William T. McLane: Eulogy for a Confederate Soldier

Gravesite rededication ceremony on 3 November 2012, in Fincastle Texas
Gravesite rededication ceremony on 3 November 2012, in Fincastle Texas

On 3 November 2012, the Sons of Confederate Veterans performed a gravesite re-dedication ceremony for William T. McLane.  William and his wife, Camilla, are buried in Fincastle, Texas.  I prepared the following remarks based upon several months of research into the life of the McLanes; they were delivered by his great-great-grandson, Chris A. Nettles:

In the spring of 1862, at the age of 23, William T. McLane kissed his wife of two years goodbye and headed east into Henry County, Alabama, about a day’s walk.  With him were his brother-in-law, 22 year old Thomas Phillips, and Thomas’ 16 year old brother George.  On 10 May, they along with other men from Barbour and Henry counties, were entered into the muster rolls for as privates in Company H of the 37th Alabama Infantry.  On 13 May, the regiment officially entered into service in the Confederate Army.

The regiment headed to Selma to board a riverboat for Mobile, and then by train to Tupelo.  Delayed by mechanical failures, they were diverted to Columbus, Mississippi and were forced to carry their overloaded packs from Artesia to Columbus.  New to soldiering, the men had yet to strip themselves of all but the most necessary equipment.  Arriving late on the 8th of June, the exhausted men fell to the ground wherever there was space to sleep.  On waking, they were horrified to find themselves among thousands of sick and wounded soldiers.  It is here that they encountered the realities of military medicine and close quarters living in the Civil War armies — more would die of disease than of wounds suffered on the battlefield.  50 men of the regiment died of measles and other diseases within the next 90 days.  By September, the original contingent of 700 soldiers was reduced to an effective strength of 304 men.

The men must have chafed at being assigned to guard duty for so long, picked off by disease while they waited for their first action.  It came swiftly enough, as on 10 September, the regiment began a fast march toward Iuka, Mississippi, a strategically located town on the border of Tennessee and essential to Confederate logistics.  On the 18th, Confederate and Union forces engaged and fought fiercely through the next day for control of the town.  The 37th Alabama, out of the 304 men, lost 12 KIA and another 43 wounded.   As the war progressed, the 37th would continue this pattern of fierce fighting — often with weapons that were little better than clubs — and accompanying heavy losses.  [1. For more about the regiment’s history and the men who served in it, please visit the 37th Regiment of Alabama Volunteers.]

The regiment subsequently took part in the battle of Corinth, losing heavily in casualties. Its brigade commander fell at Corinth, and the Thirty-seventh was thrown into a brigade with the Second Texas, and Forty-second Alabama, Gen. John C. Moore commanding. The winter was spent in Mississippi, – the regiment retreated to Holly Springs, and helped repulse the invaders at Chicasa Bayou. Early in 1863, the Thirty-seventh was sent to the Sunflower River, but went back in time to take part in the battles of Port Gibson and Baker’s Creek, where its losses were severe. The regiment was then a portion of the garrison of Vicksburg, and shared in the perils of that siege, where it was captured with the fortress in 1863.

The regiment was in parole camp at Demopolis when it was freed in an exchange. Ordered to the Army of Tennessee, it lost heavily at Lookout Mountain, and quite a number at Mission Ridge. The winter was passed at Dalton, GA, where Gen. Baker of Barbour County took charge of the brigade. At Mill-creek Gap, Resaca, Noonday Creek, Kennesaw, and the series of battles around Atlanta, the colors of the Thirty-seventh floated at the front, as its long list of casualties shows. In one charge at Atlanta, July 22, its commander and 40 men were killed outright, out of 300 men present. During the fall and winter, the Thirty-seventh was on garrison duty at Spanish Fort, but moved into North Carolina. It broke the enemy’s line at Bentonville, and furled its tattered banner a few days later, with 300 of its number present of the 1100 with which it took the field.[2. http://www.archives.state.al.us/referenc/alamilor/37thinf.html]

William McLane’s war ended — but the worst may have just begun — on 22 July 1864, when he was taken prisoner in Atlanta.  He was sent to holding camps at Nashville and Louisville before reaching the Union POW camp at Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio.

The winter of 1864-5 was bitterly cold in Ohio.  Southern soldiers, by this stage of the war universally malnourished and often suffering from chronic illness, were ill-equipped to withstand the hardship.  With temperatures dropping to -18, starving prisoners inside unheated tents huddled under the single blanket issued to each man.  Shoeless or not, they were required to stand for hours while the daily muster was taken lest they forfeit their food ration.  More than 50% of all Confederate deaths at Camp Chase occurred the winter of 1865, half of those in February. [3. Read more about Camp Chase here.]

In March, 1865, he was transferred to City Point, VA as part of an exchange and was released — some 600 miles from home.  By the time he returned to Camilla’s arms, his face forever scarred by a bullet, he had traveled over 3700 miles since 1862 — much of it on foot.  Thomas Phillips also came home, but his younger brother George, did not.  George was taken prisoner in December, 1864 near Pollard, Alabama; he was exchanged in May of 1865 in New Orleans and died on the 21st of dysentery.  He is buried in Monument Greenwood Cemetery there.

William and Camilla had nine children, of whom eight survived infancy.  Between 1869-1870, the McLane clan – along with many others from Barbour County, including the Phillips and Dansby’s – moved to Texas (via ship from Mobile) and settled in Henderson County, Texas, mostly around Fincastle.  They continued to work as farmers and obeyed the Lord’s dictum to be fruitful and multiply.  Seven children were born in that first Texas generation; their oldest child, Leila, married James Monroe Dansby, who also had come from Barbour County Alabama.  Leila and James had one child before she died, named Lenna.  James married Leila’s sister, Hannie McLane, and they had nine more children.

Lenna married James Frederick Nettles, whose family had come to Henderson County from Georgia.  They had six children.  Their oldest daughter was named after her grandmother, Leila; she married Marion Walker and it is their son, James Hubert Walker, who is here today as William’s oldest living descendant.  His son, James, is with us also.

Lenna and Frederick’s fourth child, was William Ross, who was my grandfather.

William and Camilla died of pneumonia within four days of each other in January, 1902.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans present the flag to James H. Walker, the oldest living descendant of William T. Mclane.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans present the flag to James H. Walker, the oldest living descendant of William T. Mclane.

We are proud to be the grandsons of a man who served his country, in a cause he believed in, who persevered through tremendous hardship and danger to return to his family.  We are proud to come from a family that had the courage and optimism to push westward in search of a better life and to build our great country.  We are proud to be farmers, continuing in the tradition of many generations of our family.  Today, we are especially proud to gather at his gravesite, to honor his contributions to our country and keep his memory alive.  We thank the Sons of Confederate Veterans, W.H. Howdy Martin Camp #1241, for taking the care and interest in one lowly Private’s grave to ensure it remains properly marked for future generations to reflect upon.  A terrible war nearly destroyed our young country; we are blessed in that — unlike so many other countries who have endured civil war, unlike so many enemies who have misjudged us — our differences are less important than our common bonds and we remain one country, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.