A Journey of Twists and Turns: The Story of Private Tate Randolph Driesbach
By Dennis Ranney, SCV and Joanie Jackson, UDC
Private Driesbach, like countless other soldiers, was young and full of sovereign pride upon entering what was to be for far too many, their final few years fighting for a cause in which they believed was true. Tate Randolph Driesbach was born about 1847 in Alabama according to the 1850 United States census. He lived with his father, James Denny Driesbach, born in Ohio about 1816 and his mother, Josephine B. Driesbach, born about 1828 in Alabama. James Denny and Josephine B. married in 1844. The 1860 census record lends additional information about siblings of Tate: Ida born about 1845; Charles H. born about 1848; Florence A. born about 1851; Percy (a male) born about 1852; Arthur born about 1855; Mabel born about 1856; and Kate born about 1858. The family was living in Baldwin County, Alabama at the time of both the 1850 and 1860 censuses. Of note is additional siblings from the 1870 census: Maude born about 1860; Lee born about 1862 (more about this son later in the story); Bertha born about 1864; and Clara born about 1868. So from the census records, it appears Tate came from a large family with what is thought to be 11 children.
The lineage of Tate Driesbach is almost a story within a story. His mother Josephine Bonaparte Tate was a daughter of David Tate and Mary Randon Tate. Mary, Tate’s maternal grandmother, had been killed in the massacre at Fort Mims, Alabama during the War of 1812. David Tate, Tate’s maternal grandfather, was a half-brother to William Weatherford (also known as Lamochattee or Red Eagle). David and William’s mother was Sehoy III of the clan “Wind Princess”. William was of a mixed background: Creek Indian, French, and Scot ancestry. He was raised as a Creek and became prominent as a chief in his mother’s Wind Clan, prescribed by the clan’s matrilineal kinship system. So through this system, William’s maternal uncle, his mother’s oldest brother, was a central figure in his upbringing; even more so than William’s biological father, Charles Weatherford, a Scottish born, red-headed owner of a trading post near the Creek village.
During his formative years, William was involved with tribal politics. Creeks who sided against the United States were known as “Red Sticks”, and this faction soon became the dominant group. They traveled to Florida to purchase weapons from the Spanish in preparation for war. Although involved in several major battles with settlers and Andrew Jackson’s army, Red Eagle surrendered at Fort Jackson (formerly Fort Toulouse) and was utilized by Andrew Jackson to bring the Upper Creek Indians to a peace conference. The Fort Jackson Treaty not only confirmed peace in the Creek War, but included provisions for educating the Creek people.
In yet another twisting turn in Tate’s background is David A. Moniac, a Creek Indian who was the maternal uncle of William Weatherford and grandnephew of Alexander McGillivray, a prominent Creek chief on Moniac’s mother’s side. Moniac was the first Native American to attend/graduate West Point and was the first cadet from the new state of Alabama to attend West Point. After resigning his military commission in 1822 (the year General Grant was born) to deal with Creek clan property business, he returned to Alabama and settled in Baldwin County, developing a cotton plantation and was a breeder of thoroughbred horses. Later, he served as county sheriff. Moniac descendants still live in the area today.
So after a genealogical diversion into Tate’s maternal ancestors, we find Tate has enlisted with the 7th Alabama Cavalry organized in May, 1863. The unit was formed at Newborn, Alabama from soldiers living in Randolph, Shelby, Greene, Pickens, and Montgomery counties in Alabama. The unit’s flag was made of wedding dresses and “best dresses” of the ladies of Aberdeen, Mississippi. The flag survived the war and was donated to the Alabama Department of Archives and History in 1907. Of the over 450 men originally comprising the unit, less than 300 effectives remained in April, 1865 and only half of those surrendered at Gainesville, Alabama in May, 1865. The 7th Alabama Cavalry was somewhat unique in the fact that a majority of the soldiers in the ranks of this unit had or were currently at time of enlistment attending the University of Alabama and most would have body servants with them during the war. Tate’s enlistment is dated as June 4, 1863 at Tuscaloosa for “the duration of the war” in Company F of the 7th Alabama Cavalry. While serving as a private, Tate earned $11.00 per month, equivalent to about 37 cents per day. However, Tate’s gallant steed earned $12.00 per month or about 40 cents per day! Although the soldiers were to be paid every two months when company Muster Rolls were taken, this was not the norm for many reasons. Soldiers sometimes went months and months without pay.
From enlistment in June, 1863 until December, 1863, Private Driesbach was “present” on Muster Roll cards. Things took a tragic turn when Tate was captured with so many others at the Battle of Nashville on December 16, 1864. From Nashville, the Prisoner of War was sent to Louisville, Kentucky on December 31, 1864 or January 1, 1865. The trip North from Nashville to Louisville was about a one day journey by train. Louisville was a sort of “clearinghouse” for Confederate prisoners and from here they would be sent to larger prisons in the North. By this point in the war, most large Northern prisons were overcrowded and greatly exceeded original capacity, rendering care of prisoners abysmal. Although many prisoners from the Battle of Nashville were diverted to Camp Douglas in Illinois, Tate had the misfortune to be sent to Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. Tate was sent to Camp Chase soon after arriving at Louisville, being received at the camp on January 4, 1865.
Northern winters were cold and bleak, especially for those prisoners in large camps. There was never enough food, fire wood, health care, blankets, clothing, or sanitation. Young men used to a warmer clime suffered greatly in the bitter cold and snow of the Northern states. On February 14, 1865 (Valentine’s Day for most), young Tate, who was only 17 years old, succumbed to pneumonia at Camp Chase, less than 60 days after arrival. Far away from family and friends, he suffered his death alone and was buried in grave #1235 at Camp Chase cemetery “one third of a mile south of Camp Chase”. A plot thought to be his “final” resting place… or was it??
To answer that question, we return to Tate’s ancestors, this time his paternal family. Maria Louise Driesbach was Tate’s paternal aunt. She married Lyman Olds (as his second wife) in Ohio in 1849. The Olds family had powerful connections and were political leaders during the war. Edson Olds was a three-term U.S. Representative and leader of the Peace Democrats. His descendants would later become military leaders, Major General Robert Olds and Brigadier General Robin Olds.
Lyman Olds was born about 1820 in Ohio and was a well-educated man, becoming a practicing physician in Kingston, Ohio in 1824. After moving to Circleville, Ohio (this city will become part of Tate’s story later on), Olds served as an Ohio Representative and an Ohio Senator. He was elected an Ohio Congressman from 1849-1855. Foes of Olds wrote slanderous letters to high ranking politicians and subsequently, Olds was arrested and imprisoned at Fort Lafayette from August, 1862 to December, 1862. While incarcerated, Olds was elected Ohio Representative and served from 1862 to 1866.
Other significant ties for the Olds family was Mark Olds who gave last rites to David Herold, one of the Lincoln conspirators who was hung July 7, 1865. Herold had been caught with John Wilkes Booth in the barn on the Garrett farm. Another famous brother was Chauncey Olds. Ohio Governor Brough appointed Chauncey as Ohio Attorney General in 1865 after Colonel William Pitt Richardson won the election, but choose to decline a political career and stay in the military. The “choice” to remain in the military came with a nice promotion to Brigadier General, not a coincidence! Incidentally, Colonel Richardson was the last Camp Chase commander during the war. The status of Chauncey Olds as Attorney General will come into play with his sister-in-law, Maria Olds (Tate’s paternal aunt) later in Tate’s story.
While at Camp Chase, Tate’s aunt Maria visited him (remember her brother-in-law is Ohio Attorney General, so she was afforded privileges most people did not have), but met with a frosty reception from Tate who did not want anything to do with “Yankees”, including his aunt. However, Aunt Maria won Tate over and brought him much needed food and additional clothing. Despite this “luxuries” offered by his aunt, Tate died. His aunt did not want him to be forever buried in the Camp Chase cemetery, so had his body exhumed from grave #1235 and reinterred in the Olds family plot at Forest Cemetery in Circleville, Ohio. The fact that Tate’s body could be singled out from all the other burials lends credence to the fact that “mass or trench” burials were unlikely at Camp Chase cemetery during the war as some would like to believe. Today, there is no grave #1235, the missing plot of Tate Randolph Driesbach.
Confederate soldiers buried in Northern cemeteries were given military provided headstones upon application. Tate’s headstone was applied for by H. S. Irwin (who’s final resting place is also Forest Cemetery in Circleville, Ohio) on August 10, 1938 and shipped on October 4, 1938 to the Circleville Courthouse. The marble headstone to be located in a Northern state (Ohio) cemetery for a Confederate soldier (serving in an Alabama cavalry) was made appropriately “down South” in Tate, Georgia by the Georgia Marble Company. The headstone was made from similar marble as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Today, descendants of Tate Randolph Driesbach who live in Pickaway County, Ohio visit his grave annually and place flowers there to commemorate the brave Southern soldier.
But this is not the final twist and turn to Private Driesbach’s story! Remember his younger brother, Lee Driesbach born about 1862? Well it seems James Driesbach, Tate’s father, wrote to General Robert E. Lee, former Confederate general telling him of Tate’s death at Camp Chase and Lee replied back in a letter! Below is the content of the letter from Lee to Driesbach:
“Letter to J. D. Driesbach, October 3, 1867 from Robert E. Lee-
Lexington, Virginia October 3, 1867
My dear Sir
I recd this mng your letter of the 28th ulto: & sympathize most sincerely in your misfortunes, & especially in the death for your noble son. When however we reflect upon the suffering of the living, & the peace and happiness of the righteous dead, we should be reconciled to the loss of friends & rejoice at their departure to a better world.
I thank you for the compliment paid me by giving my name to your little son, & hope that you will so educate him as that he will become a good, wise & useful man. I send him my photograph, the best I have, which I hope will serve to remind him sometimes, of me-
With my kindest regards to all your family & best wishes for your welfare.
I am very respy & truly
R. E. Lee”
Tate Randolph Driesbach would be the only soldier who died at Camp Chase to be mentioned in a letter by Robert E. Lee. Less than 1% of the Camp Chase dead were members of the Army of Northern Virginia, as the vast majority had been members of the Army of Tennessee, like Tate R. Driesbach
Apparently James Denny Driesbach would make good on Robert E. Lee’s request. Lee Driesbach would be educated and later become a practicing physician. According to the Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929, Lee Driesbach died on February 26, 1915 at New Orleans, Louisiana due to surgery complications.
So the life and death of Tate Randolph Driesbach definitely has some twists and turns and a great many connections to prominent figures in the history of the United States and especially in the War Between the States.