Sunday, September 27, 2015

Civil War Knights of the Forked Deer

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Posing with a couple of Civil War-era ghosts
at the Appomattox County Courthouse

I recently visited the Appomattox County Courthouse where Confederate army commander Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union commander Ulysses S. Grant.

Fresh in my mind during the visit was an old article posted a few weeks ago on Facebook by Judge Roland Reid of Brownsville, Tennessee. Robert Thomas Chambers (1843 - 1921) originally wrote the article in 1917 and a clipping of it was submitted many decades later to the Brownsville States Graphic by Judge Reid’s grandmother, Jo Williamson Reid (1896 – 1993).

Photo/Roland Reid

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Knights of the Forked Deer

What Chambers wrote offers a glimpse into a moment in history when a group of young men gathered with their friends and family at Providence Church in Madison County, Tennessee for their final meal before heading off to fight in the war as part of Alsey High Bradford’s 31st Regiment, Tennessee Infantry, Company F.

Most of those young men never returned home.

Judge Reid and I share several mutual Haywood County ancestors who are mentioned in the article because his grandmother, Jo Williamson Reid was the aunt of my paternal grandfather, Bo Williams (1910 – 2008). 

Photo/Joe Reid

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Jo Reid on the steps of Providence Methodist
Church in Madison County, Tennessee

Aunt Jo, as I grew up calling her, and my grandfather’s mother were sisters and she lived across the street from my grandparents for many years. My grandmother and Aunt Jo took me fishing many times when I visited as a child. But, because my grandfather’s mother, Janie Williamson Williams (1887 – 1914), died when he was only four years old, the specific family connection was always a little fuzzy to most of us. 

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Janie Williamson Williams, upper left
Jo Williamson Reid, lower left

I like to give this great-grandmother a shout-out when I can. Although she didn’t get a chance to enjoy the fruits of a long life, she made an impact. Without her, none of my paternal family would be here.

Janie and Jo's paternal grandfather, Beverly M. Williamson (1813 – 1877), is my third great-grandfather. Williamson donated the land for Providence Methodist Church and cemetery in Madison County. You can find more about that in a blog I posted several years ago.

Photo/Library of Congress

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A few of the photos of unidentified Confederate soldiers in the
Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs
archived by the Library of Congress

While the names of soldiers are helpful to those of us interested in genealogy, for me the best part of Chambers' article is he pulled back the curtain on a specific moment and provided a little more detail into the Civil War’s impact on his community. Like looking at the faces of the mostly unidentified soldiers in the Liljenquist Family Collection at the Library of Congress, the stories of the young men and women from that era are ultimately what really resonate most with us today.

Chambers wrote:
“After the organization of the company (at Providence Church), a bounteous dinner was served for everybody and it seemed like everybody was there; a very large crowd. In the afternoon we went to Jones Station, a very large crowd accompanying us. Soon the parting hour arrived and it was indeed a sad time—leaving fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, but perhaps the saddest partings were those of sweethearts.

We went to Trenton that night and the next day, September 20th, we were sworn into the confederate service, where we continued for three and one half years.

Many of those dear boys were left slain on the battlefields, many died of disease and others were maimed for life.

Much could be told of the experiences of this company of Madison and Haywood county boys, but unless it should be called for will probably never be told.

Suffice to say that at the surrender of Gen. Johnston’s army at Greensboro, N.C., April 26, 1965, only the following named members of the company were present, viz:

B.D. Williamson 
B.W. Dougan 
W.J. Shaw 
J.C. Paisley 
W.D. Fletcher 
R.E. Crutchfield 
J.J. Rooks 
J.B. Tassel 
Joe Chambers 
R.T. Chambers
Of this number, as far as I know, this writer is the only survivor.

I have given, probably an imperfect roll of the company but it is nearly correct. I have given from memory as I have no list with me.

Fifty-five years is quite a long time to remember 85 names and I hope to be pardoned if I have failed to give the name of any member of the old “Knights of the Forked Deer.”

R.T. Chambers
Dyer, Tenn.
March 6, 1917

Chambers also listed the names of everyone he could remember who had been part of the formation of Company F and I quickly spotted several of the names from my genealogy research. 

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General Braxton Bragg

Their unit was assembled in October 1861 at Camp Trenton in Gibson County, Tennessee. The men trained at Fort Pillow, then moved into Kentucky with General Braxton Bragg. After many of the men and boys had been killed, they were consolidated with the 33rd Regiment.

By spring 1865, those few who survived had been engulfed by injury, illness, starvation and the deaths of their fellow soldiers. 

Many of them were in a desperate state when they heard of the surrender of Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865 and then the assassination of Abraham Lincoln just five days later.

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William T. Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston

Only a handful of the Madison and Haywood County boys survived to see the final surrender of their regiment to William T. Sherman by Joseph E. Johnston on April 26, 1865 at the home of James Bennett in Durham, North Carolina. 

This was the last major surrender in the Civil War.

The names listed by Chambers in the article, include several that are part of my ancestry line.

Robert Deward “Bob” Williamson (1839 - 1903), who was among those who survived to the end of the war, was the one of the sons of my third great-grandfather, Beverly Williamson. According to "Journey into Yesteryears" by Martha Jones, the Civil War began before Bob Williamson could marry his sweetheart, Callie Stanfield. Williamson and his best friend, William J. “Billy” Shaw, were together that afternoon in 1861 as the train pulled out of Jones Station headed for Trenton.

They fought side by side until Williamson was wounded and fell at his friend’s side with what appeared to be a mortal injury. As he lay dying, Williamson gave Shaw the ring he had in his pocket with a last request that his friend make it home to give the ring to Callie. After the war, Shaw arrived back home to Madison County to discover his friend had actually recovered, made it home and was already married to Callie. In later years, Williamson ran the Madison County post office and a general store.

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Headstones of Bob and Callie Williamson in the Providence
Methodist Church Cemetery in Madison County, Tennessee

He and Callie had seven children and both are buried in the Providence Methodist Church Cemetery. 

Private B.W. Dougan was likely Benjamin Dougan (1836 – 1900), a nephew of my third great-grandparents, Beverly Williamson and Elenora Harriett Dougan Williamson. My Dougan line can be traced back to the arrival in the colonies of Thomas Dougan from Donegal, Ireland to Paxtang, Pennsylvania by 1731.

J.J. Overton, W.K. Overton, and C.H. Overton who, from what Chambers wrote, did not survive the war, were likely from the family of my grandfather’s stepmother, Eva Iris Overton Williams.

J.T. Jacocks, listed as 3rd Lieutenant, was the brother of John Hill Jacocks whose family cemetery I explored in Haywood County several years ago. 

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Second and third from left, Joe and Sarah Joyner Chambers

Josias “Joe” Chambers (1837 - 1907), another of the survivors, returned to Madison County and married Sarah Joyner, the sister of Mary Elizabeth Joyner Williamson who is my second great-grandmother. In what surely haunted him throughout his life, Chambers’ twin brother, Francis Chambers, was killed in the battle of Perryville, Kentucky on October 8, 1862. 

Photo/Cameron Nabors

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Headstone of twins, Josias and Francis Chambers
at Providence Methodist Church Cemetery 

Today, the two brothers are together again, sharing a headstone at the Providence Methodist Church Cemetery. 

Photo/Unknown Chambers relative

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Robert Thomas Chambers

Born in Madison County, Robert Thomas Chambers, the author of the article, was 19 years old when he signed up for war. After the war ended, he returned to the area, married three times and fathered fifteen children. He was a Gibson County, Tennessee farmer and also served as mayor of Dyer. 

Chambers died on May 16, 1921 and was buried in Dyer in the Bobbitt Family Cemetery

I know his effort to remember and record his memories of that day back in 1861are very much appreciated by all of us who attempt to record the history of our ancestors.

For more blog entries, visit my Blog Home Page or to check out the genealogy research about my specific family lines, go to my Haywood County Line Genealogy Website. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Brownsville train depot, gone but not forgotten

(Photo from David Duke)

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The Brownsville Depot

A photo of the L&N train depot in Brownsville, Tennessee posted by David Duke in the Facebook group “You grew up in Brownsville, Tennessee if…” generated many posts of memories of the old train station and piqued my curiosity about this piece of Haywood County, Tennessee history.

If you check out the posts by those who shared their memories, you’ll see it was more than just a building. From family trips to visit relatives in nearby towns like Milan, Bells, Stanton and Memphis to experiencing a train ride with a Cub Scout pack or school group or just gathering with friends and family to watch the train come into the station, the depot made a real impact on many who can still remember hearing the whistle blow in person.

(Photo by H. E. Clement)

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Hand-tinted art by H.E. Clement from postcard of
the Brownsville depot

I discovered the depot has an interesting history.

By 1855, the first twenty-five miles of the Memphis and Ohio Railroad (M&O) had been completed. However, according to Maury Klein in “History of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad,” deciding the location of the tracks was not an easy task.
“Ironically, the Memphis & Ohio faced a rather unique problem for its day: the indifference and outright hostility of citizens living along the route. Standing aloof from the commercial aspirations of the terminal cities, they saw no advantage for themselves in the coming Iron Horse. In 1856 the picture brightened considerably. After another long debate the Memphis & Ohio board decided to locate the road directly to Paris (Tennessee) via Brownsville.” Page 20
The tracks, which would eventually connect Memphis to Louisville, made it to Brownsville in late 1856. Eventually, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N), which had begun in 1850 in Kentucky as a way of allowing Louisville to become more competitive with Cincinnati, absorbed the M&O.

(Photo by H.E. Clement)

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Hand-tinted art by H.E. Clement from postcard of
the Brownsville depot

During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy used the L&N to transport soldiers and provisions. Eventually, the Union Army operated all the key sections of the L&N which contributed to their ultimate victory.

(Photo from Pope's Manual of Railroads of the United States)

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Southern tracks of the L&N Railroad in 1901

According to “Heart of the Tennessee Delta,” (for sale at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center) construction did not begin on the depot in Brownsville until Sept. 1905 and was completed in five months.

The Brownsville depot remained a hub of activity for more than six decades as the L&N remained a significant source of transportation of freight and passenger trains.

Kathy Mattea, "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore"

By the late 1960s, an increase in automobile ownership and affordable airplane travel made the passenger train business much less profitable. In 1968, the last passenger train pulled out of the depot and that part of Brownsville's history came to a close. The L&N didn't stop there anymore, as the song goes. The old depot, which I assume was in horrible shape, was sold to an individual who had it torn down in 1974.

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Approximate location of The Brownsville Depot

Although the depot is gone and there is not a single trace it ever existed, there are a few ways you can go back in time and catch a quick glimpse.

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Screen captures from
"The Liberation of L.B. Jones"

The opening and closing scenes of "The Liberation of L.B. Jones" were filmed at the depot shortly before it was torn down. The movie was acclaimed director William Wyler’s final movie and was based on the best-selling 1965 novel, “The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones.” The novel was inspired by an actual murder that took place outside Humboldt, Tennessee in 1955.

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"All Aboard with Mr. Bee."

According to a comment on the Facebook post, the children’s program “All Aboard with Mr. Be” included b-roll of the Brownsville depot in the opening. The show aired on Memphis’ WKNO Channel 10 in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I actually remember the show but can’t remember the opening and there are no clips online.

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Opening scene of "In the Heat of the Night"

Some also believe the opening scene from the original "In The Heat Of The Night" starring Rod Steiger and Sydney Potier were also filmed at the Brownsville depot. The fact that Sydney Potier actually arrives "in the heat of the night" makes it's difficult to tell for sure if this was filmed at the depot, but it certainly could have been. 

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Photo of the Brownsville depot on the wall
at Hometown Drugs in Brownsville

As you can read on the Facebook post, the single photo of the depot created an opportunity for many to share memories and stories of times with friends, learning opportunities with Cub Scout and school groups, departing for vacations to other cities and times spent with family who have long passed away.

Just imagine if it had been possible to restore the depot or move it to another location where it could be a part of the community today. I hope we can work together to find ways to make sure other historic sites like this one are preserved for future generations.

For more blog entries, visit my Blog Home Page or to check out the genealogy research about my specific family lines, go to my Haywood County Line Genealogy Website.