Abram Fulkerson (May 13, 1834 – December 17, 1902) was a Confederate officer during the American Civil War, and a Virginia lawyer and politician. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives.
Family and Early Life
Fulkerson was born on May 13, 1834 in Washington County, Virginia, to Abram Fulkerson, Sr. (b. April 3, 1789 in Lee County, Virginia, bpt. 21 Apr 1791) and Margaret Laughlin Vance (1796–1864). His father, Abram, Sr., was a captain and commanded a company of Virginia Militia in Colonel David Sanders Regiment, 4th Brigade, Norfolk Division of Gen. Peter B. Porter, during the War of 1812. His grandfather, James Fulkerson, who had been a Captain in the Virginia Militia, joined with the Overmountain Men and fought the British at the Battle of Kings Mountain during the American Revolution.
Abram, Jr. graduated from the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington in 1857, where he was a student of Prof. Thomas Jonathan Stonewall Jackson. According to his records at VMI, he had a reputation for being a prankster and wore an "outlandish collar" on his cadet uniform: the collar being the only part of the uniform not covered under regulations. After graduation, he taught school in Palmyra, Virginia, and Rogersville, Tennessee, until the beginning of the American Civil War.
Military Service in the Civil War
Fulkerson entered Confederate military service in June 1861 as a Captain, having organized a company of men from Hawkins County, Tennessee that was mustered into the 19th Tennessee Infantry Regiment as Company K (The Hawkins Boys) at Knoxville. His was the first company of volunteers organized in East Tennessee. He was elected as Major of the 19th Tennessee Infantry Regiment. He was wounded in the thigh and his horse was shot from under him at the Battle of Shiloh and was reassigned in the resulting reorganization to the 63rd Tennessee Infantry after recovering from his injury. He was elected as Lieutenant Colonel of the 63rd, and was later promoted to full colonel by President Jefferson Davis on February 12, 1864.
In 1862, he was granted a furlough and went to Clarksville, Tennessee and married his fiance, Selina Johnson. They were barely married in time to escape the Union Army's advance on Clarksville.
Fulkerson was garrisoned at Cumberland Gap twice: first with the 19th Tennessee and again with the 63rd Tennessee. On May 18, 1863, while at Cumberland Gap, he penned a letter to his wife in which he noted that he was visited there by President Jefferson Davis:
"One of our pickets came in the other day and reported that a Mr. Davis was at the lines and desired to enter. This report took me very much by surprise, for although you had mentioned the probability of his coming yet I did not look for him. He only stayed a few hours. After dinner (a very poor one without apology to him) I went [around] to show him some of the curiosities of Cumberland Gap, which he seemed to think would compensate any one for making the visit. He went back up the valley and expected to get home by Wednesday next."
In the same letter, he addressed the news of General Stonewall Jackson's death:
"The intelligence of the death of Gen. Jackson came upon us like a shock. We feel that his death is a national calamity. The poorest soldiers among us appreciated his worth - loved the man, and mourn his loss. I knew him well.1 He was my preceptor for more than four years and whilst during that time I did not appreciate the man, as school [schoolboys?]are not like to do, yet I always had great reverence for the man on account of his piety & uprightness of character. Among the many heroes of this revolution, none have lived so much adored, none have died so much deplored, and none have left a character as spotless as that of Stonewall Jackson. Could his life have been spared till the close of this cruel war, the unanimous voice of a grateful people would have proclaimed him chief ruler of the nation. But God has seen proper to take him from us, and what He does is right and for the best. It is [illegible] therefore that we make the sacrifice cheerfully, th'o we cannot see why our country should be deprived of his services at his her hour of greatest need."
Capture and the Immortal Six Hundred
While in the 63rd, he was wounded twice more: in the left arm at the Battle of Chickamauga and again at the Second Battle of Petersburg, Virginia (Battle of Petersburg II), the regiment having been reassigned from the Army of Tennessee to the Army of Northern Virginia, where he was taken prisoner on June 17, 1864 and sent to the POW camp at Fort Delaware.
On April 18, 1892, Fulkerson wrote an account of his capture and experiences as a prisoner. He related the events of his capture:
"About daylight, on the morning of the 17th, the troops in our front, having been largely reinforced during the night, made charge in three lines on our position, overlapping us on the right, and carrying our works by storm. A large portion of Johnson's Brigade was captured, including myself and about half of my regiment."
"The prisoners, in charge of an officer and detail of men, were quickly marched through the Federal lines to General Burnside's headquarters, located in a field about half a mile to the rear. The General had dismounted, and was seated on a camp-stool, and was surrounded by a line of negro guards."
"The prisoners were halted at the line of guards, and the officer in charge announced to the General that they had captured the colonel of a regiment, many officers and men, three flags, and several pieces of artillery. Rising from his seat, General Burnside approached us, and, addressing me, enquired what regiment I commanded, and being informed that it was a Tennessee regiment, he asked from what part of the State."
"From East Tennessee, I replied. With an expression of astonishment, General Burnside said:"
"It is very strange that you should be fighting us when three-fourths of the people of East Tennessee are on our side." Feeling the rebuke unjust and unbecoming an officer of his rank and position, I replied, with as much spirit as I dared manifest, "Well, General, we have the satisfaction of knowing that if three-fourths of our people are on your side, that the respectable people are on our side. At this the General flew into a rage of passion, and railed at me,"
"You are a liar, you are a liar, sir, and you know it." I replied, "General, I am a prisoner, and you have the power to abuse me as you please, but as to respectability that is a matter of opinion. We regard no man respectable who deserts his country and takes up arms against his own people." To this General Burnside replied, "I have been in East Tennessee, I was at Knoxville, I know these people, and when you say that such men as Andrew Johnson, Brownlow, Baxter, Temple, Netherland, and others, are not respectable, you lie, sir, and you will have to answer for it." At this point I expected he would order me shot by his negro guards, but he continued, "not to any human power, but to a higher power." With a feeling of relief I answered, "O, General, I am ready to take that responsibility."
"Take him on, take him on," the General shouted to our guards, and thence we were marched some two or three miles towards City Point, to the headquarters of General Patrick, the Provost-Marshall General of Grnat's army, where we were guarded during the day in a field, without shelter, and under a burning sun. In other respects we were treated with the consideration due prisoners of war by General Patrick, whom we found to be a gentleman."
While a POW, Fulkerson was included in a group that became known as the Immortal Six Hundred, which consisted of 600 captured Confederate officers who were taken to Morris Island at Charleston, South Carolina and used as human shields by the Union Army for six weeks in an attempt to silence the Confederate gunners at Fort Sumter, in response to Union officer prisoners being placed among civilians to stop Union gunners from firing into downtown Charleston. Though none of the Immortal Six Hundred were killed by the continuing Confederate artillery fire from Fort Sumter, 14 of the Confederate officers died as a result of dystentery and unsanitary conditions.
Of his time on Morris Island he wrote in the same 1892 account:
"After marching into the pen and being assigned to our tents, we were called out and formed into line, and the rules prescribed for the government of the prisoners were read to us by Colonel Molyneaux, the officer in command. One rule provided that any prisoner who sentinels on the platform above. On account of this rule the prisoners rarely approached nearer than five or six feet of the "Dead Line," and this space between the line and the stockade materially diminished the small area available for our use. Another rule provided that if more than ten prisoners assembled together, the sentinel should order them to disperse, and if the order was not instantly obeyed, he should fire into the crowd. In our crowded condition it was almost impossible to comply with this rule, and we were kept in constant fear of being shot by the negro sentinels, and the command, "'sparse dat crowd," became quite common. On one occasion, I remember, a sentinel bellowed out "'sparse dat crowd damn you, the bullet in de bottom of my gun is just meltin' to get into you now." Another rule was that if a light was struck in any tent after taps, the sentinel was to fire into the tent without notice. The blankets furnished the prisoners at Fort Delaware were taken away from them before they left the Crescent, and returned to the quartermaster at the fort, the officer stating to us that other blankets would be furnished us on the island.
"This promise was not complied with. The prisoners who had private blankets were permitted to keep them, and these were hardly sufficient to cover the sand in the tents, for which purpose it was necessary to use them, and on these we slept without covering. There was however, no suffering on this account, as the weather was warm. The rations issued us on the island were insufficient in quantity, but in quality fairly good, consisting generally of hard-tack and salt beef or pork, with coffee once a day, soup occasionally, but no vegetables.
"The first effort of the Federals to draw the fire of the Confederate guns upon us was made about sunrise on the morning after our arrival. To that end every battery on the island and the guns on the monitors were, at a given signal, opened upon the Confederate forts, to which the Confederate batteries promptly replied, and a regular artillery duel ensued, lasting for an hour or more. Forts Johnson, Beauregard, Moultrie, and a battery on james Island participated. Shells from the Confederate batteries were thrown with great precision into Fort Wagner, passing immediately over our pen, and others exploded to our left and front so uncomfortably close to the pen that we, at first, thought our friends were not upon the island. This storm of shot and shell created some consternation upon the prisoners, and at first caused something like a panic, but we soon became satisfied that the Confederates knew what they were doing, and that there was no real danger. The negro sentinels on top of the stockades were greatly frightened as the Confederate shells thrown into Fort Wagner, and shells from the guns in that fort passed immediately over them. The Confederates seemed to have the exact range of every point on the island within the reach of their guns.
"We were kept on the island about six weeks, and these artillery duels occurred frequently during our stay, but the Confederates fired with such precision that not a single shot or shell fell within our stockade, and but one shell exploded immediately over us, and whilst several pieces fell in the pen, no one was injured. If the purpose of the Federal authorities in placing these prisoners on the island was to have them shot by their own people, six weeks must have convinced them that the experiment was a failure. However this may be, at the end of that time we were is situated on an island in the mouth of the Savannah river. This fort was of brick and built upon piles. We were confined in a portion of the casemates of the fort; the other casemates were used as quarters for the garrison."
After Morris Island, he was taken to Fort Pulaski and placed on starvation rations in retaliation for alleged prisoner abuses at Andersonville. There they were crowded into the fort’s cold, damp casemates. For 42 days, a "retaliation ration" of 10 ounces of moldy cornmeal and half a pint of soured onion pickles was the only food issued to the prisoners. The starving men were reduced to supplementing their rations with the occasional rat or stray cat. Thirteen men died there of preventable diseases such as dysentery and scurvy.
At Fort Pulaski, the prisoners organized "The Relief Association of Fort Pulaski for Aid and Relief of the Sick and Less Fortunate Prisoners" on December 13, 1864 and Fulkerson was elected president. Out of their sparse funds, the prisoners collected and expended eleven dollars, according to a report filed by Fulkerson on December 28, 1864.
He was later transferred back to Fort Delaware in March 1865 where he was held until he was discharged and paroled on July 25, 1865, more than three months after General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox.
While at Fort Delaware, it was recorded that Fulkerson was a very thin man, but could float like a cork. The prisoners were taken out to the badly polluted river every day and were allowed to bathe and swim. Fulkerson would lie on his back and float out with the current for ten or fifteen minutes until the guards would grow nervous, fearing that he was attempting to escape.
After he came home from Camp Delaware, his horse that he rode during his military service, whose name was Zollicoffer, but Fulkerson called him Bob, was returned to him. He kept the horse for the rest of its life. Upon Old Bob's death, the former Confederates from the Bristol area assembled and conducted a military funeral for the horse.
In 1885, Stonewall Jackson's horse, named Little Sorrel, was brought to Bristol on a tour and a number of former veterans assembled to pay respects to the horse. A photo of Fulkerson leading Little Sorrel through Bristol does exist.
Two of Fulkerson's brothers also saw service in the Confederate Army: Samuel Vance Fulkerson (1822–1862), who had been a lawyer and Circuit Court judge prior to the war, was the colonel of the 37th Virginia Infantry and was killed at the Battle of Gaines' Mill during the Seven Days Battles, and Isaac Fulkerson (c. 1829-July 20, 1889) was a captain in the 8th Texas Cavalry (Terry's Texas Rangers).
Legal and Political career
At the close of the war he studied law and was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Goodson, later known as Bristol, Virginia, in 1866 with the firm of York & Fulkerson. As a lawyer, he was regarded as a legal giant in Bristol and it is said that he was such a gifted orator that many of the local citizens would go to court and sit in on trials just to hear him speak.
Fulkerson was elected as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, serving from 1871 to 1873. Next he served in the State senate of Virginia 1877-1879. He was elected as a Readjuster Democrat from Virginia's 9th U.S. Congressional District to the Forty-seventh Congress (March 4, 1881-March 3, 1883). Fulkerson was a Democrat, but assisted in organizing the Readjuster Party, after which he returned to the Democratic Party.
Fulkerson resumed the practice of law after leaving Congress. He was again elected to the State House of Delegates in 1888. He was a delegate to the Democratic National (Gold) Convention in 1896.
Death and legacy
Fulkerson died in Bristol, Virginia, on December 17, 1902 at the age of 68, after suffering the effects of a stroke and was buried there in East Hill Cemetery. Major Henry Clinton Wood who served as the Major of the 37th Virginia under Fulkerson's brother Samuel Vance, and for whom the town of Clintwood, Virginia was named, served as an honorary pallbearer in the funeral.
- "The Immortal Six Hundred". National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. http://www.nps.gov/fopu/historyculture/the-immortal-six-hundred.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- Abram Fulkerson at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2008-02-13
- THE PRISON EXPERIENCE OF A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER, BY ABRAM FULKERSON, late Colonel Sixty-third Tennessee Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS, Volume XXII. Richmond, Va., January-December, 1894, Pages 128 - 147, http://www.csa-dixie.com/csa/prisoners/t64.htm
- Worsham, Dr. W. J., The Old Nineteenth Tennessee Regiment C.S.A., The Guild Bindery Press, 1992.
- Fowler, John D., Mountaineers in Gray: The Nineteenth Tennessee Volunteer Infantry Regiment, C.S.A., The University of Tennessee Press, 2004, ISBN 1-57233-314-6.
- Obituary for Abram Fulkerson, Confederate Veteran Magazine, 1903. http://www.fulkerson.org/1-abe1.html
- Samuel Vance Fulkerson. http://www.fulkerson.org/1-samv1.html
- James Fulkerson. http://www.fulkerson.org/james.html
- Abram Fulkerson at Find a Grave Retrieved on 2009-02-26
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