Monday, June 24, 2013

6/24/2013 Tennessee Civil War Notes

24, Report on the desecration of Federal graves in Franklin

Camp Maynard, Near Nashville, June 24, 1862.

Editor of the Union: The communication of S. P. Hildreth,[1] of Franklin, on the subject of the desecration of the graves of Union soldiers, in the cemetery of that place, published in our issue of the 21st inst., imposes upon me the unpleasant duty of saying something on that subject. It would, perhaps, have been as well to have let the matter pass into oblivion; but, as Mr. H., who was in no wise implicated, has paraded himself, or allowed others to present him before the public as the champion of the offending parties, has revived it in such a manner as to cast reflections upon my veracity, a full disclosure of the facts must be made.

Never having seen the comments of the Louisville Journal, I can give no opinion of their justice.

On the 1st of May, in obedience to an order from General Dumont, I stationed detachments of the 69th Regt., O. V. I., at five different points on the line between Nashville and Columbia, and established my headquarters in a grove near Franklin. On the 9th of that month my Sergeant major, who is a gentleman of unimpeached character for truth, and whose statement is annexed, reported to me that the graves of Union soldiers had been rudely trampled upon and desecrated. I immediately ordered him to detail a sufficient number of men for the purpose, and dress up and sod the graves, which order he reported to me on the next day he had executed. On the same day I learned through another source, which I know is entirely reliable, that females were seen in the cemetery ornamenting the graves of rebel soldiers with beautiful shells and flowers, and at the same time dancing or playing merrily around and over the mortal remains of Union soldiers. This information naturally excited my indignation—my wrath.

On Saturday, the 10th, with a view to the safety of my command and a more efficient discharge of its duties, I marched my men into the town, took possession of the Court-house, unfurled the old flag, and made my headquarters there. In the evening I addressed the citizens in the Court room, briefly informing them what I purposed doing and what I expected them to do. I referred, perhaps with some severity, to the conduct of the females and the desecration of the graves as a damning disgrace to any community upon whom the light of civilization had dawned. I emphatically notified them that a recurrence of such a breach of propriety should not take place, and that we would consider it quite as honorable to shed our blood in defending the sanctity of the grave of the humblest Union soldier as in upholding our flag on the field of battle.

The next morning Mr. McEwen, who pretends to be Mayor of Franklin, called on me and stated that he and others had just been out to see the graves, and they found no evidences that they had been disturbed. Mr. Hildreth says that he and hundreds of others likewise went to see if my statements were true, and found that not a single grave had been trod on, thus presenting me, Mr. Editor, before your readers and the public as the defamer of the reputations of the good women of Franklin. That these gentlemen found the graves in good condition on Sunday morning is quite true, because it was on the day before that Sergeant-Major Halstead and the men detailed, had dressed them up, and it was on the previous Friday that the misconduct of the female was witnessed. The names of the offending parties were furnished me, but as they were "indiscreet misses in their teens," and daughters of respectable parents, I did not disclose them.

Mr. Hildreth never exchanged words with me on the subject, and as he professed to be a loyal Union man, I am unable to shield the guilty parties from the just odium which attaches to their behavior by perverting the facts and falsely representing me as the assailant of female character. He also charges that I promised to visit the graves, "but never went." This I pronounce a palpable lie, whether it emanated from the Mayor or Mr. Hildreth; and I use the epithet with a full understanding of the responsibilities which the "fire-eating chivalry of Dixie" attach to it. I did visit the graves often whilst stationed at Franklin—attended the burials of my unfortunate men who were stricken with disease and death, as the troops stationed there will bear testimony.

It is with no degree of pleasure that I feel constrained to expose the improprieties of women, but as Mr. Hildreth and others whose mouth-piece he had been made, have sought to cover up the grossest improprieties at the expense of my character for truth, the exposure must be made. It is proper, however, to say that it would be most unjust to hold all the secessionists of Franklin responsible for the misconduct. Many of them, I know, would heartily condemn it.

The effort of Mr. Hildreth to create the impression that there was no bitterness of feeling exhibited by the females of Franklin toward the Union soldiers is simply ridiculous. It was notorious that, with few exceptions, they demonstrated the most intense hatred and contempt towards all who were in favor of the Union. Some were exceedingly kind, especially to the sick, but all with perhaps the single exception of Mrs. John Marshall, (whose benevolence will be gratefully remembered,) were outspoken Union ladies.

Lewis D. Campbell, Col. 69th Reg't O. V. I.

On the 9th day of May last, when the 69th Regiment was encamped near Franklin, I was in town and walked out to the graveyard where some Union and some Secesh soldiers have been buried. The graves of the Secesh soldiers were finely decorated, boquettes [sic] were strewn upon them, and young ladies were standing near conversing about "their graves." The graves of the Union soldiers had never been beautified in any way, on the contrary, stakes were pierced in them (one had four stakes stuck in the top and sides) and brickbats and stones were thrown upon them in such manner that their sharp, angular outlines protruded and looked ugly. The stakes were part of old fence rails with but two or three exceptions, and were from two to three feet in length. I there and then pulled them up and threw them in the road. I then cleared up the brickbats and stones, and threw them in the road and smoothed up the desecrated graves. I then repaired to camp and reported the facts to Colo. Campbell. He directed that I should detail men next morning to fix up, and sod the graves. The next morning, May 10th, the graves were rounded up and put in condition for sodding (two men then sodded over) and that same night, Col. Campbell, informed the citizens publicly, that such outrages should not be again committed with impunity.

Benton Halstead, Sertg. Maj. 69th Regiment.

Nashville Daily Union, June 25, 1862.



[1] See Nashville Daily Union, June 22, 1862.

James B. Jones, Jr.

Public Historian

Tennessee Historical Commission

2941 Lebanon Road

Nashville, TN  37214

(615)-532-1550  x115

(615)-532-1549  FAX


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