Saturday, June 08, 2019

Moon pies & Patrick Cleburne: A Tennessee Civil War adventure

Connie Smith holds a copy of a late-19th century or early-20th century image of Confederate veterans 
from Tennessee. Her great-great grandfather, who served under Nathan Bedford Forrest, appears
 directly in front of the flag. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
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Overshadowed by Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, William Rosecrans' Tullahoma Campaign in summer 1863 gets stiff-armed in the history books. In a series of small battles east of Nashville and Murfreesboro, the 42-year-old Army of the Cumberland commander ejected Rebels from Middle Tennessee. "Brilliant," The New York Times called Rosecrans' maneuverings.

How did Bell Buckle gets its name? An account pasted on the 
window of a counter at a Bell Buckle antiques store/cafe 
offers possibilities.
Channel your inner David McCullough and let these Tullahoma Campaign place names roll off your tongue:

Hoover’s Gap.

Liberty Gap.

Duck River.


Bell Buckle.

Ah, Bell Buckle, population about 500 and hometown of former "Hee Haw" star Molly Bee. (Use the Google machine.) To find my way there, I rely on finely honed backwoods instincts and lean on knowledge gleaned from  10 years at West Virginia University. Along the way, I make a left at a small church with a sign out front that reads (humorously): "Prayer. The Best Wireless Connection."

On June 24-26, 1863, at Liberty Gap, about 3 1/2 miles from Bell Buckle, Confederates under Army of Tennessee commander Braxton Bragg clashed with Federals under Rosecrans. Chased from the gap, the Rebels retreated to Tullahoma.

About three weeks earlier, Bell Buckle was site of a Grand Review of nearly the entire Army of Tennessee. Among the attendees was British army Colonel Arthur Freemantle, who sadly witnessed the very worst of America: a political speech by a congressman from Arkansas.

"Of vulgar appearance," the Britisher recalled, he delivered a "long and uninteresting political oration, and ended by announcing himself as a candidate for re-election. This speech seemed to me (and to others) particularly ill-timed, out of place, and ridiculous, addressed as it was to soldiers in front of the enemy. But this was one of the results of universal suffrage."

Boxes of moon pies in the popular Bell Buckle Cafe in Bell Buckle, Tenn.
Present-day Bell Buckle apparently is a bivouac for Moon Pies -- graham cracker cookies with a marshmallow center dipped in either chocolate, vanilla or who knows what else. They sell the things everywhere in town. In mid-June, the Chamber of Commerce holds its 25th annual Moon Pie Festival, which includes a Moon Pie parade, the crowning of a Moon Pie king and queen and the unveiling of the world's largest Moon Pie. At the popular Bell Buckle Cafe, boxes of the tasty treats -- in regular and mini size --  are stacked just steps from the front door. The highlight of my restaurant visit, however, isn't Moon Pies. Instead it's a sign near the cashier: "Don't try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig."

One of the great mysteries of life, right up there with why Abraham Lincoln named Ambrose Burnside commander of the Army of the Potomac, is how Bell Buckle got its name. A local account speculates it's because Indians "carved a bell and a buckle on a tree as a warning to settlers about their cows." Let's go with that.

But this trip isn't about cows, bells, buckles or Moon Pies. My aim is to explore this area's rich Civil War history, so I drive down two-lane Bell Buckle Road toward Wartrace. In the winter of 1863, one of the greatest commanders of the war made his headquarters there.

At the Blockade Runner Civil War Sutlery you'll find re-enacting gear mixed in with some patriotism.
On the road to Wartrace, population slightly north of Bell Buckle, a sign for a Civil War shop forces me to hit the brakes and stop. In a nondescript, gray building near an old barn, Connie Smith and her husband Jerry, a former blacksmith, operate Blockade Runner Civil War Sutlery. The couple sells everything from replica brogans to officers' uniforms.

The  ghost of James F. Anthony can get a little bit horsey at the
 Blockade Runner Civil War Sutlery in Wartrace, Tenn.
The Smiths receive orders from foreign lands as far away as Russia, Denmark, Australia and California. They have supplied actors in movies The Free State of Jones, The Last Confederate and others. A vintage baseball team from Franklin, Tenn., wears shirts purchased at Smith's shop. Connie even has outfitted the daughters of country music legend Loretta Lynn.

Clearly, Blockade Runner is nirvana for the re-enactor.

It also may be haunted.

"This place," Connie tells me in a hushed tone, "is spooked."

Smith has discovered books moved overnight and felt a strange presence in the business she and her husband have run since 1993. The culprit, she believes, may be the ghost of James F. Anthony of the 28th Tennessee Cavalry, Company G. She points to a horse bit, once owned by Anthony, in a display case. Making me slightly wary of my surroundings, she tells a brief story about the Confederate, who's buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Wartrace. Both my kids were born in Texas, I tell her, so no Rebel ghost will intimidate me. I remain strong.

Displayed in a Sutlery case, a relic of the December 1864
 Battle of Nashville. Connie Smith collects period Civil War dresses.
 Her husband Jerry collects Civil War artifacts.
Connie also has a more direct connection to the war: Her great-great grandfather William Daniel Chrisman served in the 4th Tennessee Cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest. Chrisman, who enlisted at 16, fought at Shiloh, Stones River, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. In November 1864, he was captured before the Battle of Franklin, a clash that resulted in nearly 6,300 Confederate casualties. In an image of Confederate veterans, Smith proudly points to her ancestor near the back row.

After the war, Chrisman was active in Confederate veterans' organizations and attended the last Civil War reunion at Gettysburg in 1938. He died at age 92 in 1939, the last surviving Confederate veteran in Williamson County, Tenn.

"He told my momma stories of the Battle of Franklin," Smith says. "She loved to hear his stories."

Once at stage coach stop and inn, the circa-1852 Chockley Tavern is now a private residence. 
After the Battle of Stones River, Confederate General Patrick Cleburne visited here in 1863. 
A marker near the Chockley Inn explains the Battle of Liberty Gap, a Tullahoma Campaign clash.
I finally pull into Wartrace, home of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Museum and final resting place of Strolling Jim, a champion show breed horse. "Jim died in 1957 in the pasture where he spent his last years," reads the historical sign in front of the Walking Horse Hotel, which contains the Strolling Jim Restaurant. Naturally, the hotel may be haunted. Does this have anything to do with James F. Anthony?

A vintage Texaco pump in Wartrace, Tenn.
Before I inspect my objective, I tool around town, stopping to admire a vintage Texaco gas pump. I wave to a gentleman wearing a gray Alabama T-shirt. "Roll Tide," I say after rolling down the window. He eyes me warily, like I'm some kind of outsider. Perhaps it's my Connecticut license plate.

Directly across from train tracks and a large, red caboose stands a two-story, circa-1852 building that needs a little TLC. Wooden chairs and debris clutter the front-porch area. A maroon shirt hangs from a hook. "Welcome," reads a small sign near the front door of the private residence. This is the place.


In early 1863, after the Battle of Stones River, Confederate General Patrick Cleburne, the “Stonewall of the West,” met with fellow officers at the Chockley Tavern, a stage coach stop and inn. He had a headquarters elsewhere in the small town, but the directionally challenged are never able to find it. Killed at Franklin, Cleburne was once buried among oaks and magnolias in a beautiful church cemetery near Columbia, Tenn. (In 1870, his remains were removed to his adopted state of Arkansas.)

After a brief brush with history, I head east, about a mile outside town. A historical sign there denotes the site of the long-gone Beechwood Plantation house, where Southern sympathizers lavishly entertained Confederate officers during the war, Cleburne among them. Confederate General William Hardee made his headquarters at Beechwood during the Tullahoma Campaign, and his troops camped in the surrounding fields, still largely open today. On the high ground nearby, private property, the remains of Confederate trenches may be found.

Before I depart Wartrace, I visit Hollywood Cemetery, hoping to find the grave of one James Anthony. Like our gray ghost, the marker proves elusive.

Tullahoma Campaign dead from battles at Beech Grove and Hoover's Gap are buried
 in Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery, atop a knoll near Interstate 24.
A marker for the 18th Indiana Battery in Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery. 
The drone of traffic from nearby Interstate 24 fails to spoil the final stop on a Middle Tennessee Civil War adventure. In neat rows atop a knoll, unknown Confederates from Tullahoma Campaign battles at Beech Grove and Hoover's Gap rest in a small cemetery. In 1866, their remains were collected from isolated areas nearby. Did burial crews get them all?

At the end of Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery, a large slab of gray granite -- the Nathan Bedford Forrest Farewell Order Memorial, erected in 1954 -- is inscribed with words from the general's address to his troops in Alabama following his surrender:
"Civil War, such as you have passed, naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings and, so far as it is in our power to do so, to cultivate friendly feelings toward those with whom we have so long contested and heretofore so widely but honestly differed. Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities and private differences should be blotted out and when you return home a manly straightforward course of conduct will secure you the respect even of your enemies."
 After the war, Forrest became Grand Wizard in the Ku Klux Klan.

    PANORAMA: Beech Grove Confederate Cemetery, where unknowns rest in a former                        pioneer graveyard. (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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


-- The New York Times, July 1, 1863.

-- Freemantle, Arthur James Lyon, Three Months In The Southern States: April-June, 1863, Published by John Bradburn, New York, 1864.

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