The situation was bleak in the spring of 1861. The threat of war due to Northern invasion inched ever closer to Tennessee. Just a few weeks earlier however, February 9 to be exact, Tennesseans had voted 557,798 to 69,675 to remain in the Union. Then, on April 12, 1861, the batteries around South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor belched forth their fury against the beleaguered United States’ garrison, Fort Sumter. Five days later, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers from different states to march into the South and put down the “rebellion.” Tennesseans would not stand idly by and allow what she perceived as aggression to go unchecked. Immediately, Governor Isham G. Harris responded to Lincoln’s call for troops by stating that his state “would not furnish a single man for coercion, but 50,000 if necessary for the defense of ‘our rights and the rights of our southern brethren’” (Benjamin F. Cooling, Forts Henry and Donelson: The Key to the Confederate Heartland. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987, 4). With this, many companies of volunteers came forward to enlist in the service of their state. On June 8, 1861 a second vote was held to determine Tennessee’s stance with the Federal Union. This time, the vote would be much different. Tennesseans voted 105,000 to 47,000 to leave the Union (Thomas L. Connelly, Civil War Tennessee: Battles and Leaders Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1979, 3-4).
Troops were now being raised all across the state, particularly in Middle and West Tennessee. Companies of men consisting of about 100 men each were being organized in the various counties. Ten companies were then organized together to form a regiment.
One regiment in particular, the 11th Tennessee Infantry Volunteers, was comprised of men from several Middle Tennessee counties. Davidson County furnished three companies, Dickson County furnished three companies, Hickman County furnished one company, while Humphreys supplied two companies, and Robertson County furnished one company. With the companies formed, the men left their various communities and traveled to Nashville to the present day location of Centennial Park. Here they where sworn in to military service and issued uniforms. On the afternoon of May 14, after being sworn into the service of their state, all of the companies except the company from Robertson County were moved by rail to Camp Cheatham, near Springfield, Tennessee. Here, the men would receive their military training. Not long after the boys were at Camp Cheatham, they were joined by the Robertson County company.
On May 22, the companies were joined together to form the 11th Tennessee Infantry Regiment, and an election was held to choose field and staff officers. James E. Rains, the former editor of the Nashville Banner and the district attorney general for Davidson, Williamson, and Sumner Counties, was elected colonel of the new regiment. The lieutenant colonel was Thomas P. Bateman, a Mexican War veteran and a lawyer from Centerville, Hickman County, Tennessee. Hugh R. Lucas from Humphreys County was elected major. Thus with the regiment organized, the structure was as follows:
Field and Staff:
- Colonel James E. Rains
- Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P. Bateman
- Major Hugh R. Lucas
- Surgeon Dr. J. M. Larkin
- Assistant Surgeon Dr. William B. Maney
- Chaplain Rev. Fountain E. Pitts
- Company A – “Waverly Guards” from Humphreys County; Captain Josiah Pitts.
- Company B – “Cheatham Rifles” from Davidson County; Captain J. Richard McCann.
- Company C – from Dickson County; Captain William R. Green.
- Company D – “Hermitage Guards” from Davidson County; Captain John E. Binns.
- Company E – from Dickson County; Captain William J. Mallory.
- Company F – from Robertson County; Captain James A. Long.
- Company G – from Davidson County; Captain Samuel C. Godshall.
- Company H – “Hickman Guards” from Hickman County; Captain P. V. H. Weems.
- Company I – “Ghebers” from Humphreys County; Captain John D. Woodward.
- Company K – from Dickson County; Captain William Thedford.
The men spent their time at Camp Cheatham drilling day in and day out, preparing for the moment of battle that would eventually be upon them. While at Camp Cheatham, a case of the measles broke out and several men of the 11th Tennessee died due to the disease. Among the deceased were Aaron Brown, John T. Cannon, Ambrose N. Chamberlain, T. C. Chandler, Harry Dudley, Edward Fitzgerald, and A. W. Grenille among others. In a letter home, one private in the 11th said that there were over two hundred of the regiment that were sick and they were not able to drill as a result.
By the end of July the men had been properly trained and were ordered to East Tennessee to garrison a strategic point at the Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee borders where a Union invasion was expected. As the regiment passed back through Nashville on its way to East Tennessee, it was drawn up in the midst of a great concourse of people who had gathered for the occasion and was presented a new regimental standard. Speeches were made by significant people, and Southern patriotism ran high among both soldiers and citizens. Soon, the soldiers were again on the march with orders to report at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee where they would become a part of Brigadier General Felix K. Zollicoffer’s Brigade. By the beginning of September the regiment had arrived at Cumberland Gap. A few weeks later, the regiment with most of Zollicoffer’s Brigade was ordered fifteen miles into Kentucky where camp would be established at Cumberland Ford, Kentucky. On September 26, the 11th Tennessee with support from other units was to move against a small force of the enemy at Laurel Bridge, Kentucky. Colonel Rains was placed in command of the force. The attack against the enemy’s encampment was executed with favorable results. After the skirmish Rains returned with his men and the spoils of war to Cumberland Ford. The 11th Tennessee suffered no reported casualties in this engagement.
The 11th Tennessee remained in camp for about the next month, when Zollicoffer moved with his brigade against a much larger force of the enemy encamped in the Rockcastle Hills. The 11th Tennessee moved out with the remainder of the brigade on October 16. The brigade marched over rough Kentucky roads for the next several days and finally engaged the enemy on October 21, 1861. In this minor battle, the Confederates were repulsed with insignificant loss, but were forced to retreat back to Cumberland Ford. A few days after their arrival at the Ford, Zollicoffer fearing an advance on the part of the enemy, ordered the abandonment of the camp. Hence, the brigade was moved back to the much stronger position at Cumberland Gap.
Soon, Zollicoffer departed on his ill-fated campaign that resulted in his death at in the Battle of Fishing Creek, Kentucky. While he was absent on this campaign, Zollicoffer left the 11th Tennessee and various other units to garrison the Gap. The overall command of this position was left under the command of Colonel James E. Rains of the 11th Tennessee Infantry. The 11th Tennessee continued fortifying and strengthening the positions at Cumberland Gap through the beginning of the new year.
We would like to include as much information in our forthcoming regimental history on the 11th Tennessee Infantry as possible. If anyone has additional information regarding the members of this regiment such as photographs, wartime diaries, letters, or other memorabilia please send an email to: EleventhTn@worldnet.att.net
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