Monday, February 20, 2012

Military Monday - Captain John Thornhill

I have previously written about Corporal Francis Marion Jones of the 9th Tennessee Calvary during the Civil War. His commanding officer in Company B was his cousin, Captain John A. Thornhill, the son of Joseph Thornhill and Mary Gass. He was born about 1841 in Jefferson County, Tennessee. John was also the nephew of Elizabeth Thornhill Jones. This post describes the fate of Captain Thornhill in the Civil War.

Thanks to the muster roll found on, we have a record of John's service in Company B. He enlisted into the Union Army on 6 May 1863 in Union County, Tennessee. He was to muster into service at Camp Nelson, Kentucky on 15 August 1863 and recruited men for the company.

Captain Thornhill and his Company B were operating in Jefferson County, Tennessee. Thornhill died on 24 June 1865 under strange circumstances.

John's file contains two notes dated 1 July and 3 July 1865 regarding his murder by Union soldiers, one specifically calling out Captain John Bell of the 9th Tennessee Cavalry. The letters requested an investigation into "the murder of ex-Captain Thornhill 9th Tenn Cavalry". The order was filed in Morristown, Tennessee (present-day Hamblen County and home to the Thornhills in 1865). The order was precipitated by a letter sent to Major General Stoneman in Knoxville, Tennessee dated 1 July 1865:

"The undersigned gentlemen would most respectfully represent, that on the 24th [June] Captain John Thornhill formerly of the United States Army was murdered under circumstances of the most intense aggrovation and cruelty by Captain Bell and Lt. Rankin and sixteen men all of the 9th Tenn. Cav. it is supposed.

"Petitioners feel no ordinary concern in most earnestly pressing this [unclear of word] and outrageous transaction upon the notice of the Military Authorities in a special manner to the once that the perpetrations of this barbarous act may be brought to speedy and plenary punishment.

"They feel a deep and profound solicitation in this matter as they believe unless prompt and [unclear of words] are not at once [?] to arrest such outlaws in their course of infamy and crime the very foundations of society be overthrown once the whole country is [?] in a [?] [?].

"Petitioners would not in the slightest innuendo intimate that the military authorities are remiss in the discharge of their official duties; but they would respectfully suggest that there are crimes and outrages perpetrated by a class of reckless desperados which are not brought to notice of the proper authorities in all their hideous and appalling forms. And in this particular case the voice of an outraged and incensed community respectfully yet earnestly and imploringly calls for the prompt punishment of these offenders against all laws both human and divine.

"Petitioners further state that so far as their personal knowledge extends as well as that derived from information they believe the conduct of Captain Thornhill both as a soldier and gentleman was as blameless as any mans to the period of his death.

"He was and has always been a bold and uncompromising Union man. Our cause had no more devoted and ardent supporter than he was and have always been from the beginning of our national troubles.

"His death in our candid opinion was a foul murder. The perpetrators of which deserve nothing but the execution [?] of all christendom.

"Respectfully signed and submitted

Robert Goforth, John Talbott
W. A. Howell, M. D. [?]
Jesse Howell, J. N. Newman
James Case, C.[?]
Thomas Goren, Jas. M. Ashmore
J.B. Cannon, W. D. Krese
Wm. A. Cannon, William H. Snodgrass
J. W. M. Cannon, Jno. R. Brauner
Berton Cannon, W. Galbraith
(and 121 other signatures)
A second letter to Major General Stoneman was included in the file, dated 3 July 1865.

"General, we the undersigned petitioners do pray that you would order an investigation of the murder of Ex-Captain Thornhill 9 Tenn Cav which we believe to have been done under the assumed authority of Captain James Bell and others under his command on Saturday, June 24, 1865.

Very respectfully,
(Signed by 29 men)
According to the muster roll for James Bell, he became 1st Lieutenant in a new Company D and later Company L, 9th Tennessee Cavalry. He was discharged from the Army on 28 February 1866.

Mary Gass Thornhill filed a mother's pension application for John on 15 February 1869 (Application #171775). I'll have to look at this pension file to see what it says about John Thornhill.

9th Cavalry Activities
Company B was in service in Kentucky during the summer and fall of 1863. The men of Company B were given a short leave and permitted to return to their homes in October 1863. Many were from East Tennessee and Jefferson County in particular. But Knoxville was under siege and the men were ordered back immediately. The muster roll notes that a number were left "behind the enemy's lines where they are supposed to be yet unable to join their command."

It is unclear whether John Thornhill lead a "gang of outlaws" during this discharge period, but Francis Marion Jones' prisoner of war record seems to indicate that he did (or at least that the Confederate Army characterized him that way).

The 9th Cavalry marched from Camp Nelson, Kentucky to Cumberland Gap (a distance of 140 miles). They were present at the surrender of Cumberland Gap and marched back to Lexington, Kentucky as guard to prisoners (160 miles), then marched to Knoxville, Tennessee (220 miles). They were present as Knoxville was besieged. They guarded prisoners back to Camp Nelson (200 miles). They went by railroad to Nashville and then marched to Camp Catlett, Tennessee, 7 miles where they were stationed (30 April 1864 muster roll).

Source, scanned from The National Archives, publication number M395, Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Tennessee (2010).

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