As published by the Murfreesboro Post, Shirley Ferris Jones, Tuesday, May 29, 2012
WThe month of May was anything but “merry” for the citizens of Murfreesborough in 1862.
Our little town was barely 50 years old when it became a focal point of the Civil War in the West. From 1811, when the town was founded, until 1861, life here had been interesting but hardly dramatic.
The townspeople had enjoyed prosperity and a sense of well-being for half a century. Murfreesboro served as the capitol of Tennessee from 1819-1826 and was to host such well-known political figures as Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren and James K. Polk.
Businesses flourished, educational landmarks were established and the quality of life was good.
During this decade the high point in agriculture, transportation, education, and the economy was reached.
In 1859, the completion of a grand new Courthouse, at a cost of $59,000, was a topic for conversation and by 1860 the residents of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County could certainly be proud of not only their prosperity but of their position in state politics.
Murfreesboro was torn by the 1860 election.
A few voters supported the Northern Democrat, Stephen A. Douglas, some liked John Breckenridge the Southern Democrat, but many supported John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party – the successor of the Whigs. Lincoln was not on the Tennessee ballot, not having qualified in the state. Bell carried the state but Lincoln won the election.
When seven deep south states left the Union, Tennessee debated the issue and in February 1861, voted “No” on the ticket calling for a “Convention” or “No Convention” regarding the issue of secession.
Murfreesboro voted with the majority, as Tennessee chose to remain loyal to the Union by a vote of 69,675 to 57,798. The “Rutherford Telegraph” of Murfreesboro expressed the people’s sentiment by stating, “Under the circumstances that now exist, there is no cause whatsoever for disunion, and he that favors it can be guilty of nothing short of treason to his country.”
Then shots were fired at Fort Sumter in April and war became a reality with Lincoln’s call for troops.
Again, the legislature voted to submit the question of secession to the people. Now Tennessee had to decide which side to take and a second vote settled the issue in favor of the Confederacy.
Again, Murfreesboro voted with the majority. This time the state voted for secession by a vote of 104,913 to 42,238. In Rutherford County, the vote was 2,392 for secession and 73 against.
War comes home
After the Confederate flag was hoisted above the Courthouse in the summer of 1861, war came to the people of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County much sooner than any of her citizens could ever have imagined.
With Tennessee’s vote to join the Confederacy on June 8, 1861 as the last succeeding state, the citizens of our town never dreamed they would ever hear the roar of cannon, the rattle of musketry or groans of the dying.
And, they never dreamed that their little town would change hands three times during 1862, and that it would become a “captured town” rather than a “surrendered town” in the process.
How wrong they were. Soon enemy soldiers would walk the streets of the town.
Following the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson in February of 1862, the boys in blue thundered over Nashville and the gray troops trudged south to Murfreesboro; then the Union men seemed stuck in place, needing time to solidify their hold on Nashville.
This gave the Confederates time and space to breathe and to make their way toward Alabama, leaving only a cavalry screen to worry the slow advance of the Yankees.
This cavalry force was commanded by Capt. John Hunt Morgan, a man who would become forever a part of the legend, lore and history of Murfreesboro.
One cold, rainy night in late February, U.S. Rep. Charles Ready Jr. invited the widowed officer to his home for supper; sensing he was sad, Mattie Ready offered to sing for him. There a love story began.
Life suddenly had become very uncertain and relationships were in a fast-forward mode, tradition put aside by necessity. Mattie became engaged to the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy,” after a three week courtship.
One morning Morgan was gone and the next day men in blue began to arrive.
Murfreesboro found herself under Federal occupation by early March. Their commander, Ormsby Mitchell, had no sympathy for the residents of the town merely because they were civilians. Mitchell favored a “hard war” policy and soon put this belief into action. Oliver Cromwell Rounds became the provost marshal of the town and life for pro-Confederates became hard.
Prominent citizens were arrested as hostages because of Confederate attacks on outposts, and travel was restricted even to the extent of preventing people from attending church. Houses were subject to search and goods were seized.
The citizens of Murfreesboro were learning that war was a hard and cruel business. In the words of Murfreesboro citizen John Cedric Spence,
“On the 10th of March … the ears of the citizens were greeted with the sound of drum and fife, the rattle of artillery wagons, columns of marching infantry, advancing with glittering bayonets, flags, ensignia, and banners flying, prancing steeds, bearing riders with drawn swords, all pomp and display, headed by General Mitchell in advance.”
And with that said, the Federals took formal possession of the town, hoisting the U.S. flag at the Courthouse.
A captured town
Mitchell then began to question various citizens regarding the Confederate retreat and the burning of certain bridges and the destruction of the railroad tracks and whether the deeds were done with citizen consent or not.
When he learned “it was done with the consent of the people,” his reply was, “Well, if that be the case, I know what kind of people I will have to deal with!”
House searching, supposedly for the purpose of collecting guns and ammunition, followed although many other items of value “disappeared,” never to be seen again, despite citizen protest.
This was quite a change for people living in Murfreesboro who had never before even bothered to lock their doors. And, those who had locked up their houses prior later learned locked doors were not respected and collections of law libraries, silver, family heirlooms and valuables of every description had fallen into pillaging hands.
Both men, women and children were “insulted” by lewd comments and actions of the disrespectful invaders.
Many citizens were also arrested during this time and sent to prison, without being given any valid reason for their incarceration, other than being a “disloyal subject to the United States.”
And businesses were not allowed to operate unless the owners had taken the oath and carried a pass, showing their compliance.
Since many of the merchants had a son, brother, friend, or loved one fighting for the Confederacy and very few people were willing to submit, merchants closed out their stocks and refused to reopen.
Everything was in scarce supply.
But, as with any group of people, there are always a few who do not share the idealism, seeking instead an opportunity. Such was the case with 65 businessmen of the town who wished to restore relations with the Union at any cost and therefore be allowed to conduct business as usual.
A meeting was held, speeches were given, emotions ran high. Especially among those staunch supporters of the Confederacy who had loved ones fighting for the cause.
Pressure was being placed on the mayor and aldermen, and the government officials of the city, to likewise take the oath “for the sake of peace and interest of the public,” Federal Provost Marshall, O.C. Rounds said.
Total sympathy was for the South and how to resolve this issue and remain a recognized corporation to deal with the Federal injustices being inflicted upon the citizens of Murfreesboro was at stake.
During this same time, Mitchell desired a conference with Mayor John Dromgoole “on some business” and sent word asking where he could be found. The mayor, being of a determined nature himself, understanding the implications, and wishing to evade the meeting, chose to go fishing instead.
According to Spence’s account, “On leaving with fishing poles on his shoulder, remarking, if Gen. Mitchell wishes to see me more than I do him, he may come where I am fishing. I shall not go to him.”
From this day on, Murfreesboro was known as a “captured town.”
In consequence, a town that is not surrendered to the Federal Army on their first appearance, which is claimed to have been the duty of the mayor at the time according to an act of Congress, shall be declared “captured” as a failure to comply.
Had a proper “surrender” been tendered, the town and citizens would be protected in person and property during the time of Federal occupation, citizens being allowed compensation for rents and damages sustained by the army.
Citizens take the oath
As March turned into April and April into May, the good life previously enjoyed by the citizens of Murfreesboro had become a fond memory of a former time.
They did not know what lay in store for them or what their futures held. Federal occupation took its toll as the citizens came to realize what rights were lost under martial law. Increasing pressure to take “the oath” was almost a daily ritual and soon Mattie Ready’s father, Charles, found himself a target, imprisoned by the Federals.
Alice Ready, Mattie’s younger sister, recorded in her diary on April 30, 1862:
“What a day! I never thought to say that my Father was in the Penitentiary! They grind us closer and closer, until now we scarcely dare to say our house is ours. On 30 minutes warning without allowing him to return even for a change of clothes. Col Parkhurst, Military Gov. of Murfreesboro wrote Papa a note this morning saying it had become necessary for him to take the oath of allegiance to the U.S. Capt. Rounds would wait upon him to administer it, which he did. Papa went with him to headquarters, and upon declining to take the proscribed oath – was taken immediately to the depot not allowed to return home. … I know not what may be the sentence passed upon our beloved father, or what may befal (sic) our darling Brother – Their fate I know is in the hands of a merciful God. He will not deprive us of all that is dearest. God protect our Father and Brother.” (Horace Ready enlisted in Co. E., 23rd Tennessee Infantry, as a sergeant.)
For Murfreesboro, the month of May began on anything but a “merry” note.
In fact, an incident occurred that brought matters to a crisis point. As Parkhurst and Rounds were passing along one of the streets in town, a shot was fired. Neither man was injured and there is no record of a shot actually being fired at them, nor was any person ever identified as being responsible.
However, the matter was reported to Andrew Johnson in Nashville, who promptly consulted with prominent Unionist citizens of the town, E. L. Jordan, G. W. Ashburn, and E. D. Wheeler.
Following this consultation, Johnson wrote to Parkhurst: “You will at once arrest as many persons as you in your judgment may believe will have a proper effect upon the spirit of insubordination which seems to prevail in that community.”
Parkhurst lost no time in arresting 12 leading citizens on no more evidence than their political opinions.
The town was subjected to more searches and some too hundred additional guns of various types were confiscated. The men were taken to the state prison in Nashville and were released several days later after posting bonds of $10,000 each.
Demonstrations of sentiment, large and small, kept the town on edge.
May turned into June and the folks of Murfreesboro endured the fate dealt them while the nightmare continued.
They could only hope and dream of a better tomorrow.
They would have been heartened to know that their dreams would soon be reality on July 13 with the arrival of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry force who would return the town to Confederate rule.
Nor did any of their dreams even hint that this same town would later boast of a visit by President Jefferson Davis or of having the so-called social event of the Confederacy, namely the wedding of Murfreesboro’s own belle, Martha Ready to the dashing, daring cavalryman from Kentucky, Gen. John Hunt Morgan before the end of the year.
They could not know their dreams would again become a major nightmare following the bloody Battle of Stones River, leaving more than 23,000 dead and wounded for the townspeople to nurse, feed, and bury, along with their own loved ones.
And that the nightmare would continue and Murfreesboro would remain under Federal rule for the duration of the war.