Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Derrill Middleton Hart, Semple's Battery of Light Artillery

As my study of the career and Civil War connections of former University of Kentucky basketball player Derrill Wason Hart continues, the story moves on to the life and career of his uncle, and probably the man for whom he was named, Derrill Middleton Hart.

The elder Derrill Hart was born in Montgomery Alabama on August 4, 1840, the fifth son and sixth child of Benjamin and Anne Hart. Among his older brothers were Confederate Colonel Benjamin R. Hart and Confederate 2nd Lieutenant Robert Singleton Hart, both of the 22nd Alabama Infantry. 

Like his brothers, Derrill supported the Confederate cause. On May 10, 1862, he enlisted in an artillery unit that went by the name "Semple's Battery," in honor of Captain Henry C. Semple. It had been organized in Montgomery, but Derrill enlisted at the sight of its first assignment, Mobile. He joined for a term of "three years or the war." 

When Captain Semple was promoted to Major in 1864, Richard W. Goldthwaite took over the battery's leadership and the unit was then sometimes referred to as "Goldthwaite's Battery." One of the forms in Derrill's service records lists his unit as "Semple's Company of Light Artillery," but at the bottom states "This organization subsequently became Capt. Goldthwaite's Battery, Alabama Light Artillery." It appears that both names were in use throughout the last part of the war. (I have also seen it referred to as "Mark's Battery," but have not seen a reason for that. "Semple's Battery" seems to be the most commonly used name,)

Derrill enlisted as a private and muster rolls consistently listed him as "present." He earned three promotions, first to Corporal on July 20, 1863 and then to Sergeant on February 10 of 1864. His final promotion was to 2nd Lieutenant on May 7, 1864.

The battery remained in the western theater of the war. It participated in Braxton Bragg's Invasion of Kentucky during which it saw action at Perryville. Two of its guns participated in an artillery duel during the battle, while other guns remained closer to the actual town. In the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (ORvolume XVI, part 1, Major General William Hardee's battle report refers to the unit as "a fine battery of 12-pounders, under Captain Semple." A marker noting its role in the battle now stands on the battlefield.

Marker at Perryville, courtesy support.blueandgreyeducation.org

After this campaign, the battery remained part of the newly renamed Army of Tennessee. It fought at Murfreesboro and other major battles including Chickamauga.  After that Confederate victory, General D. H. Hill referred to the unit as "Semple's magnificent battery" while praising its performance (report in OR, volume XXIII, part 2.) Generals Patrick Cleburne and S.A.M. Wood also complimented the battery. 

Marker at Chickamauga, courtesy waymarking.com

The battery also saw action during the Atlanta campaign and at Franklin and Nashville. It suffered losses of men and/or horses in several of its engagements, including Perryville.

Late in the war, it was ordered to North Carolina, but eventually surrendered at Augusta, Georgia in April 1865.

Derrill led a long post-war life, marrying twice and having six children. His first wife was Mary Louisa Armistead, whom he wed on December 4, 1865 in Montgomery. They had four sons (Benjamin R, Derrill M, Robert S and Louis Armistead - the first three named for Derrill and his brothers and father, the last with Mary's maiden name as his middle name. Naming children after predecessors seems to have been a Hart family tradition.)   

On the 1870 census, Derrill, Mary and sons Benjamin and Derrill Jr. still lived in Montgomery, but in 1878 they moved to Texas, apparently settling in the town of Weatherford, in Parker County. Benjamin had left home by the time of the 1880 census.

Mary died May 12, 1884 at 39 years of age and was buried in City Greenwood Cemetery in Weatherford.

Derrill then married S.F. Leach on June 15, 1886, also in Parker County. Her initials probably stood for "Sarah Frances," as other census and family records show him married to a "Sarah" and a "Fannie." Another record seems to confirm this, showing "Frances Leach" as his second wife. "Fannie" was likely a nickname. Derrill and his new bride had two sons, Alonzo and Hardin M. Hart.

In 1900, the family still lived in Weatherford, and all but Alonzo lived there at the time of the 1910 census. 

The website for the Texas State Cemetery  shows that Derrill was a Presbyterian and worked as a farmer. He moved into the Confederate Home for Men, in Austin, on April 14, 1911.

Courtesy civilwartalk.com

He passed away at the home on May 28, 1914 at age seventy-three and is buried in the state cemetery.


  1. Semple's battery was assigned to Sterling Wood's brigade. Wood "had" to resign over a personal financial indiscretion after Chickamauga ended and Marcus Lowery assumed command of the brigade, even writing one of the Chickamauga battle reports for that brigade. That made Semple's battery -at that time Dick Goldwaithe's battery (due to the ad hoc promotion of Henry Semple to Cleburne's chief of artillery, because Major Hotchliss was wounded in the Sept. 19th night attack). Reverend Marcus Lowery is your "Mark" of Mark's battery. Yes, he was an ordained minister as well as colonel and rising general.

  2. Do you know of any existing letters from or between these bothers. I would love to learn more. Thanks for illuminating these brave men.
    Joe Bradley, drsjoeb@gmail

  3. Any info of them at Picketts Mill Ga


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