Sunday, August 12, 2018

Signs of the times at a Battle of Nashville site

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During a reporting day for a column on the "hidden" Battle of Nashville, I found this interesting juxtaposition. The sign in the background is in front of the Unitarian Universalist Church on Woodmont Road. (See Google Street View image below.) The Confederates' position here was overrun on Dec. 15, 1864, and the Federals under George Thomas completed the rout the next day. Black troops saw significant action during the battle at Granbury's Lunette (Dec.15) and Peach Orchard Hill (Dec. 16).

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Saturday, August 11, 2018

We interrupt this Civil War blog with reflections of Nashville

A scene in Nashville, 2018. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)
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Like scores of other American cities, Nashville eagerly erases the past and puts on a shiny, new face. Within yards of my apartment building, three hotels are quickly rising, the tatter of their construction  the background noise of life soon after sunrise. “They call it the ‘City of Cranes,’ " a Lyft driver told me as we glanced at the skyline one afternoon.

But amid honky-tonks and tourists on Broadway, the impressive Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum at the corner of 5th and Demonbreun and partiers chugging beer and swaying to music on the obnoxiously slow Pedal Taverns in the arts and entertainment district, another Nashville exists — a city hidden in plain sight.

You’ll find the "Other” Nashville gathered in a small park, just down the street from the grand, old Hermitage Hotel; sitting on a bus stop bench opposite a Panera, wrapped in rags and garbage bags; and near the gloomy underpass at an I-40 exit, holding a plea for help. Impossible to miss but largely ignored, the many homeless of this booming city carry on with vacant stares or pleading eyes.

How can this be?

In America?

In 2018?

Each Wednesday morning about 11, the "Other" Nashville gathers outside the back door of a Lutheran church on 8th Street. “Good morning, brothers and sisters,” a volunteer says before entering the building. “God bless you.” The words are heartfelt but perhaps ignored. Marijuana smoke wafts through the air.

In the basement in the church kitchen, lunch is prepared for the "Other" Nashville” by volunteers. Chicken, cabbage, mashed potatoes and banana bread — all donated -- are the fare this day. Eager for a good meal and a cool place to rest, the city’s unfortunates sit at tables in the basement. Some shower in a small room or clean their clothes in the lone washing machine. Others stare at a TV playing a videotape of Forrest Gump. Each has a need — and a story.

A woman says she is pregnant with her ninth child and wants a ride to the doctor. (Sorry, no rides available here.) A man asks for a pair of pants. Another wants a plastic bag for his meager belongings. “I need some soap,” demands another. A small man with a gray beard and bedraggled clothing wants hot water put in a plastic cup for his cereal. Others ask for toothpaste.

Plates of food are scooped up by the "Other" Nashville as soon as they are served on a small table near the kitchen. Some ask for seconds, and they all are accommodated. A California native with long, slick hair — homeless for years, he insists — praises the volunteers. “What a meal,” he says after he's done eating. Asked what life is like on the streets, he says he has no worries. A prayer is offered for him anyway. A woman with interesting tattoos and a purple streak in her hair thanks a volunteer, who offers her a firm handshake, a blessing and good vibes. And so it goes ...

Obsessed with the scourge of poverty and hunger in the United States, Robert Kennedy visited the downtrodden of eastern Kentucky 50 years ago, months before he was assassinated. “They’re desperate and filled with despair,” RFK told a television reporter of his visit, according to the Washington Post. “It seems to me that in this country, as wealthy as we are, this is an intolerable condition. It reflects on all of us.”

And so, too, the "Other" Nashville reflects on all of us today. In America, in 2018, it shouldn’t be this way. The need is great. Do what you can to help.

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Sunday, August 05, 2018

BBQ & bloodstains: Tales from Civil War road trip in Tennessee

At a Civil War relics show in Dover, Tenn., a presentation cup for Winfield Scott Hancock.
 It's yours for $50,000. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
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It's 9 a.m. on Saturday in Nashville, Skinny State of Tenn., and boredom quickly has set in. What should I do? Well, there is never a bad time for a Civil War road trip. I know of a relic show in Dover, site of Fort Donelson, where a guy named Grant made a name for himself. I am a massive sucker for relics. Our 20-year-old daughter could use an artillery shell. My wife loves when I spend money on photos of people who have been dead for 150 years. Hey, that's how the Banks family rolls. Let's go!

11:45 a.m.: After a 90-minute drive from Nashville, I arrive at the relic show. And I feel so ... young ... and "Northern." (I'm originally from Pa.) It's time to show intense interest in the stack of Nathan Bedford Forrest books at a front table. Dealers discuss purchases for thousands of dollars. Jealous. I glance at my wallet. Yup, no cash. Thankfully, show admission was free. On a long table, next to the display case with Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering cufflinks (true!), rests a large, silver presentation cup. Once belonged to Winfield Scott Hancock. Asking price: $50K. Perhaps worthy of a phone call to ...? Ah, no. No! Thirty minutes after arrival, I'm done. Attention span of gnat.

Barge with military equipment glides down river past Confederate battery position at Fort Donelson.
12:15 p.m.: Because I am the nook-and-crannies, backroads-loving type, I take a roundabout way to Fort Donelson. Near the fort, off National Park Service property, I find the site of U.S. Grant's HQ. Of course, I get out of the car and look. Dang, I'd love to sweep a metal detector over this yard. Wouldn't it be great if I found, say, a couple circa-1862 nails? Text to self: Wife. Would. Not. Appreciate.

Who wouldn't stop to take a photo of site
 of U.S. Grant's headquarters?
I take a photo of the large, metal Grant HQ sign. (Who wouldn't?) Finally, I make it to the parking lot near the Confederate batteries at Fort Donelson on the Cumberland. Uh-oh, there's is a large group of bikers here. Look menacing, so I park a good distance away. Must bulk up. I take a detour around bikers, scampering down a hill to the Upper River Battery. Suckered by sign into taking photo of long-gone powder magazine. (Picture massive mounds of dirt.) A huge barge jammed with military vehicles glides into view on the river. Photo op! After scrambling for the perfect angle, I shoot a few images from behind one of the large cannons. Gotta go, but where? Well, I always wanted to see inside Rippavilla Plantation mansion in Spring Hill.

Chicken, pork, ribs and brisket and a little history: What a great combo!
1:30 p.m.: Curses to you, Google Maps! The app takes me on every blasted one-lane, winding country road in the state. Hey, why’s that car tailgating me here in Tennessee? I think dark thoughts. And then ... a Civil War Trails sign! You know you're a history geek when you always stop at one of those wayside markers. I park. I feel guilty when I don't read all the text. Every. Damn. Time. Curses to you, too, Drew Gruber! Back to the sign: Forrest’s cavalry and Confederate guerillas put a scare into the Yankees in this area in '62-63. Thankfully, here in off-the-beaten path Yellow Creek Valley I'm also in a parking lot for place called Family BBQ. I'm hungry, and I love barbecue. After all, I'm 18.8 percent Texan, according to my AncestryDNA test. Locals eye me warily as I tiptoe through the front door into a barren, gray room. It feels like a scene out of Marathon Man. Is it safe? A man sporting a ponytail is chopping at the carcass of something. Perhaps it's a hog. Hey, I grew up in the suburbs. I ask if he accepts a credit card. All cash, all the time, he says in a friendly, I have zero-intention-of-slicing-you-with this-meat cleaver type of way. But there's a place down the road several miles that will take my credit card and ... WWFD. (What Would Forrest Do?) Too complicated. Math’s not my thing. I'm back on the road...

Rippavilla Plantation mansion: Lots of beauty and history. But no bloodstains.
3 p.m.: Spring Hill, Tenn., and Rippavilla. At last! In the bookstore, once used as a garage, a late-60s-ish man named Spence sits in a chair. He's wearing a fine pair of cowboy boots. They look uncomfortable, but he insists they aren't. Heck, my feet would hurt in bathroom slippers. Achy wheels today. I blame the bikers. A native of Franklin, Tenn. Spence hates the way the Civil War-rich area has grown. Used to grow crops in this area, he says, now they grow rooftops. I sympathize. Bulldozers are pitiless in these parts.

The impressive, original columns at Rippavilla.
I buy a book, purchase a house tour ticket. 33 bucks. This better be good. I want to see three things: bloodstains, where John Bell Hood supposedly chewed out his generals after the Yankees slipped past his army on Nov. 29, 1864, and bloodstains. (Told you I wasn't good at math.) The place was used as a field hospital during the War of Northern Aggression. Gotta see some blood on the floors. Our small tour group enters the house. Carpeting throughout first floor. No blood. Bummed. We see the Hood room. Spence points to breakfast table used by JBH and his generals for their long-ago morning chit-chat. (Newsflash: As I craft this report, local TV station reports 39,000 pounds of chicken nuggets spilled onto Tennessee road. "Chicken nuggets for blocks!" Must regain train of thought.) Back to Rippavilla: We go upstairs. Little carpeting, but original poplar floors covered by newer wood floors. Hmmm ... perhaps I can distract Spence and ... oh, never mind. Stuffed with knowledge,  our group departs, but a docent named Chuck allows me to take a few more photos. Although I am a Yankee, we all part friends.

4:30 p.m.: Civil War nerd heaven! I walk Rippavilla Plantation fields where the Rebs camped the night the Yankees snuck past them. Union boys were so close they could see campfires of enemy and hear 'em chatting. Wonder what it smelled like? Lots of grimy soldiers, you know. Thank you, Civil War Trust for saving this land. It’s so easy to envision 1864 from here today — if you can ignore the steady stream (and hum) of traffic on Columbia Pike and the massive GM plant in the near-distance. Just noticed I'm hungry again. Thank gawd there's a PeiWei over the hill, built atop core Spring Hill battlefield. I shoot a video, take some pics. It’s time for this Civil War nerd to roll home. Elapsed time: 8 hours. Miles traveled: 200-plus.

Now about those chicken nuggets ...

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Saturday, August 04, 2018

Parting shot: Rebels' battle cry like 'school girls at recess'

"J.H.E." said the Rebel yell was unmanly, like "school girls at recess." (Library of Congress)
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In a richly detailed letter published in the Lewiston (Pa.) Gazette on Oct. 15, 1862, a Union soldier told of his experiences in the recently fought Battle of Antietam. (Transcript below.)

"About 4 o'clock in the morning we heard the rebel drums beating and every man was then ready," wrote "J.H.E," probably John Ely, of Company G of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves. "Before long they began; first a crack, then two or three, and then a whole volley from us through the woods, and the great ball of Wednesday opened."

According to the former printer at the Lewiston newspaper, Rebel sharpshooters aggressively (and unsuccessfully) tried to pick off a Union officer. But Orderly Sergeant Thomas Given wasn't as fortunate. Wounded in the head, Given died the following Saturday, after he "lost his mind and speech."

J.H.E recalled spending about an hour on the "firing line," undoubtedly at David R. Miller's Cornfield, near where Henry Couch [Couts] was killed by a bullet to the head. And in a biting parting shot, J.H.E. also took a figurative shot at the enemy.

We publish below an extract from a letter of a young "typo" of this place, in which he gives a graphic description of the part taken by the regiment in which he is serving in the battle of Antietam:

Camp, Near Sharpsburg, Md.
Oct. 6, 1862

We are still in camp by that beautiful and winding stream -- the Potomac. While in camp we are at a loss to know how to put in the time, and for a change this beautiful afternoon I have retreated to the cover of a towering oak to pen you a few promised lines.

My narrative begins on Tuesday morning, Sept. 16th. On that eventful evening we were marched across Antietam creek, and shortly after were formed in line of battle in a woods, and while in this place were made acquainted of the close proximity of our South Mountain acquaintances, who had been largely reinforced just after leaving the mountain, and who now disputed our further advance by shelling us in the woods.

Truman Seymour: During the battle
"J.H.E" delivered a message
to the Union general (above).

It  was fast growing dark, and we were ordered forward through a cornfield and also through a ploughed one. But, after going half the distance, were ordered to halt and lay down, which order we obeyed instantly, as the shell began to come in close proximity with that important member to human existence -- the head. While here I had a good opportunity to see a pretty sight. One of our batteries, which had been placed to our right, on a slight elevation, kept up a continual fire, throwing shell promiscuously through the woods in our advance. It was far prettier than any fireworks ever displayed in the old Diamond.

We remain here about half an hour when Gen. [Truman] Seymour ordered us forward. We started, and when we next halted it was within fifteen feet of the fence. Our Colonel here ordered us to halt and stack arms, which we did; and after making supper on a cracker I laid myself down to rest. In about fifteen minutes we were surprised by the rebels who poured a volley at us, which, as soon as we could recover our guns, we returned and kept up a fire for a short time and then ceased, the rebs having retreated. We then advanced to the fence (where we should have been at first) and lay down once more, not for sleep  however but to watch and wait. Nothing of importance occurred other than an occasional shot or two during the night. From prisoners captured the following day we learned they had a brigade in the woods, who heard our Colonel give the command to "stack arms," and only waited a sufficient length of time for us to be in the "land of nod," when they expected to capture our guns. The prisoners expressed some surprise when they learned we had but one regiment, and it only numbering about 300 guns. That night they did not touch a man; but our fire was far different. Our General, speaking of it, says they lay there there by dozens.

About 4 o'clock in the morning we heard the rebel drums beating and every man was then ready. Before long they began; first a crack, then two or three, and then a whole volley from us through the woods, and the great ball of Wednesday opened.

The sharpshooters, who had been placed on the trees in the dark, began their work early. They tried hard to pick off our Major, but were unsuccessful. One ball grazed his shoulder strap. They wounded our Orderly Sergeant in the head, however, who has since died. On the Friday following he lost his mind and speech, and remained so until Saturday night, when he was relieved from this world of misery and strife. His remains were sent home to his friends. We lose a good and brave soldier in him.

                   PANORAMA: David R. Miller's cornfield, "The Bloody Cornfield."
                                     (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

About 7 o'clock our regiment was ordered to cross through the woods, and there, the boys say, lay pools of blood all round. I was there when they advanced. A few moments before our Major had sent me with a message to General Seymour, and when I endeavored to return I became bewildered and came to a halt in a large field for which the two contending parties were fighting. I soon came to the conclusion I had no business there, and accordingly sought protection of the woods, and here I met my regiment as it advanced to where I was. We stood firing across this field about an hour, when we were ordered to cease by our officers and stood there doing nothing. It was here Henry Couch [Couts] fell pierced through the forehead.

We fell back and the rebels, thinking we were whipped, advanced with a cheer, but were driven back by a flank movement. You would be surprised to hear about them cheer. It resembles a lot of school girls at recess. It is far different from the manly voice of the men of the north.

-- J.H.E.
Co. G, 5th Pa. Reserve

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Sunday, July 29, 2018

In his footsteps at Franklin: 'Suffering more or less all the time'

73rd Illinois Private Stuart Hoskinson was wounded near the Carter house, perhaps by friendly fire.
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Long before their arrival on the Franklin battlefield, 73rd Illinois soldiers Riley and Stuart F. Hoskinson endured great hardship. At Chickamauga on Sept. 20, 1863, father and son were captured at a Federal field hospital, where each had been assigned to care for wounded.  "As we were perfectly powerless," recalled Riley, a sergeant, "we made the best we could of a bad bargain."

Five days later, Riley and his son escaped -- "God's will," the father called their plan. Eluding scores of Confederates during a journey through woods, up and over Lookout Mountain and down a stream on a makeshift raft, the Hoskinsons remarkably found their way back to Federal lines near Chattanooga. Neither man suffered a serious injury.

At the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864, Stuart wasn't as fortunate.

About 5:30 p.m., Confederates threatened to smash through both lines of Union works near Fountain Carter's house. Urged on by Major Thomas Motherspaw, the 73rd Illinois, one of seven regiments in Emerson Opdycke 1st Brigade, rushed to help fill the gap. Stuart recalled firing nearly 60 rounds during the desperate fighting on Carter's Hill, wounding at least one Confederate. The 21-year-old private suffered severe wounds himself, perhaps from friendly fire, when a bullet crashed into his collarbone. "Sergeant," a captain told 45-year-old Riley M. Hoskinson, "your son is killed; he is shot through the lungs and is bleeding from his mouth and nose.' "

Taken to a makeshift hospital at a church in Franklin, Stuart became a prisoner again when the Confederates retook the town. But Hoskinson survived his grievous wounds thanks, in part, to the care of a local mother and daughter. "... They waited on us," he remembered, "just as well as they could have done if we had belonged to the other side."

Nearly 20 years after the battle, Stuart Hoskinson recalled his harrowing experience at Franklin in a report published in The National Tribune, a newspaper for Civil War veterans. The physical toll from that late-fall day in 1864 was still evident: "I am suffering more or less all the time from it," he wrote of his war wound.

Let's follow in Stuart's footsteps at Franklin:

An Illinois Soldier's Experience

Emerson Opdycke:
Died in 1884 after

shooting himself.
To the Editor: In The National Tribune of July 10 I saw a letter from J. D. Remington, Co. I, 73d Ill, Ill., in which he refers to the death of Brig.-Gen. [Emerson] Opdycke and the part taken by him and our brigade at Franklin, Tenn. As he says in his letter, we all loved the General as a commander, and I was deeply grieved to hear of his death and the manner in which it came. I have good reason to remember that eventful evening of Nov. 30, 1864, and well remember seeing our troops who were holding the works in front of us falling back in confusion before the charge of the rebels; then hearing our Major (Motherspaw, not Motherspan) give the order to the 73d to charge to the front; then of the confused mass of our retreating men who tried in vain to check right in front of Carter's house, they rushing to the rear pell-mell through the gaps in the picket-fence, and we in as big a hurry to get to the front to salute the Johnnies. When we got to the inside line of works the rebels had full possession of the outer line and many were between the two. Our fire, given as fast as we got into position, soon checked their advance and sent them to grass or to the rear.

"When we got to the inside line of works," Stuart Hoskinson recalled, "the rebels had full possession of 
the  outer line," about 20 yards in front of Fountain Carter's smokehouse (left).
Some few of our men had failed to make good their retreat to the rear from their position behind the outer works and were crouched close down, not seeing any way to get out of a bad fix. One rebel, I noticed in particular, was on the works above the head of one of our men and, I suppose, having fired his gun, had raised it in an act of clubbing the man below. I quickly brought my gun to bear on him about his waist-belt and fired, and the last I saw of him he was falling backward with his hands in the air. He might have received other shots than mine, but as he was not over 100 feet from me I could have wagered he carried my first shot of the battle with him. I never knew just what hour the fight ended, but at about 8 o'clock, as near as I should judge, for I had fired nearly 60 rounds.

"I managed to get to the rear, behind Carter's house, where I lay down ...," Stuart Hoskinson recalled.
I received a shot in my left shoulder, which (barring accidents) I will carry to my grave, striking me on the point of collar-bone and coming out at the backbone near the bottom of the shoulder-blade. At the time, and for three or four days, till suppuration set in and the pieces of cloth came out of the wound, I was not certain but what I had been accidentally shot by some of our men in rear of me. The blood rushed from my mouth in a stream and I thought my last hour was near, but after a short time the inward bleeding stopped and I took courage. A lull in the firing taking place shortly after, I managed to get to the rear, behind Carter's house, where I lay down for an hour or more, when I heard some one inquire if there were any of the 73d there. I answered "here," and three or four of our regiment came to me and carried me into town and left me in the brick church on the east of the turnpike, with about 100 others of our severely wounded. Having been on picket at Spring Hill the night before and rear-guard all day from there to Franklin, I was worn out, so I fell into a troubled sleep, and about midnight wakened to find we were prisoners.

"Three or four of our regiment came to me and carried me into
 town and left me in the brick church on the east of the
 turnpike," recalled Stuart Hoskinson. The Presbyterian church, 
severely damaged during the war, was replaced by 
another church in Franklin in 1888.
There were 190 of our wounded taken there, and at the end of 17 days, at the recapture of Franklin, we were reduced to 140. One Surgeon staid with us, and with the assistance of one or two resident physicians cared for our wounds. Had it not been for the kindness of some of the ladies of Franklin I do not know how we would have fared, as what little rations of flour and poor beef was issued to us had to be cooked, and no one to do it but them. One old lady and her daughter, named Courtney, we will never forget. for although they had a son and brother who was a Lieutenant in the rebel service, yet they waited on us just as well as they could have done if we had belonged to the other side.

"As brave an officer as we ever had
 in the regiment," Stuart Hoskinson wrote of
 Major Thomas Motherspaw, who was
mortally wounded at Franklin.

(Find A Grave)
Our Major (Motherspaw) was shot in the groin, and I saw him clap his hand to the wound, but had too much to attend to in my front to see more. He was on his horse close to the turnpike and near where [Confederate General Patrick] Cleburne was killed. He died December 18, in Nashville, one day after we were recaptured by our forces. As brave an officer as we ever had in the regiment, kind and considerate to his men and loved by all. He was formerly Captain of Co. D, and commanded the regiment, as our Lieutenant-Colonel was on service in Nashville, and Col. Jas. F. Jacques was in Washington, having been called there by President Lincoln to go to .Richmond in May preceding. There were only two others of my regiment among the wounded left in Franklin besides myself -- Serg't [Joseph] Allison, Co. C, and a young man of Co. D, I have forgotten his name. [In the 73rd regimental history, Stuart notes it was James D. Branch.] Allison was shot in the small of the back and died Dec. 10, 1864; the other man lived long enough to reach the station seven miles from his home, on the Wabash Railroad, east of Springfield, Ill., and died there. He was shot through the neck and both collar bones broken. I should like some of his friends to let me know what his name was.

I received my discharge Feb. 10, 1865. from "gunshot wound of left shoulder" but after reaching home it proved to be an injury to the left lung also, and for nearly 30 months the wound in my back remained open, so I could blow by breath through the opening. I am suffering more or less all the time from it, and am at present drawing $12 per month pension. The loss of the rebels at Franklin must have been greatly understated in their official report, for more than one of their men told me while prisoners that their loss was 6,000 killed, and I know when our men recaptured the town there were 1,500 or more rebel wounded there.

-- Stuart F. Hoskinson, Co. G, 73d Ill., Seattle, King Co.. W. T.

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-- A History of the Seventy-Third Regiment of Illinois Infantry Volunteers, Regimental Reunion Association, Springfield, Ill., 1890.
-- The National Tribune, Aug. 7, 1884.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

At Battle of Nashville monument, a 'witness' to 1864 fighting

A Battle of Nashville "witness" tree looms near the monument. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
The ancient oak towers over the neighborhood. What secrets does it hold?
The Battle of Nashville monument honors soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
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Almost hidden from view, the Battle of Nashville monument is easily missed in a small park just off Granny White Pike, about three miles from downtown. But once you get there, it's impossible to miss a "witness" to the Dec. 15-16, 1864 battle. A massive basket oak stands on the old Fitzallen and Sallie Noel farm, near where Confederate breastworks were built and about 25 yards from the granite monument.

The original monument, made of mostly marble and located on Franklin Pike, was dedicated in 1927 and eventually nearly swallowed whole by interstate construction and other urban development. In 1974, the obelisk and an angel atop it were destroyed in a tornado. Only the pedestal survived. In 1999, the re-built monument was placed in its present-day location and re-dedicated on a site once part of the 1,500-acre Noel farm, scene of brutal fighting in 1864.

The monument is off busy Granny White Road, a war-time route for the armies.
A close-up of the monument on a sun-splashed afternoon.
The original monument, destroyed in a tornado, was located elsewhere in Nashville.
The front of the monument honoring soldiers who fought in the Dec. 15-16, 1864, battle.

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Franklin video: In front of Union lines, 'rebel dead lay in heaps'

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In the aftermath of brutal fighting at Franklin, Tenn., on Nov. 30, 1864, the ground in front of the 6th Ohio Light Artillery battery and 104th Ohio Infantry was strewn with Confederate dead for “60 rods” — about 100 yards — according to Nelson A. Pinney, a private in the 104th.

"It was with great difficulty we could move about without trampling them under foot," Pinney recalled about enemy dead in The National Tribune, a newspaper for veterans, in March 1887. "I was a witness of the terrible work of Benjamin's battery and the 79th K. Y. at Fort Sanders, where the ground was soaked with rebel gore; and I was over the ground where Leggett's men 'piled the ground with rebel slain' before Atlanta; yet neither of them bore any comparison to the ground in front of the 100th, 104th and 112th Ill. and Bradley's [Baldwin's] 6th Ohio battery at Franklin, where the rebel dead lay in heaps, their bodies, legs and arms crossed and tangled in inextricable confusion."

Largely open plain in 1864, this area is mostly residential today.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Just imagine: 10 images of hallowed ground at Franklin

Kentucky regiments swept over this ground during the Battle of Franklin. The site of the infamous 
Carter cotton gin is in the far left distance.  (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
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While a vulture stands triumphantly on the carcass of a skunk in a nearby yard, I quickly conquer a Sam Adams Summer Ale at a place called the Bunganut Pig Pub & Eatery in Franklin, Tenn. Something isn't right about this scene, and it has nothing to do with the large, black bird that picks on remains of a varmint on a muggy Sunday afternoon.

Seventy-five yards or so from where I sit on a patio enjoying a cold brew, bodies of Confederate soldiers were piled outside Union earthworks during the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864. The 16th and 12th Kentucky regiments swept over this ground near Fountain Carter's infamous cotton gin, plugging a disastrous gap in the Union line. This land, near the war-time Carter house and bullet-scarred outbuildings along Columbia Pike, is hallowed ground.

Thanks to remarkable work by preservation groups, part of the Franklin field has been reclaimed, and there's a tremendous story to be told here. Come visit. Sadly, however, most of the bloody battleground of Franklin long ago was lost to development.

"It is impossible to exaggerate," a Union officer noted about the battle that produced nearly 10,000 casualties, "the fierce energy with which the Confederate soldiers, that short November afternoon, threw themselves against the works, fighting with what seemed the very madness of despair."

Here are 10 images of the "lost" battlefield.

Just imagine what might have been ...

Near Winstead and Breezy hills, jumping off point for Army of Tennessee commander John Bell Hood's assault along a two-mile front, you'll find a Target in a large strip mall. Nearly all the land on both sides of  historic Columbia Pike leading toward the Carter house -- eye of the hurricane of the fierce struggle about two miles away -- has been developed. Imagine putting five strip malls, four service stations, five fast-food restaurants and a residential neighborhood or two along the route of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg.

On busy Columbia Pike, a historical sign notes the position of the Union forward line, overwhelmed during the battle. Yards away, you'll find a service station and a funeral home. Out of view toward the immediate right, a large storage company occupies ground that Union General George Wagner's soldiers defended.

Confederates under generals Patrick Cleburne and Edward Wathall advanced here from right to left. Today it's a residential area. Six streets in the immediate area are named for Confederate generals who died of wounds suffered at Franklin. The dead end sign is near Adams Street, named for Confederate Brigadier General John Adams, killed a short distance away.

A roofing company occupies land where Rebel divisions advanced near the war-time Nashville & Decatur Railroad tracks. Nearby, a sliver of rarely visited battleground has been saved by Save The Franklin Battlefield, Inc. and the Civil War Trust.

Near Carter's cotton gin, the 6th Ohio Light Battery spewed death. For about 100 yards in front of Union lines here, 'rebel dead lay in heaps," according to a 104th Ohio soldier. Now this cannon denoting the battery's position points into a neighborhood that was mostly open plain during the battle. Once home to a small strip mall that included a pizza restaurant, this immediate area has been reclaimed by preservation groups as an open, grassy space.

A residential neighborhood occupies ground where Union works once snaked toward the Harpeth River and Nashville & Decatur railroad tracks. Nearby fell Irishman Patrick Cleburne, one of the greatest Confederate division commanders.

Now filled with apartments, this area near the Carter house was a killing field upon which Confederate soldiers under John Brown advanced. It's a "smoke-free property," according to the sign.

Today this is a busy intersection on Columbia Pike. Then it was ground upon which Colonel Emerson Opdycke's Brigade rushed to help stymie the Confederates' breakthrough at the Union works near the Carter house, just beyond the trees to the right.

Children play and families gather for barbecues where vicious fighting occurred in 1864. Strahl Street Park, near the Carter house, is named for Confederate General Otho Strahl, who was killed near here.

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

A 'humble instrument': Echoes of Nashville's Hospital No. 8

Circa-1860s image of Nashville's Downtown Presbyterian Church, used as a Union hospital during the war.
A present-day image of  Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville.
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At the corner of 5th and Church streets in downtown Nashville, two blocks from the honky-tonks on Broadway, a tour bus creeps through busy traffic. Nearby on the steamy Saturday morning, diners sip coffee at outdoor tables while three young men jostle for a spot on a bench next to the historic Downtown Presbyterian Church. A giant sign on front of the unusual Egyptian Revival-style building notes its history, but few seem to notice it.

A large sign on the church notes its use as a
Federal hospital during the Civil War.
During the Civil War, life-and-death decisions played out at the church, one of at least 25 Nashville structures commandeered by the U.S. government for use as a hospital. Pews were removed from the church sanctuary, creating room for 206 beds for sick and wounded soldiers, and the Union army used the basement as a stable for horses. The Presbyterian church, along with the four-story Masonic Hall across the street, was designated Hospital No. 8.

Near the end of the war, a "very pleasant affair" -- a small slice of humanity -- took place in Ward 5 at Hospital No. 8, either at the church or the long-gone Masonic Hall. On behalf of the attendants and patients, acting assistant surgeon George Duzan, a 23-year-old from Indiana in charge of the ward, was presented a "beautiful" inscribed silver watch, chain and key that cost $75 (a little more than $1,000 today). The gift, the hospital chaplain noted, was in recognition of Duzan's "kind attention and skillful treatment" and "gentlemanly deportment" during his service at the hospital. Duzan, who served with the 52nd Indiana, became emotional during the presentation, according to this account of the event published in the Nashville Daily Union on March 28, 1865:


Post-war image of George Duzan,
Federal surgeon during the Civil War.
U.S. General Hospital No. 8, Nashville, Tenn., March 25, 1865 -- A very pleasant affair came off this afternoon in ward 5 of our hospital, showing the feeling existing between Dr. Duzan, A. A. Surgeon, U. S. A., in charge of the ward, and attendants and patients he daily comes in contact with. At  4 o'clock all were assembled, when Chaplain Goodfellow presented the Doctor with a beautiful American Silver watch, chain and key, costing 75 dollars with the following inscription engraved upon it:

"Presented to G. U. Duzan, A. A. Surgeon, U. S. A, by attendants and patients of ward 5, Hospital No. 8, Nashville, Tenn., March 25th, 1865."

In the following words:

Dr. Duzan: "It is my pleasant duty to present you this watch and chain in the name, and in behalf of the ward-master attendants, and patients of ward 5, as a testimonial of their respect, for your kind attention and skillful treatment, as well as your gentlemanly deportment, since you have been on duty among them. May you when you look on the figures indicating the hours of the day, and the minutes comprising those hours, remember that one represents your days and the other the hours of those days and may you be thereby taught a profitable lesson. And when these brave but afflicted donors have separated, this ward broken up, and this cruel rebellion crushed -- may you look upon this gift as a kind remembrance of these men, as is now felt by them, in presenting it."

Duzan may have received
a pocket watch similar
 to this one.
The Doctor with emotion responded in the following words:

Attendants and patients: Your afflictions, the result of privations endured for our country's good have caused our association. You as patients, the suffering subject of disease, I as an humble instrument, employed to alleviate your sufferings and to minister to your physical wants. That our association with each other has been an agreeable one, this gift will testify. I accept it as testimonial of your appreciation of my services; as such it will be preserved and cherished with feelings of gratitude and pride."

POSTSCRIPT: After the Civil War, Duzan continued to practice medicine and surgery in Zionsville, Ind. A "man of pleasant address and commanding appearance," he died Nov. 6, 1893. "His death was sudden," the Indianapolis News wrote about the 51-year-old doctor. "He rose in fright from his bed, and was caught by his friends and returned to the bed -- dead." The primary cause of death was heart disease. The whereabouts of the precious watch he received during the Civil War are unknown.

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-- Indianapolis News, Nov. 6, 1893.
-- Nashville Daily Union, March 28, 1865.
-- National Historic Landmark nomination form, Old First Presbyterian Church, National Park Service. Accessed July 14, 2018.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Captain to mother: 'Corpse will be sent to you ... by express.'

4th Vermont soldiers in Camp Griffin, Va., where Private Benjamin Stafford "breathed his last."
(George Harper Houghton | Library of Congress)

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In the middle of a letter to widow Laura Stafford regarding the rapidly declining health of her youngest child, a 4th Vermont private, the soldier's commanding officer received breaking news.

Marker for Benjamin Stafford and his
mother and father in Tabor Cemetery
in Mount Tabor, Vt. (Find A Grave)
"While I have been writing the last few words of the previous sentence," Captain John E. Pratt of Company A wrote from Camp Griffin, Va., "one of my officers informed me that Benjamin  had breathed his last." The cause of death was typhoid fever, a "very severe case." The date and time: Feb. 2, 1862, at 2 p.m.

The next day, Pratt planned to send the 25-year-old soldier's body from Washington via express to Vermont for burial. On March 17, 1862, the Rutland (Vt.) Daily Herald, under the headline "Tribute to a Faithful Soldier," printed an excerpt from Pratt's condolence letter to Mrs. Stafford.

"While you have lost a true and faithful son," the officer's short note read, "I have lost a noble soldier. No man in his company was more beloved by the officers, no man more cheerful and ready to do his duty."

Deep into the winter of 1862, Benjamin's remains arrived in Vermont, where he was buried in Tabor Cemetery in Mount Tabor.

(National Archives via

North Dorset

Camp Griffin, Va.
Feb. 2, 1862

Mrs. Stafford

It is with feelings of great sadness that I now find myself obliged to write you of the severe illness of your son Benjamin Stafford. I am informed by the surgeons that it is impossible for him to live but a very short time. The disease is typhoid fever, a very severe case. I visited him at the hospital last evening. I found him eating his supper ...

(National Archives via
... feeling better, but this morning I find him very much worse. He does not recognize anyone. He has not been considered dangerous before to-day. He will not in all probability live through the day. I shall not be able to send this letter before tomorrow morning and will not seal it before that time and then state his condition.

Dear madam I beg leave to join you in your affliction. While you have lost a true and faithful son, I have lost a noble soldier. No man in his company was more beloved by the officers, no man more cheerful and ready to do his duty ...

(National Archives via
...I never had an occasion to reprove him. No better soldier ever left the green hills of Vermont to fight the battles of his country. He has also been noticed and excused from duty as a mark of merit for the neatness of his person and equipment by the commander of the regiment. His death will be deeply felt by his comrades who all respect and love him.

While I have been writing the last few words of the previous sentence one of my officers informed me that Benjamin had breathed his last. May God sustain you through this hour of affliction. The corpse will be sent to you at North Dorset by express. ...

(National Archives via
... I shall have it sent from Washington tomorrow. You will please write in regards to the disposition of his effects. He probably has more money by him and there will more due him from government. Any assistance that I can lend you, you will inform me and it shall be done.

Benjamin died Sunday 2 o'clock P.M. Feb 2nd.

I remain very truly Obt.

J.E. Pratt
Capt - Co. A. 4th Vt.Regt.

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-- Benjamin Stafford pension file (WC10792), National Archives & Records Service, Washington, D.C. via

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Chaplain to private's widow: ' have a house in Heaven'

(National Archives via
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Mortally wounded in the bowels during a skirmish near Kingston, Ga., on May 19, 1864, 77th Pennsylvania Private David Neely died the next day with 74 cents, a receipt and a "discharge" in his pocketbook. If it were indeed an army discharge document, the soldier's death must have been especially heart-breaking for Neely's family in Landisburg, Pa., near the state capital of Harrisburg.

Shortly after David died in Erwin Hospital, a 21st Kentucky chaplain offered condolences (above and below) to the soldier's 45-year-old widow, Elizabeth. "Madam it becomes my painful duty to announce ...," M.H.B. Burket's short note began on U.S. Christian Commission stationery.

In addition to his wife of 14 years, Neely left behind three children: Sarah, 13; John, 12; and William, 9. A wooden headboard with Neely's name, company and regiment etched on it was placed atop his grave in the regimental cemetery. But the soldier's final resting place today is unknown.

Kingston, Ga., May 20, 1864
Mrs. Elizabeth Neely

Madam it becomes my painful duty to announce to you the death of your husband David Neely private in Co. A 77 Reg. Pa. Vol. On yesterday while skirmishing with the enemy near this place and driving him howling before us your companion was shot through the bowels and died this morning in Erwin hospital. I find in his pocket book 74 cents, his discharge and one receipt from H.P. Lightner for $200. I also find on his person one pocket knife, pocket handkerchief and three letters on business -- all of which I will hand over to the surgeon of his Regt. to be sent to you. I had no acquaintance with the deceased but I entered ...

(National Archives via
... the hospital this morning and found your husband dying. I interogated him as to the relations he sustained to the army. After he died I examined his person and found as above stated. All I can say by way of consoling you is this: God who hears the young ravens cry will be to you the "Widow's God and to your children the orphans father. If you will trust his promises and after the toils of life are ended and your trust is stayed in God through his son Jesus you have a house in Heaven, where friends will never more be parted by cruel war.


M.H.B. Burket
Chaplain 21st Regt. KY Vet. Vol. In., 2nd Brig, 1st Div 4th A.G. D.C

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-- David Neely widow's pension file (WC48480), National Archives & Records Service, Washington, D.C. via

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Video: A short walk on hallowed ground at Franklin

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This sliver of land, part of the old Fountain Carter farm, included a convenience store, a house and two pizza restaurants until it was reclaimed by preservation organizations. Some of the most brutal fighting of the Civil War occurred here near the Carter cotton gin on Nov. 30, 1864. Confederate dead and wounded, according to an Ohio officer, “lay in perfect heaps” in the immediate distance.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Letters to Mrs. Donley: 'They told me that he was no more'

65th Illinois Corporal James Elliot Donley may be buried with other unknowns
at Nashville National Cemetery. (Find A Grave | Click on images to enlarge.)

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On the day wave after wave of Confederates crashed into Union earthworks at Franklin, Tenn., 65th Illinois Sergeant George Haywood wrote a letter with terrifying news to the mother of a soldier in his regiment. Four days earlier, as John Schofield's Army of the Ohio aimed to head north toward Nashville, Corporal James Elliot Donley was among 55 casualties in the 65th Illinois, the "Scotch Regiment," at the Battle of Columbia (Tenn.).

"Whilst under heavy fire of shot & shell on the 26th," Haywood informed Eliza Donley in the letter dated Nov. 30, 1864,  "James was shot in the leg by a shell cutting it off between the foot & knee. He bore it bravely like a good soldier as he is." (See transcript below.)

Maddeningly for Eliza Donley, the orderly sergeant had no news of her son's ultimate fate. Was the wound mortal? Was James alive in a hospital? Or could he be in enemy hands? A mother of three other children, Eliza had already endured trying times. In 1861, she was granted a divorce from her husband, James Sr., who was "guilty of habitual drunkenness for a space of two years."

Sgt. George Haywood wrote a short letter to Eliza Donley while he was in a battle line at Franklin 
on Nov. 30. 1864. (CLICK TO ENLARGE | Map by Hal Jespersen,

In agonizing limbo, perhaps for weeks, Eliza received a heartbreaking note after Christmas 1864. After a resounding victory at Nashville on Dec. 15-16, the Union army chased John Bell Hood's depleted Army of Tennessee south toward Alabama. In a letter to Eliza from Columbia on Dec. 27, Haywood wrote:
"I found three of our company who were left here when your son was. I asked them about your son & they told me that he was no more, I was surprised and sorry to hear it. I did not expect that he would die but he did."
After the war, 65th Illinois Private Alexander Henderson claimed Donley died "almost immediately" after both his legs were severed by enemy artillery. As the Union army headed north toward Nashville, he noted, James' body was left behind enemy lines.

Struggling to support her family on $1.50-a-week wages she earned as a seamstress, Eliza filed for a dependent's pension. As required, Mrs. Donley provided evidence she relied financially on James, who before he enlisted gave her money he earned working for a local farmer. A "frugal, careful, industrious woman," Mrs. Donley also provided in her pension claim James' war-time letters in which he noted sending his mother his army wages. Eliza's claim was approved at the standard $8 a month.

In a massive effort shortly after the war, the federal government disinterred remains of Union soldiers from battlefields, hospital sites, church graveyards and elsewhere for re-burial in newly created national cemeteries. If James' remains were recovered, he may have been buried in an unknown grave at Nashville National Cemetery.

LETTERS TO MRS. DONLEY: "He bore it bravely like a good soldier"

(National Archives via
In line of battle near Franklin, Tenn., Nov. 30, 1864

Mrs. E. Donley


I take this first opportunity of informing you of the fate of your son James. Whilst under heavy fire of shot & shell on the 26th James was shot in the leg by a shell cutting it off between the foot & knee. He bore it bravely like a good soldier as he is. We were driven from the field and out of 19 men in the company 7 were wounded & one killed. It left us so small that we could not bring them off. Besides were we exposed to a murderous fire of shot, shell & musketry. This was near to ...

(National Archives via
... Columbia, Tenn. We have been driven from there to here since and expect to fall back to Nashville, Tenn. I have his pocket book and (indecipherable) in money. The money I send enclosed. It was his wish that it should be sent home. One of our sergeants has got his watch. He does not know yet what is best for him to do with it. Should like to know your wishes in regards to the pocket book & watch.

I am madam your most respectful & obedient servant

George W. Haywood
O.S. Company G, 65th Reg. Vol. Inf.

Charles Liber
204 S. 5th St.
14 Cedar & Mulberry, St. Louis, Mo.

(National Archives via

Columbia, Tenn.
Dec. 27, 1864

Dear madam,

Your letter to me and also one from your pastor were received some time ago. We were on the march then toward this place and I have not had the opportunity to write before. I went to the hospital as soon as I got here. I found three of our company who were left here when your son was. I asked them about your son & they told me that he was no more, I was surprised and sorry to hear it. I did not expect that he would die but he did. He died that night about midnight. ...

(National Archives via
... I have not yet learned yet where (he) is buried but when we get settled here I will try. I know none of the particulars of his death. I have his watch and pocket book which I will send as soon as I can. I shall have to wait until I get to Nashville I think as there are no Express office here.

I remain with much sympathy for your loss. Yours respectfully

George W. Heywood
First Sergt. Co. G 65. Ills Infty.

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-- James Donley pension file (WC83877), National Archives & Records Service, Washington, D.C. via