Bethesda Church: Silent Witness To History
Historic Structure Survives Civil War Violence;
Now A Living Monument To The Past
Bethesda Church, a quaint old building with high-backed pews and an enclosed pulpit, was organized in 1832 by Dr. John McCampbell and members of Hopewell Presbyterian Church near Dandridge. Bethesda is one of the oldest churches in this section of the state.
The church was built in 1835 on land donated by Joseph Shannon. Located on what is now Highway 11-E, three miles east of the Morristown city limits, the three and three-fourths acres of land for church and cemetery was deeded by Shannon on August 23, 1834, and recorded in the spring of 1835. The church building stands in the northwest corner of the cemetery.
The church records do not show that services were held regularly until 1842. Among those serving the church in a ministerial capacity during this period were: the Rev. William Minnis, pastor of St. Paul Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Nathaniel Hood, thought to have been assistant pastor of the Rev. Minnis, and the Rev. Isaac Anderson of Maryville College.
The report if the church clerk gives the names of only four pastors from 1842 to 1863: the Rev. Nathaniel Hood, the Rev. Eli N. Sautelle, the Rev. C. C. Newman and the Rev. George Ealgeton. There is a lapse of 12 years when no pastor is named.
During the War Between the States, churches all over the South were put to use by troops fighting the war.
Bethesda was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers by both the Union and Confederate armies and for a short time, for smallpox sufferers during an epidemic. There are approximately 82 unknown soldiers buried nearby. The graves are marked with a monument placed by the Disabled American Veterans and the Daughters of Confederate Veterans. U.S. and Confederate flags fly over the cemetery.
During a battle known as “Gilliam’s Stampede,” a cannonball entered the eastern wall of the church near the ceiling, passing through the entire building. The building was so weakened by the impact it became necessary to brace the sidewalls by a large iron rod passing from north to south at each entrance to the church.
Bethesda was one of a group of Presbyterian churches, which had as pastor Rev. Griffith from 1867 to 1869. Following his pastorate and the war, the healing process was too difficult for the congregation, and Bethesda ceased to function as a church. Confederate sympathizers moved to Morristown, and organized the First Presbyterian Church of Morristown in 1871. Union supporters formed the Russellville Presbyterian Church in 1875. The windows were shuttered and the doors of the Bethesda were locked. The Church is a step back into time, and remains today as it did in 1869.
One relic from the church’s past is the Bible donated by Mrs. Eliza P. Boaz. The Bible is now in the Morristown-Hamblen Library. A typewritten page pasted above the inscription reads, “Given by Eliza P. Boaz. This Bible was in the church and remained there during the Civil War.”
The Bethesda Church building is now kept in repair and used as a living history event, and an occasional church service.
“Little Angel” Bethesda Church Love Story
During the Civil War, most young men had to search their hearts and loyalties to decide in which army they would serve. Like many other young Hawkins County men, country boy Andrew Jackson Green was faced with this great search of heart and soul. Green, at this time, was a resident of the Sugg’s Mill area of Hawkins County. When the right opportunity arose, Green enlisted in Company A, 1st Battalion of the Tennessee Light Artillery, Union Army on Sept. 2, 1863.
Green’s brothers enlisted in different outfits of the Confederate Army, and were never seen by their brother again. Many times he spoke of wishing to learn of their fates. Born on May 28, 1844, Green was 19 at the time of his enlistment. It was said the young lad had never been more than 50 miles from home. Green put his civilian duties in order and slipped away from home to Camp Nelson, Ky., to begin his tour of duty. Green’s Confederate brothers, not wanting Andrew to get to Camp Nelson, sent an Indian tracker to capture him and return him home. Green evaded capture by sleeping in hollow logs during his journey. Records show that by December 30, 1863, he was in the army. By January 1864, Private Green had been assigned to Battery F of the 1st Tennessee Light Artillery. The battery had been sent from Camp Nelson and assigned garrison duty defending Nashville. War records of April 1864, show Battery F had been reassigned to new duty at Knoxville, Tenn., and had become part of Gen. T.T. Garrand’s 1st Brigade (4th Division, 23rd Corps in the District of East Tennessee). By August 1st, the battery was placed under the command of Gen. Alvan C. Gillem.
Green, along with several other locals were now back in East Tennessee to fight near their home places, and soon he and his artillery company would get a taste of real war. On Oct. 28, Private Green, along with F Battery, was with Gen. Gillem’s command as they drove the Confederates, commanded by Gen. John C. Vaughn, from Morristown in what became known as “Vaughn’s Stampede.” Battery F commanded the high ground near present day Morristown College. The constant firing of the battery’s field pieces was a big part in a complete retreat of the Confederates from the area. During the constant firing Green suffered powder burns to his eyes, and after the battle was taken to Bethesda Presbyterian Church. Located near Cheek’s Crossroads, the church was set up as a field hospital and was treating wounded soldiers from both armies. Many local doctors and volunteer nurses aided the army doctors and surgeons in the treatment of the wounded. While being nursed back to health at the church, young Green met nurse Mary Reece. Green, now 20, was so overawed with her care and kindness that he spoke of her as his “little angel.” Apparently, it was love at first sight. Green was a stoutly, fairskinned, blue-eyed blonde of Scots-Irish ancestry, and Reece was as impressed with him as he was with her.
At the time of their meeting, Reece was a 17-year-old local beauty. She was of a well respected Cheek’s Crossroads (Russellville) family, and as their romance budded and bloomed, Green promised his little angel he would return after the war to marry her. Private Green later saw action in the battles near Nashville, where he again had to be treated for powder burns. He was mustered out of service on August 3, 1865, when he returned to his Hawkins County home. Within a year of his return Green kept his promise to Reece and the two became husband and wife in 1866. The marriage lasted 65 years and only ended with the old soldier’s death on August 16, 1931. Mary lived another seven years and passed away on July 17, 1938 at the age of 91. Both now peacefully rest in the Dover Presbyterian Church Cemetery on Dover Road in East Hamblen County, near Morristown. Grandson Luke Green, 86, gave the following to add to the love story. Many war stories and his grandfather told tales. A big stone fireplace in the middle of the home served as a gathering place for the family. Shortly after the war, Andrew and Mary bought a 100-acre farm in East Hamblen County. Andrew went totally blind when he was in his mid-50s. Mary took care of him and saw to all of his needs for the rest of his life. Six children were born to the two. Sons were Joe, Luther, Jim and Hugh; and daughters were Molly and Sally.
Even after blindness, it was still a marriage full of happiness, deep respect and contentment. The boys worked the farm for their dad and the girls did most of the housework, gardening, canning and drying food for winter months. “Uncle Jack” as Grandfather Green was called in his older days, stayed active in organizing and workings of Dover Presbyterian Church. Luke said his dad and uncles fixed a series of ropes so their blind father could get to the barn and outbuildings. Blindness was a handicap, but it never kept the old soldier from cutting up his own meat during “hog killing time.”
In politics, the old man was a Republican and always voted the ticket. His hero was Abraham Lincoln. Uncle Jack drew a pension of $125 per month, which he freely shared with his church and those in need in the community. The old home place of Andrew Jackson Green and Little Angel still stands near Luke’s home on Nolichucky River Road. Luke Green now owns the 100-acre farm, but has moved from the property to a local retirement village. Ironic as it may seem, Luke’s room is within the same area of the old battlefield, near Morristown College, where his grandfather got his eyes burned that started the romance that leading to the marriage of Andrew Green and Mary Reece.