Category Archives: Tennessee Politics

1864: John Louis Taylor Sneed to Sallie Green

The following letter was written by Brigadier General John Louis Taylor Sneed (1822-1901), the son of Junius Sneed (1791-1843) and Julia Rowan Taylor (1795-1827). He was married to Mary Ashe Shepperd (1829-1919) in 1848.

John was born in Raleigh, North Carolina and educated at Oxford male academy in North Carolina. After relocating to Tennessee, he became a member of the legislature in 1845 and captain of a Tennessee company in the Mexican War. He was attorney-general of the Memphis judicial district in 1851, attorney-general of the state of Tennessee in 1854-59, and in 1861 was commissioned a brigadier-general of the provisional army of the state of Tennessee.

Sneed’s views on secession and the course that Tennessee should follow are best summarized in a letter that he wrote from Memphis in mid-April 1861 to the editor of the Weekly Standard in Raleigh, North Carolina, and published therein on 15 May 1861. It read:

“The spell that has bound me with an utmost oriental idolatry to the Union and the Constitution of our fathers is broken by the duplicity of a sectional President, and by the instinct of self-preservation, whose oracles all trident men would do well just now to counsel and to follow. Be it right or wrong, be its authors. blessed or accursed, be its consequences good or bad, revolution is upon us, and it must be met as becomes a brave and a free people, who are struggling for rights inalienable and dear…I had believed in the better policy to achieve our rights in the Union than to endure our wrongs out of it. Hence, I have looked not to the politicians of the North, but to the people themselves, for a reaction which would restore peace and fraternity amongst us….but even this last hope of the Union men has been dashed to the earth by the insane policy of the Republican Party to excite and keep alive the war pains, so as to forestall all reflection and all efforts at a peaceful solution of our troubles. I am, therefore, for revolution.”

“Sneed was placed in command of the volunteer encampment at Fort Randolph, Tennessee (near Memphis), and later led the “River Brigade” in Major General Leonidas Polk’s army. Sneed’s war service was brief, but praiseworthy. He even survived the daily panicking of his superior, Major General Gideon Pillow. The Tennessee army was transferred to Confederate service in August, 1861. Sneed, however, was one of three generals in that force (all prewar Whigs) who were not, despite the governor’s urgings, subsequently appointed generals in the regular Confederate army. In 1862 Sneed attempted to raise a regiment of infantry, but the Federal advance ended those plans. Governor Harris later appointed Sneed to settle accounts between the Tennessee provisional army and the Confederacy.

Sneed’s letter, datelined from Greensboro, North Carolina, in April 1864 expresses optimism for the future of the Confederate States of America and praises the leadership of Jefferson Davis following a personal meeting with the President. His purpose for gaining an audience with Davis was called a “business interview” in this letter which may have been in connection with his bid to represent the Memphis district in the Confederate Congress at Richmond. His purpose for being in North Carolina is also unclear unless it was to visit relatives who still resided there.

After the war General Sneed returned to Memphis and rebuilt his legal career. A “high-toned, honorable gentleman,” Sneed served as a judge of the Tennessee Supreme Court from 1870 to 1878, judge of the Court of Arbitration in 1879, judge of the Court of Referees from 1883 to 1884, and chancellor of the Eleventh Chancery Division of Tennessee from 1894 to 1900. Sneed also served as a Democratic elector in 1880, vice president of the American Bar Association in 1882, president of the Memphis law school from 1887 to 1893, and was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1887. General Sneed died on July 29, 1901, in Memphis, and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.” [More General in Gray, by Bruce S. Allardice]

John wrote the letter to his cousin Sallie Green (1845-1917), the daughter of Bishop William Mercer Green (1798-1887) and Charlotte Isabella Fleming (1810-1860) of Jackson, Hinds county, Mississippi.


Greensboro, North Carolina
April 10th 1864

My Dear Sallie,

In my anxiety to hear from you all, I enclose two letters in one envelope—this one to you and the other for Lillie—two tickets in a lottery, trusting that one, at least, will draw a prize. I need not assure you that an answer to each of them would be none the less dear because of its uncertainty. Both of you having greatly won upon my affections. I had indulged the hope that after my reiterated importunities, you would attach yourselves, sans ceremonie to my lists of correspondents—and in view of the fact, that “Cousin John’s” time was much engrossed with the business of his present public mission, you would generously waive your assured rights to the “first letter.” In this, I have been disappointed, and thus, “The best laid schemes of men and mice. Gang aft agley.”

But there will be no excuse for you now, and I will expect a long, loud, gossiping letter in due course of mail.

Well, Sallie, “me darling,” how are you getting along? Are you still the bonnie buoyant, blithesome lassie that you were? Or has some misadventure of the heart, or the troubles incident to “grim visaged war” wrinkled your smooth front, and subdued you to the sadness now so common among our once happy people? I hope you are the same. There is no use, as my old friend “Moreland” would say, “to barbecue one’s mind about troubles we cannot help.” We have the authority of one will: Shakespeare, also who told his friend in his own quaint style, “But for the edification of all future ages,) that “Carking care hath less power to bite, Him who scoffs at it and sets it light.” But yet there are troubles which human creation cannot, and should not “scoff at,” but should accept them, as the special ministrations of God—to woo us from the vanities of this mortal life, and wise us to himself.

Of such, this war has been alas! so mournfully prolific. I trust, dear Sallie, that there is no blood yet upon the “lintel of your door.” And if it does come, I trust that you. will see what the brave people of the South must all be brought to see—that God is leading them through a sea of troubles to an independent nationality. That He intends these sorrows, by the way, as monuments of His justice and His mercy—and has made them pungent and terrible that the memory of them may be but the more enduring.

President Jefferson Davis—“a very extraordinary man—the very man of God’s nomination to ride upon the whirlwind and direct the storm.”

I have been much of late in Richmond. Everything looks encouraging and men speak confidently of the prospect of closing the war this year. I saw the President and had a business interview with him. He is looking well. He impressed my mind which had been prejudiced against him, as being a very remarkable man. Now that I have seen and judged him in person, I positively like him. I had always admired his administration abilities—but there is that about him when his official cap is on, that impresses all about him with the idea that he is a very extraordinary man. Calm—always self poised—quick to apprehend—prompt to execute—with more upon his brain—and yet the coolest head amid the millions of sufferers around him. He seemed to me the very man of God’s nomination to “ride upon the whirlwind and direct the storm.” Add to this that withal, he is a devoted Christian and you have the “highest type of man.”

I heard fully from my bonnie wife and kindred in Tennessee a day or two since. All well, resolute and hopeful. Love to all. Affectionately yours, — John L. T. Sneed