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Thomas Stiles/Styles, Pvt.

Union Scout and Guide

ca 1823 - 11 Dec 1864

written by Sandra N. Ratledge

[©1983 Appalachian Ancestors by Sandra N. Ratledge; ©1998--to current year (updated for website) by Sandra N. Ratledge. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Any reproduction or inclusion of this website's contents in publication whether online or in print is prohibited. Do NOT copy photographs, articles, stories, anecdotes, documents, obituaries, letters, and other contents herein and upload on Find a Grave or any other internet websites, blogs, attach to family trees, or print in publications of any kind.]

Clear, cool Persimmon Creek in Cherokee County, NC ran red with the spilled life's blood of Thomas Stiles on 11 December 1864. What is known of great-great-grandpaw Stiles? Cherokee CO, NC censuses of 1850 and 1860 show his birth as about 1823 in Haywood County, NC. He was the first-born son of John B. Stiles and Mary "Polly" Cogdill and his paternal grandfather's namesake. He grew up in Haywood County, NC where the family lived in the vicinity of Addie, now part of Jackson County. There at Scotts Creek, he married Louisa Smith, a Burke County, NC native, on 31 March 1842. Joseph Keener officiated at the ceremony. Record of their marriage was found in Louisa Stiles' pension application as a Civil War widow. She was the daughter of William T. and Rosamond "Rosie" Susannah (Wright) Smith of Cherokee County, NC.

Less than a year following their marriage, they left for Gilmer County, GA where their first child Silas Wilburn was born about 1843. Shortly after his birth, they moved to Cherokee County, NC likely to the same community where Thomas' parents and grandfather had located earlier. There on 13 February 1845, twin sons were born next. These sons were named John L. and William T. Eight other children were later born over the following nineteen years. Theirs was a large family of seven sons and four daughters. All of their offspring are believed to have reached adulthood except William T. who died in late 1850, at only five years old.

With Civil War impending, arguments about the economy, slavery, and sovereign rights of the states not only erupted among neighbors and friends but also within families. Fathers and sons often opposed and disowned each other. Brothers fought and joined opposing armies. Citizens of East TN and Western NC were divided about the issues. Poor folks like the Stiles would have preferred to remain neutral, but Thomas Stiles, his sons, and brothers were unavoidably swallowed into the conflict.

Thomas served first with Capt Goldman Bryson's Company of Union Volunteers. This group was organized for the Union cause near Murphy, NC in June 1863, and served as an independent company until late September 1864, when it was reorganized in Knoxville, TN. His widow's pension application and his tombstone record that he served as a private in CO A, 1st TN Scouts and Guides. According to John L. and Benjamin Stiles' affidavits, Thomas stood between them when they enrolled in 3rd TN MTD INF REGT, USA. However, muster rolls do not record Thomas Stiles / Styles' name.

Thomas Stiles, who was experienced at transporting supplies and driving a team of horses, and others in that original company of rugged mountainers were appointed scouts and guides. These men had surely memorized the towering terrain of bear and bobcat kingdom in Cherokee County, NC and could expertly maneuver in copperhead country around the treacherous river gorges of the meandering Hiwassee and Ocoee. What better pathfinders could be found for the forest wilderness of Polk, Monroe, and Cherokee Counties?

Soldiers of once independent companies such as Bryson's were not entitled to the same advantages and privileges as official Union soldiers until four years after the war ended. A letter from the Records and Pension Division of the War Deptartment found in Louisa Stiles' pension file reveals that

Captain Goldman Bryson's company of Tennessee scouts and guides, was not regularly mustered into the military service of the United States, but was recognized for pay, bounty, and pension, by an Act of Congress, approved March 1, 1869. There are no records of the company on file in this division excepting a copy of the roll made up in 1869, to meet the requirements of the act referred to, the original of which is on file in the office of the Second Auditor. The name, Thomas Styles, or Stiles, is not borne on the copy of the said roll.

Since his name did not appear on a muster roll, was omitted on the 1869 Payne-Boyd "created" roll, and Captain Bryson was deceased, Louisa Stiles' widow pension was never approved. In spite of four repeated applications and several affidavits on her behalf, she was never accepted.

Thomas and Louisa's oldest son Silas Wilburn first joined the CSA in Lt. Col. H. H. Davidson's CO C of the 39th NC REGT. He was a teamster like his father. Before Thomas volunteered with the Union Army, Lt.Col. H. H. Davidson hired him to haul baggage for his company to Asheville in Buncombe County, NC. Thomas owned a team and wagon and sometimes supplemented his meager farming income by hauling goods for wages. Judging from documents in Louisa's pension file, some confusion existed as to whether or not Thomas had enlisted with this company. Apparently, because he had traveled to Asheville along with Silas Wilburn to haul baggage, he may have been questionable as an aide to the enemy.

Lt. Col. Hugh Harvey Davidson testified to the contrary, however, in a sworn affidavit. Since Davidson was a respected and prominent citizen in Cherokee County, NC, his statement would seemingly have been most credible. He had served as county sheriff. When the Civil War began, he was appointed Lt. Col. and served faithfully until the Battle of Murfreesboro in which he was wounded and lost an arm. In spite of his handicap, he continued farming and lived twenty-four years.

About the time Thomas, John L., and Benjamin Stiles enlisted with the Union, Silas Wilburn Stiles deserted the Confederates. He, too, joined Bryson's Volunteers. Shortly thereafter, he was murdered at Murphy, NC. Loss of her first-born was only one of several family deaths and ensuing griefs for Louisa Stiles during the tragic and bloody Civil War. Her husband served with his company in Knoxville, TN. Later, when his detachment reached Sweetwater, TN, he took a leave of absence and headed swiftly for home. According to Mitchell Stiles (deceased of Murphy, NC), Thomas had received news of a vicious raid at his home.

Mitchell recalled that some of Capt. William C. Walker's Confederate Company were "bushwhackers." He said Walker's gang broke into Louisa's cabin and also robbed some of the other Stiles relatives on Persimmon Creek. Aware, of course, that her husband and the older boys were engaged in Knoxville with the Union troops, they conveniently chose her most vulnerable hour. Perhaps these Confederates considered their actions retributions for the Stiles men who fled to TN, then Union occupied, and joined the Northern forces. But, perhaps, they were just outlaws.

At any rate, these raiders stole all Louisa's winter provisions. She had cut open the feather bed ticks, concealed all the salted meat from the smoke house within these ticks, and then carefully restitched them hoping desperately to preserve the meat in case of such a raid. But the gang stormed in, tore the place apart in their search, ripped open the bed ticks, and stole her meat. They shot her last milk cow and stole her only horse except for a filly which they beat unmercifully before leaving.

The Stiles men at Knoxville, according to Mitchell, received news of this raid from May Anne Sutton, who later married John L. "Black Fox" Stiles. A wispy, young maiden she was bearing far more strength and mettle than might be imagined in her frail, feminine frame. Mounted on the beaten filly, May Anne rode alone from Persimmon Creek through the perilous bushwhacking wilderness all the way to Sweetwater, TN to warn of trouble back home. Chilling, doubtless, was her untold fear but more consuming than that emotion must have been her outrage at the crimes and her pity for the suffering. Never to be underestimated is the ire or fortitude of women mountaineers!

May Anne's sister Telitha "Lithey" was married to William L. Stiles. These were Benjamin Stiles' parents and ancestors of Mitchell Stiles who related the foregoing story. Therefore, May Anne was close to the Stiles even before her own marriage into the family. Perhaps, the courage and daring she displayed on that dreadful ride sparked John Black Fox's admiration and eventually won her his heart. At any rate, they wed 25 Septempter 1865, within months after the war and in Sweetwater, Monroe County, TN where her fearful mission had ended!

Well-armed for the return ride, Thomas Stiles lost no time on his journey back home to Persimmon Creek. An exact date of that raid and his subsequent absence from the army has not been established. Louisa's affidavit in her widow's pension claim declares that Thomas was "out on scout's duty" on 11 Dececember 1864. Whatever his reason or mission, he left their warm cabin with its woodsy-smelling, black smoke curling into the crisp, cold December air. Just as he started to ford Persimmon Creek flowing briskly near their cabin, gunshots broke the peaceful mountain stillness. Usually quiet sounds of dry leaves rustling in the winter wind could be heard, but at that moment the surrounding hillsides quaked with the man-made thunder of gunfire.

If Louisa were not keeping watch at her window or door as he departed -- mountain superstition held that watching anyone until out of sight brought bad luck -- then surely, she ran to see who had been shooting. Hooves of horses beat the earth, resounded through the ridges, grew fainter, and then faint. Thomas lay in the creek. In spite of danger, she and her children raced to recover him from the swift, icy current. To her, no doubt, the distance between them stretched out like a plain. Running strides must have transformed into slow motion, seemingly, while seconds hung as heavily as hours. At last, they floundered into the bloody creek. He died from the powerful blasts unaware, probably, that Confederates had been lying in wait for him nearby. When he had come within easy range at the clearing of the ford, sharpshooters picked him off as though a practiced target. In 1974, this account was told to us by Aunt Ethel Coleman, Thomas Stiles' great-granddaughter. Even though 110 years after the fatal ambush, this story was still vivid in Aunt Ethel's mind. She was born in 1891 and as a youth had heard the brutal story recounted numerous times around the hearth. Civil War stories became customary fireside conversation until most of the old veterans had died and another large-scale war broke out -- WW I.

Documents in Louisa's pension applications show that the family soon learned who shot and killed Thomas. Louisa's affidavit states that Confederate soldier Stephen Whitaker of Valley River, Cherokee County, NC fired the fatal bullet. Perhaps he planned to lessen the threat of incoming Union troops by annihilating scouts and guides. Thus handicapped in a vast, unfamiliar wilderness, Yankees would be easy prey for their backwoodsmen counterparts fighting on home soil. Such could have been the possible reasoning and intent behind Whitaker's attack. Or, perhaps, he just sought to purge the area of Union recruits, for a goodly number of Union soldiers from 3rd TN MTD INF REGT, USA met similar deaths.

It remains a mystery whether or not Union soldiers retaliated and pursued Whitaker and his comrades. However, Stephen Whitaker was not killed. He lived a long life -- unlike Thomas Stiles, a father whose life was snuffed out at but forty-one years. Whitaker died well after the Civil War ended. He was son to one of Cherokee County, NC's most eminent citizens. His tombstone stands in Peachtree Baptist Church Cemetery, Cherokee County, NC.

If any of the bereaved relatives tried to avenge Thomas' death in a vendetta against the Whitakers, it was not known. Mitchell Stiles did recall stories of a feud between the Stiles and the Walkers, however. This feud continued for many years after the Civil War. It ended when Amanda "Mandy" Stiles, a niece of Thomas Stiles, married Capt. William Walker's son William C. Walker, Jr. who had returned to Cherokee County, NC from Indian Territory.

Although Louisa never received a widow's pension for her husband's service, a federal government memorial marker was erected on his grave. Standing in Bear Paw Baptist Church Cemetery near Louisa's grave is Thomas Stiles' tombstone. It simply bears his name and "Company A, 1st. Tenn. Scouts & Guides."

Louisa survived Thomas by nearly forty-six years and finished rearing their eight minor children as a widow, never remarrying. The Reconstruction years were no doubt cruel for her with eight hungry youngsters. They endured their hardships, however, relying heavily on her then oldest son John "Black Fox" who had fortunately survived his military service. Aunt Ethel Coleman, now deceased, recalled how her great-grandmother "Louisie" loved to eat and eventually became obese in old age. Another of Louisa's pleasures was the rocking chair which she monopolized. "Oh, she loved to rock in that rocking chair. She was always in it, and us grandkids was always wanting it!" Aunt Ethel recalled with laughter.

Louisa was about eighty-five years old when she died on 16 August 1910. During her long life, she had known many trials, probably overcome innumerable obstacles, and witnessed horrors in the Civil War. Not only did she survive her husband but four of their seven sons as well. She died at Persimmon Creek, Cherokee County, NC where she had lived among her children and many grandchildren. In Bear Paw Baptist Church Cemetery (), her weatherbeaten tombstone once stood, broken and cemented back together. Even though some words were illegible, her epitath spoke of the love and admiration she evoked in others as follows:

In love she lived,
In peace she died,
Her life was carved
(For?) God's (call?).

Stephen Ratledge, a great-great-great-grandson of Thomas and Louisa (Smith) Stiles / Styles

written by Sandra N. Ratledge

[©1983 Appalachian Ancestors by Sandra N. Ratledge; updated for website ©1998--present year by Sandra N. Ratledge. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Any reproduction or inclusion of this website's contents in publication whether online or in print is prohibited. Do NOT copy photographs, articles, stories, anecdotes, documents, obituaries, letters, and other contents herein and upload on Find a Grave or any other internet websites, blogs, attach to family trees, or print in publications of any kind.