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Lt. Col.Fielding Hurst--TN Unionist

Lieutenant Colonel Fielding Hurst, 6th Tennessee Union Cavalry, hailed from that part of the Western District known as "The Nation." The Hurst Nation. A land settled by great tribes of the Hurst family and their related lines from Bethel Springs in McNairy County to Chickasaw State Park in Chester and Hardeman Counties. A land of rolling hills, red dirt, and sandy bottoms not unlike other areas situated along the Highland Ridge of West Tennessee. Homogeneous as yeomen farmers and shop keepers, politically Whiggish before the War, and radically Republican thereafter. A hotbed of Union sympathy and dedicated to little else but the wholesale obliteration of all their surrounding neighbors who tended to disagree. Hurst himself felt driven by divine mandate to slay the Phillistines, cleanse the land of rebels and like Joshua before him, to spare not even the ox nor its manger.

Numerous early reports from Union command continually ask "Where is Hurst?" The same question was beginning to form on the silent lips of young mothers whose defenders marched with the Army of Tennessee (CS). The summer of 1863 found Hurst in Jackson, Tennessee There he ravaged and robbed the personal property of a Mrs. Newman, who filed a complaint with Federal authorities. After an intense investigation, Col. Hurst was found guilty of theft and charged $5,139.25 as recompense to Mrs. Newman. With things hot in Jackson, Hurst struck back out into rural West Tennessee. In August, Hurst surrounded and captured Captain Wharton and a portion of his men on the road from Purdy to Pocohontas. They were murdered. Ms. Emma Inman Williams writes in Historic Madison that they were buried as mile markers along that road. Mr. G. Tiliman Stewart, Henderson County historian until his death in 1986, remarked in 1977 that only the bodies were buried . . . the heads were placed on mile markers already existing on the road from Purdy to Lexington. In any event, the murders must have been horrible as various civilians wrote Confederate authorities about the matter. That of Mr. D. M. Wisdom reached Jefferson Davis himself.

By November 1863, Maj. Gen Hurlbut was becoming anxious about all the activity within his command. He wrote to Gen. Stevenson "Try to find out where Hurst is, and get him under your command. Both the 6th and 7th Tennessee have behaved badly." It seems, however, that it was only a matter of authority - in December, 1863 Hurst was granted "a roving commission . . . to 'grub up' West Tennessee" by Gen. William Sooy Smith.

The year of 1864 reads like a roll call of the damned. On January 1, a deformed and helpless cripple named Ree Doroughty - just 16-years-old was arrested and brutally murdered. Next the roving eye of Hurst was trained upon the men of Wilson's 21st and Newsome's 18th Cavalries (CS). On February 5, Pvt. Martin of the 21st was shot to death, and burial denied for four days. From there the 6th Tennessee rode on to Jackson, Tennessee, arriving on February 7.

Hurst decided he was due reimbursement for the fine levied against him by U.S. authorities in the matter concerning Mrs. Newman and demanded the $5,139.25 from the citizens of Jackson. Should the amount not be paid in full in five days, in either U.S. or Kentucky notes, the city of Jackson would be burned. On the 12th, a group of concerned citizens paid the levy-Hurst took the money and later burned the city.

Heading back towards the "Nation," Hurst captured three men of Newsome's 18th Cavalry: Lt. Joseph Stewart, Pvt. John Wilson, and Pvt. Samuel Osborn. Three days later their bodies were found in Haywood County shot to death. The month of March repeated the same agenda of burning and murder. On March 8, Pvt. Alex Vale of Co. H., Newsome's 18th, was arrested and shot in Madison County.

Lt. J.W. Dodds, CSA, August 20, 1843-March 9, 1864, Captured and brutally murdered. He was a constant member of the Baptist Church, a dutiful and affectionate brother and a gallant soldier. So reads his tombstone at Unity Baptist Church on Hwy 22A between Middlefork Village and Jacks Creek. He was an officer in Co. F., Newsome's 18th Cavalry, and had returned home on furlough. Most of the men in the 18th were either relatives or neighbors and young Willis Dodds was bright, brave and a favorite among the troops. A dispatch of Gen. Forrest reads "Pvt. Silas Hodges . . . states that he saw the body of Lt. Dodds very soon after his murder, and that it was horribly mutilated, the face having been skinned, the nose cut off, the under jaw disjointed, the privates cut off, and the body otherwise barbarously lacerated and most wantonly injured, and that his death was brought about by the most inhuman process of torture."

On March 10, Forrest wrote to Col. T. M. Jack, Asst. Adj. Gen., that "Hurst is still reported in West Tennessee, and a portion of Jackson and Brownsville have been burned by his men." The travesty compounded by Hurst, largely ignored by Federal Command as something between Southerners of divergent local politics, had now gained the attention of Bedford Forrest.

When asked to report by command on the conditions in West Tennessee, Forrest replied "From Tupelo to Purdy, the country has been laid waste, and unless some effort is made by the Mobile & Ohio RR or the Government, the people are bound to suffer for food. They have been, by the enemy and roving bands of tories, stripped of everything."

Forrest also asked that higher command deliver his reports on the atrocities committed by Hurst to the newspapers . . . "such conduct should be made known to the world."

Forrest also sent correspondence to Gen. Hurlbut and to Gen. Buckland on the conclusion of his investigation of the Hurst murders. He also requested that Hurst and the men responsible for these various crimes be turned over to Confederate authorities for criminal prosecution.

Though it seems that General Grierson convened a courtmartial, Hurst was never turned over to the Confederates. On March 22, 1864, Forrest had the following dispatch delivered throughout the surrounding territory:

"Whereas it has come to the knowledge of the Maj. Gen. commanding that Col. Fielding Hurst . . .has been guilty of wanton extortion upon the citizens of Jackson, Tennessee and other places guilty of depridation upon private property, guilty of house burnings, guilty of murders, both of citizens and soldiers of the Confederate States . . . I therefore declare . . . (them) outlaws, and not entitled to be treated as prisoners of war . . . ." Forrest was never to personally capture Hurst, although men of his command still skirmished with the 6th Tennessee. On April 20, Gen. James R. Chalmers wrote that Col Neely had ". . . drove Hurst hatless into Memphis, leaving in our hands all his wagons, ambulances, papers, and his mistresses, both black and white."

The rest of 1864 saw the same pattern as the first. In May, Hurst's men looted and burned Commerce, Mississippi. Again Forrest petitioned Federal Command for the surrender of Hurst, this time, in June to Maj. Gen. CC Washburn in Memphis, that Hurst ". . . deliberately took out and killed seven Confederate soldiers, one of whom they left to die after cutting off his tongue, punching out his eyes, splitting his mouth on each side to his ears and cutting off his privates." Meanwhile, Federal commanders such as Col. Waring at White Station, were worried about unexplained ordnance accounts and Hurst's refusal to discuss them. Col. E. W. Rice (US) was still concerned about the money extorted in Jackson, Tennessee "which he (Hurst) has not turned over to the government, but has it deposited for his own private benefit." In August, one Federal commander wrote headquarters demanding that "if Hurst is under my command that he be arrested and confined."

With pressure mounting from both Union and Confederate authorities, Hurst submitted his resignation "due to bad health" on December 10, 1864. No action was taken, although the resignation was received by higher command on January 8, 1865.

In May, Maj. Gen. Edward Hatch wrote to Headquarters, Fifth Cavalry Div. (US) "I learn a Mr. Chandler, calling himself a Captain, a brother-in-law of Fielding Hurst, is levying contributions upon the citizens of McNairy Co., Tennessee, amounting to $50,000. Hurst has already taken about $100,000 out of West Tennessee in blackmail when Col. of the 6th Tennessee . . . ." With the War over, Gen. Rosecrans granted Hurst a discharge through Special Order #8 on July 26, 1865, effectively backdated to his resignation.

Hurst never paid for his crimes during the War, and fanatics like Brownlow found Hurst the perfect purveyor of Reconstruction justice. His tenure as 12th Circuit Judge would fill another saga of vindictiveness, leaving those of us outside the "Nation" with nothing more than bitter memories-even after 125 years.

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Lt. Col.Fielding Hurst--TN Unionist
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