Category Archives: POW

How did Franklin area residents react to the fall of Fort Donelson?

Sallie Florence McEwen

Sallie Florence McEwen (1846-1867), daughter of John B. McEwen and Cynthia B. Graham McEwen, married Rev. W.L. Rosser in 1866 and they had one daughter, Florence Atkerson of Creek Side.

Fort Donelson fell into Union hands on February 16, 1862 as the entire fort surrendered to U.S. Grant, resulting in over 12,000 Confederate soldiers becoming prisoners of war.  Not only did this give the Union unfettered access along the Cumberland River, but it’s capture resulted in the capitulation of Nashville to the Union army without a shot being fired. Nashville was the second-largest city in the lower South, only New Orleans was larger.

The news of the fall of Fort Donelson must have stunned and terrified the local residents of Franklin and Williamson County, as this diary excerpt from Sallie Florence McEwen indicates.  The news must have traveled quickly that day as McEwen wrote this entry on Sunday the 16th, the day of the actual surrender.

“Fort Donelson has fallen. We are defeated. A great number of prisoners have been taken, among them a great number of our acquaintances. There is great panic in Nashville, the people are fleeing from there is in great numbers.”

Sunday, February 16, 1862 – The Journal of Sallie Florence McEwen. A Franklin, Tennessee resident.
Source (McEwen quote and image): Williamson County & the Civil War: As Seen Through the Female Experience. 2008.

Adelicia “Addie” McEwen German (1848-1942) was Sallie’s younger sister. She married Dr. Daniel B. German in 1869. She wrote the following related to Fort Donelson.

Addie McEwen German

“Our first sight of the Yankees was in February 1862 when Fort Donelson fell. It was on Sunday morning and we had gone to Sunday School. had finished with our lessons and were coming out of church, when unusual commotion in  the street attracted our attention. On looking down towards the Squre, it seemed as if the whole of Heavens had dropped down, so blue were the streets with the blue coated Yankees and the Starry Ground to be with them, they were so gay with gold stars and lace; the Southern Army men in full retreat, just ahead of them . . . One poor fellow, who had fired cannons at Fort Donelson three days, was intatters and barefooted. Tears ran constantly down his cheeks, and he couldn’t shut his mouth, so pitiful was he, that he was clothes from his head to his feet and bountifully fed. He expressed himself as feeling like the “prodigal son” returned.”

Source:  Williamson County & the Civil War: As Seen Through the Female Experience. Rick Warwick, 2010: 15.

Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight?

CSA General Earl Van Dorn

Perhaps you have heard this phrase about when men go off to war   . . . . “a rich man’s war, and a poor man’s fight.”

Well,  read the following diary account of a 115th Illinois Union soldier who records some comments of captured rebel soldiers in late March 1863 in Franklin. General Earl Van Dorn was active in Williamson County and Franklin at this time.  These Confederate prisoners of war are from Van Dorn’s army, more specifically, they belonged to Nathan Bedfort Forrest’s cavalry corps.

“I conversed a good deal with the prisoners while guarding them. They seem to be a very gentlemanly set of men and many of them intelligent. They say they and the majority of the army are willing to return to their former allegiance if they can be guaranteed their rights under the constitution. They blame their leaders as well as ours for misrepresenting the public sentiments . . . They are from Alabama & belonged to Van Dorn’s command but under the immediate command of Forrest.”

March 26th, 1863 – from the diary of Zeboim Carter Patten (1840-1925) , 115th Illinois Infantry, Co H

Source: The Civil War Years Revealed Through Letters, Diaries and Memoirs. Rick Warwick. 2006: 83.

Dec 7th, 1864 letter of William Garrigues Bentley, 104th Ohio

Dec. 7th, 1864
[Nashville]

Dear Bro,

I wrote . . . the other day after we reached this place but I was hurried so that I couldn’t write as much as I would have liked . . . .

I suppose you have heard the particulars of the Franklin fight by this time, as the papers of this place are full of it — but maybe you would like to hear the part that our Regiment took in it, so I will try to explain it. Tho I wasn’t in our works during the heaviest of the fight, as I stated before. I was sent back to draw rations but I saw it and I’m not particularly anxious to see such another battle, tho it was a great victory for us.

Gen Reilly’s Brigade was in position on the left of the Cumberland pike, our Regiment being 2nd in line on the right. We joined Gen Cooper’s 2nd Division, 23rd A.C. They connected with the 4th A.C. Col. Casement’s Brigade of our Division on our left. The enemy charged with 2 Divisions, Gen Cleburne of Hardee’s old Corps in our immediate front on the left of the pike. I forgot the name of the other General on the right, our skirmish line was about 1/4 mile in advance of the works, supported by Wagner’s Brigade of the 4th Co. The enemy advanced in two oblique lines, their left in our front — almost resting on our works, their right extended along the road joining on the right — which  was formed in the same manner except that on this side, their right was nearest our lines . . ..  They came up in splendid style, our artillery from across the river, throwing shell into their ranks without checking them in the least.  The Brigade of the 4th Corps were overpowered in a moment and came rushing back in the wildest confusion over our line  — almost breaking it.  The rebels kept close . . . on them, so that our men couldn’t fire until they were within a few yards.  When they did open on them, mowing them down by scores, we had several pieces of artillery in the line which poured grape and cannister into their ranks. At last, finding it too hot for them, they fell back one hundred yards, into a ravine, which they reformed and came up again. This time as steady as clock works. They charged right up to our ditch, many of them jumping over the boys heads. Some were shot while standing on the headlogs. Our Co. was the left-center of the Regiment and next to our colors and here the fighting was hottest. The line to our right was, at one time, driven back and the rebels came pouring over the works. I am proud to say, that not a man in Co. G flinched, tho every Co. to the right fell back. Gen.s Reilly, Cox and Schofield were in the most exposed places, trying to rally the men who had fallen back from a misunderstanding of orders. Up they went again, taking their old position and capturing many prisoners. Off to the right, the enemy held our line for sometime but after a desperate struggle, everything was retaken and the enemy fell back a short distance but still keeping up a heavy fire.  It was now dark and we expected another attack would be made but they had evidently had enough of it. After the firing had slackened the boys went out in front of the works to help any of our boys who were lying outside. Very few were wounded outside of the works, but you can’t imagine the appearance of the field. The ditch was literally piled with dead and wounded and for rods you could scarcely walk without stepping on a body. They laid in every position imaginable. Some were in the act of loading, some drawing the trigger. Our fire had been very effective, nearly all were struck below the breast. Several officers rode their horses right onto the works and horses & riders fell back into the ditch.

You can imagine how desperate the struggle was in front of our colors when 5 (stand0 of colors were captured in front of them, the color bearers were all killed. One of them planted his standing in our works and snatched at our colors which were floating there, but our color Sergeant was too quick for him, he pulled them off the works and the reb fell back dead. An officer, said to be Gen. Cleburne was killed in front of our Co. The rebels came over our works by scores, throwing down their guns, they were sent back to the rear and as men couldn’t well be spared just then to guard them, I suppose 1/2 of them made their escape as it was. We kept 1,700 of them, you may judge that they were terribly cut-up when after the fight was over several men came over the works with ammunition, expecting to find their men in possession, as they said, they didn’t meet any going back except a few stragglers. Officers, who were over the field after the fight estimate their loss in killed and wounded at from 500 to 600, which is a moderate estimate I think. It has been said by men who have witnessed some of the hardest fought battles of the war, that they never saw a more desperate fight. Cleburne’s Division we have always heard spoken of, as the flower of the Southern Army, and they boasted that they have never before been whipped. I don’t believe that braver men live than they were, but now there are but few left to tell the tale who will ever charge a Yankee line again.

About midnight we evacuated the place and fell back to this place. We had to leave some of our wounded in their hands as it was so dark that we couldn’t find them. Our loss was comparatively slight, about 700 in all, the 104th lost 62 mostly wounded. We had six of our best men wounded, none killed which is very fortunate . . .

I will enclose a little shred of our old flag which the Color Sergeant handed me the day after the fight. It is so ragged that it will scarcely hold together but we will prize it all the more for that.  We will never dishonor it, the little piece of red is part of a rebel flag we captured.

Source: (p. 125-127)

“Burning Rails as We Pleased”: The Civil War Letters of of William Garrigues Bentley, 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. McFarland, 2011.

Here’s a word cloud based on his letter:

Lecture forthcoming on Morris Cooper Foote 1864 Civil War diary

I will be speaking on the 1864 Civil War diary of Morris Cooper Foote (1843 – 1905) at Fort Negley Visitor Center in Nashville, Tuesday evening at 7 pm. Foote is a little-known military figure but had a substantial career in the service of the United States from 1861 – 1903.

A native from New York, Foote originally enlisted in the famed Ellsworth Avengers’ regiment, the 44th New York Infantry.  While with the 44th NY he distinguished himself with meritorious service at Malvern Hill (July 1862 | see web site), earning himself a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. Shortly after he transferred into the 92nd New York Volunteer Infantry. The 92nd played a significant role in North Carolina.

While serving with the 92nd NYV Foote was appointed aide de camp for his uncle General Henry W. Wessells.  Wessells commanded the Department of North Carolina from late 1862 until the end of the war.

The Union Army (Vol Eight) states,

“On April 17, 1864, he was attacked at Plymouth, N. C., where he had a garrison of about 3,000 men, by Gen. Robert F. Hoke with about 15,000 Confederate troops and the iron-clad “Albemarle.”  After a gallant defense which lasted three days Gen. Wessells surrendered the town.”

It is the battle and capture of Plymouth, NC (April 17-20, 1864) that serves as the backdrop to Morris Cooper Foote’s 1864 diary, which is owned by Yeoman’s in the Fork, a rare bookstore in Leiper’s Fork, TN.

Foote’s diary is interesting for several reasons:

  • Foote was an officer, captured at Plymouth.
  • He provides daily detail on his imprisonment experience throughout 1864.
  • He served in six Rebel prisons:  Libby, Danville, Macon, Charleston (two prisons), and Columbia, SC.
  • He recorded numerous successful escapes of Union soldiers from Rebel prisons.
  • He details his own successful escape in late November 1864.

Foote’s account of his personal escape on November 29th, 1864 (the day before the Battle of Franklin) is riveting. He gives singular credit to the local slave population for his successful escape through the arteries of the Congaree and Santee rivers. His narrative reads almost like a fiction novel. Foote and another officer were picked up December 12th by the U.S.S. Nipsic in Winyah Bay. Foote’s personally drawn escape map of Winyah Bay has resided in his diary since 1864.

Foote's 1864 hand-drawn escape map showing Winyah Bay (SC).

Foote mustered out of the 92nd NY Infantry in late December 1864 but could not stay away from the action very long, re-enlisting in late March 1865 with the 121st New York Infantry just in time to see action at Saylor’s (also Sailor’s) Creek, VA, in which he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant for his meritorious service.

Foote went on to serve in the U.S. military after the Civil War. His illustrious post-Ciivl War military career includes serving in the Alaska territory in 1867 as the United States negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia, serving in many native American campaigns and expeditions – including the Blackhills expedition, the Snake Wars, the Yellowstone expedition – escorting numerous wagon trains through Sioux territories, and serving as an Indian agent for the Sioux on behalf of the U.S. government.

The only extant picture of Foote (found so far) in the Yeoman’s collection is of him sitting next to what may indeed be Geronimo himself. What do you think?

Morris Cooper Foote, sitting with Geronimo?

Foote’s post-Civil War military career did not end with native American campaigns. His military heroics and fame continued. His surviving military journals reveal he fought in the Spanish-American Civil War (April 25-Aug 12, 1898) in 1898. His actions merited his promotion to Major of the 21st U.S. Infantry.  His journals may reveal he stormed San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, but I have not looked yet.

The native-New York military hero was not done after the Spanish-American War either, sporting his new promotion to Major, Foote found himself in the thick of the Philippine-American War (2 June 1899 – 4 July, 1902) and the Boxer Rebellion in China (2 Nov 1899 – 7 Sept 1901). He was promoted to Brigadier-General on 18 February 1903 and retired the next day. Foote died 6 December 1905 in Switzerland. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.

Yeoman’s in the Fork has a very large collection of Morris Cooper Foote items, spanning his entire military career; including his diaries and journals (1864, 1967-1903), his personal library, many documents, maps, broadsides, personal items, etc. or more information on the Foote collection contact Mike Cotter (615) 983-6460.

About the lecturer:

Kraig McNutt is a resident of Franklin, TN, and is widely known as a serious bloghistorian.  His Battle of Franklin blog receives over 10,000 accesses a month. He started the Battle of Franklin Facebook Group in October 2009. It currently has 2,200+ fans.

McNutt researches and writes on Civil War history as it pertains to Williamson County, including Franklin, as well as action involving middle Tennessee and the Western Theater of war. McNutt is also involved in historic preservation efforts in Williamson County.

McNutt founded The Center for the Study of the American Civil War (CSACW) in 2001, which houses his extensive personal collection of Civil War related items, including many letters, diaries, and original documents.

He is available to speak or present to Civil War organizations and functions. McNutt holds degrees from Indiana University (B.A.) and The University of Kentucky (M.S.), and can be reached at tellinghistory[at]yahoo.com or by calling 615.807.0313.