Company: Company B
Unit Served: 51st Regiment Tennessee Volunteers, CSA
Cemetery and Address: Okelly Cemetary Fayette County Tennessee
James Henry Beasley
James Henry Beasley was born on May 8th, 1840 in Fayette County, Tennessee. His parents were John R. Beasley and Harriet Broom both from north central North Carolina. The family was of moderate means as John had no slaves or real estate according to the 1840 census. The family of two boys and four girls by 1852 lived in the Sixth Civil District of Fayette County in a community still known as Hickory Withe and near Galloway.
Boyhood was hard for Henry, his mother and his siblings, as his father died in the late 1850’s when Henry was in his late teens, probably a few years after his grandfather, Merrel Beasley’s death in April of 1854. Henry being the second born and the first son received a reasonable education for the time, as he was able to read and write when rumors of the war began to fly. As one state after another began to leave the union, secession fever was fanned by the call for troops to invade the South.
In May of 1861 Governor Ishum Harris of Tennessee began organizing State troops and the State legislature on May 6th voted to to secede subject to a popular vote on June 6th 1861 from what was left of the union.
Fort Sumter S.C. was now in proper hands and enlistment fever swept through Fayette county. Henry with his friends enlisted in the local Company B of the 51st Regiment of the Tennessee Vols., which enlisted at Galloway Station, Tennessee. Henry signed up November 20, 1861. At that time he was 21 years old. He could be counted on for defending his home and family but not for slavery as his grandfather has gotten rid of his seven slaves between 1840 and 1850 as uneconomical.
Henry reported for duty and was elected Lieutenant, probably for the same reasons all officers were elected in the early part of the War of Northern Aggression, those of popularity, literacy, and he had a horse.
As sickness swept through the ranks, Henry fell ill and missed the surrender of part of the 51st Regiment At Fort Pillow, according to the muster rolls. The 51st Regiment served in the Army of Mississippi during the early part of the war. Then when the battle of Shiloh began to unfold the the 51st was left “to form (a) garrison for post and depot duty at Corinth” by order of General A.S. Johnston. After the Battle of Shiloh the Army was reorganized into the Army of Tennessee and Henry received an honorable discharge from service as stated in Special Order number 43, dated April 23rd, 1862 which listed him an numerous other officers as “surplus”. His copy of those orders survive today in the hands of the writer and the master Order listing all the offices is in the National Archives. From that point on his service is undocumented as he never surrendered or recieved a parole or took the oath of allegiance. The following is based on family stories. I was told by my Grand parents that he served as a courier and scout for the remainder of the war for General N. B. Forrest. On one occasion while on duty near his home he was pursued by a yankee patrol and while racing thru the woods to elude the invading yankee hoards he threw away his saber because of the racket it made while ridding thus allowing him to evade the yankees.
At the wars ended Henry found a desolated South. Henry did as many other proud Confederates did and laid down their arms and became lovers – but not of yankees. He married Laura OKelly of Galloway, Tennessee on May 2nd, 1865 and settled down to build a life, home and family in the neighborhood where they had grown up. Henry was six days short of being 26 and Laura was was 24 years old at their marriage. Laura’s four brothers had all served in the Confederate Calvary.
Over the years they had six children, but tragedy befell them in 1877 as yellow fever swept through west Tennessee and while Laura was pregnant with the last child, Thomas Tarry Beasley, three of their children died. The family once promising to be eight strong was reduced to four since one other child died the year before. Henry now thirty-seven and a landed farmer partly thru the gift of his father-in-law Mr. Okelly who had given the couple a farm there in Fayette county. On March 31st 1896 Laura passed away. Henry was fifty-six. As the years passed he gave up farming and became a store keeper in Galloway and occasionally visited his son and daughter who both live in Memphis by that time.
Henry at this stage in life retired and as my father, Houston Dixon Beasley, said became a gentleman gardner. He living in Memphis with his son, Thomas Tarry Beasley, and growing a garden while attired in a white shirt, dress trousers, gloves and not working up a sweat in the process. Henry had a white beard similar to General Lee’s according to my father and sat many an afternoon under a large oak tree on the side of his son’s home on Tutwiler Street in Memphis reading his Bible and chewing tobacco. His Bible still survives with his personal notes now in the writers hands.
On November 30, 1922 Henry went to be with the Lord at the age of eighty-two and his body is buried beside his wifes and four of their children in the Okelly Cemetery, Fayette County just south of Galloway Tennessee in the area where he lived, fought, worked, loved and died. I hope to meet him in the future and fill in the gaps – you will get to talk to him too if you know the Christ of the Bible that Henry studied and knew in the last years of his life.
TTB II 6-1-2020