Shirley Farris Jones, The Murfreesboro Post, August 14, 2011
Almost a hundred miles from his home and nearly 149 years after his death, the remains of a Jackson County Confederate soldier, who died during the first day’s fighting at the Battle of Stones River, will finally receive the respectful recognition he so rightly deserves.
A handsome granite marker bearing the inscription “Capt. William S. Sadler, Company C, 8th Tennessee Infantry, CSA” will be placed at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 33 at the Tennessee state post within Confederate Circle at Evergreen Cemetery.
Nearly 150 years after Sadler’s death, the marker will note the final resting place of this brave soldier whose identity somehow became lost to history on its way to his third and final re-internment.
But Sadler’s story didn’t begin here – nor did it end.
And, the marking of his gravesite finally brings closure to his family and friends, all of whom have been consistent in their belief that his remains were among those at Confederate Circle and have continued to honor his memory to this day.
William Sadler was born March 29, 1832, the first-born child of Betridge Scantland and Nelson Sadler, two of the earliest families of Jackson County.
On May 17, 1861, William Sadler enlisted in the Confederate Army.
This was three weeks before June 8, 1861 when Tennessee voted to join the newly formed Confederate States of America as the last seceding state.
William Sadler enlisted in Company K, afterwards Company C, of the 8th Tennessee Infantry.
Following training at Camp Trousdale, Sadler was sent to Corinth, Miss.
After reorganization, he became a part of Lt. Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army.
On May 8, 1862, he was promoted to the rank of captain of Company C of the 8th Tennessee Infantry.
In the fall of 1862, the 8th Tennessee passed through Jackson County on their way into Kentucky to face Federal forces there.
During the three days it took for Bragg’s troops to march through Jackson County, local residents cheered the men on and offered their support.
William visited briefly with his family and encouraged his brother, Lee, to join up.
Lee enlisted on Sept. 8, 1862, just in time for the Battle of Perryville the next month.
Both brothers escaped the battle unharmed, but seeing this kind of action must have made an impression on both.
After Perryville, both William and Lee were stationed in McMinnville for a short while and then headed to Murfreesboro.
Just before the battle, the brothers were bathing and William told Lee, “If you get hurt here, I can’t stop to take care of you. And, if I get hurt or killed, you go on.”
With those words, a pact was made.
Dark, bloody ground
The Battle of Murfreesboro began in the early morning hours of Dec. 31, 1862.
On the field, that same day, William was shot in the head with a Yankee minie ball. He became one of the 1,294 Confederate soldiers and 3,024 total deaths before the fighting had finished.
The 8th Tennessee was in Brig. Gen. Daniel Smith Donelson’s Brigade of Maj. Gen. Benjamin Cheatham’s Division so their main action was against Col. William B. Hazen’s and Brig. Gen. Charles Cruft’s brigades at Hell’s Half Acre around noon Dec. 31, 1862.
Although Sadler’s name appears only in the report of officers killed, it is highly likely that he died during an ill-fated charge on a 16-gun battery known as Loomis Battery.
Lee saw him shot and ran to him.
William’s last words were, “Go on! You can do nothing for me! Go on!”
As previously promised, Lee passed right on by his brother and kept on fighting.
It was said the 30-year-old William “was the bravest of the brave.” William’s horse, on its own, returned home to Jackson County, a distance of almost 100 miles.
John S. Quarles, who succeeded William Sadler as captain of the 8th Tennessee Infantry, wrote the following report, “He was killed leading his men in a charge on a 16-gun battery known as Loomis Battery. When he fell his younger brother, Lee Sadler, ran up to him and asked him some questions. His only answer was to go on, go on.
“I suppose these were his last words,” Quarles continued. “Capt. Sadler was a very brave man. As fearless as a lion and as gallant as a knight. He was a very correct and strict disciplinarian. To do his duty was but to know it. He hated the coward and deserter, but had the greatest admiration for a brave man. Valor covered all faults with Capt. Sadler. He sought no friends and dodged no foes but did his duty as he saw it.”
The next day, Lee and some of William’s men came back to the battlefield, retrieved William’s body, and buried it behind a building nearby, leaving only a large stone for his marker.
William’s body remained where it was first buried Jan. l, 1863 behind “a building.”
Then, in 1867, under the direction of Capt. Ed Arnold, remains of more than 2,000 gallant Confederate soldiers were gathered up and moved to the original Confederate Cemetery on South Church Street, near where Butler Drive in now.
According to family legend, “word had gotten to Lee, and he, along with Henry, the other brother, and some of the men who had served with Sadler, made the trip to Murfreesboro, located his grave, saw him dug up and re-interred at the new resting place.” A wooden marker was made to designate his gravesite, which read, ‘Capt William Sadler.’ ”
2,000 unknown soldiers
Over the next several years, there was discussion among family members about bringing his remains home to Jackson County to be buried with other family members.
But it was almost 100 miles away and money was tight, so it never was done.
But William was not forgotten, and whenever friends or family happened to be in the Murfreesboro area, they visited his grave.
Someone reported to the family about seeing that the condition of the wooden marker had deteriorated, which was badly cracked in the middle and read “Capt. William S / adler.”
Years passed and in 1891, the Ladies Memorial Association had the remains located on South Church Street re-interred a third and final time at Confederate Circle in Evergreen Cemetery.
Somewhere along the way, Sadler’s identity was lost to history.
When the family came to locate his new resting place, he was nowhere to be found.
They felt certain that Sadler’s remains were among the others removed to Evergreen Cemetery.
And it is strongly believed that the last name on the plaque at Confederate Circle, that of a “Capt. Williams,” was none other than their own William, “Capt. William S / (adler)”, the victim of a broken wooden marker.
Prior to next week’s memorial, re-enactors from both the 8th and 16th Tennessee will march from their encampment at Oaklands Historic House Museum to Evergreen Cemetery in Sadler’s honor.
As the unveiling of the new granite marker begins, complete with period music provided by the Caudells and a military gun salute, Sadler’s descendants will gather in solemn remembrance.
Not only have they have come from his home in Jackson County, but have traveled from coast to coast, California to Virginia, to pay tribute.
Among them will be his great-grandson, John Sadler, of McClean, Va., who bears a striking resemblance to the fallen soldier, and who will bring with him the very sword Sadler was carrying on that fateful day at Stones River.
Of the more than 2,000 men buried at Confederate Circle, less than 200 have been identified.
The majority are still unknown.
Now there is one more who is no longer among the “missing.”
William Sadler, “the bravest of the brave,” can finally rest in peace 149 years later knowing that he was loved, honored and remembered, not only by his family from Jackson County, but by new friends as well, from here in Rutherford County in fact, where he gave his all for the Confederacy.
Writer’s comments: This article is respectfully dedicated to the descendants of Capt. William Sadler, who have kept his story alive.
It has been my privilege to tell his story and to know many of his present-day family members.
I am honored to call them “my friends.”
His great-granddaughter, Bonnie Roberts, is also lovingly remembered on this day.
And I’d like to impart a very special thank you to SCV Camp 33 and the Friends of Stones River National Battlefield as well.