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The Burning of Centerville and Vernon Tennessee During the Civil War

Updated on December 13, 2017
Glenn Waters profile image

I enjoy collecting amazing vintage items as a fun and educational way to relive the joys of the past.

Union Troops Occupied the Courthouse in Centerville, Tennessee

Captain Cross and his band of Confederate soldiers made a late night, sneak attack, and burned to the ground the once beloved Centerville Courthouse building to prevent its further use by the occupying Union army.
Captain Cross and his band of Confederate soldiers made a late night, sneak attack, and burned to the ground the once beloved Centerville Courthouse building to prevent its further use by the occupying Union army.

In the year 1864 Union troops occupied Centerville, Tennessee

In the year 1864 Northern troops occupied Centerville, Tennessee, and used the town as a Union outpost and base of operations in Hickman County. Centerville the county seat of Hickman County, and Vernon one of the oldest settlements in Hickman were the scenes of considerable conflict that year. The venerable stately courthouse had been converted to a fortress, impervious to small arms, the Union troops had occupied the building, and converted many of the rooms into a large storage depot for Union army arms and ammunition.

Vernon had been the first County Seat for Hickman County TN

 According to one resident. They left the entire town in ruins, a smoking mass of coals and ashes over which Desolation reigned supreme. Union troops then duplicated that outrage at once beautiful town of Vernon, leaving nothing to rebuild.
According to one resident. They left the entire town in ruins, a smoking mass of coals and ashes over which Desolation reigned supreme. Union troops then duplicated that outrage at once beautiful town of Vernon, leaving nothing to rebuild.

Desolation Reigned Supreme, Centerville & Vernon Tennessee

Captain Cross and his band of Confederate soldiers made a late night, sneak attack, and burned to the ground with only the shell standing, the once beloved Centerville Courthouse building to prevent its further use by the occupying Union army. The Northern commanders sent in Union troops under Captain John Taylor, Company F, 2nd Mounted Infantry sometime known as the ruthless Perry County "Jayhawkers". These Union troops were instructed by Northern Commanders to burn the entire business portion of the town of Centerville, along with many stately and fine private homes. According to one resident, ‘The Union troops left the entire town of Centerville in ruins, the town was a smoking mass of hot coals and ashes covered everything for miles. All over the community of Centerville down to the banks of the Duck River total desolation and complete destruction reigned supreme in every direction.

Centerville Courthouse Build in 1845 & Burned to a Shell in 1864

The the first Courthouse in Centervile Painstakingly rebuilt in 1867 using the original bricks, and with a great deal of love. The once beloved Centerville Courthouse building
The the first Courthouse in Centervile Painstakingly rebuilt in 1867 using the original bricks, and with a great deal of love. The once beloved Centerville Courthouse building

An Act of Terrorism on the Beautiful & Stately Town of Vernon

Union troops then were ordered to duplicated the act of terrorism on the once beautiful and stately town of Vernon, and the outrageous of the attack was so great it left nothing of Vernon to rebuild, not one barn, home or store left standing, all were chard-burnt ruins. Vernon had been the first County Seat for Hickman County Tennessee, and this was a deep cultural blow to the county of Hickman, and it took many years to recover from this unjustified rape of these two communities. All the court records prior to 1864 were destroyed in the burning of the Centerville Courthouse. All marriage records, birth, census and deeds were destroyed. Basically the entire history of this county prior to 1864 was left in ashes.

Centerville, TN, Town Square looking all Magical for Christmas

The Rebuilt Downtown Centerville TN in Hickman County Today

The phrase "burned counties" was first used for research in Virginia and Tennessee where many county records were destroyed in courthouse fires, or during the Civil War.
The phrase "burned counties" was first used for research in Virginia and Tennessee where many county records were destroyed in courthouse fires, or during the Civil War.

The Last Courthouse, Build on the Ruins of the old City Center

Build on the ruins of the old City Center, the new Centerville Hickman County Courthouse. Hickman County was established in 1807. It was named in honer of Edwin Hickman a long hunter and gallant explorer who was killed by Indians in 1791.
Build on the ruins of the old City Center, the new Centerville Hickman County Courthouse. Hickman County was established in 1807. It was named in honer of Edwin Hickman a long hunter and gallant explorer who was killed by Indians in 1791.

Historic Downtown Centerville Tennessee in Hickman County

Hickman County's First Courthouse & Jail, Stood in Vernon Tenn.

In the midst of the pioneer town of Vernon. The legislative act making Centerville the count seat was passed in 1821, and the courthouse was moved there bodily in 1823.
In the midst of the pioneer town of Vernon. The legislative act making Centerville the count seat was passed in 1821, and the courthouse was moved there bodily in 1823.

Hickman County Tennessee, Centerville Courthouse at Christmas

Lost marriage records: 1807 to 1868, Lost probate records: 1807 to 1866

Hickman 1864 fire

Record Loss

1864 Hickman County Courthouse Fire damaged courthouse records.

  • Lost censuses: 1810
  • Lost marriage records: 1807 to 1868
  • Lost probate records: 1807 to 1866
  • Because of a courthouse fire in 1864, the marriage books began with 1868 and went through 1894. The records prior to 1868 were gathered from many sources: loose papers in the courthouse vault, family Bibles, obituaries, census records, and two earlier publications: Court Records of Hickman County, Tennessee, 1833-1856 and Marriages of Hickman County, Tennesseeby Leeper. This is a well-researched and helpful listing of early marriages that cannot be found in official records along.

    Marriage records (Hickman County, Tennessee), 1868-1961; index to marriages, 1868-1974; Author: Hickman County (Tennessee). County Court Clerk

    Old marriage records of Hickman County, Tennessee; Author: Daughters of the American Revolution. Duck River Chapter (Tennessee)

Burned to the Ground the Once Beloved Centerville Courthouse

  All the court records prior to 1864 were destroyed in the burning of the Centerville Courthouse. All marriage records, birth, census and deeds were destroyed. Basically the entire history of this county prior to 1864 was left in ashes.
All the court records prior to 1864 were destroyed in the burning of the Centerville Courthouse. All marriage records, birth, census and deeds were destroyed. Basically the entire history of this county prior to 1864 was left in ashes.

1863 General Davis's Captured thirty Confederates at Bon Aqua

Earlier in the Civil War in Hickman County, the famous Confederate Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and Joseph Wheeler passed through Centerville, Tennessee, when they were on their retreat after the Battle of Dover on February 3, 1863, when their attack on the Union garrison there failed. At this time the Union General Jefferson C. Davis left Franklin Tennessee and attempted to overtake and intercept the retreating Confederates forces but he and his troops had little success. Slowed by extremely cold weather, bad muddy roads, and unfriendly to the Yankee troops citizens of Hickman County, General Jefferson Davis's troops captured only about thirty Confederates prisoners at the village of Weems, which is now known as the town of Bon Aqua, in Hickman County ...

A 1862 Photo of a Hickman County Confederate, Bon Aqua Area

General Jefferson Davis's troops captured only about thirty Confederates prisoners at the village of Weems, which is now known as the town of Bon Aqua  in Hickman County ...
General Jefferson Davis's troops captured only about thirty Confederates prisoners at the village of Weems, which is now known as the town of Bon Aqua in Hickman County ...

Lieutenant Jordan W. Creasy, was a Monster in their Midst's

According to may citizens of Hickman County during the Civil War Lieutenant Jordan W. Creasy, was a monster in their midst's. He was in Company E, the 12th Union Cavalry. Jordan Creasy was described as being extremely proficient in the burning of houses, barns and businesses. He and his cavalry were experts at the robbing of defenseless homesteads, and farms, and they were proficient in insulting of unprotected women. Creasy and his cavalry were also responsible according to the remaining local authority as being the most cowardly, cruel, and brutal murderers in the history of Hickman County.

Union Lieutenant Jordan W. Creasy, Proficient in Burning Houses

Creasy and his cavalry were also responsible according to the remaining local authority as being the most cowardly, cruel, and brutal murderers in the history of Hickman County.
Creasy and his cavalry were also responsible according to the remaining local authority as being the most cowardly, cruel, and brutal murderers in the history of Hickman County.

A New Downtown District of Centerville was Rebuilt by the 1920s

By the 1920s most of the Downtown District of Centerville was Rebuilt from the Ruins of the old that was burned during Civil War. But the scars of the Civil War left a deep psychological scar on the character of this community to this day.
By the 1920s most of the Downtown District of Centerville was Rebuilt from the Ruins of the old that was burned during Civil War. But the scars of the Civil War left a deep psychological scar on the character of this community to this day.

Tennessee and the Civil War, and the Daggers of the Civil War

Map of Hickman County Tennessee around 1890 Civil Districts

Map of Hickman County Tennessee around 1890
Map of Hickman County Tennessee around 1890

Union Captain John Taylor leaves Downtown Centerville in Ruins

In the Civil War year of 1864, the Hickman County Courthouse and Centerville's bustling business district around the public square became a horrible chard, burned-out war zone of desolation. Confederate troops under the command of Col. Jacob B. "Jake" Biffle were in hot pursued of Col. John Murphy's 2nd Tennessee Mounted Infantry for over two days from the Buffalo river, which is about forty miles west of Centerville. The Union troops reached Centerville and occupied the courthouse, they turned it into a fortress. The Courthouse in Centerville at this time was very well made, these Union troops were protected by the thick brick walls of the Courthouse, it was here that they temporarily held off Col. Jacob Biffle's Confederate troops, who had no heavy artillery. When the Col. Hacob Biffle was distracted by Northern forces that were laying waste and pillaging local farms in the surrounding communities, the Union troops abandoned the Courthouse and retreated to the safety of fortified Nashville. Tragically Confederate Capt. Albert H. Cross ordered the courthouse in Centerville burned to prevent its reuse as a fortress for the occupying Northern troops. In retaliation, Union Captain John W. Taylor's company (2nd Tennessee), known as the Perry County Jayhawkers, returned to Hickman County with the wrath of Hades, and burned all the fine commercial buildings, warehouses, as well many private dwellings; leaving Centerville in ruins that took many years of hard work to rebuild to half its former glory.

Union Major General Jefferson C. Davis, the Wind of Death 1863

Union Major General Jefferson Columbus Davis, the leading wind of death for Centerville and Vernon Tennessee during the Civil War ... General Jefferson Davis's troops were given a free hand in the treatment of Communities in Hickman County ...
Union Major General Jefferson Columbus Davis, the leading wind of death for Centerville and Vernon Tennessee during the Civil War ... General Jefferson Davis's troops were given a free hand in the treatment of Communities in Hickman County ...

Showing Tennessee the First to Fall, Day by Day the Civil War

Destruction of Towns and Cities in the South was Unparalleled

The destruction of towns and cities in the South was unparalleled in the Civil War. This was truly the first modern war.
The destruction of towns and cities in the South was unparalleled in the Civil War. This was truly the first modern war.

Most folks in Hickman County wanted to be left out of the War

Most folks in Hickman County wanted to be left out of the battles and they were divided at the outset of the war. When Fort Sumter was bombarded and President Lincoln made the call for over 75,000 volunteers to fill the army, and to suppress the rebellion folks in Hickman County did not want to go to war with their southern brothers. Like most Tennesseans the people of Centerville and Hickman County saw this as a threat to their freedom and an sword drawn to their "southern brethren." Most of the pro-Unionism in Tennessee came from the eastern portion of the state. However Tennessee did furnish more troops for the Union Army than any other Confederate state, combined. However, over three times that number of Tennesseans volunteered for the Confederacy.

The Restoration of the Burned Centerville Courthouse

The restoration of the burned Centerville Courthouse ... The Derryberrry  postcard dates to around 1890's
The restoration of the burned Centerville Courthouse ... The Derryberrry postcard dates to around 1890's

Centerville Tennessee in Ruins Never to Regain Her former Glory

Union Captain John W. Taylor's company (2nd Tennessee), known as the Perry County Jayhawkers, returned to Hickman County with the wrath of Hades, and burned all the fine commercial buildings, warehouses, as well many private dwellings.
Union Captain John W. Taylor's company (2nd Tennessee), known as the Perry County Jayhawkers, returned to Hickman County with the wrath of Hades, and burned all the fine commercial buildings, warehouses, as well many private dwellings.

Tennessee was Gateway to the Confederate, Fort Donelson

The Union's Brick Fortress the Hickman County Courthouse 1864

It was a fine fortress indeed, up to three brick think and stood tall and proud like a castle. To a large extent, the Civil War was fought in cities and towns like Centerville, sadly beautiful strategic buildings became warlord fortresses. And tragically the farms of Tennessee like the many in Hickman County were looted and burned when the conquering army was finished with its livestock and supplies. Surprising only the state of Virginia saw more battles than Tennessee. However. It is very shocking that Tennessee is the only state to have major battles and even epic skirmishes fought in every county in the state. This was a brother against brother war in Tennessee. For one thing Tennessee was the last of the states in the south to declare that she had succeeded from the Union; this is because a large portion of the states population was very much against secession.

Union Troops Burning towns Became the Norm In the Civil War

The burning of towns became the new norm as the Union advance into the center of the Confederacy. Sherman approved of this method as a way to break the spirit of the people of the South.
The burning of towns became the new norm as the Union advance into the center of the Confederacy. Sherman approved of this method as a way to break the spirit of the people of the South.

Centerville & Vernon saw more than their Share of Devastation

Sadly Centerville, Vernon and many other communities in Tennessee saw more than their share of the horrid devastation resulting from years of the two warring armies crisscrossing the state, and the helpless communities in their path were just sources of supplies to be looted, and building to burn and destroy. Its rivers like the Duck River that goes through Centerville were the key arteries to the deeper sections of the south, and the Confederacy, and the North from the early days of the war focused its forces on securing control of those transportation routes, as well as all major roads that ran through Centerville to rich farm land that made Tennessee "the Bread Basket" of the Confederacy. Centerville had new Northern overlords to feed and a population to loot and subjugate. For Hickman County, and other Tennessee county's rich farmland was to fed both armies during the war.

Some of the Community leaders that helped rebuild Centerville

Community leaders that helped rebuilding of downtown Centerville after the physical destruction the Civil War ... First directors of First National Bank 1886. Mr. Gardner, R.B. Barnwell, J.B. Walker, Horatio Clagett, Henry Nixon, John Hungerford.
Community leaders that helped rebuilding of downtown Centerville after the physical destruction the Civil War ... First directors of First National Bank 1886. Mr. Gardner, R.B. Barnwell, J.B. Walker, Horatio Clagett, Henry Nixon, John Hungerford.

The photo above are Community leaders the Rebuild Centerville

In the photo above are some of the Community leaders that helped finance a lot of the rebuilding of downtown Centerville after the physical destruction the Civil War caused to the community ... First directors of First National Bank 1886. Mr. Gardner, R.B. Barnwell, J.B. Walker, Horatio Clagett, Henry Nixon, John H. Clagett, John Hungerford.

In the Civil War the Union used Terror as a Psychological Weapon

The Union Army used terror as a psychological weapon, by destroying everything people held dear in a community. It was a way to break the population and make them helpless under the rule of the Union Commanders.
The Union Army used terror as a psychological weapon, by destroying everything people held dear in a community. It was a way to break the population and make them helpless under the rule of the Union Commanders.

Soldiers Killed in Centerville on 28th and the 29th of September

The roster of the Second Mounted Infantry, United States, that were stationed at Clifton Tennessee, 1863, until the end of the war shows in the numbers how much fighting, and unreported looting, and killing went on around Centerville during the war. One can only note that a great number of soldiers were killed, captured or went missing on 28th and the 29th of September in the year 1864 at Centerville in Hickman County, Tennessee. Just an example of the under reported blood shed and unreported activities that never got properly reported or written down in this forgotten part of the war. No description of the battles at Centerville were ever properly reported because this whole event was terrorism on a epic scale.

The Citizens of Centerville had the Strength to rebuild their Town

The fact that the citizens of Centerville had the strength and the courage to rebuild their town after all the destruction the Civil War did to this community is an example of their noble character.
The fact that the citizens of Centerville had the strength and the courage to rebuild their town after all the destruction the Civil War did to this community is an example of their noble character.

Centerville needs to be remembered & Honored in Tennessee

This atrocity should have been front page news, but the battle of Franklin got all the headlines, and all attention went to Franklin, and Centerville was totally forgotten. But I feel it needs to be remembered, and Centerville needs to be remembered and honored by the state of Tennessee just as much the horrible battle of Franklin, and we need to let the world know this happened, and Centerville survived. Tragically for Vernon it never regained its former glory, the Union troops atrocity had been so complete for that community.

Areas of Hickman County Never Recovered from the Civil War

Many areas of Hickman County never recovered from the Civil War. Vernon for one, the outrageous & devastating attack was so great it left nothing of Vernon to rebuild, not one barn, home or store left standing, all were chard-burnt ruins.
Many areas of Hickman County never recovered from the Civil War. Vernon for one, the outrageous & devastating attack was so great it left nothing of Vernon to rebuild, not one barn, home or store left standing, all were chard-burnt ruins.

The Peaceful Community of Centerville Tennessee was a Victim of Terrorism in the Civil War in 1864

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