USCT Presence in Williamson County
In addition to the more than 300 USCT veterans who were born and lived in Williamson County before, during, and after the Civil War, there were USCT soldiers and regiments who served in the area during the War.
August 1863 - Enlistment of the 13th US Colored Infantry in Franklin
On August 12, 1863, sixteen men enlisted into Company A of the 13th US Colored Infantry in Franklin. By the end of the year, four more men would enlist in Franklin into the 13th USCI.
March 1864 - 17th US Colored Infantry in Franklin
On March 1, 1864, Moscow Branch Carter of the Carter House wrote a letter to his brother Tod 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 Company K of the 17th US Colored Infantry.
We have for the first time during the Federal occupancy of this town, a Corps of “n*****” soldiers, or as I heard a soldier call them the other day, “Smoked Yankees” quartered in this vicinity. I think there is but a company yet though. I understand it will be increased to a regiment.
Three USCT Died in Franklin in the Spring of 1864
While Company K of the 17th USCI was garrisoned in Franklin, three enlisted men died here.
On March 4, 1864, Pvt. Levi DeBow of the 17th US Colored Infantry, Company K, died in Franklin of lung disease. DeBow was about 27 years old.
On March 24th, 1864, Cpl. Erasmus Turner died in the Company Camp in Franklin of a gunshot wound.
On April 6, 1864, Pvt. Israel Stonebreaker died in Franklin from smallpox in the “quarantine hospital”.
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. It is probable that these remains belonged to two of the men described above. None of the three appear to have headstones identifying their remains in any of the area National Cemeteries.
During this time, the 17th USCI was also enlisting new soldiers into the regiment. 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.
In the summer of 1864, a portion of the 12th US Colored Heavy Artillery was sent to Franklin 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.
December 1864 Hood's Retreat
On December 17th and 18th, 1864, following the Battle of Nashville, hundreds of Williamson County's USCT soldiers came through Franklin with their regiments as they hounded the defeated and retreating Confederate Army of Tennessee right through Williamson County to Alabama.
Wearing their blue Army uniforms, these men were returning home as triumphant privates, corporals, and sergeants of the US Army and no longer slaves. Our local USCT soldiers were serving with the
A few USCT have been identified as being left in hospitals in Franklin during this operation, including Franklin native Sgt. Major Andrew Ewing.
USCT in Franklin Meet General Thomas.
During Hood's Retreat, USCT regiments in Franklin were heading south on Columbia Pike when they were turned around and sent east to Murfreesboro to board trains for Alabama. As they came back through Franklin - perhaps at the Public Square where the USCT statue stands today - they had a remarkable encounter with their commander General George H. Thomas. Colonel Thomas Jefferson Morgan, in command of the 44th USCI and several other USCT regiments - described in his memoir how:
"After we passed through Franklin, we had orders to turn about and return to that city. I was riding at the head of the column, followed by my own regiment [the 44th USCI]. The men were swinging along, "arms at will," when they spied General Thomas and staff approaching. Without orders they brought their arms to "right shoulder shift," and took the step, and striking up their favorite tune of "John Brown," whistled it with admirable effect while passing the General, greatly to his amusement."
December 1864. Ambush near Triune
On December 20, 1864, three white officers of the US Colored Troops were ambushed near Triune, in eastern Williamson County. Lt. George W. Fitch (Quartermaster of the 12th US Colored Infantry), Captain George G. Penfield (44th US Colored Infantry), Lt David Grant Cook (12th US Colored Infantry), and two other officers appear to have left Nashville on December 20, 1864, and traveled down Nolensville Road toward Murfreesboro, planning to intercept their men who were marching east from Franklin.
The officers made the poor decision to leave the safety of the regiment and seek food at a private home. They were ambushed, taken prisoner, and marched near Columbia, Tennessee, where they were all shot in the head. One man survived to tell the tale. A group of privates of the USCT who had also been captured was likewise murdered. Their identities are not yet known.
You can read the full story here.
October 1865 USCT Garrisoned in Franklin
Della Kinnard lived at today's Kinnard Springs subdivision. She wrote a letter to Confederate soldier J. B. McKennon ib October 8, 1865, and described that Franklin was garrisoned by USCT soldiers:
"The negroes generally are working very well; but they require stated wages, and with a few exceptions, show and exercise their freedom, in a great many ways. Franklin for the last week has been garrisoned by colored troops. This is to retaliate for the head of a drum being cut out several weeks ago by a citizen, while the negro soldiers were parading the streets.”
Williamson County Historical Society Journal 2015-2016 p. 7