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Bill Thayer

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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1851

Vol. II

(Born Va.)

Alvan C. Gillem

(Ap'd Ten.)


Alvan Cullem Gillem: Born July 29, 1830, Jackson Co., TN.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1847, to July 1, 1851, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., 1st Artillery, July 1, 1851.

Served: in Florida Hostilities against the Seminole Indians, 1851‑52;

(Second Lieut., 1st Artillery, Dec. 31, 1851)

in garrison at East Pascagoula, Mis., 1852, — New Orleans Barracks, La., 1852‑53, — Baton Rouge, La., 1853, 1853‑54 (sick), — Ft. Monroe, Va., 1854 (sick), 1855‑56, — Ft. McHenry, Md., 1856‑58, — and Ft. Columbus,

(First Lieut., 1st Artillery, Mar. 3, 1855)

 p444  N. Y., 1858; and on frontier duty at San Antonio, Tex., 1858‑59, — Ft. Clark, Tex., 1859‑60, — Ft. Brown, Tex., 1860, — and Key West Barracks, Fla., 1860‑61.

Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑66: in

(Captain, 19th Infantry, May 14, 1861: Declined)

(Captain, 1st Artillery, May 14, 1861: Vacated, May 14, 1861)

Defense of Ft. Taylor, Fla., Jan. to Oct., 1861; as Brigade Quartermaster,

(Captain, Staff — Asst. Quartermaster, July 12, 1861)

in Operations in Kentucky, Nov. 9, 1861, to Feb. 6, 1862, being engaged in the Combat of Mill Springs, Ky., Jan. 19‑20, 1862; in command

(Bvt. Major, Jan. 19, 1862,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Mill Springs, Ky.)

of the Siege Artillery, and as Chief Quartermaster of the Army of the Ohio, Feb. to June, 1862, — in the Tennessee Campaign, being engaged in the Battle of Shiloh, Apr. 7, 1862, — and Advance upon and Siege of Corinth, Apr. 9 to May 30, 1862; as Provost Marshal of the

(Colonel, 10th Tennessee Volunteers, May 13, 1862)

City of Nashville, Ten., Aug. 12 to Dec. 24, 1862; in command of Brigade in Tennessee Operations, Dec. 24, 1862, to June 1, 1863, being engaged in a Skirmish near Lavergne, Dec. 31, 1862, — and at Harpeth River, Jan. 12, 1863; as Adjutant-General of the State of Tennessee, June 1, 1863, to Apr. 1, 1865; in command of troops guarding Nashville

(Brig.‑General, U. S. Volunteers, Aug. 17, 1863)

and Northwestern Railroad, June, 1863, to Aug., 1864; in command of Expedition to East Tennessee, Aug., 1864, to Mar., 1865, being engaged in the Skirmish at Blue Springs, Aug. 22, 1864, — Surprise of Rebel Raiders at Greenville, Sep. 4, 1864, when their commanding General, John H. Morgan, was killed, — Action of Carter's Station, Oct. 1, 1864, — Combat of Morristown, Oct. 28, 1864, — Action at Bull's Gap, Nov. 12, 1864, — and Skirmishes at Morristown, Nov. 13, at Rogersville, Dec. 12, and at Kingsport, Dec. 13, 1864; in command of the Tennessee Cavalry in General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Stoneman's Raid into Southwestern Virginia, being engaged in the Action near Wytheville, Dec. 10, 1864, — Action at Marion, Dec. 16,

(Bvt. Lieut.‑Col., Dec. 16, 1864,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Action at Marion, Va.)

1864, — and Capture of Saltville, Dec. 22, 1864; as Member and Vice-President of the Convention to Revise the Constitution and Re-organize the State Government of Tennessee, Jan. 9, 1865; as Member of the House of Representatives of the State of Tennessee, Mar., 1865; in

(Bvt. Colonel, Mar. 13, 1865,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services during the Rebellion)

(Bvt. Brig.‑General, U. S. Army, Mar. 13, 1865,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Field during the Rebellion)

command of Cavalry Division in the District of East Tennessee, Mar. 18 to July 3, 1865, being engaged in Expedition to North Carolina, participating in the Action and Capture of Salisbury, Apr. 12, 1865, — Skirmish

(Bvt. Maj.‑General, U. S. Army, Apr. 12, 1865,
for Gallant Conduct at the Battle of Salisbury, N. C.)

near Morgantown, Apr. 17, 1865, — and Action near Asheville, Apr. 22, 1865; in command of the District of East Tennessee, July 4, 1865, to July 28, 1866.

Colonel, 24th Infantry, July 28, 1866.

Mustered out of Volunteer Service, Sep. 1, 1866.

 p445  Served: on Court-martial duty, Aug. to Dec., 1866; in command of District of Mississippi, Jan. 11 to Apr. 6, 1867, — of Sub-District of Mississippi, to June 9, 1868, — and of Fourth Military District and Sub-District of Mississippi, to Mar. 16, 1869; on frontier duty at Galveston,

(Transferred to 11th Infantry, Mar. 15, 1869)

Tex., to June, 1870, — and at Ft. Concho, Tex., to Jan., 1871; on leave

(Transferred, Dec. 15, 1870, to 1st Cavalry)

of absence to May 15, 1871; in garrison at Benicia Barracks, Cal., to Jan. 26, 1873; in command of troops in the Modoc Campaign to May 21, 1873, being engaged in the Attack on the Lava Beds, Cal., Apr. 15‑17, 1873; in garrison at Benicia Barracks, Cal., to Jan., 1875; and on sick leave of absence to Dec. 2, 1875.

Died, Dec. 2, 1875, near Nashville, Ten.: Aged 45.

Buried, Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, TN.

Biographical Sketch.

Brevet Major-General Alvan Cullem Gillem was born, July 29, 1830, in Jackson County, Ten., and died, Dec. 2, 1875, in Davidson County, Ten., at the age of forty-five.

Living in a region remote from the advantages of the higher class of schools, young Gillem, after mastering the rudiments of an English course, was sent to Nashville, where he obtained a liberal education, which admirably fitted him to enter West Point. At the Military Academy he manifested the same intelligence and devotion to his studies as he had previously exhibited, resulting in his graduating eleventh in a class of forty-two. He was immediately, July 1, 1851, commissioned a Brevet Second Lieutenant in the First Artillery; promoted, Dec. 31, 1851, to be a full Second Lieutenant; and became, Mar. 3, 1855, a First Lieutenant of his regiment, in the meanwhile doing duty in Florida, Texas, and at various posts, being, at the beginning of the Rebellion, stationed at Key West.

On the increase of the army, he was made, May 14, 1861, a Captain in the new 19th Infantry; but he preferred remaining, with the same rank, in his old regiment. Soon after, July 12, he was appointed an Assistant Quartermaster, with the rank of Captain, and was assigned in November following to duty with a brigade under General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George H. Thomas, being with that distinguished commander in our first important success of the war at Mill Springs, Ky., Jan. 19‑20, 1862, which, after so many disasters elsewhere, in its moral effect accomplished even more than the defeat of an army. For his gallant and meritorious services in this brilliant action, he was brevetted a Major in the Army.

After this brief Kentucky campaign, Gillem was assigned as Chief Quartermaster of the Army of the Ohio, and was also placed in command of the Siege Artillery of General Buell's forces then marching on Nashville, the path to which had been laid down by the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson. On the capture of Nashville, Buell pushed on to unite with the Army of the Tennessee, Nelson's division of the Army of the Ohio fortunately joining on the evening of Apr. 6th in time to take part in the severe struggle about Pittsburg Landing. The remainder of Buell's forces crossed over the Tennessee during the night following, and won their fair share of laurels in the memorable victory of Shiloh. In the hard march to join Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant, and in the labors incident to the great conflict of the 7th, Major Gillem bore an important though perhaps not as shining a part as if commanding a fighting force, for which he was warmly commended in the official dispatches. In the succeeding Siege of Corinth, Gillem displayed his wonted activity.

After declining the Lieut.-Colonelcy of the Third Kentucky Volunteers,  p446 he was appointed, May 13, 1862, Colonel of the Tenth Tennessee Volunteers, to whose instruction — both officers and men — he so devoted himself that in a short time his command vied in discipline with veteran troops.

From Aug. 12 to Dec. 24, 1862, he was Provost Marshal of the city of Nashville, when he took command of a brigade in the field, being engaged in some small actions in Middle Tennessee.

On June 1, 1863, Colonel Gillem was elevated to the important post of Adjutant-General of Tennessee, a position he held, at the earnest solicitation of Governor Johnson, till near the close of the Civil War. By his untiring industry, close attention to every detail, and high organizing faculties, he soon brought order out of chaos, and created a body of soldiers which did great honor to the State. Hardly had he accomplished his first important and arduous task as Adjutant-General before he was again called to field to guard the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad. Gillem was commissioned, Aug. 17, 1863, a Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers, and assigned to the command of the Fourth Cavalry Division of the Army of the Cumberland. During this year he completed the railroad to the Tennessee River, which secured to the army two lines of communication for its supplies.

The Government had long desired the expulsion of the Rebel element from East Tennessee, whose people were generally devoted to the Union cause. Accordingly, General Gillem was appointed, Apr. 1, 1864, to conduct an expedition for the protection of those loyal mountaineers. The forces led by him "were generally men who, after two years' exile, now returned to re-occupy their homes, and collect again their scattered families. At this distance from those dreadful days, it is useless to repeat the mournful histories of these determined Unionists. Their heroic fortitude and unconquerable purpose is without a parallel in the history of the war. The story of their sacrifices and their sufferings will remain concealed in their mountain homes until the earth shall give up its dead. These brave mountaineers were regarded as traitors to the Southern cause, and treated as such. The patriotic enthusiasm that could behold their homes and the fruits of their toil in flames without blanching, and then become the targets for the bullet, had no claims of merit from the invaders, whose pretended superiority was so nobly despised. The time had come to change this rule. Earnest men were returning to recover home and all its endearments. Now, bold and determined war was inaugurated, and continued whilst an armed Rebel lurked in the mountains."

As soon as General Gillem reached East Tennessee he was almost daily engaged with the enemy, who were generally well mounted, and had the great advantage of being perfectly familiar with the topography of the country, and hence able to avail themselves of its strong defensive character. He routed the enemy, Aug. 22, 1864, at Blue Springs, and drove him beyond Bay Mountain, himself advancing to Bull Gap, which he fortified. Gen. John H. Morgan, the terrible raider, prepared to attack him, but his adversary, as skillful as himself, succeeded, on the dark night of Sep. 4, 1864, in surprising and killing this notorious chief at Greenville. Gillem now designed to advance to Saltville, in Southwestern Virginia, to destroy the enemy's salt supplies; but the anticipated reinforcements not reaching him, the expedition was abandoned. After several success­ful actions about the Clinch and Holston Rivers, he fell back before General Breckenridge to Bull Gap to secure reinforcements. Here he was attacked, driven from his intrenchments, and compelled to make a disastrous retreat to Strawberry Plain.

Later in the year, Gillem accompanied General Stoneman's expedition from East Tennessee. Stoneman, with a mounted force of 4,000 and the brigade of Gillem, moved against the enemy drawn up at Kingsport  p447 to dispute the passage of Holston River. Here he was dislodged, badly beaten, and pursued to Bristol, where Gillem captured 250 men, two trains of cars, five engines, and a large amount of stores. Gillem continued the pursuit, and sent a force to the Virginia Railroad, near Glade Springs, which destroyed a large number of bridges and depots, much rolling-stock, and the extensive iron-works near Marion. He then moved on Saltville, which was captured Dec. 22, 1864. This expedition was conducted with great skill and celerity, and proved one of the most success­ful of the war. Gillem, for his gallant and meritorious services in the action at Marion, was brevetted a Lieut.‑Colonel in the Regular Army.

Scarce had this brilliant expedition terminated when General Gillem became a Member and Vice-President of the Convention which assembled at Nashville, Jan. 9, 1865, to revise the Constitution and re-organize the State Government of Tennessee. He was elected, in March following, to represent his native county in the State Legislature, but he head hardly taken his seat before he was again called to the field to command the Cavalry Division of the District of East Tennessee in Stoneman's bold raid into North Carolina. The expedition moved from Knoxville, Mar. 10th; struck the Central Railroad, destroying thirty-three bridges and twenty-five miles of road between Wytheville and Christiansburg, Va.; and thence marched for Goldsborough, N. C., arriving on the 12th at Grant's Creek, which was the defensive line of Salisbury. It was soon forced, over a thousand prisoners and eighteen pieces of artillery taken, four well-stocked cotton factories burned, immense arsenals of small arms and ammunition destroyed, large magazines filled with supplies secured, and great establishments crowded with machinery rendered useless. Besides, fifteen miles of railroad track and the bridges towards Charlotte were soon after destroyed, when Stoneman moved for the south side of the Catawba River, and broke up the railroad to the bridge, which was fatal to the armies of the Confederate generals, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Lee and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Johnston, who depended on that road for supplies, and as their ultimate line of retreat. To the able commanders of this expedition, so prolific in important results, is due the highest praise. The field of operations was in the most rugged and inaccessible part of the country, and the season was the most inclement in the year; yet rapid marches were long continued over almost trackless mountains, success­ful battles frequently fought, and immense spoils of war captured and destroyed. After these stirring events Gillem continued in command of the District of East Tennessee till July 28, 1866. For his gallant and meritorious services during the Rebellion he was brevetted Colonel and Brigadier-General, and Major-General "for gallant conduct at the Battle of Salisbury, N. C." As a further reward for his services in the war, he was, on the re-organization of the army, appointed, July 28, 1866, the Colonel of the Twenty-fourth Infantry.

Soon after his promotion, Gillem was called upon to perform the highest civil functions as Superintendent of the Freedmen's Bureau, and to govern the District of Mississippi, the command of which he assumed Jan. 11, 1867. With the control of soldiers Gillem was familiar, but to govern a State just emerging from war, and whose social and political relations had been entirely revolutionized, was no easy task, even for the most experienced statesman. Gillem, fortunately, was an enthusiast in admiration of republican institutions, was well versed in civil and military law, and he well understood that a new civilization was not to be inaugurated by the fiat of a military commander. He had an abiding faith in the influence of wise laws, based upon the experience of centuries, for the development of new institutions adapted to the changed condition of the Southern people. Bright as had been Gillem's martial career, he now surpassed himself in his civil administration, the results of which are eloquently summed up by his friend, ex-Senator Fowler, who says: "When  p448 he assumed the reins of the Government, the whole material interests of the State were prostrate. He had not been long in command before they assumed a living aspect, and continued to improve until he was succeeded by a 'political experiment;'​a complete protection was assured labor, and a guarantee given for remuneration. The colored men were ready to work, and the landed proprietor prepared to deal justly by the laborer. The farms, that were rapidly darkening into forests, received again the mellowing plough, and the promising seed was committed to the fruitful earth. In due time the golden harvests waved over the fields, and the snow-white cotton hung in long festoons from the generous bolls. The railroads groan under the trains heavily laden for distant markets. The rivers, that had forgotten the presence of the steamer and had relapsed into their primeval repose, are again moved by graceful keels, and the shores resound with the echoes of the engines. Rich cargoes go out and return. Commerce, with its busy hands and happy hearts, brings goodwill among all classes and conditions of men. In no one of the insurrectionary States was there such evidence of thrift and progress. The man that had placed him in authority, and kept him there, left the executive chair, and with him the Proconsul of Mississippi and Arkansas. The most sincere regret was manifested by the people of the State, by public meetings, by the press, and by private letters, upon his retiring from the command. Though he may have neglected the aims of political aspirants, he had studied well, and encouraged, all the great interests of the people. His incapacity to serve political ends was, in all probability, the cause of this change of commander. . . . The change was unfortunate for the repose of the State. Instead of the growth of goodwill, and the activity of all the industrial interests, sharp resentments sprung up, and the general tone of society gave evidence of constant irritation and alarm, until the course of his successor, after years of civil rule, terminated in his expulsion by a virtual revolution."

General Gillem was next assigned to the Department of Texas, where he served till the spring of 1871, when he was ordered to Benicia, Cal. While he was in the Pacific Division the Modoc difficulty occurred, and he was assigned, in 1873, to command the expedition sent to dislodge Captain Jack from the Lava Beds. As soon as he could rise from his sick-bed, which was not till after the assassination of the noble Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Canby, Gillem attacked these strongholds of the savages, who retreated from one to another as, with great labor and danger, the troops advanced to attack. At length, after severe fighting and the loss of many valuable lives, the Modocs were driven from their fastnesses. General Gillem now returned to his command in Benicia, where he was soon after attacked with partial paralysis, which eventuated in his death.

General Gillem was tall in stature and gracefully proportioned; had a lively temperament, warm impulses, quick perception, and a strong will; possessed refined tastes, ready humor, and a disposition aiming at the practical and useful; temperate, industrious, and of great endurance, he was admirably adapted to the requirements of military life; his keen sense of duty and perfect obedience to authority made him an exemplary soldier, while his benevolence, consideration, and impartiality secured for him the respect and love of his command; he swerved not a moment, mindless of the dearest surroundings, from the path of loyalty to his country; no mists of State allegiance obscured his mental vision; his patriotism acknowledged only one flag, that under which he had been educated, and that banner he faithfully followed to his death, crowning with this virtue his noble manhood. "As a son he won the love and approbation of his parents by his obedience, and zeal in promoting their welfare, and in alleviating the asperities of age; a neighbor, he was kind, generous, and prompt to sacrifice his own for another's interest; a citizen,  p449 he was faithful, and reverential to law and every social obligation; a friend, unbounded in his devotion and frank in all his professions and sentiments; a loyal and affectionate husband; a father whose bosom swelled with an eternity of sympathy and tenderest love for his children."

Thayer's Note:

a He was replaced by Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Edward Ord.

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