Thursday, April 10, 2014

John Wilkerson: Confederate, Animal Lover, Auctioneer

John Wilkerson, known as an auctioneer through many years in Memphis, was buried Sunday in Raleigh. He was eminently a good fellow.  His life, constituting a series of jokes, became itself an endless scene of rollicking good-humor.  His generosity was boundless and love of fun insatiable, and, above all, was he distinguished for the strength of his personal attachments. He sometimes swore vigorously, but his heart was tender as a woman's, and he was always for "the under dog in the fight."  John's tears could never be dammed up when suffering of man, or child, or animal appeal to his sympathies.  He had a great soul, and was at last the victim of his social virtues.  

He was the most fearless of soldiers.  Distinguished when a mere boy in Jeff. Davis's regiment in Mexico, he became alike noted for recklessness on the battlefield in many a conflict in the Inter-State war.  An incident at Chickamauga should be written in letters of gold, immortalized on canvas, poetry should tell of it in tenderest accents, pointing out its marvelous beauties with tremulous hand and with tearful eyes.  Late in the afternoon, when the fight was most desperate, and northern and southern soldiers were in utter confusion, where the dead lay thickest, and groans of wounded men were commingled with the shouts of a reckless soldiery, John's horse fell under him. He had been riding the animal three years and borne by him safely over many battlefields.  There was a strong attachment between the man and the animal, and when he stood beside the fallen horse he saw that the wound was fatal, a ball having penetrated the horse's body.  The horse seemed, in fact, already dead, while John stood by almost paralyzed with grief.  He was ordered to leave the spot by an officer who witnessed the incident.  John lifted his holsters and saddle from the animal and went away.  The poor horse, devoted in his master, raised his head and lifted up his body, and making a desperate effort to follow John, neighed faintly, John dropped his burden, ran back to the horse, and putting his arms about Sultan's neck, kissed him.  The nerves and muscles of the faithful, affectionate horse were gradually relaxed, he sank down slowly, and died quietly and peacefully, without a struggle, as John used to say, perfectly blessed that his head rested on his master's bosom.  John never told this story of his much-loved steed that his eyes were not filled with tears.  

The whole population of the ancient county-capital followed John's body to the grave, and never did these villagers do themselves greater honor than when they attested the virtues and worth of John Wilkerson.  He was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, December, 1823 and died in Raleigh, April 25th, 1874.  His brother is president of an insurance company in St. Louis.
Originally posted in the Memphis Daily Appeal. April 28 1874.

When researching John Wilkerson it's important to know that there were at least two John Wilkerson's in the Memphis area during the same time period. John F. Wilkerson was born about 1840 in Tennessee and married Lucy Elizabeth Mhoon on Dec. 18 1873 in Memphis.  John F Wilkerson is not the subject of this article.  He died in California in 1913 and is interred in Santa Rosa California.  

A search of Mexican War records reveals that John M. Wilkerson served in the Mexican War with Co. C, 1st TN Infantry and a John Wilkerson appears on a list dated October 30 1847 of dead and wounded at Mexico. It is unclear if this is the same John Wilkerson in the obituary.  However, it is clear that John Wilkerson began his Civil War military career in Memphis as 1st Lieutenant, Co. E 2nd  TN Regiment (Walker's). He was elected Captain August 9, 1861. He appears on muster rolls for Fort Pillow, Camp Walker, and Chattanooga. Another card even mentions a Court Martial.  He spent some time on the staff of Brigadier General William Henry Carroll.  But none of the war records record the poignant story of his horse, Sultan.

The Memphis Daily Appeal reported on January 26 1864 that Col Rucker and Capt Wilkerson of Memphis were transferred from the Army of Tennessee to that of Mississippi.  "Capt. Wilkerson says it (the army) will neither be idle nor stationary long if this good weather continues.  He further states that a large portion of the clothes worn by our soldiers, and all the wagons, teams and ambulances now in use by our troops, have been captured from the Federals.  Every day, almost a greater or less number of prisoners are brought in by our scouting parties."

Shelby County Tennessee marriage records show that John Wilkerson married Margaret A. Giles on January 17, 1850.   

In the 1850 Census John appears with his 20 year old wife, except that her name is listed as Mary in the Census. However, there is a Robert Giles, age 24, in the household with them. Possibly her brother?

I have yet to find more Census records for John Wilkerson nor any more information regarding his wife. A search of period newspapers shows him to be active politically and socially in Memphis during the 1860's.

1866 finds Captain Wilkerson involved in "a meeting of officers and soldiers of the late Confederate army" to consider "resolutions as will relieve Memphis from the imputation that is prevalent in the North, and is industriously and maliciously continued to be impressed upon the Northern mind, that a Union or Northern man is not safe, in life, liberty and property, within our limits." (Pub. Ledger Sept 18 1866, page 3)  In 1868, he was a member of the committee that drafted resolutions regarding the death of exiled Gen. William H. Carroll (Pub. Ledger. May 8 1868, page 3). He was appointed one of the "Marshals of the Day" during the Old Folks' Annual Barbecue at Bartlett in July 1868 (Pub. Ledger July 20 1868 page 3) and he appears in City Directories.  In 1867 he is an auctioneer at Royster, Trezevant & Co.

Burial Permit Edward Wilkerson
I believe his brother was Edward Wilkerson, born Nov. 19th 1827 in Lynchburg Virginia.  While John went south, Edward moved to St. Louis and worked in the insurance industry.  Edward appears in U.S. Civil War Draft Registration Records for Missouri but I find no record of service.  He married Virginia Cline in 1860 in St. Louis Missouri.   Edward died December 2, 1907 and was interred at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.

While many of John Wilkerson's contemporaries were interred at Elmwood Cemetery he lies in a currently unmarked grave at Raleigh.  Raleigh is home to the oldest cemetery in Shelby County and has long been neglected.  Over the past few years volunteers have been making strides to recover the land from the overgrowth of many decades.  Many markers have been revealed when undergrowth has been removed and many that had sunk into the earth have been brought back into the sunlight.  Raleigh Cemetery is a work in progress and though much has been done there is a desperate need for more volunteers and donations to make sure the progress made to date is saved and to continue revealing the hidden secrets that lie buried at the cemetery.  It's very possible that Captain John Wilkerson's monument, if indeed he had one, will be recovered thanks to the efforts of volunteers.  For more information visit Raleigh Cemetery Facebook Page, Raleigh Community Council Cemetery Page, Raleigh Cemetery Findagrave.

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