Giles Countians Distinguished Themselves in War of 1812

By Claudia Johnson

In the same year Giles County was created, 1809, newly elected President James Madison and his style setting wife, Dolly, moved into the White House. Tennessee was a mere child of thirteen, and the United States had been a nation for thirty-three years. In many respects, though, Great Britain had never recognized American independence and continued to treat the young nation as a British colony.

By 1811 when Pulaski was newly established, America’s relationship with England had deteriorated to the point Congress declared war, listing Britain’s hostile actions as justification. Under the Orders of Council, American ships had been forced to pass through England despite their destination, curbing trade with other European countries. U.S. citizens sailing under the American flag had been forcibly seized and impressed into British navel service. U. S. commerce was being plundered under a pretended blockade.

Worst of all, at least to Southerners, the English were encouraging Indian warfare in recently settled areas, creating an atmosphere of fear and danger for pioneer families. Perhaps it was this situation, or expansionist urges, or a simple desire to protect the homes they had struggled to build out of wilderness, that evoked intense patriotic fervor among pioneers. Though poorly equipped and ill trained, the South readied its militia units to fight both the Indians and the British.

Paradoxically, the New England coastal states which had suffered economically from British hostilities, exhibited great sympathy for the enemy, sending supplies, money, even beef cows for food, to Britain’s offshore fleet and her armies in Canada. In 1813 the Embargo Act closed ports in New England, ending trade with the British.

Early Giles County historian, McCallum, related a story in which a local woman, like most settlers, patriotically refused to purchase imported goods. In the usual manner, she made coffee out of dried okra, and served it to a breakfast guest from the Northeast. The man commented that the coffee smelled very strong of the embargo. His hostess quickly replied that it smelled equally as strong of liberty.

With such sentiments, there is little wonder that Tennessee earned its nickname “The Volunteer State” during this period. A large number of Giles Countians served in the War of 1812, and many were alongside Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston in at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama during the Creek Indian Wars, which were a part of the War of 1812. Some later served with Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans.

Perhaps the most outstanding of the Giles County soldiers was Thomas Kennedy Gordon, who had been a captain in the militia at 18 and lieutenant colonel commandant of the Giles County Regiment of the Tennessee Militia at 22. He volunteered for the Creek Wars taking many locals with him. As rations and supplies dwindled, and most men were ill and wanted to head home, Gen. Jackson, who was also sick, declared, “As long as one man remains, I’ll stay here and fight.” Col. Gordon responded, “General, I’ll stay, will die with you.” Jackson and his men went on to defeat the Creeks, and the two men became lifelong friends. As President, Jackson mailed his wealthy planter friend and Buford Station resident, a letter addressed simply “the Colonel at Mont Gordon, Nashville.” It arrived. Many Giles County Gordons are descended from the Colonel.

Another Giles Countian who distinguished himself, though rather dubiously, was Lt. William M. Kerley, who had come to the county with Tyree Rodes and lived on his land at Clifton Place. Among the first troops called for service, Kerley and other soldiers misunderstood the terms of their enlistment and planned to return home shortly after Horseshoe Bend, at which time Gen. Jackson demanded the return of Kerley’s sword. When the lieutenant refused, Jackson threatened him with a pistol, which, according to Charles Clayton Abernathy, Jackson would certainly have used had yet another Giles Countian, Dr. Gilbert Taylor, not taken the weapon from Kerley an returned it to Jackson. Jackson later gave the sword back when Kerley explained he needed it as protection to lead his men home. Jackson said Kerley was too brave a man to punish and pardoned him.

Kerley’s life was one of many saved by Dr. Gilbert Taylor, a distinguished surgeon trained in Philadelphia, who arrived in Pulaski in 1811. He volunteered for the Creek Wars and was surgeon of his regiment and on Jackson’s own medical staff. At his own request, he acted with the artillery at Emuckfaw and Enotochopie. He bought an large gun, five feet long and of an unusual caliber, carrying nearly 40 buckshot at a load. At Emuckfaw he took a good position, watched for the flash of Indian guns, and fired at the flash. The easily recognizable blast of his gun prompted his comrades to cry out, “There’s Taylor’s artillery!” At Enotochopie he was one of twenty-five who volunteered for a dangerous defense mission and one of the six who survived it. He became a Methodist minister in 1819 and served his community until his death in 1870.

James Patterson, a civilian who had been illegally held captive for three years during the Mexican War for Independence, was a member of Capt. John Gordon’s company of spies during the Creek Wars, with a squad of twenty men under him in special service to Gen. Jackson. Although he carried a six-foot- long bear gun, he was nearly killed by a Creek Indian with a tomahawk, who chased him, striking him in the back several times. Patterson was saved by his thick buckskin shirt, the only uniform he and most of his fellow Giles County soldiers ever knew.

Outstanding Giles Countian Charles Clayton Abernathy in his “Recollections” recounted his return home from the Creek Wars. He and his friend, a Gen. McCafferty, started from Ft. Strother, during a rain storm with only one horse and without provisions. The storm became a flood, preventing building of a fire and forcing the men to walk in waist deep water for many miles and to finally abandon the horse. Constant walking in water and crudely made shoes rendered Abernathy’s feet so sore he was unable to walk. Outside Huntsville, a compassionate traveler en route to Maury County offered Abernathy his horse, thus bringing him safely home.

Abernathy went on to read law, become judge advocate of the military courts, entry taker in the land office, county pension agent, first Clerk and Master of the county and first Circuit Court Clerk. A fierce Democrat and a devout Methodist, he married twice fathering 18 children, and many Abernathys in Middle Tennessee are his descendants.

A number of Giles Countians are descendants of soldiers of the War of 1812. Below is a list of last names of known soldiers. Research assistants in the Giles County Historical Society Genealogy Room can provide help in tracing family histories. The Society of the War of 1812, a national organization, extends membership to all descendants of that war’s soldiers.

Rambo, Maxwell, Madry, Warren, Johnston, Hogan, Kiddy, Hiles, Kelly, Henry Dugger, Hamlet, Gordon, McCandliss, Hazelwood, Barker, Jackson, Clark, White, Creasy, Dodson, Smith, Kidwell, Davis, Chapman, Estis, Emerson, Hichmans, Richie, Button, Dodson, Evans, Abernathy, Bass, Buford, Caruthers, Clack, Cleveland, Everly, Flournoy, Hurlston, McDonald, Morris, Phillips, Kirley, Patterson, Rose, Taylor, Kimbrough, Wilcockson, Carrell, Joines, Coleman Hardy.

For more information visit Be warned that the site does not list our Giles County soldiers.