Major Thomas R. Hotchkiss

The following article appeared in the Ouachita Telegraph, Saturday, November 4, 1871, Page 2, Column 4.  I believe Major Thomas R. Hotchkiss’ remains were moved in the late 1890’s, along with 125 other soldiers to what became the mound the Confederate Monument stands on in the City Cemetery.


                   DIED — In Monroe, October 31, 1871, at 9 P.M., THOS. R. HOTCHKISS, aged 32 years and 1 month.  His funeral will take place from the residence of his sister, Mrs. Trask, at half-past 3 o’clock, to-day.  The friends and acquaintance are respectfully invited to attend.

                   Monroe, La., November 1, 1871

                   Such was the formal and modest notice, to our little city on Wednesday morning, of an event which has occasioned the deepest sorrow among our citizens and will carry to many a heart abroad the most profound grief and melancholy.  Death, we all know, is our common lot, and when the summons to close our eyes and set forward on the march for eternity, may come, a kind and all-wise Creator has not revealed unto any of us; teaching us the lessons thereby all nature should heed, that no () thing has any determined limit of existence, and hence that the death of friends, neighbors and kindred is an event for which we should always be prepared.  But how seldom this preparation is made and how hard it is to realize its multifarious bearings, before Death itself makes the occasion which startles us with the magnitude of our loss and the agony of our distress.  In this instance, these poor words have a most forcible and touching application: our deceased friend was just entering upon the prime of life, but had made a name illustrious for deeds of daring and valor.  He had throughout the day of his death been attending to his business as a merchant, although, for a month or two, not in robust health.  About eight o’clock he retired to his room at the store, not feeling very well, and expressing a desire to sleep, but saying he was unable to do so.  Mr. Grant, his clerk, administered a small opiate, and withdrew to close up the day’s business.  Returning shortly after, he was appalled to find that the gallant spirit of the noble hero had taken its flight, and that the earthly career of as brave and manly a soul has ever inhabited frail mortality, had in stillness and unobserved terminated forever!

                   Fruitful as our country has been of men of noble deeds and gallant bearing, none of its sons are better entitled to applause from the living than our dead friend.  A brief sketch of his life will attest his worth and establish his claims to the highest rank among those who have made Southern history illustrious in the grandeur of the achievements (sic) it commemorates.

                   Major Hotchkiss was born in the city of New York, where his father, at the time, was a wholesale clothing merchant.  Becoming embarrassed in business, the father removed to Louisville, and there died, leaving his son Thomas to the care of an uncle.  Under his uncle’s guardianship, the nephew became restive, and he left his roof at the age of sixteen, wandering off from Connecticut, where the uncle lived, to the State of

Ohio.  Here he apprenticed himself, for three years, to a brick-maker and builder, working during the summer and attending school during the winter.  At the termination of his apprenticeship, he started out to make his fortune as a contractor and builder.  In this business he was engaged in Issaquena county, Mississippi, when the late war broke out.

                    Among the first to enlist in defense of the South was private T. R. Hotchkiss, and here began a career of military exploits not surpassed in daring or in romantic incident by that of any of the heroes of the Lost Cause.

                   In a short time after enlisting, Mr. Hotchkiss received authority to raise a separate company.  He raised the company; was made lieutenant at first, but very soon, through the active exertion of influential friends, he was raised to the captaincy to which he was originally entitled.  Our limited information does not supply what transpired in the interval continuing until Capt. Hotchkiss was taken upon the staff of the lamented Cleburne, who recognized in the dark flashing eye of the youthful Captain and in his extraordinary self-possession, the imprints of military genius; and that sturdy old hero, the Stonewall Jackson of the South-West whose blows were those of a giant and who never struck a blow that was not fatal, made Capt. Hotchkiss his Chief of Ordinance with the rank of Major.

                   How Major Hotchkiss discharged his perilous duties we should never have learned from him, for he was a man as modest as he was meritorious; but fortunately we have other sources of information.  Maj. J.W. Green, Gen. Hardee’s Chief Engineer, informs us that at Murfreesboro and at Kennesaw Mountain he witnessed the conduct of Major Hotchkiss under fire, and he thinks he never saw such imperturbable coolness and bravery in his life.  At Kennesaw, being in command of the artillery of Cleburne’s Division, as he was also at Murfreesboro, Maj. Hotchkiss was required to check a sudden advance of the enemy.  He posted two or three guns on a bald hill, under close fire of the enemy, set them to work, and took his position among the men.  Other guns were brought up; while shells, canister and rifle balls were dealing out death on every hand, until three batteries were in position and responding to the enemy’s fire. The man without fear then commenced his perilous round from gun to gun, twirling, as he walked, a small cane in his fingers, unmindful of the iron and leaden torrent raining about him, and as calm and self-collected as if it were a promenade he was taking!

                   At Murfreesboro he was twice painfully wounded.  With one foot crushed, he continued to fight his guns, oblivious of the wound that was to lame him for life; and he persisted in remaining there until ordered away by his General.  As he was retiring, Major Green met him.  Never gave a hero better evidence of courage than was visible in his emotion — the tears were streaming down his cheeks; and he seemed almost heart-broken.  The command of his General to retire had occasioned his grief.

                   But it was in exploding the Confederate magazine at Nashville, after that place had fallen and the Confederates had retired to Murfreesboro, that Major Hotchkiss performed the act that will immortalize his name. The Daily Chattanooga Rebel, dated January 17, 1863, contains an account of this deed, and the bare recital (which we will publish next week) is sufficient to make one shudder.  The writer of fiction may turn aside from the region of romance to that fact, and find in the hazardous venture of Major Hotchkiss and the circumstances surrounding it, an episode in human affairs suited to his most ambitious projects.

                   Riding straight from Murfreesboro to Nashville, disguised only with a cloak, Major Hotchkiss went to the public square of the latter city, thence to a hotel, and there obtained his supper.  He rode out of town to the Arsonal, situated in a glen, “a place tangled, obscure and wild.”  The wind was blowing a gale; the moon came and went as the clouds sailed over it, making shadows that seemed instinct with life; and above the weeping willows the powder- house reared itself, an object of terror and fit abode for the messengers of Death.  Penetrating the building, the Major procured powder and fuse for his train; but not without an accident it thrills one with horror to contemplate.  He carried a pistol cocked in his bosom, that was discharged with a hair trigger.  The floor of the house was covered with loose powder.  As he was opening a box, his pistol fell to the floor!  What a moment — what a life-time in that fall!  Closing his eyes as the pistol started from its place, the gallant officer prepared to see his mission forever closed simultaneously with the untoward completion of his task.  But harmless the weapon rolled over on the floor and lay at his feet undischarged.

                   The match prepared and train laid, the daring scout withdrew to be the solitary witness of the explosion which was soon to make Nashville tremble and illuminate the heavens.  Minutes, that seemed hours, passed, and the explosion came not.  Had he failed?  Had he to return, to be, perhaps, betrayed by some hidden spark?

                   Cautiously moving toward the house, he looked from an elevation. He could see the house and the location of his train, but no fire.  Steadily watching, he at last perceived a small spark under a ledge of rock within a few paces of the building.  Then came the race for life.  Just as he reached his horse, a sudden glare of light and an awful detonation pronounced the work complete, with mid-day splendor and in thundering tones.  That night he reached camp, and around the camp fires was made, no doubt, to rehearse over and again the story of the explosion; but only the imagination of the listeners could reckon the thoughts and feelings of a man in such a perilous situation as that we have barely sketched.

                   It is such a man as this that we have laid at rest — that has quietly pursued his way among us, the most unobtrusive, and yet the most valorous of us all.  No belted knight of old ever possessed more courage, more magnimity, more charity or braver impulses than did THOMAS R. HOTCHKISS.  He was insensible to fear.  He was honorable and hones; upright, liberal, manly and good.  The South was his idol, and he never ceased to regret her failure and her misfortunes, and we doubt not that his dying aspirations in his lonely chamber were for her glory and her greatness.  God give his soul rest forever!

                   Since the war, Major Hotchkiss has been planting, until this year when he removed to Monroe and commenced merchandising.  Few who have seen the quiet and industrious man of business, or who lately saw him erecting the house in which his sister dwells, knew or suspected what a heroic record he had made, and there are none who will not lament sincerely and profoundly his untimely death.  His funeral obsequies were largely attended, the Fire Department, of which he was a member, conducting the ceremonies, with the aid of the Silver Cornet Band.  Age and beauty united in testifying their admiration for the dead warrior, resting now in “Fame’s eternal camping ground,” where tattoos, alarms and brazen-throated guns are never heard.  Perhaps none of the happy young hearts that gathered there knew that the dead chief once had a love, and that the suit he then wore was purchased for his wedding.  But so it was.  He sought a fair hand once, and won it; but parental objections prevented the nuptials.  His dream of love and of life is over; let a grateful country cherish his memory.

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