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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Nancy Perkins Gardner: 1855-1944 - "I will be with you always!"

Nancy Gardner was born in Franklin in Williamson County, TN. She was interviewed in the 1930s as part of a program run by the federal government WPA's Federal Writers Project that hired writers to interview former slaves. Interviewers, both white and African American, traveled seventeen states interviewing about 2,500 people and took 500 photographs. The interviews were organized by state and published in 1941 as the Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. Many of the WPA interviewers attempted to transcribe the dialect in which interviewees spoke - which can make reading them sometimes difficult. 

I have tried to track down all the slave narratives of people with ties to Williamson County and have compiled them in this blog post.

Below is the interview with Nancy Gardner along with my comments.  She was about 79 years old when she was interviewed and living in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Well, to tell you the truth I don't know my age, but I was born in 1858, in Franklin, Tennessee. Now, you can figure for yourself and tell how old I am.

[Based on later records, I actually think Nancy was born a little earlier - at least by 1853.]
I am the daughter of Prophet and Callie Isaiah, and they were natives of Tennessee. There was three of us children, two boys and myself. I'm the only girl. My brothers names was Prophet and Billie Isaiah. 

I can't tell you much 'bout work during the slave days because you see I was just a baby you might say when the War broke out. I do remember our Master's name though, it was Dr. Perkins, and he was a good Master. 

[I believe that Nancy was enslaved by Dr. Nicholas Cannon Perkins.  He was born in Williamson County in 1835.  His father was Thomas Fearn Perkins, one of the wealthiest men and largest slaveholders in Williamson County. He was named for his grandfather, the governor of Tennessee, Newton Cannon.  Nicholas Cannon Perkins grew up at Forest Hill on Carters Creek Pike on the west side of Franklin.  

Williamson County, Tennessee, 1878 Tennessee State Library and Archives, Map Collection

In the 1850 Census, T. F. Perkins Sr was enslaving 112 people. By the 1860 Census, he had reduced the numbers to 77. I suspect that he had given his 25-year-old son Dr. N. C. Perkins some of those people - including Nancy and her parents and brothers.  Dr. N. C. Perkins moved to Memphis where he was married in 1861 and, as a newspaper article described it, gave up the practice of medicine, and "adopted the more congenial pursuit of a planter."  I believe that he probably sold some of the people he inherited for cash and so by the 1860 census he was enslaving 13 people on his plantation in Memphis and hired an overseer. Dr. Perkins' younger brother was Capt. Thomas F. Perkins Jr, a notorious Confederate guerilla during the Civil War, local court clerk, and the man who first worked to install the Confederate Monument in Franklin.] 

Ma and pa sure hated to have to leave him, he was so good to dem. He was a rich man, and had a big fine house and thousands of acres of land. He was good to his n*****s too. We had a good house too, better dan some of dese houses I see folks living in now. Course Dr. Perkins n****** had to work, but dey didn't mind 'cause he would let dem have little patches of dey own such as 'tatoes, corn, cotton and garden. Jest a little, you know. He couldn't let dem have much, there was so many on Dr. Perkins plantation. I don't remember seeing anybody sick in slavery time. You see I was just a kid and there's a lot of things I can't remember.

Dr. Newton Cannon Perkins
1860 Federal Census
District 6, Shelby County, Tennessee
10,000 in personal property
Overseer - William Craig

Newt Perkins
Nicholas Cannon Perkins

Memphis Daily Appeal, October 29, 1871

Thomas Fearn Perkins Jr. 1842-1893
"I don't 'member much about them [her brothers and father]  as we was separated when I was seven years old.

I'll never forget when me, my ma and my auntie had to leave my pa and brothers. It is just as clear in my mind now as it was then, and that's been about seventy years ago.

Oh God! I tell you it was awful that day when old Jeff Davis had a bunch of us sent to Memphis to be sold."

Image may contain: text
This ad was placed by a woman looking for her three children who had been sold in Memphis.
I think it describes a little bit of what Nancy must have gone through being separated from her father and brothers that awful day in Memphis.

[I have seen a few references to Jefferson Davis selling enslaved people or interacting with them.  I wonder if his name came to represent any slave trader - like Nathan Bedford Forrest - who it is much more likely that Nancy would have come into contact with in Memphis. However, she was living in Montgomery, Alabama after the War - the original capitol of Jefferson Davis' Confederacy, so it is possible that she was around him there.]

I can see old Major Clifton now. He was a big n***** trader you know. Well, they took us on up there to Memphis and we was sold just like cattle. They sold me and ma together and they sold pa and the boys together. They was sent to Mississippi and we was sent to Alabama. My pa, oh how my ma was grieved to death about him! She didn't live long after that. She didn't live long enough to be set free. Poor ma, she died a slave, but she is saved though. I know she is, and I'll be with her some day.

I knowed old Jeff Davis good. Why I was jest as close to him as I am to dat table. I've talked with him too. I reckon I do know dat scoundrel! Why, he didn't want de n****** to be free! He was known as a mean old rascal all over de South.

Abraham Lincoln? Now you is talking 'bout the n****** friend! Why dat was de best man God ever let tramp de earth! Everybody was mighty sad when poor old Abraham was assassinated, 'cause he did a mighty good deed for the colored race before he left this world.

I wasn't here long during slavery, but I saw enough of it to know it was mighty hard going for most of de n****** den, and young folks wouldn't stand for dat kind of treatment now. I know most of the young folks would be killed, but they jest wouldn't stand for it. I would hate to have to go through wid my little share of it again."

I have not determined how or when Nancy was able to claim her freedom, but she seems to have settled in Montgomery, Alabama. On Christmas Day1869, Nancy Perkins married Bailey Gardner in Mongomery, Alabama. Bailey was a hack driver - he drove a horse and carriage giving rides to people around town for a fare.  They appear to have lived a comfortable life. In the 1880s, Bailey's mother lived with them in a home that owned. Nancy worked as a washerwoman and her mother-in-law was a seamstress. 

1880 Federal Census, Montgomery, Alabama

"It was thirty years before my pa knew if we was still living. Finally in some way he heard that I was still alive, and he began writing me. Course I was grown and married then and me and my husband had moved to Missouri. Well, my pa started out to see me and on his way he was drowned in the Missouri River, and I never saw him alive after we was sold in Memphis."

[I have not been able to find any references to Nancy living in Missouri - perhaps she meant Mongomery? But around this time, she did reunite with family living in Guthrie, Oklahoma.  In 1904 she visited her cousin, Cornelius H. Bradley.  I cannot imagine what that must have been like for her.  She had last seen her father and brothers in a slave pen when she was a child.  Her mother had died soon afterwards.  But here she was, reuniting with living relatives.  What a joyous time that must have been for her.  

Nancy's cousin had grown up nearby on the extensive Perkins plantation in the Forest Home area of Franklin. He was the son of Wallace Bradley (b. 1826) and Margaret Green of Williamson County. Wallace Bradley was enslaved by Nicholas Bigbee Perkins. When he died in 1848, he left his daughter Margaret Perkins Bradley 40 enslaved people. Named was Wallace -- Cornelius’s father.
Portion of Will of Nicholas Bigbee Perkins
Williamson County, Tennessee 1848

In the 1870 Census, Wallace Bradley's family was counted living on or near the former plantation of Nicholas Bigbee Perkins' son Nicholas Edwin Perkins. Cornelius was 16 years old.
1870 Federal Census
Williamson County, Tennessee, District 6

Wallace's son Cornelius married his wife Elizabeth Ridley in Williamson County in 1877.  Cornelius, Elizabeth, and their son O'Neil moved to Kansas and later to Oklahoma where Nancy visited them.  Their participation in the Exoduster movement followed the path that so many African Americans from Williamson County took - read more here about this migration. In 1904 trip the visit was reported on in the local newspaper, the Guthrie Progress.]

The Guthrie Progress - 23 Jul 1904 - Page 3

The Guthrie Progress was published by
O'Neil Bradley, the son of Nancy's cousin.

[It was no coincidence that the paper reported on the visit. At the time of the visit, Cornelius'  son O'Neil was the publisher of the Guthrie Progress newspaper. It was common for formerly enslaved people to publish newspaper ads looking for long-lost family.  Since O'Neil was in the publishing business, it makes me wonder if that contributed to the family finding each other again.  You can find my collection of these types of ads for people from Williamson County here.  Sadly, the year after her visit, Nancy's cousin Cornelius died.

O'Niel Herman “O.H.” Bradley
O'Niel Herman Bradley
Son of Nancy's cousin

In 1911, Nancy's husband Bailey also died and she sold his horses and equipment by placing an ad in the local newspaper. 

Soon after, she returned for another visit with her cousin's family in Oklahoma.  In this newspaper clipping we learn that not only did Nancy have a cousin living in in Oklahoma, but she also had a uncle there.  Nancy and Cornelius had an uncle Judge George Napier Perkins. He was an extraordinary man and I will write more about him and the family in a future blog post. Once again, I have to say how wonderful and remarkable it must have been for Nancy to be surrounded by family - and such a successful one. Her cousin's son O'Neil had been elected as the town's Justice of the Peace since her last visit. During her visit she may have visited other Williamson Countians living in Dover, Oklahoma such as Green Currin's family (see my blog post about him here).


Sadly, during this trip to visit family in Oklahoma, the house that Nancy and her husband Bailey Gardner had worked so hard for was burned down in an arson. 

Montgomery (Al) Times, Oct 10, 1912

After the fire, Nancy moved to Oklahoma to be closer to her family following the loss of her home and her husband. She seems to have remained close to Cornelius' widow and son O. H. Bradley. By that time, O. H. Bradley was an undertaker and publisher and editor of the Boley Progress, a newspaper for African Americans in the all-Black town of Boley, Oklahoma. O.H. Bradley was even the mayor of Boley in the 1930s.

Video about the history of Boley, Oklahoma

By 1916, Nancy Perkins Gardner moved to Oklahoma City where she worked as a cook - and where she was interviewed about 20 years later when she was in her mid-70s. 

1932 Oklahoma City Directory
Listing for Nancy Gardner, widow of Bailey
She was living at 501 Missouri Avenue

I am fairly certain that Nancy died in 1944. There is a plot in Block 29, Lot 79 of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma that I believe is hers. Her cousin Cornelius was buried in the adjacent plot- Block 29, Lot 81 in 1904. When his wife Elizabeth died in 1944 and son O'Neill died in 1948 they were buried there as well. Her Uncle Judge Perkins and his wife are buried in a nearby section (Section 2, block 5).  (Full cemetery map here.)

A portion of Summit View Cemetery map showing locations of Judge George Perkins burial (far left) and suspected burial of Nancy Perkins Gardner and Bradley cousins (upper right)

Nancy Perkins Gardner does not appear to have left any descendants. But her life and her legacy live on through this interview. 

Her description of her faith is one of the most beautiful I have ever read.

I joined the church nigh on seventy years ago and when I say dat, I don't mean I just joined the church. 

I mean I gave myself up to the Heavenly Father, and I've been goine straight down the line for Him ever since do now,

You know in those days, we didn't get religion like young folks. Young folks today just find the church and then call theyselves Christians, but they ain't. 
I remember just as well when I was converted.  One day I was thinking about a sermon the preacher had preached and a voice spoke to me and said,"The Holy Ghost is over your head.  Accept it!"  Right then I got down on my knees and prayed to God that I might understand that voice, and God Almighty in a vision told me that I should find the church.  I could hardly wait for the next service so I could find it, and when I was in the water getting my baptisement, that same voice spoke and said, "Now you have accepted don't turn back because I will be with you always!" O you don't know nothing about thatat kind of religion!
I remember one night shortly after I joined the church I was laying in bed and there was a vine tied 'round my waist and that vine extended into the elements. I could see my Divine Master and he spoke to me and said, "When you get in trouble shake this vine; I am your Master and I will hear your cry."

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

William Street: "There is not a man born, who can represent slavery so bad as it is."

Benjamin Drew, a Boston abolitionist acting in cooperation with officers of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society, visited various towns of Upper Canada around the middle 1850's, interviewing scores of refugees from the slave states and printing their interviews. For reasons of safety, he protected the identity of his informants and used fictitious names. There were about 30,000 people of African descent at that time in Upper Canada, mostly adults who had once been enslaved. 

Will Street was a blacksmith from Middle Tennessee. He mentions knowing of the Perkins family's iron works.  I can't help but wonder if he was somehow related to Williamson County's Reuben Street whom I have written about before.  Street's narrative provides a fascinating description of his escape from a slave trader while onboard a steamboat in Nashville as he was about to be taken south to be sold. 

Below is a full transcript of his story.  I am printing it as an example of what life in Middle Tennessee was like for those who lived under the horror of slavery.  This was not "Gone With the Wind."  These were places of torture and we should not and must not forget that.

A North-Side View of Slavery.The Refugee: or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada.Related by Themselves, with an Account of the History and condition of the Colored Population of Upper Canada: Electronic Edition. Drew, Benjamin, 1812-1903

Testimony of WILLIAM STREET. 
I am from Middle Tennessee, where I worked as a blacksmith, another man taking my wages. All I got was my victuals and clothes, and not much at that. Twenty-five years I was a slave,--was bred and born a slave, and cannot read or write.

My mother has several times told me that her father was sick, and his mistress drove him out of the house, and he leaned his breast over the fence and died. She often showed me the place where he died. I was hired out when very young--did not get the lash. It was never "Can you do it?" or "Will you do it?"--but "You must go and do it." Sometimes I would do a good day's work, and then have another job put on me. I can't paint it as bad as it is. I have seen a man at the iron-works--Perkins's--who said he did not believe that there was a bit of skin on him that he was born with,--they had whipped it all off.

If a northern man were to go right into a slave State, he would not see the worst of slavery. By the time he was up in the morning, the slaves would be a mile off--he would see but little of the evil--he wouldn't get to see it.

My master died when I was seven; my mistress when I was twenty-five. Then we were divided out: I fell to a son who lived in Mississippi. I had been living with a doctor two years, and I asked him to buy me. But my master wouldn't sell--the doctor offered $1,100 for me. I was put in jail five days--I and my brother, who had fallen to the same man, were there. Our owner came in with irons and handcuffs, and put them on, and took us to the blacksmith to have them riveted. I left two men in the jail who had run away from Mississippi and had lain there eleven months,--in one month to be sold. One of them was a great fellow to pray: I'd hear him praying every morning for the Lord to help him. He said he wished the doctor would buy me. The rivets were fixed: we went to Nashville, and were put on board a steamboat, I and my brother chained together. They were loading the boat, which takes two or three days. I heard some one tell a colored man to pump the boilers full, and they'd put out in the morning. I said to my brother, "When you hear me say to-night, the dog's dead, then we 'll put out."

At 11 o'clock we laid down. I made believe that something ailed me, and kept going out. By and by, I said "the dog's dead." We crept into the wheelhouse, and down on the wheel, to the outside of the guard, and got on board a stone-coal boat. We walked eighteen miles that night,--but we were not away yet--yet had no thought about Canada. I had heard of it, but had no thought about getting to it. We laid down, meaning to stay till next night.

Two men went out to hunt partridges, and at about one o'clock they came across us. "What are you doing here, boys?" We had broken off the chains, but the handcuffs were on each of us. "I am going to Columbia--did n't you see that wagon with the boiler on it?" They said, "Come, go this way," and one threatened with his gun. We up and ran. The slaveholders both followed us. We ran across a field about half a mile: when we got across there was a mill and a creek. We ran through the creek: there was a big hill. I went one side, and my brother the other: they followed after me. I stopped and hailed, "What do you want?" They thought I was coming in to give up,--but I passed them and went into the creek, where I fell down, and got wet all over. I crossed at the mill; they after me: there was a horse tied there, and there were several men about the mill; one a colored man, who had the horse. "Can I take your horse?" "No." I took him any how. I cut the bridle, jumped on, and started. Then a white man put his gun over a tree and shot me--some eight or ten small shot went in--they are most of them in me now. The horse then put out with me--then I was shut of them. They had no horse--he put out like lightning--I did not know where I was going,--I rode two miles, got off, hitched the horse, and went away and left him. Thinks I, they 've gone from the mill now--I'll go back and get my clothes now,--I had left them in my hurry. As I went back to the mill, I saw them and took them, and then I saw the men coming back from pursuing my brother. I heard them say, "Yonder he is! yonder he is!" I ran to an open field where there was a little grass, and laid down. They did not see--they hunted about and gave it up: then I went to an old house that had hay in it, and put my clothes in there. I then walked right before the door of a house where were slaves at work--nobody spoke a word to me. After I got through them, I saw an old colored man with a wagon. He told me, "You go this way, and when they come I'll tell 'em you 've gone that way." I did as he advised me, and got into a tree that had been burned out, and stayed in it till night: then I went and got my clothes, and started for the old place where I was raised.

I went on to where my oldest brother lived in Tennessee and told him the circumstances. I was then told to go into the barn-loft, and stay there,--I did--stayed three days hid in the wheat: then I went in the woods, and stayed eight months without ever going into a house,--from Christmas until the last of August. Then my owner came from Mississippi, with a man named T--, who brought three bloodhounds along with him. A white man who saw me the day before, told them where they had seen me. They went to that place, and put the bloodhounds on my track. I had never seen a bloodhound, but I heard them, and I spoke to myself; says I, "I'm gone." I had a pistol, a big stick, and a big knife. Then I ran out of the corn field into a little skirt of woods, and the bloodhounds got over the fence when I did. I wheeled and shot one of them through and through. He never got away from the place at all. I got back to the corn field, the others both with me in the field; one hold of my wrist, the other of my leg. I have the marks--here they are on my wrist. I struck at the dog with my knife a number of times--but he dodged every time. Then my master came up with a pistol, and said if I did'nt stand, he'd put a ball through me. T--came up and struck me with a hickory stick five or six blows, on the back of my neck. I cried, "Oh Lord! Oh Lord!" then T--made the dogs let go. He then took out his handcuffs and chains, and put them on, and took me to a blacksmith's, to have them riveted, putting in another chain between the cuffs, to make 'em strong, so I could n't get away anyhow.

They concluded I must know where my youngest brother was, but I did not and could not tell them any thing about it. They did n't believe that, I was standing up; a great many gathered round to see me: I was chewing tobacco. T--said, "G--d--you, quit chewing tobacco, and tell us where your brother is, for I know you know." Some fellow asked my master what he was going to do with me,--he said he was going to give me up to T--, because I had killed the bloodhound,--T--would n't have taken five hundred dollars for him; said "he was worth more than him, d--n him." He was the fastest one they had; before they brought them from Mississippi, they had caught a man and torn out his entrails,--T--told me so himself. They kept me going round from that day, Tuesday, to Friday, trying to find my brother,--chaining me to the bedstead at night. Thursday morning they thought they had heard of him; went eighteen miles to Shelbyville. A great many went with them for the fun of the thing. This was in the beginning of September, 1851.

I was now at the old place where I was bred, and was left with master's brother-in-law, in his care. At three o'clock, the brother had some sheep to shear: he took me into the stable, put on shackles, and took off my handcuffs, so I could shear. After dinner, said I, "Mr. E--, won't you give me some grease, if you please, to grease my boots?" "Oh, yes." I went into the kitchen where my mother had lived, close by, and thought over all things that had passed before. Pretty soon he told me to fill a kettle with water. The kettle was some fifty yards from the house; there were some six men on the piazza, who could watch me. I filled the kettle. "Did you see my boys?" says he. I told him, "Yes--behind the barn." The barn was further off than the kettle. "Shall I go and tell them to make a fire about the kettle?" Says he, "Yes." They wanted to kill a shoat against the folks got home with my brother. I stepped to the barn to tell them; I looked round,--no one was looking. I told them. They all started for wood, etc. I looked up to the sun, and said to myself, "it's three o'clock." I threw my boots over a stump, and drew them so I could run, I kept my boots, and ran off to Canada. . . . .

It is above my language to tell how overjoyed I was on getting into Canada. Nothing harasses a man so much as slavery. There is nothing under the sun so mean: after a man is dead, they won't let him rest. It is a horrible thing to think of, the ignorance slaves are brought up in. There is not a man born, who can represent slavery so bad as it is.

I work here at blacksmithing: I own this shop. I have plenty of work, and good pay."

Monday, June 29, 2020

Franklin's USCT Statue Honors Our Native Sons

Today, the final fundraising threshold was met to be able to erect a statue to the US Colored Troops on the Public Square in downtown Frankin. This would not have happened without the hard work of many people, especially those involved in the Fuller Story project.

The statue will be a full-scale bronze representation of a USCT soldier sculpted by Tennessee native Joe F. Howard. Design work and sculpting are already underway. Plans are to unveil the statue in early 2021.

I wanted to take this moment to describe exactly who this statue is depicting - to put a human face on it. The veterans represented by the statue were born in Williamson County, they lived here, married here, enlisted here, served here, raised families here, died here and are buried here. They are our native sons. Many of them left widows and orphans and bereft parents behind. So far, I have identified 59 Black soldiers from Williamson County who died in service to our country during the Civil War. At least ten of these men died of wounds received in the Battle of Nashville. Many of their remains lie in unmarked or unknown graves. When Franklin's Confederate monument was erected in 1899 - 35 years after the Civil War - many of the surviving local USCT soldiers were still living in Williamson County.  Not only was their service not honored, but it was also in many ways a liability.  It is beyond time - these local men all deserve public recognition for their service to us and to our nation.

For some context, you should know that during the Civil War, approximately 180,000 African American men joined the federal forces in the USCT to fight. Tennessee sent the third-highest number of men of any state - more than 20,000.

Tennessee sent the third-largest number of men to join the USCT during the Civil War.
About 20,000 black men from Tennessee joined USCT regiments.

I believe that the 300 men from Williamson County I have identified actually represent a significant undercount. I think the number of local USCT could easily be as much as double that or even triple. The reason for the undercount has to do with the lack of indexed and digitized military service records for these men, incomplete enlistment records, and other issues that make it hard to track and identify the birthplace and residence of these soldiers.

Further, it is important to remember in thinking about the statue and the men it represents, in addition to sending USCT from Williamson County, they were also active in and around our community throughout the War.

For example, in mid-August 1863 more than 60 African American men were enlisted into Company A of the 13th US Colored Infantry right in Franklin - perhaps inside the old Williamson County Court House that sits on the Square - right where the statue will be installed. Later that October 1863, recruiters again were enlisting Black men into US Colored troop regiments in Franklin.

In March 1864, Moscow Carter of the Carter House wrote a letter in which he said a company of USCT was garrisoned in Franklin and he expected a regiment to be sent here. He was probably referring to the 17th US Colored Infantry. On March 21, 1864, 19-year-old Samuel Cox - who was born in Williamson County - enlisted in Franklin in Company C of the 17th US Colored Infantry.

Company Descriptive Card
Samuel Cox
17th US Colored Infantry

Peter Bruner
12th US Colored Heavy Artillery

Later that summer, a portion of the 12th US Colored Heavy Artillery was sent here to guard cattle. Pvt. Peter Bruner described in his memoir how,

Then we started on our journey from Bowling Green to Nashville, Tennessee, to guard a thousand head of cattle. Everything went well with us until we arrived at Franklin, Tennessee, except it rained on us every day. After we had passed into Franklin the next night we went into camp, everything began to go wrong. The food gave out and the rebels fired in on us. The rebels had three men to our one but they did not get any of our men or cattle. All of this occurred after night. We managed the next day to go to the mill to get some flour and when we came back we made it up with water and put it on a board and held it up before the fire to bake it. We did not have any salt nor any shortening nor anything. That evening we found a hog that had five little pigs just about three days old and cleaned them and made soup of them. About that time that the soup was done the rebels fired in on us and made us go and forget all about our pig soup. So after this we did not have any more trouble until we reached Nashville with all of our cattle safe.

Most significantly, following the Battle of Nashville, probably hundreds of local men were serving with the 12th US Colored Infantry, the13th US Colored Infantry, the 14th US Colored Infantry, the 16th US Colored Infantry, the 17th US Colored Infantry, the 44th US Colored Infantry, and the 2nd US Colored Light Artillery, Battery A. Their contributions were significant to winning the Battle and bringing about the end of major fighting in the Western Theatre. You can learn more about the contributions of Williamson County's USCT in the Battle of Nashville in this blog post. The next day, these men hounded the defeated and retreating Confederate Army of Tennessee right through Williamson County and Franklin. A few USCT, including Franklin native Sgt. Major Andrew Ewing, was left sick in a hospital here.

As they came through town on their way to Murfreesboro to board trains, these local men - who were returning as triumphant soldiers, no longer slaves, had this remarkable encounter with their commander General Thomas:

Following the War, US soldiers discovered the remains of two soldiers from Company K of the 17th US Colored Infantry who were “Found in Vicinity of Squire Carter’s on Battlegrounds.” These men were later buried in the Stones River National Cemetery. They likely died during Hood's Retreat.

Even long after the surrender, US Colored Troops were kept on active duty in this area as peacekeeping troops, security forces and burial details. On February 4th, 1866, two brothers of the 17th US Colored Infantry, Co E were on furlough from Nashville. They were traveling on foot to Triune to visit their parents who were living near there. They were attacked by a civilian and one of the brothers, Pvt.Henry Moon was shot and killed.

Pvt. John Dubuisson served in the 100th US Colored Infantry. In my blog post about him, I described how he married his wife Bettie here in early 1867. He died in July 1909 and is buried in the historic Toussaint L'Ouverture Cemetry in Franklin.

Pvt. Freeman Thomas was enslaved just west of downtown Franklin. He was shot in the leg during the Battle of Nashville, raised a successful family in Franklin following the War and owned a house on Franklin Road that still stands. You can read an interview with him in my blog post here. He died on his 91st birthday and is also buried in the Toussaint L'Ouverture Cemetery.

Private Granville Scales was enslaved in the College Grove area of Williamson County with his parents before the War. He enlisted in the 44th US Colored Infantry. He was taken Prisoner of War two times and escaped both times. The second time he was shot in the shoulder so badly that he had to have his arm amputated. In my blog post, I describe how he declined a medical discharge and stayed on active duty, becoming his regiment's principal musician. Following the War, he moved his family to Kansas and then Oklahoma where he built a grocery store and was a leading member of the community.

Felix Battle was born in Williamson County and was just 13 years old when he enlisted in the 13th US Colored Infantry. He served as a drummer boy during the intense Battle of Nashville and after the War raised a large family in Louisiana. He was a very successful farmer and sent his children to school in Nashville.

These are just a few examples of the connections that USCT had in and around Franklin and Williamson County during and after the Civil War. It is long past time to honor and remember them. We have lost their stories and now we can bring their legacies home. I am so grateful to everyone who is making this a reality through their support of the statue.

If you would like to learn more about these men, please subscribe to my blog and follow Slaves to Soldiers on Facebook.

Some additional local USCT Stories can be found here:

Monday, June 8, 2020

Tennessee's Confederate Independence Day - June 8, 1861

Today is a big day for the men portrayed by Franklin’s Confederate Monument. #OTD1861 On today’s date 1861, an overwhelming majority of the adult, white male voters in Williamson County voted to secede from the United States and join the Confederate States of America. Today is their “Independence Day.”  

Once all the votes were counted, 1,915 white men voted in favor of the state resolution to secede. Only 28 remained loyal to this country. It is important to remember that the votes of the rebels represented only a small fraction of the total population in Williamson County. At the time of the vote, about 24,000 people lived in Williamson County, more than half of whom were held in cruel bondage.

You have surely heard the arguments -- the South seceded over “States Rights” not slavery.  Well, listen to what the Nashville Republican Banner newspaper said the vote was about the day before it was taken. In an editorial titled, “What is to be voted To-morrow” the paper wrote:

“The people of Tennessee will cast the most important vote to-tomorrow that they have ever been called upon to cast. It is to decide whether Tennessee shall declare her Independence of the Federal Union, or continue a party to that Union under a Constitution violated for the purpose of urging a war upon the Southern States - a war for the extermination of slavery. This is the issue, blink it and pervert it as you will. The people of the Northern States have been for nearly half a century haters of slavery. For many years their pecuniary interests and a regard for their constitutional obligations kept them from making this hatred an active political element. But slowly and surely the once insignificant and contemptible abolition party has gained in strength and numbers, until finally under the name of the Republican party, and under the lead of such men as Lincoln, Greely, and others, and with the watch word of the “irrepressible conflict” between free and slave labor, it absorbed the entire Northen masses, and succeeded in the first grand set of the drama - gaining possession fo the Executive Department of the Government. … Is there a Southern man who is willing to trust his honor, his interests, his constitutional rights in the keeping of a government controlled by the spirit of abolitionism and hatred of slavery which has so signalized the whole public and private career of the men in power at Washington, and which has become the ruling sentiment of the whole North?  . . . "

Pretty clear, isn’t it?  It was a “war for the extermination of slavery.”  Right from the get-go.  And these men were rising to defend it. You cannot whitewash it.

So the next time you see a post that says something like, "We need to keep our historical monuments to preserve our history" or  "Our history should never be forgotten or rewritten." Know that I agree with you in part - this history should never be forgotten and it should never have been rewritten and told as a false narrative. Just remember exactly what history it is that our monuments today are honoring and telling. And whose. Think about what parts of our history we choose to commemorate and to celebrate.  There are other stories more worthy of elevation. 

This is the full text of the editorial -- you can download it here.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Prisoner of War Exchanges and the Impact on Local USCT Soldiers During the Civil War

Following the Battle of Bull Run and for the early part of the Civil War, when soldiers were captured by the enemy, rather than being kept as prisoners of war, they were generally exchanged back to their own side under a complicated set of rules that was called the Dix Hill Cartel. It reminds me of a bit of a card game like Go Fish -- "I will trade you four privates for a sergeant." "No, I don't have a sergeant, but I will take four privates, and one corporal for a captain." This system was codified on July 22, 1862, and called for exchanges until all captured soldiers had been returned back to their original army to fight again another day.

Then in September of 1862, President Lincoln called for the enlistment of black soldiers into the US Army as part of the preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. This would change everything.  No longer would white soldiers be exchanged for white soldiers. Now, the US Government expected that black soldiers (many of whom were former slaves) would be exchanged equally - one for one - for white soldiers. So one white private was equal one black private in this card game.

On Christmas Eve, December 23, 1862, Confederate President Davis responded by issuing a Proclamation and General Order No. 111 that neither captured black soldiers (who he considered to be "armed slaves in insurrection") nor their white officers would be subject to exchange under the Dix Hill Cartel rules. In other words, black soldiers and their officers were worthless to him for the purposes of exchanges:
"3d. That all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong, to be dealt with according to the laws of said States. 
4th. That the like orders be executed in all cases with respect to all commissioned officers of the United States when found serving in company with armed slaves in insurrection against the authorities of the different States of this Confederacy."

In fact, his Proclamation said that the black soldiers would be "dealt with" according to the state from "which they belong."  They were to be treated as runaway slaves.  And that their white men were to be treated as if aiding a slave revolt. This could mean being sentenced to death.

The Confederate response did not discourage President Lincoln, and one week later, on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation became official and the United States began the active recruitment of black soldiers and sailors. 

Locally, General Rosencrans responded from his headquarters in Murfreesboro.  On January 6, 1863, he issued General Order No. 3 stating that, as a result of Jefferson Davis' order "denying paroles to our officers, he [Rosencrans] will be obligated to treat them in like manner. . . . "In accordance with the preceding order, the Confederate officers taken prisoner at the Battle of Stones River [December 31, 1862-January 2, 1863] the other day, and who had been released here on parole with the freedom of the city until an exchange could be effected were the other day sent off to Alton, Illinois, to be kept in confinement."

(The Lieber Codes)

In April 1863 the US government adopted the Lieber Codes, also known as General Order 100. They stipulated that the United States Army expected all prisoners to be treated equally, regardless of color. 


May 1, 1863, the Confederate Congress passed a joint resolution that formalized Davis' December 1862 proclamation that the Confederate forces would not exchange black US Colored Troop soldiers who were taken prisoner.  It stated its belief that black US Army soldiers who had been recruited from among escaped slaves were still the property of their former enslavers and that their participation in the US Army was punishable. White officers of these soldiers could also to be put to death if captured.

Sec. 2 . . . [The Emancipation Proclamation etc] and other measures designed or tending to emancipate slaves in the Confederate States, or to abduct such slaves, or to incite them to insurrection, or to employ negroes in war against the Confederate States, or to overthrow the institution of African slavery and bring on a servile war in these States, would, if successful, produce atrocious consequences, and they are inconsistent with the spirit of those usages which in modern warfare prevail among civilized nations, they may, therefore, be properly and lawfully repressed by retaliation.  
Sec. 3 . . . .the President of the confederate States [Jefferson Davis] is hereby authorized to cause full and complete retaliation to be made for every such violation, in such manner and to such extent as he may think proper.
Sec. 4. That every white person, being a commissioned officer, or acting as such, who, during the present war, shall command negroes or mulattoes in arms against the confederate States, or who shall arm, train, organize, or prepare negroes or mulattoes for military service against the confederate States, or who shall voluntarily aid negroes or mulattoes in any military enterprise, attack, or conflict in such service, shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection, and shall, if captured, be put to death, or be otherwise punished at the discretion of the court.  

Harper's Weekly
Cartoon: “The President’s Order No. 252”
August 15, 1863
On July 30, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued General Order 252, which effectively suspended the Dix-Hill Cartel until the Confederate forces agreed to treat black prisoners the same as white prisoners. The Presidential order required that for every US  soldier who was killed instead of exchanged, or for any soldier who was enslaved by the enemy, a Confederate soldier would also be killed or put to hard labor.  Large scale prisoner exchanges largely ceased by August 1863

War Department. General Order No. 252.
Washington: July 31, 1863.

This resulted in a dramatic increase in the white prison populations on both sides. Large numbers of captured soldiers were held in prisons with terrible conditions such as Andersonville (Confederate) and Rock Island (US Army). 

However, for the soldiers of the USCT, the implications are less clear. One of the most controversial and gruesome events of the Civil War was the Battle of Fort Pillow. On April 12, 1864 Confederates under the command of Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked the Fort which was garrisoned by about 600 men - about half of whom were black USCT soldiers with the 6th US Colored Heavy Artillery regiment and the 2nd Colored Light Artillery.  When the Confederate's attacked the Fort that day, most modern historians believe and official US Army reports emphasize that a deliberate massacre took place. Federal soldiers who survived stated that even though all their troops surrendered, Forrest's men massacred the black soldiers in cold blood. Surviving members of the garrison said that most of their men surrendered and threw down their arms, only to be shot or bayoneted by the attackers, who repeatedly shouted, "No quarter! No quarter!"  The phrase "no quarter" generally means that they will take no prisoners -- which would be somewhat consistent with the official Confederate policy toward black soldiers at the time. However, some controversy does still exists around this event and some Confederate sources say that Forrest's forces were firing in self-defense. I find that hard to believe after reading through all the official records, but to be fair wanted to mention it. 

A few months later, a few Williamson County men serving in the USCT were taken POW by the Confederates. In late September 1864, Confederate Nathan Bedford Forrest again led his cavalry force into northern Alabama and Middle Tennessee to disrupt the supplies for US General Sherman's march into Georgia. They captured men from the 110th USCT while paroling the white officers. Williamson County's Pvt. Eli Perkins was among the POWs. He was captured on September 24th and managed to escape and return to duty with his regiment on November 1, 1864. 

The day after Pvt Eli Perkins was captured, on September 25th, 1864, Forrest moved his forces north of Athens along the Nashville & Decatur railroad to attack a strategic trestle bridge near Elkmont, Alabama at Sulphur Branch Creek. A fort, two blockhouses, and a force of 1,000 US Army soldiers - including the 111th USCT - were defending the trestle. Forrest heavily bombed the fortification and took it and the men as well. Among those captured was Pvt. James Moore (full story here) who lived in Williamson County after the War. The USCT POWs were marched first to Tuscumbia, Alabama. From there, a train took them into Mississippi and finally to Mobile, Alabama. While in Mobile, Pvt. Moore was probably treated terribly. An old cotton warehouse was converted into a prison labor camp that held over five hundred black prisoners. One man said this about his experience: 
Pvt. James Moore, 1828 - 1893
111th US Colored Infantry Co I
"We were kept at hard labor and inhumanly treated; if we lagged or faltered, or misunderstood an order, we were whipped and abused; some of our men being detailed to whip others."
Two days later, the 14th US Colored Infantry confronted Forrest's men near Pulaski, Tennessee where his men were tearing up the railroad tracks. The commander of the 14th, Colonel T. J. Morgan recalled in his diary that day,

"The massacre of colored troops at Fort Pillow was well known to us, and had been fully discussed by our men. It was rumored, and thoroughly credited by them, that General Forrest had offered a thousand dollars for the head of any commander of a face with Forest's veteran cavalry."  At least 12 Williamson County men were fighting in the 14th that day when they confronted and turned Forrest's men back. 

Additionally, three Williamson County USCT served in the 44th US Colored Infantry and were captured near Dalton, Georgia by General John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee on October 13, 1864, in Dalton, Georgia. Although the 44th's USCI's Colonel Johnson claimed that his black troops displayed the "greatest anxiety to fight," he surrendered to Hood and secured paroles for himself and the 150 or so other white troops. Hood had previously vowed to take no prisoners when confronting black soldiers and later added that he "could not restrain his men and would not if he could." Here is the official report of their treatment that day. Note that the commander of the troops noted that,

 "Although assured by General Hood in person that the terms of the agreement should be strictly observed, my men, especially the colored soldiers, were immediately robbed and abused in a terrible manner. The treatment of the officers of my regiment exceeded anything in brutality I have ever witnessed . . . General Bate [Confederate] was ordered to take charge of us, and immediately commenced heaping insults upon me and my officers. He had my colored soldiers robbed of their shoes . . and sent them down the railroad and made them tear up the track for a distance of nearly two miles. One of my soldiers, who refused to injure the track, was shot on the spot, as were also five others shortly after the surrender, who having been sick, were unable to keep up with the rest on the march.. . . a number of my soldiers were returned to their former masters.."

The regiment's 600 African-American enlisted men suffered a harsh fate. As noted, some were re-enslaved, while others were sent to work on Confederate fortification projects in Alabama and Mississippi. Many ended the war as prisoners in Columbus and Griffin, Georgia, where they were released during May 1865 in what one of them described as a "sick, broken down, naked, and starved" condition. All three Williamson County members of the 44th managed to escape and return to duty with the 44th: Sgt. Henry Lanear, Cpl. Harrison Roberts, and Pvt. Granville Scales (full story here). 

Locally, at least one group of white officers of the USCT were killed instead of taken POW and perhaps a group of black soldiers was killed.  In late December 1864, US Colored Troops were involved in the pursuit of Confederate John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee during its retreat following the Battle of Nashville. As I discussed in this blog post, several white officers of black troops were taken prisoner by Confederate soldiers. Two were murdered and one was shot but survived. It was suspected that a group of black privates was also killed. The event was decried by General Ulysses S. Grant.