World War I history and its strong links to the Civil War in Williamson County

World War I history and its strong links to the Civil War in Williamson County

ABOVE: The Ebony Doughboys are a living history group that portrays African American World War I troops. About 15% of World War I servicemen from Williamson County were African Americans.// SUBMITTED


By Gregory L Wade

November 11 marked the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I, often known as the Great War.

Because we have no living veterans among us and it is sometimes overshadowed by more recent conflicts, WWI has been mostly forgotten among our general population. Yet, the connections to Tennessee and Williamson County Civil War history are unique, sometimes mournful, and often times fascinating. Here are a few examples.

About four million Americans, called “doughboys,” served during the Great War with almost three million actually going to Europe. Of that number around 130,000 Tennesseans enlisted with about seven hundred from Williamson County. The Civil War was a forerunner of many of the technical “advances” in modern warfare. At places like Franklin, the ability to kill with massed artillery and repeating arms led to similar but deadlier systems of mass casualties in WWI. While the Civil War introduced the first “colored” troops used on a large scale, this would continue in greater numbers in WWI with about 200,000 going to Europe. About 15% of servicemen from Williamson County in WWI were African American.

One of the more far reaching stories about Williamson County’s Civil War history is the connection to the MacArthur family. Arthur MacArthur served with the Federals in the Civil War. He was wounded at Missionary Ridge and later awarded the Medal of Honor. At Franklin, in November 1864, Arthur was in the midst of intense fighting, some say in front of the Carter House on Columbia Pike. Wounded during the melee, he was taken to a Nashville hospital and survived.  He fathered three sons, Douglas, Arthur III and one who would not survive childhood, Malcolm. Douglas would go on to lead the American WWII effort in the Pacific Theater and later the Korean War. Arthur III. captained the USS Chattanooga (CL-18), a cruiser that escorted troop ships on their trans-Atlantic voyages. The bell of the Chattanooga is to be placed at the site of the 2015 terrorist attack in Chattanooga where five sailors were killed. One of the more amazing coincidences involves Douglas’s second wife, Jean Faircloth. Born in Nashville and raised in Murfreesboro, Jean’s grandfather served in Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s Division that fought her future father in law near the Carter House.  In his Reminiscences,  Douglas wrote of his wife’s grandfather, “Captain Beard, was a Civil War officer of the 5th Confederate Regiment … , which swarmed the 24th Wisconsin at Franklin.” It is difficult to ascertain whether Captain Beard was himself in this fight, but his regiment certainly was.

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Brentwood’s John E. Stephens was a Brigadier General in France. A Civil War cavalry battle occurred on the land of his childhood.

Brentwood’s John E. Stephens grew up near the corner of Concord Road and Wilson Pike in an area once known as the Owen’s Blacksmith Shop. It was across this ground where the cavalry of Confederate General N.B. Forrest fought Federal cavalry under James Wilson after the Battle of Nashville in December, 1864. Born in 1874, Stephens would attend West Point and Vanderbilt University. As an artillery officer, he served at various posts before teaching mathematics at West Point and was later stationed in the Philippines.  Promoted to brigadier general, he was given command of the 61st Artillery Brigade in France where he died in January 1919 of the flu.

Speaking of the flu, this illness played a major role in the course of the war. A deadly pandemic between 1918-1920 infected about 500 million people globally and took the lives of about five percent of the planets population, including 8,000 Tennesseans. No one is certain how this epidemic began but the movement of troops between countries certainly exacerbated its spread. This affliction was called the Spanish flu because Spain, being neutral, was the first to give true indications of the scope of the pandemic and its spread. Other countries were fearful that if their true numbers of sick were known, it might signal to an enemy a weakness with so many of their soldiers ill.  Most of Williamson County’s WWI fatalities were from the flu or related pneumonia as were about half of all American servicemen’s deaths.

Another Franklin area native, Captain Thomas Henderson’s family once owned property in the area of Berry’s Farm where part of the Civil War Battle of Douglas Church occurred. Around 1911, Henderson would buy the land known as Collins Farm, now part of the Franklin Civil War Battlefield directly south of the railroad tracks on Lewisburg Pike. This property was the scene of a vicious fight during the November 1864, Battle of Franklin. In WWI Henderson would be involved in an unsuccessful plot to kidnap Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm with the goal to deliver him to President Wilson.

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A simple post card notice like this one is about the only way loved ones knew their WWI soldier made it OK to Europe.

Franklin’s Hardeman B. Holt was born in Franklin in 1895 and enlisted in the Army at Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia in the summer of 1917. He journeyed to Hoboken, New Jersey in the spring of 1918 where he boarded the USS Leviathan. The Leviathan had been seized in New York harbor when the war started and was at that time known as the Vaterland, a German transport suited for about 1,600 passengers and crew. However, on one of its voyages during the war the ship transported about 9,000 troops with about 2,000 contracting the flu and one hundred dying in transit.

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Thomas Randal Jamison, born in Williamson County, served with the 3rd U.S. Volunteers in the Civil War. His grandson, Bedford Forrest Jamison, served on the USS Rhode Island in WWI.

We often forget our men and materials were transported to war with constant threats of German submarine attacks and about as cruelly, disease. There were, of course, no quick communications to let loved ones know their son had at least made it across the Atlantic. A plain post card would be mailed to the soldiers family saying simply, “The ship on which I sailed has arrived safely overseas.” Hardeman Holt’s grandfather, William, served as a private in the 11th Holman’s Cavalry during the Civil War and spent time as a prisoner of war. He is buried in the Holt Cemetery on Old Natchez Trace.

Another Franklin resident, Seaman Bedford Forrest Jamison, was born in 1896 and served on the battleship USS Rhode Island ( BB-17) on antisubmarine duty. His grandfather, Thomas Randall Jamison, was born in Williamson County in 1844 and served with the 3rd U.S. volunteers in the western U.S. in actions against American Indians. He is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.

William J. Bostick, served in the U.S. Navy on a gunship, the General Bragg, during the Civil War.  He was one of several African Americans from the Williamson County community to enlist. He was injured while on duty and had several brothers who served. While not confirmed, it is believed a grandson, Private Pearl Bostick from Franklin, served with the 51st Depot Brigade and later the 433rd Reserve Labor Battalion in WWI. Bostick was discharged in March 1919.

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Williamson County’s Henry Church served with his master in the 48th Tennessee Infantry during the Civil War. His grandson, Clarence Church, served in World War I.

Henry Church was born in Williamson County in 1845 and served as a body servant in the 48th Tennessee Infantry, CSA, in the Civil War.  There were about thirty black men who went with their masters to war. Henry’s grandson, Clarence Church, was born in Franklin and served in WWI.

Many of Williamson County’s soldiers enlisted in the 30th Infantry Division along with men from Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Also known as the Old Hickory Division after Andrew Jackson, they fought in the Somme Offensive and around Ypres, suffering about 10,000 killed and wounded.  Franklin’s PVT Leslie Tomlin served in the 30th and later lived a long life, passing away in 1985. His grandfather, Pvt. Mordecai Tomlin, fought with the 32nd Regiment of the Confederacy seeing action at Fort Donelson and Chickamauga.

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Indiana’s Adrian Parson served with the Federal Cavalry in Williamson County. His son, Chester, served in World War I.

Adrian Parsons from Avon, Indiana, rode with the 9th Indiana Cavalry and fought at the December 17, 1864 Battle of the West Harpeth near today’s Tollgate Development. Fighting against the desperate rear guard of General John Bell Hood’s retreating Army of Tennessee after the Battle of Nashville, Adrian was shot in the hip and left overnight to fend for himself. The next morning he was found by a Federal patrol and sent to a Nashville hospital we know today as the Downtown Presbyterian Church. He survived but could not handle the rigors of farming so he turned to the study of plants while researching various strains of soybeans, a crop at that time not very successful in the U.S.  He demonstrated the viability of the soybean in the Midwest and agricultural journalist A.E. Andrews later wrote about Adrian, “….who can measure his influence on the nation’s agriculture?”  Adrian visited the West Harpeth battlefield years after the war. His son Chester served in WWI and a grandson was a WWII pilot.

It is a vital part of the American story to recognize how men who once had been bitter enemies in the Civil War, saw their sons and grandsons standing shoulder to shoulder helping to free Europe from tyranny in World War I.  Williamson County helped tip the scales on that continent to freedom, 100 years ago.

About The Author

Kelly Gilfillan is the owner-publisher of Home Page Media Group which has been publishing hyperlocal news since 2009.

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