Monday, September 12, 2011

Col. Benjamin Franklin McCollum, CSA

Company F of the 2nd Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry/Company C – Cherokee Dragoons, Phillips Legion Calvary – Army of North Virginia/ and the Blackhorse Cavalry of the Georgia State Militia Home Guard – McCollum’s Scouts

Information gathered by Davis E. McCollum –

The August issue of The Crescent Chronicle carried a lead article about a student project to mark the historic grave of Aaron Burris, a county resident who died between January and April 1864, a victim of the Home Guard. The article accurately described the last year of the Civil War in North Georgia as one of Cherokee County’s darkest chapters. It also characterized the Home Guard as an unofficial band and as one of the lesser known evils of the war. My purpose in writing this article is to put the Home Guard into historical perspective and to offer a short biography of my ancestor, Benjamin Franklin McCollum, its leader in Cherokee, Cobb and Pickens Counties. This is a very personal story of a life interrupted by war and cut short by violence.

Benjamin Franklin McCollum was born November 9, 1843 in Walton County, Georgia. He was the fifth child (and fifth son) of Jesse Miller McCollum (1811-1907) and his first wife, Elizabeth A. Edwards (1818-1853), born in South Carolina. Jesse’s father, William (1789-1876), served in the War of 1812 in South Carolina, and his grandfather, Daniel (1760-1850), served in the Revolution in North Carolina. This line of McCollum’s was founded in America by John N. McCollum (1658-1760), a Scot who was banished “to the King’s plantations abroad” on July 31, 1685 for his role in a rebellion. John was transported to the colony of New Jersey aboard the Henry and Francis of Newcastle and settled in Somerset County. He became an elder of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church, in whose cemetery his body rests.

After the Revolution Daniel McCollum moved from Rowan County North Carolina to the Pendleton District of South Carolina, where he remained until February 1826, when he moved to Habersham County, Georgia. He lived in the Blue Creek District of that county until his death in 1850. He is buried in the Old Blue Creek Baptist Church Cemetery in an area that became White County in 1857. His previously unmarked grave was marked with a tombstone commemorating his Revolutionary War service on July 4, 2002.

William “Billy” McCollum married his first wife, Susannah Miller (1788-1824) in South Carolina on June 10, 1810 and their son, Jesse, was born the next year. Billy left South Carolina for Habersham County Georgia in 1823, three years before his father. Susannah died in 1824 and was the first person buried at the Old Blue Creek Baptist Church Cemetery. Billy remarried on September 28, 1826 to Esther H. Edwards and the family remained in Habersham County until after 1830, when they moved to Walton County. Jesse married in Walton County in 1833 and lived there until after 1840. His family was in Cobb County in 1850 and was enumerated in the July 9, 1860 census of Cherokee County in the Wildcat District. Benjamin was shown as 17 years old in that census, although he would not turn 17 until November.

When the Civil War broke out, about a dozen Cherokee County McCollum’s, including Benjamin, enlisted in Georgia volunteer infantry and cavalry units that would serve in both the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee. Benjamin enlisted on April 18, 1861 in Company F of the 2nd Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry for a term of one year marked by several illnesses including camp fever, which hospitalized him. The last entry in his compiled service record with the 2nd Regiment was on May 22, 1862 when he was returned to duty with his unit after a stay in Chimborazo Hospital Number 5 in Richmond, Virginia. His one year enlistment expired while he was in the hospital, so he was probably discharged from service and returned home.

His service record picks up again on August 6, 1862 when he took his own horse to Richmond Virginia and enlisted in Company C (Cherokee Dragoons) of the Phillips Legion Cavalry for “three years or the war.” In March 1863 General Robert E. Lee assigned the Phillips Legion Cavalry to the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of General J.E.B. Stuart. It served in that army until the final winter of the war.

Benjamin appeared on muster rolls and pay records throughout 1863, but there is little specific information about his activities. During that period the Legion was involved in several significant battles, including Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. A notation in his record shows that from July 19 to September 30, 1863 he served as a courier. Another indicates that his horse was valued at $1300.00. A muster roll for the period during which Aaron Burris was killed in Cherokee County, shows that Benjamin was with his unit in Virginia from December 31, 1863 until April 24, 1864. He was then shown on furlough until August 15, 1864. Company muster rolls taken on the last day of September and the last day of October 1864 show him as absent without leave (AWOL) since August 16, 1864.

The North Georgia that Benjamin came home to was not the one he left in 1862. His older brothers John and George had killed in the war. His younger brother, Robert, who served with him in Company C from February 1864, was wounded on June 11, 1864 and was sent home for 60 days to recuperate. Quite possibly Benjamin accompanied him. Robert, too, was shown on the muster roll as AWOL after August 6, 1864. His uncle, Enoch, an infantry company commander, had died of measles with his unit in Tennessee. And his cousin, Moses, also died of disease in Tennessee leaving a young pregnant widow and a two year old daughter.

The record is not conclusive, but it does not appear that Benjamin ever returned to the Army of Northern Virginia. He seems, though, to have had official status in his Home Guard activities in North Georgia as attested to by a September 5, 1864 commission from Governor Joseph E. Brown making him a Captain in the Blackhorse Cavalry of the Georgia State Militia. On November 26 of that year acting Brigadier General Jesse A. Glenn issued Special Orders No. 16 authorizing Colonel B.F. McCollum to raise and organize a regiment for his "Brigade of Cavalry of Reserves and non-conscripts." According to the latter document the companies McCollum organized were to be part of Glenn's Cavalry, headquartered at Athens Georgia and their muster rolls were to be forwarded to the Adjutant and Inspectors General Office in Richmond. In an inspection report sent to Major General Howell Cobb at the end of January 1865, “Colonel McCollum” was reported to be in Canton with 100 men. The inspector was concerned that the Home Guard was not operating as a unit and recommended that all of them be mustered as soon as possible and sent as a fighting unit to General Lee. It is doubtful that Governor Brown would have approved such a move, but it apparently never took place.

Benjamin McCollum’s Home Guard unit was known in Cherokee County as “McCollum’s Scouts.” Some histories of Cherokee and Pickens Counties written in the early 20th century portray him as a deserter and renegade leader of an outlaw band that preyed ruthlessly on the citizens of North Georgia. At the time of his Home Guard activities, General Sherman had invaded and occupied much of Georgia, leaving behind a swath of destruction and troops to protect the railroad, which was his vital supply and communications line. That railroad passed through Cherokee and Pickens Counties and the “Scouts” found it and foraging Union troops to be good targets.

Sherman’s attitude about his Southern adversaries was contained in a letter he wrote in September 1863 while camped at Big Black, Mississippi. He was responding to a question from President Lincoln’s military advisor about the nature of the Southern people and the type of government that would have to be set up in occupied areas. Sherman divided the Southern population into four classes: the large planters, the small farmers, the pro-Union segment and the “young bloods.” The first three classes he believed could be controlled by an occupation government, but the “young bloods” were the flaming youth of the Confederacy, the hard-riding, quick-shooting young men of good family who followed leaders like Jeb Stuart and Nathan Bedford Forrest and gave the Southern army a cavalry that Sherman frankly admired. These men Sherman regarded as “dangerous subjects in every sense.” If no way could be found to harness and redirect their violent, disruptive inclinations, “this class of men must all be killed.”

Benjamin Franklin McCollum was a “young blood” and he had a reputation by the time the war ended. The Reconstruction years were difficult for him and for his family. He had married Roseanna (Rosey) Lucinda Garrison on January 17, 1865 and came home in April after the surrender at Appomattox to start a family. In the five years following the war he and Rosey had three daughters. In 1876 they had a son. He ran a blacksmith shop in Canton until at least 1870. In the 1870s he read law and set up a private practice in Brooks Station, Fayette County, Georgia. His calling card said that he would practice in the Clayton, Fayette, Coweta, Pike, Meriwether and Spalding Superior Courts and the Supreme Court.

A few glimpses into Benjamin’s life in the 1870s appeared in Atlanta Constitution articles. The May 24, 1873 edition of the paper reported an attempt by a posse from Pickens County to arrest him at his home in Canton on a murder charge stemming from an incident during the Civil War. The state legislature had stricken the indictment from the docket, but it had recently been revived and the group of a dozen armed men intended to take him “dead or alive.” He succeeded in escaping from them by slashing their leader with a knife and eluding a volley of gunfire. The February 2, 1877 edition of the paper reported that there was to be a Sheriff’s sale of land, a dwelling and a storehouse belonging to B.F. McCollum in Fayette County to satisfy a tax lien. On October 27, 1877 the paper reported that Brooks Station had been awakened a few days before by a “regular war” between three Brassell brothers and Benjamin McCollum in which pistols were used until Benjamin got the better of one of the brothers in a “rough and tumble tussle.” On January 8, 1879 Benjamin got into an altercation in Brooks Station with another attorney, Reverend John G. Caldwell and “knocked him senseless.” A follow-up article in the January 16th issue of the paper noted, “Mr. Caldwell’s friends think he was unjustifiably attacked and Colonel McCollum’s friends claim that he was justifiable in the attack.”

By 1880 he had moved to Hampton in Henry County, where he continued his law practice. Apparently he made an enemy of the town’s deputy marshal, Ben McKneely, who appears to have been running, or protecting, a brothel near Benjamin’s office. The Daily Constitution of May 27, 28 and 29, 1880 recounted the story in detail. Several days before, Benjamin had complained to the town council that “a certain public closet was a nuisance” and asked that it be removed. When the council failed to act, he took it on himself to turn it over. McKneely put it back up and threatened to “kill any man who dared (to remove it).” He loaded a double barrel shotgun and placed it in a store near the closet. On May 26, the two local men got into an argument about the closet, which escalated into a fight and gunfire. Benjamin intervened and took the pistol from one of the men and refused to turn it over the McKneely, who attempted to take it by force. Both men agreed to give it to the town marshal when he arrived on the scene. McCollum accused McKneely of drinking and McKneely called him a damned liar and the fight started again. McKneely left and came back with the shotgun, which he had placed in a nearby store earlier in the week. Several people prevented McKneely from shooting and one took the shotgun from him. Benjamin’s friends urged him to leave, but he refused and words continued to be exchanged. McKneely grabbed the shotgun back and fired one barrel into Benjamin’s chest and fired the second over his head as he fell to the ground dead.

Minutes later his family arrived to find him lying face down in the street in a pool of blood. The paper carried this graphic description of the scene:

“McCollum was hardly cold in death before his wife and four children heard the dreadful news. They rushed frantically to the scene and in the blood kneeled to cry in their passionate grief. The scene was one which moved strong men to tears, and added fresh horror to the tragedy.”

The article concluded with the following descriptions of the two men:

“McCollum was a captain in the Confederate service and served with marked gallantry. He was known as a desperate man and had been more than once indicted for murder. He was about 40 years of age. McKneely is about 25. He is married and has two children. He is considered a dangerous man, and the common agreement seems to be that he had been drinking when the fatal affray occurred.”

Benjamin was buried in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery on May 28, 1880. He was 36 years old. Rosey Garrison remarried in 1891. In 1889 and 1890 she worked as a dressmaker in Atlanta. She died in 1934. McKneely was never prosecuted for the murder. He escaped to Indian Territory (Oklahoma), where he lived out his life. Postscript: A descendant of Ben’s killer, Benjamin H. McNeely, provided a copy of a November 11, 1933 newspaper article from Talihina Oklahoma, which noted the 58th anniversary of Benjamin McNeely and his wife, who were married in Hampton, Georgia on November 12, 1875. They came to what had been called Rock Creek “five years after the Frisco Railroad came to the Rock Creek settlement changing its name to Talihina.” Apparently, the murder he committed in Georgia never caught up with him.


  1. Davis, Thank You for writing such an Excellent Account of the Life of This Gallant Confederate Officer.

    There are few people in America today, Educated on the True Hardships of what Our Dear Georgians faced, due not only to the complete Destruction of their State/Lives in 1864, but also of The "Reconstruction Years", that followed. Most children, young adults in all Classrooms throughout the U.S., could not even tell you what Reconstruction meant.

    You have done this Confederate Hero a Great Justice by writing this. A very wonderful Picture of Him, too. I also find it Comforting, that He Rests in The Historic Atlanta Oakland Cemetery.

    Signed, a Proud Five Time Georgia Confederate Grand Daughter. ***IN GOD WE TRUST***

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