“The Tennesseans in Company ‘L’, 35th Tennessee, typified the fortitude of Confederate troops everywhere.” — America’s Civil War : 1990

Posted on Thursday, October 7th, 2010

During the Civil War there were many units, Northern and Southern, that achieved fame. Some units gained distinction through outstanding valor by participating in some dramatic situation, or simply by being unlucky. But there were thousands of other units that went through the war doing their duty, carrying out their orders and not drawing attention to themselves. One of these solid but unheralded organizations was Company ‘L’, 35th Tennessee Volunteers.

In September 1861, as military patriotism filled the air, Alexander Alley, a prominent farmer from Jasper, Tenn. sought to create a Confederate infantry company. By January 1862, Alley had established the command structure for his company and was ready to begin recruiting. Men from the town of Jasper and farmers from the county of Marion came to the courthouse and signed the muster roll. As soon as word reached Chattanooga more recruits rushed to join Alley’s company. By the end of January, there were 71 men in the company’s ranks.

These patriotic enlistees came from all backgrounds and were of all ages. Theodore Flora, a 14-year-old youngster ran away from home in McMinnville, Tenn. and traveled nearly fifty miles to join the company. Thirteen-year-old Harrison Hicks, a large youth standing 5-foot-6, also disappeared from home and signed up. The Pendley’s—47-year-old Hezekiah and his two teenaged sons, John and Joel—also answered Alley’s call. William Rankin, a lawyer, joined the company and was quickly made the ordnance sergeant. In all, of the 64 who volunteered in January 1862, the average age was barely twenty-one. The majority of these men were farmers, farmhands, or common laborers. Most were single, and over a dozen could not read or write.

They were an exuberant collection, out to have a good time during what they believed would be a short war. The newly promoted captain, Alley, who was paid $130 per month, and his lieutenants—Tom Rawlings, A. M. Monds, and William Ballard—had their hands full attempting to turn these volunteers into an organized force. The staff work fell on Rawlings, a Jasper merchant. This would prove to be a difficult job throughout the war. Confederate military records of January 1862 show his request for 65 sets of trousers, drawers, forage caps, flannel shirts, cotton shirts, and 45 pairs of extra socks.

The Confederate government recognized Alley’s company and designated it as Company ‘I”, 36th Tennessee, placing it under the command of Colonel Robert Morgan. But the 36th Tennessee was never much more than a small battalion. Morgan’s understrength regiment was immediately transported into northeast Tennessee, to operate between Morristown, Tenn. and the Cumberland Gap.

In the months that followed, the harsh realities of war began to tell upon the volunteers. For many of these country-folk, this was the first time they had to take orders or concern themselves with sanitation. Some soldiers immediately deserted, taking their expensive weapons and equipment with them. The loss of these materials was dutifully noted, and the AWOL soldier was charge, even down to 25 cents per cartridge.

In February 1862, Private William Rolins saw his diarrhea turn serious and he became the first significant casualty. He was sent home and was never seen again. Twenty-four-year-old Private Benjamin Levis’ illness also worsened and he died, becoming the first of the company to die. In March 1862, the company was involved in its first fight, a small skirmish not far from the Cumberland Gap. Though none of Alley’s company were injured, one man in the 36th Tennessee was mortally wounded and died soon afterward. Being shot at and seeing death close up made the war much more serious to the light-hearted Tennessee boys. Three more privates immediately deserted.

In April 1862, the Confederate Congress passed a law ordering all men between the ages of 18 and 35 into compulsory military service. This law did little to enlarge the company’s rolls, adding only four enlistments, including the three Crow brothers; Finn, Tom, and William. But the rest of the 36th Tennessee was in trouble. Some of the other companies had men whose Southern sympathies were not strong. Faced with a shortage of food and supplies, they began to desert, sneaking through the picket lines and joining Tennessee’s Union forces.

In May 1862, the remnants of the regiment were pulled out of the Cumberland Gap and sent to Kingston, east of Knoxville. There, the regiment was disbanded. For Alley’s men the picket duty in the Cumberland Gap had been costly. They had lost two more men to disease—19-year-old Talton Lewis and 14-year-old John Pell.

Alley remained in command of his remaining resolute soldiers as well as some other troops from other companies. This unit became known as Alley’s Independent Company. Alley moved his men back to Marion County in order to protect their homes from marauders. In July, the company collected ten new recruits, including five who came north from Dalton, GA. Alley’s Independent Company now number seventy.

In July 1862, Confederate General Braxton Bragg began moving his troops to Chattanooga. With large numbers of Confederate forces moving up and down Marion County’s Sequatchie Valley, it became easier to induct those men who had avoided the draft. More men joined the company following Lee’s victory at the Second Battle of Manassas. Alley’s company swelled to one hundred soldiers. They were older now, averaging twenty-four years of age. Most of them were married and many were property owners. They signed up because they had to.

In late August 1862, Bragg and Maj. Gen. Kirby Smith began their invasion of Kentucky. Their forces surged northward and won a major battle at Richmond, Kentucky. Smith’s Confederates swept aside all Federal resistance and captured Lexington and the state’s capital, Frankfort. But this campaign ate up troops. In Smith’s need for more men Alley’s Independent Company was assigned to the 35th Tennessee, as Company ‘L’. However, due to nomenclature misunderstandings, the 35th Tennessee would go through the war also being called the 5th, or Hill’s Regiment, after their commanding officer, Colonel Benjamin Hill.

Company ‘L’ joined the 35th as the regiment retreated from Kentucky as the campaign ended. The 35th had seen little action, but the men were tired and disillusioned. They had completely worn out their boots and equipment in the constant marching. They had also seen their efforts fail due to the incompetent leadership of Bragg. The regiment marched to Murfreesboro, Tenn. as Bragg sought to fight the Union forces pushing southward from Nashville. In December 1862, the 35th was sent to Wartrace, Tenn. some twenty miles south of Murfreesboro, and ordered to establish a winter camp. Seeing little prospect for action, nearly a dozen of Alley’s company deserted for home, promising to return in the spring.

Right after Christmas the regiment was hustled northward and positioned just outside of Murfreesboro. In the tremendous battle of Murfreesboro, on December 31, Alley’s company was within the brigade command of Brig. Gen. Lucius E. Polk. Polk’s Brigade made up part of the Confederate left wing, which was to strike the Union right flank.

The 35th Tennessee, along with the rest of Polk’s Brigade, struck the Union troops of Brig. Gen. William Carlin’s 32nd Brigade. Carlin’s men were broken and driven back in a stiff fight resulting in over 600 Union casualties. The 35th pushed through Carlin’s position, helped collected nearly 200 prisoners, and then moved forward. Later that day the tired Confederates ran into the Federal Brigade of Brig. Gen. Samuel Beatty. Beatty’s men staggered Polk’s regiments and inflicted nearly 350 casualties.

Repeated attacks by the Union regiments finally forced the Rebels to withdraw. The 35th had suffered 25 casualties, and the men of Alley’s company had been severely bloodied. One man had been captured and two more were missing. Private William Smith had been struck in the foot, Clinton Johns shot in the thigh, John Parker hit in the arm, Ezekial Templeton in the hand and thigh, and Absalom Higgins shot through the neck.

Following the battle the battered and exhausted Confederates were sent back to Wartrace for the winter. The company struggled through the rain and mud, and for 24-year-old Jonathan Lewis, it be his last winter. In January 1863 he died of illness. The winter was one of dissatisfaction and hardship as Bragg proved to be inept at supplying his soldiers with equipment, clothing, and food. As a result of poor supplies, inadequate housing and terrible sanitation, three more Marion County soldiers died of disease—15-year-old Harrison Hicks, 23-year-old T. Maxwell, and 17-year-old G. Woods.

The spring of 1863 found only 55 men left in Company ‘L’. They were poorly outfitted, poorly fed, and rusty from inaction. Rawlings requested 24 pairs of boots, 19 shirts, 13 pants, and 11 hats in an attempt to resupply clothing that had been used up during the winter.

In June 1863, Union Gen. William Rosecrans began to slide his troops into eastern Tennessee, steadily pushing southward toward Chattanooga. Bragg fell back before the better-equipped Federal troops. Soon, the Marion County men were close to their homes again and Alley saw his company melt away.

Confederate morale began to dissipate following the losses at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, in July 1863, and Company ‘L’ was reduced by another dozen desertions. In August, seven more men disappeared, followed by six in September, including Lieutenant William Ballard. By mid-September, hardly more than three-dozen men remained in Alley’s company.

The Confederate army sullenly retreated from Tennessee and took up positions in northwestern Georgia. Then, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s veterans joined Bragg’s troops and the Army of Tennessee stiffened. On September 19, 1863 they attacked at the Federals at Chickamauga.

Alley’s company remained within Lucius Polk’s brigade. They went into line about noon and, at dusk, moved toward the Union left flank. Federal soldiers of Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird’s division lay before them. The two forces fought in the twilight, firing at each other’s muzzle blasts. Once it was too dark to continue, the embattled men of Company ‘L’ lay down among the dead and wounded a spent a terrible night. The wounded moaned and cried, the autumn night turned bitterly cold, and anxious pickets blazed away at any sound.

Daylight on September 20 brought renewed fighting. The exhausted men of the 35th Tennessee scrounged for cartridges and replaced broken equipment from materials found among the dead. In time, the men were ordered forward; Alley’s men grimly made their way through the thick foliage, and then came under heavy fire from entrenched Union troops. Company ‘L’ was riddled by gunfire. Thirty-five-year-old Private H. Burroughs was shot and killed. Private Henry Woods, 31, also died. Henry Kersey, B. McKinzie, Mathew Musgrave, and Clinton Johns were wounded. For Johns, this was his second battle and his second injury. He would linger on in a hospital in Atlanta before dying in November.

 The entire Confederate attack stalled. Though the battle of Chickamauga was to rage on and ultimately result in a Confederate victory, the shattered Company ‘L’ had already done its duty. The muster call the next day would record the loss of six more veterans from southeastern Tennessee. Company ‘L’ lost 11, the 35th Tennessee lost 62, and Polk’s Brigade in all lost 605.

            The Union army retreated to Chattanooga and the Confederates followed slowly, taking up positions in the heights above the city, but much had to be done to repair the shattered Confederate units. To try and restore some organizational integrity, many units were combined. Survivors of the 35th Tennessee joined with those of the 48th Tennessee, men from Maury, Hickman, and Lewis counties.

The siege of Chattanooga was as miserable for the Confederates as it was for the Federals. Again, Bragg was unable to support his army—food supplies were short, and equipment and clothing nearly impossible to replace. The arrival of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant soon brought a change in the fighting capabilities of the Union army. In late November 1863, assaults on the Confederate held mountain and ridge above Chattanooga resulted in the disaster on Missionary Ridge.

The 35th/48th Tennessee remained within Polk’s command. They were located on the right of the Confederate lines and were part of Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s brilliant defensive fighting that halted the attacks of Maj. Gen. William Sherman at Tunnel Hill. When the disheartened Confederates gave way along their center and left flanks, there was little for Company ‘L’ to do but retreat to Ringgold, Georgia. But the fighting had cost Alley’s company again. Rawlings had been captured, as had Private Rufus Gibbons. By the time the company reformed outside of Ringgold there were four more names to be stricken from the roles.

The condition of the Confederate army continued to deteriorate. There were more shortages of food, weapons, ammunition, clothing, medicines, and tents. The rank and file completely distrusted Bragg and his supporters. One strong push by the Union command at this time probably would have crushed the entire Army of Tennessee. But that attack did not come. Union supplies were low, and political squabbles rocked the Northern high command. Federal forces had to acquire a new leader when Grant was shifted eastward to take over the reins of the Army of the Potomac. Meanwhile, Bragg was ordered to Richmond and stripped of his command. As the winter of 1863-64 set in, the Confederate army was introduced to its new commander, General Joseph E. Johnston.

Even though Johnston worked with much vigor to rebuild the Army of Tennessee, the losses during 1863 were irreplaceable. New brigade commanders had to be appointed and units resupplied. Two of Alley’s privates, David and J. H. Hoge, who were both railroadmen, were detached and sent to work on the Western & Atlantic Railroad, the main line linking the Confederates with Atlanta. Alley, having seen one officer desert and another captured, promoted Sergeant William Rankin to second lieutenant. With the return of some of the wounded who had recovered, the company now numbered twenty-five men. Company ‘L’ spent winter quarters at Dalton. Their regimental commanded, Colonel Benjamin Hill, was promoted to provost marshall general, and the command of the shrunken unit fell to Captain Henry Evans.

The spring and summer of 1864 brought with it the advance of the Union army. Johnston, realizing the weakness if his battered army, slowly fell back, giving ground only when outflanked. For Company ‘L’, during the nearly three months of constant contact with the Federal forces, losses steadily bled the soldiers from Marion County. Eighteen-year-old Corporal Martin was captured outside of Atlanta. Jonathan Bailey was captured at Mills Gap, Georgia, and died soon after. Private Jerry Head was captured at Whitfield, GA. Twenty-eight-year-old William Smith, the regimental color bearer, who had been wounded at Murfreesboro, was captured near Jonesboro, Georgia. Six other soldiers disappeared, either captured or as deserters.

President Jefferson Davis, unhappy with Johnston’s constant retreat, relieved him of command and replaced him with General John Bell Hood. The new commander immediately launched attack after attack and squandered his dwindling pool of veterans. Ultimately, the rail lines south of Atlanta were severed at Jonesboro. When Atlanta fell, the remaining men of Company ‘L’ retreated farther southward into Georgia—scarcely twenty men.

In October 1864 Hood gathered his small army together and marched them westward into Alabama. But most of Company ‘L’ was sent into central Georgia and became part of the 3rd Consolidated Tennessee Regiment, which held veterans from the 4th, 5th, 19th, 24th, 31st, 33rd, 35th, 38th, and 48th Tennessee regiments.

As Sherman ravaged Georgia and South Carolina in the winter of 1864-65, nearly half of the remaining Marion County men fell by the wayside, including Captain Alley. The Consolidated Tennessee Regiment finally surrendered to Union forces on May 1, 1865, at Greensboro, South Carolina. Company ‘L’ veterans present for parole on that day were; 2nd Lieutenant William Rankin, Sergeant John Pendley, and Privates William Buckhart, Newton Collins, Capton Daffron, Theodore Flora, and Burl Templeton.

Company ‘L’, 35th Tennessee, organized and formed in the winter of 1861-62, had seen the enlistment of 147 soldiers and officers. During the course of the war, 13 men had been discharged due to illness, 11 were discharged because of age or other infirmities, seven died of disease, and four died of wounds received in combat. The company had seen its share of heroes and cowards. But the men of Marion County and nearby Chattanooga had done their duty. They had fought and died for the cause they believed in—all anyone could have asked them to do.

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8 Responses to
““The Tennesseans in Company ‘L’, 35th Tennessee, typified the fortitude of Confederate troops everywhere.” — America’s Civil War : 1990”

  • Judy Manning says: February 17th, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Burl Templeton of Marion County Tennessee was my Great Grandfather. Other than his Civil War records, this is the first article on the Civil War that I have found with his name in it.
    Thank you

  • Carmen Burrows-Adair says: March 20th, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this information. I have been looking to find my ancestor Private H. Burroughs and his involvement in the Civil War. Your dedication to providing this information is greatly appreciated. Without you posting this, I might not have ever found the truth!

  • Wanda Manning says: November 3rd, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    Does anyone know anything about Absalom Higgins, who I believe was connected to my ggg grandfather, George W. Higgins of Hamilton and Marion counties. I have done a lot of research on Absalom, but there is very little that I can find. You have a lot of good information on your site. Thanks so much.

  • Robert Hale says: December 30th, 2014 at 11:06 pm

    Thank you for this information my 4G Grandfather William Riley Hale and two of his brothers served with other Marion County Men, but they seemed to of left after hiring substitutes shortly after T. Maxwell (his brother in law) died.

  • Bobby Cooper says: January 14th, 2018 at 4:16 am

    my GGG Talton Lewis Pvt co L 35th Tenn enlisted Jan 9 1862,died of diease,thanks for sharing,you would not happen to know where he was buried would you? thxs again

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