The Odyssey of Zollicoffer's Body


Brigadier General Felix K. Zollicoffer of the Confederate Army was killed in action January 19, 1862 during the Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky. The morning of January 19th was beset by a heavy fog over the battlefield of Fishing Creek and while trying to reconnoiter the Federal position, General Zollicoffer rode too close to Federal lines and was shot from his horse.
 
Brigadier General Felix Kirk Zollicoffer
Colonel Speed S. Fry of the 4th Kentucky Infantry is generally given credit for shooting down the General. As reported by the Louisville Journal, Fry “was in the act of leading his regiment into a charge upon the [15th] Mississippi when General Zollicoffer, accompanied by his aide, rode unto him and said “You are not going to fight your friends, are you? These men (pointing to the Mississippians) are your friends.” In the meantime, Zollicoffer’s aide fired upon Colonel Fry, wounding his horse, from which wound the animal died. Colonel Fry then turned and fired upon Zollicoffer with fatal effect.”[1]

The sword and sash Zollicoffer was wearing when he was killed in action was recently sold by Brunk Auctions for $31,980. As noted in the auction description, the hilt had "a noticeable bend when he was shot by Union soldiers and fell from his horse." (Photo from Brunk Auction)


Captain J.A. Vaughan of Fry’s regiment was an eyewitness to this event and described what he saw. “He had been riding an iron-gray horse. He wore a blue military cap, a single-breasted blue uniform coat with colonel’s shoulder straps,” Vaughan wrote. “He was well out on the angle of the road. Colonel Fry rode on about 25 or 30 feet when a man galloped up from behind. Our stranger passed him a few yards, fired his pistol at Colonel Fry, and turned back. The Colonel immediately wheeled his horse remarking, “That is your game, is it?” He raised his pistol and fired at the man on the gray horse who remained standing. A good many of us fired also and on account of the dense smoke after the firing, we could not see who fell.”
 
Colonel Speed S. Fry, 4th Kentucky Infantry (U.S.)
Several minutes later, Vaughan was able to visit the site of the confrontation and found the Confederate general laying dead upon the ground. “He was lying flat on his back, his arms extended. He had upon his person  a white rubber overcoat, unbuttoned, a blue Federal army cap, and a double-breasted blue army officer’s coat, the top buttons of it unbuttoned displaying in a side picket the top of a willow flask,” he stated. “A field glass was slung from a leather strap on the outside of his rubber coat. Underneath this coat but outside of his uniform, his sword was buckled. Not wishing to disturb his arms, I unbuckled the field glass strap and took off his sword and belt, gathered them up, pulled his cap down over his eyes, and left him.” Vaughan then turned over the field glasses, sword, and belt to Colonel Fry later that day but other Federal soldiers quickly picked over the General’s body, cutting the buttons from his coat, removing nearly all of his clothing such that when it came time to prepare Zollicoffer’s body for burial, Surgeon Cliff had to approach Vaughan about getting him some clothing. “I informed him that I had come across Colonel Joel Battle’s trunk and in it was a blue uniform. He went with me over to my quarters and I delivered the uniform to him and in conversation he stated that Zollicoffer had three bullet wounds in his body- one small and two large.”[2]
Colonel John Connell, 17th Ohio Infantry

A rather disgusted Federal described what happened next. "At Louisville, the bodies of Zollicoffer and his aide were placed in elegant and expensive burial cases by the munificence of the government he had fallen trying to overthrow," he wrote to the Cincinnati Gazette. "They were sent here to Camp Wood, met at the cars by a 'Guard of Honor' from one of our Ohio regiments, and thus carried to the headquarters of the division where another 'Guard of Honor' taken from the U.S. Regulars received them with presented arms." [3]

Zollicoffer’s body remained in Federal hands until January 31, 1862 and was apparently considered a war trophy that was visited by many officers and men. "To division headquarters as to a curiosity shop flock generals, colonels, and epauletted gentlemen to do honor to the bodies, elbowing their way through the 'Guard of Honor' posted so thickly around that their beats are not five paces long," continued the grumpy Federal. Zollicoffer's body was then embalmed by the medical director of the division assisted by an unnamed "brigadier general with upturned sleeves." Colonel John Connell of the 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry had known Zollicoffer when he was a congressman and along with another soldier visited the body. “He lay in a tent wrapped in an army blanket, his chest, left arm, and side exposed,” it was reported. “A tall, rather slender man with thin, brown hair, high forehead, somewhat bald, Roman nose, firm wide mouth, and a clean shaved face. A pistol ball had struck him in the breast a little above the heart, killing him instantly. His face bore no expression such as is usually found on those who fall in battle- no malice, no reckless hate, not even a shadow of physical pain. It was calm, placid, noble. But I never looked upon a countenance so marked with sadness. A deep dejection had settled on it. The low cares of the mouth were distinct in the droop at its corners, and the thin cheeks showed a wasting which comes through disappointment and trouble.” [4]

On January 31st, a contingent of Federal officers set out to return the bodies of General Zollicoffer and Lieutenant Bailie Peyton to the Confederates for burial. This contingent included two brigadier generals, two colonels, two adjutant generals, the medical director of the division, two other surgeons, an ex-sutler, the correspondent of the Louisville Journal, a commissary clerk, the chief of artillery for the division, a New York journalist, a detachment of cavalry, and two four-horse ambulances, each ambulance carrying one body. Chaplain Eurotus H. Bush of the 49th Ohio Volunteer Infantry accompanied the body and provided this account of returning Zollicoffer. “Hearing that they were to be taken to General [Thomas C.] Hindman’s headquarters today, I felt a strong desire to accompany the expedition,” he wrote. Bush secured permission from Brigadier General Richard Johnson, Johnson appointing Bush the chaplain. “Early this morning, the ambulance and escort left camp for General Hindman’s lines. The escort consisted of General Richard Johnson, General James S. Negley, parts of their staffs, several brigade surgeons, one of the Southern surgeons (Dr. Cliff) taken prisoner at Somerset, and quite a number of other officers; besides all these, Captain Gaddis’ company of cavalry. In all a very respectable escort for two who had fallen in death while contending against the right.”
 
Brigadier General Richard W. Johnson

“We went as far as Horse Cave before seeing any of their pickets; then we saw to the left in a large corn field three suspicious-looking mounted fellows. They stopped for a moment when, having obtained a good look at us, they bounded away southward as if his Satanic majesty was after them and their safety depending on making fast time. In the meantime, our flag of truce was borne aloft so that they might know that we were on a mission of peace. About two miles beyond they ventured to wait until they were satisfied they were not to be hurt. General Johnson approached the party, shook hands with the commanding officer, communicated his business, and in a moment, we were all moving forward,” Bush stated.

“Stopping at Woodlawn, a very fine public house kept by a true Union man (W. Ritter), General Johnson sent one of the Texas Rangers to General Hindman to inform him of our coming and business. The Texas Rangers are a motley set; they have no uniform, no discipline, no manliness, not intelligence, and no honor. They go about prowling the countryside stealing horses, hogs, and cattle, burning houses, railroad bridges, grain, straw, and fodder of all kinds; in fact, they are a miserable gang of outlaws,” he wrote.
General Thomas C. Hindman

“In a little over two hours from the time the Ranger left us, Hindman and his troupe were seen coming. He halted the company of cavalry that accompanied him some 20 rods from the house where we were, riding a little nearer himself, he dismounted and met Johnson and Negley with considerable courtesy and some dignity. I should think General Hindman about 45 years of age, medium height, light eyes, sallow complexion, sports a mustache and goatee, wears his hair long and lets it fall in ringlets on his shoulders. He is of nervous temperament, moves quick, is restless, and always moving, has something of the dare-devil in his expression, and upon the whole is rather an interesting subject to study but by no means a remarkable man.” The officers of both armies soon fell into conversation with each other discussing the war and sharing opposing convictions as to its outcome. “A great many pleasantries passed between us as well as some dry joking. Quite a number expressed the wish that we might meet again under other circumstances and many a glass was drunk by men that will next meet in deadly strife on the field of battle or at the bar of the final judge,” Bush related. “When the generals parted, it was with many expressions of mutual regard and affection.”[5]

The Confederates placed Zollicoffer’s body on a train to Nashville the following day where preparations were made for what amounted to a state funeral for the beloved General. “The mortal remains of General Felix K. Zollicoffer arrived on the Louisville train yesterday at 2 o’clock, and were escorted from the depot through some of the principal streets of the capitol where they now lie in state in Representatives’ Hall,” reported the Nashville Union. “The procession was composed of a military escort, the governor of the state [Isham B. Harris], and heads of executive departments, the Senate and House of Representatives of the Tennessee Legislature, the military, and citizens in carriages and on foot.”
 
General Felix K. Zollicoffer
“Colonel C.H. Williams of the 20th Tennessee, Lieutenant Colonel J.F. Neill commanding the 23rd Tennessee, and Major D.G. White of General Hardee’s staff had charge of the escort which was one company of the 20th Tennessee. We shall today pay the last tribute to a brave, honorable, and able civilian and soldier before all that is mortal of him shall be consigned to the tomb. He was a Tennessean whom all respected and whose name will be recorded on the pages of immortal history. Sadness and mourning will drape our city, but henceforth, his name will be cherished as one worthy of our highest regard and homage.”[6]

The funeral the following day was one of the most memorable moments of the Civil War for Nashville residents. “The funeral obsequies of General Zollicoffer on Sunday afternoon were attended by a large concourse of ladies and gentlemen,” it was reported. “The hall of the House of Representatives was animated with a living mass of anxious and solemn faces. Right Reverent Bishop Otey performed the funeral services according to the impressive form of the Episcopal Church, and delivered a touching and appropriate discourse. An immense procession of military, citizens on foot and horseback and in carriages, the Typographical Association [Zollicoffer had long been a newspaper editor], the state and city authorities, followed the remains to its last resting place. It was an imposing demonstration and evinced the universal affection and respect in which he was held by the people.”
Sash worn by General Felix Zollicoffer on the day he was killed at Mill Springs (Photo courtesy of Brunk Auctions)

General Felix K. Zollicoffer was buried February 3, 1862 at the Nashville City Cemetery. He was 49 years old at the time of his decease and a simple stone marker indicating his military rank as brigadier general in the Confederate States Army marks his grave.



[1] Letter from Colonel Speed S. Fry, 4th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, Louisville Journal, January 28, 1862
[2] “Zollicoffer’s Death,” Captain J.A. Vaughan, Co. B, 4th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, National Tribune, June 22, 1893, pg. 3. In a subsequent issue of the National Tribune, A.P. Connolly of the 6th Minnesota disputed Vaughan’s claim that he recovered Zollicoffer’s sword stating that Lieutenant M.C. Tuttle of the 2nd Minnesota had the sword in his possession for many years but eventually returned it to Zollicoffer’s family. The sword was recently offered for auction by Brunk's Auctions. 
[3] "How a Dead Rebel was Honored and a Dead Loyal Soldier Dishonored," Cleveland Morning Leader, February 6, 1862, pg. 1
[4] Cleveland Morning leader story and “General Zollicoffer’s Body,” Fayetteville Observer, February 13, 1862, pg. 2 (FO’s source was the Cincinnati Gazette)
[5] “From the Advance,” Chaplain Eurotus H. Bush, 49th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Cleveland Morning Leader, February 5, 1862, pg. 3
[6] “Funeral of Late Felix K. Zollicoffer,” Memphis Daily Appeal, February 5, 1862, pg. 2 (MDA’s source was the Nashville Union of February 2, 1862)

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