|Meet General Hatton|
Believer in the Union gave his life for the South
STORY and PHOTOS By KEN BECK
How much does the average Lebanonite know about Gen. Robert Hatton?
Well, once you get past the point that he is the fellow atop the monument in the center of the town square, it’s pretty slim pickings.
For instance, most probably don’t know that Hatton was burned in effigy on the same square, much less that this Confederate general was born in the North. Or that he ran for governor of the state of Tennessee and had a fist fight with his opponent while politicking in Fayetteville. Or that he was not buried in Lebanon until four years after his death.
With the sesquicentennial of the Civil War upon us April 12, let us salute Lebanon’s most famous soldier by taking a look at his life and death and allow him speak to us via a few of his letters and words from his diary.
The Cumberland University graduate was a devoted husband and father, a member of the Methodist Church, devout Bible reader and a gentleman who was respected by all. An attorney, he was an eloquent speaker who used his gift well as a politician. He ran for three political offices: state representative, governor and Congress winning the former and latter races.
Above all, he was resolute in his belief that the Union should not divide and dissolve into civil war. Yet, when the Southern states seceded, he cast his lot with Tennessee, and, eventually, the Confederacy, a decision that cost his life.
Robert Hopkins Hatton was born Nov. 2, 1826, in Youngstown or Steubenville, Ohio, to Robert Clopton Hatton, a Methodist Episcopal minister, and his wife Margaret. The couple had six children, two who died in infancy. Young Robert began school at six in Alleghany City, Pa., and the family moved to Nashville in 1835 when he was eight. In 1837 the Hattons relocated to a farm in the Beech Grove community of Sumner County. While his father preached in Gallatin and later clerked and taught school, the boy worked on the farm, enjoyed hunting foxes with his dogs and studying in school. In the fall of 1845, Cumberland University allowed an 18-year-old Hatton to enter the junior class. Two years later he graduated with his class of four in June 1847.
Helping relay the story of Hatton from this point will be Martin Frost, 61, a Lebanon resident who is semiretired from Kimbro Oil Company as an accountant and chief financial officer and who has been portraying General Hatton since 1998. “I first heard of Hatton the first year I was here in 1984 as we drove around the square. I asked who the General was on the top of the Confederate monument,” said Frost, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Robert H. Hatton Camp #723, which was named in memory and honor of Hatton.
Frost proceeded to study the General's life and then was asked to play Hatton at a Cedar Grove Cemetery candlelight tour. “I usually portray him three or four times a year at the fairgrounds or on the square for tourism visits, and different civic organizations have asked me to tell the story of Robert Hatton in uniform. It’s usually just here in the County because he’s not too widely known,” Frost said.
As for Hatton’s progress after graduation, Frost shares, “He entered Cumberland’s law school for one year and ran out of money, so he went to teach. He didn’t like that. He came back to Lebanon and obtained a license to practice law and studied and was able to pass the bar exam and worked as an attorney, and then Cumberland University gave him a law degree, probably because of the relationships he had with his professors.”
Hatton joined in the practice of law in 1850 in a partnership with Col. Jordan Stokes of Lebanon. In the spring of 1850 he was appointed by the board of managers of the Washington Monument in the District of Columbia as an agent to present its claims to the people of Tennessee. And on Dec. 16, 1852, he married Sophie K. Reilly, six months his junior, of Williamson County.
About this time, he dissolved his partnership with Stokes and formed a new one, the firm of Hatton and Green, attorneys- and counselors- at-law, with Nathan Green Jr.
In 1855 as a candidate for the Whig party, the Lebanon lawyer was elected as representative from Wilson County to the General Assembly of Tennessee. While he served in Nashville, his wife and children, Reilly, Manie and later, Emily, resided in Lebanon. Then he ran as the American and Whig party candidate for governor in 1857. By this time Lebanon townsfolk referred to him as “Our Bob”. “In this race against Isham Harris for governor, they were traveling together and stumping around the State. They were at odds in Fayetteville and had a fistfight on the platform. He whipped Harris, who was quite a bit older,” said Frost. “He won the fight but lost the election.”
In 1858 Hatton was elected Grand Master for the Order of Tennessee of the Grand Lodge of the Order of Odd Fellows, and in 1859, he ran and won the election to the U.S. Congress as Representative from the State’s Fifth District. “He did a lot of traveling while campaigning and as member of the Order of Odd Fellows,” said Frost. “I think he loved his wife a lot and enjoyed the children. He was very intelligent and must have been well liked. He seemed to succeed in everything he tried.”
Hatton traveled to the District of Columbia in November 1859, leaving his family at their home on the northeast corner of Lebanon’s West Main Street and Hatton Avenue, 327 W. Main, a site on Lebanon's Civil War Trail (today the location of the Shelter Insurance office).
A reporter for The New York Times provides a detailed description of the tall, 136-pound Hatton from Congress in mid-January 1860.
Robert Hatton, of Tennessee, then obtained the floor for a set speech, and at once commanded attention. He is rather tall, rather thin, with a large head and long face, made longer by a profusion of orange chinbeard, harmonizing well with pink cheeks, a large fair forehead, high and expansive; blue eyes, set wide apart on each side of a small irregular nose, high cheek bones, and a great quantity of thick brown hair, rather inclined to curl, but hardly having length sufficient to indulge its propensity. Decidedly, Mr. Hatton has more of the studied graces of an orator than any member yet seen upon the floor. His gestures are full, found, and appropriate—seldom violent—never grotesque, but always emphatic, and with an inclination to the florid order. His head shows imagination, and the perceptives largely developed—the qualities of causality and caution, however, not being visibly from this gallery—if at all existing. His voice is musical and full of the church-organ tone; and he speaks with the deliberativeness of a man determined to say nothing in support of which he is not willing to stand a pistol shot.
From his hotel in the nation’s capitol, Hatton wrote his wife frequently asking about the children and how much he missed family and home. His epistles often reported on sermons he heard while visiting a variety of church denominations. He kept Sophie up to- date on his Bible reading and commented frequently about the drinking of many of those serving in Congress. (Hatton wouldn’t touch a drop of wine or liquor while in D.C.)
Most fervent upon his heart and mind was the fact that a crack in the Union was unavoidable. Hatton wrote his wife Dec. 6, 1860: Now that I am here, my worst anticipations are more than realized. Disunion is inevitable. What will follow, God only knows. Have, today, listened to furious speeches from Wigfall, of Texas; Iverson, of Georgia; and Brown, of Mississippi. Go out of the Union, their States are determined to. So, with South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida and perhaps others. There is not wisdom or patriotism enough in the land to save it.
In his diary two days later, Hatton noted: What shall I write? That the government is upon the eve of disruption. It is. The indications today, are, that before the 4th day of March, five or six of the Southern States will secede. The probabilities are that all the other Southern States will follow, and very soon. The folly of mankind has never been greater than is now being exhibited by the politicians of the South, and the North. Disunion is ruin to both sections.
Hatton made an impassioned speech Feb. 8, 1861, to the U.S. House of Representatives, but war between the states was plunging nearer like a runaway steam locomotive without a brakeman. When the 36th Congress adjourned, Hatton returned to Lebanon, still speaking his piece on holding the country together. His most famous speech, according to Frost, was made April Fool’s Day 1861, as for 2½ hours he urged his fellow citizens to remain in the Union. That night, tempers flared. “A crowd of people, some seem to think they were students from Cumberland, came to his house after everyone had gone to bed and started yelling and beating on pots and pans,” said Frost. “It woke everybody up, and Hatton came out with a pistol and fired it a few times, and they dispersed. A little bit later on the square, he was burned in effigy.”
Whatever strong feelings Hatton held for the Union, attitudes would change upon the news from Fort Sumter, S.C., and the news of President Lincoln calling for 75,000 volunteers to “put down the rebellion”. Hatton volunteered his services to the State of Tennessee. In May he called for volunteers for the Provisional Army of Tennessee and was elected captain of a company of 100 or more men out of Lebanon. “Six companies, totaling about 600 men from Wilson County, left Lebanon on May 20, 1861, and were mustered in at Nashville, and then took the train to Camp Trousdale in Sumner County. They were half finished with basic training when Tennessee declared its independence and separation,” said Frost. “Six companies from Wilson County and four from Sumner, Smith and DeKalb counties formed the 7th Tennessee Infantry Regiment, and Capt. Hatton was elected colonel. He trained and armed them well, and about July 20, they loaded on a train and then went to Nashville to Chattanooga to Knoxville to Bristol and to Virginia.
“Hatton had made arrangements to meet his wife in Nashville just before he left, but she was unable to meet him. So when he left Lebanon, he never saw his family again other than the little boy who came over to training camp a few days.” Hatton and his men initially fought in some smaller battles of the war as he served with Gen. Robert E. Lee in the Cheat Mountain Campaign and then with Gen. Stonewall Jackson in the northern part of the Shenandoah Valley in fall and winter of 1861-62. He wrote numerous letters to his wife from Warm Springs, Va. In the spring Hatton’s troops were directed to the peninsula below Richmond, Va.
In his last correspondence, dated May 28, 1862, 6:30 p.m., from near Richmond, Hatton wrote: The struggle, will no doubt, be bloody; that we will triumph, and that gloriously, I am confident. Would that I might bind to my heart, before the battle, my wife and children. That pleasure may never again be granted to me. If so, farewell; and may the God of all mercy be to you and ours, a guardian and friend. “If we meet again, we’ll smile; If not, this parting has been well.” Affectionately your husband, R. Hatton.
On the evening of May 31, 1862, Hatton, who had been promoted to Brigadier General eight days previously, formed his line in the presence of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Lee and Gen. Joe Johnston at the Battle of Seven Pines, also known as the Battle of Fair Oaks. “He had been given command of the Tennessee brigade, and on the 31st the brigade was held in reserve,” said Frost. “But about 6 o’clock they were ordered to the front to make a charge. They did, and evidently did a fine job. Hatton was on his horse, and he was leading the charge. A charge was a walking movement to the front, an orderly advance to the front. Hatton, on his horse, he was a tremendous target.”
Last seen alive in the charge on Nine Mile Road, Hatton was waving his hat, and his voice cheered his men with his final words, “Forward, my brave boys! Forward!” When his favorite horse, Ball, was shot from beneath him, the young General got up, ran forward and in less then 30 steps later, he fell beneath the blast of a hostile gun. There is still an argument as to whether he was hit by rifle shot or cannon shot, but a missile to the head killed him instantly. The time was reported as sunset. Hatton was 35. (Of Hatton’s original 1,000 soldiers from Wilson, Smith, Sumner and DeKalb counties, only 47 survived when General Lee surrendered April 9, 1865, at Appomattox.) Hatton’s body was carried off the field of battle by two of his soldiers as the Tennessee Brigade fell back to the original line of the battle. His pistols were found by a Union soldier and returned to his family 30 years later.
“The body was placed on a train and shipped to Tennessee. Because the bridge across the Tennessee River at Chattanooga had been burned, they were not able to send the body back to Lebanon,” said Frost. “Someone made the decision to bury the body in Knoxville. It remained in Knoxville until spring of 1866, and in March the body was brought back.”
Nearly four years after his death, Hatton was buried on a rainy day, March 23, 1866. His mortal remains were taken from his house on West Main to the Methodist Church where every seat was filled. Thousands were reported to have attended the funeral of “the most popular man in Lebanon”. From the church, the mile-long procession to Cedar Grove Cemetery was fronted by Hatton’s slave, Jerry, who had accompanied him during the war. Jerry led a black mare that belonged to Hatton. The General was finally laid to rest in his hometown.
Nine years later, in 1875, Reilly, Hatton’s son, died at age 21½ on the eve before he was to graduate from Cumberland University. He was buried beside his father. As for Hatton’s other survivors, his widow Sophie lived a good, long life, serving 15 years as a missionary to Japan and for eight years as state librarian of Tennessee. She died in 1916 at the age of 89. Daughter Manie Campbell Hatton never wed and taught for 53 years in Middle Tennessee, 48 of those years at Howard School in Nashville. She died in 1938 at 82. Daughter Emily married missionary Willard Towson, and they carried the gospel to Japan for 22 years. She had two sons and a daughter. One son, Hatton D. Towson, served in World War I and was wounded in the Battle of Argonne in 1919 and died from his injuries later that year back home in Georgia.
General Hatton's closest living relative is Mary Em Towson Hobbs, of Decatur, Ga. Her father was Lambuth Reilly Towson, the son of Emily Hatton Towson, the General's youngest child. “There are five living descendants of four generations. I’m the oldest, 80 years old,” said Hobbs during a phone interview in January. “I’m the great-granddaughter, and my brother had two sons. One of them is 60 and one is 56, and one of them has a daughter and she has a nine-year-old son.”
As for what she knows about her great-grandfather, pieces of family history were handed down from her parents and other family members, and she spent some time as a child with her great-aunt Manie, the General's daughter. She has also gleaned much from a half dozen or so trips to Lebanon, specifically from meeting with the local members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Robert H. Hatton Camp, who have made her an honorary member. “Every time I come up there, I learn more from them than they learn from me, but it’s been thrilling,” she said.
During one visit in recent years, she and her nephew, Robert Hatton Towson, who lives in Goodlettsville, shared some of the family memorabilia with the group, such as Hatton's diaries. Asked for her conclusions about what she believes her greatgrandfather Hatton was like, and she answered, “I would say he had a personality to stand up for what he thought.”
Buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery, Hatton’s grave lies about 20 yards inside the entrance of Gate 2 on the north side of the road. A 16-foot-tall limestone obelisk, erected by the survivors of the 7th Tennessee, marks his grave, and nearby are interred his wife, his parents, his three children and a grandson.
Inscribed on the west face of the obelisk are the words:
General Robert Hatton
As for Lebanon’s most famous landmark, the monument topped by Hatton’s statue on the square?
“In the late 1800’s, the Confederate veterans began to feel compelled to erect monuments at cemeteries and town squares in memory of all their fallen comrades,” explained Frost. “It was happening all across the South. Here, they had already put one monument up in 1899 in Cedar Grove Cemetery. “I think the United Daughters of the Confederacy approached the City about putting up a statue in the center of square, and they were given ownership of the space to erect a Confederate monument. The veterans raised the money and designed the monument.”
Thus, on May 20, 1912, a monument unveiling occurred with great fanfare in Lebanon as the people of Wilson County honored their Confederate veterans. The area overflowed with people, horses and buggies, as the grandchildren of the veterans sang “Dixie” and a Tennessee National Guard detail fired a salute.
On the western face of this limestone monument, GENL HATTON is etched below the officer’s feet. Beneath it reads: Erected in honor of the Confederate veterans of Wilson County and all other true Southern soldiers 1861-1865. The south face bears the words: As long as honor or courage is cherished the deeds of these heroes will live. Whether on the scaffold high or in the battles of van the fittest place for man to die is when he dies for man.” The east face reads: “To our mothers and daughters of the Confederacy from 1861 to the present;” and the north face informs: “Erected by the S.G. Shepard Camp No. 941 UCV with contributions from true friends of the Southern soldier.”
Curiously, some may notice, Hatton’s statue faces west. Noted Frost, “Most monuments of Confederate officers face either north or south—either facing the enemy or turning their back—but Hatton faces west and is standing, not mounted. The reason everyone understands is because when he left for Nashville, he was going west. That was the last time the townspeople saw him.
“Had he not been killed, had he survived during the war; no doubt he would have been a major general commanding a division,” opined Frost, who had two great-great-grandfathers serve in the Confederacy. Said Lebanon businessman Jack Cato, a true student of the Civil War whose greatgrandfather fought under Hatton, “He was a very bright young man, and he had served in the state legislature and had run for governor and been in Congress at the outbreak of the war. We just wonder what his legacy would have been had he lived.”
Civil War history in Lebanon