15th Annual
Briceville 4th & 5th Grade
History Field Trip

An Explosion of Learning --

By Award-winning writer,
Fred Brown
Special to the CCWF

Cannon Dedication on
Militia Hill at the
site of Fort Anderson
15 May 2015

Just a slice of the rich
history of Coal Creek!!




Read Bob Fowler's story in the Knoxville News Sentinel

Read Chris Silcox' s story in The Courier News story:


Knoxville News Sentinel Link:

Famous singer Tony Thomas performed the Coal Creek War song for us!



Fabulous photo courtesy of Photojournalist Paul Efird, Knoxville News Sentinel

By Fred Brown -- Special to the CCWF

History rolled in like thunder at the 15th Annual Briceville Elementary School history field trip.

In the words of fourth and fifth-grade-students, the event was “the best” field trip they had ever seen.

“And it was loud,” said Brooklyn Lowe, winner of the 2015 Coal Creek Eisteddfod Literary Competition, an annual poetry and essay contest for Briceville Elementary School Students, sponsored by the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation (CCWF).

Lowe earned $100 for her winning essay on the history of Coal Creek miners during the era of the convict lease system by the State of Tennessee, which brought armed conflict to the area in 1891-1892.

The students did not have to be told to pay attention. They were all ears and eyes as “An Explosion of Learning,” unfolded at the dedication of a replica 12-pound howitzer cannon at Fort Anderson on Militia Hill.

A permanent replica artillery piece, part of the CCWF’s ongoing history education for students of the area, was scheduled to be dedicated May 15 for the event.

Because of an illness to the cannon maker, the permanent cannon wasn’t ready by dedication day and a substitute was found to take its place on the famed hill along a shank of Vowell Mountain in Anderson County.

Steve Cameron led a group of Civil War re-enactors with the Burrough’s Battery of Blaine in the firing of an exact replica of the howitzer used during actual events 123 years ago.

Five other members of the battery who helped roll the heavy artillery piece into place joined Cameron, owner of Trail Rock Ordnance of Blaine, a maker of Civil War era artillery. The re-enactors then dressed in period Union uniforms for the firing of blank rounds to give the students an idea of the power and majesty of what artillery can do in time of war.

Taking aim   (Photo courtesy of Paul Efird)


Roger Bullock, M&R Bus Company for donating the fee for the rental of his buses today as a donation to the Coal Creek Miners Museum


Gary Tackett, the Sentry of Militia Hill


Mark Morgan and his staff from the Norris Dam State Park for assisting with parking and keeping us safe


Mark "Hollywood" Whaley with the Anderson County Sheriff's Department for being present for the shooting of the cannon


Steve Cameron and his boys from Trail Rock Ordnance for bringing their cannon and safely making it go BOOM!!!


Bob Fowler from the Knoxville News Sentinel, Chris Silcox from The Courier News, and reporters from WBIR-TV

Coal Creek President Barry Thacker, PE,
led the event and the history lesson
(Photo courtesy of Paul Efird)

Oddly, even though some 30-plus students, their teachers, and interested citizens were present, none of Anderson County’s political leaders or city officials from the former town of Coal Creek, later changed to Lake City and now known as Rocky Top, took part in the event based on one of the county’s more turbulent times—the Coal Creek Convict Wars of 1891-1892.

Militia Hill served as the operational base for Tennessee National Guardsmen, then called state militia, to put down an insurrection by Welsh coal miners, a rebellion that began when inmates from state prisons replaced miners.

At the time, the state claimed it needed to lease much of its prison population and put convicts in the mines, replacing paid Welsh miners. This would provide desperately needed revenue to the state from coalmine operators for reconstruction projects after the destruction of the Civil War. Many militia members brought to Coal Creek during the struggle were Civil War veterans.

The actual cannon used on Militia Hill in 1892 was the exact same piece fired by Cameron and members of Burrough’s Battery. The howitzer blast disgorged enough white smoke to hide a copse of pine trees overlooking the town below. Its blast and recoil shook the earth behind the cannon.

Before the cannon firing, Cameron stood beside a huge photo enlargement leaning against a tree and talked of the power of the cannon. The photo was taken at Fort Anderson in 1892 during the Coal Creek War.

He said the artillery was capable of shooting a 12-pound iron ball 1,000 yards to the town below the ridge. He pointed to a tiny white house in what is now Rocky Top, saying that is what the replica cannon, with its blank load, used to site for the demonstration firing.

In reality, soldiers did not fire their cannon on the town. However, the soldiers did shoot cans filled with mud, which splattered around Coal Creek below. This demonstration was to warn the townspeople they could be targeted by real ordnance if the miner insurrection did not stop.

Being told to cover their ears, the students were stunned by the power of the shot and percussion from the blast when Cameron’s team fired the howitzer.

Almost in unison, the students said the field trip was the best they had ever attended and that the cannon was “cool, but loud.”

In fact, they did not want to hear any more history from Barry Thacker, founder/president of CCWF and president of Geo/Environmental, a coalmine-engineering firm based in Knoxville. They wanted to see the cannon shoot again and again.

The CCWF not only sponsors the history field events, but the non-profit also provides college scholarship to Briceville-area youth. Seven students received a total of $60,000 in the 2015 program. Over the past 13 years, CCWF has provided some $350,000 to 42 area Coal Creek Scholars.

Thacker says the emphasis is on history because the students need to know the rich culture from which they came.

Many of the students are descended from Welsh miners who arrived in Coal Creek at the end of the Civil War. They were looking for not only jobs, but also freedom of expression, since British government intended to stop the use of the Welsh language. Thus, education and freedom of religion were essential in Briceville and other Welsh coal mining villages of the era.

In Coal Creek, Briceville, Fraterville and elsewhere where coal was being mined in the Cumberland Mountains, along the spiny rib cage of Walden Ridge, Welsh coal miners fought convicts and militia.

For two years (1891-92) they struggled to keep their livelihood and to ensure the future of their children. It was a classic battle that eventually led to changes in state law, the defeat of Gov. John “Buck” Buchanan and drastic changes in mine safety.

After what became known as the Coal Creek Mine Wars, two mine explosions—Fraterville in 1902 and Cross Mountain in 1911—changed lives with the deaths of 300 miners in both disasters, but brought on federal laws and new governmental regulations and agencies. In 1891, Congress passed a loosely written law to upgrade mine safety. In 1910, the Bureau of Mines was created to oversee mine safety in a time when more than 2,000 miners were dying annually.

Today, the Mine Safety and Health Administration says 16 coal miners died in accidents in 2014.

Thacker says it is important for the students to understand the rich cultural history in their area that is as alive today as it was 123 years ago.

History, he says, lives in the hills and hollows of old Coal Creek, a place of beauty and antiquity dating to the very beginnings of time in the state.

The students learned how to "load" the cannon

Tony Thomas & his assistant Paul
Watch Tony on YouTube:


(Photo courtesy of Paul Efird)



Famous singer Tony Thomas performed the Coal Creek War song for us!

(Photo courtesy of Paul Efird)

(Photo courtesy of Paul Efird)

(Photo courtesy of Paul Efird)

(Photo courtesy of Paul Efird)
After the history lesson and cannon fun, the students planted three American chestnut trees in
front of the Militia Hill parking lot.  Then, it was off to Cracker Barrel for lunch!

Gary Tackett, our Official Sentry of Militia Hill
showing the kids how to plant their American chestnut




Historic photos from Militia Hill in 1892 during the Coal Creek War
Click on image to enlarge:

Historical photograph of the Tennessee National Guard at
Fort Anderson in 1892 during the Coal Creek War

1892 view from Militia Hill overlooking the town of
Coal Creek during the Coal Creek War

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