The 8th Tennessee Cavalry was initially organized in White County as independent partisan rangers on September 4, 1862, with 12 companies under the command of Colonel George G. Dibrell. The first muster was held near Sparta in September 1862, and consisted of 921 men, primarily farm workers from Jackson, Overton, Putnam and White counties.
On October 8, the regiment marched from Sparta to Murfreesboro, Tennessee to join Brigadier General Nathan B. Forrest's Brigade. There it was reorganized into 10 companies and mustered into the CSA as the 8th Regiment, Tennessee Cavalry. While at Murfreesboro, the regiment was equipped with 400 flintlock muskets and 600 sabres -- the only issue of arms ever made to it by the Confederate Government. Its first military assignment was to scout and establish pickets outside the city of Nashville. A skirmish at Neely's Bend, north of the city, was the first of several while stationed in that area.
The 8th Tennessee Cavalry was involved in a remarkable number of battles and skirmishes throughout the Civil War and suffered considerable casualties. It fought in engagements ranging from west Tennessee into southern Virginia, through the Carolinas and into Georgia. The men fought not only on horseback, but frequently engaged the enemy dismounted and sometimes in hand-to-hand combat as happened at Chickamauga. Although it was regularly short of arms and supplies and its recruits usually had little or no training, the regiment earned a reputation for discipline and dependability. Writing after the war, General Dibrell wrote "that not a piece of artillery was ever lost when supported by the Eighth. Huggin's company of artillery used to say that they had no fear of going into battle when supported by the Tennessee cavalry brigade, of which the Eighth was a part."
Its last engagement was at Beulah, NC on April 11, 1865. The next day, the regiment learned that rumors of Lee's surrender were true and marched to Greensboro, NC. From there, it helped escort President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet to Abbeville, SC where the command was dissolved. The 8th Tennessee, consisting of only 381 men, marched to Washington, Georgia and surrendered to the 4th Iowa Cavalry on May 3rd. The men were paroled on May 9, 1865, and returned to Tennessee.
While camped in Polk County, the men were confronted by a squad of federal soldiers who brought them to the nearby city of Cleveland. They were placed under guard and individually searched for any item bearing the “U.S.” insignia. The regiment was allowed to leave later that evening, but not without enduring some harassment from a few of the local citizens.
The 8th Tennessee entered Chattanooga the following day and suffered more humiliation. The provost-marshal, falsely claiming that he was under orders, confiscated the horses from those with the rank of private. After the parole of each soldier was inspected, the regiment, annoyed but in good spirits, continued its homeward journey on foot.
Dibrell's unit was known in the field as the 8th Tennessee Cavalry, but is sometimes referred to by the Adjutant and Inspector General's Office (A&IGO) designation of the 13th Tennessee Cavalry. Adding to the confusion is the 8th Tennessee (Smith's) Cavalry. Organized in January 1863, the unit was mustered and known in the field as the 4th Tennessee Cavalry.