DeWitt Smith painted mid-state red with blood of Union soldiers

Dan Goodwin, The Daily News Journal, March 31, 1989

For a good portion of the War Between the States, Middle Tennessee was ostensibly under control of Union forces.

That control was won by hard fighting in major and minor battles, but often that control went no further than a city limits or the sight of a Union flag – or from dawn ’til dusk.

In the countryside there was little law and order, and all that counted was who was the most heavily armed.

Though many considered themselves guerrilla forces, plain folk more often thought of people like Pomp Kersey’s outfit – who painted Cannon County red with blood on more than one occasion – or Champ Ferguson and his gang as little more than bushwackers and packs of killers.

But Kersey and Ferguson and others of their ilk had one thing in common: they rode in bands and had safety in their numbers.

One guerrilla rode the Rutherford County countryside alone and sought no other plunder that bright, crimson gouts of Union blood.

His name was Dee Smith and the Yankees had no one to blame but themselves for his bloody cause.

Smith started out as an ordinary Confederate volunteer in the 45th Tennessee (infantry), but an act of savagery by some Illinois yokels turned him into one of the most ruthless efficient killing machines to ever opo a cap in the South.

DeWitt Smith had a cousin and a close friend named Dewitt Jobe.

While Smith took the less glamorous role as an ordinary foot soldier, Dee Jobe volunteered and was accepted into Coleman’s Scouts.

These days the Scouts would be considered a combination reconnaissance and intelligence unit. The youthful riders tried to determine Union strengths and weaknesses in the Middle Tennessee area, then passed the information to regular Confederate forces.

The most famous Scout, Smyrna’s Sam Davis, had been hanged nine months earlier as a spy when fate, in the form of 15 mounted Illinois infantrymen caught up with his compatriot Dee Jobe in the summer of 1864.

Jobe had been scouting along the Nolensville Pike, in the vicinity of his hometown near Triune, when the boys in blue put a move on him.

They caught Jobe off guard in a thicket, but the youth had time to chew and swallow the documents he was carrying.

Jobe’s quick-thinking actions did not sit well with the Northerners.

A book about the period describes the horror that followed:

“They tied the hands of their prisoner (Jobe) behind him and put a leather strap around his neck to choke him.

“When Jobe refused to reveal the subject of his papers he was beaten over the head with guns, his eyes were put out and later his tongue was cut out. He was then tied to the tail of a horse and dragged at a gallop until no life remained in his body.

“As a final gesture, the Yankees left him tied to a tree, head down, and left his body handing as they rode off.”

Several sources of the period say the Union trooper in charge of the detail that slew Jobe went insane because he had “murdered the bravest man I ever saw.” But it may have been fear of Jobe’s avenger that drove him mad.

Smith, serving the 45th Tennessee near Chattanooga, got word of his kinsman’s fate and decided the Yankees had gone and made things personal.

Books of the era say Smith, “raised the black flag” and decalred he would never take a prisoner.

Smith left his unit and headed northwest towards Murfreesboro, packing six revolvers, a musket and a passle of bad feelings toward anyone wearing blue.

The young trooper added somewhat to his arsenal when he got to the Tullahoma area.

There he found an encampment of Union cavalry and quietly kicked off his bloody campaign.

Smith reported slipped into the camp – composed of eight-man tents – and found a butcher knife.

He then slit the throats of 15 sleeping cavalrymen and would have kept carving, but the 16th man – the last man in the second tent – awoke just as the blood-soaked apparition was about to fall upon him.

Smith escaped, on horseback, under heavy fire and continued to Murfreesboro.

Once back in Rutherford County, Dee Smith went to work in rare fashion.

Again, the one-man firing squad had plenty of help from the good folks of the county, too. Sam Davis was already a martyr and the brutal torture/killing of Dee Jobe had done little to advance the Union cause.

Whether Dee Smith had gone insane or sincerely mounted a one-man war against the Union to revenge Jobe’s murder is no known.

What is known is that Dee Smith has been credited with the deaths of more than 50 union troops in the time he operated in this area and his name struck fear in the hearts of the blue-clad soldiers.

Smith’s reputation grew to the point that small units of Union cavalry feared to pursue him when he was sighted.

According to tradition, Smith once captured two Yankees – though out of ammo – and brought them to a house in the area. As the farm wife made him a hearty meal, Smith molded new bullets for his revolvers.

After finishing his meal, Smith marched his captives to a nearby sinkhole, shot them each in the back of the head and left a note stating ‘Part of the debt for my murdered friend Dee Jobe.”

Smith reportedly longed to get Union commander Major General William Rosecrans in the sights of his revolvers, and he often prowled the Murfreesboro area with a concealed pistol in hops of seeing the officer.

On one of those Rosecrans hunts, Smith was reportedly accosted by an armed black trooper.

Smoothly drawing his hideout gun against the corporal’s already leveled weapon, Smith shot the soldier.

“By God, you saved Rosecrans life,” Smith was said to have shouted in the dying man’s face before fleeing.

But time ran out for Smith, and he was cornered in Nolensville by a number of Union troops, and in the ensuing gun battle, was badly wounded.

Federal troops carted Smith back to Murfreesboro to give him the same type of ‘drumhead court martial’ Sam Davis received.

Doctors who attended the ailing killer said Smith, though in excruciating pain, said he would die before “my enemies should see me flinch.”

And die he did, shortly before noon of the day he was to hang. Dee Smith won in the final round.

The many battles and skirmishes fought in Middle Tennessee are often commemorated by historic markers on the sides of roads and highways.

One such marker is at the entrance to the former Smyrna (Tennessee) City Hall building on U.S. 41/70S.

The marker deals exclusively with the torture death of DeWitt Jobe.

His cousin, the supremely effective killer Dee Smith, is not mentioned.

For further reading regarding DeWitt ‘Dee’ Smith, please click here.

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