Southern Historical Society Papers.
Vol. XVI. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1888.
B. F. Cheatham, Major-General C. S. A.
A Tribute to his Memory by Bishop C. T. QUINTARD.
[Read by Captain J. J. Crusman at a reunion of Confederate veterans, held at Clarksville, Tennessee, October 3, 1888.]
To POLK G. JOHNSON, Esq., Clarksville:
MY DEAR FRIEND–I have delayed my reply to your last kind letter in order that I might say definitely whether it would be possible for me to join you at the grand gathering on the 4th of October. To my very great regret I am obliged to decline your generous hospitality. My pressing official duties will oblige me to be in a distant part of the State on the 4th. I greatly regret this, as I am most anxious to meet the members of Forbes’ Bivouac, of which I am rejoiced to be a member. Then, too, I wished to attend the meeting that I might embrace the occasion to pay some fitting tribute to my dear friend, that true man and grand soldier, the late Major-General B. F. Cheatham. During and after the war I was brought into such intimate association with him that I learned to appreciate his high character. He was a man of admirable presence. In manners he was free without frivolity–cheerful, kind-hearted and ever easy of access. He was a gentleman without pretension, and a politician without deceit; a faithful friend and a generous foe; strong in his attachments and rational in his resentments. He was clear in judgment, firm in purpose, and courageous as a lion. He was faithful in expedients, prompt in action, and always ready for a fight. He won victory on many a well-contested field; but, best of all, he ruled his own spirit.
Born in Davidson county in the year 1819, he was brought up upon his father’s farm; accustomed to work from his boyhood, he was never ashamed of it after he became a man.
In 1846 he went to Mexico as captain of a company in the First Tennessee regiment. With this company he fought at Monterey, and there first attracted marked attention for his promptness, skill and daring courage. His regiment, foremost amongst the bravest, baptized in its own blood, came forth from the conflict the “Bloody First,” a cognomen significant of its fearful christening. After the battle, Captain Cheatham volunteered, with characteristic courage and humanity, to remain and bring in the wounded who, during the long and arduous conflict of the day, lay where they had fallen on the field. With his regiment he had participated in the preceding battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. After the time for which his company had enlisted had expired, he returned to Nashville and raised a regiment, of which he was made colonel by acclamation. On reaching Vera Cruz as senior colonel, he had command of a brigade and joined General Scott on his march to the capital of the country. He participated in nearly all the battles around the City of Mexico.
The late war found him engaged in the peaceful pursuits of agriculture. In May, 1861, he was made a brigadier-general of the Confederate army, and was sent to the assistance of General Pillow at New Madrid. He remained with the army in Missouri till it crossed over to Tennessee and Kentucky; repulsed the Federal gunboats, Lexington and Conestoga, in the first naval engagement on the Mississippi; rallied our scattered troops at Belmont, attacking the enemy in flank and putting them to flight, and pursuing the fugitives to their gunboats. At the battle of Shiloh he was under fire, with his command, all the first day on the extreme right and, till after two o’clock of the second day, the extreme left. Here he received his well-merited commission as major-general of the Confederate States army, bearing date March, 1862. In the Kentucky campaign he led the van of the right wing, and at the battle of Perryville his division bore the brunt of the conflict and won brilliant honors. During the battle he rode along the lines, through an incessant shower of shot and shell, calmly smoking his pipe, and breathing the very soul of chivalry and enthusiasm into his men.
That day he captured three or four batteries. Lieutenant-General Polk, in his report of the battle of Perryville, says: “To Major. Generals Hardee and Cheatham I feel under obligations for the judgment and skill manifested in conducting the operations of their respective commands, and for the energy and vigor with which they directed their movements. Few instances are on record where such successes have been obtained against such disparity of numbers.”
At Murfreesboro, in the two actions of Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge, and during all of Hood’s campaign, and on many a field beside, he exhibited the most perfect self-possession, the utmost disregard of peril, the sublimest enthusiasm of heroic battle; while in the disposition and management of his forces he united the discernment of the commander to the ardor of the soldier. Wherever he appeared he gave a new zest to the conflict and a new impulse to victory. On Hood’s campaign it has been charged that Cheatham failed to give battle when the “enemy was marching along the road almost under the camp-fires of the main body of the army.” It is sufficient to say that Cheatham possessed in an eminent degree that indispensable quality of a soldier which enabled him to go wherever duty or necessity demanded his presence. He understood thoroughly that it was better that a leader should lose his life than his honor; and we may believe his statement that “during my services as a soldier under the flag of my country in Mexico, and as an officer of the Confederate armies, I cannot recall an instance where I failed to obey an order literally, promptly and faithfully.” We may accept the statement of Major D. W. Saunders, A. A. G., of French’s division. “The assumption that Scofield’s army would have been destroyed at Spring Hill, and one of the most brilliant victories of the war achieved had it not been for the misconduct of Cheatham, is one of the delusions that has survived the war. No circumstance or incident that his strategy developed can be found that justifies Hood’s attack on the military reputation of General Cheatham.” The truth is plainly brought out in the letter of Governor Isham G. Harris, addressed to Governor James D. Porter:
Governor JAMES D. PORTER:
DEAR SIR– * * * General Hood, on the march to Franklin, spoke to me, in the presence of Major Mason, of the failure of General Cheatham to make the right attack at Spring Hill, and censured him in severe terms for his disobedience of orders. Soon after this, being alone with Major Mason, the latter remarked that General Cheatham was not to blame about the matter last night. “I did not send him the order!” I asked him if he had communicated the fact to General Hood. He answered that he had not. I replied that “it is due General Cheatham that this explanation should be made!” Thereupon Major Mason joined General Hood and gave him the information. Afterward General Hood said to me that he had done injustice to General Cheatham, and requested me to inform him that “he held him blameless” for the failure at Spring Hill; and on the day following the battle of Franklin I was informed by General Hood that he had addressed a note to General Cheatham assuring him that he did not censure him with the failure to attack.
ISHAM G. HARRIS.
Memphis, Tenn., May 20, 1877.
The communication referred to in the letter of Governor Harris was received by General Cheatham, and was read by Governor Harris, General Porter, Major Cummins, of Georgia, and Colonel John C. Burch; but General Cheatham, as he says, “not having been in the habit of carrying a certificate of military character,” attached no special value to the paper, and lost it during the campaign in North Carolina.
The story of his military career is yet to be written, and this Commonwealth of Tennessee will have no brighter page in its history. I must write briefly of the close of the great chieftain’s life.
On the 23d of January, 1866, it was my privilege to receive him by Holy Baptism into the church. On the 15th of March following, I officiated at his marriage to Anna Robertson. Subsequently they both renewed the vows of Holy Baptism in the Rite of Confirmation. I gave them their first communion. I was with the General the week before his death,
“When subtle pain
Wrung his sad soul and racked his throbbing brain,
When weary life, breathing reluctant breath,
Had no hope sweeter than the hope of death.”
And in that solemn hour when the battle was fought out, and the weary hinting soldier felt that the sword and shield were slipping from his stiffening hand, I gave him the most comfortable sacrament of the body and blood of his Saviour, and his lips breathed out his trust in his dear Redeemer.
I officiated at his funeral, at the request of his family taking the entire service both at the church and at the grave.
He was a great and a good man; he was great wherever duty called, whether on the battlefield or in the walks of private life. “I have never seen the day,” said Judge John Lawrence, an ex-Confederate soldier, “when I did not want to take off my hat to the great man and hold his honest hand.” He was as brave as the spotless Bayard, and as chivalrous as Philip Sidney.
I have written this sketch hastily, and with few records from which to gather the facts, but the writing has brought before my mind a thousand sad, though sacred memories–recollections of the dear boys of the First Tennessee regiment, whose Chaplain I was, of officers and men with whom I was associated during all the war. Many have gone to their rest, the young have grown old, but ever fresh and green will their memory remain in my soul. I cannot better close than by quoting the following poem by the late General Charles G. Halpine, of the Federal army:
There are bonds of all sorts in this world of ours,
Fetters of friendship and ties of flowers,
And true lovers’ knots I ween;
The girl and the boy are bound by a kiss.
But there’s never a bond, old friend, like this–
We have drunk from the same canteen!
It was sometimes water, and sometimes milk,
And sometimes applejack, fine as silk,
But whatever the tipple has been,
We shared it together, in bane or bliss,
And I warm to you, friend, when I think of this–
We drank from the same canteen!
The rich and the great sit down to dine,
And they quaff to each other in sparkling wine,
From glasses of crystal and green;
But I guess in their golden potations they miss
The warmth of regard to be found in this–
We have drunk from the same canteen!
We have shared our blankets and tents together,
And have marched and fought in all kinds of weather,
And hungry and full we have been;
Had days of battle and days of rest,
But this memory I cling to and love the best–
We have drunk from the same canteen!
I beg you to make my cordial salutations to the members o! Forbes’ Bivouac and to my friends generally.
I am, very faithfully yours,
CHARLES TODD QUINTARD.
Fulford Hall, Sewanee, Tenn., September 28, 1888.