The Exploits of Patrick Griffin: “He Must Have Been Irish”

Patrick Griffin, 10th Tennessee Infantry

Patrick Griffin, 10th Tennessee Infantry

Part I

Patrick Griffin was a child soldier when he joined the Sons of Erin, Nashville, and left for war. During his first year as a Confederate solider he ended up in prison at Camp Douglas. The next year found him fighting on the battlefield in Raymond. Following the Battle of Raymond, he was taken prisoner and kept in a make-shift prison in town. This three-part series is based on Patrick Griffin’s memoirs called “The Famous Tenth Tennessee”, Confederate Veteran Magazine, 1905.

On that never-to-be-forgotten day when the Sons of Erin left for war, Griffin recalled, “We marched down to the wharf in Nashville and boarded the steamboat, B. M. Runyon. My mother was there in the crowd with several of my relatives. Two big fellows from our brigade jumped overboard. They could not stand the pressure; but they were picked up and as the boat started up the river to make the turn, Jimmy Morrisseey {fifer} and I started up the tune ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’ and we kept it going till the hills around Nashville had vanished from sight.”

Commanding the Sons of Erin was Randal McGavock, a graduate of the Harvard School of Law and a former mayor of Nashville. Griffin, honored to be in McGavock’s command, referred to his leader as God’s own gentleman. Some months later, when the Sons of Erin joined with other Irish Brigades to form the Tenth Tennessee, popularly known as the “Bloody Tinth,” McGavock was appointed Lieutenant Colonel.

On May 12th, 1863, as the 10th Tennessee marched through Raymond and out to the battlefield, it was the tall, handsome McGavock who led the brigade. He looked startlingly handsome on his horse even though the stirrup straps were too short for his gangly legs. His gray coat was highlighted with a scarlet lining and his sabre belt swung loosely at his side. Sergeant Patrick Griffin and the rest of the brigade followed on foot. Several hours after the impressive, crowd-winning, march through town, Colonel Randal McGavock was one of the first killed on the battlefield. The tragic event changed the life of Patrick Griffin forever.

“I was standing about two paces in the rear of the line and Colonel McGavock was standing about four paces in my rear,” Griffin recalled years later. “We had been under fire about twenty minutes when I heard a ball strike something behind me. I have a dim remembrance of calling to God. It was my colonel. He was about to fall. I caught him and eased him down with his head in the shadow of a little bush. I knew he was going and asked him if he had any message for his mother. His answer was: ‘Griffin, take care of me! Griffin, take care of me!’ I put my canteen to his lips, but he was not conscious. He was shot through the left breast, and did not live more than five minutes.”

Distraught over the death of his friend and commander, Griffin continued to fight until his unit began to withdraw from the field. “While we were stopped, I met Lt. Colonel William Grace and asked him if he knew that Colonel McGavock had been killed when the battle first began?” Colonel Grace was surprised but gave Griffin orders to get off the battlefield the best way he could. “I explained to Colonel Grace that I wanted to go back after the Colonel’s body, but he said that it was out of the question. I insisted that I had given my promise to the Colonel to take care of him, and that I was gong to do it to the best of my ability, whatever happened.” McGavock was determined to find his commander’s body and give him a proper burial.

Backtracking onto the battlefield, Griffin searched until he found McGavock’s body and, with the help of other members of the brigade, began to carry the body into town. Progress was slow because of the heat and the carnage on the battlefield.

After lugging the body for several hours, Griffin was surprised when a Yankee officer with a thick Irish brogue addressed him saying, “Who is this officer you are holding in your arms?” A surprised Griffin answered the bluecoat saying, “My own colonel. His name is McGavock – an Irish name.” Griffin then inquired as to the officer’s name and found that he was Captain McGuire. The encounter revealed the oddest of circumstances. McGuire was from the same county in Ireland as the parents of Patrick Griffin and Randal McGavock. Sympathetic to the cause, Captain McGuire ordered his men to place McGavock’s body in one of the Union army wagons for transport into town. Of Captain McGuire, Griffin later commented, “I want to say right here that I am convinced that if ever there was a good Yankee he must have been Irish!”

Colonel Ranal McGavock, 10th Tennessee Irish

Colonel Ranal McGavock,
10th Tennessee Irish

After Griffin was taken prisoner and placed in a Raymond jail for the night, McGuire promised to try to procure a parole for his Irish counterpart. “The Colonel’s body was placed on the porch at the hotel and remained there till the next morning,” Griffin reminisced. “The next morning, Captain McGuire came with a two days’ parole for me. I got a carpenter and had him to make a box coffin, for which I paid him $20.00. My fellow prisoners assisted me in every way they possibly could. I hired a wagon in town and got Capt. McGuire’s permission to have all the Confederate prisoners follow the Colonel’s body to the grave. We had quite an imposing procession, with, of course, Yankee guards along. I had the grave marked and called the attention of several of the citizens of Raymond to its location, so that his people would have no trouble finding him when they came to bear him home to Tennessee.”

Of the death of his commander and friend, Patrick Griffin would later remark, “Although I was only a boy then, the memory of the miserable loneliness of that night has never been quite blotted out in the years that have intervened. Although I was literally worn out, I did not sleep a wink the night before I buried my colonel. No man has ever come across life’s pathway to fill McGavock’s place in my heart.”

Part II – “Finding A Gold Mine”

Orderly Sergeant Patrick Griffin was just short of eighteen years of age when he arrived in Raymond with his Nashville brigade, “The Bloody Tinth” Tennessee, Irish. Unlike his commander, Colonel Randal McGavock, Griffin survived the Battle of Raymond but was taken prisoner immediately afterwards. His exploits during and after the Battle of Raymond were later published in a 1905 issue of the Confederate Veteran.

Oak Tree Hotel

Oak Tree Hotel

Following the Battle of Raymond,” Griffin reminisced, “We were taken to a hotel in Raymond that had been vacated by its owner and was being used as a prison by the Yankees. They put me in a room with two other officers who were prisoners, one of whom was Captain Broughton of Dallas, Texas. The room was about 12 x 14 feet square and was quite bare as to furnishings.

“We had to sleep on our blankets,” Griffin recalled, “and use our canteens for pillows. Just after sunup the next morning, the Yanks marched in Lieut. Billy Foote. We called him ‘Tinfoot’. I was sorry for Billy to be a prisoner but so many things had happened in the past few hours, that I could have cried for joy at the sight of his friendly face.”

Having already served seven months as a prisoner at Camp Douglas in Chicago, Griffin was determined not to be taken prisoner again. When he found himself locked in the small hotel room in Raymond, the only thing he could think about was how he could escape.

“I looked around the little old room in which we were confined and discovered that there was a door leading into another room. This door was locked but it did not take me long to effect an entrance, and there I found stored away boxes of plug tobacco that reached halfway up to the ceiling. Well, that find was equal to a gold mine, for tobacco was very scarce at that time.”

Realizing that his ‘find’ could mean a good many dinners, suppers, and breakfasts for him as well as his fellow prisoners, Griffin quickly warned everyone in the room to keep a closed mouth and guard the door leading to the tobacco. Billy Foote promised that he would not let anyone enter the room under any circumstances.

“After my capture and finding the tobacco, I called for a guard to accompany me down to breakfast,” Griffin recalled. “On the way I asked the bluecoat if he chewed tobacco. He said that he did, and I immediately presented him with a plug. He asked me where I got it, and I told him that I had a friend who would furnish it. He said that I could sell a wagon load. I told him we would divide the profits on the sales if he would help me to dispose of it. That Yank must have been a retail clerk before he went into the army, for he sold tobacco right and left.

“On that first morning we sold eleven dollars’ worth of the weed before breakfast. I had three extra meals put up for my comrades. Whenever the Yank was off duty after that, he came around to get a fresh supply. That next morning I went to see Captain McGuire {Yankee} and told him that I could not stand being confined in that little old room, and I handed him over a sample of plug tobacco. He cut off a chew and passed it back to me. I told him to keep it, that I knew where I could get plenty more. The tobacco helped to win him over, and he gave me a permit good within city limits during the time of our stay in Raymond.”

Thanks to his lucky find, Patrick Griffin was not only given ‘free run’ of Raymond but also accumulated $500.00 in tobacco sales as well. The pot of gold would serve him and his fellow prisoners well.

Capt. E.T. (Tom) Broughton 7th Texas Infantry

Capt. E.T. (Tom) Broughton
7th Texas Infantry

After a brief imprisonment in Raymond, Griffin and his fellow prisoners were marched to the Mississippi River where they were put on a boat to begin their journey to a Northern prison. Recalling that fateful journey toward Memphis, Griffin said, “On board the boat, I had Colonel McGavock’s watch, his valuable papers and nine hundred dollars in Confederate money. On board the boat, the officers had to pay for their food or starve. My comrades had no money, so I had to come to the rescue with my five hundred dollars tobacco money. Captain Broughton borrowed one hundred dollars from me, and whatever was mine was Billy Foote’s and , of course, we had to pay for rations for the rest of the fellows. Well, when we landed at Two Mile Island, above Memphis, I had just one twenty-five shinplaster left.”

For a lad of eighteen, Griffin had served himself, his fallen commander, Colonel McGavock, and his fellow prisoners well. For his efforts, he was later promoted to the rank of captain.

Part III – “The Great Escape”

A few days after the Battle of Raymond, seventeen-year old Patrick Griffin, Billy {Tinfoot} Foote, and other Confederate prisoners, left the local prison and marched for Vicksburg. A Union boat waited to transport them to one of the northern prisons – Johnson’s Island, Camp Chase or Camp Douglas. Griffin shuddered and went cold at the very thought of another imprisonment. Early in the war, he had endured seven months of torturous ‘Yankee hospitality’ at Camp Douglas in Chicago. The experience was miserable and he was not anxious for a repeat performance.

“Captain Neff with the 51st Indiana Infantry Regiment was in charge of the prisoner boat,” Griffin reminisced. “He was a gentlemanly sort of a fellow but of course he had to obey strict orders.” As the boat eased upstream toward Memphis, Griffin had two things mulling around in his mind: how to escape from the boat and how to return the personal effects of Colonel Randal McGavock to his family. Off hand, he had no idea how to accomplish either.

Midway to Memphis, Griffin engaged in conversation with Captain Neff saying “You will never take me to a Yankee prison.” Immediately, Captain Neff declared, “I’ll bet five dollars I do.” Griffin countered back…… “I’ll bet you five dollars that you will not.” The men shook hands on the bet and before walking away, Griffin said, “Pay the money to Billy Foote when you find me gone.”

After docking at Two-Mile Island near Memphis, Griffin decided that the time was now or never to escape. “I looked around to see how the land lay, but there were too many Yankee guards to hinder my progress. The bluecoats were on each side of the river and Memphis was two miles distance. I knew I could swim down to the city, but was afraid that Lt. Foote could not hold out to get there. However, I went up on deck and talked the matter over with him. Without a moment’s hesitation he said; ‘I will go with you.’

“That evening we went down into the wheelhouse. Foote looked down into the water and then across the river and down the river, and I knew by the expression on his face that it would be best for him to stay on board. I would rather have gone on to the Yankee prison with him than have him drowned. I told him if he had the least fear he must not attempt it.”

As Griffin and Foote left the wheelhouse, they ran into Captain Neff. “I reminded him of our bet,” recalled Griffin, “and told him to be sure to give the money to Foote. He laughed and said, ‘All right.’ I had on a double breasted military coat, with two lace bars on the sleeve and lace around the collar, denoting my rank. Of course this rendered me a conspicuous figure among the prisoners, and the captain could locate me quicker than any one else on board. Foote and I slipped into a stateroom for a farewell chat. I gave him my uniform and cap and insisted that he put it on. I got a life preserver that I had hidden away to use on this occasion, clapped Foote’s old white hat on my head, and walked out in my shirt sleeves. Billy sat with his back to me. Thirty-six years elapsed before I would see Billy Foote again.”

A determined Patrick Griffin engineered his escape. He went to the wheelhouse and slowly eased down in the water. “I floated down the river slowly and steered myself to the back end of a stern-wheel boat. I climbed up on the wheel, went around on the edge of the boat, and mingled with the hands who were unloading the cargo. There were a number of soldiers and steamboat men about and one of the boatmen laughed at my bedraggled appearance. A soldier asked if I had fallen in and I answered ‘yes,’ and that I was going home to get some dry clothes. I was willing to masquerade as anything or anybody until my colonel’s belongings were turned over to his own people.”

Finding Colonel McGavock’s family was not easy but Griffin sent word that he was in Memphis to stay until he could return Colonel McGavock’s personal effects to his family. “Dr. McGavock {brother} was very grateful,” Griffin reminisced after the meeting finally took place, “and he pulled out a roll of greenbacks and told me to help myself. I told him I would need very little money, as I intended to make my way through the lines and back to my command in a few days. I took forty dollars from his roll; but he insisted that I would need all the money I could get, and he pressed several additional bills into my hands. I never saw him again.”

Several weeks later, Griffin managed to steal a handsome horse from a Yankee soldier and rode the horse back to rejoin his company, the 10th Tennessee Irish. Griffin was less than twenty years old when the war ended. Following the war, Griffin often wondered what happened to his friend, Billy Foote. They had last seen each other in the wheel house.

The answer came thirty-six year later, in 1899, at a meeting of Tennessee Veterans in San Francisco. “There was Billy Foote of the old days,” Griffin said with a note of triumph in his voice. “The snows of winters had left their whitening touch upon his dark locks, and his figure had lost its whipper-snapper slenderness. It seems only a few short months since we parted with the promise to meet again soon, but my dear old comrade has answered the summons. It is my pride and pleasure to say that ‘Tinfoot’ made his mark, and that during those years he became one of the most successful lawyers in the West.”

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