Confederate General’s Spurs

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     General Otho French Strahl was practicing law at Dyersburg, Tennessee when the War Between the States began.  When Tennessee was making ready to cast in her lot with the Southern Confederacy, the young lawyer entered the Fourth Tennessee regiment as a captain.  James Davidson Porter had just previously introduced the famous "Porter Resolutions" passed in 1861, pledging Tennessee to co-operate with the seceding states if force was resorted to by the Federal government.  When Lincoln demanded troops to subjugate the seceding states, the two men’s lives were set on converging paths.

     Early in 1862 Otho Strahl became lieutenant-colonel of the 4th Tennessee regiment in Benj. Cheatham's Division, Army of Tennessee.  Porter aided in organizing the provisional army of Tennessee, and then joined the staff of General Cheatham, serving as his chief of staff.  Both men shared in the hardships and glories of the campaigns of Shiloh, Bentonville and Murfreesboro, in which the former so conducted himself as to be promoted colonel early in 1863, and then to the rank of brigadier-general, July 28, 1863.  The two men shared the hardships of the march, the tranquility of the camp, and the storm of battle until the fateful field of Franklin. 

     Cheatham’s Division had lain along the Columbia Pike through the night as Schofield’s retreating column passed close by in the dark.  Hood was furious and blamed his subordinates for failing to block Schofield's route.  In his fury he made one of the most disastrous decisions of the War.  Ordering his generals to attack Schofield’s prepared works in front of Franklin, though they all could see it was fool hardy.  Not a single general agreed with Hood’s ordered assault.  It was viewed as “unwise” at best, and suicidal at “worst.”

     Hood's decision to attack seems foolish; perhaps motivated by an attempt to punish Cheatham’s Corps for its failure at Spring Hill, but more likely he was attempting to imbue his men with his own unstoppable drive.  And he certainly thought nothing could stop him.  Regardless, Cheatham’s Corps was terribly punished. 

     The night before the forlorn attack, General Strahl presented James Porter with this pair of spurs.  Strahl somehow knew he would not need them again.  He was entering the attack at Franklin on foot, and subsequent events show that he never expected to ride again. 

     On that fateful day Cheatham led off the attack comprising more than 20,000 men, larger even that Pickett’s Charge, and just as fruitless.  Six Confederate Generals were killed in that gallant but disastrous charge; they were Otho French Strahl, Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, States Rights Gist, Hiram Bronson Granbury, John Adams and John Carpenter Carter. 

     Mr. S. A. Cunningham, who was a boy soldier in his brigade at Franklin, November 30, 1864, wrote in the Confederate Veteran Magazine a graphic account of the conduct and death of his commander, General Strahl, on that fateful day.  Mr. Cunningham was near Strahl in the fatal advance, and was pained at the extreme sadness in his face.  He was surprised, too, that his general went into the battle on foot.  The account of Mr. Cunningham continues: “I was near General Strahl, who stood in the ditch and handed up guns to those posted to fire them.  I had passed to him my short Enfield (noted in the regiment) about the sixth time.  The man who had been firing, cocked it and was taking deliberate aim when he was shot, and tumbled down dead into the ditch upon those killed before him.

     When the men so exposed were shot down, their places were supplied by volunteers until these were exhausted, and it was necessary for General Strahl to call for others.  He turned to me, and though I was several feet back from the ditch, I rose up immediately, and walking over the wounded and dead took position, with one foot upon the pile of bodies of my dead fellows and the other upon the embankment, and fired guns which the general himself handed up to me, until he, too, was shot down.”

     The general was not instantly killed, but soon after received a second shot and then a third, which finished for him the fearful work.  “General Strahl was a model character, and it was said of him that in all the war he was never known to use language unsuited to the presence of ladies.”

     Here at Franklin, Porter and Strahl parted to meet no more this side of Heaven.

     James Porter went on to have an illustrious career.  He was a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention of 1870, judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court of Tennessee, 1870-74, and was elected governor of Tennessee by the Democratic Party, serving two terms, 1875-79.  He was president of the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railroad Company, 1880-1884, Assistant Secretary of State of the United States, 1885-87, and U.S. Minister to Chili, 1893-95.  He became first vice-president of the Tennessee Historical Society, re-elected at the annual meeting in 1902, a trustee of the Peabody Education Fund from 1883, and president of the Board of Trustees of the University of Nashville, 1890, having been a member of the board for many years before his election as president.  He received the honorary degree of L.L.D. from the University of Nashville in 1877.  He was chairman of the Tennessee delegation to the Democratic National Convention of 1880 and 1892.  He devoted the latter part of his life to farming, and was elected president of the Peabody College for Teachers and Chancellor of the University of Nashville in 1901.  He is the author of: The Military History of Tennessee, War of 1861-65, published under the direction of the Confederate Veteran’s Association.

     Through all the subsequent successes he no doubt often thought of the friends he had lost in the War, and these spurs were no doubt one of his sacred mementoes.  In 1880 he presented them, along with their history, to his grandson and namesake James Porter Bibb.

For the presentation Porter wrote of the spurs:

Paris Tenn

July 26th 1880

Genl. O.F.Strahl commanding a brigade of Tennesseans, Cheathams Division, Army of Tennessee of the Confederate States, presented me with a pair of spurs the day preceding the battle of Franklin, Tenn. the donor was a special friend of mine and was killed at the head of his brigade at the battle above named.  I wore the spurs at Franklin, at the Battle of Nashville, and at the Battle of Bentonville North Carolina, and now present them to my grandson Jas. Porter Bibb.

Jas. D. Porter

     The original letter, in Porter’s own hand, accompanies the spurs.  The spurs are presentation grade, one of a kind, jeweler made with silver heel plates. Certainly this is one of the most important artifacts to have survived the “Pickett’s Charge” of the west.                         

   

 

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