Thursday, June 20, 2019

New Resource for Genealogists at the Tennessee State Library & Archives

By Chuck Sherrill, State Librarian and Archivist

A new tool for researchers is now available on the Library & Archives website. The all-in-one Genealogy Index Search brings together over 1 million names appearing in Tennessee’s most important historical records. Inspired by the way and other online services search multiple record groups from a single screen, staff at the Library & Archives worked with the Secretary of State’s Information Technology Division over a two-year period to create this new resource for genealogists and historians.

The Genealogy Index Search includes sections on Death Records, Military Records and general Tennessee research. A listing of the individual databases and the number of entries in each is found below. The individual indexes were compiled by staff at the Library and Archives over many years. According to Ron Lee, the Assistant Director of Public Services, the work began in the late 1990s. “We had one of the first web sites in Tennessee government, and for several years the Library and Archives web site was among the top three most visited of all state government websites.”

The ability to create indexes to interesting or popular groups of records and post them online motivated Library & Archives personnel to collect the data from historical documents such as the Civil War records of Nashville undertaker W. R. Cornelius. The names of nearly 5,000 soldiers, former slaves and citizens whose bodies were buried or moved and re-buried by Cornelius are included in this index.

Pages from the W. R. Cornelius Burial Records, just one of the many resources now available in the Library & Archives Genealogy Index.

“This is an index,” notes Lee. “People today often expect to click on a name and see the original documents pop onto their screen, but that won’t happen here.” The index allows researchers to learn that the person they are looking for appears in a certain group of records. The View Entry link beside each name provides additional information not listed on the table. But the user may need to visit or contact the Library & Archives to get a copy of the original record.

In some cases, scanned records are included along with the index entry. The records of Tennesseans who died in service during World War I, for example, are linked to the files about those 1,500 soldiers which may contain military documents, personal letters and photographs.

One of the useful features of the index is the ability to sort search results by facets. For example, if you search the entire collection for the surname Watson, over a thousand results are returned. Boxes at the side of the page indicate how many Watsons appear in each of the 25 indexes that are in the search. For example, there are 10 Watsons in the Cornelius Burial Records. Additional boxes also allow the researcher to narrow the search by county and year.

Sample search of "Watson" surname in the W. R. Cornelius Burial Records.

Many Library & Archives staff members and volunteers contributed to the index project. We want to recognize the extraordinary efforts of Ron Lee in Public Services, Renee Register in Library Technical Services and Rudy Barrett in the Secretary of State’s Information Technology Division.

Over time, more digital images will be added to the index. Currently, the following information can be found through the Genealogy Index Search. We encourage researchers to give it a try. If you find something that doesn’t seem to work correctly, please send an email to and let us know – it is a work in progress.

Index Name
Number of Records
Davidson County Death Records 1900-1913
Death Notices in Nashville Newspapers 1855-1907
Nashville Obituaries and Death Notices for 1913
Tennessee Death Records 1908-1912
Tennessee Death Records 1914-1933
Acts of Tennessee 1796-1850
TN Research
Laborers at Fort Negley in the Civil War
TN Research
Family Bible Records
TN Research
Inmates of the Tenn. State Penitentiary 1831-1870
TN Research
Southern Claims Commission (Civil War)
Tenn. Supreme Court Cases
TN Research
Confederate Relief Assn. of Memphis
Tennesseans in World War I
Tennesseans in the Spanish-American War
Tennessee Confederate Pension Applications
Tennessee Confederate Physicians
Tennessee Confederate Soldiers’ Home
World War I Gold Star Records
World War I Veterans’ Questionnaires
Union Provost Marshal Files
W.R. Cornelius Burial Records (Civil War)


The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

“Bravery, Tenacity, and Deeds of Noble Daring”: The 13th United States Colored Troops in the Battle of Nashville

By Andrew McMahan

The Civil War brought about several drastic changes to the United States. Among these was the entry of tens of thousands of African Americans into the armed services, an act most Americans viewed as a right reserved for white citizens. Initially, the Union did not recruit black soldiers. However, enslaved people in the South closely followed the movements of U.S. troops, escaping and running to the safety of the Union lines whenever possible. Army officers hired many of these refugees as laborers and cooks. Despite the many thousands of African Americans eager to enlist, the Union armed forces were not permitted to employ black troops until Abraham Lincoln issued the final version of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. In response to an influx of new recruits, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton established the Bureau of Colored Troops (BCT) in May 1863 in order to centralize enlistment of African American soldiers. Although regiments formed under the BCT were comprised of black troops, the Union Army placed only white officers in command. Unlike other volunteer regiments, these did not incorporate the name of the states in which they were formed. Instead, they were designated United States Colored Troops (USCT), showing they were under federal rather than state authority.

This engraving shows African American recruits boarding a troop train bound for Murfreesboro, TN. Print and Broadside Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA).

The Union Army raised several USCT regiments in Tennessee. Organization of the 13th USCT began in Murfreesboro in July 1863. The brave men that made up this regiment were primarily laborers from Clarksville, Gallatin, Murfreesboro, and other areas in Middle Tennessee. These men were shortly sent to Nashville and formed the core of the 13th USCT. Colonel John A. Hottenstein was the regiment’s commanding officer.

Union officers regularly assigned USCT units to construction, garrison, and guard duties in order to free up white regiments for combat operations. Some white officers believed that African American troops were unfit for combat and would run when given the chance. As a result, the 13th USCT was primarily assigned to building and guarding the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad. By October 19, 1863, the regiment was positioned some thirty miles west of Nashville, guarding the Nashville & Northwestern. Evidently, the regiment was not fully organized by this time. Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Trauernicht stated he did not have enough men to provide laborers and guards for the railroad. Furthermore, he claimed their limited numbers prevented them from drilling and improving discipline because all of the men were busy as either laborers or guards. Trauernicht expressed concern for his men and stated that in the event of capture he was unsure whether Confederate forces would recognize the troops as soldiers of the United States or hang them as spies. He claimed all of these problems would be solved by having a full complement of men.

Union forces completed construction work on a portion of the Nashville & Northwestern in May 1864, and the regiment continued guarding the railroad until November 30. Elements of the regiment did conduct limited military operations during this time. For instance, in late August 1864, G Company, under the command of Captain Andrew Jacobs, set out on a scouting mission west of the Tennessee River. They marched 40 miles to Huntingdon, enduring summer heat and fatigue. On August 30, they came under sudden attack by a group of Confederate guerillas commanded by an individual Captain Jacobs identified as “Petty John.” The soldiers of G Company maintained their discipline and put up a determined fight, losing one man killed and a sergeant severely wounded. “Petty John” was wounded but escaped capture.

As of November 1864, the 13th had not participated in any major actions, aside from isolated skirmishes. Due to the unfounded opinions regarding African American troops in combat, the 13th USCT spent months on guard duty on the Nashville & Northwestern. However, Confederate General John Bell Hood’s campaign to retake Nashville in late 1864 changed this. In response to the Army of Tennessee’s advance, the companies of the 13th USCT assembled in Waverly on November 30 and departed for Nashville the next day. The regiment arrived in the city on the evening of December 7. Between December 7th and 13th, the men constructed rifle pits and other fortifications in anticipation of the Army of Tennessee’s assault on the city.

On December 11, Colonel Hottenstein and two hundred men scouted ahead of the Union positions in order to determine if the Army of Tennessee was to their front. The colonel and his troops applied pressure to the rebel pickets, driving them back to their main line. Finding that the Confederates had indeed arrived in force, the 13th withdrew to the Union positions. On December 13 the entirety of the 2nd Colored Brigade, commended by Colonel Charles R. Thompson, conducted a reconnaissance east of the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. The 13th regiment deployed as skirmishers, with the 12th and 100th in reserve. Once again, the 13th encountered the Confederate pickets and pushed them back toward their main line. The brigade faced substantial resistance on the property owned by a Mr. Rains. They remained there under heavy fire for some time, withdrawing just before dark. The 13th USCT lost one man killed and four wounded.

Evidently, the threat of Hood’s large Confederate force poised to attack Nashville prompted Union commanders to reconsider their stance on the combat capability of African American troops. On December 15, the 13th USCT along with the rest of the 2nd Colored Brigade were ordered to move into position for an assault on the Confederate line between the railroad and Nolensville Pike. The brigade quickly took the rebel earthworks directly ahead. However, the Confederates had expected them to attack this fortification and positioned their artillery in order to fire upon the USCT brigade once it captured the earthworks. Although the artillery fire was heavy, the earthworks provided sufficient shelter for the men of the 13th and other USCT regiments. They maintained this position for the remainder of the day, keeping up a steady exchange of fire with enemy skirmishers. The 20th Indiana Battery arrived to provide artillery support for the USCT men, and forced the Confederates to pull their cannons back.

On the morning of the 16th, the brigade commander sent skirmishers forward and discovered that the Confederates had abandoned their rifle pits and withdrawn to a new line. Colonel Thompson received orders to take his 2nd Colored Brigade and connect with General Thomas J. Wood’s 4th Corps. The 13th USCT, along with the 12th and 100th USCT, arrived at the intended position without taking any losses, though Confederate artillery on Overton’s Hill (also known as Peach Orchard Hill) did fire at the regiments. Upon arrival, General Wood informed Thompson that he was about to attack the enemy positions on Overton’s Hill, and requested that the three USCT regiments support his left flank. Overton’s Hill was heavily defended by Confederate infantry and artillery, making it a difficult position to take.

Overton's Hill can be seen in the bottom right corner of the map. TSLA Map Collection, Map 104.

At 3:00 pm, the Union troops of the 4th Corps and 2nd Colored Brigade began their daring attack. Thompson deployed his brigade in two lines, placing the 100th and 12th USCT in front and the 13th in support. The 12th encountered a dense thicket which slowed their advance, and the 100th came upon several fallen trees that broke up their formation. During this advance, the Union troops faced punishing fire from the Confederate soldiers on the hill. The 12th and the left portion of the 100th passed to the left of the Confederate fortifications, unable to face the line as the rebels had constructed it at a sharp angle. As a result, these two regiments suffered fire from both the side and the rear. Unable to turn the formation and face the enemy head-on, Thompson ordered the 12th to move off and take shelter behind another small hill in order to regroup and reform. Meanwhile, the rest of the 100th USCT continued advancing with the 4th Corps, but they were repulsed by the Confederates.

The 13th USCT pushed past the first line of the 2nd Brigade, weathering the withering fire laid down by the Confederates. Colonel Hottenstein remarked that he felt seeing the first line of Union troops lying down and taking cover from the rebel fire would negatively affect the courage of his relatively raw regiment. Although many of his men had been involved in skirmishes, the 13th USCT had yet to participate in such a deadly fight. However, the men of the 13th bravely pressed on. The regiment relentlessly advanced up the hill, despite taking heavy casualties, and actually stormed the Confederate earthworks. Unfortunately, the white Union troops to their right had already fallen back by this point. With no support, the 13th USCT had no choice but to pull back to their previous position. Although they did not take the hill, the Confederates were forced to withdraw after their line was breached elsewhere. Unable to take the city, the Army of Tennessee retreated from Nashville.

The attack on Overton’s Hill cost the 13th USCT dearly. The regiment went into battle that morning with 556 men and 20 officers. During the attack, they lost 4 officers and 55 enlisted men killed, and 4 officers and 165 enlisted men wounded. In total, the regiment lost 8 officers and 220 men during the 30 minute fight. Although the troops of the 13th USCT did not take the hill, they performed heroically and won the admiration of their superior officers and fellow soldiers. Colonel Hottenstein said of his men, “. . . after a protracted struggle they had to fall back, not for the want of courage or discipline, but because it was impossible to drive the enemy from his works by a direct assault.” He also commended the officers and enlisted men for their bravery, and specifically mentioned Sergeants James Wilson and Charles Rankin, who “. . . both displayed the greatest gallantry possible in carrying the colors, and sealed their devotion to them with their lives.” In engagements such as the Battle of Nashville, the regiments of the USCT proved themselves to their white counterparts and disproved the negative assumptions about the abilities of black soldiers. Many of these men escaped from bondage and enlisted, often without having ever handled a weapon, in order to end the practice of slavery once and for all in the United States. These soldiers may have been born into slavery, but they fought, and in many cases died, as free men.

Colonel Thompson recalled in his report, “These troops were here for the first time under such a fire as veterans dread, and yet, side by side with the veterans of Stone’s [sic] River, Missionary Ridge, and Atlanta, they assaulted probably the strongest works on the entire line, and, though not successful, they vied with the old warriors in bravery, tenacity, and deeds of noble daring.”

Sergeant Charles Rankin Service Record, Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served with the U. S. Colored Troops, MF 1742, Roll 104, TSLA.

Sergeant James Wilson Service Record, Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served with the U. S. Colored Troops, MF 1742, Roll 108, TSLA.


The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 45.

Luke, Bob and John David Smith. Soldiering for Freedom: How the Union Army Recruited, Trained, and Deployed the U.S. Colored Troops. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2014.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

All-New 2019 Summer Reading Program now available

By Maria Sochor, Director, Tennessee Library for Accessible Books and Media

We are excited to introduce you to our all-new, totally reimagined 2019 Summer Reading Program! Like before, we have three distinct programs tailored for children, young adults, and adults.

Head over to where you can listen in, download, and subscribe (via the free Stitcher app) to automatically receive future programs as they’re released. Topics run a wide gamut from supporting our friends and relatives who are on the autism spectrum, to practical tips for surviving a zombie apocalypse. It’s truly a Universe of Stories!

A few of the offerings available through the Library for Accessible Books and Media's Summer Reading Program.

New episodes will be released every Wednesday, for the next 10 weeks. Here’s where this gets really fun – because these programs are already recorded, you can use any of the released episodes at any time to host your own program for patrons in your library. Play an episode for your patrons, then have a discussion and maybe book-talk some related items from your collection (including the Tennessee Electronic Library!). You can also send the link out to our website – we would LOVE for you to share it on your social media.

We want as many people as possible to enjoy these portable programs, so we encourage you to spread the word far and wide! No need for someone to have a visual impairment to join the fun. This is for everyone.

We can’t wait for you to hear the amazing stories that our hard-working staff have created for you this year! Please listen in, share on social media, and let us know what you think. Happy listening!

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

100 years ago on this day...

Today we remember an important moment in our nation's history. #OnThisDay in 1919, a federal suffrage amendment was passed by the U.S. Congress and sent to each state for ratification. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee provided the 36th and final vote needed to ratify this important amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women nationwide the right to vote.

"Women's suffrage ratification in the Tennessee Senate chamber" This photograph from the "Ratification Issue" of the Nashville Tennessean, Sunday morning, August 29, 1920, depicts the Senate chamber at the moment that the clerk counted the historic vote on women's suffrage. Women flood the gallery and floor as the clerk counts the votes. Young Senator Harry T. Burn from McMinn County cast the deciding vote for the 19th Amendment. With this vote, Tennessee became the 36th and deciding state to approve the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote.

Look for future posts on the Library and Archives social media channels chronicling the history of the women's suffrage movement during this centennial season of remembrance. In the meantime, we encourage you to view our "Women’s Suffrage in Tennessee" online collection at:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett

Library and Archives staff tour construction site of our new building...

Library and Archives staff members recently received a behind-the-scenes hard hat tour of our new building under construction near the Bicentennial Capitol Mall. We’re excited to see the progress that has been made thus far. It’s history in the making!

Library and Archives staff touring our facility included L to R: Gordon Belt (Public Services), Chuck Sherrill (State Librarian and Archivist), Bessie Davis (Regional Libraries), Jami Awalt (Preservation and Digitization), Myers Brown (Archival Technical Services), Renee Register (Library Technical Services), and Peter Heimbach (Director of Special Projects, General Services)

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett