McNairy County’s forgotten role in Shiloh battle

Jeff Whitten


By Jeff Whitten

Staff Writer

The battle of Shiloh was conducted entirely in Hardin County, but McNairy County’s role in the battle is often forgotten, though it is becoming better publicized with the dedication of the Civil War Trail markers.

The Civil War divided the county as it did the nation.

 McNairy County first voted against secession, 915 to 811 in February 1861, then voted for it 1318 to 580 in June 1861, according to the Tennessee Historical Quarterly.

Five companies of Confederate troops were raised in Purdy and five companies of Union troops were raised in other parts of the county.

In the spring of 1862, Fort Donelson and Fort Henry had fallen to the north. Union troops advanced south along the Tennessee River, while Confederate forces retreated toward Corinth.

The Mobile and Ohio Railroad ran north from Corinth and  the Memphis and Charleston, which ran east and west through Corinth, was called the vertebrate of the Confederacy, according to University of Tennessee History professor Timothy Smith.

Adamsville was located between the railroads and the river. It was connected by road to both.

One regiment of Ohio troops camped in Adamsville and Confederate troops were located at Purdy and Bethel Station.

There were preliminary skirmishes in Adamsville.

A brigade of troops under the command of General Lew Wallace was camped near the village.

On April 1, 1862, union troops under the command of Lt. Charles H. Murray skirmished with shotgun-wielding Confederates and reported being outgunned.

Another piece of McNairy County Civil War history is the controversial march of Wallace, later known for writing the novel Ben-Hur.

His troops marched down Old Shiloh Road past Overshot Mill across Snake Creek. By the time he got to Shiloh, battle lines had moved, and he was in the wrong position. He had to turn around and go back to join the rest of the Union troops fighting at Shiloh.

Historians still disagree over such things as whether Wallace was late, got lost or his orders from General Ulysses S.Grant, who commanded Union troops at Shiloh, were clear.

After the Battle of Shiloh, a reconnaissance party commanded by General William T. Sherman followed retreating Confederate troops and fought with troops commanded by General Nathan Bedford Forrest near a Confederate field hospital near Michie at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on April 8, 1862.

Seeing that the Confederate troops were withdrawing toward Corinth, Sherman withdrew back to Shiloh.

Corinth fell to Union forces on Oct. 4, 1862. Troops under Maj. Gen. Edward O. C. Ord were advancing to Corinth to combine with a force under Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans. Ord’s forces met a Confederate force under the command of Maj. Gen. Sterling Price near Pocahontas.

Sterling’s army was forced to retreat from the Battle of Davis Bridge but escaped capture or destruction.

The most famous McNairy participant in the Civil War was Purdy   Col. Fielding Hurst.

Though a plantation owner, Hurst was pro-Union. He was arrested and thrown into the state penitentiary in Nashville for these sympathies. 

Hurst was freed after Union troops captured Nashville.

He formed a cavalry unit of scouts from the “Hurst Nation,” a name applied to the Hurst’s property holdings in northern McNairy and southern Chester counties.

Hurst’s cavalry was known for its harsh tactics.

For instance, he attacked Purdy and reportedly ordered the courthouse, church and several homes burned in April 1863.

Hurst was briefly arrested by the Union for these incidents.

After a battle in Jackson on July 1863 left it in ruins, Hurst’s troops were fined $5,000 to pay for the damages.

In response, Confederates targeted Hurst and his family. They executed one of his nephews and injured his aged sister during a night raid on her home.

Hurst returned to Jackson and set it on fire in late 1863, and then proceeded to burn suspected Confederate sympathizers homes and businesses in Brownsville.

Hurst’s regiment later was transferred to Middle Tennessee On Dec. 10, 1864; Hurst resigned his command due to poor health.