Christopher Alexander Haun, one of southern Appalachia’s most significant antebellum potters, was also one of the famous Greene County “bridgeburners” of the early Civil War era in Tennessee. Haun, a staunch Unionist, participated in the destruction of a railroad bridge at Lick Creek in Greene County, an act for which local Confederate officials executed him in late 1861.
Haun was one of several local craftsmen who lived in the “Pottertown” community of Greene County at the time of the Civil War. Haun distinguished his work through his method for making multi-colored pottery, and his earthenware jars are prized items of Tennessee material culture.
In the fall of 1861 Haun joined several of his neighbors in a daring plan to cripple the Confederate railroad system. The plan to burn Confederate bridges originated with Reverend William Blount Carter, a local minister who supported the Union forces. With a letter of introduction from General George Thomas, Carter approached General George McClellan to discuss his plan. McClellan immediately set up a meeting with President Abraham Lincoln. The president gave his blessing to the plan and promised that a Union regiment would protect the families of the bridge burners and compensate the participants.
With the help of Union Army Captains David Fry and William Cross, Carter finalized the plan to burn all major railroad bridges in East Tennessee from Georgia to Virginia in one night. On the eve of the bridge burning, Jacob Harmon Jr., another local potter, visited neighbors who were Union supporters and asked for their help. On November 8, 1861, many men, including Alex Haun, arrived at Harmon’s home and were immediately sworn into the Company F Second Tennessee Voluntary Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army.
Haun, along with forty to sixty other men, went to the edge of Harmon’s farm, where the railroad bridge crossed Lick Creek. They encountered Confederate soldiers camping under the bridge and immediately took them into custody. After destroying the bridge, they released the Confederates, a decision they would soon regret. In the following weeks, the Confederates captured five men associated with the bridge burning, including Alex Haun and co-conspirators Matt Hinshaw, Jacob Harmon Jr., Henry Harmon, and Harrison Self. After a Confederate court-martial in Knoxville, Haun, along with Matt Hinshaw, Jacob Harmon Jr., and Henry Harmon, were hanged for their actions. Confederate President Jefferson Davis pardoned Harrison Self.
In Alex Haun’s correspondence with his wife, Elizabeth Cobble Haun, he provided instructions on how to manage family affairs after his death. He told his wife to sell all of his pottery-making tools and to make a claim to a copper mine whose copper he used to color his pottery. Haun is buried at a spot not far from the site of the Lick Creek bridge on Pottertown Road in Greene County.
“Stephen T. Rogers, “Jugs, Jars, Bowls, and Churns: Tennessee’s Ceramic Crafts and Potters,” A History of Tennessee Arts: Creating Traditions, Expanding Horizons, ed. Carroll Van West and Margaret D. Binnicker (2004)