1861: Archibald Debow Norris to his Father

“Born in Smith County, TN, Archibald Debow Norris was the son of a prominent farmer. After graduating in 1860 as the valedictorian of his class at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, Norris returned to his hometown of Rome, TN where he worked as headmaster of a local college.

Archibald Debow Norris, 1860
Allegheny College Archives

As the country moved closer to war and Tennessee inched closer to secession, Norris maintained a pro-Union stance. Ultimately, once Tennessee seceded Norris would determine that he must maintain his allegiance to his own state over that of the Union. Records indicate that a twenty-one year old Norris enlisted on 5/15/1861 and was commissioned into Co. K, 7th Tennessee Infantry. He attained the rank of captain in 1862, fought with his regiment at Gettysburg on July 1st and 3rd, was captured at Petersburg, VA on 2 April 1865, and was released from Johnson’s Island Prison, 19 June 1865.” [Cowan’s Auction]

At Gettysburg, Norris fought with the regiment where he displayed conspicuous bravery despite the chaos of combat.  Another soldier would later remember…

“I can recall Capt. A. Norris… when the right was being enveloped and hope gone, tearing the flag from the staff, and retreating with a fragment of his company under a fire so destructive that his escape seemed miraculous.  There was no better officer in the Seventh or in any other regiment”

“Norris married Sarah Melissa Baird on 25 December 1866, and subsequently went on to serve in a variety of civic roles including superintendent of public instruction for Wilson County, TN from 1873-1874; county surveyor, 1878-1882 and again 1896-1899; and TN state representative, 1887-1899. Norris was a Mason, a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was active in farming, banking, and the insurance business.” [Cowan’s Auction]

The Archibald Debow Norris Diaries, 1861-1863 are houses at the Marshall University Special Collections, Huntington, West Virginia, Accession No. 2000/11.0697


Richland Station
Sumner county [Tennessee]
May 22, [1861]

Dear Father,

We arrived here last night about two o’clock and having nothing particular to do today, I avail myself of this opportunity to write you a few lines to give you an idea of the times and circumstances by which we are surrounded.

An immense concourse of people were assembled in Lebanon on Monday morning to witness the departure of the troops. A great deal of feeling was manifested by the citizens, there being but few dry eyes in the place. We left about eight o’clock, took dinner at Mr. Sister’s at Green Hill, and arrived in Nashville about three. The buggies, carriages and wagons conveying the troops and their friends numbered one hundred and fifty-eight. The handkerchiefs and waving hats with which we were greeted all along the route had a tendency to dispel the gloomy depression incident to the parting of friends and relatives.

The procession proceeded around the Square and through the principal streets of Nashville and then repaired to the fairground where we were “mustered into service” by taking an oath to office, our services in defense of the state for twelve months.

I then went to see Grandma Lyons, stayed a short time, slept at the Commercial Hotel with Wilson Phillips who went down with the procession. I was quite unwell during the night in consequence of having eaten too heartily of preserved soft peaches at dinner and adding thereunto a hearty supper. Was all right yesterday morning.

We were drilled a little yesterday morning after which I called on Mr. Rosser’s friends to whom I had letters of introduction. Had a very pleasant visit and received a letter of introduction to Captain Craighead of Company B of the Rock City Guards which I will soon present to him.

Yesterday evening we marched from the fairground to the depot, a distance the way we went of about three miles. We got on the cars before seven but it was after ten before we left Edgefield. We had a dort of “rough and tumble” ride to this place, one or two of the cars becoming detached and causing delay. We pitched our tents and some time after three o’clock lay down and slept till about five. I do not feel near the fatigue that I expected to from exposure and loss of sleep. Last night was my first in the “tented field.” I like it very well just from the novelty. At present my health is good and spirits cheerful.

We will probably remain here a day or two and then go to the general encampment a few miles from this place. Beyond this, nothing certain is known or conjectured.

I must close. I will write again when I get to a place where I think we will remain long enough to get an answer. Your affectionate son, — Archie

Love to all.

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