Black History Month: African American Soldiers from Williamson County

Gary Burke makes a point as Tina Calahan Jones looks on

Gary Burke makes a point as Tina Calahan Jones looks on.

On Sunday, February 12th, Gary Burke and Tina Calahan Jones spoke on “African American Civil War Soldiers from Williamson County” for the Franklin Civil War Round Table. The Franklin Civil War Round Table is an educational program of Franklin’s Charge, and met at the historic Franklin Masonic Lodge located at 115 Second Ave South in Franklin. This historic Masonic Hall also served as a possible recruitment depot for the US Colored Troops, and as a field hospital during the Battle of Franklin.

Gary Burke is a Board Member with the Friends Of Fort Negley, Friends Of Stones River National Battlefield, and is Vice-President of the Nashville Civil War Roundtable. He was recently featured on the American Heroes Channel in the Civil War series “Blood & Fury”, which tells the story of the 13th Regiment of the US Colored Troops in the Battle Of Nashville. Burke is raising awareness in order to raise monies for a Tennessee Historical Marker for the African American Soldiers who fought in the Battle of Nashville at Granbury’s Lunette off of Murfreesboro Pike near downtown Franklin.

Tina Calahan Jones is a Genealogist and the Co-Chair of The African American Heritage Society of Williamson County. It had long been known locally that a few dozen African American Civil War soldiers had Williamson County ties, most of them serving in the U.S. Navy. Information about the service of African Americans is often scarce, hard to trace, and makes their stories difficult to tell. In recent years, however, Jones has researched at least 284 slaves who entered the federal military during the war, all from Williamson County. Along with these men, she has identified thirty-eight who served as “body servants” with the Confederate Army during the war, also from Williamson County.

Gary Burke is a TSU alumnus and member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and a well-known living historian who re-enacts the story of a soldier from the 13th US Colored Infantry. Burke has been featured in television documentaries and numerous historical programs. 59 men from Williamson County have been documented as having served in the 13th US Colored Infantry. Burke, as a member/Chaplain for the Fort Donelson Camp #62 of the Sons Of Union Veterans, had previously taken part in a Memorial Service for these soldiers under the direction of Dr. Sam Gant, also with the Sons of Union Veterans and the Franklin Civil War Roundtable.

PoemJones is in the process now to raise monies to have all the names of these soldiers properly honored at their Veterans Plaza in Franklin. These “pavers” are $65 dollars each (which would add their Name and Regiment), and to honor all would be around $15,000. She is currently working on a website for this effort. This collaboration will help raise awareness of the impact of the USCT, not only in Franklin, but in the state of Tennessee, which supplied over 20,000 soldiers and sailors who served in the Union Army.

Tina and Gary have built a bond around these original “Freedom Fighters,” and Tina has a blog devoted to her project in Williamson County. Gary can be found frequently at Fort Negley, re-enacting with the 13th USCT with Mr Bill Radcliffe, (model for the USCT Monument), and at the National Veterans Cemetery in Madison, Tennessee. To find out more about these projects, contact Tina Calahan Jones at: calahanjones.jt@gmail.com and/or Gary Burke at: escaped886@yahoo.com

About The Battle of Franklin and Franklin’s Charge

On the afternoon of November 30, 1864, Confederate General John Bell Hood made a decision to attack General John Schofield’s Federal army, despite the objections of several subordinate officers. Hood chose to advance his Army of Tennessee into battle, and onto the pages of history.

As Northern soldiers sang hymns, and Southern bands played “The Bonnie Blue Flag” and “Dixie,” Confederate infantrymen – exhausted, hungry and ill-clothed – charged the well-fortified Federal defensive line. The fighting was almost immediately brutal and savage. Over the course of just five short hours, one of the bloodiest and costliest fights of the American Civil War raged across the fields south of Franklin, Tennessee.

More soldiers from the Confederate Army were killed in those five hours than the Federal Army lost in the Seven Days Campaign, or at the Battle of Shiloh. Six Confederate generals were also killed or mortally wounded. Nearly 10,000 American soldiers became casualties, and the Federal army administered a crippling defeat upon Hood’s beleaguered force.

The Battle of Franklin was a final turning point in the war in the West that sealed the end of the Confederacy, and out of the ashes of the Civil War the United States was reborn. Many Civil War historians consider Franklin to be one of the most consequential battles of the war. And what once was written off as lost to development has become the nation’s largest public/private Civil War battlefield reclamation project ever attempted.

Franklin’s Charge is A Vision and Campaign for the Preservation of Historic Open Space.

Franklin’s Charge is a 501(c)(3) Tennessee nonprofit corporation organized in 2005 dedicated to preserving America’s threatened Civil War battlefields in Williamson County, Tennessee. In addition, Franklin’s Charge has actively worked to educate the public about the 1864 Schofield- Hood campaigns, the 1864 Battle of Franklin, the 1863 Battle of Thompson’s Station, the Union earthworks in Triune, and other Civil War events in Middle Tennessee. Further, Franklin’s Charge has been an active participant in heritage tourism, American Civil War history programs, and preservation efforts. Franklin’s Charge has achieved much, but much work still remains.