Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Tenant Association: One Family’s Civil War Experience

One surprise of my current research into local Civil War soldiers has been the dozens of examples of families having multiple members in the war. Most of these, of course, are of the families’ sons enlisting, but I have also found instances of fathers and sons fighting in the war. Among these were the Tenants, father Raleigh and son John Solomon.*

Raleigh Tenant was born in Monongalia County, Virginia (now West Virginia) sometime around 1817 to 1819.


By the early 1840s, he had relocated to Campbell County, Kentuckywhere he married Rebecca Miller in Alexandria on October 19, 1843.


In 1850, the family, including John and his sister, lived in Covington, in neighboring Kenton County, where Raleigh labored as a blacksmith, his same career ten years later when the Tenants were back in southern Campbell County, living in the  Tebbatts Crossroads area. Five children were in the household, including John Solomon, who had attended school in the last year.


On April 12, 1861, Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, igniting the Civil War. John Solomon was only 14 or 15 years old, but Raleigh was an adult, and almost eight months later decided to fight for his country.


On December 7, 1861, he joined company G of the 23rd Kentucky Infantry as a private, signing up at the Newport Barracks for a three-year term. Listed as 43 years old, he was 5 feet 6¾ inches tall and had a light complexion. His eyes were blue, his hair dark brown, and he worked as a blacksmith.


The 23rd Kentucky had recruited heavily in Newport and throughout the Campbell County region and signed up dozens of men from the area. It saw action at battles and campaigns like Stones River, Tullahoma, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and more throughout the war’s western theater.


By July of 1862, Raleigh must have found military life unbearable, as he left the unit at Columbia, Kentucky, without permission, though by December he was in Munfordville, in the process of returning to the regiment (perhaps obtaining new equipment and seeking transportation to the unit as it marched in a campaign that ended at the Battle of Stones River). His paperwork does not record the punishment he received for his time away, but it surely included at least the loss of pay.


Raleigh did make his return to the regiment, which late in 1863 was among the U.S. forces in action in a bloody battle in Chickamauga, Georgia, the largest fight in the war's western theater. 

After the Confederates won that battle in mid-September, U.S. forces retreated to Chattanooga. During this time, the Federals reorganized the army, after which the 23rd ended up in William B. Hazen’s 2nd Brigade in Thomas Wood’s 3rd Division of Gordon Granger’s 4th Corps, all in the Army of the Cumberland commanded by George Thomas. 

From the American Battlefield Trust

As this happened, the Confederates laid siege to the city and their enemy within it. General U.S. Grant, now in charge of western U.S. forces, arrived in the region, and approved of General William “Baldy” Smith’s plan to create a route, eventually termed the “cracker line,” to supply the men inside the city. Some members of the 23rd played a role in the opening of that supply line during the fight at Brown’s Ferry, Tennessee on October 27.


Almost a month later, the Federals earned another victory at Lookout Mountain on November 24, before the next day, when “more than 50,000 Union soldiers stormed” upthe seemingly impregnable Confederate position on Missionary Ridge during a “daring - and unauthorized - attack…against Bragg’s main position," which went a long way to improving the army’s "spirit and sense of pride."

The Federals had just defeated “one of the Confederacy’s two major armies,” and gained full possession of “the “Gateway to the Lower South.”


          From the Library of Congress

This crucial result may have been “the death knell of the Confederacy," as reportedly described by one Rebel officer. Chattanooga later served as the key staging area and for William Sherman’s 1864 campaign for Atlanta, in which the 23rd Kentucky also fought.

Raleigh, however received did not participate in that adventure as he had received a mortal gunshot wound in his head at Missionary Ridge on the 25th, just one of 5,824 Union casualties of that engagement.

He owned two flannel shirts and one blanket, all of which had been sent back to his grieving widow in Campbell County. He was buried in what became Chattanooga National Cemetery.

Courtesy findagrave memorial 2996115

His son John Solomon Tenant was born in Campbell County in November of 1846.


He joined a different regiment that had also recruited heavily locally, the 53rd Kentucky Mounted Infantry. He signed up for company F of that unit on October 20, 1864, in Newport, and mustered in four days later for a one-year term. He was a bit shorter than his father, at 5 feet 4 inches tall, had gray eyes, and light-colored hair. His complexion was described as ruddy. Farming was his job.


His father’s death the previous year obviously did not prevent him from entering the war and perhaps even motivated him to fight, either to honor his father’s memory or to avenge his death. His mother’s feelings on his decision to enlist would be interesting to know. Did she approve or disapprove of it? How worried was she about her son?


The 53rd had formed in the autumn of 1864, too late to be part of most of the war’s most famous battles and campaigns, but did perform guard duty throughout Kentucky, combated Confederate guerrillas, and took part in George Stoneman’s December 1864 raid into southwestern Virginia to attack a Confederate salt depot at Saltville. As a “mounted infantry” regiment, it grnerslly traveled on horseback like cavalry, but fought dismounted like infantry. 

In this campaign, the 53rd served under Brigadier General Stephen G. Burbridge, the most notorious and controversial figure in Civil War Kentucky due to his aggressive threats and actions against Confederate irregular fighters and citizens as commander of the District of Kentucky from June of 1864 until February of 1865. His time in that position earned the description "Reign of Terror," and won him the nickname of "the Butcher." (A 2021 book concerning his legacy is entitled The Most Hated Man in Kentucky. I have an e-copy of it that I need to read one of these days.)

Even 50 years after the war, his name aroused ill feelings, such as when he was blamed for the executions of  Jefferson McGraw and William Francis Corbin, who had been arrested for recruiting for the Confederacy in northern Pendleton County, near the Campbell County border, just a few miles from where the Tenants lived in 1860. Ambrose Burnside was in command of the Department of Ohio, with his office located in Cincinnati, just north of where these men were captured (about an hour in modern times) and his General Order #38 led to their arrest and punishment, yet, in 1914, when the Basil Duke Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected a monument to McGraw's memory in Flagg Spring Church Cemetery in southern Campbell County, near where the arrests had occurred, that group listed Burbridge's name instead of Burnside's. Whether this was a mistake of memory, or an intentional slight of the hated Butcher is unclear. On one hand, this was half-a-century after the war, so memories certainly falter over such a long timeframe, but the UDC existed at lest partially to help remember the war, though perhaps not objectively, so they should have been familiar with the basic facts of the incident, especially in preparing a monument. These women may have felt that using Burbridge’s name as some kind of boogeyman to be feared or avoided would further their perspectives on the war by reminding people of a Union commander who had so harassed their ancestors and others throughout the state. This organization generally  adopted the “Lost Cause” interpretation of the war. Per the previous link, this way of remembering the war “sought to counter northern perspectives by reframing the war in a way that restored white southern honor.” Reminding people of Burbridge’s controversial actions supported this narrative by showing the supposed lack of honor of a prominent Confederate enemy who had supported emancipation of slaves and the use of African American men as soldiers. Was this monument just a toy in a game of memory?

The Kentucky Post of August 4 and October 8 of that year reported on the decision to create the small monument and covered the ceremony but made no mention of the blatant error now literally engraved in stone.

Civil War historian Darryl Smith explored and discussed this story in 2022, offering his perspective about how and why such an obvious mistake occurred.

      Author's photo. Another view is here.

(In a side note, prolific Civil War author Erik Wittenberg wrote a blog entry which discussed the potential consequences of these two executions, as the both sides threatened further retaliation, during which Rooney Lee, son of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, became a potential victim of this deadly game, before calmer minds miraculously prevailed. Yes, even the story of two obscure Confederate operatives arrested in a rural area (near where I grew up) far from the major military and political fronts of the war eventually reached such high levels.)

The 53rd Kentucky did suffer casualties during the campaign to Saltville and John Solomon may have been among them. No record mentions a specific illness or injury he suffered, but he was “sent back with prisoners” after a December 12 Union victory at the Battle of Kingsport, TN., near the border of Tennessee and Virginia. 

These Rebel captives had formerly served under the late Confederate General John H. Morgan, a man whose name was especially well-known in the Kentucky and Tennessee region during the war, feared by many Unionists, but beloved by Confederates. He had been killed in September, so his trusted brother-in-law Duke Basil took command of the troops, but Duke was hospitalized at this time, so Morgan’s brother Dick led the remaining raiders in this defeat and was among those the bluecoats captured.

As for John Solomon, for some reason, likely an unrecorded illness or injury, a doctor or other official took advantage of the transfer of prisoners back to Kentucky to send him with them instead of keeping him with the army where he would have consumed the medicines, food, and other resources the fighting men needed, especially in enemy territory. (The rest of the raid went well for the Federals who ended up damaging the Confederate salt works and knocking them out of action for months.)                                                           

Once back in the Bluegrass State, he spent the first two months of 1865 in the Main Street U.S.A. General Hospital in Covington, the city where his family had resided in 1850. This hospital was the “largest and longest-operating military hospital” in its city, having opened just before the bloody Battle of Shiloh. It held 300 beds and remained in operation until June 1865.1 

 Main St. General Hospital, courtesy fortwright.com

Whether his mother knew of his condition is uncertain, but, once again, her thoughts would be compelling to know since she had already lost her husband in the war, but her Don lived and returned to his regiment.

As he was discharged from the army on September 15, 1865, in Louisville, John Solomon owed the government 95 cents for a cartridge box, belt, belt plate, and a gun sling that he had lost and an additional $5.60 for clothing he had received while in service.

 He returned to civilian life, and fifteen years after the war worked as a farmer, supporting his family that included his wife Angelique, and their son. They had moved west and were now residing in Effingham County, Illinois, where John Solomon remained for the rest of his years, including 1900, when the family now boasted three children. That decade’s census showed that the couple had been married for 25 years, though their oldest child was born in 1873, so they may have wed about that time.


The Tenants and two adult children shared a house in the same area in 1910.


John Solomon died on April 22, 1911, and was buried in Effingham County’s Loy Chapel Cemetery.

findagrave memorial 24159929

Rebecca Tenant, John Solomon’s mother, and the grieving widow of Raleigh, did apply for and receive a widow’s pension (on paperwork which frequently referred to her late spouse as “Rolla.”)

 In applying for that money to help her continue with life (the pension started at $8.00 monthly and was still at that level at least until at least 1883, though it eventually increased to $12.00), she naturally needed to have various forms completed, and even had to sign the Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. Government, a form usually used for captured Confederate soldiers or civilians suspected of supporting the Confederacy.

It began with a short paragraph explaining who needed to take this pledge, including one line applicable to Rebecca: This oath is required from pensioners once, (on the first payment to new ones,) who are native-born, or have been naturalized.”

The actual oath followed on this typed form, but the word “Swear” was handwritten on a blank line instead of being typed like the rest. What else the document creators thought could fill that space with a different meaning is uncertain. 

I, Rebecca Tennant, a pensioner of the United States, do solemnly swear that I will support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign, and that I will bear true faith, allegiance and loyalty to the same, and ordinance, resolution, or law of any State Convention or Legislature to the contrary notwithstanding; and, further, that I do this with a full determination, pledge, and purpose, without any mental reservation or evasion whatsoever; and, further, that I will well and faithfully perform all the duties which may be required of me by law. So help me God.

She signed this by making her mark on June 3, 1867.

 She continued to live in the Grant’s Lick area. In 1870, she was a housekeeper with three children at home, but not John Solomon, and a decade later was a farmer and her only housemate was a domestic servant named Minerva Hill. Why her son had moved to Illinois instead of staying with his widowed mother in 1870 is not recorded. Did he just want to get on with his life as an adult and raise his own family, or had mother and son fallen out over something, perhaps his enlistment? Another possibility is that he did return to stay with her during some of the years between the end of the war and the 1870 census, then moved on amicably. No matter what happened, both parties apparently fared well in the postwar decades.

In 1890 she was listed as Raleigh’s (or Rally’s) widow on the Veteran’s Schedule, still in Grant’s Lick, and an 1892 tax list on the Campbell County Genweb local genealogy site reported that she owned 54 acres of land, worth $1,000 in Grant’s Lick.

Pension documents show that her name was removed from the pension list as of February 1900 because she had recently died, perhaps late in 1899, though no specific date was listed. Her burial place is unknown and may not even have a marker.

Hundreds of thousands of men were killed during the war, and many more fell ill but somehow survived. Virtually all of these warriors, on both sides, had families and friends who grieved for their loss or prayed for their recovery. The Tenant family of Campbell County was just one example of what families throughout the land experienced. 

*Differing versions of the names of the father, son, and mother exist in various records. For the sake of consistency, I am using "Tenant” (instead of Tennant) for their last name, Raleigh (in place of several other phonetic variations) for the father, and “John Solomon” for the son. “Rebecca” is the standard spelling of the wife/mother’s name, so I use it.

1Tenkotte, Paul A. (editor) and Claypool, James C. (Editor). The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky. 2009 p. 195.


Sunday, June 9, 2024

Book Review: The Civil War in the Smokies

By Noel Fisher
 Copyright 2005
Great Smoky Mountains Association 

This book is an older one I picked up at a gift shop during a quick vacation last fall but is a good work about an uncommon subject and certainly one that I enjoyed and that added to my understanding of the war. 

Comments about President Lincoln wanting to “free” East Tennessee from the Confederacy are relatively common in Civil War, at least on that high level, but more detailed explorations of the region are not such common topics. No major battles took place in the mountains, though the Siege of Knoxville, with famed Confederate General James Longstreet, was close by, so studies focused on military engagements find other geographic areas to explore and discuss.

This area, however, was the home to many people, Americans, who were split in their loyalties like the rest of the country. Slavery was not a large institution in these mountains, but it did exist, and a population of Native Americans also resided here. 

The start of this book gives a brief history of the settlement of the region, including Natives and then the influx of European Americans in the era of the American Revolutionary War. I thought this section was a bit of a slow read, but it provided good background information and once the story approached the Civil War years, my reading was much quicker, but that may be because of my preferences, not the author's writing.

Despite the importance of the social aspects of the war in this region, as frequently discussed herein the military was also involved here, via skirmishes, foraging, tracking deserters and spies, guarding or attacking targets such as bridges, seeking conscripts to fill regiments, helping others find their ways elsewhere, and in other important ways.

The numbers were not large, but people died. In some way, that type of war is more personal than the bigger, more famous, battles. Instead of casualty lists simply printed as “hundreds of men,” or lengthy lists of names, this book generally mentions a handful or so of specific names, as it does for men arrested as spies, deserters, or for being “loyalists” (Union supporters).

This area reminded me of the divided loyalties throughout Kentucky. That surprised me for some reason, and the idea of men "escaping" from the mountains to come to the Bluegrass State to enlist in Union regiments was another concept I did not remember hearing about previously. The geographic closeness of the two states means this idea makes sense, but I have often read of Kentuckians going south to join the Confederate army but not of men sneaking into Kentucky's southern border. 

An especially fascinating piece of this story was the examination of the letters between Confederate soldier Alfred Bell and his wife Mary. Mary was struggling at home and wanted to see her husband again, but he had his own troubles in the army, including an inability (or perhaps an unexpressed unwillingness) to leave the military to return home. Their story as told in this work was an outstanding piece of the bigger story, perhaps even symbolic of how other families fared during this time. It added a lot of context and detail to this work. This was the war seen from the family level, an everyday issue impossible to escape.

The final chapter, entitled After the End, may have been the most interesting section of the book, discussing the difficulties of life even after the war ended, as bitter feelings and distrust remained. Union supporters attempted to capitalize on victory by punishing their former opponents, while residents who had favored the Confederate side did not just sit back and accept such treatment, giving as good they got. Bushwhackers, lawsuits, and an even more difficult economic situation increased the struggles of residents, as well as institutions such as schools and churches. Educational facilities shut down for good, and some churches went years or even a decade without meeting during and immediately after the war.

Despite the lack of major battles or campaigns in the mountains, the war took a major toll on the area. In the best of times, life in the Smokies was tough, especially economically, and this work shows how much the war only exacerbated this and other issues, as the author notes about the area’s residents: "They simply could not escape the cruel logic of the war, and large-scale suffering was inevitable.” (p. 150) Militaries on both sides did scour this area for food and supplies, taking them from civilians who depended on these items.

One quote from this chapter sums up the situation in the mountains - and perhaps in the nation as a whole - quite well: "The Civil War threw Smokies residents into a situation for which they were wholly unprepared,” (p.150) with so much chaos, economic suffering, and mistrust of neighbors, as well as Confederate conscription policy, and other factors making life even harder.

As the war dragged on, difficulties surmounted, leading much of the populace to reconsider life’s priorities. Mere survival became more important than the political ideologies of the war, an issue the southern leaders could not really address.  "The Confederate government had little time to nurture the kind of loyalties and bonds needed" to create and maintain the faithfulness of residents. (p.151) This had natural consequences: "Indeed, it might be said that by 1863 these residents, while pro-Southern and pro-slavery, were no longer pro-Confederate.” (p. 151)

Overall, this is a fine book. It tells an interesting story of a people and region which struggled through many difficulties during the Civil War, a tale perhaps needing more attention.

I’m glad I read it and am happy to recommend it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Only One of the Men: Nicholas Korrell, 23rd Ky. Infantry

As 1862 evolved into 1863, the Battle of Stones River took place, quickly becoming one of the bloodiest fights of the war, a slugfest between two armies seeking control of central Tennessee, just months after the Confederates had left the Perryville Battlefield in Kentucky in Union hands.

Tens of thousands of men fought in this contest. Among them was Private Nicholas Korrell.

Born in Germany around 1836, Nicholas had immigrated to Campbell County, Kentucky before deciding to fight to defend his new country's government. 

He married Eliza Sheridan, a native of Ireland, in front of a Justice of the Peace on April 3, 1861, in Newport, just nine days before the start of the war. The couple had secured housing with John Barlow in that same town while also working in Barlow’s tavern, Nicholas as a barkeeper and Eliza as a servant. 

 Six months later, Nicholas joined company B of the 23rd Kentucky Infantry as a private on October 31, 1861, at the Newport Barracks, which sat on the land where the Licking and Ohio Rivers met, across the Ohio from Cincinnati. He mustered in on December 8 and agreed to a standard three-year term.  

      Newport Barracks during the 1884 flood of the Ohio River

At that time, he stood 5 feet 8½ inches tall, featured a light complexion, and had gray eyes and light hair.  


The 23rd Kentucky was a busy regiment that had recruited numerous men from Campbell County. After mustering in, it spent time in Kentucky and Tennessee before being in reserve at the Battle of Perryville in October of 1862. With the rest of the newly renamed Army of the Cumberland, the men of the 23rd followed the Confederates back into Tennessee where the opposing armies clashed at Stones River from December 31, 1862, through January 2, 1863. The 23rd was in Colonel William Grose’s 3rd Brigade of Brigadier General John Palmer’s 2nd Division of Major General Thomas Crittenden’s Left Wing of the Union forces at this engagement.

This battle ended in a Union victory that left the Federals “in control of central Tennessee” and gave Unionists throughout the nation “a much-needed morale boost, especially after the recent loss at Fredericksburg” in December.


This fight was the epitome of a bloodbath. It featured “some of the highest casualty rates of the war. With only about 76,400 men engaged, it has the greatest percentage of casualties (3.8 percent killed, 19.8 percent wounded, and 7.9 percent missing/captured) of any major battle in the Civil War, even more than at Shiloh and Antietam.”

Nicholas was mortally wounded on January 2, the battle’s final day. He passed away the next day, leaving him among the approximate 12,906 Union casualties.

His burial place is uncertain, but he may be in Stones River National Cemetery, perhaps one of the more than 2,500 unknown Union soldiers buried there.


Three months later, on what must have been a bittersweet occasion, his widow Eliza gave birth to their first and only child on April 1. It was a son whom she named Nicholas after the father he had never known.

Not only was she missing her husband as she gave birth, but she also did not have a physician present at the time. Fortunately, an experienced midwife, Margaretta Arman, was by her side, providing her knowledge, guidance, and assistance.

 Eliza applied for and received a widow’s pension, which started at $8 per month starting January 3, 1863, with an additional $2 per month for her son, as they resided on Front Street in Newport. The pension had increased to $12 monthly before her passing.


The two witnesses who signed her application were David Hays and John Link, Newport residents and former members of Nicholas's regiment 


Eliza was unable to locate an official copy of her marriage record, information the Pension Bureau required in order to approve her application, so her file includes several affidavits signed by acquaintances who swore that they had lived together as husband and wife. David Hays was among the people who provided this written testimony, as was another former soldier in Newport, William Air, who noted that Nicholas had often sent money home to Eliza and that he (William) had delivered it to her at least once.  

In 1900, Eliza was a boarder in the house of Christopher Ploss another Civil War veteran, and had apparently been so for years, as she had sponsored the baptisms of two Ploss children in 1884 and 1887.

She died in March of 1903, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Southgate. In the cemetery lies a young man named George Korell (sic) showing a birth date of 1864. Some forms in Eliza's files, dated 1868, mistakenly listed her son's birth occurring on April 1, 1864, probably due to faulty memory as they all list him as being the on of Eliza and Nicholas, who had died in early 1863. One document did show the correct year of 1863.

Findagrave memorial 199320452

The main remaining question is her son's true name. All records in her pension file show it as Nicholas, but the 1880 census shows Eliza living with George, listed as her 15-year-old son, and Findagrave.com also shows his name as George, born in 1864. Eliza and George are both buried in the same section and lot of the same cemetery. Findagrave.com does not list him as her son as I write this post, though I have submitted that information as a suggested correction.

Perhaps his full name was George Nicholas or Nicholas George and he went by George. One other possibility is that she called him Nicholas, but regretted it, as perhaps it reminded her too much of her deceased husband, and she actually changed it to George at some point.

Whatever the unknown details actually were, the death of Private Nicholas Korrell was another sad story in a war too full of them, a single death of a “common” soldier, among thousands of similar ones in the same battle, yet a loss that others deeply felt and regretted. He was not famous and won no medals or prizes, but his death in defense of his adopted nation certainly mattered.

Rest in peace, Private Nicholas Korrell.


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