Much has been written about the war experiences of Major William Gibbs Allen of Rhea County, but perhaps a most notable account can be obtained from an article he wrote after the War Between the States. During the war, Allen was a member of the Fifth Tennessee Confederate Cavalry, and was one of a few survivors of that regiment. The Fifth Cavalry Regiment was commanded by Colonel George W. McKenzie, who was an uncle of Ben G. and Lake McKenzie, well-known Rhea and Hamilton County lawyers. This letter, written to Allen’s granddaughter, Aileen Beenson (Benson), daughter of the late John O. Beenson (Benson), appeared in the Hamilton County Herald newspaper, sometime during the month of February of 1921. No date is on the newspaper, but W. G. Allen states that the letter is being written on his eighty-fifth Valentine birthday, and that this event happened fifty-eight years before in 1863; however, there is a date on the letter of 1921. This letter was actually written one hundred and fifty-seven years ago during the War Between the States and published in the newspaper ninety-nine years ago!
LETTER TO W. G. ALLEN’S GRANDDAUGHTER, AILEEN BEENSON (BENSON):
Dayton, Tenn, Feb.14, 1921
“My dear granddaughter, Aileen Beenson, this being my eighty-fifth Valentine birthday, I am going to tell you how I spent Valentine day fifty-eight years ago. October 7, I fought the Lawrenceburg fight. October 8, I fought the Perryville fight, then came Bragg. By retreat my typhoid fever grew worse. I was laid up for months. On the 13th day of February, 1863, I reported to Col. McKenzie for duty at headquarters. Col. McKenzie had orders from Gen. E. Kirby Smith for me to take 100 men and proceed to Murphy, North Carolina and disperse one Bryson, who had collected three hundred or more bushwhackers and conscripted Dodgers, who had relieved the prisoners, burned the jail and the best business houses in Murphy, had killed some old men, terrorizing women and children, driving off and using stock and anything they wanted at noon. On the 13, I left Maryville at sunset. I was passing up the Hanging Dog road, through Telico Plains in North Carolina mountains, traveled double quick all night, early next morning, February 14, I was at Murphy, Bryson had left in the night, had moved down the Hiwasee river some six miles, felled trees in the ford so we could not ford, leaving twenty-five men to hold horses, we waded the river. As soon as Bryson saw we was getting in his rear he moved out, then a running fight commenced. The timber was thick, my men scattered badly. On reaching a small spot of cleared land, I had our bugler to sound the assembly call. Their was a double log cabin some two hundred yards from us. A dense woods near the west side of the house, two doors came on to a porch on the east side. Soon after I had taken my stand, I saw two of my boys enter the house, while on the porch Sloan and Nelson shot the first men. I and what men I had started in a run to their assistance, before we reached them they had shot the seven men. Some men fell on the porch, and others on the ground. There were four or five women and several children in the house, all screaming at the top of their voices. I never heard such screaming. I ordered the boys to lay the dying and wounded on the porch, we then moved away promptly, as we were too close to the woods to tarry. We waided the river, mounted our horses, in three days we were back at Maryville, did not loose a single man, had three horses shot by bushwhackers. That was the way I celebrated Valentine day fifty-eight years ago. Fifty-seven years ago was the longest day I ever spent. I was inside of Gen. Sherman’s lines at Chickamauga. I spent my fifty-sixth Valentine in South Carolina, with 123 men, fighting and dodging Gen. Wilson’s 1000 men who Sherman had detached to capture us. Valentine has been a family name for four generations. Your great, great, grandfather, your great grandfather, your great uncle, and your uncle, Will V. Allen, named Valentine. You had a great uncle named Valentine, and you had an uncle named William Valentine, you see that the name has been handed down for four generations.
You hope to have as good a memory in your declining days as grandpa has. I wish and hope you may. Of my five senses, I appreciate my eyesight and memory most. I am thankful for all. With love, I am your grandfather.”
W. G. ALLEN
As the reader can tell, there are misspelled words, wrong punctuation used, and, in some cases, the wrong form of a word is used. However, this letter was copied as it was written so that a person can better understand life of that time in our history. Valentine’s Day during the War Between the States was celebrated much differently than we celebrate today. Remember to study and learn from the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.
Pat Guffey can be reached at email@example.com