Tennessees highest-ranking Confederate
Alexander Peter Stewart was born on Oct. 2, 1821 in Rogersville,
Tenn. in a home on present-day North Church Street. His parents
were William and Elizabeth (Decherd) Stewart, who had recently
located to Rogersville from Blountville where they purchased
the downtown home for $300.
The family was moderately wealthy and Alexander spent the first
ten years of his life in the East Tennessee city and attended
grammar school at McMinn Academy. His parents saw to a lot of
his education in his formative years when it was discovered
that young Alexander had a gift for mathematics.
In 1831, the family sold their home for $600 and relocated to
Winchester, Tenn. The family prospered in the middle Tennessee
town and Elizabeth went on to give birth to eight more children.
Alexander continued with his studies and, in 1838, his grades
were such that he earned an appointment to the United States
Military Academy at West Point. A.P. Stewart, as he was becoming
known, excelled in the Academy and quickly proved his ability
as a scholar in mathematics. He graduated 12th in a class of
56 in 1842. During his time at the Academy, A.P. Stewart roomed
with future Generals John Pope, W.S. Rosecrans, James Longstreet,
and Gustavus Smith. In addition, John Newton and William T.
Sherman would also graduate with the class of 1842 making
it one of the most influential classes in West Point history.
Lt. A.P. Stewart was posted to his first assignment in Army
Artillery, where he served one year before being recalled to
West Point to work as an instructor of mathematics. The Tennessean
held the position for three years and fulfilled his military
obligation to America. In 1845, he resigned his commission from
the United States Army and took a professorship in his native
state at Cumberland University. That same year he married Harriet
Byron Chase and soon after started a family.
After four years, Stewart left his professorship and became
a member of the faculty at the University of Nashville. He returned
to Cumberland University in 1854 and remained there until the
outbreak of the War Between the States.
Stewart enjoyed scholarly pursuits and had been a voracious
reader from his early childhood. The positions at the University
allowed him to pursue his intellectual interests until war began
looming over the South. His wife bore him four sons in the years
he worked as a professor and he was a good father. He was, like
most Tennesseans, against slavery and secession, but was an
adamant believer in the states rights to decide such issues.
Following Tennessee voting to secede from the Republic, Stewart
volunteered his services to then-Governor Isham Harris. Gov.
Harris assigned Stewart the rank of Major in the Tennessee Militia
and gave him command of the heavy artillery and water batteries
on the Mississippi River at Fort Wright at Randolph.
Major Stewart organized and trained 20 batteries of Tennessee
artillery at the fort. Stewarts "by the book"
style quickly earned him the nickname "Old Straight"
from his men, but his personal leadership also earned their
The mathematics professor proved himself under fire as a good
tactician and old school military soldier. He and his men were
able to push off Gen. U.S. Grants forces for a time in
the futile battle. During the early action, Stewart was wounded
when a cannon next to him exploded, burning his face with the
ignited powder, but the wounds were only superficial.
Major Stewarts actions under fire and his examples of
leadership quickly earned the respect of then-commanding General
Albert Sydney Johnston who soon recommended promoting Stewart
to the rank of Brigadier General.
Following the fall of Fort Donelson and Nashville, northern
forces pushed south towards Pittsburg Landing.Gen. A.P. Stewart
was ordered to march his Second Brigade north from Corinth,
Miss. and meet the advancing Union troops. The Rogersville native
arrived with his troops around midnight on April 4, 1862.
Stewarts brigade, which was made up of the Fourth, Fifth,
and Thirty-third Regiments of the Army of Tennessee, the thirteenth
Regiment of Arkansas Volunteers, and a light artillery battery
of six pieces. With Gen. A.S. Johnston commanding, Gen. Stewarts
men engaged the Union forces at what would eventually become
known as the Battle of Shiloh.
The report he filed with Confederate headquarters praised the
actions of his men and especially the actions of the Fourth
Tennessee Regiment for relieving three other units pinned down
by enemy fire and forcing the Union Army back towards the river.
According to his report, Gen. Stewart received the order from
Gen. Braxton Bragg to assault the battery position and rode
back to locate a unit capable of attacking the enemy battery
that was preventing the Confederate forces from advancing. Stewart
went on to say:
"...I turned to the Fourth; told them what was wanted and
asked if they would take the battery, and received the reply
Show us where it is; we will try. The regiment moved
forward, under a severe fire of canister, from which it lost
31 men killed and 160 wounded, charged and carried the battery,
and drove the enemy back into the thick woods beyond it. The
entire regiment behaved admirably, and it gives me pleasure
to bear testimony to their gallant conduct and especially that
of Lt. Colonel Strahl and Colonel Neely..."
Following the death of Gen. Johnston at Shiloh and the subsequent
retreat of Southern forces from the battlefield, Gen. Stewart
and his men fell back helping to cover the retreat and regrouped.
As a commander, A.P. Stewart found himself becoming regarded
as one of the better officers in the Army of Tennessee. His
ability to demand the best from the soldiers under him was a
rare thing as times became tough for Confederate soldiers. He
wasnt below lending a hand helping his men get into position.
Once while crossing a creek, a cannon being pulled by a horse
became bogged down in the mud and couldnt be moved. Without
thinking, Gen. Stewart threw his reins to an aide and waded
out in the creek where he put his shoulder against the wheel
and said "all together men" and pushed the wheels
out of the trough and onto the bank. His modesty and shyness
were just as legendary and he never put his needs above those
of the men under him. His men proved themselves time and again
at the battles of Perryville and Murfreesboro.
At the Battle of Murfreesboro, the troops under Stewart picked
up their nickname "the little giant division" for
their actions in destroying Union Gen. Philip Sheridans
stand on the right flank.
Gen. Stewarts hardest fought actions on the battlefield,
however, occurred in September 1863 while engaging the Union
Army in Chattanooga and at the Battle of Chickamauga. Stewart
ran headlong into trouble while checking his divisions
lines prior to a crucial charge in the battle. Gen. Stewart
accidentally rode his old roan horse through a yellow-jackets
nest and was aggressively attacked by the insects. Although
the incident dislodged him from the saddle, Stewart was not
seriously hurt in the incident and immediately returned to action.
The Battle of Chickamauga would prove to be one of his most
expensive in terms of casualties. Stewarts men broke the
Union line briefly on the first day of battle and helped lead
the attack the second day that shattered the federal forces
and sent them headlong into retreat from the battlefield. Gen.
Stewart and his men advanced towards Chattanooga in Braggs
disastrous attempt to take the city. The "little giant"
division were placed along the left line and spread out too
thin to have any real effect on the Union forces. Although Stewarts
men performed well under fire, the division suffered a 52 percent
casualty rate in the battle. Following Gen. Braggs order
to withdraw, morale started becoming a problem in the ranks.
Gen. Stewart regrouped his command, but the seemingly constant
retreat from the Union towards Atlanta was slowly demoralizing
the Army of Tennessee and the Rogersville native found it difficult
to keep his mens spirits high.
In May 1864, Army of Tennessee Commanding General Joseph Eggleston
Johnston ordered Stewart and his men to engage Union General
Joseph Hooker at New Hope Church, GA. As was his custom before
a battle, Gen. Stewart rode along the front of his line talking
to his men and giving them the before-battle pep talk. The Union
rifle fire began to get heated around the front causing his
son, Lt. R.C. Stewart, to call out:
"Now, father, you know you promised mother that you would
not expose yourself today."
The quick-witted Tennesseans started laughing and passing the
comment down the line. As the general rode past them, many repeated
the remark to their beloved general.
As the battle of New Hope Church began in earnest, Stewart noticed
that Gen. Sherman had stretched his battle lines thin and was
able to successfully pinpoint their weakness and order his men
to pour their fire into the positions. It was no easy battle
for the Tennessean. Stewart and his men came under devastating
fire from Hookers battle-hardened corps. Although tired
and frustrated, the Tennesseans under Gen. Stewart held their
own and brutally fought off the Union soldiers devastating
Hookers men and forcing Gen. Sherman to order Hooker to
retreat. Gen. Johnston was so impressed with Stewarts
turn-around from almost certain defeat that told him:
"If I can make you a Lieutenant-General for your management,
then you shall have it."
The rank was delivered, as promised, a few weeks later while
Stewart was directing his men in the building of breastworks.The
promotion made him one of only two Tennesseans to earn the rank
of Lt. General in the Confederate Army.
At a battle near Ezra Church in Georgia, the Tennessean was
scouting open ground between his line and the Unions when
received his second wound in the war. A spent musket ball fired
from a Union soldier struck him between the eyes and knocked
him from his horse. His aide Aristide Hopkins carried him off
of the battlefield and everyone seeing the wound thought "Old
Straight" had finally pushed his luck too far. Much to
everyones surprise, however, Gen. Stewart had only been
knocked unconscious by the bullet. After coming to and shaking
it off, he mounted his horse and resumed command of his corps.
On July 17, 1864, a telegram from the Confederate War Office
was received ordering Texas Gen. John B. Hood to take command
of the Army of Tennessee replacing the popular Johnston. Confederate
President Jefferson Davis, who personally disliked Johnston,
ordered Gen. Hood to put the Army of Tennessee back into the
war with offensive tactics. The Texans first order of
business was locating the positions of Hardee and Stewart and
establishing communications for the upcoming defense of Atlanta.
There was some trouble from his new command. The Senior Corps
Commander of the Army of Tennessee General Hardee echoed the
anger being felt by the troops and thought the decision by President
Davis was a way of replacing him as well. General Hardee almost
tendered his resignation, but the junior Corps Commander Stewart
convinced Hardee to remain in the interest of his men.
Gen. Hoods early actions in command revitalized the Army
of Tennessee and did put them back in the fight as a formidable
From Atlanta to the Armys near destruction at the Battle
of Franklin, Lt. Gen. A.P. Stewart garnered a reputation as
one of the better commanders in the Army of Tennessee. He was
cool-headed under fire and could inspire his men under the most
adverse of conditions. In many cases, rallying them to complete
their assignments in spite of overwhelming odds. Three horses
were shot out from under him at the Battle of Resaca. Under
Commanding Generals A.S. Johnston, Joseph Johnston, Bragg, and
Hood, Stewart maintained their respect of his command style
and also that of his subordinates. In a report filed by General
John Hood, he wrote of his admiration for Stewart stating "he
admired the Tennessean for his cheering of his command by riding
among them before every battle, talking with and encouraging
them toward the bloody work ahead." One of his officers
also later wrote of his demeanor in battle and his regard for
the soldiers under him saying:
"As an example of the consideration for his men, I have
seen him, when we were on the march and halted by the roadside
to rest and he wished to pass through the line of tired men
lying or sitting by the road, most politely ask the men to make
room for him and his staff to get through and then ride through
slowly and carefully least the horses trample some of the men..."
As the war began coming to an end, Lt. Gen. A.P. Stewart found
himself commanding the final remnants of the Army of Tennessee.
In April 1865 at the Battle of Coes Farm in North Carolina,
the Lt. General and other commanders surrendered the Army to
Union General William T. Sherman making the Rogersville
native the highest ranking Confederate Commander from East Tennessee
to have served in the War Between the States. In later years
he would comment on fellow West Point Classmate General Sherman
saying that while he was an able student of the Academy, he
was no gentleman.
Since his first engagement four years earlier, Lt. Gen. A.P.
Stewart had served in every campaign fought by the Confederate
Army of Tennessee.
A war-weary and tired Stewart was paroled in Greensboro, NC
and returned to Lebanon, Tenn. where he took a professorship
at Cumberland University. In this position, he rode out the
tumultuous Reconstruction era and managed to reestablish himself
in the academic world.
In 1868, he was appointed professor of mathematics at the University
of Mississippi at Oxford and quickly earned a reputation as
one of the Universitys best professors.
In 1874, he was elected President of the University and immediately
set about making some much-needed reforms at the facility. As
president, Stewart helped reestablish the University as one
of the best in the South.
In 1886, Stewart stepped down as President of the University
and pursued other interests. Four years later, the U.S. Congress
passed legislation that called for the formation of a National
Park from the battlefields around Chattanooga and Chickamauga.
The former Confederate general and Southern scholar was appointed
as one of the commissioners to take charge of the work. A.P.
Stewart returned to the woods and fields where he had led his
men in the Confederacys last great victory. This time,
however, he looked upon the region as a historian and worked
diligently to ensure the battlefields collected were the most
strategic positions of the battle and reflected the sacrifice
of both the Confederate and Union soldiers who fought in the
battle. In 1896, Chickamauga National Battlefield Park became
the first of its kind in the United States and set the example
for the others that followed. Stewarts popularity in the
region soared. The United Daughters of the Confederacy named
the Chattanooga Chapter in his honor.
A.P. Stewart remained in that position and eventually moved
to Biloxi, Miss. where he pursued literary interests until his
death on Aug. 30, 1908. His body was removed from the City and
sent to St. Louis, MO where he had lived with his son for a
short while. The Tennessean was laid to rest amid ceremonies
proper to a distinguished citizen and military officer.
In 1918, the former Confederate General from Tennessee was memorialized
by the Chattanooga U.D.C., who contracted noted Tennessee artist
Belle Kinney to sculpt a bust of the Rogersville native. It
was cast at the famous Tiffany Studios in New York and unveiled
on April 22, 1919 in a ceremony held on Chattanoogas courthouse
No one figure has so slipped from the pages of Tennessee history
as has Alexander P. Stewart. Information gathered for this story
had to be gleaned from his personal reports, those of Gen. John
B. Hood, Rogersville historians, and battlefield accounts from
the War Between the States where his troops were engaged.
I especially have to thank Carson-Newman English professor Doug
Taylor, who is one of the few people that has researched the
Rogersville native and frequently gives lectures on the forgotten
Tennessean. Prior to the publication of this article, he informed
me that a new book on Stewart written by Sam Davis Elliott has
just been published and should be available from your local
Although a man of scholarly pursuits, A.P. Stewart never wrote
a memoir of his life or experiences. He did later comment on
the War Between the States when he wrote:
"...I hold that the actions of the Southern people was
legally, constitutionally and morally right. The Southern people
were devoted to the Constitution and the laws of this country,
and never violated either..."
In addition, the modest quiet-spoken man gave a speech at a
Convention of the Sons of Confederate Veterans where he spoke
of the need to aid the forgotten veterans of the war and to
provide for the proper education and training of their children.
His words would memorialize him to the men who had served in
his command during the war.
Although a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, A.P. Stewart
was chiefly regarded by many as a scholar and little credit
is given to his tactics on the battlefield. He was, as the story
said, a man of the old military school. His knowledge of artillery
aided him greatly in his battlefield command and reinforced
an old saying of Emperor Napoleans "that he would
have no man as a general who had not served in artillery."
As mentioned in the story, he was only one of two native sons
to achieve the rank of Lieutenant general. The only other Tennessean
to achieve the rank was Confederate cavalry legend N.B. Forrest.
At the time of his death on 1908, Former Lt. Gen. Simon Buckner
was the only Confederate soldier living who had held the same
rank in the War Between the States.
While Stewarts work at the University of Mississippi is
notable, his efforts in helping to establish the Chickamauga
National Military Park is regarded as one of his best contributions.
The states of Tennessee and Georgia gave $400,000 and the U.S.
Government appropriated $725,000 to purchase the land, which
would encompass 15 square miles and become the first such Park
of its kind in U.S. History. The battlefield remains much as
it did in 1863. The heavily forested woodlands were still intact
because the battles rifle-fire imbedded in the trees made
them hazardous to cut. This past weekend, more than 20,000 historical
reenactors descended on the Park to reenact the Battle of Chickamauga.
The mega-reenactment drew more than 100,000 spectators from
around the world, including numerous domestic and foreign military
students studying the tactics that were employed in the battle.
No monument, except the bust erected by the Chattanooga United
Daughters of the Confederacy, exists in Tennessee to honor Stewart.
A Tennessee Historical Commission plaque marks his birthplace
in Rogersville. A large womens residence hall on campus
is named the A.P. Stewart Hall in his honor. The boardroom of
the University of Mississippi once had a full-color oil portrait
of him in Confederate uniform hanging on the wall, but no one
at the University could confirm if the portrait is still there.