James Knox Polk Blackburn

Tennessee-born James Knox Polk Blackburn relocated to Texas at age 19, roughly five years before the war. He taught school until the Civil War began, when he enlisted with Terry’s Texas Rangers. Blackburn returned to his birth state when his command was attached to the Army of Tennessee. The Rangers fought at Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro, and Bentonville, North Carolina, and in cavalry raids, but Blackburn’s reminiscence of the Army of Tennessee’s 1864 retreat from its home state is perhaps the most compelling. After a point-blank shot ran through both of his thighs, Blackburn was captured and soon paroled. He stayed with the Laird family in Giles County during his recuperation and fell in love with their daughter, Mary McMillian Laird. Duty to his country caused their separation; in 1864, Blackburn approached Gen. John Bell Hood about rejoining the Confederate Army. Hood arranged for Blackburn to travel to a camp in Georgia before marching north. Before Blackburn could make the trip, Hood suffered devastating defeats at Franklin and Nashville, November 30 and December 15, respectively, and retreated through Giles County with Federals attacking his rear guard continuously for days. Blackburn fell in behind the Federal cavalry and followed Hood south: “The weather was extremely cold, many of Hood’s army were entirely barefooted and ragged, and some of them wounded at Franklin were trudging along, making their way south to avoid capture and imprisonment. I never saw an army so dispirited, so needy, and withal so determined not to give up the contest.” He gave his only other pair of socks to a man who had neither socks nor shoes and held no ill will when a weary soldier stole his horse. Blackburn fell ill, became separated from his command again, and spent weeks catching up. He finally rejoined his command in South Carolina, and the Terry’s Texas Rangers moved north to join the Army of Tennessee near Raleigh, North Carolina. After severe losses at Bentonville, Gen. Joseph Johnston surrendered the Army of Tennessee to Gen. Sherman. Blackburn’s fighting days ended, he returned to Giles County and married Mary Laird.

  • Schoolteacher, enlisted with Terry's Texas Rangers
  • Fought at Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro, Bentonville, NC
  • Wrote compelling memoir of Hood's retreat from Middle Tennessee