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Tyler County Town Bluff Man Recalls First-Hand

Civil War Memories

From the Cracker Barrel Journal

February, 1990

Dear Madelon: I'm sending this story about Thomas Jefferson Sheffield's service in the Civil War. As you can see, it is a first hand account, taken from a letter to his relatives, concerning a family reunion to be held in Tyler county in about 1924.

He was the great, grandfather of Mrs. Jessie Yawn, who lives n Fred, Tyler County, Texas. She gave me a copy of the letter, and I would like her to be given credit for it.

Thomas Jefferson Sheffield, with his wife and children, came to Town Bluff, Tyler County in 1868 form Miller county, Georgia. He lived out his life n the Spurger-Town Bluff Area.

Best regards,

Thelma Y'Barbo See

Thomas Jefferson Sheffield's letter

Dear Children and Friends.

I am still on the land of the living at this writing and doing as well in the way of health as could be expected owing to my age. If I can live to the year of 1924, I will have attained four score and one years (81 years) and I am so glad to see so many of my friends and relatives present. It proves t me that I am not entirely forgotten and do heartily appreciate the part you have taken in getting up the reunion for one reason in particular, and that is I cannot expect to remain with you all much longer. I realize that I am weakening both mentally and physically. However, I think I have held up wonderfully well under the great strain that I have been subjected to during almost my natural life up to this time. Someone might ask the question what could have been your trouble. I shall not try to recall all the happenings that befell me, but will begin at my childhood days. I was born the 2nd day of January, 1843, in Early County, Georgia about the time I grew to manhood, the war broke out between the slaves. I was then between 18 and 19 years old, there was a call for volunteers, the governor, Joe Brown, made a call for state troops and my father volunteered and told me to stay at home and oversee the Negroes and the farm. Now, mind you, they volunteered for six months.

My father was elected 2nd Lieutenant; father's brother was elected 3rd Lieutenant; another uncle of mine, Thomas Floyd, was elected 1st Lieutenant and F. R./ Kendrick was elected Captain, so the company was mustered into service as Georgia State Troops and located near Savannah, Georgia. soon after they were located, my father was sent back home as recruiting officer, so nothing would do me I must go. So I went back with him and joined the company 1st Georgia regiment troops. I remained with the company until the end of the six months, we were than mustered out of the service and went back home, but did not remain there but a short time. Our company, most of us, enlisted in the confederate service with Cap[tin B. ?R. Kendrick, 1st Lieutenant R. D. Chapman, 2nd Lieutenant James Lane, and 3rd Lieutenant Thomas J. Sheffield, Father did not go with us but joined the Cavalry company as I suppose he preferred cavalry service and went into Florida and remained until the close of the war. Our company was mustered into the service at Griffen Georgia as Company E, 55th Ga. Regt. Volunteers. We were soon moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee and remained there under the shadow of the famous Lookout mountain for a short time, from thence to Knoxville, Tennessee, from there to a place called Bridgeport, on the Tennessee River, The Yankees were encamped on one side of the river and our company on the other., there we were almost fact to face in talking distance, if we had been allowed to, but we had orders not to talk to them. We did no remain at Bridgeport long; General Braxton Bragg was our commanding officer, so we soon had orders to move. Then some of our trouble began.

We were little prepared to take the trip that lay before us, but we had to go a hundred mile march, some of us almost barefooted and our clothes in tatters, our part of the company moved on to a little town called Clinton, Tennessee and remained at the place a few days so we had orders to move again. Several of our Regiment was taken sick and were not about to go, and among them was our captain, so we started again on our long march over a rough mountainous country. This move was known as Bragg's raid into Kentucky as I understand for obtaining supplies for the army as much as anything else, so as above stated, we moved on into Kentucky after several days, march, we came to a place called Big Hill, said to be 15 miles form Richmond, Ky. There we then saw some of the scenes of war. Our brigade was just one day too late to get into the battle, there was a pike road from the foot of the big hill to Richmond and on either side of the road lay dead mules and horses, casons and parts of cannons that had belonged to the federals. We marched on within about two miles of Richmond and came to a large church, there we beheld a terrible sight; just outside of the churchyard there was a long ditch some fifty yards long filled with dead federals and after being filled with dirt some of their blue clothes was above the covering and in the church and churchyard were the wounded. So our command was ordered to move on to Richmond. After arriving at the small town went into camp, we met with some of the most generous people I ever say. They came in from all quarters laden with baskets of provisions for the soldiers all or most all on horseback. We did not stay long at Richmond.

We were ordered to move down a few miles to a place called Dick Robinson on Dick's River near where the great battle was fought at Perrville. Our regiment did not get into the battle, we were left to guard a bridge on the river. My recollection was that great battle lasted about six days. The federals reinforced so fast that Bragg had to retreat. It was said that he went out with 40 mile wagon train laden mostly with provisions. I think we were about five days and nights on the retreat. After the retreat, our brigade was sent back to a place called Cumberland Gap on Cumberland Mountain, Tennessee. We did not remain at that place long g until General Bunside with 25,000 men surrounded our brigade of only 2,500 men, and we were forced to surrender Sept 9, 1863. We were then sent to Camp Douglas prison, four miles at that time from the city of Chicago; then came our greatest suffering. Now I have but one comrade anywhere around about here that belonged to the company I did and was with me during the war and that is Mr. S. Grimes of Woodville, and I ask that he have a special invitation to be at our reunion and I hope will be present on the occasion and if it have erred in my statements, I grant him the privilege to correct me. I will now endeavor to give a brief account of my prison life. Mr. Grimes being my witness.

There has been a great deal said about how prisoners were treated during the war of the sixties, if there was any prisoners that were treated any worse or suffered more than the prisoners at Camp Douglas, it seems to me a few of them would have escaped death form starvation and other bad treatment. Now I want to relate a few happenings that I was a witness to. There sere 190 men in the barracks I occupied and only one hearer for the entire 190 men. It was also very cold weather in Chicago. There was a cook room adjoining the barracks, and just outside the cook room was slop barrels where the slop form the cook room was emptied. I have seen men fighting in the slop up to their armpits after bones to gnaw on, and at other times, there was a dog killed and ate in the barrack next to the one we were in . I did not, see that, but was reliably informed that it was so by one our company who was transferred to that barrack. His name was Joe Deason, who Mr. Grimes knew. It looked like we must starved, and it was said that two of our company did actually starve to death. Their names were Bill Bates and Bill Hathron. Now there were several punishments inflicted on us, but time and space will not permit, and I will pass on. Now I started in the beginning of this letter that I had held up well in the way of life and health under the great strain I have been subjected to, now my dear children and friends, in my feeble way, I have tried to confine myself to facts, I do not claim to be a fallible being. Now I thank you one and all for our presence here today and your help in making it an enjoyable day for all of us.

I remain your friend and relative,

Thomas Jefferson Sheffield

Editor's Note: the Cracker Barrel Journal wishes to thank Jessie Yawn of Fred, for sharing this story with our readers.

 

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