The unknown Tennessee Girl – who was she?

Posted on Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Who was this young woman? And who was the Tennessee soldier who held her photo in his hands as he bled to death?

The Unknown Tennessee Girl

Who was this young Tennessee woman?

And who was the Tennessee soldier who held her photo in his hands as he bled to death?

Once Pickett’s Charge collapsed Union forces moved out among the fallen Southerners. One of these Federals was a rifleman from the 14th Connecticut, one of the units that had shot apart the 7th Tennessee’s attempt to reach the stone wall. This Yank knelt down beside a young Confederate who lay dead not far from one of the Tennessean battle flags.  The Tennessean lay on his back, having bled to death from his wounds, not unlike scores of other Southerners beside him. However this Southerner differed from his fallen comrades; he clutched in his lifeless hands a photograph of a young woman. It was obvious to the Yankee soldier that the last thoughts, and virtually the last vision this dying Confederate possessed, were of this young woman.

The Federal soldier called his officer over, and the captain was equally impressed by this scene. Moved by this final display of love, the officer vowed to return the photograph to the girl, along with a note describing what had taken place. He searched the Confederate’s pockets but could not find any form of identity—unfortunately he had become just another unnamed dead rebel, as someone had already rifled through the dead soldier’s pockets and taken everything of value.

The officer was never able to resolve who the dead Confederate was; all he was able to determine was the soldier had died among a cluster of Tennesseans. None-the-less, this captain was so captivated by the soldier and the photograph that when the 14th Connecticut’s regimental history was published he made sure the story and image were included in the book.

So – who was this Tennessean?

There are several facts which the Connecticut officer established that can assist in narrowing down the Confederate’s identity.

1: The soldier fell close to the stone wall, not far from where the 14th and 1st Tennessee flags were captured. We know from various writings the Tennesseans in Archer’s Brigade who advanced beyond Emmitsburg Road and approached the stone wall had grouped themselves together in one courageous multi-unit mass. Thus, we know men from the 1st, 7th, and 14th Tennessee died side-by-side. It is quite possible the soldier who fell came from the 7th.

2: Casualty reports for the July 3rd, 1863 assault note the 1st Tennessee had six killed, the 7th, nine dead, and the 14th, five. The soldier who gripped the girl’s photo as he died was most likely one of these 18 soldiers.

Who were the 7th Tennesseans who died in front of the stone wall, and did any of these nine valiant men fit the description penned by that Connecticut officer? Let’s examine the records of the men in the 7th Tennessee who were killed in Picket Charge:

Two soldiers, Pvt. James Hearn (Co. D) and Cpt. Asoph Hill (Co. F) were mortally wounded in the attack. They were then collected by Federals, to be sent to Union hospitals. Captain Hill died of his wounds on July 8th, and Hearn succumbed to his injuries a month later, on August 8th. Thus, we know these two men were still alive when the Connecticut officer examined the dead Tennessean and can be eliminated as a possibility.

Another Tennessean, 2nd Lt. George Cowen (Co. A), fell nearby, killed by Union bullets. The 7th Tennessee’s officers wore insignia identifying their rank, and since Lt. Cowen had been an officer since the army’s reorganization in March 1862, he clearly had been wearing officer indications for over a year. The Connecticut captain did not mention any form of rank on the dead Tennessean; therefore we can remove Lt. Cowen as a possibility.

First Sergeant William Baird (Co. G) also can also be excluded for the same reason; Sergeant Baird had been wearing NCO stripes since his promotion following the fight at Fredericksburg and these would have been apparent to the concerned Federal.

Private Thomas Halloway can easily be removed from possibility; published writings detail Halloway’s death. A writer recorded in a magazine article; “[Thomas Halloway] raised his head … just then a bullet went crashing through his brain.” A bullet through the head would have killed Halloway nearly instantly, so we know he did not bring out this photo and hold it in his hands.

Private John Roberts (Co. G) was 37 when he was killed by Connecticut lead in front of the stone wall. Roberts owned a farm in Goodlettsville, Davidson County, which he shared with his wife and their three children. His wife, Mary was 36 years-old; she probably was not the young girl depicted in the photograph, and we know the Federal describe a younger man, so we must reject John Roberts as a potential.

That leaves the only three remaining dead Tennessean riflemen; James Paty (Co. B), James Sutton (Co. F), and John ‘Wes’ Eatherly (Co. I), all who fell not far from the stone wall.

Private John (they called him ‘Wes’) Eatherly (Co. I) was not quite 18 when he took his last breath. He was a farm boy who had worked on his parent’s farm near Silver Springs, Wilson County. Wes lied about his age when he joined the regiment in 1861, telling the recruiters he was twenty. He was a tall boy, standing 5-11, so his mistruth was tough to detect. Plus, Wes enlisted alongside his older brother, 23-year-old Martin, who told no one about his younger brother’s age. Wes Eatherly’s age makes him an unlikely candidate for the soldier found dead holding the young woman’s image.

Of the final two possibilities, Private James Sutton (Co. F) was a new recruit, having just joined the regiment in March of 1863. Sutton came from McMinnville, Warren County. Regimental records do not show his age and marital status, so we know tantalizing little about this man. He may have had a sweetheart back home, but we just don’t know.

And finally, Private James Paty (Co. B). Paty was 23 years-old and single. He came from Gordonsville, Smith County, where before the war he lived with his parents on their small tenant farm. James Paty came from a family with little funds, and had no cash other than the infrequent military payments of $13 a month. Paty had served responsively throughout the entire war and had been wounded at 2nd Manassas. James Paty was the right age to have a girl back home, though we have no writings to confirm that fact. In 1863, letters were few and extremely difficult to acquire, as no mail service between central Tennessee and Virginia existed. Plus, we’ll never know what items were stolen from the dead soldier’s pockets. There may have been letters among the valuables that were pilfered when the pick-pocket stole this valiant soldier’s identity.

We thus, are left with a mystery difficult to solve. We can conclude though; if the dead Tennessean was from the 7th Tennessee, he most likely was either James Paty (Co. B) or James Sutton (Co. F).

Sorrowfully, either way, this loving young woman would have to wait weeks before she learned her man had fallen and would never return to her arms.


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“The unknown Tennessee Girl – who was she?”

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