Sallie Reneau

Contributed by Martin Lenk

Sallie Eola Reneau was born on August 1, 1836 in Somerville, Tennessee, and had the first womens' public university named after her. Her father was General Nathaniel Smith Reneau, born July 10, 1814, who served in the Mexican War from Tennessee and was mustered out at Vera Cruz on "surgeon's certificate". He was a very colorful man who had been in the railroad industry, then, selling his interest to Jay Gould, he invested in large silver mining interests in Mexico. General Reneau spent much time in Washington, D.C., although he made his home in Batesville, Mississippi. On February 21, 1862, an order of the War Department, Washington, from Fort Lafayette, New York Harbor, ordered the release, on parole, of prisoners of war, among whom is N.S. Reneau.

A letter from Colonel R.V. Richardson of the Confederate Army, addressed to the "President ofthe Confederate States of America" and remonstrating that Col. Richardson had not yet been promoted to General, dated 1864, stated that his volunteer aid was N.S. Reneau. General Reneau had a son, William Edward, and a daughter, Sarah, known as "Sallie" Eola Reneau. An aged member of the family (William Hill of Tompkinsville, Kentucky) wrote in 1936 that the General Reneau's son, Captain W.E. Reneau of the Confederate army, was killed in the Civil War.

Sallie Eola Reneau was a crusader for state-supported higher education for women in the South and the founder of Reneau Female Academy, which is now Mississippi College for Women at Columbus, Mississippi. Reneau hall, at this college, is named in her honor. Sallie was a remarkable woman and, when the yellow fever epidemic broke out in West Tennessee, she went and volunteered her services as a nurse. She caught yellow fever while in Germantown, Tennessee. A telegram was sent to her father in Washington, D.C., and he boarded the train to come to her bedside. In Pittsburg, a telegram was waiting for his train to tell him Sallie had died.

The following are newspaper accounts of the death of Sallie Reneau. From a Tennessee paper: "General N.S. Reneau, of Batesville, Miss., is well-known in Washington in connection with Mexican affairs. He had large international interests there and for some months past has enjoyed closes relations with the President and the Mexican Minister, in regard to diplomatic relations with that country. More recently, the General has been notable for efforts for the relief of the unfortunate people of the South, but more especially for those of Mississippi. Every few days Gen. Reneau would exhibit a letter from his daughter, Miss Sallie Eola Reneau. He would use her eloquent and touching descriptions of the trouble that was around her, as his excuse for most urgent appeals for help; and now his fair correspondent and daughter herself is dead. There are no words by which we can express our regret for the loss of this gifted and useful young girl, or our sorrow over the affection which has befallen our friend."

"The many friends of Miss Sallie Eola Reneau, of Mississippi, will be shocked to hear of her untimely death from the plague on the 14th instant, at Germantown, Tenn., where she has been temporarily residing. She was the daughter of General N.S. Reneau, of Batesville, Miss., fell in the meridian of life, and enjoyed for many years a great reputation in the South as one of its finest writers. She had devoted her life to the education of her sex, rich and poor, having been a distinguished scholar and educator."

"The legislature of the State of Mississippi paid the highest tribute to her character and qualities by giving her name to the Reneau Female University of Mississippi, declaring her to be the first president of the same, and that State will always be proud of her, not only for her devotion to her sex in contributing her life to the elevation of women, but also to her great self-denial and her Christian character displayed by remaining in the plague districts to aid and comfort the sick and dying. Of Miss Reneau, Mississippi's Senator Alcorn said: 'The State of Mississippi's great educator, Christian, scholar, and artist, to the power of whose pen I, with due deference, bow.' "The State of Mississippi, at the earliest session of her Legislature, should erect over her remains some monumental record worthy of this great scholar and of the State of which she was proud to have been a daughter."

And, last from an Ohio newspaper (the article directly beneath the following one reads "Ohio Election", and the town is very probably Cincinnati): "AN INCIDENT OF THE YELLOW FEVER - The Pittsburg Evening Chronicle contains a very affecting episode relating to the Southern plague, which affects in the deepest degree a parent now in this city. But we will allow the Chronicle to tell the tale in its own language: 'On the arrival of the 8:11 train from Washington at the Union Depot, in Pittsburg, on the morning of the 15th instant, one of the Western Union Telegraph messengers stood in the doorway of the dining-room, holding in his hand an envelope addressed to General N.S. Reneau. The telegram was claimed by the anxious hand of a venerable looking gentleman in the shady paths of life, whose grief on learning of the death of his daughter, the only remaining member of his family, by yellow fever, at Germantown, Tenn., early this morning, can better be imagined than described. Miss Sallie Eola Reneau, niece of Rev. Dr. Reneau of Clinton Co., Ky., and of A.D. Patton, Tampa County, Miss., and cousin of Hon. Allen G. Thurman of Ohio, was making her temporary home at Germantown, as volunteer nurse and as historian of the ravages of the disease for the State of Mississippi, as her published accounts and reports of the ravages of the disease and feelings comments on the death of friends now before us testify. She was a leading spirit in the organization and management of all relief and charitable movements of the place where she had voluntarily determined to do her best for those who suffered around her. The General, while on business in Washington City, received word of her illness through the postmaster at Germantown and was hastening to her side when confronted with the announcement of her death. He telegraphed to have her remains tenderly laid away and her effects taken care of until his arrival, which, now that there is nothing for him to go for, will not be until the fever has abated. The home of General Reneau is at Batesville, Miss.'"

The original of these clippings are in the possession of Mrs. J.B.Windsor of Fort Worth, Texas, and the original telegrams are in the possession of Mr. J.O. Reneau of Bowling Green, Kentucky. General Reneau died 5 December1888, and is buried in "National Cemetery, Washington City".


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