Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

This webpage reproduces an item in the
Tennessee Historical Magazine

Vol. 2 No. 2 (June, 1916), pp119‑136
published by the
Tennessee Historical Society

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. II
A History of the Life of
General William Trousdale​1

[image ALT: An oil painting of a relatively handsome, intelligent-looking man in early middle age with an earnest expression, staring straight at the viewer. He wears a jacket and a shirt with a high flowing collar tied at the neck by a small scarf. He is William Trousdale, a 19c Governor of Tennessee, the subject of the biographical sketch on this page.]

Portrait of Gov. Trousdale in the Tennessee State Capitol​a

William Trousdale was born in Orange County, North Carolina, on the 23rd day of September, 1790. His father, James Trousdale, was of Scotch-Irish parentage and was born in Pennsylvania shortly after his parents landed in America. The latter was a soldier in the Continental Army in the war of 1776, commanding a company of North Carolina patriots throughout the struggle for Independence, in which service he received serious wounds, and was honorably discharged at its close. For his services in that war, the State of North Carolina made him a grant of six hundred and forty acres of land. This grant, being No. 1, was located in the territory of Tennessee, in what was then Davidson County, but is now Sumner, and embraced within its bounds a portion of the site of the present town of Gallatin. Captain Trousdale emigrated with his family from North Carolina to Tennessee in the year 1796 and settled upon this land, erecting his log dwelling upon a spot but a few paces distant from that now occupied by the Court House.

The pioneers who had preceded Captain Trousdale to this immediate section of country were few and far between. At this period Sumner County was a wilderness, dense forests of heavy timber and an almost impenetrable undergrowth of cane covering the face of the land. Buffalo, deer, bear and panther were among the wild beasts that browsed in the extensive forests, or made their lairs in the thick canebrakes. Obvious dangers, as well as privations and difficulties, confronted the hardy immigrant to this unsubdued region. It is true that peace had just been concluded with the Indians and their tribes removed after a protracted and sanguinary struggle for supremacy in this desirable quarter. Nevertheless, numbers of them still lingered in these favorite hunting grounds, lurking in the fastnesses by day and, at night, prowling for plunder or revenge among the defenseless habitations of the scattered pioneers. It was not uncommon to hear the report of a red man's rifle as it brought down some unwary white victim, or to see a settler's humble cabin in flames, fired by the torch of a savage incendiary.

It is apparent that the bold adventurer to this wild region at so early a day was compelled to use freely first the rifle  p120 and the axe before the plow and the sickle could be brought into re­quisition. Unremitting vigilance and hard manual labor were his portion. With trusty weapon ever at hand for protection from sudden attack by his stealthy foe, he had to fell and clear the forest before the virgin soil could be broken and a crop planted and cultivated. There were no drones in the early settler's hive — none was exempt from duty; but all were subjected to the rugged discipline which a common necessity enforced.

Surrounded by scenes like these, the subject of this memoir received his first impressions, growing up to manhood amid the trying experiences of rude pioneer life. It is not, therefore, wonderful that one reared under such influences should have become familiar with privation and inured to hardship; nor that a character molded during contact with such stern realities should have retained subsequently well-defined traces of its earlier environment.

In view of what has already been said, it is hardly necessary to add that, at this period, Sumner County was upon the very outpost of civilization, where schools for the education of the young were exceedingly scarce. Those to be found were indeed primitive in their character and presided over by instructors of slender literary attainments. Isolated as was the country, agriculture was the one pursuit of the citizen, and almost every article of domestic use and consumption was of home production. During the greater part of the year the young as well as the old were employed in farm work, so that the doors of the crude educational institutions were open only during the idle season. At such intervals of release from manual labor William Trousdale's primary studies were pursued under the direction of teachers whose meagre qualifications greatly limited their instructions even in the rudimental branches of scholastic training. However, he profited by such advantages as were afforded him, rapidly developed a taste for learning and exhibited capacity for the highest intellectual culture.

Ere long the fertile soil and salubrious climate of Middle Tennessee attracted immigration, and, with the influx of population, there came improved educational facilities, of which William Trousdale eagerly availed himself. As he was advancing to manhood he became a student of Rev. Gideon Blackburn, an eminent divine and distinguished educator, under whom (and Mr. John Hall afterwards, another gentleman of rare learning and superior capability as a teacher), his education was chiefly acquired. It was while a pupil of Mr. Blackburn, in 1813, that the Creek Indians began hostilities, and it became necessary to call out the military to  p121 suppress them. Laying aside his books, William Trousdale shouldered his rifle and volunteered as a private in Captain William Edwards' company of Mounted Rifle­men, of which he was elected the third lieutenant shortly after having reached the Indian country. He was in the battle of Tallashatchee, fought by General Coffee, the first engagement had with the Indians in that war.

Learning that the Indians were collected in large force at Tallashatchee, General Jackson sent a body of nine hundred men, under the command of General Coffee, to attack them. They were found at the place named in strong force and ready for battle. General Coffee attacked them and a bloody conflict ensued which resulted in a complete victory for the whites, although the savages fought desperately and left nearly two hundred of their warriors dead on the field.

Shortly thereafter General Jackson fought his first battle with the Creeks at Talledegaº and gained a crushing victory over them, more than three hundred of their number having been killed in the engagement. Lieutenant Trousdale, with his company, participated in this fight.

After the battle of Talledega the army was reduced to great distress for lack of provisions, the soldiers being driven to the necessity of subsisting on acorns, and, in consequence, General Jackson was forced to remain inactive in camp from December until the March following. It was in this campaign that Lieutenant Trousdale performed the daring feat of swimming the Tennessee River on horseback at the Muscle Shoals. He had been entrusted with a mission which required him to cross the river. There was no boat at hand, neither could he swim, and he must either recoil from the danger or accept the perilous situation. He chose to perform his duty regardless of the great risk to himself it involved. "Trusting to his faithful charger," as another has described the feat, "and impelled by his daring spirit, with all his baggage he plunged into the stream. At one moment his horse was above water on a rock and the next moment he plunged into swimming water, and for nearly three miles the noble animal struggled on until he carried his rider safely to shore."

His term of enlistment having expired, Lieutenant Trousdale returned home and re-entered school. But he had pursued his studies only a short time when, in 1814, the British army having entered Washington City and burned the Capitol, the country became inflamed and eager to avenge the outrage. A force of the enemy was also gathering on our southern coast and a call was made on Tennessee for volunteers to go and meet them. To this call William Trousdale responded. Again putting aside his books, he, together with many of  p122 his school companions, enrolled his name in the company raised by George Elliott, his neighbor and friend, who was subsequently elected Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment, Thomas Scurry succeeding him as Captain. William Trousdale served as a private throughout the term of his enlistment, declining staff appointments that were repeatedly offered him, as he preferred to remain with the company in which he had enlisted.

The regiment to which he belonged joined General Jackson early in November, 1814, and, on the 6th day of that month the army moved against Pensacola, Florida, to obtain redress of the Spanish Governor for harboring the British. Having arrived before that town, General Jackson sent in a flag of truce with a demand upon the governor, but it was fired on and forced to leave. On the day following the town was stormed and taken. While the fight was progressing in the streets the advance of our troops was checked at one point by a gun which raked a street, dealing death in its ranks.

In this emergency, William Trousdale, with several other daring spirits, rushed rapidly forward in the face of the enemy's fire, drove the gunners from the deadly piece, captured it, and thus removed the obstacle which had stopped the progress of our men.

Although the town had been captured and was occupied by the Americans, yet the fort still held out defiantly and kept up a fire on our lines. General Jackson determined that it should be taken, and forthwith ordered an assault upon it. A call was made for volunteers to carry out this desperate undertaking. At first there was no response, for even those brave men hesitated to engage in what seemed to be a forlorn hope, and to march into the very jaws of certain death. At this trying moment, William Trousdale broke the silence by proclaiming himself ready for the assault. Then, addressing his hesitating companions, he reminded them that it was General Jackson's order that the fort should be stormed, and that it must be executed; that they had volunteered to fight the enemies of their country and had marched a thousand miles to meet them; that the British had already burnt the capital of the republic and driven the government from its post, and that their aiders and abetters were that moment firing on them. If, said he, under these circumstances, they should disobey the order of their commander and refuse to storm the fort, he would consider them disgraced. This appeal had the desired effect, and in a few minutes after it had been made the storming party was raised and the assault fixed for the following morning at two o'clock. Every arrangement  p123 was made for the attack ere the little band of men who were to undertake it laidº down to rest. Said General Trousdale, in speaking of the incident: "I had my scaling ladder prepared and leaned it against a pine tree close to my tent and then laid down to sleep. On the following morning we were on the eve of moving in the execution of the scheme when the fort surrendered."

Shortly after these operations, it was definitely ascertained that the British were concentrating forces for an attack on New Orleans, and thither General Jackson moved his army. The march from Pensacola to New Orleans was toilsome and perilous. Rain fell in torrents almost incessantly during the entire journey, swelling the creeks and rivers and rendering the passage of the streams both difficult and dangerous, as they had to be crossed by swimming on horseback. But the destination of the hardy militia was ultimately reached, and, on the 22d day of December, the brigade of General Coffee, to which Trousdale belonged, encamped a few miles above the city of New Orleans.

By two o'clock on the afternoon of the 23d of December the enemy had occupied a position which left the road to the city open to him. General Jackson resolved to assail him at once, and, the same evening, near sunset, General Coffee's brigade moved through the city to meet the enemy below. By a flank movement he succeeded in reaching the enemy's rear, while General Jackson bore down upon him in front. It was eight o'clock at night, the moon shining brightly, when Coffee's brigade came in collision with the enemy in an open plain eight miles below New Orleans. While the battle was progressing, re-enforcements for the enemy, arriving from below, encountered General Coffee's brigade; and thus, between two lines of the British, it fought from nine o'clock at night until two o'clock in the morning. This action, though not decisive, proved to be a severe blow to the enemy, and greatly favored the ultimate success of the Americans in the operations around New Orleans. It inspired them with confidence while it dispirited the enemy, and taught the British veterans that the raw American recruits confronting them were their match on any ground.

In this engagement, one major, two lieutenants and thirty privates were taken prisoners by the company of which William Trousdale was a member. "In the course of the fight," says a narrator of the event, "a charge was ordered on the enemy who were beyond a fence and had the levee between them and our troops. Rushing forward in the lead of his men, Trousdale mounted the fence and was ready to spring over to the onset when, on looking back, he perceived that his men  p124 had been ordered to retreat and had left him alone to receive the fire of the enemy. He escaped, however, and returned with a volley of balls flying around him."

As daylight approached the American army took position and began the erection of breastworks which they stubbornly held to the end. On the 27th of December the enemy made a fierce attack upon these works and sought to drive their defenders from them with cannon, rockets and musketry. This fight lasted during the better portion of the day, the assailants withdrawing towards evening, having failed in their attempt. Again on the 1st day of January, 1815, an assault was made with cannon and small arms, which lasted nearly all day, but, as before, the enemy was unsuccessful in his efforts to drive the Americans from their works. It was on the 8th of January that the main assault was made, when the entire British force was hurled against our little army of militia. The history of this memorable battle is familiar to all, and need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that the conflict was in many respects, one of the most remarkable in the history of modern warfare, and resulted in a signal victory for the American arms.

On the eventful day last mentioned William Trousdale was at his post discharging his duty from the firing of the first gun until the retreat of the British to Fort Boyer. In addition to the above battles, in all of which he participated, he was, during the siege, in several night skirmishes. In one of the latter, his daring spirit led him quite within the British line of sentinels, and very near the guard fire; but he escaped without capture or injury, although fired on by the whole British line.

In the spring of 1815, after peace had been made, William Trousdale returned to Tennessee and resumed his studies under Mr. John Hall, and finished his course of education in 1816. Soon thereafter he began the study of the law, and was admitted to the bar in 1820. The practice of the law continued to be the regular pursuit of his life. He was a diligent student of the science of jurisprudence, devoted to his profession and delighted in its practice. As it proved lucrative and afforded him most agreeable employment, a sense of duty to his country and his party alone led him at times to exchange its pursuit for services less remunerative and less in harmony with his tastes and preferences.

In 1827 he was married to Miss Mary Ann Bugg, a lady of culture and refinement, to whom he was devotedly attached and with whom his life was happily passed. The fruit of this marriage were seven children, four of whom survived him.

He was chosen Senator to the State Legislature in 1835,  p125 and, in 1836, was elected a major general of militia. In the latter year a call was made by the general government on Tennessee for assistance to quell Indian disturbances in the south, which the regulars and volunteers in the field had failed to suppress. He volunteered his services for the war against the Creek and Seminole Indians, and was chosen captain of the company in which he enlisted. At the organization of the regiment at Fayetteville, Tennessee, he was elected colonel. This was the Second Regiment of Mounted Volunteers from Tennessee. At the head of this regiment he arrived in Florida and had two set battles and several skirmishes with the Indians under Osceola, the celebrated chief, in all of which the enemy was defeated. In these actions he greatly distinguished himself by his fearless intrepidity.

On one occasion, during this campaign in Florida, a charge was made on a hammock swarming with Indian warriors while his men were receiving a galling cross-fire. "Then it was," to adopt the language of another, "that Colonel Trousdale vainly attempted to force his horse through the closely matted vines and shrubbery, and in the midst of a terrific shower of rifle balls leaped from his horse, seized his holsters, and on foot bade his command 'follow him.' They did follow him and, hand to hand, struggled with the foe in the hammock and came out victorious."

Returning home on the expiration of his term of enlistment, he was shortly thereafter tendered, by General Jackson, an appointment as Brigadier-General in the army of the United States, but he chose not to accept it, and in response to the offer said: "I value the compliment, but decline the appointment, as I desire no connection with the army except in times of war."

In 1837 he was nominated by the Democratic Party in his district a candidate for Congress. Although supported by a larger vote than his party strength, the Whig majority was not overcome, and he was consequently defeated. In the presidential campaign of 1840 he was the Democratic nominee for elector in his Congressional District. He canvassed the district thoroughly and acquitted himself to the entire satisfaction of his party.

It may be remarked in this connection that the subject of our sketch was several times put forward as the candidate of his party for Congress; but it was like leading a forlorn hope, for his party was greatly in the minority and he was successively defeated, though he ran ahead of his ticket. His repeated acceptance of the position of standard-bearer of his party, even in the face of certain defeat, was but illustrative  p126 of his unselfish disposition and earnest devotion to the principles and policies that inspired his political faith.

In 1847 President Polk commissioned William Trousdale Colonel of Infantry in the United States Army. The war with Mexico was then pending, and General Scott was organizing an army to march on the capital of that country. This appointment was made without the solicitation or knowledge of its recipient; but it was nevertheless promptly accepted, and he repaired forthwith to New Orleans preparatory to starting with his regiment for the scene of hostilities. He reached New Orleans on the 7th of April, where his regiment, the Fourteenth Infantry, was speedily raised, equipped and embarked, and on the 13th of June he landed with it at Vera Cruz. He was assigned to the Third Division of the Army, commanded by Major General Gideon J. Pillow, and set out on the 18th of June for General Scott's headquarters, which were then at Puebla, arriving there on the 8th of July. The army began its march to the City of Mexico on the 10th of August, and on the 13th reached the valley in which the decisive conflicts of the war were soon to be fought. Continuing their forward movement, on the 19th of the same month the American forces encountered the Mexican army, under General Valentia at Contreras. The Americans stood all night under arms and at daybreak on the 20th charged and took the enemy's works and routed him before sunrise. Without halting, they pursued and overtook the retreating Mexicans at Cherubusco, where they were found in force and well prepared for defense. On the same day they were attacked, routed and pursued to within one mile and a half of the gate of the city. Colonel Trousdale, with his regiment, shared in these brilliant actions, capturing in the latter engagement the Irish flag and the deserters from our army who were fighting under it.

After a short truce between the contending armies, hostilities were resumed, and the battle of Molino del Rey followed on the 8th of September. The result was a victory for the Americans. Colonel Trousdale led his regiment in this fight, and was struck on the shoulder by an escopet ball, and his horse was shot under him. His wound was slight, however, and was not reported.

On the 12th of September an attack was made of Chapultepec, the main fortress of the Mexicans. Colonel Trousdale led his regiment to the building called Molino del Rey, under a heavy shower of shell and grapeshot. Here, under the walls of the strong fortification, they lay on their arms until the following morning, when it was to be stormed. On the morning of the 13th, before the attack was begun, General Pillow  p127 placed Colonel Trousdale in command of a brigade of his division and assigned him the position he was to occupy. A fierce and bloody conflict ensued, the Mexicans fighting with stubborn bravery; they were beaten, however, the fortress was taken, and the fugitive remnant of its defenders pursued to the city walls. In performing the part assigned him on this occasion, Colonel Trousdale was twice wounded in the right arm, the second shot shivering the bone above the elbow; still he remained in command of his brigade and led it until the enemy had been routed and the battery taken against which his efforts had been directed. It was not until after the fight was over and his wounds had been dressed that he retired from the field.

In their official reports of the battle of Chapultepec, Generals Scott and Pillow both made especial and complimentary mention of Colonel Trousdale's conduct on that occasion. General Scott says:

"To the north, and at the base of the mound, inaccessible on that side, the Eleventh Infantry, under Lieutenant Colonel Hebert, the Fourteenth, under Colonel Trousdale, and Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Magruder's field battery, First Artillery — one section advanced under Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jackson — all of Pillow's division had, at the same time, some spirited affairs against superior numbers, driving the enemy from a battery in the road and capturing a gun. In these the officers and corps named gained merited praise. Colonel Trousdale, the commander, though twice wounded, continued on duty until the heights were carried."

And General Pillow says:

"* * * Colonel Trousdale's command, consisting of the Eleventh and Fourteenth regiments of infantry and Magruder's field battery, engaged a battery and large force of the enemy in the road immediately on the west of Chapultepec. The advanced section of the battery, under the command of the brave Lieutenant Jackson, was dreadfully cut up and almost disabled. Though the command of Colonel Trousdale sustained a severe loss, and the gallant and intrepid Colonel was badly wounded by two balls which shattered his right arm, still he maintained his position with great firmness, drove the enemy from his battery, and turned his guns upon his retreating forces."

This decisive action virtually ended the Mexican War, and the Mexicans shortly after yielded to the demands of their victorious conquerors. When peace was made, Colonel Trousdale was assigned to the command of the Third Division of the Army on its homeward march. Having discharged this duty, he retired to private life and resumed the practice of his profession.

On the 23d day of August, 1848, President Polk appointed Colonel Trousdale a Brigadier General by Brevet in the army  p128 of the United States, to rank as such from the 13th day of September, 1847, "for," as the commission states, "gallant and meritorious conduct in the battle of Chapultepec." The commission, however, conferred only an honorary distinction. Colonel Trousdale's connection with the army ceased with the restoration of peace in this instance as under prior similar circumstances.

In 1849 General Trousdale received the nomination of the Democratic party for Governor of the State. At this period the great leading political organizations of this republic were the Whig and Democratic parties. In this State these two parties alone confronted each other and struggled for the supremacy. They were pretty evenly divided as to strength, the former having rather the advantage, and for quite a space of time were alternately successful in the State elections. This circumstance, together with the exciting nature of the questions at issue, awakened the liveliest interest in the political campaigns. So it was when General Trousdale became a candidate for governor. He and his competitor, the nominee of the Whig party, jointly canvassed the State from one end to the other. The result of the poll was a Democratic victory, and General Trousdale was chosen to succeed a governor elected by the Whig party. During his administration peace prevailed throughout the country, Tennessee grew in population and wealth, and steadily pushed forward her public improvements. Governor Trousdale was nominated a second time for the same position, in 1851, but was this time defeated by a small majority after a heated campaign.

On the 24th day of May, 1853, Ex-Governor Trousdale was commissioned by President Pierce "Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States at the Court of the Emperor of Brazil." He accepted this appointment and set out for his post of duty in July, 1853, arriving in September of the same year at Rio de Janeiro, where he took up his official residence. Besides performing the ordinary duties pertaining to the position which he now held, his energies were persistently bent to the work of inducing the Brazilian government to open the great river Amazon to the commerce of the world. The fears and jealousies of that people made the government slow to yield, and it did not, during his sojourn in the country, adopt this policy which he so strenuously urged. But if his term of office at the court of Dom Pedro was not signalized by the success of this scheme, which he had so much at heart, nevertheless he had the satisfaction of seeing it accomplished some years after his return to the United States. He remained in Brazil throughout the presidency of Mr. Pierce and until his successor, an appointee of President  p129 Buchanan, had arrived in Rio de Janeiro and entered upon the duties of the office. During his residence in Brazil the rights and immunities of citizens of the United States, visiting or sojourning in that country, were uniformly recognized and respected, commerce was extended between the two countries, and the friendly relations of that country and our own uninterruptedly preserved.

The termination of this service ended the active public career of the subject of this sketch. Returning to the United States by way of Europe, he left the country to which he had been accredited on terms of cordial friendship with the emperor and his court, and took up his final abode in the bosom of his family from which fortune had separated him during a great portion of his married life. A rheumatic affection, with which he had long been afflicted, now rendered locomotion too painful to admit of his resuming the active business engagements of life, for which the unimpaired possession of his mental faculties still fully capacitated him and for which his energetic nature and restless temperament most earnestly yearned. This enforced confinement was borne, however, with patient resignation, and its inconveniences and discomforts alleviated by the kind attentions of his neighbors and friends and the devoted care of his affectionate family. Besides the enjoyment realized in social converse, he found entertainment in books and newspapers, and much of his time was occupied in posting himself relative to the current events of the day and reading the works of standard authors. He delighted especially in history, biography and Shakespeare's dramas, and kept informed upon the progress of politics and the affairs of our government, matters which he watched to the last with unflagging interest and undiminished solicitude.

The eventful juncture in the history of this country had now been reached when the prevailing political excitement, generated through a disposition on the part of the non-slaveholding States to abolish slavery in this republic, and a resolve on the part of the slaveholding States to resist, as occasion might require, encroachments on their constitutional rights, was culminating in a conflict of arms between the two sections. It was General Trousdale's fortune to hear President Lincoln's call for volunteers, to witness the martial preparations on both sides of the Ohio River, and to see the Southern States, one after another, assert their sovereignty and withdraw from the Union. Anon Tennessee had cast her destiny with that of her sisters and aligned herself with them to resist invasion. It was announced to him that his services would be acceptable in this emergency; but physical decrepitude utterly forbade his participation, in any capacity, in the  p130 stirring events which were about to occur. His sympathies, however, were in full accord with the people of his State and section, and, so far from attempting to conceal his sentiments, he unhesitatingly avowed them throughout the war which followed, even while his town was garrisoned by Federal soldiers and his residence occupied by Federal officials. His persistent refusal to take the oath of allegiance to the Federal government, in obedience to repeated demands and threats, subjected him to many severe trials and irritating annoyances; but he held out stubbornly to the last, and, although he saw his section overrun and his people subjugated, he yet enjoyed the gratifying reflection that he had been faithful to them in the preservation of opinion unchanged and conscience unviolated.

General Trousdale was now far advanced in years, and the incurable malady with which he had been so long tormented was making steady inroads on his naturally strong constitution. But he lived to see the convulsion of civil strife subside and a reunited country restored to the blessings of peace and prosperity. In March, 1872, he was seized with an attack of pneumonia which his reduced health and impaired physical powers were unable to resist. With intellect clear, a consciousness of duty honestly performed in all of the relations of life and stations which he had occupied, and a willingness that his sufferings should cease in the repose of death, surrounded by his family and sympathizing friends, he expired on the 27th day of said month in the eighty-third year of his age. The event was duly heralded and elicited far and wide eulogies and tributes to the memory of the deceased. The State Legislature, being in session at the time, passed resolutions commemorative of the character and services of General Trousdale, and appointed a committee from its members which in company with the governor and other State officials, attended the funeral obsequies. Action, appropriate to the occasion, was taken by the legal fraternity of Gallatin, where he had begun and ended his professional career, and also by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen of the town, of which he had been a member. On the 28th day of March, in the midst of a large concourse of citizens, his remains were interred in the public cemetery at Gallatin.

Having given the salient features in the life of General Trousdale without indulging in minute particulars, or reciting minor incidents which usually constitute much of the matter of biographies, but of which his career is fruitful, it but remains to complete this undertaking by a brief allusion to the personal character of the subject of this memoir. This course, if not commendable as a biographical precedent, is at least deemed pardonable in this instance to make our sketch conformable  p131 in its methods, as near as may be, to the well-known character and taste of its subject. For had General Trousdale written his own history, the work would have been characterized by a frank statement of facts and an utter freedom from comment or criticism. It would have been a plain, truthful, unvarnished narrative of his career, without boast of his exploits or commendation of his virtues.

General Trousdale belonged to that class of men whose course of life is pursued on the highest plane of morality, patriotism and virtue. His instincts and tastes, and, indeed, the elements of his nature, all were of that refined order, that sterling type, which manifest themselves in pure deeds and are productive alone of genteel, manly action. A solid judgment and keen sagacity enabled him to perceive the right, while exalted motive and a strong will impelled him to follow it. He was inflexible in the line of duty, from which neither threats nor flattery could drive or allure him.

Planting himself firmly upon principle and acting alone from conscientious convictions, he went steadily forward leaving consequences to take care of themselves. He was no time-serving, policy man, and disdained resort to any unmanly art or device to secure either temporary applause or permanent advantage. Nor was he a man to risk a contest upon considerations of expediency, but to urge it upon principle regardless of results. Though independent in character he was not blindly headstrong; for he respected the opinions of others, while he preferred to follow the well matured conclusions of his own mind. He was anything but tame and submissive, and his honor could not be questioned with impunity. But, though quick and impulsive and, when aroused, ready for decisive action, his temper was nevertheless subservient to his superior will.

It may have been that to some General Trousdale appeared exclusive and unsocial. If so, it was due to his native diffidence, for he was modest to a degree incredible to those not familiar with his disposition. He delighted, as much as any man, in the society of congenial spirits, and the greatest pleasures of his life were experienced in the company of relatives and friends. None who knew him intimately could say that he was either cold or heartless; but would, on the contrary, bear testimony to the fact that he was keenly sensitive to the feelings and wants of his fellowmen. Warmhearted and generous, his charities were numerous and liberal and ungrudgingly bestowed. More than once he sustained heavy pecuniary losses by endorsing for friends; and though he possessed a liberal fortune, his property was all sacrificed and he reduced to straitened circumstances in discharging his surety obligations  p132 and preserving his credit. His demeanor was polite and dignified; but while his deportment invited friendly approach, it repelled vulgar familiarity. He was courteous and affable, and though a man of comparatively few words his frank, sincere manner rendered those who sought his society comfortable and confidential in his presence. Deception and duplicity were so foreign to his nature that he could never assume to practice them. In his presence one felt that he could lay bare his thoughts, assured of free conference, strict secrecy, when required, and honest advice, unmixed with flattery and unburdened with circumlocution.

There is ample warrant for the statement that General Trousdale's life is an illustration of patriotic devotion to his country and its institutions. To assail the one or to encroach upon the other was, in his estimation, an insult and a wrong which every citizen was under personal obligation to resist, and, if need be, avenge. He held the honor of his country sacred, and, appreciating the solemn significance of the injunctive phrase, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," was ever awake to that patriotic admonition. Entertaining these opinions, he was ever prompt to respond when action was required, and the better portion of his manhood was devoted to his country. These services were voluntarily and unselfishly given, without ulterior motive other than the grateful satisfaction experienced in the knowledge of patriotic duties faithfully performed. Possessing no element of the bravado, or boast, his deserts were left entirely to the judgment of others, and he was never disposed to advance his claims to distinction even where merit was due and would have, doubtless, been accorded him had the right been asserted. It may be mentioned, in this connection, that he never applied for pensions for wounds received in Mexico and services rendered in the War of 1812, though entitled to them under existing Acts of Congress. He relied implicitly on the virtue and intelligence of the masses of this country as assuring its defense and the perpetuation of free government. Firm in this reliance, he regarded a standing army, in time of peace, and educated soldiery, unnecessary, believing that there was an inherent strength in the fervent patriotism and manly individuality of the citizens of this republic equal to any emergency that might arise and that it would be evoked as occasion might require. His pride in the grandeur and greatness of this country, in the exceptional blessings vouchsafed by its unequalled institutions, and his faith in its growth and development and the continued glorious fruitage of individual excellence under the unrivalled opportunities and incentives to human elevation  p133 here offered existed in a degree of intensity nothing short of passion, and he valued American citizen­ship no less highly than Italian allegiance was prized by the patriot of old who proclaimed that, "To be a Roman is greater than to be a king!"

It has been stated already that in politics General Trousdale was a Democrat. To this political faith he steadily adhered throughout his life. His upright character as well as the history of his political career furnish abundant proof that his unwavering devotion to and advocacy of the principles of Democracy sprang from strong convictions and a conscientious belief that their application in the conduct of government would conduce most to the welfare of this country. Had his course been the outgrowth of selfish motives and a longing for promotion it would, doubtless, have led him into other political ranks, or, at least, have been less consistent than it was. For he fought the battles of the Democracy against great odds, and suffered repeated defeats at the hands of the party controlling those offices which were most calculated to tempt the ambition of an aspiring man.

He was once offered, by his political opponents, an exalted place in the councils of the government, but declined the high testimonial to his worth and deserts on the ground that his party affiliations did not warrant the bestowal of the position on him, and that its acceptance would imply a compromise of his political faith and infidelity to his party allegiance.

It has been remarked heretofore in these pages that General Trousdale's profession was that of a lawyer. His practice at the bar, followed in the intervals of public services and political engagements, proved peculiarly profitable and added to his reputation as a man of sterling qualities and unquestioned ability. And notwithstanding the interruptions experienced in his professional career, he gave unmistakable promise of acquiring enviable reputation in this broad field of occupation had his time and energies been devoted to its undisturbed pursuit. He entered with zeal and ardor into the causes entrusted to him and devoted to their management diligent study and patient research. His habits of thought and the bent of his character and tastes prompted him to rely for success upon the broad principles of justice and equity rather than upon the narrow technicalities so often presenting advantages in legal procedure.

It has been noticed that in the party contests, waged in his time, General Trousdale frequently bore the standard of Democracy. A sense of duty made him ever ready to accept the call of his party, and it mattered not whether success or defeat awaited him, his services, when asked, were always cheerfully rendered.

 p134  As a speaker, upon the hustings as well as in the forum, he was earnest, forcible and impressive. He regarded less the pleasing influence of studied oratory than the convincing effect of pure logic. The solid, practical nature of the man was so far predominant as to shape his methods and model his discourse. And while, perhaps, his may not have been the style best befitting a convivial banquet or a holiday occasion, it was that which secures the closest attention and awakens the most serious consideration when questions of moment are engaging the thoughts of men. Indulgence in amusing and often not over-chaste anecdote, a fashion prevalent among stump orators of his day, was a practice he shared in a very slight degree. His speeches on the stump were free from frivolity and smut, and could have been delivered with equal propriety before a select audience of refined and elegant hearers, or a promiscuous gathering of bitter, excited partisans. With him the discussion of principles and measures involving the fate of this republic and the well-being of its citizens was a matter of too serious and vital concern to suggest anything frivolous or jocular. To hear him speak and witness his dignified, earnest manner was to receive an indelible impression of his clear judgment, strong convictions and honest purpose, and to entertain no doubt that he would advocate his conceptions of the right with fearless determination, and stand by his utterances at whatever cost.

He was not a man to make or to seek opportunities for display. He waited until brought rather than to step voluntarily before the public. His occasion was when an object of public concern was sought to be attained. Then his feelings were thoroughly aroused and his powers exhibited in their full strength. Under this impulse, if he was plain, straightforward and artless in his efforts, he was, nevertheless, cogent and perspicuous, full of pith and point, and possessed of great magnetism. While free from all appearance of careful preparation as to method and manner, his speeches were samples, in matter, of deep research, sagacious forethought and tender, sympathetic feeling; and, in the fervor of argument and warmth of debate, abounded in instances of a steady, natural rise, step by step, to the highest climax of true eloquence. In debate he was uniformly courteous and fair, and would brook from an adversary nothing short of the same respectful treatment accorded by himself. He retained in a remarkable degree the good opinion of those entertaining views averse to his own, and as time elapsed and events decided the merits of issues, he grew in the esteem of those who had opposed him.

In the private no less than the public walks of life the same noble traits marked General Trousdale's daily conduct.  p135 To know was to respect and esteem him and excite wonder at his singular freedom from the common frailties of mankind. The more he was seen the more were his exalted qualities appreciated and admired. If a narrow thought or sentiment entered his mind or heart, it was overshadowed by the lofty nobility of his mental and emotional nature. He was strictly moral in speech and demeanor, just and fair in all of his dealings, and purely unselfish, forbearing, kind, sympathetic, and forgiving in his disposition. He was exemplary in his personal habits and in deportment so rigidly correct as to silence slander and leave no ground for suspicion. He was singularly temperate and unaddicted to any of the petty vices prevalent among men. He was a faithful friend, kind neighbor and model husband, father and master. His pecuniary troubles, the greatest, it may be justly said, that he ever suffered, were the result of assistance extended to accommodate friends. No husband was ever, perhaps, regarded with more affectionate devotion by his wife, nor more dearly loved and reverenced by his children than was General Trousdale by his. His was a happy household, for in its care he was kind, indulgent, provident and thoughtful, and in its government he wielded only the scepter of love; his gentle authority ever receiving ready homage from the affectionate allegiance of all its members. As an evidence of his kind and considerate treatment of the domestics in his family service and that it was gratefully appreciated, it may be mentioned that his body servant, a colored man, born his slave, attended him through the dark hours of the late Civil War and until the day of his death.

In personal appearance General Trousdale was handsome and would have attracted attention in any assemblage of men as well by his striking features as by his manly address. He was six feet tall, erect, spare made, muscular and well formed. A thick growth of black, wavy hair covered a head of faultless shape. His eyes were gray and deep-seated, and his nose was straight and thin. His mouth, chin and jaws were symmetrically formed, adding much in their expressive shape to the idea of strong character which the facial features all clearly indicated. His face in repose wore an expression of deep earnestness tinged with sadness, but relieved of severity by an air of quiet, satisfied composure. He was entirely free from affectation in either look, speech or act. His bearing was civil, polite and courtly, but more stern than patronizing. In person and attire he was remarkably neat, and his daily dress was such as to render him presentable in polite society at any moment. This habit was followed with invariable constancy everywhere and at all times; and among his fellow-soldiers in the army camp it was a subject of general surprise and comment  p136 that successful attention could be paid to dress where the surroundings were so unfavorable to neatness and style, and where the observance of this accustomed practice on his part was apparently so unnecessary.

Here this history closes. It proposed to present a truthful picture of the prominent events in the career of its subject, and to give, without disguise, suppression or exaggeration, the qualities of his mind and heart and the traits of his character. This it has done and nothing more and the undertaking is finished. Posterity, if interested in his memory, will examine the record of General Trousdale's life and decide as to his merits. It is safe to assert, however, that, wherever his life shall be reviewed with purpose to discover the truth and pronounce unbiased judgment, it will be found that, in this case, his "acts proclaim the man."

In studying the lives of men of distinction one may, and often does, admire their brilliant exploits and great achievements, just as he would a wonderful work of studied art, and yet, in respect to character and individual purpose, reject as unworthy the author of the beautiful handiwork. Not so with General Trousdale; for undeniable facts abundantly show that his purpose, efforts and achievements were so clearly the outgrowth of a deep, honest, truthful nature that we unhesitatingly esteem them as true exponents of the very soul of the man, and involuntarily regard them as typical monuments to his sterling character.

The Editor's Note:

1 This Biographical Sketch of Governor Trousdale was written several years ago by his son, Hon. J. A. Trousdale, of Gallatin, Tennessee. For permission to publish it the Magazine is under obligation to Mrs. J. A. Trousdale.

Thayer's Note: An abridgment of this piece was made by an author who is almost certainly the Governor's son-in‑law and thus our author's brother-in‑law; its only merit is in the addition of a fair amount of genealogical information ("Governor William Trousdale", American Historical Magazine VII.311‑314).

Thayer's Note:

a This is a photograph taken by me during a visit to Nashville. It is unfortunately somewhat spoiled by my own flash. I reproduce it because the images of this same portrait seen elsewhere online are almost all reversed.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 23 Jul 13