Lt. James C. Wooten of Maury

This Sunday on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the world will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of the Great War.

At the Maury County Library in Columbia, a selection of books are on display to commemorate the First World War Centenary. The public is encouraged to check out a book or two concerning the conflict thought at the time to be the “war to end all wars.” A unique look at the war can be had by reading Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation by Ann Bausum.

Also at the library are artifacts from the life of local hero Lt. James C. Wooten.

James Council Wooten, II was born in Columbia on August 7, 1896. He was named for his grandfather, the first James Council Wooten, who had served as a Confederate colonel during the War Between the States. Young Wooten’s father, John, was a merchant and owned Maury Dry Goods. His mother, Emma, was of the prominent Hughes family of Maury County.

Being of a prominent family and having means, James C. Wooten, II was afforded the best education his parents could give him. His early education began at the Columbia Female Institute. (NOTE: It was not unusual for young boys to attend the Institute—the grammar school, or lower grades, were open to both boys and girls from Columbia.) Following the Institute, he attended Columbia Military Academy.

His friends, of which he had many, called him Jim or Jimmy and, by all accounts, he was a very bright young man. These accounts must have been true, as he finished his coursework at C.M.A. and entered the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland at just age 16. While in the academy, “he had been upon a cruise in French waters as a midshipman of junior grade and witnessed the entrance of France’s men into the struggle with Germany.”[1] Jim Wooten would have joined the fight then and there had he been allowed.[2]

In 1914, at the request of his parents, Wooten left the naval academy with an honorable discharge and entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Then, as with now, MIT only took the best and brightest minds. Jim Wooten fit the bill. In addition to his course work, he was involved with the Tech Show Ballet, on the editorial staff, and was on the tug-of-war and wrestling teams. But, when the United States entered World War I, Wooten put his studies aside and volunteered for the army.

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Wooten finished training and was sent to Fortress Monroe in August 1917 as a second lieutenant of the coastal artillery. On the sixth of September, he, along with 2,000 other officers, sailed from New York to France. There, he would volunteer for the aviation service. Except for the month of training he received in France, Lt. Wooten was in service on the front lines.

Flying above the lines as an aerial photographer, he won the admiration of his brothers in arms and citations for gallantry from his commanders.

The Daily Herald printed some of his exploits. On August 13, 1918 (twelve days after his death), the headlines read, “Columbian Out after Pictures Got a German.” In the article, a letter written on July 7th by Lt. Wooten to his parents is printed in its entirety. In the letter, he tells the exciting tale of his latest flight into enemy air with his pilot, Tom:

I sighted 3 Huns coming in, yelled to turn to the left as one dived at us. Tom pulled a quick one and I put my guns on. All 3 immediately beat it without firing. We turned and I snapped another string [aerial photos]. We turned and began as first time. I had head down, snapping about the middle of last string of pictures, having cautioned Tom to watch direction of 3 others, when he yelled “Look out right!” And, gee whizz, there were 7 of them. I yelled “turn left and run!” He yelled “Oh boy!”

… All seven opened up. Well folks, the feeling was over in a second, but I thought we had done the greatest duty and began firing under tail wires, as tail was in way—a bit dangerous but necessary. My guns jammed and, as I managed to jerk them loose, I yelled, “Climb, tail in way!” We climbed and I had wonderful shooting. Picked out 2 in center very close together, left slightly ahead, and let loose. One of right we down into nose dive giving out smoke and the others all turned and went into big cloud, unfortunately. I continued to fire into cloud. The Boche use them to cover themselves. Wish that cloud hadn’t been there.

They put some holes in our ship, shot up our motor. We did our darnedest with our altitude to make the Allied field in a long straight line, but couldn’t make a good field, hit an invisible ditch and tore up, cutting my nose and the back of my head and hurting my old ankle again. We both hollered “OK,” unhooked our belts and crawled out. Doc came up in ambulance but we laughed and ran it away. Tom wasn’t hurt but let the Doc tie up my head after stopping the blood and cutting off some hair. My head is a funny sight now, as the hair I shaved off on top hasn’t grown back and I’ve got another streak behind. Now don’t worry. Any of us old ones who wish can go on Repose now, or I can get leave if things don’t go badly with us, but I want to wait until later.

He closed the letter with:

I wouldn’t write so much about all this for fear of worrying you, but by the time you receive this, I will be safe on leave.

Lots of love to all, from you devoted boy.[3]

Wooten Lt James C

Portrait of Lt. James C. Wooten painted from a previous photograph. This portrait is now at the Maury County Archives. (Photo courtesy of the Maury County Archives.)

That leave would never come. William Fry, a Maury County soldier, wrote his father and included information about of Lt. Wooten’s death on August 1, 1918. Another letter arrived in Columbia a few days later from Wooten’s comrade, Lt. W. L. McNutty, and recounted his fallen friend’s final moments.

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Lt. Wooten was John and Emma’s only child. Grief-stricken, the mother sought to memorialize her son in a way that would benefit the community. Mrs. Wooten was a member of the Student’s Club. This club founded Columbia’s first library in 1902. She knew that the library lacked a children’s section, so in 1919 she created the Lt. James C. Wooten Memorial Children’s Library in her son’s name. Along with the collection, she purchased child-sized furniture and started an endowment to ensure new books were purchased for the children’s library every year. That fund is still active and generates revenue to purchase children’s material annually.

Lt Wooten

Mrs. Emma Wooten in the children’s section of the Maury County Library when it was located inside of the Memorial Building. This children’s section was created in memory of her son. 

Lt. Wooten’s remains rested in France until 1921 when the family was finally able to bring their son home. John and Emma actually traveled to France the year before to visit the original grave site. In May 1921, he was interred in Rose Hill Cemetery. On his cross-shaped marker, his citation from the French government is inscribed.

-Adam Southern

 

References:

[1] Moore, John Trotwood. Tennessee, The Volunteer State, p 823

[2] Ibid

[3] The Daily Herald, August 13, 1918

One comment

  1. Paula Barker · 17 Hours Ago

    I alway’ s learn something about the history of our area when reading one of Adam’s articles. Great job.

    Like

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