Civil War history too often focuses on the clash of large armies and battle strategy that resulted in victory or defeat. Far less attention is devoted, however, to the individual sacrifices of those who experienced the war each day from the discomfort of their own home. This is especially true in the South, where each person, caught between occupation and confrontation, experienced the war differently.
A simple survival strategy became the way of life for many. In Hickman County, Tenn., secession sentiment was tempered prior to the firing on Fort Sumter. But after the first shots, a 1,400-3 vote favored leaving the Union. One of the three in opposition, Caleb McGraw, had been murdered by August 1862—taken out in a boat, a rock tied around his neck, and pushed overboard to drown in Duck River.
The boundaries of war were defined by retaliation. Sometimes the divisions cut through families. Such was the case in the Fowlkes family, where two brothers fought on opposite sides of the conflict.
Edward and Gabriel Fowlkes were the sons of Nathaniel and Lucy Winn Fowlkes. The older of the two boys, Edward A. Fowlkes, or Ned, was born in 1825 in Halifax County, Va. At age 2, he arrived with his parents in Tennessee, and eventually settled along the fertile Mill Creek valley in Hickman County. About six years later, in 1833, younger brother Gabriel, known as Gabe, was the last of the family’s nine children born.
Extended family lived nearby. The boy’s maternal uncle, James Winn, a War of 1812 veteran who had moved to Tennessee from his native Virginia, taught school in the county. A paternal uncle, Gabriel, had arrived in Tennessee about 1806 and prospered, serving as Justice of the Peace, county sheriff and state legislator. He was also a substantial planter and slaveholder.
Tragedy divided Edward and Gabe after the death of their father sometime prior to 1836. Mother Lucy struggled to raise her children with the help of a female servant. When Lucy died, the boys were split up. Gabe was raised by his prominent and wealthy uncle Gabriel. With two Gabes in the family, “young” and “old” were added to their names to distinguish them.
Edward eventually began his own life. After the start of the Mexican War in 1846, he served two tours of duty. He began his service in June 1846, joining Company A of the 1st Tennessee Infantry. A few months later, the regiment became known as the “Bloody First” in recognition of its actions during the victory at the Battle of Monterrey. After the expiration of his one-year enlistment, Edward joined Company K of the 3rd Tennessee Infantry. The regiment arrived in Mexico during the waning months of the war and saw little action. Still, his leadership was noted, and he ended this enlistment as a captain in July 1848. Returning to Hickman County, he resumed his life as a farmer, and married Martha Caroline Temple, the sister of an officer with whom he had served in Mexico.
By 1850, the couple had started a family. Brother Gabe, age 17, also lived in the household. That same year, Hickman County sent uncle “Old Gabe,” as part of its delegation to the Nashville Convention, a meeting proposed by Mississippi to form a united front against what was increasingly perceived as Northern aggression. Delegates from nine Southern states met in the state capital on June 3. The group was deeply divided. Any impact of the Convention would be diluted by the passing of the Compromise of 1850 in Washington, D.C.
With the firing on Fort Sumter, Gabriel responded to a broadside posted by attorney Thomas P. Bateman, who had served in the Mexican War under Edward, and joined the Hickman Guards, which became Company H of the 11th Tennessee Infantry. The men voted for non-commissioned officers and elected Gabe second sergeant. Fowlkes served in this capacity for the next year as part of the garrison at Cumberland Gap. He advanced to acting commissary of subsistence for the regiment through the Battle of Stones River, and he kept his comrades supplied with necessities during various operations after the 11th became part of the Army of Tennessee. Following the Tullahoma Campaign in mid-1863, Gabe’s position became permanent and he joined the field and staff prior to the Battle of Chickamauga.
Edward’s Civil War service began close to home. In 1861, he accepted a commission from Gov. Isham Harris as the colonel of the 97th Regiment, Hickman County Militia. At this point, it appeared that his allegiances to the South aligned with his brother Gabe.
The fall of Fort Donelson in February 1862 and the subsequent scattered occupation of portions of Middle Tennessee brought guerilla warfare to Hickman County. Located on the Highland Rim and bisected by Duck River, Piney River and Big Swan Creek, Hickman County’s heavily forested hills and valleys provided shelter for native citizens who harassed Union forces, along with those that could not return to more heavily occupied areas, such as Nashville, Franklin or Columbia. Guerrilla activity increased dramatically in 1863 with the building of the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad, just north in Dickson and Humphreys counties, and with the increasing number of former Confederates who had returned home by reason of discharge, disability or desertion.
Union troops, mostly from the 5th Iowa Cavalry and, later, the 8th Iowa Cavalry, sent scouting expeditions to the area, but they proved only mildly successful. The federals then opted to combat guerrilla warfare with local troops. Recruiters fanned out into the county and offered a bounty of up to $300 to former soldiers. In early 1864, a group of federals occupied the county seat at Centreville—one of the few times they did so. There, on January 20, then 39-year-old Edward changed his allegiance to the Union, when he volunteered in the Union’s 12th Tennessee Cavalry. He was recruited and commanded by Capt. Andrew J. Sullivan, who had served under him during the Mexican War, and formally enlisted at Charlotte in neighboring Dickson County.
The families of Sullivan and Fowlkes fled to Union-occupied Nashville for their own safety. Letters to other men in the regiment begged them not to return, lest they be killed.
Sullivan had acquired a desperate reputation even before the war, preying on local families, stealing from and terrorizing them. He rode a fine stallion impressed from a neighbor. In late April 1864, while on scout with roughly 24 men, including Fowlkes, he rode through the Totty’s Bend area boasting of a terrible fate that would befall any bushwhackers they might encounter. A small band of guerrillas observed the federals and set an ambush. They sent a man up a lane to taunt the federals, which pursued the rider and became caught in crossfire. Sullivan was singled out and killed, “early enough to get to hell before dinner,” along with a half dozen others. Edward survived.
Fowlkes and his comrades in blue, now under the command of 2nd Lt. Jordan Creasey, returned with reinforcements the next day. An account of what happened next appeared in Spence’s History of Hickman County. They returned “under the leadership of the cur, Creasey, who came ready for that work in which he was most proficient—the burning of houses, the robbing of defenseless homes, and the insulting of unprotected women. He came with the intention of burning the residence of Hassell.” This was the homestead of Zebulon Hassell, another Mexican War veteran. The county history continued, “But loyal citizens of the neighborhood prevented this by their influence. One of Creasey’s soldiers, who had been in the fight the day before, argued against burning the house, indicating that ‘nobody is to blame but ourselves. They surprised us and whipped us, all of which is fair in war.’” That federal soldier was almost certainly Fowlkes, who had served with Hassell in Mexico.
Up to this point, Edward had never crossed paths with Gabe, who remained in the 11th Infantry. This changed, however, at the Battle of Franklin in November 1864, and a month later at Nashville. Both brothers were present, though they did not directly engage each other.
With the consolidation of the remainder of the surviving army, Gabriel likely returned home, as he did not appear in the ranks when the remnants of his regiment surrendered with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s army at Greensboro, N.C., on April 26, 1865. Three weeks later, on May 13, he signed the oath of allegiance to the federal government at Johnsonville, Tenn.
Edward went on the serve at Ft. Leavenworth on the Western frontier, before his discharge in October 1865. Perhaps about this time, they posed together in the uniforms of the blue and gray commands. The fact that they appeared together suggests that any animosity they shared ended with the close of hostilities and the reunification of the country.
Edward settled in neighboring Dickson County. By 1873, he owned a 187-acre farm. At some point his health declined, likely due to his exposure as a soldier. He died on June 26, 1879. He is believed to be buried along the railroad in the Moody lot at a Tennessee City cemetery near the site of Fort Gillem, where his federal cavalry regiment was stationed. His wife, Martha Caroline Temple Fowlkes, relocated to Texas. She died on April 3, 1884, and was buried in the Antioch Cemetery in Cooper, Texas.
Gabe remained in Hickman County, settling in the community of Pinewood, where he clerked for industrialist Samuel L. Graham. He also purchased a small farm. At Pinewood, he met Senora McMinn, whom he married in 1869. Her father, the manager of Bon Aqua Springs during the war, had been murdered outside his home by Union soldiers in 1864.
After Senora’s death in 1886, Gabe and his children moved to Centreville, where he went into the dry goods business in partnership with William M. Baxter, with whom he had served in the 11th Tennessee, under the name of Fowlkes and Baxter. About 1888, Gabe married Anna McClanahan of Centreville. He sold his interest in the company to Baxter, disposed of his farm, and then purchased a larger farm at Council’s Bend along the Duck River. He specialized in buying young cattle, and raising them for market. By consistent efforts and wise decisions, he overcame the difficulties of the Reconstruction Era and become a large landowner, an influential citizen and member of the Hickman County Court. Gabe lived until 1898, and is buried with his first wife in the Temple cemetery.
Gary Waddey, a resident of Nashville, Tenn., co-authored Forward My Brave Boys, A Regimental History of the 11th Tennessee Infantry, CSA (Mercer, 2016). He is currently working on a book regarding guerrilla warfare in Middle Tennessee, and presently serves as President of the Hickman County Historical Society.