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. 

1 comment:

  1. Robert Thomas Chambers is my GG Grandfather. I am so happy that I found your blog and that he was helpful to all of the families, including yours. I am sorry for your loss.

    Many regards,
    Melissa M. Jefferies