COL. PARMENAS T. TURNLEY

Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 73-78

COL. PARMENAS TAYLOR TURNLEY, one of the most faithful and energetic military servants of the United States, was born September 6, 1821, in the little village of Dandridge, the seat of Jefferson County, Tennessee.   His ancestors were numbered among the men of note in England, and their coat-of-arms is recorded prior to 1550, in the time of Queen Bess.  Francis Turnley, an ensign in the cavalry under Cromwell, participated in the memorable battle of Drogheda, Ireland.  After his discharge from military service he married a Welsh maiden, and settled in her native land.   In later life he went to Monmouth, England, where he died in 1690, leaving a large family of sons and daughters.

John and Francis, sons of Francis Turnley, born in Monmouth, in 1660 and 1662, respectively, lived at Bristol, England, whence they set sail in 1692 for Jamestown, or, later, Norfolk, Virginia.  John settled in Bedford County, where he died at a ripe old age.  His eldest son, John, born in Monmouth, England, in 1690, succeeded him, “with a limited education and less patrimony.”  His eldest son, born in 1737, was named John, and was the great-grandfather of the subject of this sketch.  His father died when he was but nine years old, and he was apprenticed to a brickmaker and mason.  In that day the unfortunate apprentice boy was little better than a bond slave.  At the age of nineteen years he ran away from his taskmaster, but continued to work at his well-learned trade.  At the age of twenty-four he married Mary Handy, and their only son, George, was born in 1762.

George Turnley was a well-grown lad of fourteen when the War of the Revolution began.  He joined the Continental troops, and was employed in conducting trains of pack-horses, conveying supplies through the wild regions where wheeled vehicles could not pass.   He continued as a private through the whole war, and returned to his father’s home in Botetourt County, Virginia, penniless and ragged.   The father was a poor man, and the son soon set out for the new country to the west, on the upper tributaries of the Tennessee River.   He spent some time among the Indians, and was so pleased with the country, then a part of the territory of North Carolina, that he returned to Virginia, and induced his father to accompany him, and they settled, in 1785, on the French Broad River, thirty miles east of the present city of Knoxville.  George Turnley cut logs, and erected a cabin, fifteen by twenty feet, in the edge of the cane-brake, hewed out puncheons for the floors, and rived out boards for roof and doors.  In March, 1791, he married Lottie Cunningham, of Shenandoah County, Virginia, who, with her mother and brother, had removed to that country.

February 27, 1792, was born in that little cabin a son, who was named John C.  The latter grew up on the farm until the age of seventeen, when he spent three years with his uncle, George Graham, learning cabinet-making.  At the outbreak of the War of 1812 he, with a half-dozen others, walked one hundred and twenty miles to Nashville, and volunteered in Captain Kenady’s company, which was afterward the First Regiment Tennessee Infantry.  The company descended the Cumberland and Ohio Rivers in a flatboat, and down the Mississippi to Walnut Hills (now Vicksburg), Mississippi, whence they moved on foot under General Jackson, with whom they participated in the battle of New Orleans.  After his discharge Mr. Turnley had a long tramp on foot, through forest and swamp, back to Tennessee.  He finally reached Knoxville, where he engaged at cabinet and carpenter work.  In 1818 he married Miss Mahala Taylor, and began housekeeping in Dandridge, Tennessee.  Mrs. Turnley was a daughter of Col. Parmenas Taylor, after whom the subject of this biography is named.   Colonel Taylor was born in April, 1753, near the line between Virginia and North Carolina, perhaps in Virginia.  He served throughout the Revolutionary War, and was a Captain in Colonel White’s North Carolina Regiment.  He was taken prisoner, and held for nearly a year, during which time he was employed in repairing guns in the British arsenal.  He was six feet, six inches tall, and weighed 210 pounds.  Soon after leaving the army he married Betty, the daughter of his commander, and settled on the north side of the French Broad River, opposite George Turnley.  He was a member of the convention which framed the first State Constitution of Tennessee, was a fine land-surveyor, and much respected Justice of the Peace.  His elder brother was the father of Zachary Taylor, elected President of the United States in 1848.

John C. Turnley was a man of affairs.   He acted as District Attorney for his own and adjoining counties, engaged quite extensively in sawing lumber, and in shipping farm products down the rivers to market.  In his old age, during our Civil War, he was driven by the guerrilla warfare, carried on in the semi-neutral territory where he resided, to leave his home and go to Madison, Indiana, where he lived with his daughters until the war closed, when he returned to his home on the French Broad River, and there lived until June, 1875, when an accident rendered the amputation of his leg necessary, which resulted in his death.

The subject of this sketch is the third child and son of John C. Turnley.  He grew up at Oak Grove, the locality of his father’s plantation and sawmills, where the latter served as Postmaster, seven miles east of Dandridge.  John C. Turnley held the office of Postmaster there for thirty-seven years.  Soon after entering his seventh year, Parmenas Turnley entered the little school of John Farrell, in a log schoolhouse a mile and a-half from his home, reached only by a footpath through the dense forest.  He was provided with a Webster’s Spelling-book, and continued in the school until the Christmas holidays, when the pedagogue declared that he could never learn anything, and that it was useless to send him to school.  The fond mother, however, did not give him up, and she set aside an hour in each forenoon and afternoon, which she took from her multifarious household duties and devoted to teaching her son.  Under her kind tutelage he made good progress, and the next year entered a new school near his home.  For three months in the year he continued to attend school until 1831, in the mean time receiving much assistance from his mother at home.  Having reached the age of ten years, his services were required about the farm and mills of his father, and the latter now began to teach him arithmetic, in order that he might be able to measure lumber, grain and other commodities.  By the time he was twelve years old he was fairly proficient, and was often in charge of his father’s business during the latter’s absence.  He thus continued working on the farm in summer and in the saw and gristmills in winter, bearing his share in all the work.  None of the Turnleys would ever own slaves, and all the labor employed was white.  Mrs. Turnley inherited two house-servants from her mother’s estate, and these continued with the family in most faithful attendance until it was broken up.

In the autumn of 1840 young Turnley became deeply interested in the Presidential contest, in which he took part as a stump speaker against Harrison.  In the following spring he received the unexpected notice of his appointment as a cadet to West Point Military Academy.  This had been secured through the influence of Mr. William B. Carter, Member of Congress, who had taken an interest in the boy while on a visit to his father’s house two years previously.   At this time the father was absent with a flotilla of boats, and the boy and his mother were in some doubt as to the desirability of accepting the appointment.  His father returned in a short time, and, rather against the mother’s wish, it was decided that the youth should accept the appointment and proceed to West Point.  A great obstacle arose at once; the distance was many hundred miles, traversed chiefly by stage-coach, and actual cash was hard to obtain, because the paper “shin-plaster” substitute for money was the only article in circulation.   After much effort a trifle over thirty-six dollars was gathered up, and in the mean time his mother had placed what clothing she deemed necessary in a pillow-case, to be taken along on the journey.  But as the limited cash capital would not permit riding, the youth set out on foot, leaving most of his baggage behind.  On reaching Salem, Virginia, where he stayed over-night, he was induced by his host to remain a few days to saw up some lumber which he had contracted to deliver.   He took a contract at two dollars per 1,000 feet, with the stipulation that he must have sufficient help night or day.  In forty-eight hours’ continuous labor he turned out 6,500 feet of lumber from the old-style water sawmill, and on receiving his pay set out again on foot, making only fifteen miles the first day.  After twelve days of travel, in which he averaged a trifle over thirty miles a day, he arrived at Winchester, Virginia, whence he took cars to Baltimore.   There he went on board a freight steamer, which carried him to New York, at an expense for passage and meals of four dollars and fifty cents.  From New York he took a steamer to West Point, at which place he arrived on the 21st of June.   Here he very shortly discovered that his limited education would not enable him to pass the necessary examination for admission to the Military Academy.  Appealing to the Chaplain of this institution, he secured through that individual postponement of his appointment by the War Department for one year.  Proceeding to the school of Mr. Z. J. D. Kinsley, near West Point, he applied himself so vigorously and diligently to his studies, that he was prepared to enter the academy in June, 1842.  By January of that year he had become so proficient that his tutor gave him his board and tuition and ten dollars per month for teaching a class in mathematics.  Among his pupils were two grandsons of President Harrison.

On the 30th of June, 1846, he was duly graduated in the class of fifty-eight members, including George B. MaClellan, and several others who became distinguished in the War of 1861–65.  The class was entitled to a furlough of two months on graduation, and young Turnley now returned to his home near Dandridge, after an absence of five years.  He had employed previous vacations in drills and application to his studies.  He found many changes at home, among the saddest being the absence of his mother, who died August 10, 1844.  He had not been at home two weeks before he received orders to proceed to New Orleans and join his regiment, the Second Infantry, on the way to Mexico.  After four days of staging across mountains and rivers, he arrived at Nashville, where he took steamer for New Orleans.  Armed with a commission as Second-Lieutenant of Company D, Second United States Infantry, he joined that regiment on its arrival from Sacket’s Harbor, New York, and with it sailed on the steamer “Massachusetts” to Brazos Island.   From Camargo, an old Mexican town on the south bank of the little San Juan River, to Monterey, Company D and two others escorted a large supply train.  On this trip of 130 miles Lieutenant Turnley’s knowledge of carpentering proved of great value to the train.  One of the wagons, loaded with seventy-five boxes of silver specie, which was in front, broke down, and the train was delayed until Lieutenant Turnley volunteered to make a new axle.  Neither saw nor auger was to be found in the train, but with the help of a Georgia volunteer, who was a rough carpenter, and a hatchet and axe, an axle was put in which carried the wagon through to Monterey.  In November the same party returned to Camargo, escorting another large train; thence Company D proceeded to Monte Marelos, on the direct road from Monterey to Tampico.  In a few days the army was moved back to Monterey to resist a reported contemplated attack by Santa Anna.   This report proving false, the army faced about, and resumed its march of 375 miles to Tampico, Mexico, where it arrived January 23, 1847.  From Tampico the army moved on transports to Vera Cruz.  During the siege of that place Lieutenant Turnley served on the picket-guard line of investment for twenty days and nights without relief.  During this time a severe “norther” prevailed, and on account of his exposure he became seriously ill.  To aid his recovery, he was detailed to proceed to Cincinnati to bring back a body of recruits.   Toward the end of September, 1847, he left that city with 800 new men.  Late in October he arrived in Vera Cruz, where the yellow fever had raged all summer, with dreadful mortality among the American troops.  After going into camp Lieutenant Turnley suffered an attack of the dread scourge, his being the only case in the entire body of 800 men.  Early in January, 1848, he started out in command of a portion of the recruits, as escort to a supply train of 500 wagons and a number of pack-mules, to the Mexican capital, with orders to distribute the recruits to their several regiments along the way.  After ten days of rest at the city of Mexico, he proceeded to a point ninety miles south to protect the owners of plantations who were threatened with an uprising of their peons.

Returning to the United States at the close of the Mexican War, Lieutenant Turnley was in command of his company at a camp on Lake Pontchartrain, where he was employed in discharging soldiers who had enlisted for the period of the Mexican War, and in assigning new recruits to the regular regiments.  Company D and one other was ordered to proceed to Austin, Texas.   In March they were ordered back to San Antonio.  Thence Company D proceeded to the old Mexican town of Presidio, on the Rio Grande, to establish a post.   Not finding this a suitable point, they advised General Worth, who authorized them to proceed further up the river, and they established a post at Eagle Pass, now called Fort Duncan.  At this time Lieutenant Turnley was acting as Quartermaster, Commissary and Adjutant, besides commanding the company in the absence of the Captain.   He built a stone warehouse and hospital, and was frequently detailed to escort wagon-trains, and open roads over that section of the country.  In June, 1852, he was promoted to be First Lieutenant and made Regimental Quartermaster.  This occurred while he was building Fort Territt, on the Llano River.  After his promotion he was detailed for two years of recruiting service, after almost five years of life in tents.  Being given his choice of two stations, he decided to locate at Chicago, and on the 1st of September, 1852, took up quarters at the Tremont Hotel in that city.  While there he completed a design for a portable cottage, for use of the army on the timberless frontiers.  This was adopted by the Government, and he was sent to Cincinnati to build a number and ship them to the frontier posts.  The next few years he was employed on the Northwestern frontier, under General Harney, in subduing unfriendly Indian tribes on the border.  Meantime he had been promoted to the General Staff as Assistant Quartermaster, and assigned to duty at Forts Pierre and Randall.

In January, 1857, he received his first leave of absence, in order to transact private business in Tennessee.  His next post of duty was at Fort Brown, Texas, where he was engaged in over-hauling and disposing of old stores, and receiving and forwarding supplies to other posts.  In October he was joined by his family, but was hardly settled before he received orders in March, 1858, to go to Leavenworth, Kansas, to take charge of supplies destined for Utah.  With the troops he moved to Fort Bridger, where he arrived in September, 1858, thence over to the Valley of Utah.  He remained in Utah until October, 1860, selling out, in the mean time, per order of the War Department, the most of the teams and other paraphernalia of the post at Camp Floyd, which he had built during his two years in Utah, south of Salt Lake City.  After resting a few days with his family in Chicago, he set out for his old home in Tennessee, going by way of Springfield, where he called upon President-Elect Lincoln, to whom he imparted some valuable information about army and military matters.  His analysis of the character of Mr. Lincoln and other noted men is very interesting, but cannot be repeated in the space available for this article.  At the urgent request of his old neighbors and friends, he delivered addresses upon the political situation at Dandridge and Greenville, Tennessee, and, after visiting Washington City on official business, returned to his family in Chicago.

While en route to Washington, in April, 1861, to hasten the settlement of his public accounts, he received word at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that his leave of absence must terminate at once, and that he was required to report to Governor Curtin, of Pennsylvania, to whom he was of great service in caring for recruits.  Thence he was sent to Annapolis to prepare the naval school for an army depot.  He was next ordered to report to Gen. John C. Fremont at New York City, and proceeded thence, by that officer’s order, to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was Chief-Quartermaster until February, 1862.  From there he went to Cairo, Illinois, where he was engaged in further arduous duties in providing supplies for Grant in his Kentucky campaign, and Pope below Cairo, on the Mississippi, and for the subsistence and transportation of prisoners taken in those victorious expeditions.

Through long years of exposure on Mexican fields and western plains Captain Turnley’s health had become very much impaired, and he now found it imperative that he take some rest.  In April, 1863, he applied for leave of absence, which was granted, and he set out with his wife for a tour of Europe.  This relaxation he had well earned by long years of the most toilsome and faithful service for his country, but he did not receive much benefit, though somewhat improved.  On his return, by order from the War Department, he reported to General McDowell, retiring officer, at Wilmington, Delaware, and was retired from active service, “for long and faithful services, and disease contracted in the line of duty.”

Early in 1865 Captain Turnley went to Washington to close up his twenty years of accounts with the Government, and was at once besought by Assist.-Quartermaster Gen. Charles Thomas to take special service at Denver, Colorado, where the accounts for supplies were in a hopeless tangle.  After some consideration he consented, believing that the duties were not severe and would soon be dispatched.  Proceeding by steamer from St. Louis to Leavenworth, he traveled thence, accompanied by his family, to Denver.  At Lexington, Missouri, he learned with deep sorrow of the assassination of President Lincoln.  Finding his health, which had somewhat recovered, impaired by the high altitude of Denver, he forwarded his resignation, but was not relieved until December, 1865, after which he traveled across the plains, in the dead of winter and in deep snow, to Atchison, whence he took cars to Chicago, and at last secured relief from a life of almost constant military service.  In the following spring he took up his residence at St. Louis, where he remained with his family nearly two years.  He then again returned to Chicago, where, in August, 1870, he finally secured a settlement of his public accounts, with a return of $1,575 which he had been obliged to pay out of his own funds on account of an error of his clerk in Utah.  The error had remained a mystery until the office of the Auditor-General overhauled the accounts of ten years, and discovered an error in carrying forward footings.

Before closing Captain Turnley’s army record, it is proper to relate that his recommendation from St. Louis secured the appointment of Phil Sheridan, who had been Turnley’s sub-assistant at St. Louis, to the colonelcy of a Michigan cavalry regiment, thus starting “Little Phil” on his famous military career.  Many other prominent officers of the Civil War were deeply indebted to him for favors at various times.   Some of these escaped dismissal from West Point through Cadet Turnley’s kindness in concealing flagrant breaches of discipline while cadets.

On the 21st of September, 1853, at Chicago, Lieutenant Turnley was married to Miss Mary Ryerson Rutter, daughter of Dr. David Rutter, a native of Pennsylvania, who settled in Chicago in 1848.  At the time of her marriage Miss Rutter was not quite eighteen years of age.  She became the mother of three daughters and two sons.  One of the sons died at four years of age, and the other, a most promising youth, named Ernest Seymour, died in August, 1891, in his seventeenth year, being at the time a student at home on vacation from college.  Of his three daughters, the eldest and the youngest, both single, are now living.  The third daughter (and third child) married Mr. Milton C. Lightner, and died in November, 1880, leaving an infant son, who has ever been a jewel in Captain Turnley’s household, and at this writing is a fine specimen of a fifteen-year-old boy, giving promise of a large man.

In 1881 Captain Turnley took up his residence at Highland Park, Illinois, where he is enjoying the rest and peace which he so dearly earned, at the sacrifice of much health, on the sandy plains of Mexico, Texas and the West, and in the malarial military depots of St. Louis and Cairo.  In spite of hardships endured and mental strain for many years, he is still hale and keen of intellect, as is evidenced by his memoirs, which are full of sage philosophy, as well as the most interesting narrative.  These are embodied in a volume of 450 pages, published for private distribution in 1893.  It ought to have general circulation, for it gives a knowledge of men and motives seldom found in any publication.  In fact, nothing heretofore issued is so fearless of public idolatry in portraying the weaknesses of great men.  He has been successively Alderman, and for two terms Mayor, of Highland Park.

True to the traditions of his fathers, Captain Turnley has always adhered to the Democratic party in National political matters, and he was sometimes the subject of much unjust suspicion during the Civil War, because of his southern birth and political preferences.  However, he always bore himself with such faithful loyalty to his Government as to speedily disarm all suspicion, and shed only honor on his long and faithful military career.

                                -- Submitted on 10/28/99 by Sherri Hessick ( slhessick@crosswinds.net )