George Henry Peebles to me has always been an enigma,
one minute completely insensitive, the next I am moved to tears by his bravery. In years of research, I have learned that you cannot always rely on the written word to be accurate; or that the written word has an equivalent meaning to what would be the standard today. The same is true for the spoken words and memories over time – or even the words etched in granite. How many times have I discovered that the dates, especially the death date on a gravemarker is different from the official record of death? This is especially true when family places a marker years after the event. George Henry Peebles is a study in contradictions.
On the human side, George Henry Peebles, must have been a genial old soul for those who knew him did not soon forget him. And funny, his dry sense of humor has been seen in descendants a number of generations later. My grandmother, Betty Drue Jane Tolbert Peebles, described Grandpa Dick (as the family called him) as a carbon copy of Luther Peebles, or maybe that should be written in reverse order. Luther was small in stature and a very nimble man. Almost all the Peebles men had the hallmark nose, long face, and big ears. My grandfather, Robert Duncan Peebles used to quip that the reason he had big ears was to hold up his hat since he had little hair to help in the matter. And most of them had that same deep gravelly voice and dry sense of humor. And many of them were musically inclined. Luther Peebles was a delight to be around and a very amusing person. Luther could tell some of the tallest tales ever heard by man. That is how I picture George Henry Peebles. My grandmother described him precisely as he rode a mule to visit her in the mornings in the early 1920s. She seemed amused at his insistence that he did not come to see her, but rather daughter Preston who was a baby at the time. It was not always what was said, but the intonation of what was said that provided a smile.
Another trait that George Henry Peebles had was his temperament that too seems to be a family trait. When mad, he was really really mad, and you knew it. You knew where he stood on issues, no doubt about it. He gave no quarter, but in comparison he took no quarter either. He was a good horseman and a better shot. And he was brave. His bravery will be discussed later in this article.
Competition seemed to be steeped into his soul. This is demonstrated by his love of racing and race horses after the War Between the States and by an incident that happened that involved crops. Before we can go further we must address the enigma of his name. The Peebles family over the generations have named children one thing and called them something else completely, and nicknames abounded. Our ancestor was named George Henry Peebles, but even his grandchildren did not know his real name; they called him Grandpa Dick and assumed his name to be either Dick or Richard when pressed. George Henry Peebles went by Dick Peebles, Richard Peebles, and sometimes Henry Peebles or Richard Henry Peebles.
Gathering information on him was a daunting task because he assumed so many personas. He married his first wife, Catherine Rebecca Jane Terry as G. H. Peebles, often misspelled Peoples in 10 March 1870 in Lawrence County, Alabama as recorded in Book E, Page 254. The marriage book lists the names as George H Peebles and R. J. Terry. The original license gives the names as George H. Peebles and Rebecker J. Terry.
George Henry Peebles married a second time under the name George Peebles to Mrs. Willie Kazle as recorded on the original marriage license in Lawrence County, Alabama on 21 February 1895 in Book L, Record 238. No further record has been located for Mrs. Willie Kazle [likely Cagle], but three years later he marries a third time. Perhaps this was a case where the license was taken out but a marriage never performed.
The original license has him as G. H. Peebles and bride as Alice Graham; the marriage took place in Lawrence County, Alabama on 4 February 1898 and is recorded in Book M, Record 20. After he married his third wife, Alice Graham, he gave his name on documents such as the census as Richard Peebles. Alice Graham was the younger sister of Eliza Holland Graham. Eliza Graham married George Henry Peebles’ son, William Henry Peebles.
The marriage record for George Henry Peebles was found in Morgan County for his fourth marriage. Mittie Elizabeth Dotson and George Henry Peebles married in 1914 in Morgan County, Alabama. It appears that George Henry Peebles was still married to Mittie Dotson at the time of his death even though they were living apart; her parents were likely William F and Sarah C Dotson who died in Lawrence County, Alabama. Nothing further is known about her; her name may be been Margaret Elizabeth Dotson and she was called Mittie by family and friends. Mittie was not one to be trifled with as evidence by her separation from her husband after he hurled a piece of firewood at her while she was at the stove.
On court documents he was named as George Peebles, George Henry Peebles, G H Peebles, R H Peebles, and Richard Peebles. Family called him Dick Peebles. On his pension records his name was given as G H Peoples. On his death record his name was given as Richard Peebles. All these names represent the same man. On his sons’ death certificates the informant gave the name of their father as Richard Peebles; the exception for this was Maj Peebles’ death certificate where his name was given correctly by the informant.
Next are the stories and records for George Henry Peebles during the War Between the States. And, oh my, but it is a gnarly set of records at best. He must have been a contortionist to have served in the different units as records indicate. That is not saying that it is not true, it could be. A study of the 16th Alabama Regiment of Infantry demonstrates adequately that units and regiments, rank, officers, and commanders can change in a heartbeat depending on untimely defeats and deaths. The south had to regroup so many times in every regiment that it became routine; regrouping caused the commanders to rename the regiments as ‘consolidated.’ Further and in depth research might reveal more adequate facts, but for now we work with what facts we find.
One record which is a List of Soldiers buried in Lawrence County, Alabama online. The list states that information was taken from the 1907 Lawrence County Pensioners and 1910 Census records. The list shows that he served in the 23rd North Carolina. There was a George H Peebles who served in the 23rd North Carolina Infantry, CSA. He ranked in and ranked out as a Private. The record for his service is File Number M230 roll 30. Since I consider this an unlikely match to our ancestor, there has been no attempt to research further.
Another record shows a George Peoples who ranked in and ranked out as a Private in the 6th Tennessee Cavalry, Wheeler’s Cavalry. An alternate name was given as R Peeples. The record is in the archives as M231 roll 34. It is
possible that George Henry served as a scout for Joe Wheeler; they were from the same neighborhood and their families knew each other. Evidently Wheeler’s Cavalry was quite successful and personality types like our George Henry Peebles would have been quite valuable in endeavors such those in which Wheeler’s men took part. The following is an excerpt from the New York Times archive:
MISCELLANEOUS.; YANKEE OUTRAGES IN NORTH CAROLINA. WHEELER’S CAVALRY RAID. WARRIORS IN CHARIOTS. GEN. MORGAN’S HORSE. NOT VERY THANKFUL FOR BIBLES. CONFEDERATE GENERALS. GOVERNMENT IMPRESSMENTS. THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE. THE FREQUENCY OF FIRES IN RICHMOND.
From the Selma Reporter [in Alabama]. From the Richmond Sentinel Sept. 24.
Published: October 2, 1864
The following is an extract of a letter from Camden County, North Carolina:
“The Yankees have just made a raid out here, committing the most fiendish acts of cruelty upon the people. They were not satisfied with subsisting upon the people, carrying of horses, &c., but they burned some fifteen or twenty houses, turning the defenceless families out of doors, with a total loss of furniture, clothing. &c. Many of the ladies, having secured their money and jewelry about their persons, were seized and forcibly robbed. Some of the citizens were badly beaten for trying to defend their wives from insult.”
Among the many jokes to which WHEELER’s cavalry raid has given rise, nothing is better than this in a letter from HOOD’s army. “The boys in camp, who are always very severe in their criticism upon the cavalry when a failure occurs, say that WHEELER, in his detour from Dalton toward Knoxville, was on his way to tear up the railroad between Lynchburgh and Richmond, and was only deterred from doing so by a dispatch from JEFF DAVIS requesting the General to spare it.”
The LaGrange (Tenn.,) Bulletin says: “We heard a little incident related in reference to the Alabama militia the other day, which shows the laxity of military discipline about Opelika. A captain of a cavalry company reported about ninety men for duty every morning, and on an occasion of parade, the colonel asked him why he did not parade more than twenty-six men. “The fact is,” says the captain, “there are about seventy of my men who have reported here in buggies, and there are only this number properly equipped.” We suppose these meelish have read of the style of the ancients who went to war in chariots, and are only imitating the ancients as nearly as they can.
The Richmond Dispatch states that when Gen. MORGAN was killed he had in his possession four valuable horses. The finest of these he rode in his last march, and he was captured in Greenville when the General fell. The three others were sold at Abingdon, Virginia, on Tuesday last, at public outcry. One was a bay saddle horse, and the others a pair of blacks, well matched. They were sold separately, and brought respectively, the bay one thousand six hundred and seventy-five dollars, and the others two thousand one hundred dollars and two thousand dollars. Neither horse sold for much more than half his real value.
From the Savannah Republican:
Our Northern brethren seem to have the Christian spirit of the Spaniards who first settled America. WASHINGTON IRVING relates, in his Knickerbocker History of New-York, that the pious Spaniards, after preparing the Indians for Heaven, immediately sent them there, by shooting them, burning them, pouring hot lead down their throats, and other such mild measures. The New-York Bible Society is trying to fit us for Heaven, and the Yankee Generals propose to send us there.
The Selma Mississippian, of the 16th, says:
Sixteen thousand copies of the Bible and Testament arrived in Selma yesterday evening, on route for HOOD’s army. They are the first installment of fifty thousand presented the troops of the Confederate States by the American Bible Society at New-York!
From the Richmond Enquirer:
The Lynchburgh Virginian thus points out the Polly of those who impair the confidence of the army by assuming that its fortunes would have been different under a different Commander:
“When, under such circumstances as exist in the Georgia army, the soldiers institute comparisons un[???]able to their Commanding General; and above all, when they feel that the lives of their brave comrades have been ‘sacrificed’ for naught, the spirit of disaffection toward a Government that condemns them to the reign of incompetency, may ‘manifest’ itself in a way that will be fatal to our hopes.”
Upon this subject we cannot help remarking one apparent difference between the army and people of the West and our own. There has been much complaint of the Generals in the West. None, we think, of those assigned us here. These Western Generals have stalked grimly across the stage, like the line of Banquo, Sidney Johnston, Floyd, Beauregard, Bragg, Pemberton, Johnston, Hood. Do none of these men suit the army or people of the West? Our armies have been driven back on the Western line, from Donaldson to _____ where the enemy choose to stop. Here we have had but few Generals, but there has been no parties, no complaints. We have accepted and sustained every commander that has been assigned us. And they have all been successful. One of them, at least, who had been relieved in the West, has been invariably triumphant here. We have backed the Government and sustained the generals. We are still within cannon sound of the first invasion. We do not claim to be braver men or better patriots than the people of the West, but we may claim that we are more easily satisfied, and have lost less territory. Somehow we do not run into military parties here. If an officer is successful we have no desire to see any one else in his place, because he might, perhaps, do better. Our only use for generals is to whip the enemy. If they can do that we are content. If they cannot we have no interest in their personal reputation, which makes us a partisan to vindicate or reinstate them. Possibly our Western friends expect too much. Possibly their ideal standard of military genius is too high. They must be patient, earnest, enduring and indulgent. We need concession and concentration as much in war as peace. We must accept the situation as it is, not complain because it is not as we would have it. Our Western friends must sustain HOOD, JOHNSTON, HARDEE, BRAGG. Yes, BRAGG — much as they complained of him — if either of these officers be appointed to command them.
From the Richmond Examiner, Sept. 16:
The managing proprietor of one of our first-class hotels returned the other day from a tour over fourteen counties of North Carolina, in quest of flour to supply the wants of his hotel. He found flour plenty and cheap at $125 and $150 per barrel, and had no difficulty in negotiating for its purchase. He secured fifty barrels, and negotiated for its delivery at the railroad station for shipment to Richmond. But no sooner did the flour touch the depot than the hawks of the impressment agents swooped down upon it and “gobbled” the whole of it. It was in vain that the hotel caterer presented an order from the Secretary of War, authorizing him to ship flour to Richmond, and guaranteeing the flour protection from impressment while in transit. The agent’s hawks presented a more recent order, signed by NORTHROP, Commissary General, who is a greater man than the Secretary of War; therefore there was no release for the flour, and it went the way of hundreds of other barrels that enterprising citizens have been endeavoring to transport to the Richmond market. Such conduct upon the part of the impressment agents is an outrage upon the rights of citizens, but it will not be checked.
Atlanta having fallen, it may not be long until this section of Alabama is overrun by the infernal raiders of SHERMAN’s army. They will come like infuriated demons to burn, pillage, and devastate. We have no alternative, as patriots, but to arm ourselves to the teeth and calmly await their coming. We may have to quit our homes and sacrifice our household goods — nay, we may have to suffer the loss of all our property, but we must fight them to the death, though they be poured upon us in legions, like the frogs of Egypt. To good and pure men death is a welcome boon if it comes in the place of dishonor.
The conflagration which have filled our nights with alarm for some time past, demand more adequate and energetic efforts at prevention than have yet been adopted. Whether due to a mania which seems at times to some over the evil-disposed, or to schemes of theft, and whether the actors are depraved whites, or vicious blacks, it does seem that a proper degree of vigor and address would succeed in detecting and arresting at least some of the culprits, and handing them over to the utmost severities of the law, which they so richly deserve.
A noticeable feature of these fires is, that they occur in most, if not all instances, not far from midnight. This may afford a hint as to the classes who are probably playing incendiary. The comparatively early hour does not point to the habitual nightwalkers. A house-burner will probably choose an hour which seems late to him. Vicious youths, who are allowed the freedom of the streets in search of excitement until amusement hours are over, and who are not missed or expected at home till midnight, may think it a fine thing, ere they retire, to alarm a sleeping city. The houses selected for their performances are such as are easy of ignition, and quickly in flames; so that they do not need to wait long for their sport.
But the wonder is why none of them are detected, and why the fired houses are often as bright as a bonfire before the flames are discovered. Often when the alarm is first sounded the city is already illuminated. Surely the watchmen are not asleep so early as midnight. Our good Mayor has offered $1,000 reward to any who shall, bring an incendiary to justice. This is very well. But we should be more encouraged if the night police could be moved to greater vigilance, or their number increased if they are now too few. If we could have that diligent observation and shrewd sagacity which we are accustomed to expect of professional policemen and detectives, we do not think it would be possible to reduce Richmond to ashes before an arrest was made.
If these fires are thus to continue, we do not know what better the citizens can do, than to organize on each square, for their own watch and guard. The night might be divided into a sufficient number of reliefs to make the task supportable, and then when one did lie down to sleep, it would be without the fear of waking to find his dwelling wrapped in flames. The robberies, too, which have been performed with such impunity, would be arrested by this home-guard. Carts could not then drive up to a dwelling or a store at midnight, and load without being seen.
We take it for granted that we shall catch some of our house-burners, very soon; we trust the very next performer. When caught, let him. if not shot down in the act, be visited with the law’s utmost rigors. It is only thus that such characters can be made to comprehend the enormity of their conduct.
The sharpshooters who were quick on foot and horseback were valuable assets to the military. They were surefooted and had been hunters all their lives. It would seem that the south had more of these than did the more industrial north. The Peebles men and all their friends and relations were among those tenacious enough to fight, lose, fight, win, fight, starve, fight, freeze, and fight some more. All this even though their families suffered mightily back home.
General Joseph Wheeler’s campaigns were in Middle Tennessee, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, and in Georgia and the Carolinas during the War Between the States.
My grandmother, Betty Drue Jane Tolbert Peebles, oft repeated the story about Grandpa Dick Peebles and Joe Wheeler so we know from that story that at some point George Henry Peebles and Joseph Wheeler were at the same place at the same time. She said that Grandpa Dick was cooking his meat on an open fire. Joe Wheeler came by and took his meat and ate it. Grandpa Dick whacked Joe Wheeler on the head with his skillet. As a result of that incident, Grandpa Dick’s punishment was to dig up a tree stump without breaking any of the tendril roots. Evidently, Grandpa Dick accomplished the task of the punishment. My grandmother stated further that the stump was on display somewhere up near Chattanooga. This was many decades ago. A short-lived attempt to find the stump many years ago was not successful. A side note here would be that pretty much everything that my grandmother told me over the years has turned out to be true. In family research decades ago, wherever I would go in Lawrence County people would tell me to, “… ask Drue, she would know.”
There is one further mention of George Henry Peebles serving in the 32nd Regiment of Tennessee. Other than what seems like a passing mention of him serving in this unit, nothing further has been noted. That is until one examines the 1921 Confederate Soldiers census records. A copy of the orginal files follow:
Some records show that George Henry Peebles served in the 4th Alabama Cavalry along with General Philip Dale Roddy. General Roddy was also from Lawrence County, Alabama as was George Henry Peebles and his family. The book Confederate Soldiers of Lawrence County Alabama by Spencer A Waters provides information about George H Peebles. From the book’s section entitled, Pension Applications of Soldiers the book reads: George H Peebles, Private in Company F, 4th Regiment of Alabama Cavalry. Was shot in the right hip on the 14 November [likely meant September], 1864 at Sulphur Trestle in Alabama.
The September 1864 War Between the States’ Battle of Sulphur Trestle Bridge cut a crucial Union supply line and was a victory for the Confederate forces under General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The engagement over the railroad bridge was the bloodiest to take place in north Alabama. By 1864, Union forces had advanced deep into Confederate territory, even into Alabama. The food, ammunition, clothes, and weapons required to continue their campaigns were transported primarily by railroads to troops. One of these, the Alabama and Tennessee Railroad, ran south from Nashville, Tennessee, through southern Tennessee and northern Alabama to Decatur in Morgan County. From Decatur, the railroad connected with another line that extended east to Chattanooga. This line provided a continuous route for supplies that were offloaded from boats on the Cumberland River in Nashville and then sent by train to support Union forces in Chattanooga. Union forces constructed forts at strategic points along the length of the railroad. Sulphur Trestle Fort was constructed by the Ninth and Tenth Indiana Cavalries on a gently sloping hill alongside the railroad tracks about one mile south of the town in Limestone County named Elkmont. Two wooden blockhouses fortified the very basic square fort of only 300-foot square embankments. The fort was protected by steep ravines on three sides and overlooked an open clearing to the south, providing an exposed field of fire on advancing enemy troops. The fort located below the summit of adjacent hills was fatally flawed and made protecting it a great difficulty.
Although small, the fort was important because it defended a vulnerable section of the railroad line, a wooden trestle, 300 feet long and 72 feet high, that spanned a broad valley bisected by narrow Sulphur Branch. The trestle was an inviting target for Confederate soldiers seeking to disrupt this prime supply line. The fort consisted of prominent earthworks for exterior defense, with two blockhouses built in the fort’s interior to provide a secondary means of defense. During the Civil War, blockhouses such as these were common for defending strategic points such as railway bridges. The fort was initially occupied by the Ninth and Tenth Indiana Cavalry. Over time, further Union reinforcements arrived, including soldiers from Union regiments raised in Tennessee. The fort’s garrison was eventually comprised of both white and black soldiers.
On Saturday, September 24, 1864, Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest’s troops, about 500 mounted cavalry and infantry, who had just enjoyed a victory over a much larger force of Union troops in the town of Athens in
Limestone County, six miles south of Sulphur Creek, advanced north with the intent of destroying the trestle. Confederate scouts engaged in a brief skirmish with a Union patrol late on Saturday evening, and the Union forces withdrew into the fort’s perimeters; the opposing sides exchanged gunfire sporadically throughout the night. Forrest’s troops were in position and ready for battle before dawn the next day. In the early hours of Sunday morning, September 25, Forrest’s artillery opened fire against the earthen works.
The approximately 1,000 Union troops garrisoning the fort returned fire, but they had only two 12-pound artillery pieces versus Forrest’s eight cannon. Although the Union defenders had the advantage of a fortified position, Confederate artillery and sharpshooters were able to fire down on the Union troops from the higher ground surrounding the fort. From their superior positions, Forrest’s artillery reportedly poured 800 rounds into the fort in a little more than two hours. Union troops tried to take cover in the fortification’s buildings, but the artillery fire either destroyed the structures or set them afire.
About mid-morning, a brigade of troops under the command of Col. David Campbell Kelley charged across the open field on the valley floor, losing a number of soldiers in this advance. Unable to breach the fort’s defenses, they took up positions in a ravine within 100 yards of the fort. From there they fired continually at the defenders. The tide was clearly in the Confederates’ favor. The cannon fire and the deadly accuracy of Confederate sharpshooters had decimated the Union ranks.
Around noon, Forrest demanded immediate and unconditional surrender, and Col. John B. Minnis, who had assumed command after the commanding officer, Col. William Hopkins Lathrop, was killed, complied. The Confederates took control of the fort and set the blockhouses and the trestle bridge afire, burning them to the ground. The battle, which had lasted about five hours, proved costly for the Union: the Confederate’s had severed the vital supply line, and 200 Union troops were killed, with the remaining 800 taken prisoner. About 40 Confederate soldiers were lost. Forrest catalogued his captures as 700 small arms, 16 wagons, 300 cavalry horses and equipments, and medical, quartermaster, and commissary stores. The battle was north Alabama’s bloodiest of the war and participants attested to the awful carnage suffered by the Union. Although the loss of the trestle affected the Union Southern Campaign, it did not affect the overall war effort. After the engagement at Sulphur Branch Trestle, Forrest continued his campaign of destroying and disrupting other import railway bridges along the Alabama and Tennessee Railroad. Many of the white Union soldiers captured here were sent to Castle Morgan, the Confederate Prison established in Cahaba, Alabama. The black Union soldiers captured were put to work on the continued construction of Mobile’s elaborate system of defensive earthworks.
The Sulphur Creek trestle bridge is believed by some scholars to have influenced Civil War veteran and writer Ambrose Bierce’s story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Although the story recounts the hanging of a southern sympathizer in Tennessee and not a battle, the location described in the story strongly resembles the Sulphur Creek scenery, which Bierce had visited as a member of the Ninth Indiana Infantry while helping to repair the railroad in 1862.
The Sulfur Creek Trestle was rebuilt after the war and railroad traffic on the Tennessee and Alabama Central Railway continued until 1986.The gap that the trestle spanned was later filled in with dirt, and the railroad bed is now part of the Richard Martin Trail that runs from Veto at the Tennessee border, south to Hays Mill. It stands about 60 feet above Sulfur Creek and is about 1000 feet in length. The track and cross ties have been removed and the surface is covered with fine gravel. It is now used for walking, bicycling, and horse riding as a part of the “Rail to Trails”, which runs from the Tennessee State Line to about 4.3 miles south of the trestle to Piney Chapel Road.
Mr Gilchrist owns the land near Sulphur Trestle Bridge in Limestone County that is the scene of a reenactment some years of the Battle at Sulphur Trestle Bridge. I attended that reenactment one year and it was wonderful. Cars were parked and we were transported to the battle scene by wagons filled with hay. One could hear the shots and see the smoke from the fire before the troops surfaced the hills of the undulating terrain. The horses were magnificent. The men were breathtaking. The action seemed real. It was better than watching a movie about the event because you could feel the tension and smell war. I kept watching for which one might have been my maternal great-great-grandfather. Beforehand I could never have imagined that a battlefield could be considered magnificent; this battlefield was magnificent. And to top it off, it was right in our own backyard. History abounds in and surrounds the Shoals area.
At some point, the government removed him from the pension roles. This occurred because he failed to complete and return some form that had been mailed to him by the government to effect the continuation of his confederate pension. There is a set of pension files where he applied again to the government for reinstatement of his pension. Evidently, he was successful for there was payment made to him for pension. His pension started out as five dollars per month and eventually was raised to $37.50 per month, as were all the others’ rate of pay for pensions. He received a pension for almost thirty years as recorded in pension records.
On some of George Henry Peebles’ military records there is a description of his wounds. It is stated that he was wounded twice, once at Chickamauga and once at Sulphur Trestle Bridge. It also states that he was captured and taken prisoner having been taken to Camp Chase in Ohio. The shot to his right hip went through his body and entered his groin destroying one of his testicles; any wonder now why I am amazed that any of us descendants exist? That does not even give any consideration to the fact that many of our future grandparents of any number of greats were in battle against each other.
My grandmother, Betty Drue Jane Tolbert Peebles, told us this story on as many occasions as we asked her to repeat it. It concerned her grandfather, George Washington Terry, who served in Company I of the 16th Alabama Regiment of Infantry. Her grandfather Terry was wounded at the battle of Chickamauga. That is well documented in George Washington Terry’s military file. George Washington Terry along with other Terry cousins, namely Thomas Jasper Terry, James Washington Terry, and John Franklin Terry all served in the Confederate Army. Thomas Jasper and James Washington Terry also served in Company I of the 16th. George W Terry was shot in the abdomen at Chickamauga. He laid suffering on the battlefield as a result of a shot from a minie ball. The shot entered the right hip and angled through his bowels. The injury occurred on the Chickamauga battlefield on the 19th day of September 1863. Family tradition had it that George W Terry’s guts were blown out during battle. Some of his comrades helped to handpick the leaves and debris from his guts. George W Terry’s bowels were then placed back inside him by these same comrades. They then proceeded to lean him against a tree for the medics to pick up. This act of heroism likely saved his life. One of those comrades was George Henry Peebles who would later become my great-great-grandfather from my grandfather’s side of the family. George W Terry would later become my great-great-grandfather from my grandmother’s side of the family. George W Terry drew a military pension. After his death, his widow Matilda Ann Rodgers Terry drew on his pension. He died in 1903 of injuries relating back to the war wound. He was leading an old horse when the horse jerked and pulled him back. This tore the old war wound open and he died as a result of those injuries. He, and George Henry Peebles, along with innumerable other relatives are buried in Smyrna Baptist Church Cemetery in Lawrence County, Alabama.
After the war, routine became farming for most of the soldiers of the war. Many of them, or their descendants, moved from Lawrence County to what was then Franklin County, Alabama after the war. George Henry Peebles returned to Lawrence County and his family. He lived his last years out at a house in Courtland that is still standing. The current owners have chosen to paint it brown now, it was originally white. But, the adventure for him did not end with the war.
George Henry Peebles was not a man to be trifled with, as borne out by some facts of his life. The old saying of tit for tat applied to him; if you gave him tit, you could expect tat back in return. He could be described as a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of person. On one occasion, he attracted the ire of a prominent cotton planter in the area. That year, George Henry Peebles, brought in the first bale of cotton. That was an honor that the prominent cotton planter had earned for some years prior; and had made the threat that he would kill any other man who brought in the first bale of cotton. One can assume that George Henry Peebles was pretty satisfied with himself that he could bring in the first bale of cotton. This planter confronted Peebles while he was having a shave in the barbershop and said he would make good on the threat. George Henry Peebles escaped injury at the barbershop and went on down the street. The planter encountered him again in a store down the street. There shots were fired and the planter was shot. George Henry Peebles was brought up on charges, but was found ‘not guilty’ by means of self defense by the court. This incident was documented in the Moulton Advertiser, a newspaper in Lawrence County.
There was another incident that involved him as Richard Peebles. The newspaper article dated 14 January 1886 in the Moulton Advertiser read: R. H. Peebles, who shot and killed Kennard Barnes at Hillsboro a few weeks ago, was tried before Judge Foster, in this place, on the 7th, on a writ of habeas corpus and discharged. A large crowd of country people attended the trial.
There was another incident involving the daughter of a Terry relative. There is no documentation that George Henry Peebles had a part in it; but the idea that he could recuse himself is unlikely. Thomas Jasper Terry was a veteran of the War Between the States. He had come back as a crippled man. Family and friends referred to him as Crippled Tom. Thomas Jasper was wounded at the battle of Shiloh by a shot through his right hip that passed out through his spine in 1862. He was wounded again in 1863 in the battle at Chickamauga when he received a gunshot wound in the left leg below the knee fracturing the bone. He testified that the wound caused his left leg to be paralyzed and never usable again. Even his nickname implies that he was crippled; he somehow managed to walk to Franklin, Tennessee and to the McGavock house where so many of his fellow soldiers fell to visit in honor of their memory one last time in his old age.
The incident involved a daughter of Thomas Jasper Terry sometime after the war. The daughter and her mother were at the creek washing clothes. The mother went back to the house. While the mother was away, a man attacked the daughter and raped her; to apparently avoid detection he then proceeded to take his knife and slice the young girl’s throat pretty much from ear to ear. He left her for dead. When the daughter was discovered she was able to identify the man. A posse of men considered where the man may have fled to; and they figured it out. The group of mounted men met the train and stopped it. They took the identified man off the train. They proceeded to hang him from the nearest big tree and left him dangling there. To date, the band of mounted men has never been identified. I would have no doubt that George Henry Peebles would have joined the group, if asked. The girl survived but bore a scar commemorating the terrible event.
George Henry Peebles lived the rest of his life in Lawrence County, mostly in Courtland. The informant for his death certificate is not known; it may have been the wife from his last marriage, Mittie Dotson Peebles. George Henry Peebles died 13 January 1928 in Austinville, Morgan, Alabama under the name of Richard Peebles. Austinville is the old name for Decatur. This is proven by his death certificate. It is also proven by some of the dozens of war pension files and records. His war pension was ended in May of 1928 after his death on 13 January 1928 had been received by the officials and entered into his records. The war records had him as G H Peoples, but the death certificate had him as Richard Peebles. Evidently the government did not question the difference in names.
The death certificate lists his father as John Peebles, and his age as 95 years old. Whoever the informant was did not know or give his legal name, nor his age for he would have been 86 years old if he was in fact born in 1842. My grandmother stated that he lived to be nearly one hundred years old on different occasions. We will never know now because there is such a difference in documents over the years about the facts of him and his life.
Bryant, William O. Cahaba Prison and the Sultana Disaster. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.
Foote, Shelby. The Civil War, A Narrative, Red River to Appomattox. New York: Random House, Inc, 1974.
Harris, W. Stuart. Dead Towns of Alabama. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1977.
Hurst, Jack. Nathan Bedford Forrest, A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
Owens, David M. The Devil’s Topographer: Ambrose Bierce and the American War Story. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2006.
Wyeth, John Allen. That Devil Forrest, The Life of General Nathan Bedford Forrest. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959.
- George Henry Peebles, Part II (rememberingtheshoals.wordpress.com)
- The stories abound… (rememberingtheshoals.wordpress.com)
- A picture is worth a thousand words… (rememberingtheshoals.wordpress.com)
- We never thought we would hear from them again… (rememberingtheshoals.wordpress.com)