The Immortal 600: Two were from Maury

With the beach and lighthouse of Tybee Island in the rearview mirror, US 80 sprawled out in front of the vehicle as it snaked its way toward the mainland of Savannah, Georgia. Just outside of Tybee, a sign read “Immortal 600 Memorial Highway.” The sign was placed in an appropriate spot, as rising above the brackish water surrounding it, the brick walls of Fort Pulaski could be seen rising from the marsh.

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Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, Georgia

Fort Pulaski was one of the homes of the Immortal 600, a band of six hundred Confederate officers held as prisoners of war by the Union. Here at Fort Pulaski, the Immortals would endure some of the worst privations of the Civil War. These privations came after first being used as human shields and starved near Charleston, South Carolina.

This is a story that begins with Maj. Gen. Samuel Jones, commander of the Confederate forces at Charleston Harbor. For months, he watched as Union guns pounded, not just the coastal defenses, but the residential areas of Charleston. Nightly, homes with women and children were shelled by the Yankee guns.

In an effort to give the innocent residents of Charleston some much-needed relief, Gen. Jones sent word to his Union counterpart, Maj. Gen. John G. Foster that fifty of his officers, including five generals, were housed in the neighborhoods of Charleston as prisoners of war. Basically, Jones let the Union command know that when they gave the order to shell the non-combatants of Charleston, there was the possibility that they would also be shelling their own men.

Foster was outraged. He reached out to Union high command and asked for fifty Confederate prisoners of similar ranks to be brought to Morris Island so that they could be placed in an equally dangerous predicament. Luckily for these fifty rebel officers (and the fifty Yankees in Charleston), Foster and Jones were able to come to an agreement and exchanged prisoners. Crisis averted, right?

Wrong. After this prisoner exchange took place, Foster received word that the Confederates were bringing six hundred more Union POW’s into the city in hopes of another exchange. Once more, Gen. Foster reached out to Washington, DC, this time with the request for six hundred Confederate officers to be brought to the Union fortifications on Morris Island.

These six hundred officers were taken out of the prison camp at Fort Delaware. At first, these men were told they were going to be exchanged. Rightfully so, many of the men looked forward to the trip and going home. It wasn’t until the men arrived on Morris Island that they learned they were not going to be exchanged. Instead, they were to be used as a human shield.

On September 8, 1864, the six hundred Confederate officers were placed in front of the Yankee cannons. Union shells soared over their heads on the way to Fort Sumter. Confederate gunners, if they wished to return fire, risked the chance of hitting their own men. Confederate gunners aimed high, but still shells exploded prematurely and rained shrapnel down on the six hundred men below. Union guns also misfired and sent shots through the prisoners’ encampment.

Despite the conditions, not one man died as a result of the bombings. Three did die on Morris Island due to the starvation rations and exposure to the elements.  After six weeks of this, a ship arrived to take the six hundred to their next destination, Fort Pulaski. Lt. Henry Cook wrote, “The horrors of Morris Island were not to be compared with what awaited us on the coast of Georgia.”

Arriving in mid-October, most of the 600 would call Fort Pulaski home until March 1865. Perhaps the greatest hardships were experienced during this time of incarceration. Due to the poor conditions at Confederate prison camps, especially Andersonville, the Union commanders of Fort Pulaski put the Immortal 600 on what they called “retaliation rations,” consisting on a small piece of bread, soured cornmeal, and rotten pickled onions. Meat was not to be had, except for the rats, cats, and dogs the men were lucky enough to catch. Scurvy and dysentery were as common among the 600 as the lice crawling about their uniforms.

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Inside Fort Pulaski. The Immortal 600 were housed in the case-mates beyond the cannon.

Another thirteen died at Fort Pulaski and were buried outside the walls on Cockspur Island. As the condition of the Confederate prisoners worsened, the decision was made to remove them from Fort Pulaski and to return them to the prison at Fort Delaware. The largest number of Immortal 600 deaths occurred upon the return to Fort Delaware. This is not surprising after reading a description of the men penned by a fellow prisoner, Robert E. Park. He wrote, “Their lean, emaciated persons were covered with livid spots of various sizes, occasioned by effusion of blood under the cuticle. They looked pale, languid and low spirited, and suffered from general exhaustion, pains in the limbs, and bleeding gums. All this was caused by their rigid confinement and want of nourishing food.”

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Monument to the Immortal 600 just outside the walls of Fort Pulaski

Among the men transferred back to Fort Delaware was Maury County’s own Lt. William H. Alderson. He arrived with the rest of the Immortals on March 12th and was admitted to the prison hospital on March 13th. He died on March 30, 1865. The cause of death was listed as erysipelas, a bacterial skin infection. Modern medical journals state this condition can usually be cured in a matter of days when treated with penicillin. He was taken from Fort Delaware and buried across the river on the New Jersey shore.

Another Columbia man, Joseph A. Irvine, was among the ranks of the Immortal 600. Luckily for young Lt. Irvine, he was sent to Hilton Head, South Carolina and exchanged on December 15, 1864. He would miss the horrors of “retaliation rations” endured by his colleagues, but he had still endured more than any prisoner of war should have. Joseph Irvine would return to Maury County and serve as a deputy sheriff before becoming a lumber broker. Today, he rests in Rose Hill Cemetery.

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The grave of Joseph Irvine in Columbia’s Rose Hill Cemetery.

The Immortal 600 became heroes in the final days of the Civil War. Southerners looked to them for inspiration—enduring privations on Morris Island, Hilton Head, and at Fort Pulaski, the easiest thing for the men to do would have been to take the oath to the Union and go home. A very small number of the men did this. For the vast majority, honor and commitment to their cause would not allow this. Today, a small stretch of highway in Georgia and a granite marker outside of Fort Pulaski commemorates their bravery and dedication. On the base of that marker reads the words, “Lest we forget.”

Let us never forget…

 

 

 

References & Suggested Reading:

Edgar, Capt. Alfred Mallory. My Reminiscences of the Civil War with the Stonewall Brigade and the Immortal 600. 35th Star Publishing, 2011.

Joslyn, Mauriel Phillips. The Biographical Roster of the Immportal 600. White Mane Publishing, 1995.

Joslyn, Mauriel Phillips. Immortal Captives: The Story of 600 Confederate Officers and the United States Prisoner of War Policy. Pelican Publishing, 2008.

Murray, Maj. John Ogden. The Immortal Six Hundred: A Story of Cruelty of Confederate Prisoners of War. The Confederate Reprint Company, 2015.

Stokes, Karen. The Immortal 600: Surviving Civil War Charleston and Savannah. The History Press, 2013.

Immortal 600

Columbia’s “Crackup”

Among the personalities that made Columbia such an interesting place in the twentieth century, perhaps none were more colorful than Captain Frank Foster (F. F.) Frakes. Better known as “Bowser,” Captain Frakes made his living by living on the edge as a barnstormer and stuntman.

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1938 Camel cigarette ad highlighting Bowser Frakes.

In 1913, Bowser saw his uncle fly an old Curtiss-Wright pusher. It was love at first sight. With his uncle, Bowser learned everything he could about flying the flimsy planes from the infancy of aviation. Bowser thought he had learned enough to help the Allies with the Great War (WWI), but Uncle Sam did not see it that way—Bowser lacked the two years of college required to be a pilot in the early air force.

During a 1955 interview, Bowser said of his time in WWI, “The closest I came to flying was when a Maury County mule kicked me about 30 feet through the air.” Grounded by the army, Bowser’s main objective was to transport mules to Europe to aid with the war effort.

When the war was over, though, Bowser found himself in luck. The army had hundreds of surplus planes they were all-too-happy to sell to would-be pilots like Frakes. Bowser took what he learned from his uncle and hit the road as a barnstormer, becoming one of the best. Soon after, Bowser landed a job with Curtiss-Wright as a test pilot. But, the Great Depression came along and, in its wake, Bowser’s job was lost, forcing him back to barnstorming.

Bowser and his comrades in the “air circus” quickly learned that things were tough all over; people were no longer paying to watch the old air acts with simulated dogfights and acrobatics that once brought in thousands of spectators. Bowser knew he had to come up with a new act.

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From Flying, July 1951

Bowser said, “I got the idea of cracking up planes before a crowd which would pay admission to see me risk my fool neck.” In 1929, before a crowd of 30,000 spectators, he performed his first “crack up.”

Jack Dealy, in a feature for Flying magazine, wrote, “The crowd roared approval—and Frakes was on his way to a world’s record for walking away from crackups.” The title of the feature in Flying should give you an idea of how many times he cracked up. It was titled, “He Walked Away from 99 Crashes.”  (Bowser crashed into homes, barns, cars, and, once, a body of water during his career spanning ninety-nine crashes.)

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From Flying, July 1951

All along this journey of cracking up planes, Bowser had to stay one step ahead of the law. The Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) did not much care for Bowser’s occupation. As soon as it was announced Capt. F. F. Frakes was going to perform a crackup in a town, CAA agents would alert authorities with orders to nab Bowser. Toward the end of his career as a crackup pilot, Bowser was known to feign injuries and go straight from the crash to the ambulance. Once away from the prying eyes of the spectators (and the police), he would have the medics drive the ambulance to either his hotel or the local train station.

In September 1938, Bowser knew the law was close, so he again played hurt. The medics threw Frakes in the back of the ambulance and, before the car took off, two men climbed into the back with the “patient.” Bowser looked at the men, but assumed they were doctors when one of them said they were going to the hospital.

According to The Lincoln Star, “No!” replied the flier, “I’m all right, hurry up and get me to my hotel so I can get out of town.”

“Well,” retorted one of the men, “If you’re all right then we’re going to the jail, not the hotel.”

That’s when Bowser realized the two men were the town sheriff and one of his deputies.

The Wild West-era of air shows was coming to a close, but a new world war loomed on the horizon. Bowser decided to offer his services to the British by writing a letter to their embassy in Washington, DC. According to Bowser, “I told them if British intelligence would map out Adolf Hitler’s residence for me I’d be glad to rid the world of his presence. I said I thought could fly a plane carrying high explosives right down his chimney.”

The Brits thanked him for the offer, but declined. That did not stop Bowser from enlisting in the Royal Air Force where he served honorably from 1941 until 1942 as a flight instructor. In ’42, he transferred to the United States Air Force where he finished the war.

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“Casket of Death,” June 5, 1955, The Tennessean.

Having served through another world war, Bowser, now in his fifties, had to find a new show. Cracking up planes was out—he needed something a little easier to do in his golden years. So, Bowser developed the “Casket of Death” routine, where he lined a coffin with dynamite, sealed himself inside, and had someone light the fuse. Then, BOOM!

Later, at close to sixty years of age, he started performing a rocket routine. Bowser would saddle onto a rocket and have it launched only to explode in midair.

Bowser is still considered an aviation legend. His story has been told in countless newspaper articles and magazines, including Flying and, most recently, Air & Space by the Smithsonian. He flew as a stuntman in thirty-four movies, including Hell’s Angels and Devil Dogs, and was also featured in numerous newsreels during the 1930s. In 1938, at what was probably the height of his career as a “crackup pilot,” Bowser was sponsored by Camel cigarettes and he was featured in several of their print ads.

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From Camel cigarette ad, 1938

In Columbia, Tennessee, many look back fondly on their experiences with Bowser Frakes. Those of us too young to have known him, only wish we could have met the legend. Today, after a daring life of stunts and near-misses, Frank Foster Frakes is resting peacefully in Rose Hill Cemetery, a far cry from the airfields he knew so long ago.

If you’d like to see more of Bowser Frakes, go visit my friends at West Seventh Company. In their current gallery exhibit is a portrait of none other but Capt. Bowser Frakes as taken by Orman Studios in 1938. Lovers of local history will enjoy seeing—not only Bowser—but all of the old Columbia photos on display. And, when you go for your visit, tell Kim and Joel where you heard about them!

 

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Bowser, his wife Carol, and his dog, Ike. Bowser Frakes was a favorite among the children of Columbia, as was his dog, Ike. The kids of Columbia would feed Ike chocolate bars as treats. As far as anyone knows, the chocolate never made Ike sick. August 23, 1954, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Cited:

Dealy, Jack. “He Walked Away From 99 Crashes.” Flying, July 1951, p. 26.

Rayburn, Taylor. “Death Diver!” The Tennessean (Nashville, TN), 05 Jun. 1955, p. 110.

Staff. “Pictures of Captain Frakes Crashing Plan Thru House.” The Lincoln Star, 11 Sept. 1938, p. 3.

Start, Clarissa. “An All-Around Daredevil.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 23 Aug. 1954, p. 27.

The lost Athenaeum Campus

Mention the Athenaeum in Columbia and, automatically, the mind turns to a small corner lot where Athenaeum and West Eighth Streets meet. There on this corner lot is all that remains of the Columbia Athenaeum, a school for young ladies that operated from 1852 until 1903 under the tutelage and leadership of the Rev. F. G. Smith Family. This remaining building, completed in 1837, was the rectory of the Columbia Athenaeum and family home of the Smiths, really, just a small part of the Athenaeum Campus.

At its peak, the campus of the Athenaeum consisted of over twenty acres near current-day Downtown Columbia. Using modern-day street names to describe the boundaries of the campus, the northern boundary was West Seventh Street; to the east, Walker Street; to the south, West Ninth Street; and Beckett Street to the west. All of the property within these bounds—save the four acres next door belonging to the Columbia Female Institute—made up the campus of the Athenaeum. Some physical evidence of this is located on the corner of West Seventh and Walker Streets. The small stone pillar on the corner now occupied by the radio station is the original corner marker of the Athenaeum property.

Once the Athenaeum closed in 1903, the buildings were sold to the City of Columbia for use as a public high school. In 1915, the first Central High School would open on the site of the Athenaeum Study Hall. The Columbia Orphan’s Home (now located at Ferguson Hall in Spring Hill) would be built on the old Athenaeum campus as well. Later, the site of the Columbia Orphan’s Home would become the first Whitthorne Middle School.

The remaining property was sold by Smith heirs and was subdivided into building lots, hence the landlocked state of the Athenaeum Rectory today. King’s Daughters School, West Seventh Street Church of Christ, Maury County Board of Education, the Family Center, and several businesses along West Seventh Street and multiple homes sit on the original campus of the Columbia Athenaeum.

Although the Rectory is all that remains, several photographs of the Athenaeum buildings have survived. The Smith descendants now living in Texas shared these amazing photographs of what used to be.

Gates

 A beautiful six-rail fence surrounded the Athenaeum property. But, there were several ways to get on campus, including the two gates photographed here. The gate in the foreground was the entrance to a gravel walkway through “The Grove,” a wooded area that the Smith’s allowed the community to access as almost a city park. In the grove was a bandstand and it was a popular place for picnics and town celebrations. The gate in the distance to the right was the carriage entrance that led to the Athenaeum Rectory and the campus to the south.

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This is the carriage entrance to the Athenaeum located on West Seventh Street. 

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A hand-colored lithograph of the Athenaeum from the 1870s. This shows the south side of the Athenaeum campus. The Rectory can be seen in the background of the right-hand side. 

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One of the most iconic buildings on campus was the Study Hall, above. This is the south side of the building as shown in the lithograph. 

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This photograph shows the north side of the large study hall. This would have been the view from the back of the Athenaeum Rectory. 

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Inside of the Athenaeum Study Hall. 

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Another view of the south elevation of the Study Hall. Part of the “Pavilion” can be seen to the left. 

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South elevation of the Athenaeum Campus, showing the Pavilion above. Between the Pavilion and the Rotunda would have been the school’s library. 

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The Rotunda.

Davis Hall

Just a few steps north of the Rotunda was Davis Hall, the school’s dormitory. Young ladies can be seen playing croquet on campus. 

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A closer view of Davis Hall. The addition to Davis Hall (to the left) included a gymnasium and a bowling alley for the students. 

 

The historic Athenaeum Rectory is open Thursday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm. Tours are given during those times for $5. Visit www.HistoricAthenaeum.com for more information.

Thanks for reading!

-Adam Southern

Columbia’s Rat Hole

In the curve where South High and Depot Streets meet, hidden behind a shield of scrubby trees and vines, is a forgotten Columbia landmark known simply as the “Rat Hole.”

The Rat Hole sits a stone’s throw away from Columbia’s Union Station Depot and the two share a common builder, the railroad. But, instead of saying these two constructions—the Depot and the Rat Hole—are siblings, it would probably be best to say they are first cousins, as the Depot was grandiose in its construction. The Rat Hole was one hundred percent utilitarian.

When construction of the Depot began in 1902, the railroad bed was raised about six feet above street level. This caused the city to close South High Street at the railroad tracks. Knowing that pedestrians would more than likely use the straightest route across the railroad tracks where South High used to be, the railroad decided to divert these pedestrians away from the tracks by constructing a tunnel underneath the rails, thus giving birth to the Rat Hole.

It’s not known when the tunnel was given the “Rat Hole” moniker, but the name seemed to catch on all over town. Generations of Columbians knew exactly where the Rat Hole was and a good number of them actually used it. The tunnel was frequented so often that lights were eventually installed for nighttime use.

As pedestrian traffic in the area of the Depot diminished, so did the usefulness of the Rat Hole. Today, the tunnel serves as a conduit for utility pipes. Upon latest inspection, the Rat Hole floor was filled with debris and at least a foot of water, making the tunnel impassable.

On your next trip to the Columbia Arts District, slow down as you make the curve between the Depot and the Columbia Arts Building. There in the brush you will see the opening of a tunnel. Only you will know that it is no ordinary tunnel—it is the forgotten landmark known as the Rat Hole.

 

Historic 2017

With 2017 coming to a close, now is a good time to look back on the year that was and look forward to the fresh starts that the New Year promise.

2017 brought many exciting things to Columbia, but these events caught my eye.

  1. South side of the Polk Home Kitchen now visible

Orman Studios was built almost abutting the kitchen of the Ancestral Home of President James K. Polk in 1947. Although 60 years old, the Orman building did not contribute to the significance of the historical neighborhood, including the 1816 Polk Home, the 1916 Presbyterian Church, and Polk Presidential Hall built in 1881 as a Church of Christ. The State of Tennessee purchased and razed the building, exposing the south wall of the Polk kitchen for the first time in sixty years.

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The now-visible south wall of the kitchen.

  1. Advertising found at 812 S. Main Street

Middle Tennessee Law Group, PLLC recently acquired the property located at 812 South Main Street in Columbia. Royal’s Hair operated at this location prior to the acquisition. Once the law group began working on the site, they began uncovering advertising painted on the wall of the building adjoining to the south. Last month, the building at 812 S. Main was demolished, giving the public a look at the advertising.

Why was this advertising there? Finding this painting proves that at some point in time, there wasn’t a building at 812 S. Main Street and the shoe store next door was able to paint ads in the open-air alley next door. Later, when the building at 812 was erected, the ads were covered and, effectually, beautifully preserved.

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812 S. Main was demolished, exposing this advertising painted on 814 S. Main.

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Advertising for the Royal Blue $3.50 Shoe.

Thanks for reading during 2017!

Here’s hoping your 2018 is happy and bright!

Maury County’s Worst Christmas

Maury County has seen many joyous Christmas seasons since its founding in 1807. With so many cheerful tales of Christmases past, it would be hard to single one year out as the best Christmas in local history.

But, one year is agreed upon as the worst Christmas Maury County has ever seen—Christmas 1864.

Frank H. Smith, in a special December 1904 edition of the Columbia Herald, wrote, “At this, the most prosperous Christmas tide that Maury County has ever known, it may be interesting to recall some incidents of this season forty years ago, the gloomiest and most depressing holidays our country ever had.”

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Frank H. Smith (third from the left) sits on the front porch of the Athenaeum Rectory with his siblings.

Why was this the “gloomiest and most depressing” Christmas? Simply, the Civil War was the cause of this county-wide depression.

After the fall of Atlanta, Confederate General John Bell Hood had a radical idea. He would invade Tennessee and take the fight to the enemy. If things went according to his plan, he would take Nashville and march further north, linking his army with Lee in Virginia where they could prolong or possibly win this war that had been raging since 1861.

In late November, Hood and his men swept the Union forces north from Pulaski and across Maury County. Cornering the Yankees in Spring Hill on November 29th, Hood was poised to win the first major battle of his plan. But, it didn’t happen. During the night of the 29th and morning of the 30th, the Union Army slipped through the hands of the opposing Southern army, marching north towards Franklin.

The Confederates awoke to find the fields opposite of them empty. Hood, “wrathy as a rattlesnake” as one subordinate called him, ordered his men north in pursuit of the Federals. They would catch up to the Union Army at Franklin and find them heavily fortified. Hood, still upset about the blunder the night before, ordered his men to attack. Just before dusk, the Confederate Army descended Winstead Hill, marching north toward the Union lines, the evening sun gleaming off of their bayonets.

The men would fight well into the night. In the end, the fighting would be hand-to-hand.

As the sun rose over the grisly scene, witnesses would say that a person could walk across the battlefield and never touch the ground as bodies covered every surface. The citizenry of Franklin emerged from their hiding places and began the overwhelming task of tending to the wounded. With so many wounded in Franklin, wagons were soon loaded with injured soldiers and driven south to Maury County.

Several dead officers were also brought to Columbia. Frank H. Smith wrote, “Generals Cleburne, Gist, Strahl, Adams, and Granberry gave up their lives for the cause they believed right. I think that all of these bodies had been brought to Columbia the second day after the battle.” Funerals were held for the generals and, in a haste, these men were buried in the pauper section of Rose Hill Cemetery. Some of the generals were even placed in pauper’s caskets, as “proper” coffins could not be found in Columbia. Later, the generals would be reinterred in the graveyard at St. John’s Church.

As Columbia dealt with the dead and wounded, General Hood was busy moving what was left of his army north. The Union forces at Franklin dealt Hood a crippling blow, but he was intent on seeing his plan through to the end. On December 15th and 16th, the forces of Generals Hood and Thomas fought on the hills surrounding Nashville. Hood’s forces were routed on the 16th and his army was never an effective fighting unit again.

Hood’s army retreated south, the same route it marched north, and soon this defeated force was in Maury County. The men, demoralized, hungry, and threadbare, took what they could to feed and warm themselves. There wasn’t much for them, though. Both the Union and Confederate armies had stripped the farms and homes of resources when they were in the area not even a month earlier.

In Columbia on December 20th, Hood placed cavalier Nathan Bedford Forrest in charge of the army’s rear guard with orders to hold Columbia as long as possible. With the bridges burned, Union forces rested in the rain and sleet of present-day Riverside while they waited on the pontoons to arrive. Forrest and his rear guard did what they could to check the Union advance. By Christmas Eve the Yankees would be in town.

A member of Forrest’s rear guard, I. N. Rainey would later write a diary of his wartime experiences. Being a Columbia native, he was given a three-day furlough to spend Christmas with his family. He wrote, “By Mother’s request, I invited several of my messmates to spend the night of Christmas Eve ’64 with us… The Yankees were in town, the skirmish lines between us and the courthouse.” Rainey’s home, Woodland, is now Woodland Park.

Rainey and his messmates spent Christmas Eve at Woodland and woke up early for Raineybreakfast on Christmas Day. While he and his friends ate, his younger brother stood watch in case a Yankee patrol happened by. Sure enough, his brother ran into the dining room shouting that the Yankees were coming through the front gate, roughly 300 yards from the house. Rainey and his friends rushed out the back door of the family home and to the barn, followed by his parents and siblings. As they mounted their horses, he kissed his mother goodbye and rode away, waiting for the report of the Yankee guns.

It never came. As soon as Rainey and his fellow soldiers crested a hill, they swung around to find the Yankee soldiers waving their hats at the fleeing Confederates. Rainey and the other Confederates returned their wave and galloped off, thankful his parents would not have to witness a gunfight on Christmas Day.

From Woodland, the small band of cavalrymen road to Pulaski Pike. Rainey wrote, “My brother Joe stood in the middle of the pike shooting as fast as he could load at the opposing line between him and the public square.” The opposing line was a blue tide that could not be stopped, however, and the rear guard would be pushed further and further south until it was out of Tennessee.

After weeks of tending and burying wounded men—many of them possibly family or friends—and witnessing fighting in the streets of Columbia on Christmas Day, it is easy to see why the Holiday Season of 1864 was one of the worst on record. To make matters worse, many citizens were like the southern soldiers—cold and without food.

Smith wrote: “The suffering for fuel was very great in town; there were no teams in the country to haul wood (coal was almost unknown here then) and if there had been teams, the roads were nearly impassable, and if the teams had come to town they would have been ‘impressed’ at once. Dead shade trees were at a premium, and many a green tree was used for fuel, with fences, outhouses and old furniture used to help many them burn… But the greatest suffering was for food. The country seemed to have been stripped of everything eatable…”

Frank H. Smith, a resident of the Athenaeum Rectory, was a teenager in 1864, still too young to fight in the War like his two older brothers. He was able to feed his family this Christmas by sneaking into the stables of the Columbia Institute where the Union officer’s horses were stabled. There, he stole some of the dried corn being used as fodder and his mother was able to grind it into meal for cornbread.

In 1904, Smith ventured there may have been one happy man in Maury County in 1864—Union General George Thomas. While pursuing the Confederate rear guard, Thomas stopped at McCains Presbyterian Church. While there, he received the telegram appointing him to the rank of Major General. Smith may have been wrong, though. Some report General Thomas said the appointment to Major General was too late to be appreciated. (He felt he deserved the appointment after the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863.)

Despite any problems we think we may have, compared to 1864 the size of our problems should seem to diminish a bit. Count your blessings this Christmas. We have so much to be thankful for.

Merry Christmas!

The Columbia Female Institute

When the Columbia Female Institute burned in 1959, it immediately became unforgettable. As a matter of fact, the time of the Institute’s demise is “one of those moments” in Maury County’s history. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard about JFK’s assassination. Just the same, people in Maury County remember the night the Columbia Institute burned. Many travelled to West Seventh Street to watch the blaze, while many others recall the amber glow in the sky that night—a glow that could be seen as far away as Santa Fe.

Built as an Episcopal all-girl school, the Columbia Female Institute, had a run of nearly 100 years before the Great Depression put the nail in its coffin in 1932. Left without a function, the building would serve several purposes over its remaining years, including housing WPA workers, providing classrooms and offices for a local business college, and as a nursery school. The old Institute was even the location of the Maury County Library for a short period.

In 1944, the City of Columbia purchased the property from the Episcopal Diocese for $35,000. At the time of the fire, the main building of the old campus was being used as storage by the county school system. During the March night of Friday the 13th, 1959 about 7pm, the fire was reported. According to reports, the blaze quickly consumed the main building and the attached chapel.

Construction of the Columbia Female Institute began in 1835 and the first class was admitted under the administration of Rev. Franklin Gillette Smith in 1837. An advertising pamphlet released in 1837 reads:

The building was designed and constructed by Messrs. Drummond & Lutterloh, Architects. [Maury County’s “Master Builder” Nathan Vaught actually had to be called in to finish construction of the building.]

The general effect of the exterior is imposing, from its magnitude and its just proportions.

The selection and execution of the decorative parts of the façade exhibit the classical taste of the architects and their judicious adherence to the established principles of Gothic architecture. The front of the building—the exposure of which is towards the north—is one hundred and twenty feet long, including the Octagonal Towers at the corners, eleven feet in diameter, which rise one story above the building and terminate in turrets. The corners on the back side are finished with Martello towers, five feet in diameter, which rise above the parapet walls and are also turreted. The whole effect of the building is improved by its fine basement story (not shown at all in our engraving) which is separated from the first story by an elegant band of hewn stone, the material employed also in the flights of steps leading up into the porticos. The width of the porticos is twenty-one feet, and their projection from the front wall, fifteen feet—the front and side openings being pointed arches, and the massive piers with buttresses in front and on one side, terminating in elegant lanterns. The walls of the porticos and the whole of the façade are turreted…

The interior was also described in the pamphlet. In the basement were the dining hall and offices for the domestics (more than likely, slaves). On the first floor were the accommodations for the teachers and tutoresses and the “Boarder’s Parlour.” Also on this floor were the rooms of the Music and Pestalozzian Departments.

On the second floor, with its fourteen-foot ceilings, was the large “Hall of Study.” The library and the Rector’s desk were also on the second story. Again, from the advertising pamphlet, “One of the chambers on the second floor, separated by a passage and entirely secluded from those resorted to by the school, is set apart as the sick-room. This apartment is airy, with a delightful prospect of the country, and is of easy access to the Matron and other ladies of the Institute.”

The third floor was set aside exclusively for dormitories. Boarders were guaranteed a bed to themselves, unless their sister attended the school. In that case, the siblings had to double-up. A tutoress shared each chamber with the students to provide supervision and to “attend to any case of indisposition.”

The campus of the Institute comprised of just over four acres. After the 1959 fire, this land was sold by the City of Columbia for $100,000 despite the efforts of local groups wishing to convert the old Institute grounds to a city park.

Today, Columbia Plaza shopping center and the U.S. Post Office stand on the grounds of the Columbia Female Institute.