Thomas Benton Alexander Diary
Identifier: MSN/CW 8003
Scope and Contents
A short-entry manuscript diary of Confederate States soldier Thomas Benton Alexander, written during the Civil War as a member of the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery Regiment, Company B (3rd). The diary is a single volume (13 cm) of 59 leaves, with 118 pages of content in Alexander's hand, mostly in pencil. Approximately 70 per cent of this content consists of dated diary entries, ranging from 2 June 1862 to 18 May 1865. Most of these date from March 1863 to the end of the war, and appear in chronological sequence from 11v to 51v. Entries were made with considerable regularity but are generally very brief. The greater part of the diary content (20v to 51v) treats the final sixteen months of the war. Thirty-six pages at the front and back of the volume are devoted mostly to accounts and a considerable variety of other material, some dating to as early as 1861. Among the more significant entries are a list of men killed in the Maury Artillery, December 1861 to July 1863 (2r to 3r); a "song ballad," dated 30 August 1862, "wrote by T. B. Alexander" (57r to 57v); and, most notably, a table (of uncertain origin) indicating the individual Confederate regiments at Fort Donelson, with numbers of troops engaged, killed, and wounded (4v to 7r).
- Alexander, Thomas Benton, 1839-1928 (Person)
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Conditions Governing Use
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Biographical / Historical
Thomas Benton Alexander (22 February 1839-17 August 1928) was born in Henry County, Tennessee, the son of Ebenezer C. and Lucy Sellers Alexander. The outbreak of war found him working on his father's farm near Columbia in Maury County in Middle Tennessee, yet unmarried. In October 1861 he mustered in to Confederate service, as private in the Maury Artillery Battery (a light artillery unit known, at times, by the names of its successive captains: Griffith's Company, Ross's Company, Sparkman's Company). Alexander served in the Maury Artillery, rising to sergeant, until its remaining men were absorbed into the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery Regiment, Company B (3rd), in January 1864. He served as sergeant in that company until the end of the war, though his time as a combatant ended with his capture at Fort Morgan in August 1864. Alexander's wartime service was something of an odyssey. In February 1862 the Maury Artillery was sent to reinforce Fort Donelson, a point of great strategic importance on the lower Cumberland River in Tennessee. On the 16th of the month Donelson surrendered to U. S. Grant; Alexander was sent to the Federal prison at Camp Douglas in Chicago, where he remained until early September. At that time, under the prisoner cartel negotiated that summer, he was sent to Vicksburg, Mississippi for exchange. The Maury Artillery was reorganized and, in late October 1862, was posted to the garrison at Port Hudson, Louisiana, a well-fortified position on the Mississippi 25 miles north of Baton Rouge. In March 1863 the Federals initiated a campaign against Port Hudson, resulting in a siege that led to the city's capitulation on 9 July. The Confederate prisoners at Port Hudson were immediately paroled; Alexander spent six weeks in hospital at Montgomery, Alabama before he was declared exchanged and sent to the defenses of Mobile (October 1863). Here, he served on the batteries protecting the city itself before being posted to Fort Morgan, some 30 miles south at the entrance to Mobile Bay, in early April 1864. His battery engaged the Union fleet of Admiral David Farragut as it ran past the fort into the bay on 5 August 1864. On 19 August Fort Morgan surrendered, and Alexander was for the third time a prisoner. With no parole and exchange agreement in effect, Alexander was sent to Governors Island in New York Harbor and subsequently to the camp at Elmira, where he was imprisoned from 5 December 1864 to 10 March 1865. He was then returned to the Confederacy and, paroled but not formally exchanged, spent the remaining weeks of the war on furlough. For about a month he took refuge from Yankee troops on a farm near Barnesville, Georgia. He took his oath of allegiance in Tennessee on 16 May 1865, and arrived home two days later. Of Alexander's three major engagements, the earliest, Fort Donelson, is alluded to only in the casualty statistics described above. The Port Hudson campaign of 1863 is treated in the earliest sequence of diary entries (11v to 18r), though Alexander seldom devotes more than a few words to the events of any given day. From March through the first three weeks of May the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson — about 3500 men under the command of Major General Franklin Garner — was troubled primarily by bombardment from the Union fleet on the river. By 27 May, however, the Union general Nathaniel Banks had the troops in place to launch an assault on the city's works. This attack — "the hardest fight I was ever in" (14r) — failed, as did another assault on 14 June (15r to 15v). But the Confederates had no hope of breaking Banks' siege, and surrendered on 9 July, the last stronghold on the Mississippi to pass into Union hands. Alexander served the batteries around Mobile Bay for more than nine months before Farragut's long-anticipated attack of 5 August 1864. Fort Morgan was the key to Mobile's outer defenses; from its position at the western tip of Point Mobile it immediately overlooked the sole deep-water channel into the bay — reduced to a navigable width of 200 yards by the placement of pilings and torpedoes. Morgan also controlled the Swash Channel along the south shore of Point Mobile, the preferred approach of blockade runners seeking to elude the Union fleet. As the largest port on the Gulf still in Southern hands, Mobile was central to Confederate blockade running activity. Alexander makes frequent mention of the Denbigh,which completed seven successful runs into and out of the bay during 1864. Moreover, on several occasions he and his company were detailed to protect or salvage the cargos of blockade runners stranded in the shallows of the Swash Channel near Fort Morgan. Two such were the Ivanhoe, run aground on the night of 30 June and contested for days before being partially burned by the Federals on 5 July 9 (28r to 30r), and the Virgin, stranded on 9 July but eventually brought into the bay by the Confederates (30r). On the morning of 5 August the assembled Union fleet withstood close to 500 rounds from the heavy guns of Fort Morgan as it made its way into Mobile Bay. The powerful ironclad ram C.S.S. Tennessee was captured; the two smaller forts on the outer defenses surrendered on the 6th and 8th. On 9 August Union troops and artillery were put ashore on Mobile Point a mile east of Fort Morgan, to begin a gradual approach from its landward side (32v). On the 22nd the fort was subjected to a terrific 12-hour bombardment from land and sea, which caused few casualties but great material damage. The next day Fort Morgan was surrendered, and though Mobile itself remained in Confederate hands, the port was effectively closed. Alexander's initial reaction to the Federal prison camp at Elmira, New York was not entirely unfavorable: "our quarters very good with 2 stoves in Each Barracks very good Bunks . . . . we have two meals a Day for Breakfast Bread and meat for Dinner soop & Bread" (37v-38v). But within two weeks he reports that prisoners are "Dying by the Dozzen per day" — and the situation only grew worse as the harsh winter progressed, and the debilitating effects of the cold were added to those of malnutrition and disease. Alexander's barracks proved to have been built of green lumber, with chinks unsealed; the two stoves were inadequate to provide heat for 200 men. Elmira's mortality rate of around 24 per cent made it, over the course of its one-year existence, the deadliest of the Northern camps. Alexander first reports being sick on 15 January, citing the cold and "Rheumitism;" his record from Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, where he was admitted on 16 March after being paroled from Elmira and sent back south for exchange, refers to chronic diarrhoea. Following the war Alexander married and worked a farm near Thompson's Station, Williamson County, Tennessee. In the 1920s he and his three brothers — all still living in Tennessee and all Confederate veterans — achieved a degree of local celebrity as the "fighting Alexanders." Two of the brothers, Ebenezer Crawford Alexander and Andrew Jackson Alexander, served for periods of time in the Maury Artillery, and are mentioned in the diary. It is also worth noting that all four brothers were among the respondents to the questionnaires submitted to Tennessee's surviving Civil War veterans by Gustavus W. Dyer and John Trotwood Moore from 1915 to 1922.
Language of Materials
A short-entry Civil War manuscript diary of Confederate States soldier Thomas Benton Alexander, written as a member of the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery Regiment, Company B (3rd). Much of the content dates from the final year of the war, when Alexander was captured at Mobile Bay and imprisoned at Elmira, New York.
The collection is in one folder.
- Confederate States of America. Army. Tennessee Heavy Artillery Regiment, 1st
- Diaries Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Mobile Bay, Battle of, Ala., 1864 Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Soldiers. Tennessee. Diaries. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- United States. History. Civil War, 1861-1865. Personal narratives. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- United States. History. Civil War, 1861-1865. Prisoners and prisons. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Thomas Benton Alexander Diary
- George Rugg
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- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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