Friday, March 12, 2010

John Thomas Holliman, A Survivor and Casualty of the Civil War

In this posting, Dr. Rhodes Holliman examines the Civil War life of one of the sons of Uriah and Mary Polly Lucas Holliman. Many of you reading this are descendants of John Thomas Holliman (1844-1930). Others will recognize John Thomas as a distant cousin, a great grandson of James Grantson Holliman (1750-1836).

Whatever your relation, this life of John Thomas captures the pathos and violence of war, and its difficult aftermath. Note the sad reality as John Thomas assembled with his regiment in Tuscaloosa only one week after his father and brother died following the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi.

by Dr. Rhodes B. Holliman of Dublin, Virginia.
This article first appeared in Southern Times, Magazine of Tuscaloosa and West Alabama, issue No. 124.

(John Thomas Holliman, ca 1900)

John Thomas Holliman was born on April 23, 1844, in Fayette County, Alabama. He was the fifth child of 13 of Uriah Holliman and Mary Polly Lucas Holliman. In his family, two of his older brothers and his father joined the Confederate Army plus a younger brother and a brother-in-law. Of these volunteers, only two would survive the War: John Thomas and his oldest brother, Lt. James Franklin Holliman of the 58th Alabama Infantry. His was a poor, backwoods, farming family who never owned slaves but who stood ready to defend their homeland.

We will never know the motivation that drove John Thomas, his father and 3 brothers to join the Confederate Army. Peer pressure, community pressure, the excitement of travel away from the farm, a patriotic resolve to defend the homeland and their way of life, a distorted view of what combat would really be like and no idea of the privations that lay ahead could have influenced their decisions. John Thomas and his siblings had never been more than 25 miles away from home.

The fallacious idea that war would be fun and exciting and would be over in a few weeks pervaded the minds of so many volunteers of that time in both Union and Confederate armies. The Holliman boys were basically illiterate, and they had no background in the study of history and the horrors of war. As far as we know, James Franklin Holliman was the only member of this family group who could read or write.

At age 18, John Thomas joined Company H of the 41st Alabama Infantry Volunteers as a Private in April, 1862, in the town of Fayette. He would never be promoted. The 41st was made up of volunteers from Tuscaloosa, Greene, Fayette, Perry and Pickens counties, with Fayette County enlisting the most men in Companies B (88), H (132), and I (110). This was 26 % of the 1284 volunteers in the 41st from all counties.

The 41st was assembled in Tuscaloosa, AL, on May 16, 1862, to begin training. The sudden crowding of these men who were accustomed to living on isolated farms remote from individuals with contagious disease, and the subsequent exposure to polluted water, poor rations and unsanitary conditions of camp life, created an environment for an epidemic (measles, typhoid, pneumonia). There was no effort made to quarantine contagious individuals because the microbial source of infection was not discovered until the work of Pasteur and Koch in the late 1800s.

From May through July there were many deaths due to disease so that the first engagement at Chattanooga, TN, in August, 1862, found only 700 men fit for duty. John Thomas fought skirmishes along the Tennessee River in the fall and was hotly engaged in the carnage of Stones River (Murfreesboro, TN, campaign) in early January, 1863. Thereafter, the 41st was deployed along The Army of Tennessee Defense Line at Manchester, Allisona, Tullahoma and McMinnville with frequent skirmishes through the spring of 1863.

In an effort to reinforce troops in the Mississippi Campaign, on May 23 rd, the 41st was transferred by rail to Chattanooga, Atlanta, Montgomery and Mobile, Meridian and Jackson. Arriving too late to be of help at Vicksburg, the 41st was outstanding in the Second Battle for Jackson, MS. After a month long rest, the 41st retraced its steps to Chattanooga. John Thomas was yet to face the blood bath at Chickamauga on Sept. 20th and the following siege of Chattanooga.

The 41st left their positions on Missionary Ridge on November 19th and marched to Tyner’s Station to join Gen. Gracie’s brigade for the assault to retake Knoxville. Little did they anticipate that Union forces would overrun Missionary Ridge on November 25th whereupon John’s brother, Lt. James Franklin, was captured and imprisoned for the remainder of the War in the Confederate Officer prison camp on Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie near Sandusky,Ohio.

Part II of the war travail of John Thomas Holliman continues with the next posting.

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