The Journey of a Civil War Veteran: George Boman of Tennessee

In the years after the Civil War of 1861 to 1865, veterans became part of the Western Movement in the USA.  Most soldiers returned to their home states at first, and then many former soldiers pursued opportunities in undeveloped lands Out West.  They tended to stop in “prairie states” first, to make land claims, then eventually they continued moving farther west.  They tended to move along the lines of railroads which were being extended farther and farther west.  This blog article is about a Civil War veteran, George Boman, who followed this pattern.

In the 1870s the news about the westward extension of railroads likely influenced Civil War veterans to travel in search of new economic opportunities.  Many Civil War veterans were from rural backgrounds and had their first exposure to cities and railroads during their war service.  These experiences and their wartime travels may have whetted their desire for adventure, or veterans simply thought that the grass might be greener Out West.

Cumberland Gap in eastern Tennessee

One Civil War veteran whose life was completely changed by the war was George Boman of Tennessee.  His early life was spent in the mountainous Cumberland region, and he likely had never been on a train or knew much about the workings of trains until he enlisted in the Union Army.

Boman served during the last nine months of the war, October 1864 to June 1865.  In his war service with the Union Army, Boman traveled to Nashville, Tennessee and nearby points such as Franklin and Chattanooga which were along vital railroad supply lines.   His regiment, the 6th Tennessee Mounted Infantry, spent much of its time guarding railroads.  His regiment’s key battles were at Franklin and Nashville,  railroad arteries of supply lines for the Union forces.

This blog article will tell of George Boman’s origins in Tennessee and his life in the ten years following the war, until he arrived in Seattle in 1875.  This article is the first in a series about the life of George Boman.  His name is not well-known, but he was a person vitally involved in early Seattle.

Map of the state of Tennessee

Overton County in the Alpine Mountains of Tennessee

One of the adventures of famous early American frontiersman Daniel Boone was his exploration of a path which became known as the Wilderness Highway.  Originally used by native Americans, this passageway through the mountains was called the Cumberland Gap from Kentucky into Tennessee and the Ohio Valley beyond.  It was estimated that between the years 1775 to 1810, more than 300,000 settlers came through the Cumberland Gap to find land for farming and for extraction of resources such as timber and minerals.

Cumberland Gap Wilderness Road — courtesy of National Park maps.

One of the Cumberland Gap migrants was Josiah Boman, born in 1769 in Virginia, who settled in Tennessee in 1810.  By the time of the Civil War in the 1860s his descendants lived in Overton County, about ten miles east of the county seat of Livingston, and about one hundred miles east of Nashville.  Today generations of Boman descendants still live in Overton County, in and around the Alpine area — with one exception:  George Boman, Josiah’s grandson, who left Alpine after the Civil War.

Overton County, Tennessee

The climate of the Alpine area was mild and suitable to small subsistence farming.  Farm families would grow a type of corn with hard kernels which could be fed to animals or could be ground at mill to make corn meal.  Families raised hogs, grew vegetables and tobacco of a type whose leaves could be hung up to dry and then crumbled and rolled into cigarette papers.  In earlier, peaceful times, families might have sold some of their corn, tobacco or other products, but as the Civil War raged around them, some families retreated farther into mountain hollows and attempted to become entirely self-sufficient.

The turmoil of the Civil War years in Tennessee

Eastern Tennessee had a low percentage of slave-owners and both the culture and the terrain made it different from western Tennessee which had a majority of cotton plantations.  The state was split in this way with the western half voting in a referendum to secede from the Union and the eastern half of the state voting to stay with the Union.  On June 8, 1861, the state legislators voted to secede, making Tennessee the final of eleven states to join the Confederacy.

At that point some people in eastern Tennessee might still have assumed that the war had noting to do with them, but they soon were subjected to the pressures of military occupation.  Overton County had constant presence of troops as each side (Union and Confederate) fought to control rivers, rail lines and roads such as the Cumberland Gap.  At times soldiers were desperately hungry because supplies failed to keep up with troop movements, so soldiers appropriated crops and livestock from local farmers.

Overton County Courthouse in Livingston, built in 1868 after the previous building was burned down during the Civil War.

Even worse than the Civil War soldiers were the roving bands of men self-appointed to represent one side or the other.  Sometimes called partisans or guerrillas, the pro-Confederate groups might be called Bushwhackers and the pro-Union groups were called Jayhawkers.  Both groups engaged in terror and looting even among the mountain families who knew one another.

During this time the social order of the Alpine community completely broke down, with schools and churches closed, no stores or postal service and many public buildings burned down such as the Overton County courthouse at Livingston.  Sometimes the danger was so great that men could not live on or work their farms.  They went into hiding while womenfolk struggled to maintain their homes.

George Boman leaves Alpine, Tennessee, during the Civil War

George Boman, grandson of original settler Josiah Boman, was born in 1844 and grew up in the mountain community of Alpine.  By the time George was twenty years old he was a married man with two children but despite his family obligations he was even more greatly impacted by the Civil War.

The Union versus Confederate conflict existed within George Boman’s family.  In the account of his life which he gave in later years, Boman said that his father’s dying wish was that the family stay with the Union.  If true, this was one of the reasons why George’s family was torn apart by the war.  His older brother Robert joined the Confederacy, as did some of George’s cousins.  We don’t know exactly why George made the decision when he did, but we know that at the age of twenty he enlisted in the Union Army in October 1864.

George Boman’s Civil War experiences

George Boman was only in the military for about nine months, until June 1865, but in that time he experienced the turning point of the war in the Western Theater, meaning the states which were not on the Atlantic coast to the east.  George’s regiment spent time in Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky guarding railroads and scouting the areas to watch for Confederate troop movements and guerrilla groups.  Then in November and December 1864, George was present for the final great battles of Franklin and Nashville, Tennessee, which decisively turned the tide for the Union.

Battle of Nashville

At Franklin, twenty miles south of Nashville, on November 30, 1864 Confederate General John Bell Hood recklessly commanded his forces to make a frontal assault across open ground.  After five hours of fighting, there were 7,300 dead Confederate soldiers on the field.  Six of Hood’s commanding officers had been killed, five badly wounded and one captured.

General George H. Thomas of the Union Army in the Civil War

Meanwhile at Nashville, the Union Army under General George H. Thomas had amassed a force of 55,000 soldiers around Nashville who were digging in to protect the city and its vital supply lines.  Due to icy weather in early December, General Thomas waited and did not order an attack; his men worked at building the defensive positions.

General Thomas was an organized person and was concerned with the well-being of his troops, so he laid careful plans for enough food and supplies for his soldiers.  While the Union Army waited out the bad weather they were able to rest and get enough to eat; meanwhile the Confederate troops under General Hood were ill-clothed and starving.

General Thomas finally ordered an attack on December 15, 1864.  By that time the Confederate troops under General Hood numbered only half as many as the Union troops, due to death, injury and desertion.

Battle of Nashville, December 15 & 16, 1864

Under the withering barrage of gunfire at the Battle of Nashville, the Confederate soldiers began to turn and run.  General Hood angrily rode his horse among them shouting for them to stop, but the soldiers kept on going.  They realized that the fight was of no use, they were outnumbered and they wanted to go home.  The Battles of Franklin and Nashville were the final ones in that region, which the Union forces then held to the close of the war.

On the above map of the battle lines, George Boman’s regiment was positioned in the upper right corner under Steedman.  The battles of December 15 and 16, 1864, with tens of thousands of soldiers, would probably have been the most number of people Boman had ever seen in one place at one time.  His experiences of the war were life-changing in that they opened the possibilities of finding another life outside of tiny Alpine, Tennessee, where he came from.

Railroads in the Civil War

The importance of railroads in the Civil War cannot be overstated.  For the first time in history, men, ammunition, food, supplies and even animals could be moved by rail instead of on foot, greatly increasing the power of armies.  Like George Boman, many Civil War veterans made life changes after the war, when they saw how railroads were transforming daily life and creating new economic opportunities.  Here is a quote from an essay on the Emerging Civil War blog (see source list):

“Railroads extended the range of operations of armies. There is no way that armies of 100,000 men, or even half that, could operate far from supply bases without steady rail supply. In 1864, General William T. Sherman estimated that his rail lines saved him the use of 36,000 wagons & 220,000 mules.

A soldier consumed three pounds of food a day, a horse 25 pounds. An army of 100,000 men thus needed over 3.5 million pounds of food and supplies per day. That would require 150,000 wagons pulled by 900,000 mules (which causes its own logistical problems). Railroads could meet that demand far more efficiently than animal-drawn wagons.

A final point: simply put, railroads enabled Civil War armies to grow to massive size and thus enabled large battles on a scale never before seen in this country. Thus casualties and devastation was seen on an unheard of level. We know Civil War armies were huge compared to those of the Revolution or other conflicts, railroads are one reason why.

Not only were railroads a game changer and a new challenge to master for commanders, the common soldier would experience that thrill of a lifetime: their very first train ride.”   (Civil War Railroads — An Overview; see source list)

Rail yard and station of the Nashville & Chattanooga line in March 1864. In October and November 1864, George Boman’s Union Army regiment was assigned to guard this site. Photo courtesy of American-Rails.com

After the war: George Boman starts a new life

George Boman had just turned twenty-one years old by the time that his Union Army regiment finished their Civil War service at Nashville on June 30, 1865.  It appears that if Boman did return home to the Alpine community in East Tennessee, he didn’t stay long.  He might not have ever returned home at all, judging that his life might be in danger if he did go home.  Perhaps he considered the dangers of returning to a community which still had roving bands of Confederate guerillas who knew that George had served in the Union Army.

Horse Cave, Kentucky

Records of the next few years, such as the census, show that George Boman went to Kentucky after the war.  At the close of the Civil War in June 1865, Boman might have immediately gotten on a train at Nashville and headed north across the state line.  He went to a community in Kentucky called Horse Cave, which was a rail hub and known to be a pro-Union town.  There he would be among Union sympathizers who would give him a welcome.

Horse Cave, Kentucky, still exists today and is a tourism site for exploration of an underground river.

From Kentucky to Nebraska

After his war service George Boman left his wife and children behind in Tennessee, a permanent break, and they were divorced.  Then in August 1866 in Kentucky, George married a young woman named Adelia.  Soon after, the couple left for Nebraska where George filed a land claim.

Boman’s certificate of ownership of land in Nebraska, showing that he had completed homestead requirements, is dated 1873.   It is signed by former Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant who by that time was President of the United States.

George & Adelia stayed in Nebraska until about 1875, when they made another big life change:  they decided to go out to Seattle to live.  We presume that the Bomans were able to sell their property in Nebraska in order to have money to start a new life in Seattle.

From Nebraska to Seattle

A railroad ad of the 1870s

The Bomans left no record of the reasons why they chose Seattle for their next destination.  Boman’s biographical info never mentioned whether he knew anyone else who had gone to Seattle, or what they expected to find in Seattle.  We know that railroads did advertise their western routes, so the Bomans may have investigated some routes.

The lure of economic opportunities “out West” could have influenced the Bomans to make the far journey to Seattle.  In this the Bomans were typical of others of that era with migration in stages, first to the Midwest and then farther West.

Although Seattle was very small as of the year 1875, it advertised itself as an up-and-coming future city with a port for trade via shipping.  It is possible that the Bomans had read the news story of Seattle’s do-it-ourselves railroad, and decided to join in with Seattle’s vigorous, enterprising citizens.

George Boman was about thirty-one years old when he arrived in Seattle and we know that he styled himself as a businessman, no longer a farmer as he had been in Nebraska.

The next article on this blog will tell about the Bomans’ early years in Seattle.

Sources:

American Battlefield Trust — various essays

Bureau of Land Management — land claim certificate of George Boman.

Census listings & other genealogical records.

Civil War Railroads:  An Overview,” Essay by Bert Dunkerly, October 20, 2018, on the Emerging Civil War blog.

“The Critical Role of Railroads in Influencing Military Strategy in the Civil War,” Essay by Lloyd W. Klein, February 15, 2022, on the Emerging Civil War blog.

Overton County, Tennessee, maps and historical info.

Regimental records:  Tennessee & the Civil War — list of soldiers and their units.

Seattle During and After the Civil War, essay here on this blog.

Books:

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, by James McPherson, 1988.

The Battle of Nashville:  General George H. Thomas & the Most Decisive Battle of the Civil War, by Benson Bobrick, 2010.

Nashville 1864: From the Tennessee to the Cumberland, by Mark Lardas, 2017.

Nothing But Victory: The Army of the Tennessee 1861-1865, by Steven E. Woodworth, 2005.

River to Victory: The Civil War in the West 1861-1863, by James R. Arnold, 2002.

HistoryLink Essays:

“Northern Pacific Railroad announces Tacoma terminus on July 14, 1873,” HistoryLink Essay #922 by Heather M. McIntosh and David Wilma, 1999.

“Seattle Citizens start work on Seattle & Walla Walla Railroad on May 1, 1874,” HistoryLink Essay #924 by David B. Williams, 2013.

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer writer of neighborhood history in Seattle.
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