THE JINGLING HOLE: Uncivil War in Appalachia

Confederates hunting down Union men with bloodhounds.  Torture and death was often the fate of Southerners loyal to the Union.
Confederates hunting down Union men with bloodhounds. Torture and death was often the fate of Southerners loyal to the Union.


With Halloween fast approaching, our Civil War tales will be leaning more heavily to the supernatural side than normal, not that any time of the year isn’t a good time for a ghost story. Some years back, I published the tale of the Jingling Hole and now seems a good time to renew our acquaintance with that offering.  The full story, of course, you can read in Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

Those readers from “up nawth” may be unfamiliar with the fact that there was actually a civil war within the Civil War in the South.  After the Late Unpleasantness, the former Confederates who became spinners of the Lost Cause myth managed to bury the fact that there were many Southerners vehemently opposed to Secession in 1861 and that they resisted it, often at extreme peril to themselves and their families.

This was true, not only in East Tennessee, but western Virginia, North Carolina, and in several pockets of Unionism in West Tennessee, northern Alabama and Mississippi.  While most of these Southern Unionists had no love for Abolitionism, they did have a strong patriotic devotion to the nation.  For example, during the second vote on secession Johnson County in East Tennessee was 787 to 111 against. Their stories have largely been overlooked, although in recent years some have finally been coming to light.

This civil war within the Civil War was often vicious; both sides often gave no quarter in fighting and contrary to the fallacy of the Chivalrous South, the Confederate government also made war on women and children in its efforts to suppress the Loyalists who resisted them.  In fairness, the Unionist often retaliated in kind.  It was a very, very ugly time, especially in Appalachia, where this particular ghost story occurs.

In one district of East Tennessee, the guerilla war by Unionists against the Confederates became so bitter that the district became known as “The Bloody Third.”  The killing didn’t stop with the end of the war either; the memory of wartime atrocities led to enduring feuds between neighbors for decades after the war.

There was a particular spot in this district that had a vertical cave opening, a “bottomless pit” as it were.  Whether it was the Unionist guerillas or their Confederate opponents who first thought of putting an iron bar across the opening isn’t known; apparently both sides used the pit—called the Jingling Hole.

A captured enemy would be taken to the hole and then at gunpoint forced into it, with only the iron bar to hold onto until his strength gave out and he fell to his death.  As time went on, the combatants improved on the sport and would stomp or shoot at the condemned man’s hands, forcing him to shift back and forth to avoid the attacker.  In the process the prisoner’s spurs would make a jingling sound as he squirmed to avoid the assault—hence the nickname “The Jingling Hole.”

After the war, the use of this pit as a place of torture and execution stopped; the jingling didn’t.  For years afterwards, anyone passing by on a dark night might hear an uncanny sound, like jingling spurs, coming from the direction of the pit.  If you were brave enough to go investigate, there was inevitably nothing to see.

To the best of my knowledge, the Jingling Hole is still there near Mountain City and maybe some locals could take you to the exact spot.  But I doubt you will convince them to go.

For more Civil War stories, go to Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, while for more tales of Tennessee haints and hauntings read Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground or Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

A sketch by A W Waud of a Southern Guerilla.  Presumably it is of a Rebel Guerilla but it could equally be a Unionist one as well.
A sketch by A W Waud of a Southern Guerilla. Presumably it is of a Rebel Guerilla but it could equally be a Unionist one as well.

17 thoughts on “THE JINGLING HOLE: Uncivil War in Appalachia

  1. I would love to locate and visit the Jingling Hole. Nobody in Johnson County has been able to tell me where it is and fewer have heard about it.

    1. At one time its precise location was probably common knowledge but as time went and animosities over the war faded so did knowledge of its location. The fact that it was also haunted by the tormented spirits of the dead meant that few folk who knew its location willingly went that way. So I’m not surprised that today its location is forgotten.

      1. Christopher: I have been told where it is. I then got the owner of the property to give me permission to locate it. He confirmed its location and has been to the hole I will report back.

      2. I would be very interested in whatever you come up with. Even local hearsay, gossip or legend are legitimate as far as I’m concerned. Sometimes local tradition retains memory of events that written history has forgotten.

  2. David Bartolini: I will advise you when I go there in the Spring. I don’t want to mention its specific location publically for obvious reasons.

    1. My husband and I just moved to the area and was told our road is called The Bloody Third. One story we heard from the locals was that there was a bloody fight between regulators and moonshiners and 95 people were killed. A woman told me today that there have been many sightings of ghosts or unexplained things. We had no idea until after we moved in. Any info would be appreciated.

      1. I’m not sure exactly where you are but it may be related to the story. You say “regulators” which was another term for vigilantes. Even after the war was long over, Unionists and former Rebels continued their vendetta. In the Appalachia there were the “White Caps” who looked a lot like the KKK but their main targets were former Confederates who had been their neighbors before the war. That would fit with what I wrote. Of course, during Prohibition in the 1920’s there were pitched battles between “Revenuers” and moonshiners too. Ask around and see if other neighbors know more about the “haints” and their backstory. I’d be interested.

  3. Mr. Coleman, though I had never heard of the Jingling Hole, I do have audio of my Grandfather from the 1980s where he said that his great grandfather, (my great, great, great grandfather), General Washington Gentry (he wasn’t a general, that was just his given name) was murdered by a roving band of Confederate guerrillas (lynched to a tree and shot) and his gun placed beside him because he was a Unionist. We know this because his wife and then toddler son were forced into hiding. His son was named General Rosencrance Gentry, after the Union General Rosencrance.

    1. An interesting bit of family history, which brings home the reality of the Civil War in East Tennessee (and other areas of the South with strong Unionist sentiments). The war in Appalachia was anything but “chivalrous.” After the war, many Unionists got their revenge against their Rebel neighbors via “White Caps,” vigilantes dressed in white robes, whose target was not Blacks but former Confederates who’d murdered their kin.

    2. I know about this story — he was a relative — Rosencranz was my great great uncle —this happened in a different part of the county and not the bloody third!! the two places are miles apart

  4. Sir,
    My 2X great grandfather from Watauga County –
    Fact 1: September 28, 1862, Enlisted in Confederate Army at Boone, NC
    Fact 2: November 28, 1862, Deserted from camp, Big Creek Gap, Tenn
    Fact 3: Member Co M, 58th Inf, N.C. Troops
    Fact 4: November 01, 1962, Enlisted Co D, 6th Inf, Tenn Vol, Union Army

    Would this unit have been part of the “resistance” you describe? I would love any information that might link them.

    1. To be honest, I am not an expert on the civil war within the Civil War that occurred in East Tennessee and western North Carolina.

      I do know that it was a vicious struggle with no quarter given to the enemy; a lot of men were “enlisted” by the Confederate Army against their will and later deserted as indicated in your grandfather’s record you sent me. In you great grandfather’s case he later joined the Union Army, but many men simply fought as Union guerillas attacking Rebel units with no official standing in the Federal Army.

      Confederate units and their sympathizers not only fought the Unionists but also attacked their families, torturing and murdering women and children at times–a far cry from the “chivalry” that was portrayed in the postwar era.

      After the war, Unionists got their revenge on their Confederate neighbors by forming vigilante groups, called “White Caps” –not to be confused with the KKK, formed by Confederate veterans.

      If you have your ancestors name and unit you can get a full record of his service in the Union Army from the National Archives; Confederate service might be harder to obtain as the records are not complete. You also might check the chronology, as the dates you sent me don’t seem to agree.

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