Monday, October 26, 2009

William Tillman Bishop, Bexar native

William Tillman Bishop

Born September 25, 1823 Bibb County, Alabama
Died October 1, 1891 Bexar, Marion County, Alabama

William was the son of Ephraim Allen Lewis Bishop and Elizabeth Corley. The Bishop family came to Alabama from the Spartanburg area of South Carolina when new land became available following the War of 1812. Sometime after 1840, several Bishops moved north to Marion County, including my great-great-great grandfather William Tillman Bishop.

William settled at Bexar, near the Mississippi state line. He married Ann Bryan McDonald, of Scottish heritage, in 1848 and the couple had two daughters, Elizabeth, my great-great grandmother, and Mary Katheryn. The little girls were just 2 and 1 years of age when their mother died. Shortly thereafter, William remarried to Sarah A. Johnson, and together they had eight children.

Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861. W. T. Bishop volunteered for the Confederate army, enlisting on August 16, 1861. He entered service as First Lieutenant under Captain Alexander Helveston, Company G, 16th Alabama Infantry. He was 38 years old. It would be over three years before he would return home to stay, with the last year of his service to the Confederacy being spent as one of the Immortal 600 prisoners of war.

Like many Southern families, particularly those in northwestern Alabama, the Bishops saw brothers on both sides of the conflict. In fact, William appeared to be in the minority in his family. Two of his brothers, two cousins and an uncle all enlisted with the Union. Contrary to the image or perception held today that all Southerners were ardent supporters of the "War of Secession," many in the South either opposed the war or were apathetic to it. In the hill counties of northwestern Alabama, where large slave-run farms or plantations were practically nonexistent, there were strong anti-secession feelings.

The 16th Alabama Infantry was organized at Courtland in Lawrence County just days following the Union army's defeat at the Battle of Manassas, the first major land battle of the Civil War. After the shockingly easy victory by the Confederate forces, many in the South thought that the war could be quickly won, and it was in this environment that William volunteered for duty.

In a letter home dated December 11, 1861, William writes that his battalion was headed to Kentucky with provisions. He instructs his daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, to be "good girls until I get home" and notes that he is happy that his family was able to obtain salt but worries that unusually warm weather may spoil the family's meat. Also in his December letter, William writes that "they hung one of the bridge burners here today." He is referring to a November strike by "Tories" on a number of bridges in east Tennessee. Southerners who were loyal to the Union had organized in the area, and one of their first acts was to set fire to key railroad bridges, thus crippling critical supply lines for the Confederacy. Several of the Southern sympathizers were caught and executed on the spot by hanging. William apparently witnessed such a hanging.

The 16th Alabama Infantry saw action at Fishing Creek, Kentucky and at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, and at the Battle of Murfreesboro in Tennessee which lasted until early 1863. In June 1863, during an apparent lull in action by the 16th Alabama Infantry between the battles at Murfreesboro and Chickamauga, William Tillman Bishop was captured by enemy forces at his home in Bexar, beginning his sixteen month experience as a prisoner of war.

Tune in tomorrow for more about William Tillman Bishop, one of the Immortal 600 of the Civil War.

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