Robbins: Chattanooga Belle of the 1860s

Robbins: Chattanooga Belle of the 1860s

June 16th, 2013 by Frank Robbins in Opinion Columns


Editor's Note: Born in New York City in 1850, Elizabeth Kaylor at age 4 moved south with her parents. She later married John B. Nicklin, who became Chattanooga's mayor (1887-1888), raised four sons, and lived until 1925. Her girlhood diary (excerpted here) vividly describes Civil War life.

"Confederate troops often passed through Chattanooga on their way to Virginia, and the girls were fond of going to see them at the railroad station. Several companies went from here into Confederate service, and each was given a flag by the citizens. For the ceremonial presentation, young ladies were selected as speakers. The boys were so enthused by these events that they formed a company of "soldiers," and I was selected to present their flag to them, being then about 12 years old.

"Gen. Bragg was in command of the forces here, and I often saw him riding his iron-grey horse. He was a splendid looking soldier and reputed a strict disciplinarian. I often saw soldiers sitting on their coffins in wagons on their way to the Citizens' cemetery to be shot for desertion.

"There was a lovely grove of trees from the southwest corner of Georgia Avenue East to A street (Lindsay at 9th, today). This grove was often used as a place for picnics and political gatherings. It was filled with Confederate soldiers. The women of Chattanooga were organized for the purpose of supplying food at the hospitals. My mother used to take me with her when the days came for her visits and I was greatly distressed to see the dead soldiers in such numbers.

"It was Friday, Aug. 9, 1863, designated by President Jefferson Davis as a day of fasting and prayer throughout the Confederacy. Federal troops began to shell the town from north of the river. There was much excitement and confusion - soldiers leaving to join their regiments in haste, women crying in fright. We saw people flying in all directions. The town was shelled again on August 21 and my father took my mother and the children into the country at what is now McCallie Avenue, just west of the viaduct on the south side of the street.

"I was in town with my father on the day that the Federal troops crossed the river and upon returning to our country home, what was our surprise to be stopped by a guard in a blue uniform at our fence corner. Several days later we were ordered to vacate the property and return to town, worse conditions being expected. And sure enough, firing commenced at night and by morning the house was entirely demolished. My father had 10,000 pounds of tobacco in his barn and tried to move it to town. I have always thought that the rumbling of his wagons caused each army to suspect the other of moving and each started firing.

However, before that my mother had started to town on foot with the baby in her arms. It was late and very dark; there was no road, not even a path. Trees had been cut to make fortifications over which she had to climb. It was past midnight when she reached our home, which was on the triangle now occupied by the Flatiron Building. She was very tired and suffered from thirst. The wells and cisterns were nearly dry. The dust was almost a foot thick. The town was full of half-starved soldiers. They would even snatch the food from the dishes before they could be brought to the table from the kitchen, an outdoor building.

"Eventually we were ordered to leave the town. My grandmother was still living in New York. We left one night, crossing over the river on the pontoon bridge at the foot of West Sixth Street and went to Bridgeport in a wagon train over the mountains (including Racoon). There we were put in cattle cars and sent to Nashville. My mother wore some bills in her quilted petticoat and my father wore more in a belt next to his skin. When we got to New York we children were dirty and hungry.

"We remained in New York until after the surrender at Appomattox and the death of President Lincoln. I shall never forget the wild scenes in New York. It was not safe for a Southerner to be recognized.

"When we returned to Chattanooga we found that our home had been the headquarters of Gen. Stedman. My mother finally secured possession of her house and we returned there to live."

Compiled and edited by Frank (Mickey) Robbins, Investment Advisor, Patten and Patten. For more information, visit