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From Our Past VII

The source information for this article on Frank Gurley came from an article in the Civil War Times issued about 25 years ago and from an old 1920's publication called the Confederate Veteran, long out of print. Col. Donald H. Steenburn wrote an excellent autobiography of Capt. Frank B. Gurley in his 1999 book titled "THE MAN CALLED GURLEY". The book is well researched and contains facts about Huntsville and Gurley during and after the Civil War. It is well worth reading. Capt. Gurley enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private in the company of a fighting preacher named Rev. D. C. Kelly. This company went to Memphis where it was mustered into service and assigned to a battalion commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest. The following dialog was taken from a 1920 issue of a magazine called the "Confederate Veteran"... This article was generously submitted by Bill Walker.

Capt. Frank B. Gurley and the Civil War - Part One

During Private Gurley's service with Forrest's Battalion, he participated in many spirited skirmishes and was personally known by the great wizard Forrest. He never failed to perfectly satisfy the exactions of that great leader. Even then, Private Gurley possessed attributes of all praise.

Soon after the battle of Fort Donaldson, Gurley was ordered home to recruit a company, of which he did of one hundred fifteen gallant soldiers that ever fought for a glorious cause. He was elected captain of this company which was assigned to the Fourth Alabama Calvary, Company C, under Colonel A. A. Russell. Captain Gurley commanded his company on (newly promoted) General Nathan Bedford Forrest's first expedition into West Tennessee in December 1862.


Late in the afternoon of December 17, 1862, General Forrest, near Lexington, Tennessee, and knowing he would engage the enemy the next day, called for Capt. Gurley and gave him specific orders to select twenty men and take the advance on the Lexington Road and drive in the enemy's pickets as soon as encountered. Forrest promised him the remaining regiment would follow in close order and would reinforce him as necessary. Advancing about two miles, Gurley found the Federals in line and after a slight skirmish, they fell back to the creek leaving one or two wounded, who were captured. At Beech Creek, the Second west Tennessee Cavalry was drawn up in line of battle upon the opposite bank. The bridge over the creek had been rendered impassable by the Federals, who had thrown the floor planks into the creek. The advance of the Confederates, now reinforced by the other companies of Russell's regiment, dismounted and charged up to the creek. By heavy and well directed fire, they drove back Colonel Hawkins and his Second West Tennessee regiment. Quickly relaying the floor of the bridge with fence rails, which were near at hand, Capt. Gurley's command passed safety over. This short delay gave Colonel Ingersoll time enough to form his troops near some protected timber over the crest of the hill. Here the Federals fought stubbornly but were finally driven back with considerable loss to both sides. The Confederates continued to advance arriving in the immediate vicinity of Lexington. The route was commanded by a section of federal artillery supported by a body of cavalry. As the Fourth Alabama arrived, they were met by fire from the two guns as well as small arms fire. Gurley swung his troops to the right, taking advantage of a depression or ravine, enabling his troops to make a flanking movement to within one hundred yards of the guns. Followed by the Fourth Alabama, Capt. Gurley charged at full speed upon the two guns and the bulk of Ingersoll's troops, the Second West Tennessee, The Eleventh Illinois, and Fifth Ohio. Capt. Gurley later stated, "The gunners stood by their guns and died like soldiers. The last shot was fired just as we reached the battery, and my first sergeant, J. L. P. Kelly was blown to bits by the explosion. With the capture of the guns, the Federal cavalry gave way in a stampede, and many of them were captured in the chase from there to Jackson."

Capt. Gurley captured the Col. Robert G. Ingersoll, commander of the Eleventh Illinois Volunteer Calvary and in command of the expedition sent forth with instruction to whip and capture General Forrest, who was known to have crossed into West Tennessee. Capt. Gurley also captured all of Colonel Ingersoll's artillery consisting of two three-inch steel Rodman guns. These guns formed the nucleus for the famous Morton's Battery used thenceforth and effectively by General Forrest until the end of May 1865.

The following is taken from an article by John W. Powell in the Civil War Times around 1975:
On August 5, 1862, Brigadier General Robert L. McCook's brigade of Federals begin to march south from Decherd, Tenn. Toward New Market, Ala., in what appeared to be a reconnaissance in force. Although the line of march was through a guerrilla infested area, there seemed little danger for a large force of Confederates.

General McCook suffered from dysentery at the time and could not ride. He traveled in a wagon with Capt. Hunter Brooke of his staff, and a Negro teamster. McCook wore no insignia of rank and in fact wore only his undergarments. Brooke was wearing his Captain's bars on his shirt. McCook had fallen some distance behind the Brigade, stopping for water. He had a small cavalry escort for protection but did not expect to be attacked by a body of guerrillas.

Suddenly a large number of armed men were seen riding down the road in full charge with one man considerably in the lead and headed directly for the Union wagons. McCook's teamster whipped his team and they went as fast as they could until the canvas top was hooked by a tree branch which swung the wagon into an embankment and became stuck.

Meanwhile, the rebel leader became close enough to begin firing. His first shot was aimed at a sutler named Jacob Aug who became confused and rode his mule in the path of the charge. The rebel fired once with his revolver but missed. The panic stricken Aug fell off his mule into a bush. The Rebel then rode toward the wagon. By this time McCook had taken the reins from the teamster and was trying to extricate the wagon from the embankment. In the noise and confusion, no one heard the rebel's shouts to halt. The rebel begin to shoot at the wagon. The first shot missed, the second shot passed through Capt. Brooke's shirt without touching him, and the third shot hit McCook on the left side below the ribs.
The rider rode on chasing the cavalry escort that was riding pell-mell away to gain the protection of the infantry brigade.
General Robert L. McCook

After the chase, the "guerrilla" leader rode up to the wagon and identified himself as Captain Frank B. Gurley of Forrest's cavalry. McCook apparently accepted the wound as the fortunes of war and did not express any bitterness or animosity toward Gurley. The general died the next day.       

Two of the companies that had ridden with Capt. Gurley against McCook were men recruited on his trip back to Huntsville. These new troopers had no Confederate Army uniforms or official identification which led the Federals to believe these were just a guerrilla band.

The Northern press turned this small military skirmish into a cold-blooded murder and aroused especially bitter feelings toward Frank Gurley. The press claimed that Gurley shot McCook while he was lying sick and helpless in an ambulance. Because of the political influence of the McCook family in the army and government, Frank Gurley became one of the most wanted criminals in the country. Gurley did not of course realize how intensely he was hated in the North and went on with his business of being a soldier. He rejoined Forrest with his company and served under him until February 1863 when the 4th Alabama was transferred to Major General Joseph Wheeler's command.

On September 21, the Monday after the battle of Chickamauga, Gurley became very ill, perhaps because all he had eaten for six days was roasting ears of corn. When Wheeler's cavalry left for a raid that was intended to disrupt the federal communications in middle Tennessee, on October 1st, the doctor ordered Gurley to remain behind. Feeling better a few days later, Gurley started to rejoin his regiment. At the Tennessee River, he met Brigadier General Phillip D. Roddey's cavalry brigade on it's way to join Wheeler and he joined them. However, Roddy used Gurley as a scout, keeping him in the rain for days causing him to relapse. Gurley stopped at a house and sent word to his brother who came for him and took him home.

Nathan Bedford Forrest On October 13, two Union artillery batteries and a few wagons began an unescorted march from Huntsville to Decherd, Tennessee, and country notorious for bushwhackers. The soldier's fears were recognized when a band of guerrillas struck the rear of the column and captured one wagon, four soldiers, and Capt. Lawson Kilborn of the 72nd Indiana Mounted infantry. Capt. Kilborn escaped his captors a few days later and made his way to Brownsboro where Union Col. John T. Wilder's brigade was headquartered. Kilborn told Wilder he had learned where Capt. Frank Gurley was residing. Wilder assigned a force to him for the capture of Gurley. Upon arriving at the house, and making their presence known, Gurley's brother went out the front door and surrendered, attracting as much attention as possible. Frank Gurley went out the back door. Kilborn had stationed a squad in the rear and fired thirteen shots a Gurley. Several musket balls went through his clothes but never drew blood. Gurley surrendered to this squad and was taken to Brownsboro along with his brother.

Gurley's arrival in Brownsboro created much excitement among the Yankees---"some wanted to kill me, others to burn me, and some were for drowning me". "A large crowd of soldiers were very much enraged and they would have murdered me had it not been for a double guard placed around me." He was held under strong guard at Brownsboro for a few days, and then sent to Stevenson, Alabama on October 29th. From Stevenson he would be sent by rail to Nashville. The trail trip was delayed however, because some "Rebel had placed a bomb under the track and blown a train off making a great smash." Gurley thought of making an escape but felt he was too weak from his illness.

Part 2 in issue VIII...