12th US Colored Infantry
The 12th US Colored Infantry was at various times named the 2nd Alabama Regiment (African Descent) , the 3rd Tennessee Volunteers (African Descent) and the 1st Regiment US Colored Infantry. Men were recruited into its ranks across the state of Tennessee from July 24 to August 14, 1863.
Soon after mustering in, the regiment was engaged in guard duty at various points in Tennessee and Alabama along the railroad lines. During this time, they were in Johnsonville, Tennessee during the Battle of Johnsonville on November 2, 4 ,and 5, 1864, and the Battle of Nashville December 15-16, 1864. The 12th USCI pursued Confederate General Hood's defeated Army of Tennessee to the Tennessee River December 17-28, 1864. The 12th USCI mustered out in December 1866.
The 12th USCI was the second most popular regiment for Williamson County's Black men to have enlisted in. 55 men - about 14% of Williamson County's USCT soldiers - enlisted in the 12th USCI.
Company G - "The enlisted men of this Company were impressed as "Contrabands" and put to work on Fort Negley and other public fortifications about Nashville, Tenn. in Aug &Sept 1862. They remained as laborers until Aug 12, 1863 when they enlisted as Volunteers." Statement in pension records of the Freedmen's Bureau.
Men from Williamson County Who Enlisted in the 12th US Colored Infantry
Pvt. Silas Garrott [Jarret?], enlisted Aug. 18, 1864, at the Sec. 26 N&NW railroad, born in Williamson County
Pvt. Adam Gibson, Sept. 14, 1863 at the Elk River, born in Williamson County“, Died in Nashville Dec. 29,1863 at Hospital No. 16 from disease; died in removal from ambulance; His remains are buried at the Nashville National Cemetery
Pvt. Manson Gibson, Sept. 14, 1863 at the Elk River, born in Williamson County, Died at Elk River, Nov 2, 1863 of disease (congestion of the brain). No grave has been located.
Pvt. Giles Jarrett, enlisted Sept. 14, 1863 at the Elk River born in Williamson County, died May 7, 1865 Kingston Springs , Cheatham County, TN of anasarca (overall edema). No grave has been located. His mother Frankie Jarrett applied for a pension after his death.
Pvt. George Mays, enlisted July 21, 1863, at the Elk River, born in Williamson County; mustered out Jan. 16, 1866 in Nashville
Pvt. John Morton, was born around 1811 in Virginia. He appears to have been brought to Williamson County in slavery where he and his wife Hannah had at least one daughter Mary. Due to his age (52) when he joined the Army, Morton was soon sent to the 101st US Colored Infantry to serve. In December 1864 he was sent to the hospital and spent nearly a year there. In November 1865 he died in a small pox hospital in Nashville. His remains were buried in the Nashville National Cemetery. His widow Hannah received his pension and lived in Williamson County through the 1880s.
Pvt. James Strong enlisted Sept. 14, 1863, at the Elk River, born in Williamson County. Died in hospital in Kingston Springs Feb. 8, 1865 of small pox; no gravesite located.
Pvt. Carl Bradford, enlisted September 23, 1864, in Kingston, born in Williamson County; appointed drummer; mustered out January 16, 1866 in Nashville
Sgt. Mjr. Andrew Ewing, enlisted Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; discharged from Kingston Springs on certificate of disability Oct. 20, 1865. You can read more about his life below.
Pvt. Lum Blackman, enlisted September 15, 1863, at the Elk River Bridge, born in Williamson County, deserted at Kingston Springs August 31, 1865
Pvt. Amilton Barsley[Milton Barksley] enlisted Sept. 5, 1863, in Stephenson, Alabama. He was born in Franklin. Mustered out January 16, 1866 in Nashville.
Pvt. Austin Beach [Bench] enlisted August 12, 1863, in Nashville. He was born in Franklin. Discharged for disability at the Elk River (hernia) on October 28, 1863.
Pvt. Ephraim Edmonson enlisted on August 12, 1863 in Nashville. He was born in Williamson County around 1836. Following the War he settled in Nashville. He died in 1892 and was buried in the Pest House Cemetery. His mother Kittie Waller Sneed applied for a pension. She was living in Brentwood at the time.
Sgt. Bird Johnson was born in Fayetteville, Kentucky but appears to have been enslaved in the Williamson County area before the War. He worked as a laborer at Fort Negley and then enlisted on August 12, 1863 in Nashville. After the War, he married his wife Dilla in Williamson County and they raised a family here. He worked as a blacksmith. He died around 1902 but no gravesite has been located.
Pvt. Stephen Mayes (aka Stephen Davis) was born in Stuart County, Tennessee. After the War, he married Molly Ann Brown, the daughter of Randall Brown and Mary "Polly" Bradley Perkins of the Forest Home Community. The couple raised a family in District 6 of Williamson County. Following Molly's death in the mid 1880s, her married Jennie Doyle and had several more children with her. He appears to have died in the early 1900s. No gravesite or headstone has been located.
Pvt. Lock (Lark) Oden enlisted August 12, 1863, in Nashville. He was born in Franklin. Following the War, he married and settled in Nashville where he worked as a painter. In 1884 he joined the Exoduster movement and left for Topeka, Kansas where he continued working as a painter. That same year, he was a founding member of the Grand Army of the Republic, Fort Pillow Post No. 123 in Topeka. Several other Williamson County veterans belonged to the veterans organization. By the late 1890s, Oden was working as the janitor for the First Baptist Church of Topeka. He did so until his health forced his resignation in Oct 1896. He died within a year but no headstone has been discovered. His wife Henrietta received a pension for his service.
Pvt. Warren Swansey enlisted August 12, 1863, in Nashville. He was born in Franklin. Transferred to the 101st USCT.
Pvt. Ben Swanson 2d enlisted August 12, 1863, in Nashville. He was born in Franklin. Served as a teamster; wounded at Battle of Nashville, Dec 16, 1864; mustered out Jan. 16, 1866 in Nashville. Following the War, he returned to Williamson County and married Mary Jane Jordan. They lived in the Southall area.
Pvt. George W Helms. enlisted on Aug 12, 1864, at the Sec. 14 N&N RR – Nashville & Northwestern?, born in Williamson; mustered out January 16, 1866 in Nashville. His paver is sponsored by the BGA Middle School 2018.
Pvt. Mills [Miles] Compton enlisted on Aug 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County. At the outbreak of the War, he was sent by his enslaver to work on Confederate fortifications in the Edgefield area of Nashville. When Fort Donelson fell, he escaped and later enlisted in the 12th USCI. He lived in Nashville following the War. He opened a Freedmen's Bank Account there. After his death in 1888, his widow Lou received a pension for his service. He was buried at Mt. Ararat Cemetery but no gravesite has been identified.
Pvt. Leroy "Faunleroy" Cannon, enlisted Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville. He had been born in Franklin, Williamson County around 1824. Following the War, he settled in District 15, Williamson County, with his wife Harriet and their children. In 1885 he applied for an invalid's pension and died around 1889. No gravesite has been located.
Pvt. Winstead Owens, enlisted on Sept. 10, 1864, at Sullivan Branch, born in Williamson County. enlisted September 10, 1864 at Sullivan’s Branch, born in Williamson County, Wounded at Battle of Nashville Dec.16, 1864; Died of wounds received at the Battle of Nashville, Dec. 24, 1864. No gravesite has been located.
3rd Sgt. John Sneed, enlisted Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County. February 10, 1865 died of disease at hospital in Huntsville, Alabama. No grave has been located. His widowed mother applied for his pension after the War.
Pvt. Washington Berry enlisted Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County. Mustered out January 16, 1866 in Nashville.
Pvt. James Andrews, enlisted on August 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County, worked as a teamster and waggoner; mustered out January 16, 1866 in Nashville; His paver was sponsored by Rick Cua.
Pvt. John Gaines, enlisted Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County. Following the War, he moved to Kansas where he was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic. He died in 1900 and was buried with a USCT headstone. His paver was sponsored by Inetta Gaines.
Pvt. Daniel Jordan, enlisted Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County. mustered out in Nashville, Jan. 16, 1866
Sgt. Harvey Ledbetter, enlisted Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; mustered out in Nashville, Jan. 16, 1866
Cpl. Thomas Johnson, enlisted Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County. died in regimental hospital Oct. 1, 1865 at Kingston Springs, Tennessee of chronic dysentery. No headstone has been located.
Pvt. Clayborn Ellis, enlisted Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; mustered out Jan. 16, 1866 in Nashville
Pvt. Cook Rash enlisted August 12, 1863, in Nashville. He was born in Williamson County; mustered out Jan. 16, 1866 in Nashville.
Pvt. Adam Hughes, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County. Dec 16, 1864 wounded at Battle of Nashville (slight); mustered out Jan. 16, 1866 Nashville.
Pvt. Elijah Oglesby (Ogleby), enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; mustered out Jan. 16, 1866 in Nashville.
Pvt. Harry Briggs, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; died of typhoid pneumonia, Regimental Hospital Sec. 53 Nashville and North Western Rail Road Tenn. April 5, 1864 ; No gravesite has been located.
Cpl. Archie Terrill, enlisted Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County. Regimental Teamster and ambulance driver; AWOL at the Battle of Nashville Dec 16, 1864
Pvt. Isaac Cater, enlisted Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County around 1846. Following the War, he joined the regular Army serving as a "Buffalo Soldier" in the 24th Infantry along with several other men from Williamson County. He was promoted to Sergeant of Company C, He died on June 7, 1877 at Fort Ringgold, Texas. In 1911, his remains were later re-interred at the Alexandria National Cemetery in Louisiana (note I believe this Find a Grave listing is incorrect).
Pvt. James Cater, enlisted August 12, 1864 in Nashville when he was 17 years old. He was born in Williamson County. On April 7, 1865 he died in Regimental Hospital in Kingston Springs, Tennessee of pneumonia. No grave has been located.
Pvt. Abraham Winstead, enlisted Aug 14, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; died March 1, 1864 of dropsy; no grave has been located. His wife Amy applied for a pension in March 1866. Pvt. Winstead's paver has been sponsored by Liz Johnson.
Pvt. Reuben Boyd, enlisted on August 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; March 13, 1865 died in Nashville hospital No 11 from small pox; his name appears on the Roll of Honor of unknowns at the Nashville National Cemetery; In 1866, his widow Hannah J. Johnson Boyd applied for a pension; she was living "on the road from Franklin to Hillsboro [Leiper's Fork]" at the time.
Pvt. Jefferson Cartwright, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson; mustered out January 16, 1866 in Nashville
Pvt. Joseph Cartwright, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; Regimental Teamster; mustered out January 16, 1866 in Nashville
Pvt. Asbury Degraffenried,, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; died Dec. 20, 1864 at General Hospital No. 11 of wounds received in the Battle of Nashville - gunshot wound through abdomen; No gravesite has been located.
Pvt. Michael “Mike” Ensley, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; Died April 8, 1864 at Regimental Hospital - Sec. 53 of N&NW Rail Road; died of disease “flux”; no gravesite has been located. His widow applied for a pension on behalf of herself and their minor children.
Pvt. Claiborn Helms, enlisted on Aug 12, 1863, in Nashville. He had been born in Williamson County around 1836. He mustered out January 16, 1866 in Nashville and after the war settled in the Santa Fe area of Maury County. He was receiving a pension for his service when he died in early June 1900. No gravesite has been located.
Pvt. Aaron Hightower enlisted Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville. He was born in Williamson County. He later transferred to 101st USCI.
Cpl. George King, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; mustered out January 1866 in Nashville. After the War he moved back to Williamson County.
Pvt. Frank North, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; Dec. 16, 1864 wounded in action at Battle of Nashville and sent to hospital; mustered out Jan. 16, 1866 in Nashville
Pvt. Thomas Perrier, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; discharged for reason of disability Oct. 2, 1863 at Elk River.
1st Sgt. Frank Petway, enlisted on August 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; “deserted in front of the enemy” at the Battle of Nashville, Dec. 14, 1864
Pvt. Augustus Pratt, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; Jan. 8, 1864 discharged for disability “this soldier has been unfit for duty ever since his enlistment” – “night blindness” 50% disabled
Pvt. Ephraim Rawlston [Ralston], enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; Jan. 8, 1864 discharged for disability - “this soldier has been unfit for duty ever since his enlistment” – turriago? Right side – 50%
Pvt. Henry Reece,, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; mustered out January 1866 in Nashville; returned to Williamson County and was living there in 1890l
Cpl. Joseph Reece, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville. He was born in Franklin, Williamson County; mustered out Jan. 16, 1866; Following the War, he moved to Nolensville Road; he was living there in 1873 when he opened a Freedmen's Bank account in Nashville. Later in life he moved to Missouri where he died in 1912. His paver was sponsored by James Sobery.
Pvt. [George] Washington Reece, enlisted on May 1, 1864, at the Sec. 29 of the N&NWRR, born in Williamson County; mustered out Jan. 16, 1866. After the War, he appears to have settled in the town of Festus, Missouri in Jefferson County with his wife Martha. He received a pension and died there in 1895. His remains are buried in the Tunnel Cemetery there.
Pvt. Alfred Spratt, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; Died of disease Oct. 10, 1863 at Elk River; no gravesite has been located.
Pvt. Freeman [Carothers] Thomas, Enlisted under the name Freeman Cruthers (Carothers) , on Aug 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; wounded at the Battle of Nashville; mustered out; returned to Franklin to raise a family; buried in the Toussaint L'Ouveture Cemetery in Franklin. See below for a longer description of his service and life. His paver was sponsored by Tina Jones.
Pvt. Robert "Bob" Waddy, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863, in Nashville, born in Williamson County; mustered out January 16, 1866 in Nashville; after the war he returned to Williamson County and his wife Angeline Lavendar Waddy and their young children. Pvt Waddy appears to have died in 1879 in Williamson County. No gravesite has been located.
Pvt. John Williams, enlisted on Aug. 12, 1863,in Nashville, born in Williamson County; mustered out January 16, 1866 in Nashville
No Company Specified
Pvt. John Jefferson enlisted into the 3rd Tennessee Infantry (African Descent) - the predecessor unit to the 12th USCI - on May 5, 1864 in Memphis, Tennessee. His paver was sponsored by the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County. He was born in Williamson County and was described as an 18-year-old farmer.
Recruitment Into the 12th USCI In Franklin
In the book, God Struck Me Dead, Pvt. Freeman Thomas described how he escaped from slavery in Franklin to go to the US Army, first as a laborer and then as a soldier:
I ran off from my master when I was about fifteen years old and joined the army. I was in the field shucking corn on the Murfreesboro Pike. All at once I heard a band playing. Everybody in the field broke and ran. Not a man was left on the place. We all went and joined th army. The captain asked what we wanted, and who our master was. We told him who our master was, and that we had come to join the army.
In his pension application, Pvt. Thomas described that time this way:
I wasn't very old when the Civil War began. I had just turned into my sixteen year. I remember when the Yankees come to this town. My old boss hit me that morning' and he didn't know the Yankees were in town, and when he found it out he come back beggin' me to stay with him, and said he was sorry.
"Impressing the Contrabands at Church in Nashville"
12th USCI and Fort Negley.
Many of the men who ultimately enlisted in the 12th US Colored Infantry were first laborers at Fort Negley and other US Army fortifications in Nashville. Some of them volunteered but many were impressed (forced) to work. About 60% of the men from Williamson County who enlisted in the 12th USCI appear on the lists of men who worked on the Federal forts (Employment Rolls and Nonpayment Rolls of Negroes Employed in the Defenses of Nashville, Tennessee, 1862-1863). The majority of the work to build Fort Negley occurred from August 13 to December 7, 1862.
On November 23, 1863, Major General George Stearns, the Commissioner for the Organization of African American troops in Middle and East Tennessee gave testimony before the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission. He was very candid when described one example of the injustices suffered by the formerly enslaved:
One case will suffice for all. Brig. Gen. Morton, now of the Engineer Corps, was ordered by Gen. Buell, a year ago last July, to superintend the fortifications of Nashville. It was a very important work; and, as he told me this morning, they collected by impressment and by voluntary offer of service, some three thousand negroes to work on the fortifications. They were obliged to give them poor food, because they had nothing better; they had no tents, and slept in the open air. These men lived upon inferior meat & bread,–the refuse, of course, of the army supplies,–& slept on the hill-side at night. He says they worked well, and through all that were cheerful, although in the fifteen months that they have been employed at that fort–Fort Negley–about 800 have died. He says he thinks it was necessary, because, by the building of that fort, at that time, the safety of Nashville was secured, and we were enabled to hold Nashville, instead of making a stand at Fort Donelson.
When asked by the Commission how these laborers had been paid, he answered: "They never have been paid." Later he added, "At this time, there are a large number of them [the laborer's wives and children] who are destitute because the soldiers and laborers on the fortifications have never been paid."
The (Boston) Liberator, May 6, 1864
Major General Stearns quoted in a Boston newspaper describing the impressment at Fort Negley.
Enlistment Into the 12th USCI.
On August 12th and 13th, 1863, exactly one year from the date the work on the Fort commenced hundreds of Black men enlisted in the 12th Colored Regiment in Nashville - among them were 54 men from Williamson County.
I didn't work there [Fort Negley] no more than about three weeks before they started to recruiting colored soldiers. I was sent to Tullahoma for training. This was the biggest thing that ever happened in my life. I felt like a man, with a uniform on and a gun in my hand.
This was the biggest thing that ever happened in my life.
I felt like a man, with a uniform on and a gun in my hand.
-- Pvt. Freeman Thomas
Building and Guarding Railroads
On August 27, 1863, Major General W. S. Rosecrans advised Brigadier General Andrew Johnson, Military Governor of Tennessee:
“I wish to place under your orders the building of the Northwestern Railroad. * * * It is probable that we can spare you Colonel Thompson, and the 1st and 2nd Regiments Colored Troops [the 12th and 13th USCI] to be employed on the line.”
On September 2, 1863 the regiment, under Colonel Charles R. Thompson, was at the Elk River Bridge, near Decherd, and orders were issued that the regiment should be left together as much as possible, and never divided so that less than one third should be by itself, until Colonel Thompson had time to thoroughly organize it. On September 14, he suggested the Elk River Bridge would be a good place for the regiment to be concentrated for drill and instruction, and that it could, at the same time, act as guards for the bridge. On October 13, the regiment, 800 strong, was reported as part of the forces at the Elk River Bridge under Colonel W. Hawley. By October 31, then called the 3rd Tennessee Volunteers (African Descent), Assistant Adjutant General C. W. Foster listed it with 976 men.
On November 3, 1863, the regiment was ordered to report to Brigadier General Alvan C. Gillem, at Nashville, for duty on the Northwestern Railroad, also called the Nashville and Northwestern, which was then being extended by the Federal forces to connect their main depot, at Nashville, with Johnsonville, on the Tennessee River, so that supplies could be shipped up the river to Johnsonville, and then by rail to Nashville. According to a report by Chief of Engineers W. W. Wright, construction was completed May 10, 1864, and in a tabulation of the work done by soldiers he stated that an average of 200 men from the 12th U. S. Colored Infantry were employed from November 15, 1863 until they were relieved April 23, 1864. Meanwhile, the rest of the regiment was engaged in guard duty along the line of construction.
After completion of the line, the 12th USCI guarded the trestles, bridges, and blockhouses along the railroad. Consequently, the regiment’s headquarters shifted up and down the line between Kingston Springs and Johnsonville.
Buffalo (New York) Morning Express Saturday May 7, 1864
Regarding construction of the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad: "The heavy work has been done by the 12th and 13th U.S. colored troops, who have been engaged on it since November last. What an immense amount of labor has been necessary, is evident from the fact between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers there is one vast series of ridges, all of which have been pierced by the black soldiers, who are carving their history in this war, beyond the power of any biased chronicles of deny or distort."
Battle of Johnsonville
The 12th US Colored Infantry spent much of the rest of the War west of Nashville near Johnsonville helping to build and guard the railroad line to the Tennessee River. In early November 1864, they were involved in an attack by Confederate John Bell Hood's forces on the Johnsonville battery.
About two weeks later, at the time of General Nathan B. Forrest’s attack on Johnsonville, Colonel Thompson was in command of the forces there, and the 12th was part of his command. On November 29, the regiment was reported at Kingston Springs, and Lieutenant Colonel Sellon reported on a scouting trip made by Captain Everett, “with my mounted companies,” so at least a part of the regiment was serving as Mounted Infantry at this time.
Description of Camp of 12th US Colored Infantry by Paymaster, April 1864
"In connection with this camp I found a school in operation, under the charge of the Chaplain; an octagonal log school house, say forty feet in diameter, had been erected, and I had the pleasure of seeing about fifty of the men exercised upon McGuffey's charts. They read in concert, and [omitted]. Although this was their second lesson, nearly everyone present had learned to read the short sentences displayed upon the charts as soon as pointed at, without any assistance from the teacher, except in their pronunciation. The avidity with which they seek to learn is truly interesting. In passing around I noticed groups making letters upon the ground, upon bits of board, or anything that would receive an impression, all intent upon progress in the choreographic art.
After the payment had been completed ... we were invited to attend dress parade. Here again was a fine exhibition of discipline, and proficiency in the art of arms-bearing. Everything was right up to tactics and regulations."
Chicago Tribune Friday, April 1, 1864
Relics from the United States Colored Troops (USCT) camp near Johnsonville, Tenn.
Found in a trash pit at the camp site of the 12th and 13th Inf. Regts., USCT along the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad line, the relics include sardine cans, a drumstick holder, a bullet mold, a side knife, a U. S. eagle hat device for a Hardee hat, two hunting horn insignia infantry hat badges, a Federal canteen with a homemade lead stopper, a gun tool, and two worms (wipers) used to clean out a .58 caliber musket.
12th US Colored Infantry and the Battle of Nashville
General Steedman’s report stated that about 8:00 A.M. on the 15th, Colonel Thompson’s command moved across Brown’s Creek, between the Nolensville and Murfreesboro Pikes, and attacked and carried the left of the front line of the enemy works resting on the Nolensville Pike, and held the position until the morning of the 16th. On the morning of the 16th, they made the bloody assault on Overton’s Hill, which was unsuccessful, but “the troops exhibited a courage and steadiness that challenged the admiration of all who witnessed the charge.” In this charge, the 12th lost about a fourth of their number in casualties, including Major A. I. Finch, who was severely wounded. The command of the regiment devolved upon Captain Henry Hegner. While Thompson’s Brigade was reforming to renew the attack, the Confederate line was broken beyond Overton’s Hill, and the rout of the Confederate Army began.
Captain Hegner's Official report that day contained the following comment:
"Among the enlisted men I must mention Corpl. Miner Carter, Company C, who took up the national colors after two of the color-bearers had been shot down; also, Private E. Steel, Company I, who took the regimental colors, and, after the regiment was falling back, remained alone in the open field, in spite of the murderous fire of the enemy, until called by his officers to return."
Source: Official Records PAGE 546-93 KY., SW. VA., TENN., MISS., ALA., AND N. GA. [CHAP. LVII. [Series I. Vol. 45. Part I, Reports, Correspondence, Etc. Serial No. 93.]
Williamson County Men Fighting in the 12th USCI at the Battle of Nashville
At least 53 men from Williamson County served in the 12th US Colored Infantry. One of them, Freeman Thomas stated in an interview in the 1920's that, "I was in the Battle of Nashville, when we whipped old Hood." In his pension application, he described, "It was when we made the attack on Gen'l Hood we was not far from John Overton's place south of Nashville [today the museum site Traveller's Rest]. I received the wound in my left leg in John Overton's wood lot. It was during the fighting in defense of Nashville with Hood's Army. My regiment followed up the fight. " Six Williamson County men were wounded and two of those would ultimately die from their injuries.
The regiment joined in the pursuit through Brentwood and Franklin on December 17 & 18, 1864, and concentrated at Murfreesboro on December 18. From there it moved to Decatur, Alabama, and was the first regiment to cross the river at Decatur on December 27, where a sharp engagement took place. It returned to Nashville on January 9, 1865, having lost three officers and 10 men killed, three officers and 99 men wounded.
The regiment mustered out of service on December 11, 1865. A few weeks later, the New York Times reported on the event:
A brigade of colored troops are being mustered out of the service in this city. This brigade has done some excellent service in several hard-fought fields. Its commander, Gen. C. F. Thompson has the reputation of being one of the bravest young men in the service. Colonels Harry Stone and Innes, commanding regiments in this brigade, enjoy the same fame.
Pvt. Freeman Thomas was born in Williamson County on May 17, 1845. His parents were Alfred Thomas and Nancy Carothers and he had three brothers and two sisters. Pvt. Thomas, his mother and siblings were enslaved by the Jim Carothers family who owned a large farm that stretched from Cool Springs to Highway 96. In two published interviews with Pvt. Thomas, he described life as a young enslaved boy in Franklin.
In the book, God Struck Me Dead (Clifton H. Johnson & Paul Raden), Pvt. Thomas described how he enlisted in the 12th USCI:
I wasn't very old when the Civil War began. I had just turned into my sixteen year. I remember when the Yankees come to this town. My old boss hit me that morning' and he didn't know the Yankees were in town, and when he found it out he come back begin' me to stay with him, and said he was sorry.
Pvt. Thomas served with the 12th USCI for its entire term of service. He helped build railroads, guard bridges, and was at Johnsonville. His most significant fighting was during the Battle of Nashville December 15-16, 1864, when he received a gunshot wound in the left ankle at John Overton [Traveller's Rest]'s wood lot. During his recovery, Pvt. Thomas was granted a furlough to visit his home in Franklin. He describes that visit this way:
I went to see my mistress on my furlough, and she was glad to see me. She said, "You remember when you were sick and I had to bring you to the house to nurse you?" and I told her, "Yes'm, I remember," And she said, "And now you are fighting me!" I said, "No'm, I ain't fighting you, I'm fighting to get free."
Pvt. Thomas was honorably discharged on January 16, 1866 with his regiment in Nashville. He married and raised a family in Franklin. The home he built on Franklin Road in front of Harlinsdale Farm still stands. Despite being well-respected, he was harassed by the KKK after the War in Franklin.
On May 17, 1936 Freeman Thomas died at 91 years old. He was living at his home at 108 Church Street at the time of his death. The obituary described how his funeral was held at the "First Colored Baptist Church" in Franklin - today's First Missionary Baptist Church. Veterans of the Spanish-American War and World War I served as pallbearers. His obituary states that Pvt. Thomas, "a lifelong resident of Williamson County, died Sunday morning, on his ninety-first birthday, at his home. . . He was an industrious and prosperous man and widely respected by whites and negroes alike in Williamson County." The American Legion applied for an American Flag to be draped on his casket at his funeral. His family had a military headstone installed at the Toussaint L'Overture Cemetery in Franklin, Tennessee in his honor. You can read a longer description of his life here.
Sgt. Andrew Ewing was born in 1831 in Williamson County and was enslaved initially by Alexander Ewing who lived on Murfreesboro Road just east of downtown Franklin. When Sgt. Ewing was three years old, Alexander Ewing died and Sgt. Ewing became the property of Alexander Ewing's infant son William. Beginning in his adolescence, Sgt. Ewing was hired out from "year to year" and the fees he earned became the property of William Ewing. As he grew into young adulthood, Sgt. Ewing married Jane Briggs and the couple had a son and two daughters: Herbert "Hub" b. 1855, Annetta b. 1857, and Fanny b. abt. 1859. In 1862, when Sgt. Ewing was about 31 years old, he made his way, along with thousands of other enslaved laborers to Nashville where he worked to build fortifications, including Fort Negley, for the US Army. His name appears on the list of nearly 3,000 "paid and unpaid" (mostly unpaid) laborers that helped to build forts during the Civil War. His "owner" was listed as "W. Ewing" - William Ewing.
On August 12, 1863, Sgt. Ewing enlisted in the 12th US Colored Infantry, Company B. He was described as 5"7" tall, 30 years old, a laborer, and born in Williamson County. On December 1, 1863 Ewing was promoted to sergeant major of the regiment. During the Battle of Nashville, Sgt Ewing was injured when a cannonball broke a tree limb out of a tree that he was standing either in or under and the limb fell and injured his leg. However he stayed with his company for the pursuit of Hood's Confederate Army of Tennessee - at least as far as Franklin. When the US Army troops arrived in Franklin on the heels of the defeated Confederates, Sgt Ewing was "left sick at Franklin, Tenn."
About a year later, in October 1865, Sgt. Ewing was discharged from the Army due to disability. The reason stated was "rheumatism and stiffness of the knee and ankle joints . . . contracted in December  during a campaign from Nashville, TN to LaGrange, AL in the line of duty resulting from cold and exposure after the Battle of Nashville."
Shortly after he left the Army, Sergeant Ewing returned to Williamson County. He lived in Eagleville and ran a blacksmith shop at "Cross Roads." On January 1st, 1866 he entered into a Labor Contract, negotiated under the auspices of the Freedmen's Bureau. Sgt. Ewing and William B. Giles signed Labor Contract #368. Andrew Ewing agreed to work in Giles’ blacksmith shop and Sgt. Ewing's wife agreed to help in the Giles' house; the Ewing's were to be paid $275 for the year. The families were living in District 21 of Williamson County near Jordan's Store (south of College Grove).
In 1868, Sgt. Ewing applied for a pension from the US government, and in 1869 Andrew's wife died. Sgt Ewing worked for W. B. Giles learning the blacksmith trade for several years - at least through 1870. Andrew appears on the 1870 Census as a "domestic servant" working for the Giles family. Soon after he seems to have married Mary Ellen Gadsey and the couple moved to Brentwood. Andrew and Mary Ellen had 7 daughters together. By 1880, the Ewings moved to Nashville to raise their daughters and Sgt Ewing was still trying to work as a blacksmith, although the pension examiners found him at this time to be nearly 75% disabled by his war injuries.
Sgt. Ewing was a hard worker and despite his disability continue to try to work his whole life. When he was almost 70 years old, in 1900, his daughter Lilly told a pension examiner that he was working at "Bush's brickyard in north Nashville", when he was able, "batching bricks". On February 24, 1901, at the age of 70, Sergeant Ewing died of pneumonia at his home in Bryant Town in Donelson. His grave has not been located. You can read more about him here.
Officers Enlisted From Among
the Ranks of the 8th Kansas Volunteers
As the 12th USCI was being organized, one of the first needs was for officers. The Army officials in Nashville looked to the 8th Kansas Volunteers. One of the men who answered the call was Joseph Jagger, a 44-year-old immigrant from England. While in the area, Jagger met Catherine Elizabeth Nall, the daughter of a Franklin family. The pair married and their first child was born in Kingston Springs in 1866 while he was stationed there with the regiment.
See article at left from the Weekly Atchison Champion, 3 Sep 1863, Thu · Page 2.
Below, Capt. Joseph Jagger and Catherine Elizabeth Nall Jagger.
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