Sunday, January 24, 2021

Where General Patrick Cleburne's remains rested until 1870

A comrade of Patrick Cleburne's described St. John's Episcopal Church Cemetery as "beautiful as the Garden of Eden -- seemingly a fit place for pure spirits to dwell, and for the haunts of angels." For nearly six years, the remains of the Confederate general -- who was killed at the Battle of Franklin (Tenn.) -- rested there among the among the oaks and magnolias. Let's explore the cemetery in rural Ashwood, Tenn.

Friday, January 22, 2021

A visit to death site of Patrick Cleburne at Franklin, Tennessee

Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne – on foot after two of his mounts were shot out from under him -- was killed by a shot to the chest during the Battle of Franklin (Tenn.) on Nov. 30, 1864. A modern memorial of cannonballs marks the general area of his death on the east side of Columbia Pike, about 40 yards from Federal works, 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Meet Ruby Davis, the bootlegger of Rippavilla

A retouched photo of Ruby Davis hangs in a second-floor room at Rippavilla.

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In the late 1950s, Ruby Davis lived at the Rippavilla plantation mansion in Spring Hill, Tenn., a place steeped in Civil War history. Among her other nefarious activities there, Davis sold moonshine — she even kept a ledger book of illicit sales to folks in the area. (It’s in the case below her photo above.) 

Ruby, according to a well-placed source, had a heart of gold, and her daughter had a penchant for marriage — she was married 12 times. (Or was it 10 times? Ah, who’s counting? Once you get past three, it’s hard to keep track.) 

Confederate troops were camped at the Rippaville plantation the night John Schofield’s U.S. Army soldiers slipped past them on the nearby Columbia Pike on Nov. 29, 1864. (The Battle of Franklin was fought the next day.) No, Ruby wasn’t there to distract them. 

This retouched photo of the old bootlegger hangs in Rippavilla, which is open to the public.

I'm a former West Virginian who appreciates the power of moonshine, character and characters, so I'll carve out time someday to write much more about Ruby, who fascinates me. 😃

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Saturday, January 09, 2021

Following 'bread crumbs' in life (and death) of Federal soldier

ABOVE: A document in Valentine Rau's widow's pension file notes his date of death and more. BELOW: A note to Rau's widow on reverse of above document. 
(National Archives via 
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Here's how these two documents in the National Archives can open the door to the story of this Battle of Nashville casualty: 

On Dec. 16, 1864, 72nd Ohio Private Valentine Rau of Company C was wounded on the second (and final) day of the battle. The 26-year-old soldier, a native of Germany, was shot in the right side, according to Document 1 (above top). We can presume Valentine was originally treated at a hospital in Nashville -- war-time records can identify which one -- and then sent to Jefferson General Hospital in Jeffersonville, Ind. 

A brief search online reveals much information (including an illustration) about Jefferson General Hospital. Built to replace another hospital at nearby Camp Joe Holt, it was one of the largest U.S. Army hospitals of the war. Jefferson General Hospital  consisted of 27 buildings, each 175 x 20 feet. Each ward had four large cast-iron stoves. Inside the perimeter was a chapel with reading rooms, a post office, a drug and instrument house, and a "dead house" -- a morgue for temporary keeping of the dead.

Jefferson General Hospital was one of the largest U.S. Army hospitals during the war.

By February 1865, Rau -- whose name apparently was anglicized in these documents to "Rowe" -- had taken a turn for the worse. He died on  Feb. 8, 1865. L.G. Olmstead filled out the front of Document 1, noting Rau died in the morning in Ward 1 and that the soldier's wife, Susan, lived in Sandusky, Ohio. On the reverse of the document, E.S Ballard wrote to Rau's widow:

"I send this to give you information concerning the death of Mr. Valentine Rowe. But as I am informed that the particulars have already been written by his lady nurse I will not multiply the words."

(The identity of Ballard could be revealed with further research.)

A quick search online reveals Olmstead was a Presbyterian minister of some renown in Indiana. Document 2 (shown) -- the reverse of Document 1 -- also included the name "C.W. Fitch," another chaplain. 

According "Baird's History of Clark County, Indiana," published in 1909: Fitch and Olmstead were "men of great heart as well as brain. Chaplain Olmstead being a great lover of flowers was responsible for adding materially to the beauty and attractiveness of the grounds [of Jefferson Hospital] by planting many trees and flower beds to cheer the homesick sufferers."

According to Document 1, Rau's funeral was held at 3 p.m. on Feb. 8, 1865. He was buried nearby, probably at a hospital cemetery -- further research could uncover where. According to Find A Grave -- an excellent online research tool --  Rau's remains rest today in the national cemetery in New Albany, Ind.

Information in these documents -- "bread crumbs," I call them -- could lead to much more about the life and death of Valentine Rau. For example:

  • Because we have his wife's name, more info on the Rau family could easily be found on Perhaps even an image of the couple.
  • A deeper dive of the county history could uncover an image of Olmstead. (Obscure county, town, etc. history are digitized on, a fabulous resource.)
  • Records from the hospital where Rau was treated could lead to the identity of the "lady nurse" who treated him and more.
  • The identity of Rau's regiment could open many doors -- exactly where the regiment fought at Nashville, for example. A speech about the regiment, given in 1875 by a 72nd Ohio officer, is available online here. Perhaps he mentioned Rau. 

Information available on the Internet -- thanks, Al Gore! -- makes the searching/digging infinitely easier than it was decades ago. Enjoy the "digging."

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Documents from Rau widow’s pension file, National Archives via, a pay site.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

A visit to McFadden's Ford at Stones River (Tenn.) battlefield

At the Battle of Stones River (Tenn.) on Jan. 2, 1863, 58 Union cannons opened up on Confederate attempting to cross McFadden’s Ford. Roughly 1,800 became casualties in about 45 minutes. “The dead rebels lay so thick upon the ground,” a U.S. Army officer recalled, “that we could not draw the [cannon] across the field until the bodies had been removed allowing us a path.” I visited the site on the 157th anniversary of fighting there. READ MORE ... from the extremely knowledgeable Stan Hutson here.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Two minutes at Union cemetery site at Parker's Crossroads

Federal fallen from the battle on Dec. 31, 1862, were buried at this site, now within sight of busy Interstate 40. The remains of nearly all the soldiers here were exhumed two years after the Civil War for re-burial in a national cemetery in Corinth, Miss.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

'Lucky enough': How young officer captured flag at Nashville

A war-time image of 5th Minnesota officer Thomas Parke Gere and the restored
 4th Mississippi flag he captured at the Battle of Nashville. It's in the Mississippi Department
of Archives and History collection.

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Supremely confident but not cocky, 22-year-old U.S. Army officer Thomas Gere bounded past grim-faced paper-pushers at the War Department, the gloomy brick building a two-minute walk from the White House. The date was Feb. 22, 1865, a bright, chilly day a little more than two months after George "Pap" Thomas' Army of the Cumberland bludgeoned John Bell Hood's tattered Army of Tennessee at Nashville. 

War Department in Washington, near the White House
and across from Lafayette Square, during the Civil War.
(The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division
of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection,
The New York Public Library
A lieutenant and adjutant in the 5th Minnesota, Gere was joined by 14 other bronze-faced U.S. Army soldiers -- each was based in Tennessee, at least one had served in the Mexican War, and all but two captured an enemy flag at the Battle of Nashville (Dec. 15-16, 1864). 

Eagerly anticipating the day's event, the soldiers pushed through a massive, green leather door and filed into the War Department's large reception room. Members of Congress, foreign dignitaries, and other guests -- roughly 100 in all -- stood in a horseshoe formation steps from the men. Displays of upright muskets near the walls gave the setting a distinct martial air. 

Conversations abruptly stopped when a short, square-shouldered man entered the room. Standing between the two groups, 50-year-old Edwin Stanton -- Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of War --  read Special Field Orders No. 38, issued two weeks earlier by Thomas. Go to Washington, the "Sledge of Nashville" ordered, for a special ceremony in honor of your capture of Rebel flags.  
War-time image of Edwin Stanton,
Lincoln's Secretary of War.
(Library of Congress)
Then the bearded and bespectacled Stanton read aloud the names of the soldiers:

Corporal J.W. Parks, 11th Missouri.

Private W. May, 32nd Iowa.

Private G. Stokes, 122nd Illinois ... 

Finally, he summoned Gere, the soldier in charge of the detachment from Tennessee. Holding his tattered Battle on Nashville trophy, the young officer eyed his impressive audience.

"Mr. Secretary,” Gere began, “I have the honor and pleasure to present to you the colors of the 4th Mississippi Infantry, C. S. A.” 

How he "captured" the flag was a combination of guts, valor of subordinates ... and a lot of luck.    

An illustration of Fort Ridgley, in Minnesota Territory, as it appeared in 1862.

Thomas Parke Gere's introduction to warfare came as a teenager in Minnesota Territory -- Indian country.

In August 1862, Gere temporarily took over command of Fort Ridgley from John S. Marsh, who apparently drowned after he was wounded in battle against Indians. Marsh had left the small outpost with roughly 50 other soldiers from Company B of the 5th Minnesota to investigate an attack at the Lower Sioux Agency, where eastern Sioux murdered some of the White settlers. Barely a quarter of the soldiers returned from the mission.

A circa-1863 photo of Thomas Gere.
"The Indians are killing the settlers and plundering the country," Gere wrote Minnesota Gov. Alexander Ramsey. "Send reinforcements without delay." The second lieutenant in Company B was four months shy of his 20th birthday. 

Mature well beyond his years, Gere wrote a letter weeks later to Marsh's brother regarding the recovery of John's remains. "[The body] had caught in the roots of an old tree" along the bank of the Yellow Medicine River, he told Captain Josiah F. Marsh. "He was recognized by his uniform. The body was in a remarkable state of preservation. His right arm was lying across his breast; the left was behind his body.

"You are aware that Lieutenant [James G.] McGrew and myself have made every effort to have a proper search made long before this but were unsuccessful until now," continued Gere. "It is a great relief to know that he is at last found."

Later that year, companies B, C and D of the 5th Minnesota joined the rest of the regiment in the South. In May 1863, Gere and his comrades were marching and fighting in Mississippi during the Vickburg Campaign. In Nathaniel Banks' 1864 Red River Campaign in Louisiana, the 5th Minnesota guarded supply trains, served as a rear guard, and fought in such godforsaken places as Yellow Bayou, Campti, and Sabine Cross Roads. Later, this Swiss Army knife of a regiment served in Alabama and Arkansas.

"Composed of hardy frontier citizens, long accustomed to hardship and privation, probably no finer organization has ever been sent into the field," a Minnesota newspaper wrote when most of the regiment was furloughed in July 1864.

Five months later, the 5th Minnesota would face its supreme test of the war. 
Battle map shows advance of three Union brigades on Dec. 16, 1864. The 5th Minnesota
was in Lucius Hubbard's brigade.  (Battle of Nashville Trust via Guide to Civil War Nashville)

In the cavernous room at the War Department, Gere emphasized his capture of the 4th Mississippi colors was a team effort. 

"[It] was due, and should be credited, to the valor of the soldiers of [Lucius] Hubbard's Brigade, [John] McArthur's Division of A. J. Smith's detachment," the slender, earnest-looking officer told the dignitaries. "It was the result of the final charge upon the enemy's works by that invincible command in the second day's battle. Every soldier who participated in that assault shares the credit of the captured colors."

8th Wisconsin Lieutenant William Sargent
was killed at Nashville on Dec. 16, 1864.
"Words cannot express our sorrow!" Thomas Gere
wrote about his death. This is Sargent's marker
in Janesville, Wis. (Find A Grave)

At about 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 16, 1864 -- Day 2 of the battle -- three brigades from Smith's division were among Federal forces that attacked Confederate works at Compton Hill (Shy's Hill), the extreme left flank of Hood's army. (See map above.) Under relentless fire, the 5th Minnesota and the rest of Hubbard's brigade advanced through a muddy cornfield toward a line of Confederates behind a stone wall protected by abatis and a ditch.

Still reeling from their Day 1 whipping and overwhelmed by a numerically superior U.S. Army, the exhausted and hungry Rebels fled; hundreds became prisoners. ".. the most complete rout of the enemy that I have ever witnessed," Gere told his War Department audience.

When he reached the Rebel works on the east side of Granny White Pike, Gere's horse wouldn't cross the abatis and stone wall. While Federals advanced to his right, he spotted the 4th Mississippi flag-bearer fleeing to the Union rear without his colors. Gere couldn't reach the flag, so he ordered the soldier to leap back over the wall and hand him the prized war trophy. Perhaps the officer's waving of a loaded revolver compelled him to deliver it ASAP.

In a short entry in his war-time diary, Gere offered further glimpses of the hellish experience:

"... Fearful charge, hundreds fell, but we captured the works with prisoners by thousands 'Twas a fiery ordeal -- I can not attempt to describe it here. The enemy fled and we pursued; a glorious victory."

The 5th Minnesota suffered dozens of casualties in its deadliest battle of the war. Among those killed were Private Lysias Raymond, the married father of girls 1 and 4 years old; Irish-born Patrick Byrnes, whose mother was a widow; and one of Gere's favorites, William Sargent, a 24-year-old lieutenant in the 8th Wisconsin. "Words can not express our sorrow!" he wrote about the death of the English-born officer, who was shot through the heart.

"The fighting was the heaviest in our front," Gere continued in his diary. "It was indeed a desperate thing to go through that storm of grape, canister and musket balls -- we who got through wonder how we escaped! Our feelings can not be described! But we won the victory!"

"I was lucky enough," added Gere, who was wounded slightly in the right wrist on Day 1, "to get the battle flag of the Fourth Mississippi regiment in the charge."

ABOVE AND BELOW: Present-day view of terrain where 5th Minnesota advanced
on Dec. 16, 1864. It's in a residential area off Granny White Pike in Nashville.

The spotlight didn't just shine on Gere that winter day in Washington. After he told his Battle of Nashville story, the other soldiers present recounted the capture of their flags. Not all the stories were teeming with extraordinary heroism.

On Dec. 16, Corporal Frank Carr of the 114th Ohio recaptured a Federal cavalry guidon. He got stuck in abatis when his regiment was forced to retreat. "A fellow came up and asked me to surrender," Carr told Stanton. "I wouldn't do it, but put on my bayonet and was going to stand a fight when the fellow ran and dropped his flag."

A circa-1894 image of Thomas Gere,
who died in 1912. He was buried in
Arlington National Cemetery.
Also on Day 2, Private Wilbur F. Moore captured the colors from a Confederate battery. "The color-bearer was in a small line of rebels," he recalled, "and was trying to climb the hills. I shed my knapsack to go out for him, and captured him and a captain of the same regiment, too."

Each soldier at the ceremony handed his trophy to a Mexican War veteran, who placed the flag atop the display of muskets. "... when the last silken standard had been placed there," according to a post-war account, "the effect was brilliant and thrilling. The varied hues of the rainbow lighted up the sombre apartment in a blaze of color."

Clearly impressed with the soldiers, Stanton shook each man's hand. Then he briefly expressed appreciation.

“In behalf of the Government of the United States I return to you its thanks," he told the soldiers, "and the thanks of the people, for your noble gallantry. Accept also the gratitude of the department for yourselves and companions in arms."

The honorees were granted a 30-day furlough and advanced a month's pay. They later received another award from a grateful government: a Medal of Honor. 

Before they departed the War Department, Gere and his Tennessee detachment saluted Stanton. The man who managed the Union war machine waved back ... and wept.  

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Chatfield (Minn.) Democrat, Oct. 4, 1862.
-- Chicago Tribune, Aug. 25, 1862.
-- Janesville (Wis.) Weekly Gazette, Dec. 22, 1864.
-- New York Daily Herald, Feb. 23, 1865
-- The Bravest 500 of '61, Their Noble Deeds Described by Themselves, compiled by Theo F. Rodenbough, New York: G.W. Dillingham Publishers, 1891.
-- The Goodhue Volunteer, Red Wing, Minn., July 6, 1864.
--Thomas Parke Gere's war-time diary (typewritten copy), Minnesota Historical Society, (Battle of Nashville text courtesy Tim Bode, 5th Minnesota Research Group on Facebook.)


A post-war image of Medal of Honor 
recipient Otis W. Smith and an 
unidentfied woman. He captured a 6th Florida flag
at Nashville.  (Find A Grave)

(Click on links for Find A Grave info)

Lieutenant Thomas Parke Gere, 5th Minnesota
Lieutenant Charles McCleary, 72nd Ohio
Lieutenant Oliver Colwell, 95th Ohio
Lieutenant William T. Simmons, 11th Missouri
Sergeant William Garrett, 41st Ohio
Corporal James W. Parks, 11th Missouri
Corporal Luther P. Kaltenbach, 12th Iowa
Corporal George W. Welch, 11th Missouri 
Corporal Franklin Carr, 124th Ohio
Corporal George Stokes, 122nd Illinois 
Private Otis W. Smith, 95th Ohio
Private William C. May, 32nd Iowa *
Private Andrew Jackson Sloan, 12th Iowa
Private Wilbur F. Moore, 117th Illinois
Private Irving Holcomb, 41st Ohio
Corporal Harrison Collins, 1st Tenn.Cavalry **

* A 7th Minnesota captain disputed the capture of the flag by May. See post on Dan Masters' Civil War Chronicles blog.
** Collins, who was present at the ceremony in Washington on Feb. 22, 1864, received the Medal of Honor for capturing a flag on Christmas Eve 1864 at Richland Creek, Tenn., during Hood's retreat. 

-- Sergeant Alfred Ransbottom of the 97th Ohio attended the Washington ceremony. Ransbottom was honored for "extraordinary heroism" on Nov. 30, 1864, at the Battle of Franklin, where he captured an enemy flag.

Close-up of Medal of Honor awarded to Wilbur F. Moore of the 117th Illinois.
(Library of Congress)

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

'Family tradition': Relic hunting with Hank Williams Jr. in '64

In this photo published in the Tennessean in 1964, Gordon Stoker (left), a singer with the
Jordanaires, holds a spoon he found on a battle line while Hank Williams Jr. examines
an unexploded artillery shell Stoker found in his back yard near Shy's Hill in Nashville.
Hank Williams Jr. and Gordon Stoker, a singer in the Jordanaires, "prospect for
mini balls," according to the caption in the Tennessean on Dec. 6, 1964.

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Long before he became a mega-country music star, with hits such as "A Country Boy Can Survive," "All My Rowdy Friends," and "Family Tradition," Hank Williams Jr. pursued another passion: Civil War relic hunting.

As a teen, Williams Jr. lived in Nashville, not far from battle sites Shy's Hill, Peach Orchard Hill, Oak Hill and Granny White Pike.

Hank Williams Jr. at a 2006 concert. (Andrea Klein via
Wikimedia Commons
On Dec. 6, 1964, the Tennessean ran a short feature by Hugh Walker on Civil War “treasure hunters” in the Music City. Among those featured in the story was Williams Jr., then 15. One of the three photos that accompanied the story showed him holding an unexploded, fused shell (yikes!) found by Jordanaires tenor singer Gordon Stoker in the back yard of his home near Shy’s Hill, where John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee was routed on Dec. 16, 1864. Hank Jr. attended John Overton High School, built on Peach Orchard Hill, defended by Hood's army.

Williams Jr.'s passion for relic collecting -- and the Civil War -- has lasted well into adulthood.

"We have so much information now on the Internet that you can almost trace a musket or revolver right to the soldier that it was issued to," he said in a video posted to YouTube in 2008. "Boy, that makes it sweet when you can put it all together." Williams used to hunt for Civil War relics with his close friend, Johnny Cash -- the greatest country singer of all time. (June Carter Cash was Hank Jr.'s godmother.)

In a four-minute clip, Williams, now 71, mentioned two of his ancestors in the 6th Alabama -- one was killed at Gettysburg, another lost an arm at Little Round Top. He also showed off a musket in his collection with "Co. G, 6th Alabama" carved into the stock.

In 1992, when Hank Jr. scrapped his full beard for a goatee look, his agent even gave it a Civil War spin. "He was looking through some Civil War books and saw some generals," Merle Kilgore said, "and decided that's how he wanted to look."

Below is the story from the Tennessean and the 2008 Williams Jr. YouTube clip:

From Shy’s Hill to Peach Orchard, collectors of Civil War relics are still looking for minie balls, cannon halls, bayonets, buttons and belt buckles. And they're finding them! One of the more successful and more knowledgeable of the relic hunters is Hank Williams Jr., son of the late great country singer, and a recording star in his own right. 

Hank, 15, lives at 4916 Franklin Road, but has done most of his collecting of shells and bullets at High Note, the home of Gordon Stoker of the Jordonaires Quartet. Stoker lives on the high hill about 400 yards south of Shy's Hill, on Benton Smith Road. The brow of this hill was the scene of a sharp battle on the second day of the Battle of Nashville on Dec. 16, 1864. 

Hank operates with the aid of an electronic metal detector, and while we were there he came up with a perfect minie ball, found two inches under the grass in Stoker's back yard. "This it a .577 caliber Confederate mini ball," Hank said, "fired from an English Enfield rifle."  

It developed that he usually is able to identify shells and bullets, and tell from what arm and by which army they were fired. Stoker, too, has a considerable treasure from his back yard, and one of these is a heart stopper. It is a round, explosive type shell containing a five-second fuse. The fuse stopped at three and a half seconds, for some reason, and the shell never exploded. Now, after a century, the shell looks as though It might explode at any time if that last second and a half ever ticks off. 

Jimmy McMinn shows 52 minie balls and two cannon balls
 to his friends. He found them at Nashville's Peach Orchard Hill,
where he lived. The photo accompanied the 
1964 story that featured Hank Williams Jr.
On Shy's Hill itself Vernon W. Gerth and his boys, David and John, have been busy collecting minie balls. Not long ago they found a fine bayonet and a partly exploded shell located with shrapnel. Williams also had found a shell of this type. 

The stone wall that runs along Stonewall Drive continued the Confederate line eastward most of the way to Franklin Road, and around the brow of Peach Orchard Hill. On the northern face of this hill young Jim McMinn, a student at Overton High School, has picked up 52 minie balls and two cannon balls, plus some miscellaneous scrap iron. 

Jimmy's family has been forced to move from the hill top. temporarily, because of the new highways that will cross Peach Orchard. One of these, the southbound 1-65, will pass just east of the hill, which is really a long ridge, somewhat broken in the middle. The other, which may be a part of the projected Briley Parkway, will he an extension of Battery Lane running east and west. It passes a little south of the Confederate defense line and cuts across the line where it was refused to the south.

Besides the collections of shells and bullets mentioned, many Nashvillians have Civil War guns, uniforms, swords and articles of various types and scores of these will be furbished up and put on display for the commemoration of the battle centennial, Dec. 11-13.

POSTSCRIPT: Soon after the 1964 Tennessean story was posted to the Battle of Nashville Trust Facebook page, one of Stoker's sons weighed in. "The group of youngsters in the first picture (see below) is myself, my brother Brent Stoker, and our neighbor, Johnny Daniel," Alan Stoker wrote. "Thanks for posting this. We still have most of these relics too."  (Gordon Stoker died in 2013.)

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


 -- Lincoln (Neb.) Journal via Associated Press, Jan. 10, 1992.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Where are Howard Pyle's 'lost' Nashville battlefield photos?

A cropped enlargement of Howard Pyle's painting shows the fury of battle.
Pyle's 1906 painting, "The Battle of Nashville," shows Minnesota troops fighting near
A comparable view of Pyle's vantage point, now in an upscale residential area. Shy's Hill
 looms in the background. Perhaps this is where Pyle shot his "large photographs."

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Before Howard Pyle created “The Battle of Nashville,” the famous painting showing the attack of Minnesota troops near Shy’s Hill, the renowned artist/illustrator did his homework. He studied historical accounts of the battle, interviewed veterans, examined a battle map, and even took several “large photographs” of the scene near Granny White Pike, where the Midwesterners fought. 

A Minnesota veteran said Pyle's depiction made Federal
soldiers look "bloodthirsty and fierce." This is
a cropped enlargement of Pyle's painting.
Note the Yankee wearing his kepi backward 
 at bottom right.
Oh, my, how we’d love to see those 100-plus-year-old photographs today.

What was open ground early in the 20th century, when Pyle painted the scene, is now an upscale residential area. The cornfield where Minnesota troops charged on Dec. 16, 1864, during the Federals' rout of the Army of Tennessee is now occupied in part by a recently constructed private school. 

At least two veterans weren't pleased with Pyle’s painting, which was  displayed at the State Capitol building in St. Paul, Minn., in the fall of 1906 and remains there today. It has no historic value, Thomas G. Carter, an officer in the 7th Minnesota, complained to the Minneapolis Journal


Carter was offended that the painting only showed the attack by two regiments of Minnesota troops – the 5th and 9th infantry, II Brigade troops commanded by future Minnesota governor Lucius Hubbard. The 7th Minnesota, III Brigade troops under William R. Marshall, and the 10th regiment in the I Brigade, commanded by William L. McMillen, were not depicted. (See battle map below.)

Howard Pyle
“Captain Carter, after inspecting the painting, says it makes the men look bloodthirsty and fierce,” the Minnesota Journal reported on Nov. 6, 1906, “but it is nothing more than a picture of the advance of … Hubbard’s brigade.” 

“Battle Picture Bad Historically,” read the headline in the newspaper. “Seventh Regiment Out in the Cold,” read a headline on a follow-up story in the Journal two weeks later.

Pyle, who died in 1911, said he couldn’t show all the Minnesota regiments advancing because their battle line was too long for a 6-by-8-foot painting. Hubbard reportedly was also disappointed the painting didn’t show all four Minnesota regiments. 

"It is possible that the Tenth is represented in the painting,” Carter groused about the unit that attacked closer to Shy’s Hill, “but if so the smoke hides it. In reality, the smoke hides it, mostly. In reality, there is too much smoke.” Carter also said Pyle got the topography wrong. 

Perhaps another look at those photos Pyle took in 1906 – if they still exist -- might bring some clarity to this footnote in history.  

Battle map shows advance of three Union brigades on Dec. 16, 1864.
(Battle of Nashville Trust via Guide to Civil War Nashville)
The Union II Brigade, which included the 5th and 9th Minnesota, advanced across
 present-day Harding Place Road. Historic Granny White Pike is at left.
A view of Shy's Hill looking roughly west from the parking lot of a modern church near
Granny White Pike.
A historical marker along Granny White Pike. The II Brigade advanced on ground
 to the right of the pike. It's a residential neighborhood today.
A historical marker and a view of the antebellum, dry-stack wall on Granny White Pike.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


 --The Minneapolis Journal, Oct. 9, Nov 6, Nov. 19, 1906.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Condolences to 'Stumpy': A Mississippian's death at Franklin

Sergeant Mat Dunn of the 33rd Mississippi was killed at the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864. His wife, whom he affectionally called "Stumpy," is at right in a post-war photo.
(Photos courtesy Dunn family descendants.)

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The casualty lists from the Battle of Franklin tell us nearly 10,000 soldiers were killed, wounded and missing. But we can only guess the number of hearts broken in Northern and Southern families because of the carnage in Tennessee on Nov. 30, 1864. The family of 33rd Mississippi Sergeant Mathew Andrew Dunn was among those who were shattered.

Four months before his death at Franklin, Mathew aimed to prepare his wife Virginia -- he affectionately called her "Stumpy" -- for awful possibilities. "Oh my love," he wrote from Atlanta,  "if I could only See you and our dear little ones again what a pleasure it would be. But God only knows whether I will have that privilege or not. I want you to try and raise them up right. Train them while they are young.

"And if I am not Spared to See you I hope we will meet in a happier world. ... if I am killed I hope that I am prepared to go."

Markers for unknown Mississippians in McGavock Confederate Cemetery in Franklin, Tenn. Perhaps 33rd Mississippi Sergeant Mathew A. Dunn rests beneath one of them.

On Jan. 11, 1865, Major C.P. Neilson provided details of  Dunn's death in Tennessee to "Stumpy," who lived in the hamlet of Liberty, Miss. After emerging through dense woods, Winfield S. Featherston's brigade advanced toward Union breastworks. Ordered to charge, the 33rd Mississippi and six other regiments in the brigade fought their way near Federal lines, Neilson wrote, with hand-to-hand fighting briefly breaking out. But "... we were compelled to give way," the major recalled, "and fell back some two or three hundred yards and there remained until next morning."

Wounded four times, Dunn was believed to have been killed instantly. Later that night, Neilson discovered the 30-year-old father of two children lying on his back. "He appeared," the major wrote, "to be peacefully sleeping with a smile." Neilson informed Mrs. Dunn of her husband injuries -- he was struck by a bullet "directly in the front, just below the breast bone" and also suffered wounds in the right side, right cheek and left hand.

Dunn fought in Winfield Featherston's
 brigade at Franklin.
Neilson found Dunn's Bible on his chest, and planned to present the testament to "Stumpy" when he returned to Mississippi during the winter. Because he had duties elsewhere on the battlefield, Neilson left Dunn's body where he lay, but said the sergeant was decently buried later by friends and comrades. The soldier's knapsack and blanket had been stolen, Neilson noted, by "inhuman robbers of the dead." Another soldier in the 33rd Mississippi preserved a lock of Dunn's hair for his widow.

"It would certainly be a consolation to you to have received some last message from your loving one," added the officer, "but the unexpected mess of the battle and the circumstances of his death precluded the possibility of such a thing."

Concluded Neilson:
"You have two strong sources of consolation Mrs. Dunn. That your husband died as he had lived, a true Christian, and his death was such as becomes the true soldier on the battle field with his face to the foe and followed by love and regrets of all his comrades. Your loss is great and deeply so. I sympathize with you but you 'mourn not as one without hope.' '' 
Nearly three months after the battle, 33rd Mississippi Private John Cain Wilkinson, Dunn's messmate, also wrote his widow. Virginia's husband was among nine soldiers in Company K of the 33rd Mississippi, the Amite County Defenders, to die of wounds suffered at Franklin. The condolence letter -- dated Feb. 15, 1865, and presented in its entirety below -- is remarkable for its eloquence.

"I am incompetent to write a eulogy upon such a character," wrote the 40-year-old Wilkinson, who became a pastor at the Plymouth Primitive Baptist Church in Liberty after the war. To the contrary, the Mississippian's powerful words resonate through time.

McGavock Cemetery, where nearly 1,300 Confederate dead from the Battle of Franklin are buried.
Hamburg, Edgefield District, S.C.
February 15, 1865

Mrs. M.A. Dunn

My Dear Friend, I seat myself with a heart filled with sorrow to pen you a few lines to let you know that I do truly mourn and sympathize with you on account of you great irreparable loss.

Post-war image of
John C. Wilkinson
(Courtesy Pat Ezell)
On the 22nd____, I received the sad and heartrending intelligence that Mr. M. A. Dunn and L.L. Anderson of my mess and seven others of our Co. were killed at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee on the 30th of November 1864.

Mr. Dunn and I were only slightly acquainted when our Co. organized, but before leaving our beloved homes, we agreed to be members of the same family in Camp and drew our first rations together and continued so until I was wounded in May last.

And to me, he proved to be a true friend under all circumstances, in sickness, in health, in trials, and under all the hardships we had to undergo, he was always a patient and cheerful friend.

I am incompetent to write a eulogy upon such a character, and will only say to you that M. A. Dunn was free from the influence of the many vices and evils so common in Camp which entice so many from the path of rectitude.

But he did by a well ordered walk and godly conversation make manifest to his comrades that he was a devoted Christian, true gentleman and patriotic soldier.

Being kind and obliging, he enjoyed the good will and confidence of all who had the pleasure of being acquainted with him.

Mississippi section of McGavock Confederate Cemetery in Franklin, Tenn.
Sergeant Mathew A. Dunn may be buried here beneath a marker
designated  "Unknown." He originally was buried on the battlefield.
By this sad bereavement our Co. lost one of its first members, Amite County a good citizen, Ebenezar a worthy member, and you and your dear little ones, a kind and dearly beloved husband and father.

Dear Friend, though I join you in shedding a tear of grief, let us not mourn as those who are without hope, for we feel assured that our loss is his Eternal gain, that his freed spirit is now singing praises to our Blessed Savior in the Paradis above where all is joy and peace.

Oh, that we could truly adopt the language of Paul under this heavy affliction - "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Then, how consoling would be the language of our Saviour, "Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe in God believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there you may be also. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. For because I live, ye shall live also." Then, my afflicted Sister, be admonished by the poorest of the poor to look to the fountain whence cometh all our help and strength; Jesus alone can comfort you in all your trails.

"For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, his ears are open unto their prayers." We have the promise of the comforter, and Paul says, "Likewise, the spirit also helpeth our infirmities for we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered."

And to give us full assurance, our Blessed savior informs us that He maketh intercession for the Saints, that according to the will of God.

Close-up of the Mississippi monument at McGavock Confederate Cemetery.
And so, there remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God, and we have so many sweet and precious promises. Let us therefore come boldly into the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in each time of need.

I know that the ties of nature are such that you cannot refrain from weeping and though your dear husband cannot return to you, yet you have hope that you may go where he is, and join him in singing a song of deliverance.

And may God on tender mercy remember you and your dear Little Ones. May He lead, rule, guide, and direct you safely through this life, giving you that sweet consolation which He alone can give. And finally, through the merits of his dear Son, crown you His (with your dear husband) in his kingdom above where "God will wipe away all tears from your eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither shall there be any more pain, but where all is Joy and Peace is the desire of one who wished you well.

Sign on entrance gate to McGavock Confederate Cemetery.
You have no doubt seen a list of the killed, wounded and missing at the Battle of Franklin, Tenn. on the 30th November 1864. And many more must have fallen at the Battle of Nashville on the 15th of December from which I have no news from my company.

When I left Camp I left six messmates whom I loved, four of them, J.P. and C.C. Lea, L.L Anderson, and M. A. Dunn have poured out their life's blood in defense of their country. R.S. Capell is severely wounded and my dear son, W.H.W. reported captured. Truly, we have cause to mourn but I desire not to mourner.

Not wishing to weary you with my imperfection, I close; when at the throne of grace, remember me and mine and believe me to be your friend in deep affliction.

John C. Wilkinson

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- 33rd Mississippi Infantry web site, "To Live and Die in Dixie. We Are a Band of Brothers," accessed Aug. 18, 2018.
-- Pat Ezell genealogical research on John Cain Wilkinson.
-- The Ohio State University, eHistory, accessed Aug. 18, 2018.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Zoomcast: Interview with author of new Gettysburg book

In a 22-minute Civil War Zoomcast, I interviewed James Gindlesperger, author of the newly published Bullet & Bandages | The Aid Stations and Field Hospitals at Gettysburg. (Gotta love the Tom Hanks reference.) By Blair Publishing, the book is 336 pages, with lots of color photos. 

Much like about this one: GPS coordinates for hospital sites, many interesting human interest stories (check out the one on the Solomon Powers house on West High Street), easy-to-digest format. Great guide to take to the battlefield. 

Jim and I share a western Pennsylvania connection -- he's from Johnstown, Pa., where it sometimes snows, according to sources. He and his wife, Suzanne, co-authored So You Think You Know Gettysburg and So You Think You Know Antietam

From Antietam to Wartrace: My favorite photos of 2020

BRENTWOOD, TENN.: A wilted rose left on a small, weather-worn gravestone
 in a small slave cemetery in a road median.

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What a crazy year ...

In Tennessee alone, I met a woman named "Blossom" at the tavern where Patrick Cleburne hung out in Wartrace, patted a dog named "River" at 20th Tennessee Colonel Bill Shy's grave in Franklin, and peered into a church in Denmark where Confederate soldiers hid under hoop skirts.

A poignant note left at a slave cemetery.
But my most memorable visit was to a slave cemetery in the median of a busy road in Brentwood, Tenn. On a memorial there, a visitor left this note: 

"Thank you. I so very hope someone thanked you during your life here. You could not have imagined so many wonderful things we have today because of your labors, and how much farther we have to grow."

There were road trips to Antietam, Chickamauga, Corinth, Miss.; Crampton's and Fox's gaps in Maryland, Gettysburg, Perryville, Ky.; Port Republic and Cross Keys in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and for the first time, Brice's Cross Roads (Miss.), Mill Springs (Ky.) and Britton's Lane, Tenn. And I visited the grave in Glade Spring, Va., of the general with the fabulous nickname, "Grumble" Jones. Closer to home, I traveled to Franklin, Shiloh, Stones River, and Lookout Mountain. And, of course, many Nashville battlefield sites were only a bike ride away.
Besides my University of Alabama cap and a smile, I always traveled with my iPhone, eager to document the journeys. Here are some of my favorite photos from 2020. Hope you enjoyed riding "shotgun."

Remember: Life, enjoy the journey.


ANTIETAM, MD.: A misty early morning at Bloody Lane.
FRANKLIN, TENN.: A dog named "River" at grave of 20th Tennessee Colonel Bill Shy.
PERRYVILLE, KY.: The lone witness tree remaining on the battlefield.
GETTYSBURG: 27th Connecticut monument in The Wheatfield.
BRENTWOOD, TENN.: Abandoned antebellum farmhouse of slaveholding family.
PERRYVILLE, Ky.: View advancing Confederates had on Henry Bottom's farm.
ANTIETAM: An epic carved eagle atop New York monument.
ANTIETAM, MD.: Reenactors in the Bloody Cornfield.
SHILOH, TENN.: Battlefield marker denoting burial location for 28th Illinois fallen 
atop ancient Indian mound. The dead were later moved to Shiloh National Cemetery.
BRENTWOOD, TENN: A mural depicting in a tony subdivision depicting the capture
of Confederate Colonel Edmund Rucker on Dec. 16, 1864. 
CHICKAMAUGA, GA.: Michigan monument.
MILL SPRING, KY.: Coins left at Confederate mass grave. (READ MORE.)
NASHVILLE, TENN.: A massive battlefield witness tree, toppled in a storm, and my
 brother-in-law/bike riding pal, Nels Jensen. (SEE/READ MORE.)
BRENTWOOD, TENN.: Locked door of slave cabin. (READ/SEE MORE.)
FRANKLIN, TENN.: Confederate monument in the town square. 
CHICKAMAUGA, Ga.: Bullets in bas-relief on an Ohio monument.
CHICKAMAUGA, GA.: 125th Ohio monument on Snodgrass Hill. 
GETTYSBURG: Union General Philip Kearney, killed at Chantilly (Va.) on Sept. 1, 1862,
 depicted in bronze on a New Jersey monument.
MURFEEESBORO, TENN.: Shadow play with relic hunter Stan Hutson
at Lunette Negley at Fortress Rosecrans site. (READ MORE.)
BURKITTSVILLE, MD.: Union General William Franklin's headquarters. (SEE MORE.)
NASHVILLE: Shy's Hill, taken by the Federals on Dec. 16, 1864.
BRICE'S CROSS ROADS (Miss.): A grave in a cemetery overrun during the battle.

-- My favorite photos of 2017, 2018 and 2019.
-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? Email me here.