14th Tennessee Infantry Regiment
A Little Sketch of My Life …..
I, John Hurst, of Clarksville, Tennessee, give the following record of my long life. This is the last of July, 1927
I was born on the south side of Cumberland River, three miles from Clarksville, Tennessee, on the 29th day of March, 1841. My father, Benjamin F. Hurst, was born and reared in this county [Montgomery] and my mother, Eliza Jane Flack, was born and reared in Todd County, Kentucky, near Trenton. My father accidentally killed himself taking his gun out of a wagon at Jacksboro, Texas, in 1868. My mother lacked five months of being 92 years old when she died.
At the age of about ten years, I, with my father and mother, my sister, and brother Dan, moved to Green County, Missouri, near Springfield, and remained there about three years, when gold was discovered in California.
About the 20th of April, 1852, my father took the idea of going to California, and with the family we crossed the Missouri River at Independence, Missouri, with a wagon drawn by two yoke of oxen, where we joined five others, and started across the plains - 2,000 miles.
Went up South Platte River, by Fort Laramie. There the United States had troops to guard against the Indians. This route was known as the Corson route. At the south of the Humboldt River we had to cross a 65 mile desert. We rested the oxen two days and went across during two nights. We passed near enough to see Pike's Peak.
After crossing the Rocky Mountains, with many hardships, we arrived at the mining town of Fiddletown, in California. My father went to work digging gold, and was very successful for awhile. We were there about a year and a half and moved to Chinese Camp, another mining town.
By this time I was old enough to think about doing something for myself. I hired to herd beef cattle for a butcher, at $2.50 a day, and he furnished me a horse. After about a week I had gotten familiar with the work, and was out with about fifteen head when an Indian came up and scared the cattle. All scattered and ran away, I held the job about a month, or more, and then went in the mine for some time, then my father put me to driving a two horse team.
All this time I had never been in a schoolhouse, and I began to think about it. My mother saw the necessity of it, but there was no school in that country, and she suggested that I go to my uncle's in Kentucky, as she had some income from the hire of some Negroes, which my uncle had charge of.
About the 1st of October, 1855, I was put with a Mr. McDaniel, who was going home to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and we sailed from San Francisco on the ship Illinois for Panama. We crossed the Isthmus of Panama over to what I suppose is Colon now, on a narrow-gauge railroad - forty miles - and it took us all night. It was the first railroad I had ever seen, and I didn't sleep a wink. Then we took another ship for New York. I think it took us twelve days to get to New York from there. It took thirty-two days from San Francisco to New York. I had a very lonesome feeling, and was sick in mind and body, and was sorry I left Mammy.
Mr. McDaniel and I left New York on the railroad for Louisville, Kentucky. There was no sleeping cars then, and it took two days and one night for the trip. We left Louisville on the L.&N.R.R. The Memphis Division was only built to Elizabethtown, and I parted with my friend, and took a stage to my uncle's, near Graysville, Kentucky. I was one day and one night on the stage. It was very lonesome to me - a 15-year-old boy. The stage left me at Graysville, in the middle of the road, two miles from my uncle's. I had only one change of clothes in a long, black oil-cloth bag, or grip, my trousers were loud looking, and I had only the pair I had on.
None of my people knew me, or knew that I was coming, when I walked up to my uncle's door. I told them who I was, and what I came for. They viewed me with much curiosity. This was on Friday. Monday morning they started me to a country school with one of my cousins - two miles away. We had to walk. I was viewed critically by all the boys. It was a boy's school. Everything was new, and I had never been to school, and was subject to much criticism, and was embarrassed. I have now outlived all those boys, and all of them were my friends when they passed away. Their children often come up now, and shake my hand, with a kind word.
I finished the school term at this school. There was another new schoolhouse near my uncle's - A.B. Flack's, seven miles from this other uncle's, and they had a fine teacher; so I went there, and put in my best efforts for two school terms. One year, and this is all the schooling I ever had.
During this term my mother kept writing me to come back, and to keep her from going to any more expense for me, I determined to go to work. A good friend by the name William Smith got me a position in Clarksville, Tennessee, in the hardware store of Frank Beaumont. I went to work for him about the first of October, 1858, at $100 a year, and my board and washing.
About the first of March, 1859, my mother came, and made me go with her to Texas and take six Negroes. Father, mother and children had come back to Texas from California. I had a hard trip getting to Texas with the negroes, and after I got there I had no money to come back so I had to stay until the first of December. They then concluded to come back to the old home in Missouri, and when I got to Fort Smith, Arkansas, I found a man with a drove of Indian ponies, and he paid my way to help him drive the ponies to Helena, Arkansas, I had ten dollars and came back to Clarksville, and went to work at the same place, for the same price.
By this time all the talk was about the South going to war - April 1, 1861. The war fever had struck the country, and everybody was talking about joining the Confederate Army. All was excitement, but I did not get much enthused. Mr. Beaumont began to raise a company and he had gotten almost enough men, but I had said nothing to him about joining. One day he said he expected to close the store, and if I would join his company he would pay me a hundred dollars a year salary that I was getting at his store. So I joined him went into the Confederate Army, with the same determined spirit that I had in everything else in life.
His company was "H" of the 14th Tennessee Regiment. In a month or two we were ordered to Virginia, and expected to get there in time to be in the great battle of Bull Run. We were delayed on the road at Bristol, Virginia, then were assigned to General Robert E. Lee's 1st Command, in West Virginia, on his first campaign over Cheat Mountain. Our regiment went through all this hard, cold, rainy weather and after coming out in the late spring was assigned to Stonewall Jackson's command and went down the Valley to Winchester, Virginia. From there we went to Romney, West Virginia. Along towards Christmas, in the coldest and worst blizzard that we had during the war, we dislodged the Federals and they crossed the Potomac River. During this severe snow and sleet, we went around to Hancock, Maryland. We had our first fight here in snow about fourteen inches deep. After this we went back and camped near Winchester until spring opened. We then went onto Staunton, Virginia, and from there to Richmond. Our next battle was at Seven Pines about ten miles from Richmond. I got my first wound there, in my left leg. While it was very painful, it was only a severe bruise from a glancing bullet.
Two of my companions fell by my side. - After this "Old Jack", took us back to the Valley of Virginia. We soon returned again to within twenty miles of Richmond, and fought the terrible battle of Cold Harbor on Garner's Hill, in which we lost thirteen of our company. We were first driven back but were ordered on again and but for my old friend and messmate, Ralph Cardin, I am afraid I would have declined to go. He said, "Let's go if it kills us all"; and so we did, but both came out without a scratch.
After this we went into winter quarters near Fredericksburg, at Camp Greg. We remained there all winter in tents. In the early spring we went up above Fredericksburg, and fought the great battle of Chancellorville, in which we lost many of our boys. I was spared but Stonewall Jackson lost his life about a hundred yards from our regiment by his own men, Lanes Brigade of North Carolina. This was his own fault for they did not know he was there. Our next fight was the second battle of Manassas in which we lost many good men. Among them our Colonel Forbes. Our next battle was at Sharpsburg, Maryland. I was not in this, was left at Leesburg, Virginia, sick; the only time during the war I got sick. Our army was defeated. I later joined them at Winchester, Virginia.
Our next great battle was Gettysburg. I was with the advance guard of skirmishers on July 1, 1863, when the battle began. I was within sixty steps of General Archer when he was captured. I was in the third day's big fight, and went within fifty yards of the celebrated Stone fence. I was then with the rear guard of the Army. At Falling Waters I was captured and taken to Washington City, put in the old capitol prison for three weeks. From there I was transferred with the first lot of prisoners to Point Lookout, and stayed there seven months, before I was exchanged and joined my regiment, then near Gordonsville, Virginia.
The next fight was the Battle of the Wilderness, about twenty-five miles from Gordonsville. I was badly wounded in the battle the sixth day of May, 1864, and had my leg broken by a bullet. I was kept away until the next September when I joined my regiment at Petersburg. Not being able for regular duty, I was assigned to the Quartermaster's Department and had charge of the teams getting forage for the army; was very successful in collecting these tithes. At the Battle of Petersburg, I took a gun, and went into the ranks, and came near being captured again. Next day, I was captured by three Yankee scouts, about thirty miles from Petersburg on the south side of the railroad. After being a prisoner three days and two nights, suffering with hunger, I determined to break away from the guards. Within twenty miles of Petersburg, late in the evening about sundown, I got away from my captors. I walked all night through the woods and across creeks. Next morning, I was thirty-five miles away. During the night I got very hungry and went up to a lonely cabin, knocked at the door, told the man I was a Confederate soldier, escaped, and wanted something to eat. No one was in the cabin but him and his daughter, and they lay on the floor in the same room. He said he had nothing but a pone of cornbread and a piece of shoulder meat which he gave me. This was about eleven o'clock at night. At sunrise next morning, I got a man's house I know on Moharen River. He gave me breakfast, and I went to sleep at the table while eating. After the meal he put me across a mill pond and I lay down on the Negro miller's slanting bench and slept about two hours. My boots being wet, I pulled them off, and when I tried to put them on all the skin came off my heels and toes, so I suffered terribly. One mile and a half from there, I had a friend that I knew while gathering forage. He put a Negro on a horse and loaned me one and sent me to another friend, Captain James Neblett, about fifteen miles from there. This was about the 6th of April, 1865. I was so sore and felt so bad that I stayed with him until General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, April 9th. My sweetheart, Miss Sally Jones, lived four miles further up so I concluded I would go and see her. Her brother had come home from the surrender and had one of the blank paroles, which he gave me and I filled it out. I had, two weeks before, left a team of four mules and a wagon at Captain Neblett's. So I proceeded to sell him the wagon and two mules; with the other two I started home. I crossed the Roanoke River to one of my old friends, by the name of Boyd, sold him one of the mules for fifteen dollars silver, and swapped the other one to his neighbor for a good mare, and started on the road to catch President Jefferson Davis, who was making his way towards Raleigh, North Carolina. I stopped the first night about twelve miles from Warrenton, North Carolina, with one of my acquaintances by the name of Perry, a fine gentleman. I left my army pistol with him and he gave me five dollars in gold. I sold some Confederate money along and had accumulated about thirty dollars. Most of it was in silver, which had gotten very burdensome, and besides I was afraid I would be robbed. I had my needle case with me and sewed this money in my underclothes, in my drawers, binding at the bottom of the leg and other places. I tried hard to get with President Davis but the Federal Cavalry got between us.
Just out from Anderson, South Carolina, I fell in with one of their stragglers who was a genuine robber. I had on blue trousers so I rolled my gray jacket up on the horn of my saddle and he thought I was one of his own men. I did not tell him until we had ridden several miles. At the same time I told him our cavalry was near and if he would protect me from his men I would do the same with ours. We caught up with his command at the French Broad River, so we let them get out of the way and after crossing he said we must stop at a farm house a little way off the road and get some dinner. We rode up in the yard and he told the people to "Get us a good dinner damn quick," and ordered our horses fed. After dinner he laid down in the hall and went to sleep. I called the man of the house outside and told him I was a Confederate soldier and asked him to kill him with an axe but he would not do it. After we left there the Yankee soldier got very ugly and did many awful things. I had managed to get one of his pistols and had debated all afternoon about killing him myself, but could not get a chance. He had made me give him my mare and take his horse with a sore back. That night we caught up with his command again and stayed at a farm house. I had to sleep with him and all night debated about killing him, but was afraid I would get caught. Next morning he stopped a poor man moving his family and took the man's good horse out of his team. While he was doing this I rode on, got to a small town, saw several old Confederates and still told them they ought to kill him. As soon as I got through the town I left the main road, got away from and never saw him anymore.
I had a small pocket map and took a direction towards Tennessee, aiming to go through Rome, Georgia, which I did. Went through a very lonesome uninhabited country about where, I suppose, Birmingham is now. I crossed the Tennessee River below Decatur, Alabama, struck the Federal Garrison at Pulaski, Tennessee, which was the first I had seen. I presented my forged parole to the picket for the first time. It called for my horse and personal effects and he let me through. I passed along the streets and a crowd of soldiers came out and looked at me very curiously, but I passed through without saying a word. When I got to the outside picket he looked very suspicious, but I told him I was in a hurry and asked him how far it was to Duck River. He did not know. I was a little shaky so I took the first plain road to the left and found I was on the right road to Williamsport on the Duck River. About three o'clock I crossed there and did not ask about the road, but took the plainest one which proved to be a lumber road. After I had gone about four miles, it gave out; so I took a direction through the woods which I thought was towards home - Clarksville, and just at sundown I came out of the woods on a Negro picket. He was scared almost into a fit and hollered for the corporal. I said nothing; he took me to headquarters to the meanest looking redheaded Yankee captain that I ever saw. I pulled out my forged pass, he looked at it and looked at me. I told him how many had looked at it and passed me. I reached over for him to hand it back and asked how far it was to Charlotte and how I could get on the road. This I found afterwards was White's Bluff.
I got out of the breastworks and onto the road near sundown and I was hungry and tired. The first house I came to was an old acquaintance by the name of Buck Neblett. I asked if I could stay all night and told him who I was. He threw up his hands and said, "No, it would not do for him to let me come in his house." I asked him how far it was to the next house and he said about a mile. My horse was very tired and I was hungry and tired too. This next house was a poor man's, no fence around it, no stable, and he refused to let me in. I asked him if he would give my a horse a little to eat and give me something, and I would stay in a little shed away from his house about twenty steps. This was about the first of May and not very cold so I laid down on my saddle blanket, my head on my saddle and stayed all night. The man gave me some corn bread and a little piece of shoulder bacon.
Next morning after daylight I started to Charlotte, which this man told me was three miles away. I rode through Charlotte, without saying a word to anybody, and as was my habit, I got off my horse and driving him along. All at once I saw the heads of Yankee Cavalry just coming over the hill. I got on my horse as soon as possible and rode to one side. As I passed the officer in front asked me how far it was to Charlotte. I said about a mile and a half. As I rode along down their line they jeered at me, calling me "Home Guard." They thought I was a union man which was so detestable in this section. After passing them I left the main road to Clarksville and went to McCloud's Mill. I stopped and told the miller who I was, and that I was very hungry and my horse was almost broken down. He gave us both something to eat and I rested an hour or so - for many years this man was one of my good friends - and then I got back to the main road to Clarksville, after a considerable ramble through the hills.
About an hour before sundown I got to Dr. Holmes where there had been an old furnace, and he told me not to try to go to Clarksville that late in the evening, that I might be killed. I told him I wanted to go to old Johnnie Keesees anyhow. So I did, and it was about dark when I rode up to the front gate and asked Mrs. Neblett if her sons, Jones & Joe, had gotten home. She said, "No." I then told her who I was and she said, "Yes, come in, Jones and Joe are both here." This was Saturday night, and next morning I went down to the river and it was very high. To my great satisfaction, I found one of my old soldier friends, Nat Wall, who had surrendered with Lee at Appomattox, was the ferryman. As I got to where the city playground now is, I came upon a Federal picket. I had to pull out my forged pass again, but he let me through without any trouble. I rode up to Strawberry Alley to Winfield Roach's stable and asked him to go with me around to the Provost Marshal's office. This was the old Planter's Bank Building, now owned by W.J. Manning. He refused, said he was afraid to do it. So I started alone and before I got there, several of my old comrades were following me and asking how I got home. I went to the office, presented my forged parole, asked for a permit to get in and out of town for thirty days, and he gave it to me. This was Sunday about nine o'clock and the only bridge to get out of town was through Providence. A good many young men were going out to Bethel Church. All passed by me thinking I was a Federal soldier, as I still had on the blue trousers. A man by the name of Jenkins was keeping the toll gate. When I stopped to pay my toll, he said, "We don't charge soldiers any toll." I didn't tell him what kind of soldier I was. I wanted to get off the public road so I turned off just above the toll gate and went to a blind road back of the old Trice's burying ground.
I sent my horse to my cousin, William Taylor, and got him to sell him in the fall for $125. This was all I got for a broken leg and four years of hard and dangerous service for my country.
I worked in my cousin's tobacco field until October 27, 1865. I only had $13. and went to work for my old captain for $20 a month, and the first of January he increased it to $50. a month. He had raised my salary to $125. a month when I had worked for him ten years. I had accumulated $2000. and married a wonderful girl, Amaryllis Agnes Smith, and began to keep house. I then got with a new firm - Walter McComb & Company, and put in the $2000. I had saved, and they gave me 20 percent of the net profits. Afterwards I got to be the head of the firm and am now.
After thirty-one years of happy life my wife passed away, and left me with two girls and one boy. Both daughters married well, so two and a half years after my first wife's death, I married a most estimable lady, Mrs. Lizzie Cooley Elliott, and we lived together seventeen years and five months most happily. Since her death my oldest daughter, Mrs. Ethel H. Green, has been keeping house for me.
My second daughter, Sallie, is the wife of Austin Peay, now Governor of Tennessee, who has been elected to that office three times - and has made a great state of Tennessee. He has almost worn himself out.
I was eighty-six years old March the 29th last . The sorrows of life have come to me as they do to everyone; I can look back to many happy days that I often wish I could recall. On the other hand, I have enjoyed the pleasures and happiness that come to life that takes the world as it comes.
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