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.


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