Thursday, August 21, 2014

52 Ancestors: #29 The Wartime Diary of Captain Willis E. Hedgecock

Stone reads: To live in loving hearts is not to die.
My five times great-grandfather was Willis E. Hedgecock.  He was born on December 21, 1813 in North Carolina to Thomas Hedgecock and Martha Edwards.

In 1833, Willis married Mary Ann Rausin, a Tennessee native.  He was nineteen, and she was sixteen.  They began their family in Knox County, Tennessee.  The family consisted of eleven children when Willis enlisted, ranging from 1 to 26 years old.  Their second child, Angeline, was my four times great-grandmother.

Willis was mustered in as a Union private at Camp Pine Knot in Company G, 1st Tennessee Infantry.  He was promoted to Captain of Company H, 5th Tennessee Infantry.  He participated in the Battle of Pine Mountain at Cumberland Gap.

After the war, Willis started his own dry goods store in the small hamlet of Letsinger.  An 1876 directory of Letsinger listed the total population of the village to be 30 people.

Mary Ann, his wife of 44 years, died in July of 1877.  Willis was married again the following year to Margaret Fox, a widower with one child.

Willis applied for a pension in 1895.  He was examined by Dr. A. B. Eaton on March 26, 1895.  His report stated: "I found him suffering from general debility and nervous prostration. He was also troubled with chronic bronchitis. I called again to see him March 29, 1895. He improved under treatment and I again saw him on May 4th, 1895 which was my last visit."

Willis Hedgecock died August 7, 1895 at the age of 81.  He is buried at Hickory Creek Cemetery in Knoxville, Tennessee.

During the war, Captain Hedgecock recorded a personal account of his experiences in a journal, which he later titled "Diary Which I Kept While in the Army Against the Rebellion.  A 16-page transcription of the diary was published in the August 2000 edition of Tennessee Ancestors.  Below are my favorite entries from the diary.

August 11, 1861:  I left my home in Knox County, Tennessee, on the evening of August 11th, 1861.  Traveled at night by Scarbro town on the Clinton Road, then turned and passed through Frosts Bottom and across to New River wearing my summer goods.  This was the second night.  It rained upon us all night.  Some took shelter in a rock house.  Some around a fire, standing or laying, taking in the rain.

September 1, 1861:  Many of the boys were attacked with measles which proved fatal to some.  Here, I witnessed such attention and kindness shown to our sick, suffering and dying soldiers as sympathizing hearts and angel hands above can administer.  I allude to the attention paid by the ladies of Danville.  My gratitude as a soldier is due to them, and they will ever be held in memory by me.

President Andrew Johnson

September 6, 1861:  Andrew Johnson came to this place [Danville, Tennessee] on the sixth and was cordially received. He greeted all the East Tennesseans with a smile, .... delivered to each East Tennessee soldier two dollars and fifty cents ... tendered as a compliment in evidence of the high regard for their loyalty and patriotism.

November 27, 1861:  I was taken sick with cold from exposure, which so affected me that I took to my pallet in camp and took medicine from McMillan.  Thomas (my son) turned out to find a house ... where I could stay.  I remained there twelve days.

January 27, 1862:  I was taken sick ... received into the residence of Mr. Andrew Phelps.  Received medical attendance by Mr. Gillilan, cost free.

March 17, 1862:  Sworn in as Captain of [Company] H of Tennessee Volunteers.

June 1, 1862:  In camp on Mud Creek.  It is raining and tents missing through mismanagement of quartermaster Lane.  Camp Landrum provisions scarce and soldiers mad and complaining.

June 8, 1862. Out on picket duty.  Received uniform at the following prices: 
Cap   $4.50     Sword and Belt   $18.00
Sash   $8.00    Expenses   $1.00
Total paid out   $31.50

July 4, 1862:  Ordered by Gen. Morgan that three national salutes by fired at morning, noon and night.

Captain Hedgecock's description of the engagement on September 11th at Pine Mountain follows.

September 11, 1862:  Myself was ordered to post my 100 men somewhere near the top of the mountain.  This I done, choosing my own postition ... while we were thus posted, a company of Rebel Cavalry came along at quick speed.  They were fired upon at each post.  At the one held by myself, they passed with all speed on fleet horses as quick as the rough nature of the road and good riders could make it.  A full volley was fired into them ... killing some and wounding others and literally piling horses.

September 30, 1862: During this whole march, 230 miles, we never drew one ration, though occasionally, we got part ration of coffee and part ration of beef, sometimes without salt and no cooking vessels to prepare it in, and often not time to roast it.   As for bread, we had none but lived on roasting ears and hard corn by gritting.  Men carried their own gritters with them all day and after leaving Cumberland Gap, we never saw a good spring until we got to Ohio.

October 3, 1862:   I saw the beautiful river of Ohio for the first time.

October 19, 1862:  Boys complaining on account of becoming so bare for clothes and shoes.  Many are now so destitute, that their nakedness can no longer be hid.  Frosty nights are also beginning to set in, which, to the soldiers in their condition, is disagreeable.

November 5, 1862: [Sent] to my family... $50.00, also my own likeness and my son, Thomas. 

Tennessee State Capitol, 1862.

December 24, 1862. ... on Christmas Eve, we entered Nashville.  We marched through and encamped in the suburbs.  Nashville is an extensive city, in a most beautiful and rich surrounding country ... though the city is now quite filthy, and emits an offensive smell to the traveller as he passes through.  Here, I had opportunity to examine the state house, which is by far the most magnificent superstructure I have ever had the pleasure to look at.

January 13, 1862: We set out at daybreak upon an expedition to follow the rebels ... who were reported to be marching ... to burn our steamboats, laden with supplies.  We soon came on their encampment.  Stayed at night on a rebel plantation.  Next morning, we continued pursuit.  It has rained all day.  We stayed out at night without tents.  During the night, it changed into sleet and thence into snow.  Next morning, the little stream called Harper's River, was so swollen, a considerable snow had fallen, we were compelled, on the 15th, to abandon the enterprise and return to our camp.  Upon the whole, it was the most disagreeable march of the campaign, up to this date.

Battle of Stones River
January 16, 1863:  Reached Murfreesboro after passing over a portion of the late, hard contested battlefield, which, by graves, dead horses, entrenchments, scars of balls, cannon and rifle-perforated walls of buildings, destroyed farms, showed but too well the horrors of war.

February 12, 1863:  Better view of Stones River was had.  There is astonishing evidence of a great battle.  Marks of cannon and rifle balls exceed anything I have yet seen.  Some rebel corpses are partially exposed to view.

February 22, 1863:  Case of Campbell decided to be smallpox, and my company, with a portion of companies G and K, ordered to leave the Regiment.

March 4, 1863:  Campbell, with smallpox, died just before sunset.

March 10, 1863:  This is now 19 months since I left home.  No letter received since September 17, 1862.  Thomas not much better yet in health.  Is still with me at my quarters.  Some indications of other cases of smallpox in the company.

March 12, 1863:  Thomas seems a little better today... received letter from home today. All well.

March 21, 1863:  Ordered back to regiment.  Returned all, except the smallpox mess.

April 3, 1863:  We entered Liberty at 12 o'clock ... the rebels had planted a cannon on a commanding eminence, overlooking the town, and that morning, ordered out all the citizens, intending, as they said, to shell the town, but a few shots from our artillery directed at their piece on the eminence, they soon considered it policy to skedaddle.

April 4, 1863:  After travelling a distance of 25 miles, the boys were all broke down with feet skinned and blistered, legs strained.  Many could scarcely walk.

On the 22nd of April, 1863, Captain Hedgecock applied for discharge due to his increasingly poor health.   The following is a transcription of his resignation letter:

Head quarters 5th Regt. E. Tenn Vols, Infty.
Camp near Carthage, Tenn.

April 22, 1863

I hereby tender my resignation as Captain of company H., 5th Regiment East Tennessee Vols. Infty. on account of disability caused by chronic bronchitis and cories (?) of the left Fermus. I have had disease called scroffa for over thirty years. I am 49 years of age and being thus afflicted am unable longer to discharge the duties of a soldier or officer in the army. I respectfully request that my Tender of Resignation be accepted for the said reasons given.

Willis E Hedgecock
Captain commanding Co. H. 5th Regt. E. Tenn Vol Infantry

Captain Hedgecock's resignation was accepted, and he received an honorable discharge.

May 6, 1863:  Received my discharge.

May 10, 1863:  Left right at 3 o'clock for Carthage.  Went aboard the steamboat "May Duke".  Day clear, sun shines beautifully.  Thomas along.  [I am] still in poor health.  All quiet along the river.  Arrive at Nashville at 6 o'clock.  Went with Thomas to Barracks.  Stay till Thursday.

May 14, 1863:  Took train for Louisville.  Had a delightful ride.  Reached Louisville at 6 o'clock.  Went to Soldiers Home.  This was a well fitted up building and it is truly what it imports to be, affording comfort to the passing soldier.  Stayed one day at Louisville.

May 15, 1863:  Left Louisville at six o'clock for Jefferson City, Indiana.  Took train ... and arrived at Vincennes at 3 o'clock.  The last named place is on the Wabash River, the line between Indiana and Illinois.

On May 16, Willis arrived in McLeansboro, Illinois, where he stayed for two weeks.  He visited his daughter Angeline's family, and helped his son-in-law Henry Richardson plant corn.  His granddaughter and my great-great-great grandmother, Sarah Richardson, was six years old at the time.

After visiting with his daughter's family, Willis made his way back to Tennessee.  The remainder of his journey sounds exhausting to me.  By foot he made his way to the banks of the Ohio River, where he took a boat to Evansville, Indiana.  From there he boarded another vessel to Louisville.  He traveled by stage coach to Danville, Kentucky.  The final leg of his journey was made on foot.  For four days, he marched across Tennessee.  

Clinch River, Tennessee
June 7, 1863:  Came to within four miles of town.

June 8, 1863:  Came into Somerset.  Found many old acquaintances.

June 9, 1863:  Traveled that day across the mountain.

Captain Hedgecock made his final diary entry on June 10, 1863:  

Waded Clinch River about 10 o'clock in the night, and in an hour more, I found myself once more at home to the great joy of myself and my family.


  1. What an awesome journal! Love the final entry.

    1. I was so excited to discover his diary!

  2. Hi Brenna, I was reading a copy of the typescript today and just decided to google my 3rd great grandfather's name and found your blog link. Wow! We share family! Congrats on your great post. I received my copy of the typescript from another descendant. No one knows where the journal/diary is itself now. I am descended from Thomas in the Diary. I have Thomas's small leather book/wallet. It is a most cherished belonging.

    1. Hi Traci. Thanks for reading! Nice to meet a Hedgecock descendant. Hopefully somebody has the diary still. Glad you have Thomas' wallet!