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Lieut. Robert D. Powell

1825 - 1861

Lieut. Robert D. Powell enlisted May 10, 1861. He was never married and his mother later filed a claim, and received $174.00, after he was killed at Barboursville, KY, September 19, 1861. He was the brother of George R. Powel and Eliza Fain. He was age 35 in the 1860 Hawkins County, Tennessee Census, living with his brother George. Robert was the former editor of the Rogersville newspaper and was the first man lost from the county (F. Shumaker). He was also the first Confederate soldier to be killed outside of Virginia (Military Annals of TN). His body was brought back to Rogersville for burial in the old Presbyterian Church Cemetery on Washington Street.

His parents were the Honorable Samuel Powell and Mary C. “Polly” Rutledge, daughter of General George Rutledge of Blountville, TN. His brother, Benjamin Powell married Mary’s sister Nelly and they moved to West Tennessee. It was said that on coming to Tennessee the brothers made a slight change in the spelling of the family name, omitting the final “l” from Powell, and in this way the families have kept up with each other.

The Powells were of Welsh Quaker stock. Samuel Powell was appointed to a judgeship at the early age of 32 years. Except while he served in the legislature, he held this position until his death in 1844. He was stricken in the court room, was carried to the home of his physician, Dr. Billy Walker, where he died. He had received a large acreage in Caney Valley for a law fee; he purchased and entered other land, thus acquiring a large farm, where he built a house and reared his family of seven sons and two daughters.


(CONFEDERATE VETERAN, Vol. VIII, p. 122, 1900)

J. P. Coffin, of Batesville, Ark., corrects an error: The VETERAN of February, 1899, contained a sketch of Col. Joel A. Battle, of the Twentieth Tennessee Infantry, by Dr. W. J. McMurray, which the writer hereof read with much interest and appreciation, and which was a most worthy tribute to the memory of as gallant an officer and worthy a gentleman as wore the gray, and entitles Dr. McMurray to the gratitude of every admirer of the noble old man of whom he wrote. But there was one misstatement in the article, easily explained by the long lapse of time, which should be corrected - indeed, should have been corrected ere this.

In summing up the account of Col. Battle’s expedition to Barboursville, Ky., occurs this sentence: “The only casualties on our side were one man wounded and one old white sow killed.” A man named Johnson in the company to which the writer belonged was wounded, and doubtless the white sow was killed, but a brave and gallant man met his death from the first volley fired by the enemy. A part of Col. Battle’s force was a squadron of cavalry from Branner’s Battalion, commanded by Capt. John A. Rowan, and accompanying this squadron, as a volunteer merely, was Lieut. Robert Powel, of the Nineteenth Tennessee Infantry, who had obtained leave to join this expedition, although no part of his own regiment was going, and, having borrowed a horse, rode with the advance guard. The approach to the bridge on which Dr. McMurray speaks was through a lane with a high fence on either side, terminating at this bridge, which spanned a deep ravine, in which the enemy was posted under and on both sides of the bridge. When the front rank of the advance guard had gotten within about thirty steps of the bridge and saw in the early dawn that the floor had been taken up, they hesitated for a moment, and just then the enemy gave us their first volley, and Lieut. Powell, who was riding at my right, fell forward and to his left, striking the neck of my horse and falling to the ground. Capt. Rowan ordered one company to the right of the road and the other to the left, and while deploying under this order we heard Col. Battle’s command to “clear the way for the artillery,” and the enemy fled.

When I returned to where Lieut. Powel had fallen his body had been lifted to the side of the road, and the men who were with it said that he was dead when the first reached him. The body was taken back to Cumberland Gap, and I think removed to Rogersville, Tenn. (his home), for burial. I have always understood that Lieut. Powel was the first Confederate killed on the soil of Kentucky. He was the first lieutenant of the Hawkins County Company in the Nineteenth Tennessee Infantry, of which Judge C. W. Heiskell, now of Memphis, Tenn., was then captain, and was a brother of Col. Sam Powel, of the Twenty-Ninth Tennessee Infantry, who commanded a brigade and was wounded in the battle of Perryville, Ky., and who is now residing in honored old age at Hernando, Miss.

This correction is written in no critical or fault-finding spirit (for no Confederate who was at the Nashville reunion, as I was, and saw Dr. McMurray’s magnificent work can be other than an admirer of him), but simply in the interest of the exact truth of history and in justice to the memory of a gallant officer and a noble man whose life was given as a sacrifice to our cause so early in the conflict.

(Photos by Sheila Johnston)

One hundred, thirty years later - 1991, re-enactors from East Tennessee pay special tribute to Robert D. Powell at the Old Presbyterian Church Cemetery at Rogersville. Re-enactors stood in silent prayer in front of the cemetery, gave a salute to Lieutenant Powell, and cheers rang out from the group - a fitting tribute for the fallen soldier who lies buried in an unmarked grave.

The following email was sent to me on Tuesday, August 3, 1999:

Greetings Ms. Johnston:

I am the Commander of the Blountville Sons of Confederate Veterans camp chartered approximately a year and a half ago. A member of our camp, Jim Sell and creator of our camp web-page sent me the hyperlink to your wonderful page. After much debate and research for a name for our new camp , we decided that naming it for some great general or famous officer of the Confederacy would be the usual thing to do. Instead we wanted someone really special, someone, perhaps a common man, that made an unusual contribution or sacrifice for the cause. We found that man, and he is a son of Hawkins county that gave his life early in the War for Southern Independence. His name is Lt.Robert D. Powell . I just wanted you to know that we wanted to honor him and some time in the near future we would desire to have a memorial service for him and even some day place a marker to his memory and supreme sacrifice. Thank you for your dedication to the memory of our beloved ancestors.

My best regards,

Dan Carter, Commander

Lt. Robert D. Powell Camp #1817

Sons of Confederate Veterans

Blountville TN

Lt. Robert D. Powell Camp #1817

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Copyright © 1999/2000/2001 by Sheila Weems Johnston, Rogersville, TN