One of the mainstays of Civil War clichés is the concept of the young man fighting, and sometimes dying, in his own farmyard. It’s cliched, of course, because it’s true. Southerners – mostly Confederates but let’s not forget the thousands of Southerners in blue, as well – routinely found themselves marching and fighting in their own neighborhoods.
Chickamauga is no exception. For Company I, 2nd Battalion, First Confederate Regiment, Jackson’s Brigade, Cheatham’s Division; the battlefield was home. Originally recruited as Company I, 3rd East Tennessee, then re-designated Company H, 26th Tennessee; the company was transferred to the 1st Confederate (Georgia) on November 8th, 1862.
According to Walker County historian James A. Sartain, Company I contained a number of familiar names: a Snodgrass, two Brothertons, a McDonald, a Kelly, a pair of Brocks, and two Dyers. All of them, along with many of their neighbors, had been sworn to service in 1861 by Captain James Clarke Gordon while he stood on a large rock outside his father’s mansion at Crawfish Spring. However, the First Confederate regiment is one of the more confusing units in the Rebel army. Company I was not the only transfer; it seems that the regiment had its origin in a unit first known as the 36th Georgia, and there may have been two company I’s that merged. Then the regiment was split, half staying at Mobile and half joining Bragg. James C. Gordon was by this time a major and commanded the half that joined Bragg.
In any case, only some of those locals can be found in the unit’s Consolidated Service Records, or CSRs. (These days, the CSRs can be used online, via Footnote.com, for a very reasonable monthly or annual fee.) What records do exist make for some interesting reading.
None of the locals I found suffered injuries in the battle. Perhaps because so many of them had been re-assigned as guides, they avoided the heavy losses suffered by the bulk of the battalion: Gordon led 194 men into the fight, and lost 83, or 43%. Sartain relates the story of John Brock, supposedly slightly wounded in the head while fighting on his own farmstead; but Brock’s CSR suggests that he was furloughed for a head wound after Stone’s River, not Chickamauga.
Gordon himself is an interesting study. His father was a Unionist, at least discretely. Wilder described him as such during the campaign. James C., however, fought the war as a Confederate, rising to Lt. Colonel in command of the regiment by the end. It appears that his brother William L. Gordon enlisted as a lieutenant, rising to Captain.
The younger Gordons might not have had pro-Union feelings, but it is possible that others did. At the very least, once the gloss had worn off the novelty of soldiering, many of the privates decided to leave the fight before the very end.
I found the CSRs of seven of those listed in Sartain’s history, named above, as well as a third Brotherton. Of these 7 originals, James L. Brotherton, Thomas Brotherton, John Brock, and Charles L. Snodgrass are all listed as “deserters” in the summer of 1864. That’s an interesting notation, because several of them were actually captured in May, as shown on Union records, but listed as Deserters by their company commander in June or July. It is possible that this means they went over to the Federals voluntarily, but that has to remain speculation.
However, James Brotherton enlisted in the Galvanized Yankees (Federal troops recruited from Rebel prisoners to fight Indians) in October, 1864.
Thomas Brotherton tried to enlist as well, but was too sick – he was rejected and subsequently took the oath of allegiance and was released on October 26th, 1864. However, he was apparently so sick that he re-entered prison – Camp Morton, in Indianapolis – where he died on November 6th of that year. Interestingly enough, the Camp Morton authorities record his re-entry as being recaptured as an escaped prisoner from Rock Island.
A younger Brotherton – W. J. – joined the company on November 24th, 1863. He deserted on January 26th, 1864. The battle of Missionary Ridge was apparently enough soldiering for him.
John Brock is listed as a deserter on 1 July, 1864, dying of sickness at Rock Island that November.
Y. B. Brock shows up on the muster rolls briefly, only in 1864, with the notation that he was “never paid.”
Charles L. Snodgrass deserted in Walker County in the summer of 1864, was shipped to Louisville by the Federal authorities, and on December 28th, 1863, ‘took the oath’ and was released north of the Ohio River.
George W. Kelly (or Kelley) was promoted to sergeant, and last appears on a muster roll for August 31st, 1863. It is possible that he was a casualty, given the abrupt termination of his CSR, but there is no indication of it that I have found.
There is only one Dyer listed in the regiment, D. W. He is found in company K, not company I. He deserted “near Chattanooga” on September 11th, 1863, took the oath of allegiance at Stevenson Alabama, and was released at Nashville, upon condition that he go north of the Ohio River. I don’t know if this Dyer is a Chickamauga Dyer.
There were other local men in other units, of course. Most famous was Larkin Poe, a teamster in the 5th Georgia Cavalry, who found his home in ashes the day after the battle. He finally located his family, refugees in the hills north of the Snodgrass farm with about two dozen other local citizens.
This is really only an outline of the men of Company I (or K) who found themselves embattled on their own family homesteads that September, and there is much more to be discovered by a determined historian/genealogist. the beauty of the internet is that sometimes, questions beget answers. As for the local boys of Chickamauga, I have far more questions than answers…