Daniel Ellis


A Carter County wagon maker, Mexican War veteran Daniel Ellis began his Civil War career in November 1861, joining a Unionist plot to burn railroad bridges throughout East Tennessee. His group destroyed the bridge over the Holston River in Union, Tennessee (Sullivan County). Enraged, Confederate command eagerly sought capture of all involved. Ellis escaped and, reluctantly leaving his family behind, sought refuge in the East Tennessee mountains. He and fellow Unionists made camp and planned to remain in hiding until Federal forces invaded East Tennessee. Ellis served as the camp’s runner of supplies and mail. On these trips, he learned the terrain and routes of safe passage, knowledge that would aid him during his time as a guide. Federal commanders chose instead to invade Middle Tennessee, leaving East Tennessee Unionists to fend for themselves; Ellis began escorting pro-Union men from East Tennessee and Western North Carolina through enemy lines to Kentucky, where they could enlist in the Federal army. Ellis’ trips, over 20 in total, were successful because he avoided roads, travelled mainly at night, relied on a network of Unionists along the route, and used the dramatic geography to his advantage, going where Confederate troops and cavalry were unlikely to follow. He covered more than 8,000 miles and delivered to safety over 4,000 Unionists, more than half of which joined the Federal army. Ellis was known for ruthlessness when antagonized, punishing attacks upon his home. In August 1864, a small force of cavalry and infantry under the command of “a one-armed rebel scoundrel by the name of Teener” ransacked Ellis’ house, stripping his family of all their clothing and bed-clothing and “[carrying] away all they possibly could.” When the cavalry outdistanced the infantry, Ellis and two other men fired upon the 14 Confederate infantrymen, routing them from their position. A few days later, Ellis and his fellow guides forced a squad of Confederate foragers to surrender their horses and mules as retribution for the attacks. His autobiography, The Thrilling Adventures of Daniel Ellis, is considered an invaluable source on life under Confederate control in Unionist East Tennessee.

  • A Union bridge burner who hid with other Unionists in East Tennessee mountains
  • Served as runner and guide, delivering more than 4,000 Unionists to safety
  • Wrote The Thrilling Adventures of Daniel Ellis, an invaluable source on life under Confederate cont