By Dennis Ranney of the SCV and Joanie Jackson of the UDC
Of significance on February 17, 1864 - The Confederate submarine Hunley sank the U.S.S. Housatonic in Charleston Harbor, and the 3rd Confederate Conscription Act was passed, lowering the age of conscription to 17 and raising the age of conscription to 50. Also, on this date in 1864, an act creating the office of ensign in the Army of the Confederate States took place. Although the rank of ensign is mostly associated with the Navy, the Confederate Army also utilized the rank of ensign.
From the Official Records (Series IV, Vol III) - "The Congress of the Confederate States of America does enact, *"that there shall be appointed by the President, to each regiment of infantry in the Army of the Confederate States an officer to be known as ensign, with the rank, pay and allowances of a first lieutenant, whose duty it shall be to bear the colors of the regiment, but without right to command in the field."*
The new rank of ensign was established. An ensign, bearing the regimental colors, held the rank of a 1st lieutenant and received pay as a 1st lieutenant; although considered a commissioned officer, the ensign was without any official command authority. The rank was a title and privilege given in recognition of the dangers associated with the assignment. A "preferred" target for both sides during the Civil War was the flag bearer. Both the flag bearers and field grade officers were in many enemy rifle sites on the battlefields. Subsequently, many of the original ensigns did not survive the war.
Only one soldier from each regiment would carry the regimental colors. On May 31, 1864, allowance was made by the Confederacy for the colonel of the regiment, according to the regulations, to choose the bravest and most trusted soldier to carry the flag for each battalion of infantry. The colonel’s choice for ensign was then sent to be approved by Secretary of War James A. Seddon in which the appointment was made on October 28, 1864 and to retroactively take effect from September 26, 1864. The estimated amount required to pay an ensign (January 1, 1865 through June 30, 1865) was $90 per month. However, by March 25, 1865, General Order #15 abolished the office of ensign, permitting each ensign to "choose the company to which he desires to attach himself".
On August 22, 1864, Colonel James David Tillman wrote to the Confederate Secretary of War: "Sir, I respectfully nominate for Ensign of the 41st Tennessee Regiment, Color Corporal William Beasley, Company H to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of Ensign Erwin P. Jett, killed on the 22nd of July 1864. William Beasley is a native of Marshal County, Tennessee and is 22 years of age." The young 20-year-old Ensign Erwin P. Jett being replaced is buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Griffin, Georgia.
Young Beasley had been selected to become an ensign for the 41st Regiment TN Infantry. Ensign Beasley was taken as a POW at the Battle of Franklin, TN on November 30, 1864, where he had carried the colors of the 41st TN at the battle; a battle largely fought in the dark. One soldier writes home that "" and in a later letter, the same soldier writes to his wife that "". At the battle, General Hood ordered repeat charges against the Union Army and finally won the battle, but at a very heavy cost to his army in life and limb. We do not know in which particular charge Ensign Beasley was wounded, but from indications, his arm had been shot during one of the charges.
Private Augustus C. McGhee, Company I of the 46th GA Regiment had been in Gist’s Brigade and Brown’s (Cheatham’s Old) Division in Cheatham’s Corps and with General John B. Hood commanding at the Battle of Franklin. Private McGhee was facing his first major battle and wrote his mother about the Battle of Franklin and mentions the fighting after the sun set. In part he says: "Many of my friends fell to whom I had become endeared. I loved them, but onward I went double quicking over rocks, through cornfields until I reached the enemy’s works. I was with the first who reached the works and I say it to the honor and bravery of the 46th. Her colors were the first to be planted upon the works. Soon as they were planted, we rallied to them & then poured volley after volley into them for several long hours. Yes, from one hour by sun till about 2 or 3 o’clock AM, when they began to retreat & fall back to Nashville. Whether they have succeeded in getting there I have not heard. Forrest is after them and doing all he can. ‘Tis true we forced them out of these works & routed them, but it was at a great sacrifice of men. We have to mourn the loss of many of our comrades. The boys say no battlefield has ever equaled this. The killed & wounded lay thick everywhere. Oh! The sight of a battlefield, it is horrible. The groans & sighs of dying & wounded is awful. I never want to see another. Our regiment, brigade & Division suffered considerably. I cannot form any idea of our casualties. It was heavy and believe me I thought of your prayers all the while I was in the fight. I feel they alone saved me, for the bullets fell around thick as hail. I was with the first to mount the works. We captured any amount of clothing & rations. I got a good fly, haversack, rations, boots, splendid overshirt, pair of socks, good pair buck skin gloves &c. Overcoats, pants, boots, & clothing every description were captured. Watches & green backs any quantity. But all at a great cost. We will now move on toward Nashville. Pray for me. Love to all. Your son Gus."
Henry Hayes Coe was a Federal Band Leader with the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Division in the 23rd Army Corps during the Battle of Franklin. He wrote dozens of letters home to his wife Lucy in Ohio during the war. One letter in particular he told his wife "two thirds of the Battle of Franklin was fought after dark. Making it one of the most splendid sights I ever saw." Coe also wrote to Lucy "one attack was made about 2 in the morning". Henry was one of the few soldiers who watched the entire battle from afar.
Captain Thomas Price of Company G of the 12th Regiment Louisiana was wounded and also taken prisoner on November 30, 1864 at the Battle of Franklin. While multiple charges were made and repulsed, some Confederates held the Union breastworks at various points before being counter attacked. When Union Major General Schofield finally yielded the field he took a few wounded Confederates with him toward Nashville.
From the book Reminiscences of the Boys in Gray, written in 1912 by Mamie Yeary, Alexander Randolph Knowles of Company B of the 12th Regiment Louisiana Infantry stated " Franklin, Tennessee was the most deadly conflict I was in. Late that evening I could have walked on dead men 400 yards from the Yankee breastworks".
Federal POW Records indicate Beasley had been admitted on December 26, 1864, to the United States Army General Hospital #1 at Nashville, TN. The records state he had been wounded at the Battle of Franklin and then transferred to the Nashville hospital, with notation of an amputation occurring before admission his on December 1, 1864. The amputation resulted from a wound inflicted by a con ball, short for conical ball or more commonly known as a Minie ball. It was further noted that the amputation of the left arm included the upper third of his arm. On February 3, 1865, William S. Beasley was transferred from the Union hospital at Nashville to the Provost Marshal to follow Confederate prisoner flow.
Ensign Beasley was taken to the Military Prison at Louisville, KY via the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, a trip of approximately 180 miles, arriving at his destination on February 9, 1865. On February 10, 1865, he was transferred to Camp Chase, OH from Louisville and arrived in Columbus, OH on President Lincoln’s last birthday, February 12, 1865. Ensign William S. Beasley died on April 2, 1865, of pneumonia approximately 49 days after arriving at Camp Chase and was buried in grave #1806 at the Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery.
Today, it unlawful for individuals to use a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) machine at any National Cemetery. However, in cemeteries, particularly older ones, some bodies are not located in the same place as the headstones. If a GPR was used at Camp Chase, Ensign Beasley might easily be identified as having only his right arm intact, missing the left arm due to an amputation from wounds received bearing his regiments colors at the Battle of Franklin.