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The story of Bluff City’s William D. Harkleroad, Company K, 26th Tennessee Infantry

Ned Jilton II • May 15, 2019 at 3:34 PM

While looking through the Tennessee Civil War Veterans Questionnaires for last week’s column, I came across another local soldier. I find these snapshots into the lives of the people of our region before, during and after the war interesting and thought I would share.

William D. Harkleroad of Bluff City was the son of Jacob Harkleroad. William’s family came to America from Holland and first settled in Pennsylvania. William’s grandfather, Henry Harkleroad, moved to Sullivan County at the age of 25.

The family lived in a two-story frame house on a 250-acre farm which William worked along with his father. “I plowed and hoed and done all kinds of farm work,” he recalled.

But William also remembered how hard and how many different jobs his father, Jacob, would work in those early days.

“My father together with farming, he owned a corn and flour mill, also built many flat bottomed boats, used a great many boats himself in hauling freight down the river to Knoxville, Chattanooga and other points.”

It’s almost a sure bet that some of Harkleroad’s boats were docked at the boatyard here in King’s Port. (A name used in some early reports in the Civil War.)

Despite all the heavy labor, however, the Harkleroads did not own slaves.

“Slaveholders seemed to think their selves a little better than the people that didn’t own slaves,” he said. “As a rule, there wasn’t any ill feeling between slaveholders and non slaveholders as there wasn’t many slaveholders.”

When asked if the opportunities were good in the community for a poor young man, William responded, “Fairly good, some men were fortunate enough to make enough to buy farms and to go into business for themselves.”

William was able to take advantage of the limited educational opportunities of the day.

The primary school was about a-half mile from his home but was only in “session” three months out of the year. He said that he attended “about four or five terms, probably 12 or 15 months in all.”

When the Civil War came, William may have felt a family obligation to sign up early. “I had an uncle who fought under (Andrew) Jackson at the battle of Horseshoe Bend against the Indians. Captain King of Bristol was his captain,” he said.

William was sent to Knoxville, where he became a member of Company K, 26th Tennessee.

The 26th Tennessee wasted little time in Knoxville and was quickly assigned to a division under the command of Brigadier Gen. Simon B. Buckner. The unit was dispatched to Fort Donelson, west of Nashville, in early 1862.

Fort Donelson was under the command of Gen. Bushrod Johnson, who was then superseded by Gen. Gideon J. Pillow, who was then superseded by Gen. John B. Floyd, who assumed overall command of the 17,000 soldiers gathering there.

Into this confusion arrived Buckner’s Division on Feb. 12, just ahead of Gen. U.S. Grant’s forces, and it was assigned the defense of the fort, except for the 14th Mississippi and 26th Tennessee, which were detached from Buckner’s Division by Floyd and placed in the division of Johnson on the far left end of the Rebel entrenchments outside the fort.

On Feb. 15, the Confederate forces struck Grant’s right flank, causing the Yankee line to swing back like a door on a hinge. By mid-morning, the advance stalled when Grant quickly counterattacked and the door begin to close, as the Union soldiers regained all the ground they had lost that morning and took the Rebel trenches in front of the fort itself.

The 26th Tennessee, on the far left of the line which had to be held if the fort was to be evacuated, found itself in a furious fight.

Even though Col. John M. Lillard commanding the 26th was wounded, he refused to leave the field, and the regiment with the men of Sullivan County held a faint hope of escape as they held the far left of the line open for others to escape. After the battle, Johnson commented about the 26th Tennessee, “It is difficult to determine which deserves the most commendation, the regiment or its commander.”

That night the Confederate generals met again and after furious debate it was decided that the best course of action was to surrender.

But one Confederate officer who would not surrender was Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest, with his cavalry and some of the fort’s soldiers, escaped through the opening held by the 26th Tennessee and made it to Nashville. The 26th remained behind to hold the line and became prisoners of war.

“I was made prisoner in my first battle which was at Fort Donelson,” said William, “was taken to Indianapolis and was kept in prison there for seven months. Then taken to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and exchanged, returned to Knoxville and reorganized. Then to Murfreesboro and was in that battle, then to Chickamauga and was in that battle.”

William would also take part in the battles of Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge and Kennesaw Mountain.

“I was with Bragg, Johnston and Hood — and went back to Nashville with Hood,” he said. “April 1865, when the war ended, I was near home, being sent there with others after horses.”

In the questionnaire, William briefly touched on his life after the war.

“After the war I went back to farming and saw milling.” He said. “Got married in 1866 and I am the father of seven children.”

Harkleroad was 81 years old when he filled out the questionnaire. By that time his wife and two of his children had passed away.

“I have gotten feeble and have been living with my children,” he said. “Sold my farm several years ago.”

The last thing Harkleroad said on his questionnaire was, “If you desire any photographs of myself I can furnish them.”

Sadly, according to the records, no photos were included.

Ned Jilton II is a page designer and photographer for the Times News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at njilton@ timesnews.net .