All My Ancestors

15 October 2007

John Wright Osborne and the Tennessee Civil War Veterans’ Questionnaires

John and I are first cousins, 3 times removed. His father Thomas (1810-1871) and my great-great grandfather John (1808-1865) were brothers. They were two of the ten (!) sons of Jonathan and Martha Roland Osborne of Mecklenburg and Haywood Counties, North Carolina.

I first found John years ago when I was searching through the Tennessee Civil War Vet’s Questionnaires (the index is available there as well). I’d heard about these documents and since so many of my Osborne ancestors went to Tennessee from North Carolina, I thought I should take a look. Sure enough, Cousin John took the time out in Tacoma, Washington, to fill out his form and send it in. As the website says, these questionnaires are a rich source of information about family and life in the early 19th century in Tennessee. He was a veteran of Company F, 43rd TN Infantry, serving from Roane (now Loudon) County. As far as I know, these questionnaires are not available online, but the forms used (questions asked) can be viewed here.

This is a rich resource that not many people seem to know about. The information has been transcribed and published in a multi-volume set and is available in many libraries (published 1983 by Southern Historical Press is one printing). The originals have been microfilmed and are available at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. They are also available through the Family History Library.

John’s questionnaire provided me with an interesting picture of his family life and his schooling. Here’s a summary of his response:

John Wright Osborne is living at 1706 N. Alder in Tacoma, Washington, and gives his age as 79 yrs., 8 mos. & 11 days. He was born in Roane, now Loudon County, Tennessee, states that his father, Thomas Osborne, was a farmer and a trader. Thomas was born in Haywood County, North Carolina, and lived 4 miles from Philadelphia, Tennessee, where he had a white man for an overseer of his 22 slaves and 5000 acres of land. He placed a value of about $110,000 on his father’s property at the beginning of the War. Their home was described as built of bricks, two full stories, 9 rooms, with a full basement and attic. He says that his mother had a white seamstress.
His mother was Mary Jane Wright, and her parents were John Wright & Mary Hines who lived at Wrightsville in Roane County on the Tennessee River. John Wright Osborne states that his grandfather Johnothan [sic] Osborne was of English descent, lived in NC and fought with the patriot army against the British in the American Revolution. His grandfather John Wright was born in Ireland, and came to American about 1810.
He states that he attended a school partly supported by public money, and partly by private subscription. His total schooling is described as 27 months in the semi-public district school, 18 months in private high school, and two years at Ewing & Jeff College.
Of his military experience, he says that he enlisted in June, 1861, in Co. F, 43rd Tennessee CSA. This company of infantry was afterward mounted. His company was first sent to Loudon to guard the railroad bridge across the Tennessee River. About six months after his enlistment, his company was engaged in its first battle at Harrodsburg, Kentucky.

His account of the war:
From Harrodsburg we went back to East Tenn. Then to Vicksburg, was sent from there to exchange camp in Georgia. Then became on of Capt Tom Osborne’s scouts, operating in Upper Tennessee. After his death rejoined my old command in Valley of Virginia with Gen. Earley. Took part in battle of Kernstown, White Post, Newtown, Bunker Hill, Perryville Pike and Winchester. Returned to east Tennessee, was captured near Bristol and sent to Camp Douglas (Chicago). Had small pox and suffered from lack of clothes, medicine and nursing.

He was discharged 8 Mar 1865 at Richmond. He was exchanged as a prisoner and sent to Richmond. There he was put on a freight train, taken a short distance east and dumped off. From there he walked to a sister’s home at Franklin, NC, where he was at the time of the surrender.
After the war, he worked with his father on his farm for 2 years and then went to his own place on Post Oak Island which had been confiscated for Freedman’s Co. for 3 years. He engaged in farming on his own land which he inherited from his mother in 1867. This land was the fertile Post Oak Island in the Tennessee River twelve miles from Knoxville. He remained there until 1882 when he sold out and started west. He went through Texas, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho to east Washington. This trip took about 2 years. He settled on some government land in eastern Washington, but went on over to western Washington about 1885. He resided there except for about a year spent in Arizona, and about 2 years in Alaska–1896 to 1898. The first four years in Washington were spent farming government land and in a mail contract. After his return from Alaska in 1898, he engaged in lumber business with nephews in Pacific County, Washington. “I have been exceedingly fortunate in the lumber business and my financial affairs are in very good shape at present.” He attends First Presbyterian Church.
Among those listed in his Co: Walter Lenoir, James Jones, Lt. Reps Jones 2nd, Hardy Jones. He suggests that a complete roster might be had from Mr. Walter Lenoir, Sweetwater, Tennessee. He lists about 6 other vets as living in Tacoma–indicating that he may have been active in some sort of veteran’s organization.

His account is a fascinating depiction of life leading up to the Civil War and his life afterward. He is also not my only ancestor to serve time at Camp Douglas, sometimes known as the “North’s Andersonville.” Three Cooper brothers from Texas’ 18th Cav., Co. A, were captured at Arkansas Post and sent to this dreadful place where two of the three died. More about them later.

I’ve always thought the Osbornes had a wandering gene, connected to seeking land. John certainly exhibits such traits, though his movement west was fairly typical of the time after the War. I thought it was fascinating that he had been such disparate places as Arizona and Alaska.

John never married. He is listed on the 1920 census as living with his niece Harriet Siler, in Tacoma. He is 77 and she is 43. I believe Harriet is probably the daughter of John’s older sister Martha J., who married David W. Siler in Roane County, Tennessee in 1862.

In December of 1922, John Wright Osborne dies in Tucson, Arizona, of a skull fracture, on a railroad right of way. His death certificate is online at the Arizona Department of Health Services site (thank you, Arizona).

And, of course, this document raises so many more questions–what in the world was a man of his age doing in Arizona? Was he hit by a train? How did this happen? Who was the John Owen who provided the information for his death certificate?

John Wright Osborne’s life is an interesting bridge from pre-Civil War time in east Tennessee to the early 20th century migration to the northeast, with at least a couple of interesting side trips to the southwest and Alaska. Along the way are mentions of schooling, Freedman land dealings, and the timber business. His Civil War Questionnaire is unique in that it meets that desire we genealogists frequently express, to be able to interview those who have gone before.

1 Comment »

One Response to “John Wright Osborne and the Tennessee Civil War Veterans’ Questionnaires”

  1. Hello! I descend from your John Wright Osborne’s brother, Wilbur J. Osborne. Two other brothers, Oscar and Charlie L., also moved to Washington and settled in the Coulee area. Oscar wrote about his experiences there. I’d love to find and share that with you if you’d like. It tells about why the family left Tennessee in the first place. I’d also love to GET more solid information on Thomas Osborne’s ancestors.

    Thomas married Evaline Matlock after his first wife died. They had quite a list of children. Wilbur, moved to Oregon about 1880, and was photographed there by the famous Peter Britt. His fiance/girlfriend, Mary Elizabeth McMahan, also moved there, but with her parents, to the Ashland area. They probably went to that area in particular because Mary’s mother, Josephine (Edwards) McMahan, was related to the Tallent family (whom Talent, OR was named after). Her sister, Martha, had married Aaron Patton Tallent. I have photos of all of these people if you are interested. I have quite a story to tell about Mary’s parents, involving a gun, a death and the move of a widowed Josephine McMahan to Washington. She is buried in Mossyrock I believe.

    About the Osborne’s having a wanderlust gene…yep! I have to agree, and my father inherited it! Wilbur took his family to Texas near the turn of the century (and one of Mary and Wilbur’s children was born in AZ by the way!!). Their daughter, Verda, married David Iranius Drake. Their daughter (my grandmother), Lillie Mae Drake, married Buford Eugene Polley. They had their children in Texas, but spent most of their lives in Oregon, with a few years in…you guessed it…ALASKA! I lived with them in Oregon and Alaska.

    This is really exciting to find a cousin! We’ll have to touch base with each other and figure this family out. Please contact me when you get a chance.

    I haven’t even read any other thing on your website. I found you with a search on the Civil War Questionnaires of TN! Amazing!

    Take care…hope to hear from you very soon!


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