The following was sent to me by Terry L. Coats Great-great Nephew of Sgt. William A. Thomas
of the 31st Tennessee Infantry.  The note Terry sent to me with the story said:

"To honor this son of the South, in 1994, I dressed in Confederate uniform
and stood upon the grave of Sgt. Thomas in the McGavock Confederate Cemetery,
in Franklin, Tn.  My talk to the visitors to the cemetery that night went as follows:


"Good evening, I am Sgt. William A. Thomas.  I was born in Ruthville, Weakley Co., TN in 1838, the descendant of fine Kentucky stock on my daddy's side and a very long line from the Tarheel state of North Carolina, on my mother's.  The talk of secession, war, and fighting got pretty strong around Ruthville by the Spring of 1861.  By Summer my family was pretty worked up on the subject and in early September my five brothers and I left to join the Confederacy.  John, George and I, along with some of the boys from Weakley Co. went down to Trenton to join up with the 31st TN Infantry.  While Charlie, Jack and Joe, hearing that General Forrest was recruiting, went up into Kentucky and joined the 12th KY Cavalry.  Bud, or nickname for my brother Charlie, laughingly told me I could walk all the way across Dixie if I wanted to, but as for him, he was going to see the country from the saddle of a cavalry mount.  I remember telling him, 'Hell, we'll all be home by Christmas; how far do you think we'll have to walk in that short a time?'  Looking back now I guess we all thought the War would be over by the new year.

"Over the next 3-1/2 years, my brothers and I would fight in many battles together.  We were at Perryville.  It was there, after Capt. Hather was killed, that my brother George was elected Captain of our unit.  Our next major engagement was a Murfreesboro.  Then in July of '64, while we were fighting side by side at Peachtree Creek, George was struck down by a hail of minnie balls.  Fortunately he was not killed but we had to leave him behind in Georgia, when we followed Hood back to Tennessee.

"I never knew why we turned away from Sherman and marched back toward Nashville.  I thought we should have taken him on for a fight.  All I knew was that I was heading home; back home to my beloved Tennessee.  By late November we were here in Franklin.  On the morning of the 30th, I saw my brother, John, across the way.  He called to me and said that he had some fresh tobacco and wanted to know if I wanted to share a smoke.  We smoked our pipes and talked of home and the ones we had left behind.  That was the last peaceful time I was to spend on this earth.  At around 3:30, we were ordered up as part of General Brown's Division.  Being held in reserve under General Strahl, we watched as men un Generals Grist and Gordon attacked head long into the well entrenched Federals.  In a gallant charge by our boys, the Federals were pushed from their trenches, but our boys paid a heavy toll for their courageous effort.  I saw my comrades fall as though they were hay being garnered with a scythe.

"After the initial push, the men under General Grist became pinned down on the banks of the outer Federal works.  At that point, General Strahl stepped to our front and said that we would have to make our way to those trenches.  He said, 'Boys, this will be short, but desperate.'  No one in the ranks had to ask what he meant, we knew that this would be a terrible fight.

"As we moved forward, I saw our brigade banner start to float slowly then suddenly snap erect as it caught the passing wind.  At first we lumbered slowly forward, but within moments, we were in a full run.  I felt the ground rise and fall to meet my galloping feet.  My nostrils burned with the stench of expended powder.  My ears filled with the explosions about me.  My head was spinning at it seemed a thousand senses were fighting for my attention.

"About the time I turned to see if my brother John was still behind me.  I had outrun him in the charge and had lost site of him.  As I turned back to face the field, it seemed that all hell broke loose in our faces.  Suddenly, all I saw was a flash, the brilliance of a hundred suns.  I experienced a pain that felt as though my body had been ripped in half and then turned completely wrong side out.  From guns mounted just East of the river, a volley had been fired that tore through our lines.  I and six of our brigade had been forever relieved of duty.

"Word was received in Ruthville of my death.  My family took the news pretty hard.  It was decided that someone needed to come to Franklin to recover my body.  But, with all my brothers away at war and my daddy being in ill health, there was no one left to bring me home for burial.  No one, that is, except my 16 year old sister Emiline.  My family refused to let her go to Franklin and bring me home.  As she put it, 'I will never allow him to lie in a distant grave as long as I draw breath.'  Within a week of my death, Emiline started off by herself in our farm wagon.  It took her almost eight days to travel the 190 miles from Weakley County to here.  She passed through Nashville just days after Hood's withdrawal.  By the time she reach Franklin, I had been buried on the battlefield not far from the place I fell.  Emiline was convinced by the townspeople not to remove my remains back to Ruthville.  Heartbroken, she agreed and returned home.

Emiline died unmarried in 1926.  But never did a day pass in the rest of her 61 years that she did not think about her brother in this "distant grave."

The Thomas Family of Ruthville, TN
William was a middle brother of six, who would serve their country in those terrible years between 1861 and 1865.  The War was very rough on this family.  In August of 1863, Mary Elizabeth Vincent Thomas, the mother of these boys died.  In battle, almost all of them were wounded in some way, and of course William paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country on the bloody fields of Franklin.

The boys were by order of birth:  Joseph V. (1833), 12th KY Cav.; John F. (1835), 31st TN Inf.; Capt. George C. (1837), 31st TN Inf.; Sgt. William A. (1838), 31st TN Inf.; Sgt. Charles G. (1843), 12th KY Cav.; and Jackson E. (1845), 7th TN Cav. 

After the War, the boys all returned to their native West Tennessee soil and resumed productive lives.  Jack, John, Joe and Charles all returned to farming either in Weakley or Obion Counties, George decided to go into the political field and became Weakley Co. Sheriff and later the Post Master in Martin, he also established a black cemetery in Martin.  Both he and my Great Great Grandfather, Charles, have sketches in Goodspeed's History of Tennessee under Weakley and Obion Co. respectively.


Emiline did, in fact, get the ravaged body of her brother home to Ruthville.  He was buried in the family cemetery next to his recently departed mother and the graves of siblings who had died in infancy.  He lay in an unmarked grave for 133 years until the Fall of 1997 where I erected a Confederate military headstone in that tiny plot.  Family and friends came from across the United States to witness the Confederate dedication of the headstone.  But now, there are two stones placed in memory of this hero, one in Ruthville and one in the McGavock Confederate Cemetery in Franklin.

My only question is whether the grave in Franklin is an empty grave or is some other mother some where still grieving over the Unknown remains of her son buried in Uncle William's DISTANT GRAVE?


Terry L. Coats

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