Private, Co. B (Taylor's) , 1st Tennessee Artillery, Nov. 27, 1861 - Mar. 20, 1862
George Wesley Byrd (b. Feb. 15, 1829) was the fourth oldest son of John Wesley "Jack" Byrd (b. Jan. 1792; Washington Co. GA d. July 3, 1866; Stewart Co. TN) and Luna Louisa Brigham (b. 1797; Sullivan Co., TN. - d. Dec. 5, 1875; Stewart Co. TN). He, along with his 12 brothers and sisters (William Carrol, b. Aug. 23, 1815; Evaline Olivia, b. July 25, 1817; Thomas Brigham, b. Feb. 7, 1819; Nancy Young, b. Oct. 5, 1820; John Ashley, b. Sept. 23, 1822; Louisa Villars , b. Aug. 2, 1825; Sarah Ann, b. Aug. 8, 1827; Elizabeth Jane, b. Mar. 23, 1831; Robert Payne, b. Mar. 10, 1833; Penelope, b. Feb. 12, 1835; Riley Marion, b. Feb. 26, 1837; Rhodean, b. Sept. 23, 1839) was born along Byrd Creek, Stewart County Tennessee, in what is now Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL), next to the Tennessee River.
George Wesley Byrd married Ann Elizabeth Harrells (b. Nov. 26, 1846; AR - d. Dec. 17, 1909; Stewart Co. TN) on March 26, 1861 in Stewart County, Tennessee. They had the following children, all born there in Stewart County: Magdalene Esther (b. June 29, 1864), Louisa Jane (b. Jan. 25, 1867), John Wesley II (b. June 19, 1871), Eugenia Eliza (b. Dec. 6, 1874), Ida Erminie (b. Mar. 28, 1878), and Robert Young (b. Aug. 2, 1880).
Confederate service records indicate that George Wesley Byrd, along with three of his first cousins - Albert C. Brigham, Jr., Thomas H. Bailey, and Marion M. Bailey - all enlisted together as Privates in Captain Jesse Taylor's Company B, 1st Tennessee Artillery. Both George Wesley Byrd and his cousin Albert C. Brigham, Jr. were enlisted by Lt. Stankiewicz at Fort Henry, Tennessee on Nov. 27, 1861; their cousins Thomas and Marion Bailey had enlisted earlier during the Summer of 1861. Fort Henry was located on the Tennessee River, approximately 5 miles south of George Wesley Byrd's home along Byrd Creek.
Now under the direction of CSA General Lloyd Tilghman, Pvt. Byrd and his cousins worked rapidly to finish Fort Henry during the last months of 1861. A January, 1862 reconnaisance by Federal General Lew Wallace (later author of Ben Hur) on board the USS Conestoga revealed the low bastions of the fort were barely above the waters of the Tennessee River; between January 15 - 22, the Tennessee River rose 15 feet and was at floodstage. Despite the rising water, on January 21, General Tilghman sent out another appeal for local slaves to work on Fort Henry's fortifications. At that time there were 14 cannons at Fort Henry - including one 10 inch Columbiad (128 Ib. shot), one rebored 24 -pounder (62 Ib. ball), two 42-pounders, and eight 32-pounder guns. Also during this time, Fort Henry's earthworks were improved to 14 feet of thickness, including 8-foot high parapets. The pace quickened as rumors of the Federal invasion force spread through the garrison at Fort Henry.
When not working on fortifications, drill and practice occupied much of the time spent by Pvt. George W. Byrd and his cousins under the urging of Captain Jesse Taylor and General Tilghman during the month of January, 1862. Fort Heiman, on the Kentucky side of the Tennessee River across from Fort Henry, was evacuated by General Tilghman by February 5, 1862 and his forces consolidated at Fort Henry. The forces at Fort Henry now comprised 6 infantry regiments plus 1 battalion, 3 batteries of light and heavy artillery, and 2 battalions of cavalry; a total of approximately 3,000 men.
Federal General Ulysses S. Grant had previously landed his initial convoy of soldiers under General John A. McClernand at Itra Landing, 8 miles below Fort Henry early on February 4. Desiring first-hand information, General Grant then boarded the Federal ironclad USS Essex for a recon of Fort Henry. When the Essex was within about 2 1/2 miles from Fort Henry, Pvt. Byrd and his cousins under Captain Taylor indulged in a little target practice at General Grant's expense. One 24-pounder shell screeched over the gunboat, followed by a second that narrowly missed General Grant and Essex Commander W.D. "Dirty Bill" Porter as it crashed through the stern deck and dropped hissing into the Tennessee River. The Essex and General Grant quickly retreated back downriver.
General Grant and Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote made plans on February 5 for a coordinated infantry - naval assault against Fort Henry the following day. Meanwhile, Confederate General Tilghman and Colonel Adolphus Heiman decided that Fort Henry, due in large part to still rising waters of the Tennessee River. was undefensible and that all soldiers except Captain Taylor's Co. B including Pvt. George W. Byrd and his cousins - would be evacuated to Fort Donelson during early morning of February 6. Captain Taylor's men would man the guns and attempt to delay the Federal assault while Colonel Heiman and most of the garrison retreated to Fort Donelson 12 miles away.
Pvt. Byrd and his cousins no doubt felt some degree of trepidation on the morning of February 6, 1862 as they watched the rest of Fort Henry's garrison march away towards Fort Donelson. At 10:50 a.m., the assault flotilla of Flag Officer Foote - including the ironclads USS Essex, Cincinnati, Carondelet, St . Louis and timberclads USS Tyler, Conestoga, and Lexington - left Bailey's Landing (just south of Byrd's Creek area) and chugged upriver towards Fort Henry. About noon, the Federal ironclads sighted the fort and at 12:34 p.m., the assault was initiated by the USS Cincinnati, firing its 8-inch bow-mounted Dahlgren cannon; the other ironclads soon joined in.
General Tilghman and his staff took position at the center battery in Fort Henry - the approximately 70 Confederates in the fort had only 11 cannons facing the river and the Federal flotilla while Flag Officer Foote had a combined total of 54 cannons at his disposal. As documented in The Fall of Fort Henry (1963) by Edwin C. Bearss, General Tilghman refused to allow his men to return fire until he could evaluate the effectiveness of the Federal bombardment; he then told Captain Taylor to have his men begin firing. Captain Taylor assigned a target to each gun captain and told them their pieces must be constantly trained on that particular boat. The Fort Henry Columbiad fired first, followed by the rebored 24-pounder, and the other guns as the ironclads closed in.
Foote's flagship Cincinnati took numerous hits as did the ironclad Essex, including a shot from the Confederate Columbiad that exploded the Essex' boiler and killed several of its crew with scalding steam. That single 128-lb. shot resulted in 10 killed, 23 wounded, and 5 missing from the crew of the Essex. While Pvt. George W. Byrd and his Confederate comrades were still cheering the fate of the Essex, the rebored 24-pounder rifle in the fort suddenly burst, killing or disabling its crew. Shortly thereafter, another disaster struck the valiant Confederates when the Columbiad was accidently spiked by a jammed priming wire. By this time, several of the 32-pounders had been knocked out by the Federal cannonfire and the remaining ironclads raked the parapets of Fort Henry with destructive fire. Pvt. Byrd and his comrades understandably shrank from their stations in accordance with self-preservation. At approximately 1:30 p.m., General Tilghman threw off his coat and jumped up to man one of the remaining 32-pounders in an attempt to rally his men; he personally aimed two shots at the Cincinnati , causing her to alter her course. The three remaining ironclads now closed to within 600 yards of the fort, their 8-inch Dahlgrens actually blowing chunks out of Fort Henry's parapets.
Throughout the battle, the Tennessee River had continued to rise and now actually stood calf-deep within Fort Henry. General Tilghman now reluctantly decided to surrender at about 2:00 p.m. and had Captain Taylor strike the Confederate colors from the main flagstaff. Flag Officer Foote then received General Tilghman aboard the Cincinnati where Tilghman greeted Foote by saying "I am glad to surrender to so gallant an officer . " Foote rather unchivaIrously replied back " You do perfectly right, sir, in surrendering, but you should have blown my boat out of the water before I would have surrendered to you."
General U.S. Grant and his staff arrived at Fort Henry about 3:00 p.m., his infantry - including Pvt. John A. Palmer, Co. A, 29th Illinois Infantry (see his biography) - occupied the fort shortly thereafter. Pvt. George W. Byrd and his comrades were then sent into captivity, first by Federal steamboat to Cairo, Illinois and then to Alton, Illinois and the POW camp where both he and his cousin Pvt. Marion M. Bailey were received on February 17, 1862. Both cousins endured a relatively brief status as POWs - Pvt. Byrd and Pvt. Bailey signed loyalty oaths and were released from Alton POW camp on March 20, 1862. Interestingly, a list of prisoners at Alton Prison dated March 8, 1862 describes Pvt. George W. Byrd's residence as being "Lauderdale County, Alabama"
Back home in Stewart County. Tennessee, George Wesley Byrd signed a second loyalty oath and posted a $1,000 bond; this document is dated April 7, 1862 and lists his younger brother, Riley Marion Byrd, and a neighbor, Henry Hicks, as securities. In the same National Archives microfilm file with this second loyalty oath document is a railroad pass with the following notations on it:
Parkersburg Apl 16 1862
The bearer of this certificate, G.W. Byrd having been examined, according to instructions from Head Quarters, is permitted to pass on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad - N.W. Va. R.R. from Parkersburg to Kanawha Station by paying his fare.
by order of John F. Hoy
Brig. Gen'l B.F. Kelley
by Geo. A. (?) Palmer
On the back side of this railroad pass is also written: "The undersigned accepts this pass on his word of honor that he is loyal to the United States and if he is hereafter found in arms against the government of the United States or aiding or abetting its enemies, the penalty will be DEATH." Beneath this statement is the signature: "G.W. Byrd"
At the time of this writing it is not known exactly why George Wesley Byrd signed a second, $1,000 security loyalty oath and traveled to Kanawha Station. (now) West Virginia. Family history recorded by his great-niece, Cleo Cherry Grogan of Murray, Kentucky states that George Wesley Byrd had returned home to his aged parents house on Byrd Creek sometime during the Civil War. Then one day, although he had a fever and was lying down, he heard the hoofbeats of three unfamiliar horses riding up to his parents' house. Getting up from his sickbed and taking a double-barrel shotgun with him, he quietly approached the three "guerillas" as they were dismounting in front of the house. Without hesitation, he shot and killed one guerilla who had already tied his horse to the pickett fence outside the front porch and knocked another rider from his horse with the second blast. The third guerilla turned and fled into the night. Although "sick with fever", George Wesley Byrd left the two dead guerillas in his parents' front yard and "walked into Dover" to tell authorities about the incident. If this described incident indeed occurred during the Civil War, it is probably more likely that he would have walked to the Federal outpost at now occupied Fort Henry and manned by the 5th Iowa Cavalry (Curtis Horse") under Colonel Lowe.
George Wesley Byrd was the administrator of his father's estate after John Wesley "Jack" Byrd died in 1866. In 1870, he was sold the remaining land in Stewart county belonging to his oldest brother, William Carrol Byrd, now living in Randolph County, Arkansas. Pvt. George Wesley Byrd, Co. B (Taylor's), 1st Tennessee Artillery died October 14, 1898 and is buried alongside his wife, Ann Eliza Harrells in the Bailey-Byrd Cemetery. LBL, Stewart County, TN. On his headstone is inscribed the following: "Let us prepare to cross the chilly waters of death."
(1) by Kenneth Elburn Byrd, Indianapolis, IN
(2) Cleo Cherry Grogan, Murray, KY
- great-great-great-nephew of Pvt. George Wesley Byrd.
- great-great-great-grandson of John Wesley "Jack" Byrd.
- great-great-grandson of William Carrol Byrd.
- great-niece of Pvt. George Wesley Byrd.
- great-granddaughter of John Wesley "Jack" Byrd.
- granddaughter of Riley Marion Byrd.
Photo of George W. Byrd courtesy of:
Pauline Byrd Cooke (Grand-daughter of G.W. Byrd)
Sarah Hillyard White (Great Grand-daughter of G.W. Byrd)
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