Confederate soldier/shoemaker given U.S. citizenship

November 14, 2010, Greg Tucker, The Daily News Journal

Although technically a ‘rebel’ and ‘enemy combatant’ while his application for U.S. citizenship was pending, Frederick Henry Crass eventually achieved the citizenship and prosperity that America promised immigrants fleeing European poverty and political turmoil in the 19th century.

Crass was born in 1835 in the sovereign Duchy of Nassau, part of Napoleon’s Confederation of the Rhine.  (Nassau was established by Napoleonic reorganization in 1806 and existed as an independent duchy, ruled by Adolphus, Duke of Nassau, until annexed by Prussia in 1866.  Geographically, it consisted of the territory between Bonn and Frankfurt in what is now Germany.)  In 1854 young Crass ‘emigrated from Nassau’ and arrived in New York after a 44 day voyage with a ‘bona fide intention … to become a citizen’ of the United States.

A year later, looking for work and opportunity, Crass settled in Rutherford County and began employment as a shoemaker.  Determined to make a life in the United States, Crass appeared before the 7th Judicial Circuit for the State of Tennessee in July 1859 and declared under oath his intent to become a citizen of the United States and forever renounced ‘all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty … and particularly all allegiance to Adolphus, 1st Duke of Nassau, of whom he had been a subject.’  Unable at the time to document or prove the minimum requirement for five years residency in the US, Crass anticipated a grant of full US citizenship at least by July 1864.

But events intervened as the United States was torn by civil war.  In April 1861 Crass joined with others from Murfreesboro in forming Company I, First Tennessee Infantry Regiment (Maney’s 1st) Confederate State of America, commanded by William Ledbetter and nicknamed the ‘Rutherford Rifles’.  Fifty years later, having survived into his mid-seventies, Crass wrote of his experience with eh Confederate infantry at Shiloh:

“This is written by one who was present and who took an active part in a struggle unsurpassed for valor, patriotism and devotion.  Justice demands that praise should be given the northern army for its bravery, and I cheerfully do so.  The defense of the position of Wallace and Prentiss, for five long hours, against 15,000 men and the fire of sixty-two cannons, under the command of General Ruggles, was a great display of bravery.

“The 12th Iowa Regiment lost 98 percent of her men in killed, wounded and missing (Official Report War Department).  I also find therein this statement: it was because there were none to charge; they lay on the bank of the rover.  Maney’s First and the Ninth Tennessee, 1,000 men, who had not more than 30 minutes before captured Prentiss and Wallace, were not men to refuse any demand made upon them, as their record shows.”

“The siege guns, that figure so prominently in the Yankee account of the battle, and the gunboats did very little damage.  We still had 50,000 rounds of ammunition in our cartridge boxes, well protected in a ravine.  We did not lose a man.”

“Although fifty-two years have passed, I can (still) see those huge siege guns.  Clearly did I see them fired at our men on our extreme right.  We, the 1st Tennessee, had completely outflanked them and even were in their rear.  It was only the two gunboats that fired over us, so near were we to them.  They made lots of noise.  Their mortar shells, as large as flour barrels, bursted way up in the air and killed friend and foe alike.  In this respect they displayed an impartiality.

“Our boys of the First never did need an order to charge.  They waited for none.  Often our officers had to restrain us.  So was it on this occasion, when the boys ordered the charge our officers, General Cheatham among them, said: ‘Lay down, we have orders not to shoot.”

“It makes my heart ache, when my rheumatic body tortured with pain prevents sleep, when I see the ghastly upturned faces of my comrades murdered needlessly.  I can still see their bodies pierced by solid cannon balls, as I did on the bloody Duncan field.  We were sacrificed to satisfy the devilish imbecilic ambition of our leaders.  Excuse this prologue.  (Duncan Field was one of the bloodiest and most hotly contested portions of the Shiloh battlefield.)

“I wish to say had we a leader like Frederick the Great, surely even then ours would have been a victory.  Read the official reports of Halleck and that of Beaureguard.  During the whole day of April 7th, we were on the extreme left of our army.  In front of us was Peach Orchard.  In our rear a battery of six guns firing over us.  Of course every man took the precaution to spread himself out pancake fashion, that is to say, flat.

“Now if you think there is any fun or glory in a position like this, you are mistaken.  To lay thus for hours tries the courage more than a hand to hand fight.  The true soldier who will not protect himself in battle is not doing his duty.

“To our right and 100 yards in front of us was a pile of corn in stacks … My limbs were stiff.  I ached all over.  I was hungry.  There was plenty of corn and while it is true not as good as broiled venison it is superior to nothing.  The favorable moment had come.  With athletic quickness, I sidestepped 20 feet, more or less.  I ordered the charge, that is to say, on the corn pile.  Not a very dangerous proceeding.  Bob Jones, next to me, reluctant to obey, when a slap came a spent ball and struck Bob on the hip and laid him down hors de combat (‘disabled from fighting’).  Poor Bob!  (Jones survived and died of cholera in 1873.)

“After my support having been placed hors de combat, I found myself alone except for Capt. Ledbetter.  Now the Captain was little but he was a good one.  It is true I could out run him two to one, so I slacked up to give him an opportunity to divide honors with me in this bloodless charge (on the corn pile).  In this, as in many other things, I was mistaken.

“He ordered me to come back as this charge was not regular.  I paid no attention to him, when he took firm hold on my coat tail.  Owning to the tender nature of the coat and personal strength of its owner, we parted company.  Ledbetter in possession of the coat.

“Although I had plenty of ammunition, we did not fire a shot.  It was nearly 5 PM when we retired.  We were on top of an inclined lovely plateau, when here comes a stampeded lot of Union cavalry.  We were ordered to stop them and we formed a line of battle.  I never wanted to shoot worse than I did then.  They stopped … and lived to fight another day.

“We lay in Monterrey several days unmolested.  We were the rear guard.”

Crass continued with the 1st Tennessee through the Battle of Stones River.  He was then assigned to ‘special duty’ in Atlanta as a shoemaker for the Confederate army.  Soon after the war, he married Mary Cayce from Mississippi and returned to Murfreesboro where he resumed shoemaking as F.H. Crass & Company.

On December 2, 1870, this alien and former Rebel appeared before Judge William H. Williamson of the Tennessee 7th Circuit and stated under oath that he would support the Constitution of the United States and that he ‘doth absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity’ to any other state or sovereignty.  On finding of ‘more than five years’ residence in the U.S. and ‘more than one year’ in Tennessee during which time ‘he has behaved as a man of good moral character attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the same,” Crass was granted citizenship.

Thereafter, Crass prospered, serving as city alderman and inspector, and for eight years (1883-91) as deputy warden for the Tennessee State Prison.  When he died in 1915, he was survived by six children – Mary, Bertha, Fred, Stella, Hermine and Ambrose.

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