Like much of East Tennessee, sentiment was divided in this area during the secession crisis of 1861. Hamilton County would provide recruits for both Union and Confederate armies. Of the thousands of residents who donned the uniform in the 1860s, only one would rise to the rank of general, Francis Marion Walker.
Born in Paris, Ky., in 1827, Walker's family moved to Hawkins County, Tenn., in 1843, where his father operated a tavern. In 1847, Walker would muster as a second lieutenant in the 5th Tennessee Infantry for the War with Mexico. Walker and the 5th Tennessee made the journey to Mexico, but hostilities had ended by the time they arrived.
Upon being discharged from the army, Walker entered Transylvania University, where he earned a law degree with honors in 1850. He returned to Hawkins County after graduation and opened a law practice in Rogersville.
In 1854, he moved his practice to Chattanooga and became a leading citizen. He would serve Chattanooga as an alderman from 1858-59, and in 1860, he was appointed attorney general of Tennessee's 4th District, serving until the war's outbreak.
Walker was not a proponent of secession, and he stumped East Tennessee as a popular pro-Union speaker during the secession debates. However, like many Tennesseans, Walker was forced to make a choice when Lincoln called for troops, and he cast his lot with his home state despite his reluctance about secession.
Authorized to raise a company for Confederate service, Walker, now a captain, would enlist his fellow Hamilton Countians into the "Marsh Blues," which became Company I of the 19th Tennessee Infantry Regiment. Serving as one of the Blues' officers was Beriah Moore, son of one of Chattanooga's original 53 residents, Thomas Moore, who owned a farm at the foot of Missionary Ridge. Walker, probably because of his prior military experience, was immediately promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 19th Tennessee, and Moore would take command of the Marsh Blues.
In early 1862, Walker and the 19th Regiment fought in the battles of Mill Springs and Shiloh. He was praised for his gallantry at Shiloh, and his regiment earned the sobriquet, the "Bloody 19th" for its performance in the battle. Walker was elected colonel of the 19th after Shiloh, and he would lead the regiment into the maelstroms of Murfreesboro and Chickamauga, where once again Walker and the regiment won praise.
November 1863 found Walker and the Marsh Blues looking down on their hometown from trenches atop Missionary Ridge. Beriah Moore, now promoted to lieutenant colonel, could see his family farm from the 19th's position and was deeply affected.
A member of the unit recalled the day of the battle, "If there be such a thing as the premonition of coming danger, the soul of Moore must have been severely pressed ... About noon, Moore's father came up to our regiment, and the colonel gave him everything he had about his person, his knife, comb, watch, everything. ... The enemy made a vigorous assault ... in this charge, our Lt. Col. B.F. Moore was killed ... on his father's place, almost in sight and hearing of his home."
In the 1864 Atlanta campaign, Walker's performance, especially at Kennesaw Mountain, where his Tennesseans slaughtered an attacking Union column, earned him commendation as an officer "of great distinction, of exalted praise." Both his brigade commander, Gen. Otho Strahl, and his corps commander, Gen. William Hardee, urged Richmond to promote Walker to brigadier general. In late June, Walker was placed in command of a brigade composed of several Tennessee regiments, a position that entitled him to the rank of general, but he remained a colonel.
While leading his brigade in a desperate charge in the Battle of Atlanta, July 22, 1864, Francis Marion Walker was killed. His body was removed from the battlefield and taken to Griffin, Ga., where he was interred in the Citizens Cemetery. His commission as brigadier general, won at Kennesaw Mountain, arrived the day after his death.
Because of the posthumous arrival of his commission, Walker is often missing from historical compilations of Confederate generals, despite the fact his contemporaries recognized him as a general.
In 1889, his body was returned to his adopted hometown. Chattanooga's only antebellum resident who rose to the rank of general lies in Forest Hills cemetery.
Anthony Hodges, D.D.S., is president of the Friends of Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. For more, visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org or call LaVonne Jolley, 423-886-2090.