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Thomas Benton Alexander - Introduction and Index

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By George Rugg

Thomas Benton Alexander (22 February 1839-17 August 1928) was born in Henry County, Tennessee, the son of Ebenezer C. and Lucy Sellers Alexander. The outbreak of war found him working on his father's farm near Columbia in Maury County in Middle Tennessee, yet unmarried. In October 1861 he mustered in to Confederate service, as private in the Maury Artillery Battery (a light artillery unit known, at times, by the names of its successive captains: Griffith's Company, Ross's Company, Sparkman's Company). Alexander served in the Maury Artillery, rising to sergeant, until its remaining men were absorbed into the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery Regiment, Company B (3rd), in January 1864. He served as sergeant in that company until the end of the war, though his time as a combatant ended with his capture at Fort Morgan in August 1864.

Alexander's wartime service was something of an odyssey. In February 1862 the Maury Artillery was sent to reinforce Fort Donelson, a point of great strategic importance on the lower Cumberland River in Tennessee. On the 16th of the month Donelson surrendered to U. S. Grant; Alexander was sent to the Federal prison at Camp Douglas in Chicago, where he remained until early September. At that time, under the prisoner cartel negotiated that summer, he was sent to Vicksburg, Mississippi for exchange. The Maury Artillery was reorganized and, in late October 1862, was posted to the garrison at Port Hudson, Louisiana, a well-fortified position on the Mississippi 25 miles north of Baton Rouge. In March 1863 the Federals initiated a campaign against Port Hudson, resulting in a siege that led to the city's capitulation on 9 July. The Confederate prisoners at Port Hudson were immediately paroled; Alexander spent six weeks in hospital at Montgomery, Alabama before he was declared exchanged and sent to the defenses of Mobile (October 1863). Here, he served on the batteries protecting the city itself before being posted to Fort Morgan, some 30 miles south at the entrance to Mobile Bay, in early April 1864. His battery engaged the Union fleet of Admiral David Farragut as it ran past the fort into the bay on 5 August 1864. On 19 August Fort Morgan surrendered, and Alexander was for the third time a prisoner. With no parole and exchange agreement in effect, Alexander was sent to Governors Island in New York Harbor and subsequently to the camp at Elmira, where he was imprisoned from 5 December 1864 to 10 March 1865. He was then returned to the Confederacy and, paroled but not formally exchanged, spent the remaining weeks of the war on furlough. For about a month he took refuge from Yankee troops on a farm near Barnesville, Georgia. He took his oath of allegiance in Tennessee on 16 May 1865, and arrived home two days later.

The pocket diary in question is a single volume (13 cm) of 59 leaves, with 118 pages of content in Alexander's hand, mostly in pencil. Approximately 70 per cent of this content consists of dated diary entries, ranging from 2 June 1862 to 18 May 1865. Most of these date from March 1863 to the end of the war, and appear in chronological sequence from 11v to 51v. Entries were made with considerable regularity but are generally very brief. The greater part of the diary content (20v to 51v) treats the final sixteen months of the war. Thirty-six pages at the front and back of the volume are devoted mostly to accounts and a considerable variety of other material, some dating to as early as 1861. Among the more significant entries are a list of men killed in the Maury Artillery, December 1861 to July 1863 (2r to 3r); a "song ballad," dated 30 August 1862, "wrote by T. B. Alexander" (57r to 57v); and, most notably, a table (of uncertain origin) indicating the individual Confederate regiments at Fort Donelson, with numbers of troops engaged, killed, and wounded (4v to 7r).

Of Alexander's three major engagements, the earliest, Fort Donelson, is alluded to only in the casualty statistics described above. The Port Hudson campaign of 1863 is treated in the earliest sequence of diary entries (11v to 18r), though Alexander seldom devotes more than a few words to the events of any given day. From March through the first three weeks of May the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson — about 3500 men under the command of Major General Franklin Garner — was troubled primarily by bombardment from the Union fleet on the river. By 27 May, however, the Union general Nathaniel Banks had the troops in place to launch an assault on the city's works. This attack — "the hardest fight I was ever in" (14r) — failed, as did another assault on 14 June (15r to 15v). But the Confederates had no hope of breaking Banks' siege, and surrendered on 9 July, the last stronghold on the Mississippi to pass into Union hands.

Alexander served the batteries around Mobile Bay for more than nine months before Farragut's long-anticipated attack of 5 August 1864. Fort Morgan was the key to Mobile's outer defenses; from its position at the western tip of Point Mobile it immediately overlooked the sole deep-water channel into the bay — reduced to a navigable width of 200 yards by the placement of pilings and torpedoes. Morgan also controlled the Swash Channel along the south shore of Point Mobile, the preferred approach of blockade runners seeking to elude the Union fleet. As the largest port on the Gulf still in Southern hands, Mobile was central to Confederate blockade running activity. Alexander makes frequent mention of the Denbigh, which completed seven successful runs into and out of the bay during 1864. Moreover, on several occasions he and his company were detailed to protect or salvage the cargos of blockade runners stranded in the shallows of the Swash Channel near Fort Morgan. Two such were the Ivanhoe, run aground on the night of 30 June and contested for days before being partially burned by the Federals on 5 July 9 (28r to 30r), and the Virgin, stranded on 9 July but eventually brought into the bay by the Confederates (30r).

On the morning of 5 August the assembled Union fleet withstood close to 500 rounds from the heavy guns of Fort Morgan as it made its way into Mobile Bay. The powerful ironclad ram C.S.S. Tennessee was captured; the two smaller forts on the outer defenses surrendered on the 6th and 8th. On 9 August Union troops and artillery were put ashore on Mobile Point a mile east of Fort Morgan, to begin a gradual approach from its landward side (32v). On the 22nd the fort was subjected to a terrific 12-hour bombardment from land and sea, which caused few casualties but great material damage. The next day Fort Morgan was surrendered, and though Mobile itself remained in Confederate hands, the port was effectively closed.

Alexander's initial reaction to the Federal prison camp at Elmira, New York was not entirely unfavorable: "our quarters very good with 2 stoves in Each Barracks very good Bunks . . . . we have two meals a Day for Breakfast Bread and meat for Dinner soop & Bread" (37v-38v). But within two weeks he reports that prisoners are "Dying by the Dozzen per day" — and the situation only grew worse as the harsh winter progressed, and the debilitating effects of the cold were added to those of malnutrition and disease. Alexander's barracks proved to have been built of green lumber, with chinks unsealed; the two stoves were inadequate to provide heat for 200 men. Elmira's mortality rate of around 24 per cent made it, over the course of its one-year existence, the deadliest of the Northern camps. Alexander first reports being sick on 15 January, citing the cold and "Rheumitism;" his record from Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, where he was admitted on 16 March after being paroled from Elmira and sent back south for exchange, refers to chronic diarrhoea.

Following the war Alexander married and worked a farm near Thompson's Station, Williamson County, Tennessee. In the 1920s he and his three brothers — all still living in Tennessee and all Confederate veterans — achieved a degree of local celebrity as the "fighting Alexanders." Two of the brothers, Ebenezer Crawford Alexander and Andrew Jackson Alexander, served for periods of time in the Maury Artillery, and are mentioned in the diary. It is also worth noting that all four brothers were among the respondents to the questionnaires submitted to Tennessee's surviving Civil War veterans by Gustavus W. Dyer and John Trotwood Moore from 1915 to 1922.

Bibliographic note: for T. B. Alexander's family background and military service, see The Tennessee Civil War Veterans Questionnaires, Vol. 1, Easley SC, 1985, pp. 191-92. Other family information appears in the questionnaires of Andrew Jackson Alexander (pp. 180-81); Ebenezer Crawford Alexander (181-82); and George Washington Alexander (185-88). An obituary of T. B. Alexander appeared in Confederate Veteran, Vol. 36 (1928), pp. 388-89. Names of Tennessee artillery units adhere to the terminology used in Stewart Sifakis, Compendium of the Confederate Armies: Tennessee, New York, 1991. For Port Hudson, see Lawrence Hewitt, Port Hudson: Confederate Bastion on the Mississippi, Baton Rouge LA, 1987. For Mobile, see Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr., Confederate Mobile, Jackson MS, 1991. For Elmira, see Michael P. Gray, Elmira and Its Civil War Prison, Kent OH, 2001.

Index of Diary

Front pastedown, 1rNames and addressesSep 19, 1863 - Mar 6, 1864
1v, 2rNames and addresses (1v); List of deaths (2r)Oct 9, 1862 - Nov 5, 1863 (1v); Nov 10, 1862 - Jul 1863 (2r)
2v, 3rList of deaths Apr 6 - Oct 19, 1862 (2v); Dec 14, 1861 - Jun 11, 1863 (3r)
3v, 4rAccounts (3v); Diary (4r)1861? - Oct 9, 1863 (3v); Jun 23, 1862 - Sep 15, 1864 (4r)
4v, 5rList of troops at Fort Donelson 1862?
5v, 6rList of troops at Fort Donelson1862?
6v, 7rList of troops at Fort Donelson1862?
7v, 8rDiarySep 2, 1862 - Jun 17, 1863
8v, 9rDiary (8v); Calendar (9r)Oct 21 - 29, 1862 (8v); Oct - Nov 1862 (9r)
9v, 10rCalendarDec 1862 - Jul 1863
10v, 11rCountersigns and diary (10v); Accounts and calendar (11r)Nov 22, 1862 - Jul 7, 1863 (10v); Aug 1863 (11r)
11v, 12rDiaryDec 12, 1862 - Mar 25, 1863
12v, 13rDiaryMar 26 - May 6, 1863
13v, 14rDiaryMay 17 to Jun 3, 1863
14v, 15rDiaryJun 4 - 14, 1863
15v, 16rDiaryJun 14 - 26, 1863
16v, 17rDiaryJun 27 - Jul 9, 1863
17v, 18rDiaryJul 10 - 31, 1863
18v, 19rDiaryAug 1 - Oct 15, 1863
19v, 20rDiaryOct 15 - 29, 1863
20v, 21rDiaryOct 29, 1863 - Feb 22, 1864
21v, 22rDiaryFeb 23 - Mar 24, 1864
22v, 23rDiaryMar 25 - Apr 12, 1864
23v, 24rDiaryApr 12 - Apr 29, 1864
24v, 25rDiaryApr 29 - May 15, 1864
25v, 26rDiaryMay 16 - 26, 1864
26v, 27rDiaryMay 27 - Jun 10, 1864
27v, 28rDiaryJun 11 - Jul 1, 1864
28v, 29rDiaryJul 1 - 4, 1864
29v, 30rDiaryJul 4 - 11, 1864
30v, 31rDiaryJul 12 - 29, 1864
31v, 32rDiaryJul 30 - Aug 6, 1864
32v, 33rDiaryAug 6 - 15, 1864
33v, 34rDiaryAug 16 - 22, 1864
34v, 35rDiaryAug 23 - Sep 16, 1864
35v, 36rDiarySep 17 - Oct 23, 1864
36v, 37rDiaryOct 23 - Dec 3, 1864
37v, 38rDiaryDec 3 - 11, 1864
38v, 39rDiaryDec 11 - 20, 1864
39v, 40rDiaryDec 20 1864 - Jan 7, 1865
40v, 41rDiaryJan 9 - Feb 1, 1865
41v, 42rDiaryFeb 4 - 13, 1865
42v, 43rDiaryFeb 15 - Mar 8, 1865
43v, 44rDiaryMar 9 - 15, 1865
44v, 45rDiaryMar 15 - 27, 1865
45v, 46rDiaryMar 27 - Apr 3, 1865
46v, 47rDiaryApr 3 - 8, 1865
47v, 48rDiaryApr 8 - 19, 1865
48v, 49rDiaryApr 20 - 26, 1865
49v, 50rDiaryApr 26 - May 5, 1865
50v, 51rDiaryMay 5 - 12, 1865
51v, 52rDiaryMay 14 - 15, 1865
52v, 53rDiary (52v); Addresses (53r)May 18, 1865 (52v)
53v, 54rClothing drawn (53v); Accounts and Diary (54r)Mar 5 - 21, 1865 (53v); Dec 22, 1864 - Mar 20, 1865 (54r)
54v, 55rLetters written (54v); Accounts (55r)Dec 27, 1864 - Feb 2, 1865 (54v)
55v, 56rAccounts1864 - May 7, 1865
56v, 57rAccounts (56v); Song (57r)Aug 30, 1862 (57r)
57v, 58rSong and diary (57v); Diary (58r)Aug 30, 1862 - Dec 11, 1863 (57v); Dec 16, 1863 (58r)
58v, 59rDiary (58v); Accounts (59r)Mar 4, 1865 (59r)
59v, Back pastedown[blank] (59v); Name (Back pastedown)Oct 29, 1864 (Back pastedown)

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