Friday, February 15, 2013

Dispelling the myths of Jacob R. Wilhoite's Civil War service

There are many myths online and in published materials concerning the Civil War service of Jacob R. Wilhoite, son of William Wilhoite and Anna Adeline Warner. There have even been myths about his brother, John Benton Wilhoite, as well but those seem to have dissolved over time for the most part.

Here is a summary of Jacob R. Wilhoite's service in the Civil War according to family myths and legends:

Jacob was a Colonel under General Nathan Bedford Forrest in the 4th/8th (Baxter Smith's) Tennessee Cavalry. He was killed at the Battle of Chattanooga near Missionary Ridge on 24 Oct 1863. His mother and a house-slave went to the battlefield, recovered his body, and brought it back home through enemy lines to be buried in the family cemetery.

Now the last half of this story could easily be true; in fact, if Jacob's body actually is interred in the Wilhoite Cemetery in Chapel Hill, then it most likely is true. The other parts of the myth are what need to be dispelled:

1. That Jacob R. Wilhoite was a Colonel. (Not true)
2. That Jacob served in the 4th/8th Tennessee Cavalry under Baxter Smith (Not true)
3. That Jacob served under Nathan Bedford Forrest (Not true)
4. That he was killed at the Battle of Chattanooga (Almost true, but not quite)

There are no service records for any men with the last name of Wilhoite (or any of the alternative spellings) in the records of the 4th Tennessee Cavalry or the 8th Tennessee Cavalry (Smith's). To be fair, Company A of the 8th Tennessee Cavalry (Smith's) was made up of men from Marshall County, Tennessee, which is where Jacob is found in the 1860 Census. However, there are no records indicating Wilhoite served among the 4th or the 8th in either the regiments' records or regimental histories. If Jacob were a Colonel, he most certainly would have had a service record and/or some sort of mention among the regiments' records at some point in time (whether it was when he was elected an officer, appointed a colonel, and/or killed in action). In fact, if you Google-search "Colonel Wilhoite", "Colonel Jacob R. Wilhoite", "Colonel J. R. Wilhoite" or any variations of the sort, what few results you do find are posts by descendants of this family further perpetuating this myth. The book "The Ancestors & Descendants of Jacob Wilhoite, 1751-1821" is often cited as a source for this information, but unfortunately, the information is just wrong. Jacob did not serve in the 4th or the 8th Cavalry units and he was not a Colonel.

It is not that Jacob did not serve; he did, just not with the units people stated. Company F of the 17th Tennessee Infantry was made up of men from Bedford and Marshall Counties. (See TN GenWeb page for the 17th, or Steve Arnold's page on the 17th Among their ranks was a Private J. R. Wilhoite. After thoroughly scouring the few Wilhoite men named James, John, Joseph, Jeremiah, or any other J name from Bedford, Marshall, and their surrounding counties, I concluded that none of those "J. Wilhoite" men had the middle initial of R. It is listed in some trees that John Wilhoite, son of John M. Wilhoite and Huldah Warner, born about 1842 in Bedford County, bore the middle initial of "R", but he is not listed with any middle initial in any County, Chancery, or Circuit court books. While his brother Richard is consistently listed with his middle initial (these are primarily in guardianship hearings after their father had passed away), John never is; he is simply listed as "John". Further, this John does not appear in any Bedford County or surrounding county records after these guardianship proceedings, and he does not appear in the 1860 Census. So not only is their no proof of his middle name being "R", but there is no proof he even lived to see the Civil War.

Based on the conclusion that there are no other "J. R. Wilhoite"'s anywhere in that region of the state, it was reasonably decided that this J. R. Wilhoite is indeed Jacob R. Wilhoite, and despite his service record being relatively small, it appears to give a significant detail further proving J. R. to be Jacob. O  May 15, 1862, about a year into his service, Col. Hawthorne assigned Wilhoite to a special detail as a courier for the regiment's surgeon. The very last service record for J. R. Wilhoite for the 17th Tennessee Infantry is dated 2 Sep 1863 in Charleston (meaning Charleston, TN in Bradley County, as the 17th would be engaged in the Battle of Chickamauga on September 19-20. It says the last Wilhoite was heard from was 30 Aug 1863. Jacob R. Wilhoite's headstone bears his date of death as 24 Oct 1863, and the family stories are that his body was recovered near Missionary Ridge, which is near Chattanooga. The 17th fought at Chattanooga (These personal notes from various members of the 17th bear that out:, and I don't think it is just a coincidence that J. R. Wilhoite's last service record is dated 2 Sep 1863 and then Jacob R. Wilhoite dies on 24 Oct 1863, just over a month later, and both just happened to be from Marshall County. Based on this information, I have concluded that Jacob R. Wilhoite died serving in the 17th Tennessee Infantry, rather than the 4th or 8th Cavalry, which also means he did not serve under General Forrest, as Forrest was in charge of cavalry units at Chattanooga.

Lastly, according to this website's timeline for the Chattanooga campaign:, on 24 Oct 1863, no official engagement appeared to occur. The Battle of Brown's Ferry occurred a few days later, and The Battle of Missionary Ridge did not occur until a full month later. This could mean a couple of things. If Jacob's headstone is correct and he died in 24 Oct, then he likely was killed in a skirmish of some sort, or else was shot while acting as a courier. It is possible though that the date was off by a few days or even a few weeks, depending on when Jacob's headstone was actually erected. If the detail in the family's bible mentioning that Jacob was found near "Myssionary Ridge" is true, then perhaps is date of death was actually 24 Nov 1864, plus or minus a couple of days. If Jacob's body was recovered from the battlefield as the story goes, then it would have been several days after he was killed that the news of his demise would have reached his mother and she would have been able to reach that battlefield, so it is possible she knew not exactly what day her son was killed and was simply estimating. Now according to Steve Arnold's page, J. R. Wilhoite "died in camp" ( While his service record did not mention this, it is possible this information was gleamed from another source of the 17th. I have reached out to Mr. Arnold for more information, and should he provide it, I will add it to this essay.

All in all, I think the documentation speaks for itself. It's a nice story to pass on through the generations that one's long-lost-uncle was a Colonel in the Civil War and fought with a famous general and died heroically. While he certainly could have died heroically, the rest of the information in the old family story of Jacob R. Wilhoite was purely a myth. Who knows where the legend began, but I think it's time that the facts were laid out for all to see so that only the true information of Jacob's story is perpetuated further. It is certainly not a tarnish to one's legacy to have been a Private in the Infantry rather than a Colonel in the Cavalry, though some may see it that way. I think it is more harmful to Jacob's legacy to have completely false information about his life spreading throughout the family, so I hope this information will help other researchers of the Wilhoite Family in and around Bedford County, Tennessee with having their information as accurate as possible.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Marks I have a letter hand written never mailed by my great great grand father Robert Wilhoite (Mortonsville KY...I have in possession this pencil long hand letter never mailed written in a ledger book. Addressed to Maj. Wm Wilhoite Chattanooga TN..who is he, who was he? My relative affectionately refers to him as cousin.