General W. Sooy Smith, Chief of Cavalry, Military Division of Mississippi, as part of a force which moved to Columbia, crossed the Tennessee River at Savannah, Tennessee, and on to Corinth, Mississippi, where it arrived January 8, 1864. From Corinth it moved to Collierville, Tennessee, where it remained until February 11, 1864, when it moved with General W. Sooy Smith on his expedition into Mississippi with Meridian as its goal. In this campaign, the 3rd Tennessee, under Major John B. Minnis, was placed in Colonel La Fayette McCrillis' 3rd Brigade of Smith's Column.
The expedition got as far as West Point, Mississippi, where, under pressure from Confederate forces under Major General Nathan B. Forrest, it turned back towards Memphis. An engagement was fought at Okolona, Mississippi on February 22, in which, according to Colonel McCrillis, the 2nd and 3rd Tennessee, and the 4th U. S. Cavalry, were all three entirely disorganized by being mixed up when the 2nd Tennessee and the 4th U. S. were forced back through the column of the 3rd Tennessee.
General Smith's forces fell back about ten miles to Ivey Farm, where a stand was made, and the 3rd Tennessee took part in a brilliant charge which halted the Confederate pursuit. It was in this action that General Forrest's brother, Colonel Jeffrey Forrest, was killed, and a number of other high ranking officers were wounded.
After reaching Memphis, the regiment was ordered back to Nashville on February 27, and arrived March 17, 1864. In a reorganization of the Cavalry Corps on April 30, Lieutenant Colonel Thornburgh, of the 3rd, was given command of the 1st Brigade of Brigadier General Alvan C. Gillem's 4th Division. This brigade was composed of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th Tennessee Regiments, and Battery "A", 1st Tennessee Light Artillery. On May 31, it was reported at Camp Thomas. Lieutenant Colonel Thornburgh resigned in June, 1864, and the command of the regiment devolved upon Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) John B. Minnis. At this time the division was transferred to Brigadier General R. S. Granger's District of North Alabama, with headquarters at Decatur. The regiment, frequently broken up into detachments, operated in this area until the last of September, 1864. One battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Minnis, was with Colonel William T. Grower, Commanding 3rd Brigade, 4th Division XVI Army Corps in an engagement on July 29 at Big Name Creek, near Pond Springs, Alabama. Another detachment was mentioned at Moulton, Alabama, on August 17.
The regiment took part in the skirmishing and fighting with forces under Major General Joseph Wheeler and Brigadier General Philip D. Roddey during Wheeler's raid into Tennessee in late August and early September.
Some 150 men from the regiment, under Major S. W. Pickens, were at Athens, Alabama, when that point was surrendered to Major General Forrest on September 24, 1864. Major Pickens, Captains Coile and Goddard, and Lieutenants Cummings, Homer, Wade, Derrick and Norvell, representing Companies "B", "E", "F", "H", "I", and "K" signed a statement protesting against the surrender as unjustified in a later inquiry into the affair.
400 men from the regiment were captured September 25, at Blockhouses Number 7 and 8 at Sulphur Trestle on the Nashville and Decatur Railroad, as General Forrest moved up from Athens, Alabama, into Middle Tennessee. These two affairs practically wiped out the regiment. The officers were exchanged on December 15, but on April 27, 1865, the steamer Sultana, with a large number of paroled prisoners on board, blew up near Memphis, killing instantly 174 members of the regiment, and a number of others died of injuries sustained in this disaster.
What was left of the regiment after the disasters at Athens and Sulphur Trestle gathered at Nashville where they were reported October 31, 1864 under Major Benjamin Cunningham. On November 17, 1864, the 6th Cavalry Division was organized, and the 3rd Tennessee with three companies, was assigned to the 2nd Brigade of the 6th Division. The 6th Division assembled at Edgefield, Tennessee, and the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, dismounted and partially disarmed, reported to the division there on December 13, 1864. In order to have fully mounted regiments, Major General James H. Wilson divided the Division into two brigades, one mounted, the other dismounted, assigning all the available horses to the Mounted Brigade. The 3rd Tennessee was placed in the 2nd Brigade, which was the dismounted brigade.
In the battle of Nashville, December 15, 1864, the 6th Division was placed on the extreme right, covering the Charlotte Pike. The 2nd Brigade was ordered to make a charge on a Confederate battery, but being unused to infantry operations, it was so slow the 1st Brigade, mounted, passed through their lines and made the charge.
Following the battle, the dismounted brigade retrirned to Edgefield, where it remained for some time awaiting mounts and equipment. The three companies of the 3rd Tennessee, still dismounted, were reported at Edgefield on January 18, 1865. On March 18, 1865, the regiment, still dismounted, was at Pulaski, Tennessee. On March 31, the regiment was still reported in the 6th Division, 2nd Brigade, which was described as refurbishing and recruiting. The last record was on April 30, 1865, when the regiment, still with only three companies, under Major Samuel Pickens, was reported in the same brigade.
Dyer's Compendium states the regiment was mustered out August 3, 1865, but individual service records indicate that the mustering out process was begun June 10, 1865 in accordance with General Order Number 77 from the War Department.
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This unit history was extracted from Tennesseans in the Civil War, Vol 1. Copyrighted © 1964 by the “Civil War Centennial Commission of Tennessee” and is published here with their permission.
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