AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF
WILLIAM TAPLEY MAYS
(Researcher's note: This sketch is about my great-granduncle, the next-older brother of my great-
grandfather, James Green Mays).
Uncle Billy served in the Confederate army, was captured and imprisoned. Just a few weeks before the
surrender at Appomattox he gave his oath to the United States, became a "galvanized Yankee", and
went west to help man the frontier forts, not agreeing to personally take arms against his native
southland. He was discharged in 1866 and returned home. Shortly thereafter his wife, Susan Brewer
Curtis Mays, gave him a daughter, Nevada (probably in honor of Nevada becoming a state while he was
serving at Fort Douglas, Utah Territory.) But Nevada lived only a few years and is buried near her
grandfather, Tapley Mays, in the abandoned Mays Chapel Cemetery on the Park farm near Friendship,
Tennessee. Uncle Billy quickly married a young girl, Fannie Reed, whom I was told was living in
their home, but, alas, Fanny died after only six months. She and his first wife, Susan, are buried
side-by-side in the Mays Chapel Cemetery. Uncle Billy soon removed to Carroll County where he
married Ida Kincannon (they married in Lawrence County), who was forty-one years his junior.
Nevertheless, they had four children, Thomas Nelson, Drewry Dickson, Lois and James. Uncle Billy
became a circuit-riding Methodist-Episcopal preacher in Carroll County. It is said that, as a
consequence of his service in the Union Army, he had to sleep with a gun beside his bed for many
years. He applied for a Confederate pension, and being refused, received the reply from Nashville
that, owing to his U.S. service, he should apply to "his army" for a pension. Uncle Billy and Ida
are buried at the right front corner of the McLemoresville Cemetery. According to Lois Mays Rizzo,
Uncle Billy's youngest child (only recently deceased), Uncle Billy dictated this sketch to her when
she was 11 years old. At the time he was near the end of his life. She stated that she regretted not
pressing for a more complete autobiography, but, being only 11 years old, she wasn't interested in
doing even as much as she did. Sadly, Uncle Billy never got around to covering all the aspects of
his life before and after the military, his experiences in prison and his tenure in the Union Army.
The sketch is transcribed directly from the typed copy given to me by Lois, with no changes except
for ease in reading.
W. T. Mays - the subject of this sketch, was born in Virginia, Pittsylvania Co., June, the 9th,
1836. My father's name was Taply. He had five brothers, Billie, James, Drewry, Lazrus and George.
His mother was an Ingram. His father's name was William Thomas Mays. My mother's name before she was
married was Prudence Echols. She had four brothers and two sisters, Win, Nowlin, William and Terry,
Sallie and Nancy. Her mother was a Terry before she married and her son, Terry, went off when he was
nineteen years old and was never heard of.
When I was eight years old, there was a great talk about the western district. That included
Kentucky, Tennessee and all the west. Everybody wanting to go and I wanted to go worse than anybody
for they said there was hogs running about already cooked, molasses ponds with fritter trees
standing in them, and I, like all the other children, believed all they said and wanted to go. So,
in September 1844, my father and his family of four boys and two girls, Moses, Edward, Mary, Sallie,
myself and James, and Uncle Win Echols and his family, my mother's father and mother and her sister,
Nancy, all started for the western district.
As we came through the wild mountainous country, I remember how afraid I was of a wild beast. One
night a bear came near the campfire. We could see his eyes shine, but the men got out after him and
run him off. I never slept much. When we got to the Kentucky and Tennessee line, my father and Uncle
Win Echols concluded to go into Kentucky, while grandfather (Echols) and his son, Nowlin, was coming
to Tennessee; and I never will forget that time. My mother never had been separated from her mother
and sister before. They stopped and fed close to a house, though there were but very few houses in
the country. All the children on both sides understood they were going to part, so a good many of
them hid out on both sides wanting to get out of the racket, and they went running around to hunt up
the children to tell them good-bye, and some of them they could not find. And just such screaming
that the woman at the house stood in the door and cried all the time. I was in an awful mood,
because it nearly killed me to see mother cry, and she never saw another well day after that.
So, one took to the right and the other the left, and why it was they separated I never knew, as
neither one of them knew anything about Kentucky or Tennessee, either. My father moved to Todd
County, Kentucky, and Uncle Win Echols went to Christian County. So, mother was separated entirely
from all her folks. They told her she would have chills and agues here. Mother and father did not
know what it meant, but we soon found out what it meant, for we had chills and fever, and mother had
the congestive fever. It settled in her lame leg--she had no bone in one leg from her knee to the
ankle--it was taken out when she was nine years old from white swelling. She never walked much more
without crutches. That was in 1845. She died in 1865.
We lived there in Kentucky three years, and raised tobacco for a living. Then my father moved to
Dyer County, Tennessee; could have bought land for twenty-five cents an acre, but he never did own a
foot of land, always rented. The woods abounded with wild turkeys and deer. So, as the old adage
goes, he got the game, the next comers got the land. There we met up with mother's father and mother
that she had parted from on her way from Virginia. Grandfather (Echols) died that year, the first
dead person I ever saw. I was about twelve years old. (This would have been in 1848.) Then I
commenced thinking about dying, but did not know what I had to do. I can look back now and see how I
might have done it, but I could not see it then. But I knew I was not prepared to die. So, God
followed me all the way along until 1857, which I will tell you more about hereafter.
So, father moved from place to place in the vicinity (of Stokes, Tigrett and Friendship, etc.) about
fifteen miles (southeast) from Dyersburg. At that time there was not but one settlement between
where we lived and Dyersburg. At this writing it is all settled up. In 1851, my oldest brother
(Moses) married, then he went to live to himself, and I lived with him most of the time. I could not
make nothing much, but oh!--how he did make me work. Sometime after that, I don't remember the date,
brother Edward married, went and settled in the wild woods, where Finley now stands, and in 1856 he
died. Never will forget that. They sent us word that he was bad. There was none able to go but
myself and sister, Sally. Before we got there we met a man; he said he was dead. I wanted to go back
home, but Sally would not go; so we went on. I will never forget how I felt when I got there. They
wanted me to look at him, but I never did, or did not.
There was an old man there. I reckon he was a good man. While his wife was going on in her grief, he
quoted this scripture--he said to her, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the
morning." Now, I believe the Bible, but I did not understand it. I thought this joy in the morning
was a consoling thing, but I felt like I must do something. So, we went on next morning to bury him
(Edward) at an old graveyard in the edge of Gibson County. I never knew why they buried him there,
nor I did not ask any questions, but when I heard the clods fall on him I told God I would do
something. I reckon I was as seriously convicted from that day on as any man ever was until the day
I found pardon, which I will tell you more about hereafter.
I was then working with my older brother that was married. He was raising a great many hogs. We used
to drive them to Mississippi every fall. Two or three hog raisers would put their hogs together and
drive them to Mississippi. About this time I commenced seeing some of the evils of slavery. I had
been raised up to see them (slaves), but had not studied the subject of one man owning another. So,
we would drive the hogs to some big, old slave owner. They would bring out their negroes to killing.
That was a big day with the negroes eating the scraps. I remember one day while they were killing
hogs, a big gate fell on one of the little negroes about 5 or 6, and killed it. The overseer told
two of the negro men to go and bury it. They picked it up and went off somewhere, was not gone but a
little while. We stayed that night in the overseer's house. I heard him tell my brother that he
believed in a short time the negroes would all be free, said he did not think from what he had seen
that God would suffer it much longer.
Now, I believe of all the states, Mississippi people are the most selfish and the most ignorant on
general principles of any other state. The landlord treated us with disdain and contempt, about like
he did the negroes. I remember one time my brother sold some hogs on a credit to a slave owner. Next
year when it come due he was sick and sent me to Mississippi horseback. I can't see how I made it. I
inquired for the man, got there one evening about sundown (it was cold), went up to where some
negroes were feeding, asked them if that was the place, calling the man's name. They said "yes,--any
kin to master?" I have learned since, that was a common question for them to ask (poor things.) They
were wondering whose hands they would fall into after master died, whether they would be worse or
better. So, one of them showed me the way into the house--a common log h ouse with a shed room.
Mississippians weren't very stylish about their building.
Behold, I went, and there sat his negro wife, a mulatto woman. She set me a chair. I asked her where
the man of the house was. She said he would be in, in a short while. When he came I introduced
myself to him, told him my business. We sat awhile. A negro woman came in, drew out her falling-leaf
table, began to prepare supper. When it was ready he invited me to the table, and his mistress took
a seat at the head of the table and served us in a very polite way. After supper was over the negro
woman came in and cleared the table away. The mistress taken (took) her seat to sewing by her tallow
candle. There was one bed in that room, they occupied that, and I went into a little side room, lay
down, and wondered if the world still turned, although I knew it did. So, next morning he paid me
the money. I will tell you more about the Mississippians in my war history. But, I began to think
that the freedom of the negroes was a foregone conclusion. So, I still worked with my brother the
next year, which was 1857.
I was still convicted of sin. That year there was a meeting came off at Bethesdy Camp Ground. Now,
my mother belonged to the Primitive Baptist from early life, and none of the rest of the family had
ever made any profession, so I went to this meeting not thinking of going to a mourner's bench, for
I did not believe in it. But I did go, but I have never known why I went. When I got there, the
devil took full possession of me, made me believe I had committed a crime, and I thought it was
awful they should find out. I went to the mourner's bench, and I resolved before God that I would
get a preparation to die, but I would not go to the mourner's bench any more, and I knew they would
not find that out for I did not intend to tell anyone. But I grew so interested that they could see
in my looks. Mother would ask me about it. I would not tell her, for I did not have nothing to tell
her, for I did not have religion yet.
So, that meeting broke up. Another one came on in September at the same place. This one was in
August, so I went to that, had to walk about six miles at night, could not go in the daytime. I said
I will not go there tonight, and I will never leave until I get religion. I needed all the help I
could get then, so I went to the mourner's bench. They said it was a dry meeting, but I have always
thanked God for the dry meeting. I heard them call on old sister Carlton to pray. I had always
believed it was wrong for a woman to pray in public, but I followed up her prayer. Before she got
through the Lord blessed me, so I have believed ever since, a woman ought to pray in public, and the
mourner's bench is a good place to go. I joined the Presbyterian Church. My intention was to be a
preacher in that church. I wanted to go to school, so I commenced preparations to go. I had to get
up money to go, so before I got ready, the war broke out.
The President's election of 1861: Douglas and Bell, Bell on the Whig ticket and Douglas on the
Democrat ticket. The democrats pulled off and nominated Brackenridge of Kentucky. I voted for Bell.
Everybody hollering for Bell and hurrah for Brackenridge, and did not know anything about Lincoln,
in the county where I lived. When the election was counted out they said that Lincoln was elected.
They said "Black Republican, abolitionist, free negro", he was the president all the same. The
people were ignorant in reference to what the man was. I was satisfied then that the negroes would
be free. People said there was going to be a fight now, but it would be a "breakfast spell", but the
breakfast spell lasted over 4 years.
In March, 1861, Lincoln was inaugurated, the rebel forces commenced gathering for organization at
Union City (Tennessee.) Finally, began to Columbus, Kentucky and commenced fortifying there. This
was early in the spring, and I did not go there until September, then I went as a recruit. I did not
know what war was, nor did any in the camp know, until a battle came on. Very soon the Battle of
Belmont was fought. They carried us across the river, and fought the Battle of Belmont, in Missouri.
Grant came down from Cairo on the gunboats. I did not know which did whip. It seemed that it was a
drawn battle. Early in February, Grant took Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, then the rebels had to
fall back to Columbus. On the high bluff at Columbus the rebels had 160 cannon among them. They had
one named "Lady Polk"--the largest cannon that they had ever seen up to that time. It burst one day,
and they never knew how many it killed. So, when they evacuated the place, they rolled all of the
160 cannon into the river.
We left in the night and started south. There was an Irish regiment that was commanded by Colonel
Pickett. We marched out by Clinton, but the Irish said they would walk the railroad to Moscow, 12
miles, and walk the rail they did. And Pickett went with us, and the next evening when we got to
Moscow they had run everyone out of Moscow. They had drank all of the liquor they could find, and
were lying all over the streets and ditches, drunk. It took all of the evening to arrest them. They
said they would not fight any more--"fight for your homes and firesides--we will not do it." I never
saw anything of that Irish regiment after that. I reckon they went home or went to other commands.
They never retained their position as a regiment. They killed our drum major that night. They were
in the stores selling goods or carrying them off. I can't describe the devastation that there was
that night, so we retreated to Corinth, Mississippi.
Fort Donelson and Fort Henry were surrendered. Grant was proceeding up the Tennessee River slowly,
and Buell, too, with their gunboats, to make their headquarters at Shiloh, I suppose, to come out
and attack us at Corinth. The rebels were deluded, of course, and got smart. On the 5th of April
they started to Shiloh to attack them, marched in line of battle all night, 18 miles. Right early on
April 6th, about daybreak, they opened fire on us with cannon. They gave us the command for us to
lie down. There was a man right near me who said, "This is the day to try men's souls!" In a few
minutes he was killed. We went right up through the camp where the hot coffee was smoking, where
they had been eating breakfast. I passed through where the paymaster had been paying them off, and
the greenbacks were laying there in piles. It was not of any account to us--any rebel soldier that
had been seen trying to have passed it would have been shot--that was the law. I wish I had some of
Right along there I got shot in the chin. I believe history says that the Yankees were surprised. I
think that if they had not they would have picked up the money. The Confederate money was discounted
two-fifths in our pocket while some of us were guarding a bridge on the Etowah River in Georgia. We
bought buttermilk at five dollars a gallon, but it was not counted but three. Yet, Jeff Davis at
that time thought he had a safe government. Why it is the Confederacy did not get a smart man is
very strange. I think he was the most ignorant many that was put at the head of any government. At
the time I write, he issued a proclamation that there were 90,000 deserters in the rebel army, and
that same year, sometime in '64, he offered every negro who would enlist in the rebel army his
freedom and forty acres of land. That was the turning climax. The soldiers said, "We have been here
all the time. Where is my forty acres of land?" So, they commenced running away, and the army was
never reconciled any more.
Back to the Battle of Shiloh. Night came on, and I found a comrade of mine that belonged to my
company, by the name of George Rice. He was shot right through the mouth. He begged me to take care
of him. I got an old piece of tent and stretched over him. I sat over him all night and kept the
blood out of his mouth. He would have drowned it I had not, for I have never seen such a rain that
fell. There were a great many of the wounded that were drowned. We went along next morning and saw
something blubbering in the sand and water. We made an examination, and it was a man under there
getting his breath. He was taken out, but I never knew whether he lived or not.
Next morning we retreated in the worst confusion I ever saw. The Bible speaks somewhere of an army
retreating, and a great many of them falling into slime pits. There was something like it between
there and Corinth, for I never saw as many quicksands as there were between there and Corinth. I saw
men, mules and horses stuck fast in the mire--everything retreating, thoroughly demoralized. If the
Yankees had of known the condition of the army, they could have captured the whole army, for a great
many of them were without guns or hats. But the Yankees thought it was better to stay at Shiloh and
recruit up, because they were badly damaged. So, we retreated to Corinth and tried to recruit, on
salt beef and cornbread. We stayed at Corinth until August in '62. During all that time there was
the heaviest picket fighting between Corinth and Shiloh. I stood behind trees with all of the bark
shot off on the other side, and was not allowed to shoot.
One day where I stood the Yankees were in a thicket in a field. There was a field between the
thicket and woods. I saw one Yankee go out in the field, and a rebel shot him down so he could not
go, and he yelled, "Run here and get me, a d----d rebel has shot me", and they laughed on both
sides. They had put us on the picket line at night so that they could not see us. Our Captain was
very patriotic, but he was afraid of getting shot. So, as he was putting us on the picket line one
night (if we made a fit of fuss they would fire a whole volley right into us), the Captain charged
us not to speak a word or make any noise. There was a fellow in our company whose name was Fred
Hunter (like a great many in the world, did not care for anything), and he commenced talking and
made the Captain mad. He said, "The fool shall be known by his much speaking", and Fred mocked him
in a loud voice, "The fool shall be known by his much speaking", and the Yankees fired a volley into
us. And Fred mocked him every time he heard him say anything.
All of the time that we stayed at Corinth, they were continually drawing us in line of battle,
thinking the Yankees were coming to attack them. One time a fellow whose name was Alf Stallings came
up from Dyer County to see his brother, and they called us up on the line of battle, and Stallings
must go in the ambulance corps to care for the wounded. The ribbons were tied on his arm to show who
he was, and some fellow said, "Alf, suppose you get shot?" He said, "I don't mind getting shot, just
so they shoot me in the arms or legs." (He was told,) "They are very accommodating. If you let them
know they will shoot you anywhere you want to be shot." But Alf did not get in any battle, and he
was very glad, and so was I.
During the time I was there in Corinth, they passed the conscript law. That was a memorable day.
They turned all of the commissioned officers off that did not want to stay, and not many of them did
want to stay. They held an election to elect more officers. Five or six more and myself refused to
vote or have anything to do with it. So, we and our Captain had some pretty hot words. He was in
favor of anything that the Confederacy might do. I had a cousin there that told the Captain that he
wished the Yankees great success--said he would never hurt one while he lived. Speaking of Jeff
Davis, if he had had any sense, that the conscript law would have settled the Confederacy.
So, we finally evacuated Corinth in August, started somewhere, I did not know where, for a soldier
does not always know where he is going. They put us on the cars, went to Mobile. When I got off the
cars I was nearly chilled to death. They carried us right into a vessel and there were so many of us
aboard the vessel was nearly ready to sink. They put a guard to keep the men distributed alike over
the boat. The top was full of men, and some were asleep. One many walked off in his sleep and fell
on the lower deck. They said every bone in his body was broken, but I never heard that he got well.
Next morning we went across Mobile Bay to a railroad in Florida. They hurried us up to load our
things on the cars. Generals Smith and Cheatham were rushing them. Our smart Captain thought he
would show out, and he yelled, "Fall in Company A", and General Cheatham said to General Smith.
"What d----d old fool is that?" So, we struck out through Florida. I saw nothing but pines and sand.
We went on until we got into Georgia. Then we began to see the watermelons and fruit. It was so
tempting, many of the soldiers jumped off of the cars to get the fruit. They were never seen any
more. We went to Knoxville, Tennessee. There they put us on the ground, started on a march
somewhere, came to a little town by the name of Barbersville, (Barbourville) Kentucky, and the
Yankees were there. They ran all out of the town, carried off many of the household goods and hid
them in the fields. I did not see anything in the town but an old yellow negro woman. She looked up
and said, "Where on earth did youse come from?" I shan't run. You can kill my body; my soul belongs
to de Lawd."
The rebel officers told the people to come back home and they would not hurt them, but if they did
not they would arrest them. Buell had fallen back from Shiloh to Louisville. We were going on
through Kentucky, went on to Richmond, Kentucky. There was a hard battle fought, and the rebels
whipped, captured all of the wagons and supplies. We moved on to Lexington, Kentucky. Lexington was
the wealthiest part of Kentucky. The people were about half and half. The Union people were opposed
to us coming into the town.
I took sick of neuralgia and they sent me to the hospital, and I stayed there a few days. It was
there that I learned to eat tomatoes. They fed us on middling meat boiled, light bread, tomatoes.
When I got better, another fellow and myself started to overtake the army. We had had nothing to eat
until up in the day. We stopped at a fine looking place, and Governor Robinson lived there, but he
had gone to Indiana. We hollered at the gate and a fellow came to the door dressed in a Yankee
uniform, and said we could get breakfast, and while we were eating his brother rode up in a rebel
uniform. If they ever spoke I never knew it. Some of the soldiers told in Lexington that they were
going to get Governor Robinson. The rebel citizens, women and men, just dared them to capture the
governor, that all of Kentucky would be on them.
We went on and joined the army that evening, then they marched us all that night toward Perryville
(KY). I remember we marched through the town, and all of the window curtains that I saw were United
States flags. We went out and met the Yankees and went to fighting. I did not go in the battle that
day. I was on the reserve. In a few hours the Yankees made a clean sweep of them. So, we started on
the retreat. We had a chaplain in our regiment by the name of Jack Mahon. He used to preach to the
soldiers, that if they were brave they would be brave. That was about all of the gospel that he had
for them. While we were there on the edge of the battlefield he was on a fine horse. The Yankees
commenced throwing the bombs into us awful thick. He put spurs to his horse and was never seen any
more. We retreated back to Knoxville, night and day. The Yankees said they would warm by our fires,
as we made them they were so close on us.
I never ate anything until I got to Knoxville, only where I picked up corn where they fed the
cavalry horses. We got to Knoxville (in October.) There was a big snow. The Yankees moved up and
occupied Nashville. We went to Murfreesboro. There we went into winter quarters. The pickets fought
all the time between Nashville and Murfreesboro. Just a few days after Christmas both armies went
into deadly conflict. I remember when we went across the bridge on Stone River to the battle, there
was a fellow by the name of Pierce. He was sick and some of them begged him to go back to camp. He
would not go, said he was going to get killed. He was killed soon after he got into battle. There
was another fellow by the name of Pricket, he said, "I will see mother and father today." He found
the house on the battlefield, filled with the wounded and dying. But no father or mother were there.
So, they fought all day. The rebels held the battlefield. I remember the moon shone bright every
night. I remember how the dead looked. I looked at them and wondered whose child they used to be. We
left about dark one night, like it was at Shiloh, everything was demoralized. The Yankees, if they
would have known it, they could have captured them. We went on to Shelbyville. There we stayed until
some time in June. The Yankees had a company made up from Shelbyville. The rebels would send guards
out at night to catch anyone of them that tried to go home. One night I went with the guard to a
house where there was an old man and woman and children. The boy looked to be sixteen. They could
not find the man that they were looking for. The officer of the guard went in and searched the
house, tore up the beds and cradle, and found a little United States flag. He held it up to the
guard like it was a great trophy. The old man looked like he was condemned. He said to the woman,
who was crying, "Where did that come from?" The woman said, "Someone gave it to the children." So,
they took the boy and old man and carried them to prison, for no other reason than finding that flag
in the cradle. I hardly ever see a United States flag that I don't think of that scene.
The Yankees were moving up on us every day. I had a cousin in my company. His wife came to see him.
They had him out in the country running a sawmill sawing lumber. She went out there to him. The
Yankees got between him and Shelbyville. He wanted to go back to Dyer County, and she would not let
him, but she drove him back to the army. The very day that he got to the army he got his head shot
off with a cannonball. So, they ran us to Chattanooga (and I never ate a bite until I got there.) By
that time they saw that the men were running away too much. So, they camped the army at the foot of
Lookout Mountain and put out a strict guard, not allowing any men to go out unless he got a pass
from headquarters (to get water.) Our company was right on the end of the army, close to the big
spring. When we wanted water, had to go about a mile to headquarters to get a pass. I told the boys
I would not go to headquarters for a pass and I was not going to get an order from Confederate
officers when water was free. One day I saw the guard turn their backs. I picked up the bucket and
went and got a bucket of water. The Captain was watching me. When I got back he said, "You have
violated military orders and deserve punishment." I said, "You are commander of this company. Go
ahead and punish me. You know what I did. I went and got a bucket of water and it is free for
The Yankees moved up on the opposite side of the river about that time. They put me in an engineer
regiment. Their duty was to make preparations for the army to move, to dig ditches, build pontoon
bridges and forts. They carried us down in Georgia. We went to the Etowah River to guard a railway
bridge. We had some tough fellows with us. The State of Georgia had a stock pen close by. The state
taxed the people with a certain portion of everything that they made to support the state troops,
would take a part of their cattle, sheep and hogs. The toughs that were with us would go over at
night and steal hogs and cattle and sheep and kill them to eat. They would eat all that they wanted
and give the rest to the women. There were some of us there that would not eat it. They would say,
"Come up and eat, boys. We don't want you to steal it. We will steal it." I never had eaten anything
that was stolen up to that time; finally had to.
The rebels was coming on and the Yankees after them. There finally came orders one night for us to
burn the bridge. We went down on Chattahoosha from there to Kennesaw Mountain. The mountain stood on
a plain. They carried us on the mountain to fortify. When we got on the mountain we could see the
Yankee army. They were shooting at us all the time with cannons. We were cutting trees, building log
pens to put cannon in. We could see the blaze of the Yankee cannon in the valley and had plenty of
time to dodge the balls. We had a fellow watch for us. He would yell, "Look out." We would run down
he steep side of the mountain. One fellow said he was not going to run anymore. So he lay down by a
hollow log. The cannonball hit the log. The largest piece they found of him was one hand. General
Polk was killed there.
We fell back to Atlanta, Georgia. We dug a ditch around Atlanta. It was twenty-six miles long. The
Yankees besieged the city for about four months. They cannonaded the city and near all of the
citizens left. Those that were too old to get away dug holes in the ground and lived in them. There
were a few that stayed in their houses. I was going along the street one day, and there was a woman
sitting on the porch, two little children playing in the yard. The bombs were bursting all around.
The woman said, "Come in the house, children, you will get hurt." One day we were lying in a
railroad cut. They were sticking cannonballs in the opposite bank. An Irishman ran out and laid his
head in one of the holes. We asked him what he did that for. He said that they would not shoot
another one in there.
The Yankees got around east of Atlanta. The next morning the cannon were pointing at us, right in
sight. They called us in arms. Every available man in line. They said we had to dislodge the
Yankees. I never expected to survive that undertaking. Just as we were ready to march upon the works
a doctor came along, called me out of the ranks to drive an ambulance. I went out and hauled all
night and helped the doctor to perform amputation operations.
Johnston gave up his generalship. They held a council of war one night. Hood accepted the position
and went in command next day. He attacked whenever Sherman attempted to flank him. Three engagements
occurred near Atlanta--the Battles of Peach Tree Creek, July 20, Atlanta, July 22, Ezra Church, July
28. The Battle of Atlanta fought on the outskirts of the city was the severest of the Georgia
campaign. I remember I was driving stakes for the engineer officer. It was an awful hot day. It was
right at the edge of Atlanta. The wounded came up or were carried up where they could get water at
the wells. An amusing incident was, a young redhead Alabamian, he was bloody all over. While he was
washing his face he was crying. He said, "When the war commenced Old man Johnston came to their
house and told Pap that he would drink all the blood that he was shedding. He wished he was in h--
In that battle they had called in all of the Georgia State troops. I saw numbers of old white-headed
men, wounded and dead. On August 31, 1864, the federals attacked Jonesboro, below Atlanta. Hood
evacuated Atlanta and the federals took possession. We marched out of there on August 31. The next
morning we faced a formidable breastwork at Jonesboro. The rebels commenced digging ditches where
they stopped. They fought all day without any definite results. Next morning the rebel army started
somewhere, we did not know where, but we soon found we were going back to Tennessee. Sherman
destroyed Atlanta and went on his way to the sea. The engineer regiment that I belonged to had a
long wagon train filled with pontoon bridges. When we got to Florence, Alabama, we aimed to put in
the pontoon bridges and cross.
Here abruptly ends this autobiographical sketch of the obviously very complex life of William Thomas
Synopsis of the Military Service of William Tapley Mays
Left his home at Stokes, Dyer, Co, Tennessee and joined the Confederate Army at Union City, TN in
September 1861, first serving in Co A, 12th Tennessee Infantry Regiment; his home was listed as
Stokes Post Office, Dyer County, Tennessee Fought in Battle of Belmont, Missouri Marched through
Moscow, Tennessee enroute to Corinth, Mississippi Fought at Battle of Shiloh and wounded in the chin
Retreated to Corinth; stayed until August 1862 Confederate Conscript Law passed during stay at
Corinth August 1862 - Left Corinth by rail for Mobile, Alabama Transferred by boat across Mobile Bay
to railroad in Florida Traveled in company of Generals Smith and Cheatham up railroad thru Georgia
to Knoxville, Tennessee Marched to Barbourville, Kentucky Marched to Richmond, Kentucky Marched to
Lexington, Kentucky Hospitalized briefly of neuralgia at Lexington, Kentucky At breakfast at home of
Governor Robinson of Kentucky courtesy of a Yankee officer, who had a brother who was in the Rebel
army. Fought in Battle of Perryville, Kentucky October 1862 - Retreated to Knoxville, Tennessee Went
into winter quarters at Murfreesboro, Tennessee December 1862 - Fought in Battle of Stone's River
Marched to Shelbyville, Tennessee; stayed until June 1863 Faced Yankees across Tennessee River at
Lookout Mountain Detached to Engineer Regiment to guard the RR bridge over Etowah River in Georgia
Fought at Kennesaw Mountain Retreated to Atlanta Drove ambulance and assisted surgeon in amputations
Gen. Joseph E. Johnston resigns/Hood appointed Fought in Battle of Peach Tree Creek, July 20, 1863
Fought in Battle of Atlanta, July 22, 1863 Fought in Battle of Ezra Church, July 28, 1863 Fought in
Battle of Jonesboro, Georgia, August 31, 1863 Retreat to Tennessee via Florence, Alabama in wake of
Sherman's March to the Sea
Note: Confederate records document Uncle Billy's enlistment, his service in the "Pioneer Corps, and
his capture at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee on December 19, 1864, as well as his imprisonment
at Camp Chase, Ohio. He gave his oath to the United States on March 16, 1865 at Camp Chase and
enlisted in Co A, 6th U.S. Infantry (1st Lt George M. Gaylord's Company), serving at Fort Douglas,
Utah Territory, Fort John Buford, Dakota Territory and Fort Kearney, Nebraska Territory before being
discharged on October 15, 1866, with annotation of no objection being made to re-
enlistment....Bob Mays, 22 August 1998
contributed by Javan Michael DeLoach