I send dispatches to-day from Gen. Canby. Shall have telegraphic
communication with Corinth this evening, and shall continue to repair the wires south toward Mobile until I meet the repairers of Gen. Canby; also send a party east toward Decatur until I meet the workmen from Decatur. Many bands are surrendering here under your order, among them one of the worst, Burt Hayes. I learn a Mr. Chandler, calling himself a captain, a brother-in-law of Fielding Hurst, is levying contributions upon the citizens of McNairy County, Tenn., amounting to $50,000. Hurst has already taken about $100,000 out of West Tennessee in blackmail when colonel of the Sixth [Tennessee] Cavalry (Union). What shall I do with Chandler, if he reports to me as ordered? If he does not report, shall I treat him as an outlaw?
Around this time last year, an avid Hurst follower sent me pictures that he took at a location known as The Murder Hole. I attempted to find any hard evidence concerning what happened there, but found none.
The Murder Hole @ Hayes Chapel Cemetery, Mercer, Tennessee
The marker at the site reads,
This sentry stands guard in honor to twenty eight brave Confederate soldiers brutality killed in 1863 at a place that is now called the Murder Hole near here. According to research, locals buried them in a mass grave here, after being killed by the so called 6th U.S. Cavalry under the command of Col. Fielding Hurst.
This honor sentry donated and placed by Col. Malcolm D. Wilcox family in memory of all soldiers of the south and General Cadmus M. Wilcox C.S.A. November 2006.
We don’t know much about the grave site the monument was put there by the Sons of the Confederacy. The story is that Fielding Hurst killed a group of Confederate Soldiers near this site and put them in a ditch, the community refers to it as “The Murder Hole.” Mr. Mile Hayes gave this land for a Church and Cemetery, he lived just down the road. He heard the fighting and later with the help of some of his slaves went and got these bodies and buried them behind the Church. Hurst went on to the Denmark Church where he stormed the Church looking for two Confederate troop, but they hide under the hoop skirts of their girl friends, so he did not find them. Hurst was in and out of the area often. He attacked the City of Jackson and demanded money to not burn the town…they raised the money, but he set the town on fire anyway. You can see all the battles of West Tennessee at the Carnegie Museum in Jackson.
Several emails to various people at the Sons of the Confederacy went unanswered. If you know any more details about The Murder Hole, drop me a line at email@example.com or drop a comment.
I recently came across a CD that was sent to me by my long lost cousin Ann Boldger. It was an archive of her site, the original Hurst Nation at GeoCities, that she sent me shortly before she passed away many years ago. She was a great Hurst historian and had some great stuff on the old site. I was going to put the site up as she left it, but it is already partially archived at Archive.org. So, I am going to make an effort at reposting the most Fielding Hurst relevant items from her site. First up, a picture of Neal Hurst, alleged son of Fielding Hurst.
There is a myriad of conflicting information on Neal and I am afraid this picture doesn’t shed much light. Any information that anyone has on Neal is much appreciated. I had always heard that Neal was the son of a Fielding and an unknown female slave.
Also, from the Cousin Ann Archives are pictures said to be Neal’s descendants.
Bell Hurst – Son of Neal, Grandson of Fielding?
Frank Hurst – Son of Neal, Grandson of Fielding?
Lil Frances and Willie Hurst – Daughters of Neal, Granddaughters of Fielding?
Mag Hurst, Daughter of Neal, Granddaughter of Fielding?
Troy Hurst, Son of Neal, Grandson of Fielding?
Neal’s 4xgreat granddaughter, Cynthia Woods Hurst had this to say in a comment from 2010.
Fielding Hurst was my 4th g-grandfather. His son was Neal (mulatto). I suppose that for me, I am somewhat proud that he stood against the confederates. However at the sametime it saddens me that he owned slaves.
I am sure that there are those that might choose to dismiss my branch of the family tree, but truth is truth and fact is fact.
Cynthia Hurst Wood
Cynthia, If you are out there, would you be interested in doing a DNA test to confirm connection to the Hurst line? If all is how it appears, you and I should share a common ancestor, Elijha Hurst (father of Fielding Hurst as well as David Hurst, my Gx4 Grandfather).
While I am totally amazed that the Hurst Mansion is in good enough shape for humans to set foot in it, they are apparently having the haunted house again this year. There must have been some restoration since I last toured the house in 2004 when it looked like you could fall through the floor in several places. Glad to see something being done with the house.
Purdy Community CenterVenue Phone: 731-610-6255Phone: 731-610-6255
Ticket Pricing: $15 with Zombie Paintball or $13 without; Ghost Tour 1 $10; Ghost Tour 2 $20; Haunted Laser Tag $5
Looking for a really scary haunted house? Ever heard of Fielding Hurst? Google him and his story will blow your mind. Then visit us at his home. e believe we have the scariest haunted attraction in the area. For more info, prices and directions, visit our website, www.purdyhauntedmansion.com. Also open on Wed. Oct. 31, 7-10:30 p.m.
Ghost Tour 1 – $10.00
Tours begin at 7amd 8pm and last 45 min-1 hour
Tour the House, Barn/Slavehouse, and Outdoor Kitchen Reservations Required
Ghost Tour 2 – $20.00
Tours begin at 7pm and 8:30pm and last approx. 1 hour 30 min.
Tour the House, Barn/Slavehouse, and Outdoor Kitchen
Walking Tour of Purdy Cemetery and and Hurst Cemetery
While on the tour sensor sweep radar will be used along with emf and evp analysis. We will also perform an auto analysis along with a seismic analysis detecting the slightest movement. If you watch ghost hunters on tv we will be doing the same thing. Don’t forget your digital camera and dress warm because we are going ghost hunting.
I am not sure if this notice still applies, but I was told by the folks at Tennessee Hauntings the following a few years ago. I assume it still applies.
DO NOT VISIT THE HURST MANSION WITHOUT INVITATION FROM THE OWNER.
Vandals are making refurbishment difficult.
Do not visit the Hurst property or you are very likely to be shot and killed!
Questions will be asked after the fact, but you will be dead.
No matter what I write on Col. Hurst, it is dwarfed 1,000 fold by the slightest mention of GHOSTS. So, with Halloween fast approaching, I thought I would recap some of the good Hurst Ghost stories of the last few years. I understand that The Hurst Mansion has been host to a haunted house the last couple of years. I have no idea if they are doing that again. Quite frankly, I was amazed they pulled it off at all considering the condition of the home when I last saw it.
Fielding Hurst is an urban legend magnet. During and after the war, he was blamed for every atrocity that happened in West TN. Often with scant or no evidence. I am not saying Col. Hurst didn’t do his share of bad stuff, but the sheer volume of clearly fabricated is absurd. Revisionist history and word of mouth folk lore have resulted in Col Hurst being one of the greatest demons to ever set foot in West Tennessee.
The title of this post sounds like a bad Harry Potter novel. I just love running across posts like the following. It just goes to show how whacked out some of the stories about Col. Hurst have become in the time since his passing. Lots of these stories involve Fielding being murdered in the Hurst Mansion. This one from the shadowlands.com is especially entertaining, the bloodspot from hell.
One night after the battle of Shiolh, he was shot by Confederate supporter at the top of the stairs on the second floor. People say that his blood has stained the floor in the spot he died in, and everytime someone cleans it up, it comes back a few days later.
(Fielding died broke in Mt. Gilead of old age. He has already sold the Purdy property and had not lived there in some time at the time of his death. Boring, but true.)
Purdy is a small community in McNairy County, in the southern part of West Tn. It’s is located between Selmer and Adamsville. I have been to, and taken pictures of the cemetery. The oldest grave there is around the 1840s. I have also been there at night, several nights, with my grandmother. Once we talked to one of her good friends that grew up in Purdy. People say you can go there at night and hear sounds of old Confederate soliders. Also, many people have witnessed the ghosts of slaves that were forced to bury the dead. Many locals don’t go there, because they are affraid of the cemetery. However, everytime I go back to visit, I make sure I go to the cemetery. The original iron fences are still there, and the grave markers are still standing. Most of them anyway. To get to the cemetery you have to go down an old dirt road, which is about a mile long. I have heard things there. Sounds like little children playing. Once my grandfather’s friend saw a man, woman, and child riding in a horse pulled wagon. They had on old cloths that looked to be from the 1800s. He was clearing some trees from the road when he saw them. All of his machines went dead, and they didn’t start working again till the wagon was out of sight. There is also a house across from the cemetery that is believed to be haunted. It’s said that a Union general living there when the Union army came into Tn. He was also said to be a evil man. One night after the battle of Shiolh, he was shot by Confederate supporter at the top of the stairs on the second floor. People say that his blood has stained the floor in the spot he died in, and everytime someone cleans it up, it comes back a few days later. If your every in McNairy County, ask someone where Purdy is. I don’t know what the name of all the roads to get there is, but it’s not that hard of a place to find.
Kevin received a picture from Randy Lute that looked to show a face in the upstairs window of the Hurst Home in Purdy.
When I first started reading Kevin’s post, I assumed it was going to be this face or that maybe residue from this face had somehow become one with that window, because I think it is the same window. I recall seeing mention of a “face in the window” at the Purdy home a few years ago on one of the Ghost Hunter websites and chalked it up as this one.
Click photos to ENLARGE.
Here are Randy’s photos and the face does not look to match the cutout left by some long ago pranksters. Sure enough, there looks like a face in the middle pane’s upper left corner.
Randy’s photos …
OK, that’s nice, I thought. So, I went back and looked at the pictures that I had taken on a visit to the home back in 2004.
Low and behold, when I zoomed in on that window (top right), THERE’S A FACE!!! It’s not in the same window pane as Randy’s ghost and actually looks clearer. My wife suggested that maybe the ghost of Fielding Hurst has shrunk some since 2004.
In the spirit of Halloween, I am posting a couple of stories sent to me by Alan Murray. This one is by Russell Ingle and ran in the Independent Appeal on 10/24/2007. While some facts in this story may be off (myth and mystery concerning Col. Hurst is not new) or confederate propaganda and the Hitler reference is way over the top. Fiction or not, it’s a good read on Halloween for sure. Hurst moved from the Hurst Mansion in later life, sick and broke, and died in Mt. Gilead. Also, my camera worked fine in all rooms back in 2004 when I visited the Hurst Mansion and the Purdy Cemetery.
I can attest to the fact that the old cemetery in Purdy is ONE OF THE SCARIEST PLACES ON THE PLANET. I would not be caught dead there at night or even with nightfall approaching. The tiny dirt road to the cemetery is also scary and I was terrified of having my car break down and have to approach one of the also scary mobile homes along the road for help.
Great job by Russell Ingle on this story. Thanks Alan Murray for sending these stories to me and giving me permission to post them (keep them coming everyone!)
Ghosts of Purdy: Local lore elicits frightful thoughts
By RUSSELL INGLE Staff Writer
It’s a dark, cool October night and you find yourself in a haunted cemetery or near a haunted house. Are the hairs on the back of your neck standing yet?
There’s just something about the supernatural that either scares people senseless or intrigues them completely. Every small town has its urban legends or “haunted sites.” The scenarios may be the same, altered a bit depending on who’s telling the story, but regardless, every town has its stories, its tragic places and its unresting spirits. The subject of ghosts has fascinated people for hundreds of years, as it still does today.
The south, with all of its history, is known as one of the most haunted or spiritually active states in the nation. Tennessee is home to one of the most disturbing ghost stories of all time, the Bell Witch. There are several books about the witch, but many Americans heard the story for the first time in the movie An American Haunting. The Bell Witch is a story about John and Elizabeth Bell and their children, who lived in Adams, Tenn. in the 1800’s.
According to history, the story of the Bell Witch started in 1817 when the Bell family began experiencing strange phenomena in their home. First, the house was plagued with knocking and rapping noises and scratching sounds. As the spirit grew stronger, blankets were pulled from beds, family members were kicked, scratched and their hair pulled.
According to many reports, the spirit identified itself as the witch of Kate Batts, a neighbor of the Bells, with whom John had experienced bad business dealings over some purchased slaves. Though never explained, the Bell Witch story continues to fascinate. The Adams community isn’t the only Tennessee town to suffer the wrath of wayward spirits though. McNairyCounty is home to its own ghosts and possible hauntings.
Just down the road from Sullivan’s 1 Stop in Purdy sits not one, but two of the county’s oldest and scariest landmarks. For decades, the cemetery located at Purdy has been rumored to be haunted. Over the years, the location has been popular amongst thrill seekers and teens looking for a fright. One of the oldest cemeteries in Tennessee, the graveyard has supposedly been the site of floating apparitions and sounds. Some say the sounds of playing children can be heard at night. Others claim the sounds of Confederate soldiers can be heard after sunset. People have also reported that if you park on the left side of the circle drive your car will not start until dawn.
History dictates the real horror of Purdy was not centered only in the cemetery, but rather embodied in an individual that once called Purdy home. In fact, this individual, and many of his family members, didn’t refer to Purdy as Purdy at all. To them, the booming little community was called the Hurst Nation. The individual known as Colonel Fielding Hurst spread so much terror and destruction during his life, that many, then and now, would rather forget him altogether. Because of his horrific exploits though, Fielding Hurst will never be forgotten.
According to history, Colonel Fielding Hurst was a monster, some even referred to him as a demon. Demon he may not have been, but demonically inspired could have been closer to the truth. Factually speaking, Hurst was a Union sympathizer that committed many brutal crimes during the Civil War and built a sour reputation and a legend that would far out live him.
According to the McNairy County Independent, June 13, 1924, “Some time after the battle of Shiloh, April 6 and 7, 1862, Andrew Johnson, then Governor of Tennessee, authorized and commissioned Fielding Hurst to recruit and organize a regiment, and this regiment was known as the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry. About the first of October in that year, companies A, B, C, D, and G, were organized by Col. Hurst.” To Johnson’s regret though, Hurst proved more murderer than soldier.
According to legend, Hurst said he was driven by divine mandate to cleanse the land of Rebels. Just like Hitler slaughtered the Jews, Hurst spread a bloody trail and left mutilated bodies wherever he traveled. The story is told how, on a patrol to LaGrange, Hurst carried with him a band of Confederate prisoners and, at every mile post, killed one, cut their head off and hung it on a post.
On April 16, 1863, Col. E.W. Rice wrote to his commander Major General Oglisly concerning Hurst’s activities saying, “Colonel Hurst’s 1st W. Tenn. Cavalry is at Purdy for the purpose of destroying property. He has ordered the furniture removed from some of the houses and threatens to burn them. The colonel passed through line this morning but did not report to my headquarters, and I do not know by what authority he destroys the property.”
The letter went on to say Hurst destroyed homes and churches saying, “It was Hurst who played the role of Nero in Purdy, even singing songs and praying while the churches were burning.”
One of Hurst’s most notable murders was the killing of Lt. J.W. Dodds. Dodds was an officer in Colonel F. Newsome’s 18th Cavalry. A dispatch of General Forrest reads “Private Silas Hodges . . . states that he saw the body of Lt. Dodds very soon after his murder, and that it was horribly mutilated, the face having been skinned, the nose cut off, the under jaw disjointed, the privates cut off, and the body otherwise barbarously lacerated and most wantonly injured, and that his death was brought about by the most inhuman process of torture.”
Hurst’s Wurst, written by Kevin D. McCann, describes Colonel Fielding Hurst and the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry as monsters saying, “Fielding Hurst raised a regiment of fellow Southern Unionists called the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry with men from Decatur, Gibson, Hardin, McNairy, Perry, Wayne and Weakley counties. It was described by one Confederate soldier as ‘an ignorant posse of men led by vicious and unprincipled leaders’ who were’ the scourge and terror of the lower Eastern Counties of West Tennessee, and were as thoroughly detested and hated as any band of marauders who ever disgraced the name of soldiers’.”
In one of his more ambitious acts, Hurst attempted to destroy the city of Jackson, Tenn. by fire. He was unsuccessful, but not because of a lack of effort.
Hurst’s reputation was dark to say the least. His murderous ways led an unknown writer to pen this poem that was the apparent sentiment concerning Hurst:
“Despair for the children who lie now in bed.
The widow, the aged, the soldier who bled.
For out of the “Nation” comes a sickness and curse -
God save us all From the demon called Hurst.
Like vandals of old through our land they did ride
With Hunger and Death always close by their side.
Came Terror, his herald, but the wailing comes first . . .
We know he is coming, that demon called Hurst.”
Hurst was born in 1818, the son of Elijah Hurst, and moved to the McNairyCounty area in the 1830’s. Before the Civil War, he made his living as a surveyor, farmer and slaveholder. The Hurst home, located just off what is now known as Gann Road, was built before the war. Some say it is the oldest standing structure in McNairyCounty.
The house, which was a mansion when it was first built, is rumored to be haunted. According to some, Hurst died there after being shot by one of his many enemies. Some suggest Hurst died at the top of the stairs on the second floor and that on the anniversary of his death, the blood reappears and he can be heard screaming.
Hurst is buried in the Mt.GileadCemetery. The original gravestone simply reads Colonel Fielding Hurst, 6th Tenn. Cav. Though there are some conflicts, Hurst died in 1871.
The last known residents at the house were Miss Bessie and Miss Mary Dodds.
Today the house is owned by Tim Cathers of Memphis. Cathers purchased the property hoping to restore it to its former glory. Cathers says the way the house has been treated over the years has discouraged him. He is especially displeased with the damage caused by vandals.
Cathers gave the Independent Appeal permission to enter the old mansion and view the property. Once inside, the wear and tear of time along with what was apparently numerous break-ins, the real monster showed its face. Over the years, vandals had broken out windows, left trash and destroyed what furniture that remained in the house. The stairs’ railing had been ripped away and a large hole torn through the hardwood floor. Based on the number of beer cans at the cemetery and the house, the sites have long been a party destination for the disrespectful.
Cathers hinted he may be inclined to move the house if it is not left alone. “I just want to restore it, but it’s hard when people are more interested in tearing it up than just looking at it. If I have to move it to protect it, I will strongly consider it.”
More than a century has passed since Purdy was a booming community with a major university and Hurst terrorized the area. Once the seat of McNairyCounty, Purdy leadership would not allow the railroad to go through their town, thus sealing their fate. Many citizens left Purdy for communities near or on the railroad for economic reasons. That in turn resulted in a move to relocate the county seat to Selmer.
Much like the cemetery and the old Hurst house, there isn’t much left at Purdy today. With the exception of those that hope to catch a glimpse of the ghost of Fielding Hurst or the troubled spirits in the local cemetery, all is quiet.
The strange little cemetery and the Hurst house just may have the last word though. Down the narrow road that is home to broken tombstones, raught iron fences and a decaying old house, the spirits want to be left alone. While in the house last Friday, a strange occurrence took place. When attempting to take photographs in the upstairs bedroom, the room purported to be where Hurst died, the camera being used mysteriously stopped working. In every other room and location inside and outside the house, and in the cemetery, the camera worked. Could this have been Hurst’s way of saying stay away? Sounds like good advice. Heed the posted signs and avoid the haunting of Colonel Fielding Hurst and the ghosts of Purdy.
Is Purdy a real Ghost Town? By Alan Murray Staff Writer
In its heyday in the mid-1800’s, Purdy was described by A.W. Stowall as “a place with beautiful streets, costly houses, rich gardens, aromatic flowers, brave men and noble women, pretty girls and playful boys … picture of perfection.”
Purdy featured a college, theatre, hotel, law offices, eateries, taverns, and the typical assortment of stores and businesses one would associate with a growing, thriving town of that era.David (Davy) Crockett even made the first speech in the new courthouse in 1831. No one doubted that Purdy, with so much going for it and being the county seat of McNairyCounty, would continue to prosper and remain the cultural and economic center for the area.But that isn’t what happened.
A decision was made, no one is sure why, to keep the railroad out of Purdy. Perhaps the citizens feared that the noisy, messy trains would spoil their idyllic community. For whatever reason, the railroad was kept out and Purdy’s fate was sealed.
Purdy also had a darker side.
The infamous Colonel Fielding Hurst, whether because of the murder of his nephew and mishandling of his invalid mother by Confederate troops or his zealous Unionist views, left death and destruction in his wake all across west Tennessee. Hurst hunted down and killed six of the Confederates responsible for his nephew’s death and used their heads as mile posts along the roadside. He ransacked, looted and burned towns as far away as Jackson.
Purdy was not spared his wrath. He burned many homes and businesses in Purdy. Those that escaped burning soon relocated along the railroad. The county seat was eventually moved to Selmer, and in the blink of a eye, Purdy became a ghost town.
The old stage road, now deeply sunken and choked with trees, is still there. The road was the main artery between Memphis and Nashville during the 1800’s, and crosses McNairyCounty roughly east to west. In one place, the road passes quite near one of the two graveyards in Purdy.In this area, several unexplainable things have happened.
Mr. Wallace Hurst, now deceased, was a lifelong resident of Purdy.He believed there were ghosts there, and after listening to him, you would begin to believe as well.
This is the story Mr. Hurst told to me, as best I can remember it.
Wallace worked at my grandfather Virgil Murray’s sawmill when I was a boy, and later worked with my father off and on when he and his brothers needed help logging.
He told me about sitting up one night during a bad thunderstorm. Wallace’s wife had died some time before and was buried in the graveyard just down the road from his home but, as the lightning flashes lit up the area bright as day, he saw his wife walk up the road from the graveyard.
When she got to the mailbox, she turned toward the house, waved and, with an especially bright flash of lightning, disappeared.
My grandfather had told me scary stories as a young boy, and they always seemed just that: scary stories.I don’t remember any of them scaring me in quite the same way Wallace’s story did. I also got the impression that Wallace’s story wasn’t one he told often.
My uncle, John Ross Murray, was logging by himself along the old road just north of the same graveyard about 20 years ago. He saw something that he says changed his life.John only told this story to a very few people, until he agreed to let Billy Wagoner print it in the Community Shopper (now the Community News) of Adamsville, almost five years later.
John had picked up his chainsaw to begin trimming some treetops. He pulled and pulled the starter rope, but the saw failed to start. Disgusted, he tried to crank his tractor to bunch some logs, and it refused to start. Same for his log truck. None of his equipment would crank.
He sat down, since there was nothing else to do, and caught a glimpse of something moving up the old stage road. As it drew closer, he could see that it was an old covered wagon with the canvas off, being pulled by a pair of mules, one black and one white. A man and woman sat on the front seat, there was a little girl standing behind the woman, and a little boy sitting on the tailgate of the wagon. There was a cow being led behind the wagon and a little dog running along beside it. The people were dressed in old fashioned clothes, the women with bonnets that hid their faces. John said they came by him close enough that he could smell them.
Thinking it was a local family of Mennonites, he waved to them. They acted as if they didn’t see him and continued up the old roadbed. As they passed by him and over a hill, he realized that the road ahead was blocked with treetops he hadn’t yet cleared. When he went to tell the people that the road was blocked, they were gone. Tracks and all. Not a trace of them remained. After they were gone, his equipment began to work again. He finished loading his logs and left and returned with his brother and a friend, but were never able to find any evidence of the wagon’s passage.
John says that he’s been called crazy and worse because of what he saw, but others believe. Two men working for the TVA on the watershed lake just west of the graveyard saw the wagon too. They left and refused to come back. Frank Hurst also claimed to have seen the mysterious wagon, and there are rumors that others have seen it as well.
There are other stories about Purdy and the surrounding area. You don’t get many of them first-hand.
I remember hearing one about a young couple who was parked in their car at the same graveyard. They kept hearing what they thought was someone tapping on their car window. Thinking it was a friend playing a joke on them, they looked out to discover it was the boots of a hanged man striking the window as he swung from a tree limb (a slave named James Ervin was hanged in Purdy in 1860).
Just a few miles east of Purdy, the old stage road passes through the community of Good Hope, where it met with roads from Crump’s Landing, Pittsburgh and Hamburg. A friend of mine told me a story that his grandmother, Hassie Rowland, told to him. She said that when she was a little girl, she remembered riding in their mule-drawn buggy with her daddy after dark along the Good Hope Church Road. When they got to a certain place along the road, where the old stage road crossed, a ball of light would come out of the woods and race around the mule’s feet, frightening the mules badly. She told him it was all her daddy could do to hold onto the reins and keep the mules from bolting.
These are a few of the local ghost stories I remember. I hope I’ve told them correctly, and my apologies to anyone I misquoted.
Do I believe in ghosts? I’m not sure. During the light of day, it’s easy to brush off stories of haunts and phantoms, but at night, alone in the woods near Purdy, I’m not so sure. But don’t listen to me, you can go and see for yourself.
Just don’t go at night, and don’t go alone.
*Note: Unfortunately, not everyone who visits the old graveyards in Purdy is looking for ghosts. Vandals have heavily damaged the north graveyard, and both are littered with dumped garbage, beer bottles and other unmentionables. For safety’s sake, and to avoid any confusion as to motives, please only visit these places during daylight hours, and don’t leave anything behind other than footprints. Also, a special thanks to Billy Wagoner and Ms. Nancy Kennedy for their excellent research and articles about Purdy and its history and ghosts, which were used as reference material for this article, and to John Ross Murray.
One man’s war crime is another man’s justice. This looks to be the case in regards to Fielding Hurst and the Road to Pocahontas legend. The story known to most is along the lines of the following account by W. Clay Crook in his infamously one-sided article on Fielding Hurst, Hurst!
In August, Hurst surrounded and captured Captain Wharton and a portion of his men on the road from Purdy to Pocohontas. They were murdered. Ms. Emma Inman Williams writes in Historic Madison that they were buried as mile markers along that road. Mr. G. Tiliman Stewart, Henderson County historian until his death in 1986, remarked in 1977 that only the bodies were buried . . . the heads were placed on mile markers already existing on the road from Purdy to Lexington. In any event, the murders must have been horrible as various civilians wrote Confederate authorities about the matter. That of Mr. D. M. Wisdom reached Jefferson Davis himself. -Hurst! by W. Clay Crook
I don’t have sources from “various civilians”, I only have one and it is rather vague; the Dew M. Wisdom letter. Boring actually, when compared to the legend of decapitated heads placed on mile-markers. (If you have any other letters related to this incident, please let me know here).
There is no mention of Fielding’s nephew being murdered a short time before the Wharton incident. Young William Hurst, 18, was the son of Fielding’s brother Elza. He was captured by the confederates, tied to a tree, and shot between the eyes. His mother was then roused from bed and apparently fell, injuring her hip. Was Hurst justified in being judge, jury, and executioner for Captain Wharton and his men? Maybe not, but he was certainly authorized. Martial law was not a pretty thing. A perusing of the Lieber Code of 1863, also known as Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, makes it very clear that captured prisoners can be executed based on the vaguest of stories and at the judgement of field officer.
While deception in war is admitted as a just and necessary means of hostility, and is consistent with honorable warfare, the common law of war allows even capital punishment for clandestine or treacherous attempts to injure an enemy, because they are so dangerous, and it is so difficult to guard against them.
While not making excuses for Col. Hurst, it seems that both sides were given the authority to dish out justice as they saw fit.
The original D.M. Wisdom letter, is often considered the source of the “heads placed on pike’s as mile markers” legend, although nowhere in the letter does Mr. Wisdom make any such claim. Here is the actual letter. Below is my attempted translation. Thanks to Kevin McCann for a copy of the letter.
Colonel RoddeyHead Qrs. Forrests Regt July 23rd 1863 I have just learned from a source entitled to the highest credit that a few days ago Capt. Dock Wharton of Col. Wilson’s Regt had a smirmish with a portion of Col Hurst’s Renegade Regt. In the skirmish Capt Wharton was wounded ??? ??? and 4 of his men captured. When brought into Col. Hurst ??? ??? he told Wharton that he should be killed. Wharton replied if you kill me 10 of your men will go up for me. Hurst was true to his word, for on the road heading from Pocahontas Purdy to Pocahontas, Hurst had capt. Wharton and his 4 men shot. The names of the men are as follows – ???? Starks, George (Brown, Doctor Hugh Hollis and ??? Morgan. I was acquanted well with every man shot except Morgan and know them to have been good and true men in peace, as well as in war. Capt. Wharton served under me one year in the 13th Tenn Regt and a braver man has not perished in this unholy war. He received a severe wound in the fieldof Shiloh, and still fought on, when his very life blood was fast ebbing away and before he re ????????? from his command. I know that ??? was again at the past of duty and ????? Against his character as a private citizen there never was a ???? of suspicion. But he dared to fight ??? a ?????. ???? for his home and freinds and on his account a murderous ??? has denied him of his life. Can not his words be verified and 10 men be slain for him? Is it not a case for retailiation? Should not our authorities demand that Hurst be given over to justice> It is prefer ??? to state that Hurst said Capt. Wharton was a guerilla and had been seeking his life. You know the falsity of the charges, if not I would state that Capt. Wharton had a company regularly enlisted into Capt. Wilson’s Rgmt, and his authority you have seen. I hope you will pardon the length of his communication but justice to the gallant dead required that I ????? not ??? less. The fate of Wharton and his comrades should evoke a storm of indignation from the entire Army, and ????? every Southern Heart to “????! til the last armed ???? expires”! Respectfully, D.M. Wisdom Respectufually forwarded to ? Bragg. Tho ???? of the statements made ???? ?? by NW M P???? Col C???
Below is a letter written to General Bragg that discusses Dew Moore Wisdom’s original letter, which had made it all the way up the chain of command to Jefferson Davis himself. In the reply below from CSA Secretary of Defense, James A. Seddon, it is made abundantly clear that Jefferson Davis himself authorized retaliation. He authorizes field commanders to weigh the evidence and be judge, jury, and executioner if needed. The very thing Hurst himself is accused of doing.
“To repress this abuse a corresponding power must sometimes be exerted by our own officers.” – Jefferson Davis
Both sides seem guilty of attempting to right war crimes with MORE WAR CRIMES. The official response from the CSA to alleged war crimes is to basically do the exact same things. They are doing evil, so we have to do evil to combat it. Much like today, terrorism and occupation breed more of the same. The “Eye for an eye” philosophy was alive and well in 1963.
A few days later, members of the 1st West Tennessee skirmished with a squad of four soldiers from Colonel Andrew N. Wilson’s Tennessee Cavalry regiment led by Cpatian John Ambrose “Dock” Wharton near Purdy. Colonel Hurst believed them to be guerrillas rather than Confederate soldiers. They had allegedly murdered William Hurst (son of Fielding’s brother Elza), typing him to a tree and shooting him between the eyes. William’s mother had also been injured when they tried to steal her bed sheets from under her, causing her to fall to the floor and break her hip. A Hurst family story claimed the dquad was actually looking for Elza Hurst, believing he had stolen horses from them. His wife claimed he was out of state to explain his absence. The men saw his son plowing in a nearby field, dragged him to the road, and killed him instead.
During the fight, Wharton was wounded and his men were captured. He was taken to Hurst, who claimed the Confederate captain “had been seeking his life” and determined to take his instead. Wharton vowed that “if you kill me 10 of your men will go up for me,” implyingthey would be hanged for his death. He and his men were shot and killed and their bodies left on the road from Purdy to Pochontas. One of them, a twenty-four year old from Alabama named Thomas W.S. Morgan, was left to die. The Locke family that lived nearby heard his cries and nursed him as best they could, but they feared taking him into their home would anger Hurst and his men. There he died and was buried. - Hurst’s Wurst: Colonel Fielding Hurst and the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry U.S.A. by Kevin McCann p40-41.
GENERAL: A letter of D. M. Wisdom (addressed to Colonel Roddey,of the 23d ultimo, was referred from your headquarters to this Department and has been submitted to the President. The letter contained a narrative of the capture of Captain Wharton and a portion of his men by Colonel Hurst, of the U. S. Army, and the murder of the captured party on the road from Purdy to Pocahontas. The President directs that you will inquire into the accuracy of the statement of Mr. Wisdom, and that when you are satisfied on that subject you will adopt such retaliatory measures as are authorized by the usages of war, without awaiting specific instructions or making any reference to this Department. And this course will be adopted not only in this case, but whenever such instances of enormity and wickedness in violation of the laws of war shall come to your knowledge. The subject is placed under your control as a military commander, and you are expected to exercise a wise discretion in reference to it. The enemy have, in their Military Order, No. 100, declaring the laws and usages of war, allowed to their subordinate commanders every latitude for cruelty and injustice that they can desire, and we hear from every quarter that they are not slow in using and abusing the authority given. To repress this abuse a corresponding power must sometimes be exerted by our own officers.
African American Descendents of Colonel Fielding Hurst
By James Overton, Ph.D.
Great Grand Son of Colonel Fielding Hurst
Most of the history of the South in the post Civil War era is written by European American authors who
generally ignore the African American point of view. Therefore, the history of the South is inadequate and incomplete because one of the key players has not had his opportunity to speak. The purpose of this
article is to present an African American view of two of the South’s most well-known personalities: Fielding Hurst and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Please note the author of this article is the African American great grand son of Fielding Hurst. Also, it should be pointed out that a large portion of the European Americans of the South believes that Fielding Hurst was the devil himself and Nathan Bedford Forrest was a saint. They have a right to their point of view. But I am sure that they would not be surprised to discover that African Americans do not hold that same view.
At Bethel Springs, Tennesse, on U.S. Highway 45 stands a historical marker which reads:
In this section lived numerous members of the Hurst Family, who were staunch Unionist in a predominantly Confederate area. It’s best known member was Col. Fielding Hurst, commanding the 6th Tennessee Cavalry, an irregular Union group which skirmished and scouted for various Federal commanders in the area. (1)
Traveling a few miles southward on various backroads, one can find the community of Purdy, years ago the county seat of McNairy County but now sparsely populated, where Fielding Hurst once made his home. (2) Even though the Civil War had been fought almost a hundred years prior to the placement of the marker, feeling against Hurst was still so intense in his hometown of Purdy that citizens refused to allow the highway marker to be placed there. Instead it was erected at nearby Bethel Springs. (3)
(2) In 1890 the seat of government was moved to Selmer because Purdy failed to be a point on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. J. Louis Adams, “Old Purdy,” West Tennesse Historical Society Papers 6 (1952), 11-12.
(3) Robert M. McBride, “The Confederate Sins of Major Cheairs,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 23 (June 1964)
Despair for the children
who lie now in bed.
The widow, the aged
the soldier who bled.
For out of the "Nation"
comes a sickness and curse -
God save us all
From the demon called Hurst.
Like vandals of old
through our land they did ride
With Hunger and Death
always close by their side.
Came Terror, his herald -
but the wailing comes first . . .
We know he is coming,
That demon called Hurst.