Good marksmanship runs in the family

Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal, January 15, 2018

Confederate sharpshooter Joshua Denton Phillips is pictured in the front row at far left.

Ethan Campbell, my cousin and local investment adviser, is considered one of the greatest trap shooters to ever reside in Rutherford County.  His marksmanship in state and national tournaments is beyond incredible, and he reigns supreme in this sport with perfect scores.

Ethan developed this advanced skill at a very young age and has honed his talents over time.  I will never forget Ethan’s visit to my mom’s farm in Hickman County.  As a pre-teen, he had the ability on a spring day to snag a fox at a far distance in one sighting.

Ethan has a lineage that traces to an outstanding marksman who is acclaimed in the annals of Civil War history.  Sgt. Joshua Denton Phillips, Co. A, 16th Tennessee Infantry, was my great-great- great-grandfather and Ethan’s great-great-great-great grandfather.  Phillips was an active soldier in the Civil War to the very end.

Phillips, a handsome young man, was a member of Benjamin Cheatham’s Corp, Brown’s Division and George Maney’s Brigade who fought in both the 1863 Chickamauga and Chattanooga– Ringold Campaigns.  The brigade was ambushed at Cheat Mountain.

Phillips was an original member of the 16th Tennessee Volunteer Army, known as the Mountain Regiment. The regiment’s Army Commanders were Robert E. Lee, Pierre T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, Joseph E. Johnston and John B. Hood .

Phillips was born June 14, 1837, to Sallie League, a Southern beauty, and Martin Phillips.  He enlisted in the Civil War on May 18, 1861, at age 24 years old.  He participated in key battles, including Perryville and the Battle of Franklin.  On Nov. 30, 1864, there were 27,000 Confederates engaged in the encounter at Franklin, resultant of 5,200 Rebel casualties.  Yet, Phillips entered the battlefront in Carter’s Brigade as sharpshooter and walked away unscathed.

Civil War sharpshooters in general were not immune to escaping an execrable death as a result of their high expertise.  These solders were actually placed in high danger.  Qualified recruits in many units had to place 10 shots in a 10-inch circle at 200 yards.

The soldiers’ mission was to focus on long-range shots confronting valuable targets as needed. These elite troops were well equipped, skillfully trained and placed at the front of any column to first engage the enemy. They were required to participate in continual shooting practice.

At the beginning of the Civil war, Tennessee only contained 1,761 .69-caliber muskets.  Almost all were flintlocks.  There were 700 rifle muskets in the armory, and all were muzzle loaders.

In winter quarters, after the Battle of Perryville (1862), there was a contest in Murfreesboro to judge the best shot among soldiers, with 500 men competing for this title.

J.D. Phillips won the prize, a Whitworth rifle, as accurate at 3,000 yards.  This was the top firearm used for sharpshooting purposes in 1862.

He enlisted in the Confederate Army on May 18, 1861.  Phillips was promoted to 5th Sergeant, A Co. on Jan. 1, 1863.  On his July-August 1863 Muster Roll, he was on daily duty at Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk’s Headquarters. Phillips served to the end of the Civil War and was paroled at Greensboro, N.C., on May 1, 1865, Co. K marking the end of his service as sharpshooter.

Phillips ventured out West with his Whitworth to participate in more United States wartime engagements at the end of the Civil War.  His marksmanship was in high demand, and he continued the effort on behalf of the U.S. Army.

Nonetheless, his prized rifle was eventually missing and most likely stolen, culminating in a real loss to this master rifleman.  He returned to Middle Tennessee and vouched for several pension applications for veterans of his brigade.  He remained a wonderful father, husband and provider; yet, he was never the same man, having seen the horrors of war.

Phillips was first wed to Mary Fannie Hooper (1839-1866), who died in childbirth along with stillborn twins. After the Civil War, Phillips remarried in 1868 to Mary Elizabeth Johnson (1849-1912), affectionately named as Mollie, who bore nine children.  The family members are buried today in the Smithville, DeKalb County Cemetery.  Phillips died Feb. 1, 1911, and Mollie followed in 1912.

Ethan Campbell of Christiana inherited his high-level ability from his direct relation Sgt. Joshua Denton Phillips, a Confederate soldier embroiled in a war of great dimensions, while using his giftof marksmanship to the fullest.

Contact Susan Harber at

Comments are closed.