MURFREESBORO POST, MIKE WEST, 10/07/2007
Most Rutherford County school children have at least been exposed to the story of Sam Davis, “the boy hero of the Confederacy.”
Davis was a member of Coleman’s Scouts, a unit that worked behind Union lines collecting and delivering information and disrupting Union operations in Middle Tennessee.
Davis was apprehended and executed after refusing to divulge the source of the information he was carrying. His last words still resonate:
“If I had a thousand lives to live, I would give them all, rather than betray a friend or my country.”
Less glamorous is the story of another Coleman Scout, Dewitt Smith Jobe and his two cousins, Dee Smith and Thomas Benton Smith.
These cousins were natives of the Mechanicsville community located between the now thriving Sam Ridley Parkway retail area and Almaville. Each joined the Army of Tennessee. Dewitt S. Jobe was a scout.
His father, Elihu C. Jobe, was a cabinetmaker and farmer in Mechanicsville. He was also known for his coffins. Dee Smith was with the 45th Tennessee. Thomas Benton Smith was a “boy” general with the 20th Tennessee.
Each met a tragic – horrible – end at the hands of Federal troops.
DeWitt Smith Jobe enlisted in 1861 and became part of Company B of the 20th Tennessee Regiment commanded by Col. Joel Battle and his cousin Thomas B. Smith.
He was wounded and captured at the Battle of Fishing Creek and fought at Stones River. Jobe was hand-picked as a scout about the time Maj. Gen. Braxton Bragg began his retreat out of Middle Tennessee and into Georgia.
As a scout, Jobe did escape the doldrums of routine military life, but his new role with the Army of Tennessee was far more dangerous. Many of the members of Coleman’s Scouts were shot, killed or imprisoned.
And each of the Scouts knew about Sam Davis’ end on the Union gallows near Pulaski, Tenn.
In August 1864, Jobe and fellow scout Tom Joplin were far behind Union lines and reconnoitering near College Grove, Triune and Nolensville.
On Monday, Aug. 29, Jobe was hiding in a cornfield after eating breakfast at the home of a family between Triune and Nolensville. He had an important message hidden on his person. With Yankee patrols in the area, the Confederate was hiding during the day and traveling at night.
Unfortunately, he was spotted by a patrol of 15 men from the 115th Ohio Regiment of the Union Army of the Cumberland.
Seeing that he was about to be captured, Jobe tore up the note and began to chew and swallow it.
Angered by the near miss, the Union patrol first threatened Jobe and then began to torture him in an effort to get the scout to divulge the content of the dispatch.
The Ohio troops first hanged Jobe from a bridle rein and then pistol-whipped him, knocking out some of his teeth.
“Bound and disarmed, helpless and bleeding, Jobe revealed nothing. They were dealing with a man in gray who held the welfare of the Confederacy above his life,” wrote Ed Huddleston in “The Civil War in Middle Tennessee.
“The torture went on. The Yanks were whooping now, yelling so loudly that they could be heard at a distant farmhouse.
“They put out Jobe’s eyes. Perhaps then it was that Jobe heaped epithets upon them. How much courage did it take to do what they did then? They cut out Jobe’s tongue,” Huddleston wrote.
The Union patrol finished off Jobe by dragging him to death behind his own galloping horse.
The event is not mentioned in Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, but was preserved in Jobe family oral history and letters and books like Bromfield Ridley’s “Battles and Sketches of the Army of Tennessee.”
Former Rutherford County Historian Mabel Pittard has done the most exhaustive work on Coleman’s Scouts.
A Tennessee Historical Marker between Nolensville and Triune commemorates Jobe’s death:
“DeWitt Smith Jobe, a member of Coleman’s Scouts, CSA, was captured in a cornfield about 1 1/2 miles west, Aug. 29, 1864, by a patrol from the 115th Ohio Cavalry. Swallowing his dispatches, he was mutilated and tortured to make him reveal the contents. Refusing, he was dragged to death behind a galloping horse. He is buried in the family cemetery six miles northeast.”
At the time, news of his torture spread quickly.
It pushed his cousin, Dee Smith, to exact his own bloody revenge.
Smith was with the 45th Tennessee, commanded by Col. Anderson Searcy of Murfreesboro, when he heard of his cousin’s murder.
In the words of the day, Smith left his regiment near Chattanooga and rode back to Middle Tennessee and raised the “black flag.” He would give no quarter and swore to kill any Yankee who crossed his path.
Smith was a quiet killer who did his work with a butcher knife.
It was said, he used that knife to slit the throats of 14 Union soldiers while they slept in their tents near Tullahoma.
Dee Smith’s personal war continued for nearly two months during which he killed as many as 50 Yankees before he was captured.
“At last they surrounded him near Nolensville, Tennessee, and shot him. Afterwards they brought him twenty miles from Nolensville to Murfreesboro,” wrote Ridley in his “Battles and Sketches.”
“Although in excruciating pain when the doctors probed his wounds, he said that he would die before his enemies should see him flinch. Fortunately, he died before noon of the next day, at which time he was to be hanged.”
There’s no indication that the soldiers from the 115th Ohio were punished for the atrocity. Legend says the sergeant in charge of the Union patrol “became a raving maniac.”
And for those who believe in such things, there was a bit of karmic justice meted out to the soldiers of the 115th Ohio. A number of them were captured and sent to the horrific Rebel prison at Andersonville, Ga.
Other soldiers from the unit died in the Sultana Disaster on April 27, 1865. The Sultana, a side-wheeler, steam river boat, was loaded with Union soldiers headed from Memphis to Cairo, Ill. Just north of Memphis, the river boat exploded in the worst maritime tragedy in U.S. history. An estimated 1,700 died, including a number of soldiers from the 115th Ohio.
As for Dee Jobe’s other cousin, Thomas Benton Smith, he took part in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Civil War as an officer with the 20th Tennessee Infantry during Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga, Atlanta, Franklin and Nashville.
At Shiloh, the regiment sustained 50 percent casualties and Col. Joel Battle was taken prisoner. Smith was elected to replace him. He was shot through the chest and left arm at Stones River where his brother, John, was killed carrying the regimental colors.
He was wounded again at Chickamauga, and at Missionary Ridge he was named brigade commander after Col. Tyler was wounded. During the Atlanta campaign, he was promoted to brigadier general in time for the Battle of Franklin, which he escaped unscathed.
Then came Nashville.
On Dec. 16, 1864, the Army of Tennessee formed a new line with Smith’s brigade and the remnant of the 20th Tennessee stretching from a peach orchard to a prominence later called Shy’s Hill. Following a heavy artillery bombardment, the Union army attacked and swept the field.
Col. William Shy was killed and Smith was captured. As he was being led to the rear by Federal troops, Smith was accosted by Col. William Linn McMillan of the 95th Ohio.
McMillan, who had been a Columbus, Ohio, newspaperman before the war, was said to be intoxicated either from spirits or the intensity of the battle. He began to curse Smith, who responded, “I am a disarmed prisoner.”
That enraged McMillan who drew his saber and struck Smith three times in the head. The sword cut through his hat and battered his skull open so that the Confederate officer’s brain was exposed.
Federal troops restrained McMillan and rushed Smith to a Union surgeon, who remarked:
“Well, you are near the end of your battles, for I can see the brain oozing through the gap in your skull.”
Smith did survive the attack and was transferred to a Federal prisoner of war camp at Fort Warren, Mass.
He was only 27 when paroled at the end of the war.
He returned to his job with the railroad and even unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Congress.
Then waves of depression began to sweep over Smith. Physicians attributed the bouts to his head injury.
In 1886, he was admitted to the Tennessee State Asylum in Nashville. The facility, later known as Central State Psychiatric Hospital, was located on the site of the current Dell Computer’s campus.
Smith did make several attempts to resume life outside the asylum, but it was to be his home for most of the rest of his long life.
He did get to participate in reunions and other events sponsored by the 20th Tennessee.
“Confederate Veteran” magazine recorded one of those outings in 1910:
“At a recent reunion of the 20th Tennessee Regiment at Nashville, Tenn., in the beautiful Centennial Park where was held the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897, Gen. Thomas Benton Smith, an early commander of the regiment, who has been in the Tennessee Insane Asylum nearly ever since the war from a saber cut on the head after he surrendered in the battle of Nashville, was in command for a drill and short parade. The regiment was formed as a company, and the drill master, though now somewhat venerable, although he is said to have been the youngest brigadier general in the Confederacy, carried the men through the manual of Hardee’s tactics as if half a century were half a year.
“General Smith was self-poised, as full of the animation of the old days as could be imagined. When they stood at “Right dress! Eyes right!” he said: “Throw them sticks down; you don’t need them!” A picture of that scene and a repetition of all he said would be most pleasing. General Smith has times of deep depression, and is sad over his long “imprisonment”, but be is always happy at Confederate gatherings, and is still a magnificent specimen of Confederate manhood.”
Smith died May 21, 1923. At age 85, he was one of the last surviving Confederate generals despite the mental wounds that plagued him for nearly 60 years.