Thursday, January 17, 2013

January 17 - Tennessee Civil War Notes

17-ca. 30, 1863 - Confederate Conscript Sweeps in Middle Tennessee

Confederate conscript gathering, also known as recruiting, missions have not traditionally been thought of as military actions. This may be because they did not involve combat, or because it was assumed young Tennesseans were delighted and anxious to join the Confederate army. Yet the following documents indicate that "conscript sweeps," or "conscript rakes" were necessary because young men did not want to join the army.

As head of the Bureau of Volunteers and Conscripts, Brigadier-General Gideon J. Pillow, a remarkably wealthy Tennessee planter, as well as a bombastic and incompetent officer, wrote to General Braxton Bragg from his headquarters in Fayetteville on January 17, 1863. Portions of his letter reveal the methods and intrigue involved in the effort to obtain fresh soldiers for the Army of Tennessee after the Battle of Stones River:


I reached here this afternoon and immediately entered upon the duty preparatory to the organization.

I expected to get everything ready for a forward movement by Wednesday morning. My purpose was first to rake Bedford County, in which there are 1,500 men liable to duty under the conscript law. I was anxious to clean out that county by one movement, and doing it at once to avoid giving alarm.


A partial movement over one portion of the county will give the alarm, and cause the conscripts to scatter and hide out.


*  *  *  *  *

I will rapidly sweep Middle Tennessee to the enemy's lines if the cavalry is furnished....

I shall, with such force as can be armed and fitted for the field, leave on Wednesday morning for the movement on Bedford.


There is no paper or books of any sort to be had in this place.


GID. J. PILLOW, Brig.-Gen., C. S. Army, Chief of Bureau of Volunteers and Conscripts.

OR, Ser. IV, Vol. 2, p. 362.


HDQRS. VOLUNTEER AND CONSCRIPT BUREAU, Fayetteville, January 18, 1863.


Having been directed by General Bragg to organize a volunteer and conscript bureau for the purpose of recruiting and strengthening his army and making it self-sustaining, I appeal to you to come promptly to its support.


Upon that army depends the safety of your homes and all that you hold dear. We are no longer in doubt as to the character of the Lincoln despotism. The ruin and desolation which is everywhere felt in the track of its Armies attest its vandalism.



The late proclamation of the tyrant and usurper, proposing to free all our slaves and taking them into his Army, and inciting the slaves to insurrection and massacre of their owners and their families, places him and his Government without the pale of civilization.[1]  Men who will not resist such a despotism do not deserve to be freemen. I will receive all who come to me as volunteers and allow them to select the company and regiment which they will join; and they will be entitled to the bounty and all the privileges of volunteers. Those who will not join as volunteers will have to come as conscripts.


OR, Ser. IV. Vol. 2, p. 362.


Shelbyville, Headquarters V&C Bureau, January 25, 1863.[2]

General Bragg:


To-day I have worked through six brigades; will continue the work to-morrow. Colonel Biffles's regiment has moved north in the field work, and will to-morrow rake this country from near the enemy's lines south. I have made provisions with General Wharton to cover the movement and protect the command. General Forrest is present and informs me that Dibbrell's regiment is on the way through Marshall County to Fayetteville. I have sent a courier for him and will order him directly to the starting-ground to sweep the four corners of the counties referred to in my dispatch yesterday. I will then sweep over Williamson and Maury. I applied to General Cheatham for an officer to carry forward my instructions to Tullahoma and place the details from that corps under working orders, but he declines allowing me even for that temporary service any officer that I think equal to the work. I cannot put that duty on one in whom I have not full confidence. I see no alternative but to come forward myself, but it would have greatly advance my work if he would have allowed me the use of a satisfactory officer. If I had the corps of Lieutenant-General Hardee under working orders I could see my work going on satisfactorily. The general may rely on my doing all that it is possible to accomplish.


* * * *


Gideon J. Pillow, Brigadier-General


OR, Ser. 4, Vol. 2, p. 371.


HDQRS. VOLUNTEER AND CONSCRIPT BUREAU, Shelbyville, January 26, 1863.


Col. CAMPBELL, Principal Assistant for Middle Tennessee:


Col. Avery has instructions to sweep the county of Lincoln, arresting stragglers, absentees, deserters, and all men liable to the operations of the conscript law and bring them in to you. Having performed that duty, you will hold him in hand and use his command as actively as possible in gathering up stragglers and conscripts in the counties of Franklin, Lincoln, Giles, Lawrence, and in that portion of North Alabama laying along the Tennessee line within the counties above indicated. I will put a working force in the other counties myself. I inclose you a copy of General Orders, No.___.[3] You will furnish copies of it to your surgeons. You will find also a copy of the instructions under which this working force is placed in the field on this duty. You will give like instructions to Col. Avery on the duty to which you may assign him. For the present leave that command under your orders for the service in the counties indicated above. You will exercise your own judgment as to the best plan of operations, but accomplish the work in the shortest possible time consistent with its proper execution. In very bad weather it will be proper to suspend the work and avoid exposing Avery's command too much. The roads will soon become so very bad that small commands, barely enough to perform the duty assigned, should be sent out.


I have applied to Gen. Bragg to provide you a surgeon. I shall proceed to Columbia to-morrow to organize subdepartments below and direct the operations of two other regiments of cavalry I have in hand. From there I will proceed to Huntsville.




GID. J. PILLOW, Brig.-Gen., C. S. Army, Chief of Bureau.


OR, Ser. IV, Vol. 2, p. 374.







17, Restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages in Nashville
Special Order [sic] No. 16

Headquarters U. S. Forces

Nashville, Tenn., Jan 17, 1864

* * * *

VIII. All saloons, bars, ale or drinking houses, or places were liquor of any kind is retailed, will be immediately closed.

This order will close the only bars in first class eating houses

The selling or giving away of liquors at any bar or store house will result in the immediate closing of the establishment.

This order is for the peace of the city, and the Provost Marshal is charged with its rigid enforcement.

By order of Brig. Gen. R.S. Granger

Nashville Dispatch, January 24, 1864.





 17, "Fearful Accident."

As battery D, Illinois Light Artillery, was turning the corner of McLemore and Church streets, o­n their way to the Chattanooga Depot, o­ne of the caissons exploded, causing the death of o­ne person and the probably maiming for life of three others. At the time of the explosion, William Justice and Christian Langfer, soldiers belonging to the battery, and Charles Goodrich of battery I, were sitting o­n the box. A jolt of the forward wheel into a rut - a flash - a stunning roar - and the three unfortunate men, a few moments before in the glow of health, were hurled to the ground senseless, bleeding, blackened masses of humanity. William Justice was picked up breathing his last, the other two were fearfully burned about the head, breast and hand, and it is doubtful if they will ever fully recover the use of the latter. A negro, standing at some distance had o­ne eye taken out by a fragment of shell, and the other so injured that, it is probable he will become entirely blind. A member of the tenth Tennessee cavalry had a very narrow escape; a piece of shell, weighing about four pounds, cut through his coat, pants and shirt, just grazing the skin, and buried itself in the earth by his side. o­ne mule was killed, and the two pole horses burnt in a fearful manner. The caisson contained thirty shells, o­nly two of which exploded, while the amount of powder ignited is estimated at fifty founds. All the windows in the vicinity were smashed, crockery thrown off the shelves, and o­ne instance is related of a lady being thrown from her chair by the violence of the concussion. The cause of the catastrophe is shrouded in mystery, and the shell being fuse and not percussion, could not have taken fire themselves, but the supposition is, that in fitting the boxes, some matches must have accidentally dropped by the soldier. We are grieved to learn the Justice leaves a wife, in delicate health, and seven children, to mourn his untimely fate.

Nashville Dispatch, January 17, 1864.



[1] It appears here that Pillow "played the race card," appealing to ethnic prejudice and racial fears. When taken with the January 17 letter above it must seem clear that he did not expect to find many volunteers willing to protect "all our slaves." There seems to be no other reason why he would declare it necessary to "rake Bedford clean out that county by one movement, and doing it at once to avoid giving alarm. A partial movement over one portion of the county will give the alarm, and cause the conscripts to scatter and hide out." Had the Confederate cause been a popular one in these areas it would not have been necessary to conduct such conscript sweeps.

[2] In this excerpt from another letter from the Headquarters of the Bureau of Volunteers and Conscripts in Shelbyville, Pillow wrote to General Bragg   on January 25, 1863. Excerpts from that letter provide insight into scope and the methods used to gather conscripts for the Army of Tennessee. It is also demonstrates that efforts to gather conscripts can clearly be defined as a military action.

[3] Not found as an inclosure and not otherwise identified.


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