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    First Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade 


 

Alfred Cullen "Alf" Thomas
4th Sgt., Co. G, 4th Kentucky Infantry, C.S.A.

Compiled by Edison H. Thomas

 ThomasAlf.jpg (3551 bytes)

Born:  November 11, 1842, Donaldson Creek community, Trigg County, Ky. Oldest of ten children of Peyton and Sarah (Ethridge) Thomas, grandson of Cullen and Elizabeth (Futrell) Thomas, great grandson of Revolutionary War veteran James Thomas, Sr., and his wife Mary (Standley) Thomas, who came to Kentucky from North Carolina in 1806.

Enlisted July 1, 1861, age 18, at Canton, Ky., one of 74 men from Trigg County, Ky., who the next day, marched to Camp Burnett, near Clarksville, Tenn. The Company was organized by Dr. John L. Trice, Captain, Dr. John Cunningham, 1st Lieutenant, John F. Baker, 2nd Lieutenant, and Francis M. Baker, 3rd Lieutenant. He was officially inducted into the Confederate Army Sept. 14, 1861 and Co. G became a part of the Fourth Regiment, Kentucky Brigade at Bowling Green, Ky., in November 1861.

Alfred saw his first action April 6-7, 1862 during the Battle of Shiloh at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River near Corinth, Miss. After that, according to Brigade records, he participated in the following action: Vicksburg, Miss., June 1862; Baton Rouge, La., Aug. 1862; Stone's River, Murfreesboro, Tn., Dec. 1862; Chickamauga, Sept. 1863, Missionary Ridge, Nov. 1863; Rocky Face, May 1864; Kennesaw Mountain, June 1864; Atlanta, Ga., July 1864; Peachtree and Utoy creeks, July 1864; and at Jonesboro, Ga., Aug. 1864. In November 1864, Alfred was promoted to sergeant.

Following the battle at Jonesboro, the Brigade became a mounted outfit complete with horses and riding gear. When General Sherman began his infamous "March from Atlanta to the Sea," the Kentucky Brigade harassed the rear units most of the way to Savannah. They also saw action in South Carolina prior to Gen. Lee's surrender to Gen. Grant at Appomattox, Va.

The Brigade was near Georgetown, South Carolina at the time of surrender, and on May 7, 1865, at Washington, Ga., 24 men, all that remained of Co. G., 4th Regt., along with the rest of the Orphan Brigade, were paroled by order of Brevet Major Gen. Wilson and signed by Capt. L. A. Abraham of the Iowa Federal troops. After parole, Alfred and the other Trigg County men remaining in Co. G., set out, each with his horse, saddle and bridle, toward home in Kentucky almost 500 miles away. After many tiring days of travel through war-torn Georgia and Tennessee, over some of the same areas in which only the year before, they had fought bloody battles with the Yankees, Alfred and the other Trigg men reached Nashville, Tenn. There Federal authorities required them to take the oath of allegiance to the United States before they could continue their journey to Kentucky. Family tradition has it that when Alfred reached home in Trigg County, a seasoned war veteran at age 21, he had a full beard and was so thin that his family did not recognize him.

Martha George, a great granddaughter, who lives in Paris, Tenn., said her father told her that Alfred played the fife in the Company's Drum and Bugle Corps. Another source indicates that he was a member of the regimental band which in December 1862 at Murfreesboro, Tenn., played for a party following the wedding of Gen. John Hunt Morgan. President Jefferson Davis is said to have been present for that affair. In addition to playing the fife, Mrs. Mabel (Cunningham) Blalock, a granddaughter at Murray, Ky., said that after the war, he played the violin and she often accompanied him on their parlor organ. His violin is still in the family.

One of the details to which Alfred was assigned while at Bowling Green in 1861 was to accompany the sick by train to a Confederate hospital in Atlanta, Ga. Later, after the Battle of Shiloh, Alfred was able to visit his cousin, William Bridges in a hospital in Castillian Springs, Miss., prior to William's death April 22, 1862. A letter Alfred wrote May 6, 1862 to his cousin Cullen T. Bridges, telling of the death of his brother, is still in existence.

Mrs. Blalock also recalls Alfred telling of at least one occasion during the war when the Brigade ran out of food and everyone became so hungry that they actually captured rats and cooked them. Rudy Cunningham, a grandson, of Benton, Ky., said Alfred told him they tried all sorts of substitutes for coffee including brewing cubes of dried sweet potatoes, and boiling ground acorns from oak trees.

During the almost four years he served with the Confederate Army, Alfred's travels with the Kentucky Brigade covered almost 5,000 miles in all kinds of weather, by foot, train and steamboat in eight states. Despite having participated in every major battle in the western sector, he did not receive a major injury.

On Nov. 7, 1870, Alfred married Nancy Ann Vinson, daughter of Edmund J. and Jacqueline (Wimberly) Vinson of Stewart County, Tenn. Later the couple moved to Arkansas were Alfred began a career as a blacksmith. It was said by the family that Nancy became homesick so they returned to Stewart County, Tenn.

Nancy's father died in 1907 and willed his property to his children. Nancy inherited a 200-acre farm located on the west side of the Tennessee River opposite Pine Bluff, Tenn. , near Hamlin in Calloway County, Ky. They built a home on the property and settled there for life.

In time Alfred built a blacksmith shop and a grocery store. Next, he opened a "tie yard," on the bank of the Tennessee River, purchased crossties and shipped them by steamboat to a company which sold them to railroads. He later added an extension to the end of his shop and opened a gristmill with which he ground cornmeal for the public.

Alfred and his wife Nancy were members of a Baptist Church in their community, she having been baptized when just a young girl. Alfred was baptized in the Tennessee River following a revival meeting when he was 70 years old.

Nancy, his wife, died in 1915, and, according to grandson Rudy E. Cunningham, a year or so later, Alfred "...boarded up his store without even selling the stock, closed his blacksmith shop and gristmill and never worked again."

"One day in 1923, he and I were sitting on the front porch when we got word that a neighbor had died. He said to me: 'Let's go and take him off the book.' He brought out the ledger in which he kept his charge accounts and wrote -- Paid In Full -- across the page bearing that man's name. Glancing through the book, I noticed that he had done that to all who owed him money at the time of their deaths."

"He was one of the most honest and honorable men I ever knew," Mr. Cunningham said. "He was one of the old school who was honest and truthful, and his word was his bond. He was quick-tempered and would fight at the drop of a hat if honor was at stake." He said that in the 1920s his Grandpa Alfred let his beard grow. It was real white and reached all the way to his waist. "His favorite food was roast 'possum and sweet potatoes," he said.

Alfred and his wife Nancy had ten children: I. James C. Thomas; 2. Amanda (Mrs. John) George; 3. Peyton Thomas, 4. Sallie J. (Mrs. Marion) Futrell; 5. Lillie D. (Mrs. Robert W.) McCage;
6. Permelia (Mrs. John) Kelley; 7. Julia Maude (Mrs. George C.) Bell; 8. Edmond C. Thomas; 9. Albert Carnell Thomas; and 10. Beatrice (Mrs. Erie D.) Cunningham.

His application for a pension for Confederate service from the State of Kentucky, No. 4272, was dated Nov. 30, 1914. Witnesses were Robert W. Dew and M. M. Williams, of Trigg County, both of whom said they served with him in the Kentucky Brigade. That portion of his application was dated March 9, 1915. The completed application was filed at Frankfort Nov. 23, 1923.

His wife was 63 years old when she died in 1915, and he died in 1932 at the age of 90, while living with a daughter Julia Maude (Thomas) Bell, in Paducah, Ky. He was buried beside his wife Nancy in the Thomas-Lassiter family cemetery located on the Polie Lassiter Farm in Calloway County, Ky. Their graves are marked with a large Confederate monument, but according to Louise Lovins, a granddaughter, the inscription is considerably weathered and now almost illegible.

 

Source References:

1. "History of the Orphan Brigade," by Porter Thompson, p-714
2. "The Orphan Brigade," by William C. Davis, 1980.
3. "The Thomas & Bridges Story," by Edison H. Thomas, p-94
4. Thomas & Bridges History," by Gilbert N. Bridges, p-18
5. Pension Application No. 4272, Department of Libraries & Archives, Frankfort, Ky.
6. Confederate records, Office of the Adjutant General, Frankfort, Ky.
7. Letter Feb. 12, 1991 from Martha C. George, Paris, Tenn.
8. Letter Feb. 1991 from and telephone conversation with Rudy E. Cunningham, Benton, Ky.
9. Letter Feb. 1991 from and telephone conversation with Louise B. Lovins, Murray, Ky.
10. Note Feb. 1991 from Mabel C. Blalock, Murray, Ky.

 

Submitted by:

Edison H. Thomas

 

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