William David Lee was born in Alabama during the year 1844. He was the son of Joseph C. and Nancy (Stewart) Lee. It is not known what portion of Alabama the family lived, Joseph was a native of Tennessee and Nancy was a native of Georgia. Sometime before 1860 the family moved to Hardin County, Tennessee, settling in District 14 somewhere between Olive Hill and Clifton, Tennessee. Joseph’s listed occupation in 1860 was a carpenter, the family owned no slaves. The Family consisted of Joseph C.; 38, Nancy; 35, David; 16, Samuel; 14, Green T.; 12, Sarah; 10, Joseph; 8, Presly; 6, Mary; 4, and Martha; 2. Hardin County was still considered a wild backwoods place in 1860, the Tennessee River cuts through the center of the county which made several communities lively places in the river trade .
As war fever swept across Tennessee in 1861, the majority of the people in Hardin County had voted to stay in the Union. Many men from the county would serve in the Union Army, but many Confederate companies were raised there also. In the month of December, 1861 David had made his choice to enlist in the Confederate army. His service record states that he traveled a distance of 40 miles to Henderson Station, Tennessee and enlisted on December 4th in Captain J. A. Russell’s Company B, 52nd Tennessee Infantry. Many regiments had already been raised in the summer months and were currently in the field defending Tennessee from invasion. The 52nd Tennessee did not have much time to drill, on January 24, 1862 General Polk ordered the regiment to Danville and from there they were to go to Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, while en-route they received news that the fort had fallen . They were then ordered to Columbus, Kentucky to join the Confederate garrison there, but because of inclement weather and many of the men suffering from measles the regiment was ordered to return to their camps at Henderson Station.
On March 5th the Fifty-second was ordered to report to Corinth, Mississippi, a build-up of Confederate forces was in progress after the fall of Fort Donelson on the Tennessee River. In early April the regiment would be placed in Brig. Gen. James Chalmers Mississippi Brigade. On the morning of April 6, 1862 David was back in Hardin County, preparing to make an attack against the Union Army that occupied the southwest portion of his county; around the area of Shiloh Church. The Fifty-second was placed on the left of the brigade and marched toward Spain Field in line of battle, camps of the Union Army could be seen near the field. This first attack would be a success, the Federal soldiers in this sector were smashed and thrown into confusion as Chalmers Brigade entered their camps. Chalmers attack was soon stopped, the brigade was ordered to the Hamburg-Savannah Rd. in the area of a stream; Locust Grove Run. It was here the Fifty-Second ran into trouble; while the regiment was maneuvering to let Confederate artillery fire, they were hit in the flank by muskets of the Union infantry. General Chalmers in his after action report stated that the Fifty-second Tennessee “broke and fled in most shameful confusion.” Chalmers tried to rally the regiment several times, and finally ordered the Fifty-second off of the field. Two company’s of the Fifty-second were allowed to continue the fight, David’s Company B and Company C. General Chalmers stated the companies of , ” J. A. Russell and A. N. Wilson fought gallantly in the ranks of the 5th Mississippi. Chalmers Brigade would be engaged in several sharp fights throughout the day, ending up at the Union strong point, the “Hornets Nest.” A Federal officer stated that “the fight here was the hottest of the day” speaking of his portion in the line where Chalmers Brigade attacked. The Hornets Nest finally broke in the evening and Chalmers pushed on toward Grants last line, but because of the terrain and Federal defence there, the attack was called off. On the morning of April 7, David and his comrades awoke to find that the Union Army had been reinforced. The fight was to continue, but it was soon realized that the Confederate Army was to weak from fighting on the 6th and no significant reinforcements were coming to the Confederates aid. The retreat back to Corinth was started, David had survived his first battle, which was one of the bloodiest in the west. David service record states that on April 22, 1862 he was promoted to the rank of Corporal.
In May the regiment was in the defenses around Corinth, it was ordered to consolidate with Colonel Chester’s 51st Tennessee Infantry; the regiment would be known as the 51st Consolidated Tennessee Infantry. This meant that David’s company was also consolidated with another company of the 52nd Tennessee, he was then reduced back to the rank of private. On June 30, 1862 the 51st/52nd Tennessee was placed in General B.F. Cheatham’s Division; General Daniel Donelson’s Brigade. It moved with it’s brigade from Corinth and into Kentucky as part of Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky.
The brigade was present at the battle of Perryville, the 51st/52nd and 8th Tennessee regiments were ordered to support W.W. Carnes Tennessee Battery. When the brigade prepared for an attack on the Union line, General Donelson sent back for his two regiments that were sitting idle. They could not be found in time for the first two attacks the brigade made. Donelson was forced to make two attacks with only three of his five regiments, the understrength brigade suffered severely in the attacks. Gen. Donelson sent aides to find the two missing regiments, after they were found, they ”double-quicked” to the rest of the brigade. The 51st/52 Tenn. was involved in the third charge of the day. The 51st/52nd Tenn., along with the 8th Tenn. Reg’t were placed at the front of Donelson’s Brigade for this charge where they would attack uphill between the Widow Gibson’s house and the Benton Road around 4:30 p.m. They helped take some of the guns from the 19th Indiana Battery and to scatter their infantry support. Donelson and A.P. Sewart’s Brigades pursued the retreating Federal infantry over the hill. They approached a second hill filled with infantry and artillery, after a short contest Donelson and the Stewart’s brigades withdrew. Cheatham’s Division was to tired and battered to go any further. In this battle the 51st/52nd Tennessee reported 9 killed and 25 wounded. The Army of Tennessee would retreat thru Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, to defend Middle Tennessee, around the town of Murfreesboro. The Union Army traveled south and occupied the city of Nashville.
In late December, 1862 the Union Army started an advance on Murfreesboro, Bragg prepared to defend Middle Tennessee. The battle started as a Confederate success, as General Bragg’s columns smashed into the Union’s right flank. The Union army seemed to be routed, but a defensive line was established along the railroad and Nashville Turnpike; a circular clump of cedar trees in this part of the field was known by the locals as Round Forest. General Chalmers Mississippians attacked this point and were repulsed. It was now Donelson’s turn to attack, in this situation David’s mind must have drifted back to the attack on the Hornets Nest at Shiloh. The 51st/52nd Tennessee Regiment was split by the railroad, companies A, F,& D were on the right side of the tracks, while the bulk of the regiment; David included, was on the left side of the railroad facing the defenders of the Round Forest sector.
In James Lee McDonough’s book “Stones River-Bloody winter in Tennessee”; he gives the following account of the attack made by Donelson’s Tennessee Brigade along the left side of the railroad following the Nashville Turnpike on December 31st. “Advancing from the left side of the Cowan house were the Eighth and Thirty-eighth Tennessee regiments, along with most of Colonel Chester’s Fifty-first Tennessee. Yelling and shrieking, these Rebels moved at double-quick pace across the open fields and into the face of a raking Yankee fire. Colonel W. L. Moore was out in front, leading the Eighth Tennessee. As Colonel John Anderson watched, he saw Moore’s horse fall and thought that the colonel himself had been killed. The Eighth’s color-bearer, J. M. Rice, was shot down, but he determinedly crawled forward on his knees, still holding the colors aloft, until a second bullet killed him.
The Rebels were paying a horrible price, but onward they charged toward the cedar break south of the Round Forest. At last across the open fields, they were plunging into the Yankee-filled woods when Colonel Moore overtook his regiment. Unharmed, he had freed himself after being pinned under his dying horse and then dashed madly after his regiment. Now, sword in hand, he was once more boldly urging his men forward when he went down, shot through the heart.
Sweeping into the woods, the Confederates crashed into the Federal’s first line, which gave way before the elated attackers. A second Union line was brought forward; neither could it stem the hard-driving Tennesseans. The men in Gray had gained a temporary success, driving back Negley’s division and Cruft’s Brigade.
It was however, a heartbreaking, pyrrhic victory. The Eighth Tennessee went into the battle with 425 men, of which 306 became casualties, most of them in this devastating assault. In one of it’s companies, out of twelve officers and sixty-two men engaged, only one corporal and twenty men escaped unhurt. What happened to the Eighth Tennessee had also happened to the rest of Donelson’s Brigade. A strong Union counterattack soon drove them away from this blood-bought soil and everything, except for the dead and wounded, was just as it had been before the attack was made.”
The 51st/52nd Tennessee had gone into the fight with 270 men, it lost in killed, wounded, and missing 76 men. One of the casualties in Company B was David Lee, his service record states he was “slightly wounded” on December 31, 1862. The battle would continue through January 2, 1863, ending with General Bragg retreating to Tullahoma, Tennessee. On January 2, David’s muster sheet shows him as being “sent to the Hospital at Rome, Georgia.” David never appears as being present on the rolls of the 51/52 Tennessee after the 2nd of January, 1863.
The rest of David’s service history is somewhat of a mystery, his daughter, my GG-Grandmother Nancy A. stated that she was born ( October 3, 1865) after her father had come home from the war. A Nathan Columbus Davis of Savannah, Hardin County was asked in “The Tennessee Civil War Veterans Questionnaire” to name members of his company that he could remember. He had served in Company F, Biffle’s 9th (19th) Tennessee Cavalry. He gave many names from his company; in the first twenty names listed appears “Dave Lee” and “Sam Lee” (Vol. II, p 651). All of the men he named were from Hardin or western Wayne counties, which is where Company F was raised. Samuel “Sam” , David’s brother was a corporal in Company F, enlisting Sept. 22, 1862. Samuel only has a two page service record for almost three years of service. He was surrendered at Gainesville, Alabama on May 10, 1865. After going thru the 19th Tenn. Cavalry rolls, I found the same is true for the rest of the men in Company F. There are only one or two regimental muster sheets for each man, unless they had been captured and had a ’prisoner of war” record.
1.) The “muster in” sheet filled out at enlistment, late ’62, early ’63. On this first roll it lists the trooper’s name, but does not state if they were present or absent.
2.) The “surrender sheet” for Gainsville, Alabama in May of 1865.
Anyone that enlisted after early 1863 does not have a record with the company. If they joined the company later and became sick, wounded, discharged or deserted before or at the time of surrender, then there is no “Individual Service Record” for those men. I don’t know which of the above happened to David while serving in the cavalry, but the published statement from Nathan C. Davis is the only record of David’s service in the 19th Tennessee Cavalry.
After the war David married Sarah Elizabeth Lindsey; daughter of John W. Lindsey , District 2, Hardin County. David appears in the 1870 U. S. Census of Hardin County; District 14 as “William”, 26 years of age. Also in the household was his wife Sarah; age 21, with daughters Nancy; 4yrs. & Eda; 9 months old. In 1880 the family is shown as David; 35, Sarah; 31, Nancy A.; 14, Catharine; 8, Martha; 2, and Wesley Cooley; 4, who is listed as a nephew. After 1880 David and Sarah are lost in the census records forever, their whereabouts after 1880 is unknown. His Brother Green. T. Lee is buried in Dyersburg, Tennessee, and brother Samuel is buried in Los Angles, California. Joseph C. Lee, David’s father died sometime between 1860 and 1870, Nancy (Joseph’s wife) is listed as the head of household by 1870. David’s daughter Nancy is buried by her sister Sarah (Johnson) in Gibson County, Tennessee. Nancy A. died on November 2,1942 after a fall while visiting her sister in Trenton,Tennessee, she had lived in Missouri and Ohio with her son Granville Alexander.
Wherever he is, I am proud that David Lee was my Grandfather. I sometimes wish there was a grave stone, a place to plant flags, and lay flowers to his memory. As I gaze at his Civil War image I feel great pride, but I also realize that if David had lost his life at Shiloh, Perryville or Murfreesboro I would not be writing his story today. It is this thought that makes David Lee and the Civil War very real to me.
To the memory of William David Lee; by your Grandson:
Scott R. Busenbark