In past articles, I have shared letters and memories from William Gibbs Allen, who wrote a great deal of history relating to Rhea County. However, the newspaper articles about his experiences during the War Between the States are probably some of Allen’s most colorful work. Even though there are mistakes in punctuation and spelling, W.G. Allen recounts life during war time which help us to understand the historical significance of people and events. Sometimes his memory is a little “fuzzy” due to the fact that most of the accounts were written many years after these events occurred. Even so, his information is all we have in some instances, and is correct for most happenings during the life of Colonel George W. McKenzie’s 5th Tennessee Cavalry, of which Allen was a part. (Colonel George McKenzie was an uncle of Ben G. and Lake McKenzie, well-known lawyers of Rhea and Hamilton Counties.)The following is an unidentified newspaper column in which Allen tells about the Battle of Chickamauga, and some of the people associated with its history. This is probably from the Dayton Herald, since Allen wrote articles for that newspaper; it was found in his scrapbook. (Dick [William Patton] Thomison and John Smith Thomison mentioned in the article by Allen, were brothers of Dr. Walter F. Thomison; their sister, Mary Elizabeth Thomison was the wife of William Gibbs Allen. Another sister, Rhoda Tennessee Thomison, was a member of the Spartan women Confederate group in Rhea County. Dr. Walter Thomison was my great grandfather, and William Perry Darwin was my great- great grandfather.)
The following is the column written by Allen, entitled: Stirring Events Recited:
Captain A.B. Clay, of Church Hill, Tenn., gives the 66th North Carolina Cavalry as a part of General Pegram’s brigade in the bloody battle of Chickamauga, September 19, 20, 1863. Colonel John S. Scott commanded the 1st Louisiana, 2nd and 5th Tennessee, and 6th Georgia. About daylight Saturday morning, September 19, Colonel Scott ordered Lieutenant Colonel Henry C. (Hal) Gillespie to take Red House Bridge that spanned the Chickamauga on the Ringgold and Chattanooga dirt road. Colonel Gillespie ordered Captain Owens to charge and take the bridge, which he did. Half a mile out on the Chattanooga road he ran into an ambush, and the gallant Owens and seven of that splendid Knoxville Company were killed, together with many horses. The 2nd Tennessee became somewhat confused, and the 5th Tennessee was ordered forward.
When I arrived at the point of ambush, the road was blocked with dead men and horses. A narrow road led through an old field in which was a thick growth of hedge pine as high as our heads, and we could hardly ride through it. When I reached open space, I saw the enemy to our left. We formed in fours as fast as we emerged from the thicket and charged the enemy’s left flank and drove them across the road. They rallied and commenced to form again, at which Colonel Scott galloped up to me and said: “Adjutant, form the 5th, your right to rest on the road. Count fours, dismount, and let every fourth man take care of four horses.”
The alignment was as follows: the 2nd Tennessee was on our right, or north of us; then Colonel Hart’s 6th Georgia, north of the 2nd Tennessee; Colonel John R. Neal’s 16th Tennessee on right of the 6th Georgia; while Major Day’s 12th Tennessee Battalion was north of the 16th. Major Rucker commanded these two battalions. Captain W.P. (William Perry) Darwin and Major F.J. Paine took Company C, of Neal’s Battalion, from Rhea County in April, 1862. When the battalion was formed, Captain J.R. Neal, from McMinn County, was made Lieutenant Colonel and F.J. Paine, of Captain Darwin’s Company, Major.
Darwin, Paine and I were all in business together in Washington, the county seat of Rhea County, at that time. Major Paine, Dick Thomison and I were in business together for ten years after the war, and I often heard them talk of the Chickamauga battle. I also had two brothers-in-law who were lieutenants in this company. One of them, Lieutenant John S. Thomison, was killed at Chickamauga, and the other, Lieutenant Dick Thomison, lives on his farm, four miles north of Dayton in the Tennessee Valley. I often heard him talk over the Chickamauga battle with Major Paine and Captain Darwin, and all agreed as to what I have written. Captain Darwin’s company connected with the 6th Georgia. There are seven of the company still living in Rhea County, all of whom agree as to the positions herein assigned.
When General Dibrell’s brigade came, it took the place of the 16th and 12th Battalions in the formation, and the two battalions were shifted north of Jay’s Mill, when they made that famous mounted charge on General Baird’s division of infantry, three lines deep. Colonel Neal, Major Paine, and Captain Darwin, with eighty odd others, had their horses killed in this charge.
Colonel Neal married a Miss Brown, and lived and died at Rhea Springs; Major Paine and Captain Darwin both died at Evensville, in Rhea County. Colonel Neal represented his Congressional district twice; Major Paine was sheriff six years. Lieutenant John S. Thomison was wounded at Shiloh and disabled from infantry service; he was killed at Chickamauga, as stated above. The only officer of the company now living is Dick Thomison, who gave that famous order in the valley of Virginia when Early invaded Maryland. The boys said Lieutenant Dick never gave but one order, and that was: “I gannies, boys, come on!” That made him a fine reputation. Darwin’s company surrendered at Washington, Georgia.
[During this time, the writer, W.G. Allen, was shot through the left arm and left lung, the ball passing out below the shoulder blade, another passing through his right leg. As Dr. Sam Day, the surgeon, started with him and others to the field hospital, it was found that he was bleeding at the mouth as well as from the six holes made by ounce balls. He asked Dr. Day to attend him, but was told he would not know the difference in a few hours. He sent for the brigade surgeon, who said: “No need of doing anything; you can’t live.”]
However, W.G. Allen did live until 1924, even though he had many injuries from the war. He also left many stories and letters which will help people of Rhea County to interpret both our history and the lifestyle which took place in this area many years ago. Even though there may be mistakes in Allen’s writings, his are some of the only accounts of events which occurred in Rhea County and to Rhea County’s citizens during various happenings of history. As your Rhea County Historian, I would remind you to study the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.
Pat Guffey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org