Text prepared for the dedication of the monument which now lies over Strahl's grave:
Otho French Strahl
He was born just outside the small Northern hamlet of Elliot Ohio on May 27, 1832. His early years are largely unrecorded, though his school teacher recalled he often stayed in class to read when others went out to play. It is not until he entered college that his life begins to come to light. He entered the Ohio Wesleyan University, spreading his studies between, Science, the Bible and other academic subjects. Here he attended school with a classmate named Daniel Reynolds. Daniel, like Strahl, would also rise to the rank of Confederate General. Soon afterward graduation the two men migrated to Somerville, Tennessee, where they studied law together under Judge Harris. Strahl also taught at a private school, probably to support himself during his studies. There is where he first met his Adjutant John Henry Marsh, then his student. In 1858, Strahl and Reynolds were admitted to the bar. Reynolds moved to Arkansas, while Strahl set up his practice in Dyersburg. Though Otho's early years in West Tennessee must have seemed uneventful, the remainder of his life would exhibit a marked change.
When Tennessee left the Union she was ill prepared to become a republic. Most of her State militia had been disbanded, but Governor Harris quickly called the general assembly together and reinstated the citizen soldiers. Everyone was convinced the war would be a short one and that they would miss out entirely if they did not act soon. One of these eager organizers was young Strahl, who became commander of the “The Dyer Guards”
One of the places where he recruited was the Old South Union Church in present day Roellen. W.J. Prichard was on hand to witness the event:
“I was a small boy but will never forget one beautiful April morning in 1861. We were all there, old and young, to greet the first company that went into the Civil War. I had never seen a soldier, and oh how my boyish heart was thrilled with patriotic joy when Captain Strahl, with his men, drew in front of the church. Cheer after cheer rent the air, but order was restored, Miss Si Mahan, one of our beautiful girls, stood in the south door of the church and delivered a patriotic speech. Captain Strahl responded in beautiful words. After many enlistments that day the company rode away and many of those brave boys never came back to tell the story of the lost cause.”
Soon the "Dyer Guards" arrived at Germantown, and Strahl was elected Lt. Colonel of the newly formed 4th Tennessee Infantry. His first real battle was at Shiloh where he bravely led the regiment against a Union battery stationed at the north end of the review field. By the time they reached the other side, half of the regiment had been killed or wounded. He grew to love his valiant Tennesseans, and the men greatly admired the lawyer, who they said they could recognize at a distance by the silvery tones of his voice.
He later wrote a young admirer about his troops:
Headquarters Strahl's Brigade
Missionary Ridge Tenn.
October 13, 1863
My Dear Little Friend
I had just written and sealed a letter to you but had not met with an opportunity of sending it when I received yours of September 4th and was much gratified in being so kindly remembered by you, and trust it will not be the last time that I shall hear from what you have termed the "United States." But here in the army were do not so term that noble and gallant old Volunteer State. If any state in the Confederacy has a better right to be proud of the soldiers she has in the Confederate Army, than Tennessee I know not. Here soldiers have ever been ranked with the "bravest of the brave', and at this time enjoy a reputation for gallantry and daring deeds of valor that is not surpassed by any state in the Confederacy. It is true that we have many worthless young men at home, but they must be pardoned for their cowardice would cause them to disgrace themselves if they were in the army, and perhaps bring discredit upon the fair fame of the state. But we do not intend that those men shall have anything to do with the reputation of Tennessee in this contest. Here gallant soldiers who are now in the field will control this matter, and will make Tennessee a state and a name, that you will yet be proud of. For my own part I would rather to stay a soldier from Tennessee (as I am) than from any other state in the Southern Confederacy.
I was very much gratified to hear you speak so bravely, in regard to you remaining a Rebel. I trust nothing will ever induce you to change your most laudable determination. If the ladies of the South will but remain true to our cause, we will have nothing to fear, for then our ultimate success will be certain.
But you wished to know how I liked to "play General", and I am truly sorry that I cannot inform you, since my promotion I have not had an opportunity of playing any, having been continually in the presence of an enemy. About the only difference however, that I discover, between being Col and Brig. Genl. Is that my command is larger and my duties much more onerous, which of course keeps me much more closely confined to my camp. And to be candid with you, I think I hear my honors with a great deal of meekness and self denial.
I am in very much in hopes that circumstances will so change that we may soon be able to send a force of infantry into West Tennessee and take more possession of that country, and force that uneasyness, which must surely trouble you, who are truly loyal to our cause.
It was with much pleasure that I learned of your rapid progress in you studies. The determined perseverance you have manifested in this respect is worthy of much credit and makes me think much more dearly of "my little friend. With many kind wishes for your success & happiness, and the hope that I may soon hear from you again.
O. F. Strahl
Strahl studied hard and quickly rose in the ranks until he became a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. One illustration of his devotion to duty is an excerpt from a letter he wrote home to his family in Ohio:
I have long since dedicated myself to the service of my adopted country and home, and therefore have no time nor opportunities to spend courting women or waiting on wives. I perhaps am too practical in this respect, but I do think that it is every young man’s duty, now to devote his whole time and energies to the study of military and thus qualify himself for honorable and high positions, in this the only avenue which is left open. For my own part I have banished everything from my mind save military tactics and military matters, and hope, should the war continue long, to become a military man not only in fact, but in education. But it is not so much my desire to become a great as a military man as is it to qualify myself to serve my country well and in such a way as will tend to secure her independence.
After the battle of Perryville Strahl wrote home a rather touching letter to the grieving parents of Joseph Richardson, a local teacher who had started out as a musician, but was serving on Strahl's staff the day he was killed.
On Out Post Duty
April 25, 1863
My Dear old friend,
May God bless you, both you and your good lady, and breathe into your bosoms peace and cheerful resignation. I know your sorrows and mourn with you. However we should not be cast down. --- Our Lord himself, when on earth was a many of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and knows how to pity our distresses, and support us by the influences of his holy spirit. Think not this language strange, it is the out-quothings of a sympathizing heart. I feel you loss and especially in that son who fell at Perryville. He was as dear to me as a brother and a truer and more devoted friend was seldom found. I was intimate with him, knew him well and confided in him, and a more noble high minded spirit I have never met. He never shirked duty but was always at his post. On the battlefield none were braver or more daring. In the social circle he was agreeable and pleasant and in camp a gentleman. Had his life been spared he would have been a shining ornament to any profession that his attention might have been directed to. But I trust I do not give you pain by this referring to one who was dear to all who knew him, and who died the death of a brave soldier, battling for liberty and independence.
Our army now is in the finest condition I have ever known it. The men are hearty fat and in fine spirits - Every man almost is at fighting weight and ready for the fray - We hope to drive Rosencrans from Tennessee this Spring - and will do it. The enemy have accomplished nothing during the past winter and now it is our turn to try our hand - We will assume the offensive.
I have been on out Post Duty for the last three months, commanding a Brigade, but have had no difficulty with the yanks as yet - I think we satisfied them at Murfreesboro. They sometimes threaten us but run whenever we show fight - We have advanced within the last few days on our right - I do not as yet know the object - The affair at Charleston was a decided success on our point. Their monitors and Ironsides want do. We now run the blockade almost daily - We no longer hear intercession and don't want to hear of it. It is gratifying to us to hear of the dissentions in the North, but we don't nor won't rely upon them - We rely upon nothing but our own strong arms & stout hearts. When our independence is gained we will be under obligations to no one. We will then be perfectly free and independent of all.
Pardon me for not writing to you oftener. I would do so with the greatest pleasure if it were possible to get letters to you - Nothing would or could please me better than a letter from you. Can you not gratify me in this respect.
I should like to have your opinions as regards our status at the present time - and then what of Tennessee elections - how shall that be now ---? How shall we get the legislature & a governor. Have you ever troubled you mind with these things? But perhaps you will say whip the yankees out the state & then you shall hear from me on those subjects - very well, we will do it -
Your true friend
O. F. Strahl
By November of 1864 the fortunes of war had again found Strahl on Tennessee soil, and fighting for his adopted home. On that day at Franklin the General found himself moving with his Tennesseans towards the distant breastworks. At first the Northern troops watched spell bound at the grand parade coming toward them, but soon the canons let loose and the dying began. It was a clear field of fire and the carnage was terrible. Strahl’s Tennesseans were close to the pike and were quickly upon the first line of defense, which gave way in a panic. They were nearly to the main breastworks before the Federals could fire without hitting their own men. Lt. Marsh, advancing with his white horse, became an easy target, and both were riddled with bullets as they fell in front of the line.
Amazingly some of Strahl’s command reached and took part of the breastworks to the right of the pike. Private Puckett of the Fourth had earlier received leave to go home, but decided he would wait until after the battle. He was one of the first to scale the breastworks where he planted the regimental colors. He would die at Franklin with his furlough papers still in his pocket.
After Strahl’s men managed to breach the main works near the Carter house, desperate fighting ensued. Federal reinforcements poured in and forced most of the Confederates back over the breastworks and beyond. However Strahl and the rest of General Brown’s command refused to move after they had fallen back to the main works. Though fired upon from three sides the Federals could not push the command back any further. The Union troops finally had to throw up another defense at the Carter’s garden. Strahl’s Brigade settled in the Federal ditch about fifty yards to the right of the pike. Strahl began to hand up loaded rifles to the men posted on the embankment, but man after man was shot down until volunteers were exhausted. Strahl then began to call for others to man the positions. One of these men was Cunningham, the future editor of the Confederate Veteran. Cunningham related that he stood with one foot on the earthen bank and the other on his dead comrades as Strahl began to hand up guns to him. Finally Strahl was struck in the neck and tumbled down into the ditch. Cunningham thought he had been killed, and upon asking another dying soldier how he was hit, the General replied that he was hit in the neck. Strahl then crawled twenty feet over the dead that were piled in the trench three deep, to turn his command over to Colonel Stafford. Stafford himself would not survive long. The morning light would find his lifeless form wedged among his men in an upright position, “Half standing as if ready to give command to the dead."
As Strahl continued to crawl over his fallen soldiers he was intercepted by the twenty-six year old Sgt. Thomas Ledsinger of the “Dyer Guards." Ledsinger was soon joined by Bill Flowers and Strahl’s staff officers that attempted to carry the general back for medical attention. As they moved to the rear Strahl’s Adjutant Capt. James Johnston was struck and killed. Before they had gone fifty feet Strahl received a second shot, and directly, he fell forward with a sudden motion as a third and final shot hit him in the back of the head. The shot had killed him nearly instantly, for his limp body fell into the hands his aide-de-camp Captain James Beasley, who said the general died in his arms beneath a peach tree. Strahl, Capt. Johnston, and Lt. Marsh were placed in his ambulance and carried off the field to await burial. In 1866 a poem about the general's death read in part:
AMID a scene of carnage,
Where the dead and wounded lay,
On the battle-field at Franklin,
Our leader passed away,
BENEATH the Southern banners,
That proudly waved on high,
With his gallant comrades round him
He breathed his farewell sigh.
In the end, the Federals would abandon the field that night, and slip away to Nashville. The Confederates had held the field, but at what price? Though Pickett’s Charge is the assault remembered as the most valiant and vain charge in the war, the advance at Franklin was the greater in every detail. The losses were four times as great as those suffered by Pickett. The field they had to cover that day was twice the distance as the field at Gettysburg, and more Generals were lost at Franklin than any other battle in the history of North America.
Strahl and his staff were eventually taken by his ambulance to the Carter house, where he lay on the veranda with the bodies of generals, Cleburne, Adams and Granbury. Soon they would be taken to Columbia and buried in a potter's field section of Rose Hill Cemetery. General Polk was outraged when he learned of where the generals had been buried and had them moved to Ashwood Cemetery at St. John’s Church just West of Columbia. Rev. Charles Quintard had helped to make the arrangements, and presumably presided over the funeral.
When the Hess Lodge of Dyersburg learned of the General's death they wrote in part:
we realize the extinction of one of the brightest lights in the lodge - The full measure of one of the noblest chieftains of the army - The loss of one of the fairest ornaments of society and upright man - a good citizen - a fine scholar - a polite gentleman - a faithful Christian whose pure example challenges alike the admiration and emulation of every true mason.
In later years, Strahl's body would be moved yet again, when John McGinnis and Dave Shaw would bring his remains back to Dyersburg. There would be a brief service at his former resting place, and then a large funeral at the City Opera House in Dyersburg. His body was then moved east down Court Street and buried near these two grand Magnolia Trees. Now the lone reminder of Strahl in the community is this aging canon that graces this windswept hilltop. The cannon is pointed north, and surrounded by a bodyguard of Confederate dead, who Strahl himself called the "bravest of the brave."
The Silent Sentinel
I suppose it was only natural that one of the old cannons rusting at the Fort has been chosen as a permanent memorial. It has been nearly one hundred years since the cannon made its trip up the Forked Deer River to our town. Over the years she has become a familiar landmark. The gun, weighing in at over three tons, actually began life as a naval cannon known as a 32-pounder. The muzzle loader was constructed in 1820 at the Columbia Foundry located at Georgetown in the District of Columbia. The weapon originally served as a deck gun on the frigate U. S. S. Independence, a sister ship to the Constitution. Over her long career she assembled quite an interesting history. The cannon was onboard, in March of 1837, when the Independence sailed from Boston as the flagship of Commodore John B. Nicholson. While under Nicholson’s command, the ship transported the U. S. Minister to Russia. After arriving at a port near St. Petersburg, the minister was visited by Czar Nicholas who also inspected the Ship.
Soon she was put in moth balls until the outbreak of the war with Mexico. When the war broke out, she was recommissioned and dispatched to the coast of California, traveling around Cape Horn. While in these waters, she became the flagship of the Pacific Squadron under Commodore William Shubrick. The ship participated in the blockade of the Mexican coast and captured the enemy ship “Correo” in May of 1847. She also supported the capture of a Mexican city in October and landed Marines at Mazatlan in November. After the war she cruised up to Hawaii and landed at Honolulu before again rounding the horn and returning to Norfolk where she was decommissioned. It was while at Norfolk, that the venerable old cannon was taken off the deck of the Independence and put into storage.
There she lay until the outbreak of the Civil War when she fell into Confederate hands. Though she was outdated as a naval gun, the Confederate government was short of cannons and decided that she might be of service on the Mississippi River. Eventually she made her way up to the newly constructed Fort Pillow. During the war, one of the trunions was broken to disable her and she was left abandoned on the bluff overlooking
Why are we here today? I am sure there are a number of reasons. Is it to keep alive hard feelings or is it to remember that these were real men and not some cold name on a marble monument. Is it to honor this brave man? Yes, certainly that is a reason, but then there are at least 60 other brave men from that war sprinkled over this hill. Does it pull at our heart strings that he died so far from home and seemingly so far from those he loved? Yes, I suppose that is so, but by the time he died those around him were as close as any of his brothers. Perhaps I am here since my great-grandfather served with him on that bloody field at Shiloh. Perhaps he is symbolic of all those brave men who fought more for each other than for some high or low purpose. We leave it for God to judge these men by their own merits, but let's never forget they were men with all the weaknesses and strengths that we possess today. We can never learn from the past unless we remember it. We don't deserve to be remembered ourselves unless we remember those that came before us.