Officially organized at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, on January 7, 1862, the 53rd Tennessee Infantry was composed primarily of men from Giles and Marshall Counties, Tennessee. Many of the Marshall County men came from the area around Cornersville, which was still part of Giles County in 1862. Giles Countian Alfred Harris Abernathy was elected Colonel of the Regiment.
The men who composed the nine companies of the regiment had begun forming in December, 1861, and had assembled at Camp Weakley, near Nashville. Nine companies were mustered into Confederate service at Fort Donelson:
Company A - Captain Theo Westmoreland - Men from Giles County.
Company B - Captain William B. Holden - Men from Marshall County.
Company C - Captain Alfred H. Abernathy - Men from Giles County.
Company D - Captain Thomas F. Winston - Men from Giles and Marshall.
Company E - Captain Isaac H. Hill - Men from Giles and Marshall.
Company F - Captain William N. Baker - Men from Perry County.
Company G - Captain James D. Bevers - Men from Giles County.
Company I - Captain John R. White - Men from Giles County.
Company K - Captain Milton C. Alexander - Men from Giles County.
Company H had also been formed with men from Nashville, but did not have sufficient men to be sworn into Confederate service. These men soon left Fort Donelson without permission. A second Company H was organized in late 1862.
Giles Countian Hans H. Aymett replaced Alfred Harris Abernathy as Captain of Company C when Abernathy was elected Colonel of the regiment. Thomas F. Winston of was elected Lieutenant Colonel and was replaced by William H. Wilkes as Captain of Company D. The Major elected was William N. Baker of Perry County, who was replaced by John R. Coble as Captain of Company F.
The 53rd Tennessee had been almost decimated by measles and had less than 300 men fit for duty when they became part of the original garrison of Fort Donelson in January, 1862. Among those who had died were:
The mission of Fort Donelson was to watch over the Cumberland River and stop any Union gunboats or troops that might be trying to reach Nashville. The original garrison was small, but was soon increased to approximately 15,000 as Confederate troops poured in from Tennessee and Kentucky. Union General Grant attacked the fort with 27,000 men and six gunboats on February 14. The 53rd Tennessee was part of Heiman's Brigade, along with the 10th Tennessee, the 48th Tennessee, and the 27th Alabama Infantry regiments. Heiman's Brigade took part in some of the heaviest of the fighting. After several days fighting the fort was surrendered on February 16, 1862, and the men of the 53rd Tennessee were part of more than 11,000 Confederate soldiers that were taken to northern prisons. Among the men of the 53rd Tennessee who died during that battle were:
Thomas Matthew Downs (1840-1900) wasa Private in Company A of the 53rd Tennessee Infantry Regiment CSI.
Richard Tucker Abernathy, son of Elisha and Mary Ann Evans Abernathy, told of being wounded five times during the Battle of Fort Donelson: "I went to the hospital after I was wounded. I stayed in the hospital 3 months then was carried out to Gilbert Abernathy's and stayed four months. I was carried home in a buggy and made the trip very well - my mother was going to have my funeral preached Sunday and I got home Saturday afternoon - she heard I was dead."
After spending seven months as prisoners-of-war, the officers and men of the 53rd Tennessee taken down the Mississippi River to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where they were released on parole, then declared exchanged on November 10, 1862. Colonel Alfred H. Abernathy resigned and William H. Wilkes succeeded him as Colonel of the regiment.
The 53rd Tennessee served in the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana during early 1863 and a detachment of the regiment was involved in the siege, bombardment and surrender of Port Hudson, Louisiana, during May, June and July. In July, a detachment of the regiment was present during the siege and assault of Jackson, Mississippi. They remained in southern Mississippi and Louisiana until they moved to Mobile, Alabama, in September, 1863. From Mobile, the 53rd Tennessee was ordered to join the Army of Tennessee near Chattanooga. Lieutenant Colonel John R. White was in command of the regiment when they reached Missionary Ridge. The battle had been lost before they arrived, thus they joined the Confederate Army of Tennessee as it retreated to Dalton, Georgia. On December 14, 1863, the 53rd Tennessee was in Quarles' Brigade of Breckinridge's Division. The regiment reported 212 effectives, 227 present, 220 arms.
On January 20, 1864, the 53rd Tennessee was ordered to the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana and were back at Mobile on April 2, 1864. The regiment reported 222 effective soldiers out of a total of 339, present and absent. The 53rd Tennessee then returned to Georgia and were soon involved in the fighting north of Atlanta, including Pumpkin Vine Creek, Dallas, New Hope Church, Allatoona, Marietta, Kennesaw Mountain, Peach Tree Creek and Lick Skillett Road. The 53rd Tennessee was present at the siege of Atlanta.
After the fall of Atlanta, the 53rd Tennessee followed General Hood to Tennessee. On October 26, they were in Decatur, Alabama. They fought at Franklin in November and at Nashville in December. As Hood's Army of Tennessee retreated southward after being soundly defeated at Franklin then Nashville, the 53rd Tennessee was involved in a skirmish at Columbia, Tennessee, on the 20th of December. Retreating on through Pulaski during the Christmas holidays, they soon reached the safety of the Tennessee River in north Alabama.
On March 31, 1865, the 53rd Tennessee was reported as part of Quarles' Brigade at Smithfield, North Carolina. The 53rd Tennessee was not accounted for in the final order of battle for General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee on April 9, 1865. Some of the men of the 53rd Tennessee surrendered at Greensboro, North Carolina, on May 1, 1865, as part of the 4th Consolidated Tennessee Infantry.
Others of the 53rd Tennessee Infantry who did not survive the war:
Others who served with the 53rd are: