Maury County’s Almost Boy Hero

The story of Sam Davis is possibly one of the most famous tales from the War Between the States. The young, twenty-one year-old scout was executed in Pulaski, Tennessee even though his Yankee captors gave him several chances to give the name of his informant in order to save his own life. Rather than betray the trust of his friend and informant, he was hanged by the Federals on November 27, 1863 and took the secret with him to the grave.

As his story made its way across the South, many began referring to Sam Davis as the “Boy Hero of the Confederacy” or the “Confederate Nathan Hale.” A play and several books have been written to chronicle the young life of Sam Davis. Numerous memorials have also been erected, including three statues in Tennessee—one being on the grounds of the State Capital Building.

One of Maury County’s own, Mr. Billy Moore, nearly became a young martyr himself. Moore and Davis both served in the Coleman Scouts, both were arrested within a day of each other, and were held prisoner in the Giles County Courthouse at the same time. Fate had other plans for Billy Moore, it seems.

Born in Maury County, Tennessee as William James Moore in 1840, Billy enlisted in Voorhies’ 48th Tennessee Infantry in the fall of 1861 and was surrendered as Fort Donelson fell on February 16, 1862. He spent the next several months imprisoned and sick in Fort Morton, Indiana on the outskirts of Indianapolis.

According to his granddaughter, Frances M. Stephenson, the Yankee doctor assigned to care for the Confederate POWs was so concerned by Billy Moore’s condition he tried to talk to the young soldier into taking the Oath in return for his release. Moore refused because he knew that he was going to rejoin the Confederate Army as soon as he was exchanged or escaped and he did not want to take an oath he knew he was going to break. (This so impressed the Yankee doctor that he remembered Billy Moore’s name and looked him up after the War.)

After finally being exchanged in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Billy Moore returned to Middle Tennessee and was assigned to Coleman’s Scouts. Captain Henry B. Shaw was the commanding officer of the scouts. He used the name “E. Coleman” as an alias in order to hide his true identity. Although a complete listing of the men that served under “Coleman” is not available, it is easy to believe they were at least one hundred members strong. These men had cunning, were daring, and knew the lay of the land—all of these qualities were necessary to be a successful scout.

It was in this band of Confederate scouts that Billy Moore and Sam Davis became acquainted. With just a couple of years difference between them, the two became friends and were often riding companions as they conducted missions gathering information or delivering correspondence for E. Coleman. It was on one such occasion that Billy Moore met the lady that was to be his wife.

Billy Moore and Sam Davis, along with their commander, Henry Shaw, were riding together near Florence, Alabama. The trio happened upon a gospel meeting and decided they would sit and listen. A young Virginia Scruggs sat near the front row. Bored with the preaching, she looked around the congregation to see who was in attendance and that’s when she caught a glimpse of the three Southern Scouts. One stood out from the rest—or loomed above them, rather. Billy Moore stood at six feet and two inches tall in stockinged feet and weighed less than one hundred pounds. Tall and skinny, this glimpse of Moore left an impression on Virginia Scruggs and after the meeting, the two were introduced and a romance was kindled. The two would be married in 1865 when the war ended, but, for now, the war was still raging.

Billy Moore

Billy Moore

Billy Moore was sent across the Tennessee River to deliver some papers to Alabama in November 1863. Despite the fact the Federal Army was in Pulaski, Captain Shaw (Coleman) met Moore in Giles County. He had more papers he needed taken across the Tennessee River.

Moore told his captain that he’d need a new horse before he could go on another mission, so, with Shaw’s permission, Billy Moore took the papers and rode to Columbia to change horses. On his way back to Giles County, Billy Moore was south of Columbia on the Pulaski Pike and was just about to ride past the Foster Farm when he noticed a light in the window. Thinking it odd, he decided to stop and investigate.

With a pistol in his hand, Moore knocked on the door. After being let into the house by a young slave, he was conducted to the parlor. When the parlor door opened, Moore was welcomed by three Yankee officers with drawn guns pointed at him. There was no way to escape.

Luckily, the Yankees did not search Moore. They had no idea that he was carrying secret information from the illusive Coleman. Billy Moore told his captors he was cold and they were kind enough to move him to a seat in front of the fireplace. When the Yankees weren’t looking, Billy reached into his jacket, removed the papers, and tossed them in the fire.

His granddaughter wrote, “The Yankees were astounded, but the papers were irretrievably gone. Later, when offered food, Moore adroitly chewed up his identification papers, along with the corn-pone and bacon, and washed it all down with a gigantic swig of buttermilk.”

Billy Moore was taken to the Giles County Courthouse and held there as a prisoner. In just a few days, another prisoner would arrive; one that Billy Moore knew. It was Sam Davis.

Unlike Billy Moore, Sam Davis was not lucky enough to get rid of his papers. The papers included details about Federal troops and fortifications. Ironically, the papers were intended to be carried by another man—a man already in jail. Billy Moore.

In his own words, Billy said in an interview with Frank H. Smith, “The papers that Sam Davis had on him when he was hanged had my name on them instead of his, and had written on them to Gen. Bragg that I was to carry them out to him. Davis got in the next day after I was captured, and Shaw sent him on with the papers.”

Davis was thrown in the Giles County Courthouse and officially charged with espionage. He was to be executed by hanging. Only one thing could save his life—if he revealed the name of his informant. This, Sam Davis refused multiple times. His famous quote being, “I would rather die a thousand deaths than betray a friend.”

One thing Sam Davis and Billy Moore both knew was that it really did not matter if Davis gave up the name of his informant. He would probably still be executed or, in the least, kept captive the remainder of the war. Billy Moore, in his interview with Frank Smith, told of another of Coleman’s Scouts that had been captured: “Dee Jobe was one of our scouts. The Yankees caught him, swung him up by the thumbs, cut his tongue out, and left him to die.”

The only way out of this was to escape.

Sam Davis seemed to be the focus of their captors, so Billy Moore used this to his advantage and looked for ways to make his escape. Just as he had done when captured, Billy Moore complained. This time, he told them he was too warm. His jailers took him to a nearby window and opened it, allowing Moore to sit and take in some cool, November air. That wasn’t all he took in, though. He noticed the sentries down below and the changing of the guards and how often they made their rounds.

He saw that one sentry was not very attentive to his duties. Once the guards had made their rounds, that’s when Moore decided to try it. He jumped from the second-story window and crashed into the Square below. Just as he thought, the nearby sentry had not noticed. Billy Moore crawled into a ditch to take cover until he was ready to make his move. Seeing the sentry was still oblivious, Moore got up and made a run for it—no one, including the sentry, seemed to notice.

The next day, as Billy Moore dodged Yankee pickets and patrols on his way north to Columbia, Sam Davis was executed on a hill overlooking Pulaski. Having returned to Columbia, Billy Moore acquired a new horse and rejoined the scouts. He served until the end of the War, then he married his sweetheart. The two would live out their days in Billy’s family home, Locust Hill.

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Billy Moore’s “Locust Hill” still stands today on Mooresville Pike. 

Billy Moore died in 1913. He is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery just steps away from the Confederate Monument. A fitting place, as in his heart, he was still a Confederate. He had never taken the Oath.

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Billy & Jennie Moore’s monument in Rose Hill Cemetery. The Confederate monument and section is in the background.

The Lost Cantaloupe Capital

Have you ever heard of the Cantaloupe Capital? Well, it is right here in Maury County. We call it “Culleoka.”

Farmers began growing cantaloupes by the acre here in 1907. The owner/operators of the Culleoka Produce Company, brothers Erastus J. and Hardie Park, pitched the idea to local farmers. Culleoka Produce Co. furnished the seeds and the farmers provided the land and care. Once the melons were ready for harvest, Culleoka Produce Company marketed and shipped the cantaloupes wherever they would fetch the highest price.

After the success of the first crop in 1907, farmers took on more seed and sowed more acreage. By the 1920s, the Culleoka Produce Company was shipping hundreds of carloads of cantaloupes out of the Pleasant Grove Depot annually. Half of the success was having a good, quality product. The other half was the marketing genius of Erastus Park.

Every cantaloupe that came through the Culleoka Produce Company was labeled with a sticker identifying it as a “Culleoka Cantaloupe.” It is not unusual to see the Dole and Chiquita stickers on produce purchased today, but it was unheard of in the early twentieth century. It is believed the Culleoka Produce Company was among the first ever to employ a produce sticker. (These “stamps” can still be found today and are treasured by Culleokans.)

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“Culleoka Cantaloupe” sticker from the collection of Adam Southern.

Erastus Park also made an agreement with the railroad, allowing the line to serve Culleoka Cantaloupes on the passenger cars while they were in season. He was sure that if a passenger tried one on the train, they would be sure to request one at their local market when they returned home. It must have worked, as the cantaloupes were shipped nation-wide.

Advertisements featuring Culleoka Cantaloupes have been found not only Nashville newspapers, but also those from North Carolina and Tampa, Florida. Newspaper accounts from the time report of carloads of cantaloupes being shipped to New York and California. And at least two different varieties were sold—Park’s Delight and the Culleoka Queen. The Culleoka Queen was known by its distinct “pink” or salmon-colored meat.

After some of the largest yields and profits the farmers of Culleoka had ever seen, Erastus Park died in 1928. Culleoka Produce Company continued to operate and the farmers still grew the cantaloupes, but without the driving force of Erastus Park, it was never the same. Farmers took fewer seeds each year and production fell. 1935 would be the last harvest processed and shipped through the Culleoka Produce Company.

In the years that followed, some farmers continued to grow cantaloupes, but it was on a much smaller scale. Today, it is just a sweet-tasting memory, as not even a seed remains…

Recently, a Tennessee Historical Commission marker was placed near the sites of the Culleoka Produce Company and the Pleasant Grove Depot. The marker was researched and submitted by Adam Southern. An official dedication will be held at a future date.

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The new “Culleoka Cantaloupes” marker placed on the corner of Culleoka Highway and Depot Street in Culleoka, Tennessee.

Maury native wrote cookbook

Most everyone has a dish they are known for or a restaurant they love to visit. To say we love eating good things is an understatement. This is nothing new. As a matter of fact, one Maury County native actually wrote an entire book of Good Things to Eat. This book, published in 1911 by Rufus Estes, was the first cookbook written by an African-American chef.

In the book, the author included a short sketch of his life. From this sketch, we learn Rufus Estes was born into slavery in Maury County in 1857. Estes was the name of Rufus’ master, a man named D. J. Estes. Rufus was held in bondage along with his mother and siblings—a family of seven boys and two girls.

1860 Slave Schedule

1860 Slave Schedule. D.J. Estes’ slaves begin at number 33.

During the Civil War, Rufus’ older brothers “ran off,” as he put it, and “joined the Yankees.” He lamented, “This left us little folks to bear the burdens. At the age of five I had to carry water from the spring about a quarter of a mile from the house, drive the cows to and from the pastures, mind the calves, gather chips, etc.” In these conditions, young Rufus toiled until 1867 when he and his mother moved to Nashville.

Two of Rufus’ brothers died during the war. The brothers are possibly George W. Esters and Robert Esters engraved under the U. S. Colored Troops (USCT) section of the Maury County War Memorial. Rufus wrote, “Two of my brothers were lost in the war, a fact that wrecked my mother’s health somewhat and I thought I could be of better service to her and prolong her life by getting work.”

His first jobs included milking cows and delivering meals to workers in the fields. He did these things until the age of sixteen when he found work in a Nashville restaurant and found his calling. He wrote, “I was employed in Nashville by a restaurant keeper named Hemphill. I worked there until I was twenty-one years of age.” The “Hemphill” Rufus worked for was Alexander Hemphill, the owner of a well-known restaurant on Church Street. According to newspapers accounts, Hempshill’s restaurant was sold in 1880 and a “new regime” began management in 1881. This may account for Rufus’ next move.

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The Tennessean, October 26, 1880

From Nashville, Rufus traveled to Chicago in 1881 and found employment at 77 Clark Street. He earned a salary of $10 per week at this position. Two years later, he would begin his career with the Pullman Car Company. It was during his fourteen years with Pullman that Rufus really made a name for himself as an outstanding chef. He wrote, “During the time I was in their [Pullman’s] service some of the most prominent people in the world traveled in the car assigned to me, as I was selected to handle all special parties.” These prominent people included Presidents Cleveland and Harrison and the famed singer Adelina Patti. (She also has a Maury County connection, but that’s for another time.)

Rufus’ friends persuaded him to compile all of his recipes and cooking methods. He published this compilation in 1911 under the title Good Things to Eat. Ten original copies are known to exist. Reprints are now available, titled Rufus Estes’ Good Things to Eat: The First Cookbook by an African-American Chef. For those interested, Duck River Books in historic downtown Columbia, Tennessee has copies available.

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By the 1930s, Rufus was living in Los Angeles, California. The 1930 US Census lists him as a widower with the occupation of cook in LA’s café industry. When he died in 1939, his passing went largely unnoticed, despite his significant contributions to culinary arts and Black History.

Luckily, modern cooks have rediscovered his work. A quick online search of “Rufus Estes” will produce many results from chefs and bloggers alike that have attempted dishes from his book of Good Things to Eat.

Born into slavery to become the first African American chef to author a cookbook, Rufus Estes’ story is another amazing story to add to the annals of Maury County’s history.

-Adam Southern

A Look at Lost Landmarks, Part One

Today, Maury County has an abundance of beautiful and historic sites. In fact, there is such an abundance of historic sites that Maury County has been dubbed the “Antebellum Homes Capital of Tennessee.” But, for all of the sites still standing, many more have been lost to the ages. Fires, neglect, mother nature, indifference, and “progress” have all played a role in the demise of local landmarks.

Unfortunately, this is only a partial listing of sites Columbia has lost:

Andrews School

The Columbia Conference College was established in 1850 by the Methodist Episcopal Church on the site of the old Columbia Female Seminary. The three-story brick structure known as Corinthian Hall was built shortly after the founding of the college, perhaps between 1851 and 1852.

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Postcard of “Andrews School,” the old Corinthian Hall, postmarked 1909.

The Columbia Conference College was a church-run girls school. There was already such a school in Columbia, the Columbia Female Institute operated by the Episcopal Church. When Rev. Smith founded the Athenaeum in 1852, that made three all-girl schools in Columbia. The Columbia Conference College could not compete and ceased to operate prior to the Civil War.

During the war, most of the buildings that comprised the campus of the school were burned. These were mostly frame structures. The brick building, Corinthian Hall, survived, and was used as a hospital during much of the war by both armies.

After the war, old Corinthian Hall stood abandoned on the east side of Columbia. Many folks claimed the building was haunted, as ghostly lights could be seen floating from window-to-window during the night. It was not ghosts, but something more terrifying, as the Ku Klux Klan was using this as a meeting place in the night.

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“Andrews School” postmarked 1906.

In 1873, two of Rev. Smith’s sons (William and Frank) purchased the property to start an all-male high school after their older brother, Robert, inherited the Athenaeum school for girls. The Smith Brothers sold their all-male school to the City of Columbia in 1881.

The city reopened the building as Andrews School. It was the city’s first public school.

Andrews School, the old Corinthian Hall, was demolished in 1988. All that remains of the school is the stone fence, erected around the property in 1896.

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The Andrews School site today. The Board of Education’s Maintenance Building is now on this site. The old stone fence remains.

 

 

James K. Polk’s Other Home

When the “Polk Home” is mentioned in Columbia, most folks think about the home on the southwest corner of West Seventh and High Street. This home was built by the President’s father, Samuel, in 1816.

There was another Polk Home, though. This other home was built by James K. Polk shortly after his marriage to Sarah Childress in 1824. Over the years the Polks called the place home, two Presidents were entertained there: Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. This, too, was where James K. Polk lived when elected President.

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Postmarked in 1911, this postcard claims to be the “home of James K. Polk when elected President of the United States.”

But, what happened to this house? Well, what happened is disputed. Some claim the home was razed in 1872 by Dr. A L. Pillow. Others claim Dr. Pillow only remodeled and added to the home.

Despite what Dr. Pillow did, the people of Columbia continued to call this the home of President Polk. As a matter of fact, when Cordelia Pillow sold the home to Katherine Regen, the deed claimed this was “the old Polk home.”

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In addition to this evidence, in 1896, Caroline O. Nicholson alluded to the fact that this was James K. Polk’s Columbia home when writing her memoirs. The Century Review of Maury County in 1906 made no bones about it, stating that the Pillow Home was the past residence of the former President and First Lady. Postcards of the early 20th century were printed, as well, claiming this to the be the home of President Polk.

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Were all of these sources wrong? Did Dr. Pillow actually raze the home of a President in 1872? The newspaper accounts of 1872 state that he did. These articles created enough doubt and allowed the site to be razed in the 1960s. The vacant lot where the home once stood is now a parking lot for Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

The steps that once led from the sidewalk to the front porch can still be seen on West Seventh Street.

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The Bethel House Hotel

On the northwest corner of Garden and West Seventh Street once stood the finest hotel Columbia has ever known, the Bethell House. Built by William Decatur Bethell in 1882, the Bethell House Hotel was the crown jewel of Downtown Columbia. As part of the building, on the western side, was the Opera House, later known as the Princess Theatre.

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This three-story building featured stores, a theater, and a restaurant on the first floor. A grand ballroom was on the second floor, as was access to the private boxes of the Opera House. The third floor was made up entirely of guest rooms, of which there were sixty first-class ones throughout the hotel.

Horse-drawn omnibuses ran between the hotel and the train depot throughout the day, so that guests could go straight from the train to the hotel or vice-versa.

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In 1930, the Opera House became the Princess Theatre and would later be remodeled to take on a more Art Deco look inside. The hotel and Princess Theatre were truly the cultural hub of Downtown Columbia. Schools, dance classes, and local drama clubs all used the stage of the theater for their shows. Saturdays for most kids meant a day of movies and popcorn at the Princess.

img013 (marked 1931)

For some unknown reason, the last “l” from Bethell was dropped, so that the hotel became known as the Bethel House. Despite this change, the signs on top of the hotel were never changed. They retained the two-“l” spelling of Bethell until the end.

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That end came during the night of November 27, 1949. During this night and into the morning of November 28th, the Bethel House Hotel and Princess Theatre burned.

First Tennessee Bank and its parking lot now sit where the Bethel House once stood.

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Columbia Female Institute

The Episcopal Diocese began construction of their Columbia school in 1835. After several delays, Rev. Franklin Gillette Smith finished and opened the Columbia Female Institute in 1837.

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For 95 years, school was held in the castle-like building along West Seventh Street in Columbia. An advertising pamphlet from 1837 reads:

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…

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The Columbia Female Institute closed in 1932. After which, the building was used for a variety of purposes. It was being used as storage for the school system when it burned in 1959. On the night of Friday the 13th, March 1959, the school caught fire. It was a complete loss.

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An aerial photo showing the aftermath of the Columbia Female Institute Fire.

Today, Columbia Plaza shopping center and the U.S. Post Office sit on the site of the old girls school.

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If you’d like to read more about the school, visit: https://historicmaurycounty.com/2017/12/18/the-columbia-female-institute/ 

 

 

The Athenaeum Campus

Rev. Franklin Gillette Smith left the Columbia Female Institute in 1852 and started his own school. He named his school the Athenaeum.

This school was located literally next door to the Institute, just to the southeast.

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The large Athenaeum campus. The Columbia Female Institute was located where the key, or “Explanation” is on the map.

The most prominent building on the Athenaeum campus was the Study Hall. This white building was fronted on two sides (north and south) by four-columned porticoes.

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When the Smith family sold the campus to the City of Columbia in 1904, the city retained the old Study Hall building as a public school.

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Later, in 1915, the city would tear down this building to build the first Central High School on this location.

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Just to the west of where Central High School was built, the Tennessee Children’s Home was erected in 1909. This building would be razed in the 1930s to build Whitthorne Middle School.

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On the most southeastern portion of the old Athenaeum campus, King’s Daughters Hospital would be built. The King’s Daughters school is now on this location.

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The are several homes on the Athenaeum’s historic campus today. King’s Daughters School and the Maury County Board of Education are also on the property today. Thanks to these two entities, the property continues to have ties to education, a distinction held since 1852.

The rectory of the Athenaeum remains as a historic site and museum.

-Adam Southern

 

Most of the images in this post are postcards from the collection of Adam Southern. If you’d like to see more, consider a copy of his new book, Greetings from Maury County, Tennessee

 

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]

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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.

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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

Dimple of the Universe

The “Dimple of the Universe” is one of Columbia and Maury County’s oldest nicknames. While most of us have heard the saying before, not many know its origins.

John Trotwood Moore penned the phrase, “Dimple of the Universe.” It first appeared in his book, Songs and Stories from Tennessee. The book, re-printed in Philadelphia in 1903, drew national attention and was reviewed in several newspapers, including the Boston Globe. The first sentence of the introduction (titled the “Basin of Tennessee”) reads, “The Middle Basin is the dimple of the Universe.”

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John Trotwood Moore was born in Alabama and moved to Maury County in 1885. He found fame as a storyteller, poet, and horse racing correspondent. He also found a love for recording local history. He became the Tennessee State Librarian & Archivist in 1919.

What Trotwood referred to as the “Middle Basin” is the Nashville Basin of Tennessee—sometimes called the Central Basin. This area is very similar to the Bluegrass Region in Kentucky, which is why Middle Tennessee—especially the southern part—was sometimes called Tennessee’s Blue-Grass Region. (Until just a few years ago, Tennessee’s regional library in Columbia was still called the Blue Grass Regional Library, a throwback to the area’s past identity.)

John Trotwood Moore may have been writing about all of Middle Tennessee, but Maury County folks read between the lines. Many of the stories in the book were local tales Moore had learned from living in the county. When he called the Middle Basin the “Dimple of the Universe,” the people of Maury County knew he was talking about their home.

A Tennessean article written in 1904 called Maury “the garden spot of the Dimple of the Universe.” Even Columbia Military Academy used the slogan in their advertising in the early part of the twentieth century. But, Columbia and Maury County were not the only places using the slogan. Remember—that nickname applied to pretty much all of the mid-state; Nashville, Fayetteville, Pulaski and other communities proudly claimed the title, too.

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1909 CMA ad using “Dimple of the Universe”

The Dimple of the Universe was about to be pinpointed, though, and by an unlikely source.

In 1914, a lady in Boston wrote a letter addressed only to “The Poet, The Dimple of the Universe.” The letter found its way to the “dead letter office” in Washington. As it happened, a lady with Maury County ties worked in the dead letter office and knew exactly what to do. She directed the letter to Columbia, Tennessee and John Trotwood Moore.

Just as with Miracle on 34th Street, if the Post Office can declare Kris Kringle as Santa Claus, it can also recognize Columbia, Tennessee as THE Dimple of the Universe. The best part is the postal services has not only done this once, but twice.

Again, in 1939, a letter addressed to the “Dimple of the Universe” found its way into the mail. The Kingsport Times reported:

The dimple of the universe isn’t recorded as such on the map, but Postmaster Woodruff Booth [Knoxville] believes a letter sent here possibly was intended for Columbia, Tenn.

The letter was addressed to Miss Mary Virginia Webster, Dimple of the Universe, Tenn. It was from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon House at the University of Alabama.

Columbia and Maury County, of which Columbia is the county seat, often are called “the Dimple of the Universe.”

If it is good enough for the U.S. Postal Service, it’s good enough for me.

Welcome to the Dimple of the Universe—Columbia, Tennessee!

-Adam Southern

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A cast aluminum car tag from the 1950s. These are very rare today.

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!