Saturday, February 21, 2015

William Allen Philpott - a hero of the Confederacy and a prisoner of the Union

Great-Grandson of Charles Thomas Philpott ("our" Revolutionary soldier)

1836 – 1926
William Allen Philpott
It must have been quite a gift to hear stories about the Civil War  being told by a man who had personally experienced them. William (aka "Uncle Billy") Philpott of Shelbyville, Tennessee was such a storyteller, who lived to tell tales 60 years after the war ended,  which were passed down through the generations.

Fortunately for today's historians, William's memory had remained sharp as he turned 90 on April 2,1926.  It was at his birthday party that he told all present how even early in his life, he had been connected to some of the famous men of his time (who are legends  in ours), such as:
  • Davy Crockett who had died at the Alamo only a month before William's birth;  
  • Abraham Lincoln who was only 26 years old in 1836, while Andrew Jackson and Jefferson Davis were 27 that year;
  • And although he hadn't been legally entitled to vote because he wasn't quite 21,he had been allowed to cast a ballot for Andrew Johnson as Governor of Tennessee (because it was believed he would vote for the "right" person in the tight race). 

    Uncle Billy provided even more gifts to us when he not only filed for a pension in which he described his actions during the Civil War, but also completed - at age 86 - the “Tennessee Civil War Veterans Questionnaire" and the "Civil War Veterans Questionnaire", all of which combined to give us a very personal story about a horrible time in our country's history.

    A young Confederate soldier

    On July 1, 1861, at age 25, William Allen Philpott, who was married and owned a 20 acre farm, enlisted in the newly organized 23rd Tennessee Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which - before they could go into battle - had to undergo intensive training at Camp Trousdale, the main training camp for Middle Tennessee and Kentucky recruits. 

    The Battle of Shiloh Church
    After completing their training, the 23rd got its first taste of battle at Shiloh Church on April 6, 1862, when 40,000 Confederate soldiers under the command of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston attacked the Union lines, after which they struck a line of Union soldiers occupying ground on the Tennessee River. This overpowering Confederate offensive drove the unprepared Federal forces from their camps and threatened to overwhelm General Ulysses S. Grant’s entire command. 

    General Pat Clebourne
    Private Philpott was one of 630 soldiers in Clebourne's Brigade at the beginning of that battle.  But after pushing their way through thick undergrowth while climbing a steep hill, they were mauled by desperate Union soldiers during an intense 15 minute battle, and 300 of their men were lost.

    Three months later, the 23rd was again heavily involved at "The Battle of Perryville", which was the largest, bloodiest engagement fought in Kentucky. Although it was considered a Confederate tactical victory, Confederate General Braxton Bragg, was forced to order a retreat to Tennessee because of what had been extremely poor communications between the General and his officers, as well as a shortage of men and supplies.    

    It was while fighting near a burning barn in Perryville, that - according to William: “240 men fired at me point blank, leaving thirteen holes in my clothes and wounding me!”  Sadly, there was no description of his wounds which - you would think - would have ended his life - or at least put a severe crimp in it.

    This man loved to tell stories about what he had lived through!  For instance, he reported that: 

    • Shortly after being promoted to the rank of Sergeant, he saw a Union soldier leaning against a tree and took a shot at him. After seeing the soldier fall to the ground, he carefully approached him and discovered that the soldier actually had seven bullet holes in him! So he never was sure whether-or-not it was his bullet that had killed the enemy. 
    • Once, while experiencing extreme pain while walking, William asked to be carried for awhile in the supply wagon. His request was denied. He was so angry that he smashed his gun into the wagon with so much force that his hip snapped loudly back into place, and he was able to march on without pain.

    General Joshua Sill
    By 1863, after the 23rd had been merged into  General Bushrod Johnson's Brigade in General Pat Clebourne's Division, Sgt. Philpott decided to remain with his fellow soldiers, even though he had earned four days furlough, and it was then,  during a fierce battle, that Union General Joshua Sill was killed.

    As a postscript to General Sill's death,"Uncle Billy" reported that he had examined  General Sill's body and noticed that the fatal wound had been made by a much smaller missile than any ammunition the Confederates used in battle at that time, leading to his conclusion that the wound was self-inflicted. This was based on the common belief that General Sill had made a serious tactical blunder the day he died which had caused serious and unnecessary losses to his command.

    General Bushrod Johnson

    The regiment continued under the command of General Johnson, who was now a Division Commander.  But by the time the Battle of Chichamauga took place, the Division was down to 181 active soldiers because 26 of their soldiers had completely worn out their shoes and were sent to the rear before the battle began.

    Sgt. Philpott's last battle for the Confederacy was officially known as "Stones River" but more commonly called "The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of Cumberland". This battle,which began on December 31, 1862, didn't end until a few days later, and both sides experienced their highest percentage of casualties during the entire war. Although the results were inconclusive, the Union Army did  repulse two Confederate attacks. This led to the Confederate Army withdrawing which gave a huge morale boost to the Union Army. 

    It was also a life-changing battle for Sgt. William Philpott because - almost four years after he had enlisted - he was finally captured and imprisoned until the war ended in 1865.

    There is no record of where he was for the first nine months of his

    imprisonment but the record does pick up the tale when he arrived at Camp Douglas in Chicago in October of 1863.  This camp was the Union's answer to Andersonville Prison - and was just as gristly. Finally, in  March 1865, he was moved to Camp Lookout in Maryland. 

    It was there that he took the oath of allegiance to the Union and was released from the camp on June 17, 1865.  Thanks to money sent by this father, Charles T. Philpott, he was able to pay for transportation to take him home (he obviously wouldn't have been physically able to return to Tennessee on foot after almost three years in prison).

    William Allen Philpott was married twice and had 6 children with his first wife and 8 with his second. He died seven months after his 90th birthday party and left behind a tremendous heritage of bravery for his large family.

    This tale is dedicated to
    Loye Roach
    Who generously shared her Philpott research with me - a stranger 
    and is now meeting these interesting ancestors face to face
    Rest in Peace, Loye, and thanks
    1930 - 2014