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Bristol City

A Community History


Bristol is located in the great plateau of valleys, hills, and rivers following the Appalachian chain of mountains, known locally as the Holston Mountains. However, the same range contains Mount Mitchell and White Top, the highest peaks, east of the Mississippi River. A local writer has said that these mountains were so beautiful that the clouds came down from heaven at noon day to rest upon their summit. A traveler, journeying across Dog Wood Bench connecting Delaney and Iron Mountains. said recently that he had crossed the continent nine times hut had seen nothing grander than the scenery at this point. He compared it with the Sierra Nevadas. From near this spot one may look away into Kentucky and count eight distinct mountain ranges.

In the Revolutionary days, General Ferguson with his British Army was marching triumphantly through America and sent a message from the Atlantic Coast that he would come into the mountains and get the mountain men. Upon hearing this, the mountaineers donned their squirrel skin caps and sallied forth, mobilizing at Sycamore Shoals on the banks of the Watauga in Virginia. From there they marched on to Kings Mountain where they helped to turn the tide from defeat to victory.

In 1812 so many men volunteered from the Holston Section that tbe community was asked if it expected to fight the war alone, and Tennessee won the sobriquet of the “Volunteer State.”

The people of Bristol and the surrounding community are of English and Scotch-Irish descent. Very few foreigners have settled here. Historians claim that this is the section of purest Anglo-Saxon blood to he found in America. About fourteen per cent of the population is colored.

This section. like nearly all localities, suffered a business depression in 1913 and the early part of 1914. Immediately after hostilities began in Europe, however, business revived and continued to improve throughout the war period. Business inflation was not so noticeable here as in some parts of the country, and for this reason no particular reaction was felt at the end of the war.

The writer and her husband were in Germany in the summer of 1914, being the nearest non-combatants at the time the battles of Namur, Liege, etc., were fought. We spent some time in Cologne, only a few miles from the battlefields, and had a near view of operations. While we make no defense of the German government, our impressions of the German people with whom we came in contact in the early days of the war were favorable under most distressing circumstances. They did everything possible to add to the comfort of the stranger within their gates, and no people could have been kinder nor more considerate. This assertion may be contradicted, but it is true according to our personal experiences and observations.

Up to the time that the Lusitania was sunk the sentiment of our people was largely neutral, but from that time until the United States declared war, sentiment grew strong for the Allies, and we were ready to do our part when the time came to uphold the decision of Congress to enter the conflict against Germany.

The churches of Bristol unveiled service flags and many of them raised the Stars and Stripes. The clergymen preached patriotism, and Rev. Stuart French went as a chaplain in the army. Christian ministers led in the work of the four-minute speakers.

Patriotism in the schools was emphasized. The children sold Thrift Stamps and made scrap books for the sick soldiers. They also planted gardens which not only helped to increase the food supply hut furnished good training to be used in later life. The school teachers were among the most patriotic of our leaders and after school hours put in their time in sewing for the Red Cross or in some form of patriotic work.

King College for Boys almost closed its doors because so many of its students were in training camps, and Sullins and Intermont Colleges for Girls helped in all forms of war and relief work.

Bristol and the Holston settlement sent more volunteers into service than the Draft demanded and, bad we been given credit for those who volunteered, no one from this community would have been drafted.

Company H of the Third Tennessee National Guard was composed of Bristol hoys. Their captain, Walter A. Buckles had been a charter member of the Cox Light infantry and had risen from private to captain before his company was ordered to the Mexican Border in September, 1916. Six weeks after their return from the Border, they were ordered to recruit the company to full war strength. This was done and the company, as a part of the 117th Infantry, Thirtieth Division, was trained at Camp Sevier, South Carolina. They sailed from Hoboken, N. J., on the transport Northumberland on May 11, 1918, and arrived at Liverpool, England, May 23, 1918. From there they went to Calais, France, and were attached to the British Army Corps, and fought on the Ypres front until August, 1918. This company took part in the advance on the Hindenburg line on the morning of September 29, 1918. During this engagement the Thirtieth Division suffered considerable loss but by five o’clock in the afternoon the objective had been reached and the Hindenburg line had been broken for the first. time. The company passed through Tincourt, Ribemount and Coursemount and Le Mans on the way to Saint Nazaire. They sailed from St. Nazaire on the transport Madowaska for the U. S. A. On March 18, 1919, arriving at Charleston, S. C., April 2, 1919. They left by rail the same day for Camp Jackson, S. C., and proceeded by rail to Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., for demobilization. The casualties included 139 wounded and 35 killed. It is claim that the 117th Infantry had more casualties than any regiment of the Thirtieth Division and that of the 117th Regiment, Company H exceeded all other companies in casualties.

A party of fifty boys left Bristol in August, 1917, under the command of Lieutenant Lyle Burrow. These boys were placed in Company F, 12Oth Infantry, Thirtieth Division. Top Sergeant Lloyd S. Isaacs, a Bristol boy who was with his men throughout the fighting, gives the following information regarding Company F: “We landed at Liverpool 27th of entrained for Folkstone, crossed channel and landed at Calais, went next to Andrique for thirty days, hiked into Belgium, went on the line of Ypres front. We were under the command of Lieutenant Beck and Lieutenant Lyle Burrow of Bristol. On July 16th, went into line for the first time, spent six days in trenches and ordered back for a rest August 1st; again ordered into the trenches and stayed until the 13th. On September 25th, again ordered into the trenches and on morning of 28th of September we went over. When the captain was killed, Lieutenant Burrow succeeded in getting all the boys together, but was wounded in doing so. Company F went ‘over the top’ seven times.”

The Tenth Company, Virginia Coast Artillery, was mustered into National Guard Service at Bristol, November 17, 1917. The company was drafted into Federal service April 1, 1918, and became Battery E of the 35th Regiment, C.A.C. The battery went into training at Fort Monroe and from there was sent to Curtis Bay, Maryland, and thence to Newport News. It was mustered out of service at Camp Meade December 18, 1918.

The first boys from Bristol to land in France were James A. Delaney who volunteered in Montana happened to be at the time, and Roy G. Paxton who went irom New York. Both were in France during the entire period of the war and returned home safely, having recovered from wounds received in service. Dr. and Mrs. W. K. Vance had four sons in service.

The following men from Bristol are included in Virginia’s Distinguished Service list: (1) Lieutenant James C. Brewer (deceased), French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star; Samuel H. Cartwright, cited by Division Commander, Silver Star citation, British Military Medal; First Lieutenant George William Cocke, Silver Star citation; Robert Hazen Goodwin, Distinguished Service Cross, British Military Medal; App Smolley, cited by Division Commander.

In addition to the above named men, records of service of the following ex-service men have been furnished the Virginia War History Commission: Captain Walter A. Buckles, Lieutenant Lyle Burrow, Elijah M. Keeling, Allan Agee Goodwin, Edward Stuart Lewis, Lieutenant Colonel John H. Mort, James A. Delaney, Lieutenant John Gose, and Frank Baylor Blanchard.

When the Liberty Bond campaigns were launched in the banks handled them most capably and the city oversubscribed its quota for each loan. The chairmen of the committees worked as a unit for both Bristol, Virginia, and Bristol, Tennessee, and the money was divided proportionately. In the beginning the bankers thought it unwise to entrust any of this work to the women, but they later took up their share and worked shoulder to shoulder with the men in raising the various allotments. Mrs. Henry Fitzhugh Lewis was chairman of the Women’s Liberty Loan work for all loans.

Bristol is the center of a rich agricultural and mineral section and our people worked during the war to “make two blades of grass grow where only one had grown before” in order to have more food and material for our soldiers. Our coal mines helped supply the fuel for transports that took soldiers to France and our cattlemen furnished meat to be used in the camps at home and abroad. Our railroads were kept busy hauling soldiers and supplies.

Our young men were in the service, the girls were in Washington doing clerical work, and many of our citizens were working in shipyards and in munition plants. Those left in Bristol were working many hours a day to produce food and Red Cross supplies, serving in canteen work, etc., so that the only supplies, serving in canteen work, etc., so that the only social life we had centered in war work. Our citizens were united in a common cause; there were no aliens here, other than a German music teacher and a gentleman who had come from Vienna to visit his daughter.

The only direct contact Bristol had with the soldiers was through that necessitated by the stoppage of troop trains for a change of engines and crews. The women of Bristol performed excellent work in canteen service at such times.

A Red Cross was organized in Bristol during the pre-war period. There were thirty charter members, and the officers were Rev. Hunter Davidson, chairman.; Lawrence Caldwell, secretary, and Sam T. Millard, treasurer. When it became certain that the United States would enter the war, a mass meeting for soliciting memberships in the Red Cross was held at the Virginia Court-house which had been elaborately decorated for the occasion by the Sycamore Shoals Chapter, D. A. R. A representative attended the meeting and from the time war was declare organization functioned steadily and became a great factor in the war work of the town. There were eight chapters working under Bristol. There was also an active Junior Red Cross organization. Mrs. J. Norvell, of Bristol, was the first member of the Potomac Division of the Red Cross to be awarded the service pin for 800 hours’ work. She earned more stripes on her ribbon than any other of our workers.

The Y.M.C.A. has not a very strong organization in Bristol, but the building was the center of war work. The Army was very active, and Jewish Welfare work was successfully carried on.

Near East Relief work was popular in this city. Miss Kathryne McCormick and Miss Margaret Caldwell worked in the foreign field and have continued in the work. Many French orphans were adopted. old clothing was gathered and shipped, books were sent, etc. One gentleman donated a suit of clothing which, when unpacked in Constantinople, stirred memories in the heart of the young woman worker at that post. She searched in the pockets and found a letter addressed to her father which confirmed her suspicions that she had seen that suit before. The following citizens and organizations of Bristol adopted one or more French orphans Miss Nell Keller, Miss Mary Came, C. L. Kidd, Mrs. W. K. Vance, Mrs. E. H. Robinson, Mrs. Clarence King, Mrs. Fred C. Newman, Mrs. M. C. Fain, Miss Florence Scherrin, G. T. Childress, Mrs. John Paul Jones, Mrs. Sam C. Hodges, I. H. Blackwell, six students at Sullins College, Sycamore Shoals Center, P. A. F. Missionary Society of the Mary Street M.E. Church South; the 1900 Club, Washington School, the Ladies’ Aid Society of the First Baptist Church, Bristol Teachers’ Association, the Gibbon Club, the Sunday-School of the State Street M. E. Church, South; Chancel Guild Episcopal Church, Circle I, State Street; Bristol Tennessee High School Improvement Association, Baraca Class of the State Street M. E. Church, South; Bristol Virginia High School Improvement Association, Current Events Class.

The Bristol Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was very active in all war work. They sewed regularly for the hospitals. endowed a cot in a French hospital, helped build a hospital at Neuilly, France, adopted French orphans, etc. One of the services of which this chapter is proudest is that of furnishing clerical workers to the draft board, enabling the Bristol Draft Board to send in the first correct report in the State to headquarters. It is thought that the first spot in America to be decorated in memory of the boys who died in France is in East Hill Cemetery, Bristol, Virginia. The U. D. C. selected the planted the U. S. Flag, covered the ground with flowers and held appropriate exercises.

The Sycamore Shoals Chapter. Daughters of the American Revolution had chartered a hospital the Kings Mountain Memorial Hospital. before the war, and they left this work abeyance in order to perform their share of war work. They were actively engaged in all war-time activities. This planted a row of elm trees on Park Avenue as a memorial to the Bristol boys who lost their lives in the World War.

We had very few colored people in Bristol, but they were loyal during the war period. The only person the writer heard express regret that the war was over was an old colored woman whose son was drafted. When asked why she was sorry the war was over, she replied that the war had kept Zeke out of jail and she had gotten some money from the government and, anyway, “it was a good place for bad niggers to be.”

When news of the Armistice reached Bristol the people repaired to the churches where reverent thanks were returned to God, and then pandemonium broke loose. For hours every kind of noise imaginable rent the air until the farthest mountain peak must have heard the good news. As our boys returned they took up their former occupations and but little change in them was noted. Readjustment in Bristol was not difficult. The writer was in the hall of the United States Congress when the American Legion was chartered. She took first-hand information regarding the organization to Bristol and the James C. Brewer Post was soon organized, named for the first Bristol boy who fell in battle. Mrs. Kate Ghent, of Alabama, who was living in Bristol at this time, organized an auxiliary to the Post. Later on a second American Legion Post was organized. It is known as the Hackley-Wood Post, named in memory of two members of Company H who died in France. This Post also has an active auxiliary.

Great strides in highway construction have followed in the wake of the war. The poor mountain trails have grown into good roads and now some of the best roads in Virginia are in the vicinity of Bristol. It is on the Lee Highway and the American Automobile Association is routing tourists bound for the South through this city.

On the walls of the Kings Mountain Memorial Hospital will be hung a tablet in memory of the soldiers who were killed at Kings Mountain in 1775. On these same walls the American Legion and its auxiliaries will place a bronze tablet containing the names of the World War victims of Bristol. These are Bruce R. Alley, Joseph Bacliman, Jr., James L. Barr, Morris Beaver, Edward L. Bolling, James C. Brewer, H. H. Burton, William F. Carnahan, Isaac Cross, Robert Crusenberry, Gilford Denton, Charles Dishman, Edgar Feathers, Nelson Fleenor, Thedford H. Fleenor, James L. Glover, John L. Godsey, Valdria D. Hawk, Joseph Hawkins, Joseph K. Hayton, Charles L. Hicks, Fred Hicks, John S. Henry, George Humphrey, George B. Hunigan. Champ L. Jones, Edward L. Jones, William E. Jones, Arthur Keesee, James Kitchen, Wilson Leonard, Verlin P. King, Paul E. Massie, James W. Mobley, Clyde C. Morton; Frederick Lee Peoples, James W. Rogan, Frank Slagie, Eugene E. Starke, Alexander Swiney, Harry B. Trammel, David Graham Vance, Albert Wampler, Albert Warren, James E. Warren, Samuel S. Woods, George F. Hackler, Carl Brandon, and Onie Sanford.