Wednesday, December 01, 2021

The ghosts of Franklin: 15 images on hallowed ground

Shadow play on the bullet-riddled Fountain Carter outbuilding, bathed in a red light.

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What a fabulous experience it was Tuesday night on hallowed ground at Franklin (Tenn.) on the 157th anniversary of the battle. Brisk weather, hundreds of luminaries “burning” on the old Fountain Carter farm, a robust crowd, parking lot packed—this was as special and powerful as the annual Antietam luminary event I have attended several times. Lights at the Carter house property as well as from cars and traffic signals on Columbia Pike cast an eerie glow for photography. What a shooting gallery.

A red glow from a traffic light on Cleburne Street gives the battlefield an eerie look.
The Carter house yard, site of savage fighting behind the U.S. Army line.
The north side of the Carter house bathed in a light.
The ground a few feet from the U.S. Army works. A park today, littered with dead then.
Living historian John Decker poses in front of a bullet-riddled Carter outbuilding.
The view through a bullet hole.
U.S. Army artillery position in Carter yard.
Luminaries at the Carter farm outbuildings.
A "mysterious" shadow in the Carter house yard.
Vicinity where Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne was killed during epic charge.
U.S. Army artillery position near Columbia Pike.
A visitor (left) inspects the bullet-marked, brick outbuilding.
20th Tennessee officer Tod Carter was mortally wounded here, within site of his boyhood
home. He died in the house where he was born on Dec. 2, 1864. He was 24.
Luminaries at the 157th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin.

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Monday, November 29, 2021

Death of a 'curly-headed, blue-eyed boy' at Hollow Tree Gap

An illustration of Federal dead at Hollow Tree Gap published in The National Tribune,
a newspaper for veterans, on March 22, 1888. The figure in the foreground presumably
shows 16-year-old Duane A. Lewis. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

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Few who drive on heavily trafficked Franklin Road (U.S. Route 31) in metro Nashville today know anything about the historic pike's Civil War significance. On Dec. 16, 1864, in the aftermath of a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Nashville, beleaguered John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee used the route to escape to Alabama. 

The following day, in the vicinity of Franklin Road and present-day Moore's Lane, the U.S. Army lost 22 killed and 63 captured at Hollow (or Holly) Tree Gap in a fight against Hood's rearguard. On that raw and rainy day, 9th Indiana Cavalry officers spotted on the battlefield the body of one of their own, 16-year-old Duane A. Lewis—a "mere child" who was beloved by "every soldier in the brigade." A Confederate artillery round had killed the private, a shoemaker as a civilian and son of a widow.

Here's a snapshot of the life—and death—of Lewis, told via documents from his mother's pension file, a regimental history, Google Street View, and other sources. I have traveled through the heart of this "lost" battlefield dozens of times. Now drives here will be more meaningful.

Duane A. Lewis in 1860 U.S. census | National Archives via

In 1860, Lewis lived with farmer William Keister and Elizabeth Keister—presumably relatives—in the Hancock County seat of Greenfield, Ind. (population roughly 800 in 1860). Born in Michigan, Duane was the son of Laura and Clark Lewis, who died July 7, 1858. 

On Nov. 13, 1863, Duane enlisted in the army, either securing his mother's permission beforehand or signing up without her blessing. Lewis was 15 or 16—the legal age to enlist was 18. How the teen slipped past a U.S. Army recruiter is unknown.  

Duane A. Lewis mother's pension file | National Archives via (WC97660)

Before Duane's enlistment, he gave his mother $10 a month from his earnings as a shoemaker. (He made roughly $12 a week.) While in the army, Duane sent his mother $150 via the Adams Express Company. "Mrs. Lewis is poor and has no source of income whatever," a two-year acquaintance of Laura Lewis noted in a pension affidavit.  

          PRESENT-DAY VIEW: At Hollow Tree Gap, looking north on Franklin Road.
                            This was the Confederates' view on Dec. 17, 1864.

In the 9th Indiana Cavalry's regimental history, published in 1890, Captain Obediah Hayden recalled the Battle of Hollow Tree Gap. The 19th Pennsylvania and 10th Indiana cavalries spearheaded the attack while the 9th Indiana Cavalry brought up the rear.   

"By the early dawn the First Brigade was in the saddle en route for the Franklin Pike, the 19th Pennsylvania in advance, supported by the 10th Indiana. On reaching the pike the whole command started down toward Franklin at a swinging trot. Soon striking the enemy they gave way before the impetuosity of the advance and were rapidly driven back, losing many prisoners."

PRESENT-DAY VIEW: A Confederate battery was posted on the left side of the pike.
This view, the U.S. Army's perspective, looks south.

At Hollow Tree Gap, the U.S. Army encountered "a considerable body of infantry"—four brigades of Confederates—as well as a Missouri artillery battery. 

"To offset this, the 10th [Indiana] had captured and brought off the field two Colonels, two Lieutenant-Colonels, one Major and more than one hundred enlisted men. The 9th, being in the rear, had all the morning seen the evidences of the demoralization of the enemy. The guns and other equipments strewn along the road, the apparent abandonment of everything that impeded their flight, every door-yard filled with illy-clad shivering prisoners, had led us to the conclusion that we had 'a walk over.' Hollow Tree Gap undeceived us."

9th Indiana Cavalry Captain Obediah Hayden
spotted Duane Lewis' body on the battlefield.
(Indiana Historical Society)
As the 9th Indiana moved through Holly Tree Gap, 21-year-old Hayden discovered "the saddest sight of the campaign.":

"A trooper lay beside the road gasping his life away, and near him with a ghastly wound in his breast, lay dead the little curly-headed, blue-eyed boy, Duane A. Lewis, Co. B., sixteen years old, the General's orderly, whose bright and joyous face and fearless innocence had endeared him to the heart of every soldier in the brigade. The pitiless rain fell upon his upturned childish face; his eyes were open, but their light had gone out forever."

Hayden wasn't the only soldier who noticed the dead teen. More than a decade after the battle, Thomas J. Caper, a 9th Indiana Cavalry captain, recalled: 

"As we passed through the gap we could see how desperate had been the conflict. The scene was calculated to make even the bravest shudder. The road was choked with dead men and horses, torn and mangled in every conceivable manner, some of lhe men having received as many as half-a-dozen shots before they went down. To the right of the pike, as if to emphasize the cruelties of war, lay among the bearded men a little, fair-haired boy, a mere child, not more than 12 or 13 years of age. He lay at full length upon his back, with one hand resting across his breast, the other lying carelessly by his side as if in sleep. The rain-drops were falling upon his upturned, childish face, and the Winter's winds were playing with his curly locks. Two ugly wounds told too plainly that it was the sleep of death, that the bright young life had gone out forever. But our duty was not with the dead; it was with the living, and we hastened on to perform it."

Hiram Hines of the 57th Indiana recalled discovering another dead cavalaryman on the battlefield.

"Corporal [William] Nash, of Co. I, and I were together on the right of the line in the woods, some distance from the pike, where we found a dead cavalryman of Hatch's Division. We stopped to look at the poor fellow, not because we had not seen hundreds of dead soldiers, but for the fact he was the first dead cavalryman I had seen and was the only one I ever saw during the whole of my war experience. Corporal Nash found a letter in his his pocket, from which he got his home address and wrote his folks."

      PRESENT-DAY VIEW: Could this be woods from which Hayden saw horses gallop? 

Added Captain Obediah Hayden about the surreal battlefield scene:

"The rain was gently falling, the heavy fog of early morning was somewhat dissipated, yet so dense that objects could not be distinctly seen at a distance. With a long trot we swept down the pike against a shadowy foe—ourselves but shadows. The depressing weather and the sad scene just passed made the lightest heart grow heavier as we swept along. Suddenly from the woods on the left, a body of Confederate horses sprang into the road in front of us, and in a ghostly gallop led the way to their lines."

The Rebels lost roughly 250 captured and an unknown number killed and wounded.

Duane A. Lewis mother's pension file | National Archives via (WC97660)

By July 1866, Widow Lewis (1) was living in northwestern Pennsylvania. She was 40 years old (2). According to this pension document, Duane died from "the bursting of a shell" at the "Battle of Franklin" (3)—Hollow Tree Gap is several miles north of Franklin. Laura had married Clark (4) on May 23, 1839. Mrs. Lewis secured a pension for the standard $8 a month—a pittance for the sacrifice of her son, whose final resting place is unknown. 

The stretch of Franklin Pike where the Battle of Hollow Tree Gap was fought is unrecognizable today as a battlefield. Below wooded ridges, a mishmash of convenience stores, apartments, and office buildings clutter an intersection. Endless road construction provides further irritation. Your escape route is a turn on Holly Tree Gap Road, a serpentine, two-lane stretch that slices through hills into some of the prettiest countryside you'll ever see.

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Sunday, November 21, 2021

A visit to Calfkiller River and remote Battle of Dug Hill site

Pals Jack Richards, Taylor Agan and I enoyed an epic visit to the Battle of Dug Hill site.

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On the afternoon of Feb. 22, 1864, guerrillas ambushed Union cavalry on a desolate mountain road above the Calfkiller River, near Sparta, Tenn. On Saturday, we visited the unmarked site of the small but brutal Battle of Dug Hill with the Taylor Agan, a descendant of a soldier who fought here. Appearing in the background above are my puzzled friends, renowned hypnotist Jack Richards and Agan, a talented songwriter. ...

... and here’s the Calfkiller, which was named for either a large ant or calves that drowned during a flood—that's what a local fisherman told me—or a Cherokee chief. Must confirm. The site 95 miles east of Nashville is so remote it conjured up images of this 1972 survival thriller. 😄 

On a serpentine, two-lane mountain road en route to the obscure hallowed ground, Richards and I contemplated farewell messages to our families as we gazed into the deep abyss to our right. "Hey, look, no guardrail!" Note of interest: Locals hunt for ginseng in these hills! ...

When I heard “Battle of Dug Hill” for the first time recently, the magnificent voice of David McCullough, narrator for the Ken Burns' Civil War doc, instantly popped into my head: The Civil War was fought in 10,000 places, from Valverde, New Mexico, and Tullahoma, Tennessee, to St. Albans, Vermont, and Fernandina on the Florida coast. ...

Rebel vet Wiley Steakley:
"We finally put the Yankees
on the run."

... On Feb. 22, 1864, John W. Clark, a private in the 1st Tennessee Mounted Infantry riding with the 5th Tennessee Cavalry, advanced up the mountain road with two comrades. They were the tip of the cavalry's spear.

Then, about 100 yards away, Clark spotted two Rebs astride their horses—bait to lure the Yankees into a death trap. In an account published in The National Tribune, a veterans' newspaper, Clark recalled what happened next:

"I sounded the double quick charge signal, and lit out after them, and about the time the company caught up we spied two lines of battle formed. One line was up to our right on high ground about 300 feet above us. We were in the Dug Hill road, which ranged around the mountain about 600 yards from where we entered it. At the loose end of a thin hill was another line of battle. By this time another line had formed behind us, and the johnnies were cross-firing on us three ways."

Dozens of Yankees tumbled from their saddles"The smoke was so dense," Clark remembered, "that you could not tell one man from the other." 

Decades after the battle, Wiley Steakley—one of the guerrillas who set the trap—said Dug Hill was one of the hardest-fought battles. "We finally put the Yankees on the run," he said as he prepared for his 96th birthday in 1940. 

... In the ambush, the 5th Tennessee Cavalry lost at least 21 soldiers killed out of roughly 100 engaged. The Rebels—perhaps 40 or more under notorious guerrilla leader Champ Ferguson—suffered far fewer, if any. 

An illustration of the
 Battle of Dug Hill,
published in the Alva Weekly
(Okla.) Record
in 1911.
Well into the fight, a Rebel bullet passed so close to Clark's head that it left a blister across his forehead. "Just after that another cut my bridle reins in two between my hand and my horse's neck," he recalled. "We were all close together, and we started almost straight up the mountain."

This was an every-man-for-himself, no-holds-barred, two-hour fight. "The first battle I ever saw fought with rocks," a guerrilla fighter recalled years later

As Clark attempted to escape on the rugged ground, a Rebel grabbed the tail of his horse. "I didn't have a lead in either of my navies [revolvers] and as I was a bugler I wasn't supposed to carry a gun," Clark remembered. "I drew my sword and gave a right-hand back cut, and I was free from him."

Many Federal fallen were shot in head. Showing no mercy, guerrillas murdered some U.S. Army horsemen after they surrendered, according to accounts, and Yankees vowed revenge. 

"Let us have retaliation for these villainous outrages at once," wrote a pro-U.S. Army newspaper in Nashville weeks after the battle. (Read Battle of Nashville Trust board member Philip Duer's lengthy feature on guerrilla warfare in Tennessee.)

... Shelton Harris, a 21-year-old private in Company I of the 5th Tennessee Cavalry, was killed by a "gunshot wound which entered his right side causing instant death"—perhaps fired from these woods. (Evidence of the fight occasionally surfaces—a local told us his wife found a Confederate button metal detecting on ground near the mountain road.) Private Harris was the unmarried son of 50-year-old Ruth Harris of Liberty, Tenn. ... via National Archives (WC99898)

... More than a year after Shelton's death, Ruth filed for a dependent's pension. The family circumstances were difficult. Harris' husband had abandoned the family and "never so much as furnished [Shelton] means enough to buy him a Linnon (sic) cap," according to this pension file affidavit. "He left the country when my son was but one or two months old and never has saw him since." Added Ruth: "My son was a Basterd (sic) child and never knew his father." Harris' pension claim was approved at the standard rate of $8 a month. Shelton's final resting place is unknown.

... Perhaps this is the view guerrillas had from the wooded mountainside as they whacked the Federals. Agan's research indicates this is the battle site; other alternatives have been offered. Whereever this fight occurred, it was like "like shooting fishing in a barrel," said Agan, whose great-great-great-great-grandfather John Parker was among those ambushed at Dug Hill. (The 23-year-old was lucky to survive.) More on Private Parker of Company K of the 5th Tennessee Cavalry in a bit ...   

...  A few 5th Tennessee Cavalry soldiers escaped along the Calfkiller to Sparta, roughly nine miles distant. One U.S. Army horsemen hid in a hollow log until the coast was clear.

"[I]f one could forget the horror of it, it was one of the most ridiculous battles ever fought," the Rebel fighter recalled. "Why, the [U.S. Army] boys just sat upon their horses and waited to be knocked off. ... several were captured while trying to make their way to Sparta, hatless and shoeless. It was a funny fight if ever a fight was funny. I never saw one like it, and have no wish to see another.”

For a year after the battle, locals discovered skeletons by the road and in the woods. via National Archives (WC71261)

... the next day, guerrillas—attired in Federal uniforms as a ruse—killed four 5th Tennessee Cavalry soldiers on picket duty near Sparta. Private Elijah Crabtree, a 29-year-old private in Company G, was among them. On Feb. 24, 1864, his captain wrote this condolence note to his widow, Ezzy. "It becomes my painful duty," it begins, "to announce to you intelligence which will cause your soul to wither(?) in anguish..." Adds the officer: "We all mourn his loss deeply for not only was he a gallant soldier but a kind friend and companion."

... by the way, here's Champ Ferguson's grave in France Cemetery, near the Battle of Dug Hill site. He was hanged by the U.S. Army on Oct. 20, 1865, in Nashville after his conviction on 53 counts of murder of Federal soldiers—among them were U.S. Colored Troops at Saltville, Va. "I believe I was right in all I did," he said at his execution.

... some strange soul(s) plopped a couple brews next to Ferguson's gravestone, perhaps for Champ to enjoy in hell. ...

... while others placed coins atop his gravestone. We spotted several pennies, Lincoln side up. Karma. ...

... Eager for grub and a chance to expand our minds, we too advanced on Sparta—home of bluegrass legend Lester Flatts, who died in 1979 ... 

... At Sparta, we met Peggie Hurteau, a docent at the excellent White County Heritage Museum. Here we examined Battle of Dug Hill docs, a slice of the tree where Felix Zollicoffer was shot at the Battle of Mill Springs (Ky.), a small bottle of dirt from Parker's Crossroads, a rotary phone, Rebel General George Dibrell's 1851 Colt pistol, and this detailed model of Sparta that took a local couple 750 hours to complete. (You don't get this stuff on any other Civil War blog.) The hot-air balloon represents the ballooonist who crashed in the woods near Sparta in 1927. (Note to Civil War travelers: Always ask the locals where to eat. Peggie recommended Yanni's Grille. Meal tasted especially great because hypnotist Richards picked up check.) ...

...  However, my personal highlight in the museum was this farmer carved from a tree. 

... But back to the Battle of Dug Hill and John Parker, the blue-eyed, fair-haired farmer from DeKalb County, Tenn. Months ago, Agan—a remarkable sleuth who has 12 direct, verified Civil War ancestors (five Union, seven Confederate)—discovered his great-great-great-great grandfather Parker's grave in a rural Tennessee farm cemetery, a 40-minute drive from the Battle of Dug Hill site. His GGGG-grandmother was buried next to him. About to give up his search that day, Agan consulted with a higher power: "Lord, where are those graves?" he said. Then he brushed aside a pile of leaves ... and the rest is history. Fabulous. 

... Not even these mad cows could ruin a spectacular day.

OK, lots more digging for me to do on the Battle of Dug Hill. On deck: A search of pension records and a deep dive into Have more on this obscure fight? Shoot me a note.

Let's keep history alive. 👍👍

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

  • Chattanooga (Tenn.) Daily Times, Feb. 23, 1940.
  • Dromgoole, Will Allen, The Sunny Side of the Cumberland, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1886.
  • Elijah Crabtree and Shelton Harris pension files, National Archives via, Washington, D.C., WC71261 and WC99898.
  • Nashville Banner, Nov. 30, 1912.
  • Nashville Daily Union, March 15, 1864.
  • Seals, Monroe. A History of White County Tennessee
  • The National Tribune, Jan. 19, 1911.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

An NFL captain's roundabout connection to a Rebel general

Farmer Campbell Ridley stands near a slave cabin where sharecropper Katy Yokley,
great-grandmother of NFL standout Dont'a Hightower, lived.

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While a barn cat named Barnee roamed his workshop, Campbell Ridley and I swapped Civil War stories, discussed cracklingschitlins and bean planting, and reminisced about recent visits to his Columbia, Tenn., farm. Acccompanied by two local historians, we then walked 75 yards or so to examine rare, historic treasure with a roundabout connection to an NFL standout.

On Campbell's property, near a small bridge over the East Fork of Green Lick Creek, stand four slave cabins — survivors on the remarkably intact plantation of Confederate Brigadier General Gideon Pillow, a wealthy planter and a Ridley ancestor. (Private property. Read more here.)

Within site of Pillow's mansion called Clifton Place, we explored inside one of the cabins — gingerly stepping on the creaky wooden floor, picking through artifacts, and wondering about the lives of the enslaved. The visit to "The Quarters," slave row, was fascinating ... and humbling.

Turn up the volume high for optimal experience.
Rachael Finch, senior director of preservation and education at the Heritage Foundation
 of Williamson County, explores the inside of a slave cabin 
of four standing on farmer Campbell Ridley's property.
A brick fireplace in one of the cabins.
Ancient logs of the slave cabin where sharecropper Katy Yokley lived. She was
NFL star Dont'a Hightower's great-grandmother.

Long after the Civil War, a sharecropper named Katy Yokley lived in another one of the small dwellings. Abandoned today and nearly obscured by trees and undergrowth, the slave cabin was partially encased decades ago with cinder blocks. On the decrepit porch stood two plastic chairs, an old grill, and a wooden rocker—I wonder if it belonged to Ms. Katy. Outside, we examined the ancient, log walls.

The porch of the slave cabin where NFL standout
Dont'a Hightower's great-grandmother 
lived. The home is abandoned.
“Katy raised me,” said Ridley, whose family has lived in the area for generations. Then he dropped another gem: Ms. Yokley, long gone, also was the great-grandmother of Dont’a Hightower, the New England Patriots' linebacker and team captain, who starred at Alabama. He’s from Lewisburg, Tenn. Hightower’s dad recently visited the cabin.

Now this is a connection worth exploring further.

If he were alive today, Gideon Johnson Pillow would post a daily selfie to Facebook, craft look-at-me entries on his blog about his Corvette collection, flood Instagram with images of his circa-1840, 12-room, Greek Revival-style mansion, and tweet thousands of times about his hemp crop, which made him one of Tennessee's wealthiest men.

On Clifton Place tours on YouTube — the planter would be an influencer, of course — Pillow surely would brag about the full-length painting in the foyer of ... Gideon Pillow in a military uniform. (Hmmm, whom does this remind us of...?  😄)

The scouting report on Pillow from my historian friends Tom Price and Rachael Finch was not kind.

"Huge chip on his shoulder."


A painting of Gideon Pillow at the Tennessee State
 Museum in Nashville.
"Would knock down whoever he needed to to get what he wanted." 

"Anything he posted to Instagram would be perfectly curated," which is probably the first time those nine words were typed referencing any Civil War general. 

Pillow's contemporaries also were scornful. In mid-February 1862, Ulysses Grant threw massive shade Pillow's way while discussing terms of surrender of the Confederate garrison at Fort Donelson with Rebel General Simon Bolivar Buckner, his old friend. The previous night, Pillow — whom Grant knew from the Mexican War — escaped across the Cumberland River in a small boat.

Buckner: “He thought you’d rather get ahold of him than any other man in the Southern Confederacy.”

Grant: "Oh, if I had got him, I’d let him go. He will do more good commanding you fellows.”

In his 1864 memoirs, Winfield "Old Fuss and Feathers" Scott — commanding general of the U.S. Army when the Civil War broke out — described Pillow as "amiable, and possessed of some acuteness, but the only person I have ever known who was wholly indifferent in the choice between truth and falsehood, honesty and dishonesty; ever as ready to attain an end by the one as the other, and habitually boastful of acts of cleverness at the total sacrifice of moral character."

Not a ringing endorsement.

At Fort Donelson (Feb. 13-16, 1862) and Stones River (Dec. 31, 1862-Jan. 2, 1863), Pillow’s generalship was underwhelming at best. After Stones River, he spent much of the rest of the war  recruiting, which come to think of it is something Texas football coach Steve Sarkisian should do pronto. (HOW DO YOU LOSE TO KANSAS, SARK?!)

Clifton Place, the circa-1840 mansion built for Gideon Pillow. I took this mansion
image during an escorted visit in February 2021.
The brick stable (foreground) at Gideon Pillow's plantation. The 12-room Clifton Place mansion
 appears in the left background. PRIVATE PROPERTY: Do not trespass.

Like most wealthy men in the South, Pillow owned slaves. Seventy toiled at his plantation, about a day's ride from Columbia back in the day. Ten or so served their master's domestic needs (cooking, cleaning, caring for children), and were housed in crude cabins near Clifton Place. The rest, who lived on slave row, worked the fields. Enslaved labor made Pillow a millionaire.

The exterior of one of the four surviving slave cabins.
Befitting his personality, Pillow spared little expense to create a showplace plantation. He added flourishes such as a brick stable and detached law office. The slave cabins we examined included brick fireplaces, an extravagance not seen at most other plantations, according to Finch. 

"He wanted everyone to know he had money," she said.

For Pillow, the effort to impress was partly to keep up with the Joneses... or Polks, in his case. Just down Mount Pleasant Pike were the impressive plantations of the Polk brothers — Ashwood Hall, perhaps the most fabulous plantation mansion in Tennessee, was originally built for Leonidas Polk, who also became a Confederate general. ("The Fighting Bishop" lived until June 14, 1864, when he was nearly sliced in two by Yankee artillery at Pine Mountain, Ga.)

Pillow, who went bankrupt after the war, died in 1878. If he were able to post, blog or tweet today, he could brag about something else — the state of his plantation complex.  

"One of the most intact ... in Middle Tennessee," Finch said of the private property. 

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

  • Hamilton, James. The Battle of Fort Donelson. T. Yoseloff, South Brunswick, N.J., 1968.