Tag Archives: Wilson County

Searching for Charles Gerhardt

5 Nov

A while back, I was appointed Historian for the City of Lebanon. In that role, I have attempted to learn as much as I can about the town. There are stories that I have heard all of my life, and I am steeped in the lore of the area. However, there are gaps in my knowledge.

Learning about the city requires research. I have gone through documents at the city museum and have spent some time in our county archives. I also get on the computer at home to see what can be found on the Internet.

It was an Internet search that led me to an online copy of Tennessee County History Series: Wilson County by Frank Burns, the man who knew more about the history of this area than anyone else I have known. Through a gradual reading, I made my way to the 1940s and World War II, where I found a passage that drew my interest. It reads:

Charles Gerhardt was the only Wilson County soldier to hold
the rank of major general in World War II. June 6 was more than
D-Day to Charles Hunter Gerhardt. It was his 49th birthday.

He went ashore with his troops, inched up the cliffs and the
high bluff with them, and spent the night of D-Day in a rock quarry
just 300 yards from the beach. It was the luck of the 29th to draw
the sector where the German army had concentrated its heaviest
defenses. One company lost all of its officers but one before its
assault boats ever landed on the beach. Within minutes after an-
other company touched the beach, it was out of action, every man
killed or wounded, huddled weaponless against the base of the
cliff. But it was not to be a day of defeat. Slowly the men edged off
Omaha Beach. By the end of the day the 29th was a mile inland.
Omaha Beach was followed by Isigny. There General Gerhardt
moved among his troops as they advanced on the outskirts of the
town, disregarding land mines, rifle bullets, and machine gun fire.

It caught my eye because I have never heard of Charles Gerhardt and never heard of a Major General from Lebanon leading his troops at the D-Day Invasion. This is an interesting part of our history that has apparently been forgotten, and I was determined to find out more. This led to the search for Charles Gerhardt.Gerhardt

A Google search brought up several links, but Wikipedia was the first stop. I know Wikipedia has issues, but I am not writing a scholarly paper. It is only a blog post. Anyway, I learned that Charles Gerhardt played baseball, polo and football at West Point. In 1916, he quarterbacked the football team to a victory of Notre Dame, which was coached by Knute Rockne and led by George Gipp. Some may remember that Gipp was immortalized on film by Ronald Reagan.

The Wikipedia page continues with Gerhardt’s other accomplishments. He served in World War I and was an equestrian judge at the 1932 Olympics. While Frank Burns praises him, this page says that he was a controversial figure who oversaw high casualty rates and opened a brothel for his men after the invasion.

Wikipedia says a lot about Gerhardt, but it does not say where he was born. For that information, I had to click more links. The next stop was the website for Arlington National Cemetery. It contains some of the same information and provides additions to his military record. However, it does not say where he was born.

This is when I began thinking that Frank Burns was wrong. There is no way this man could be from Lebanon. I know of no one who has heard of him, and his birthplace is omitted from every website. That is when I noticed a link to his father, who was also named Charles Gerhardt. The older Gerhardt was also a military man and reached the rank of Brigadier General.

While searching his life, I discovered that “he was detailed to Cumberland University at Lebanon, Tennessee, 1894-1897.” While here, he became Secretary of the Military Wheelmen. Have you ever heard of that? Neither have I. It was an organization that designed bicycles for military use. He also designed a uniform to make them less visible. Yep, he was on the cutting edge of camouflage.

All of that was great to find out. Charles Gerhardt was in Lebanon when his son was born in 1895. However, why was a career military man “detailed to Cumberland University?” It has never been a military school.

To find that, I had to return to the writings of Frank Burns. It turns out that the elder Gerhardt taught military science and tactics at the university.

Through all of that, I learned something new about the history of Lebanon, Tennessee. Major General Charles Gerhardt, who led his men onto the beaches of France, was born here. He also went on the defeat the Gipper and found a whorehouse. Overall, he led an interesting life, and it all started here.

The Man From Little Cedar Lick

10 Jul

I have been reading Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne. As you can tell by its title, historians like long titles, and it is about the Comanche.

It is a great book filled with information that I already knew and a lot of information that I had never read before. There are names of interesting people on both sides of the struggle between the Comanche and those encroaching on their territory. These are people who fought for what they thought was right and may have been well-known in their day. However, many of them have faded from history.

I am far from finished with the book, but one name has already stood out. John Coffee Hays is described as the greatest of all Texas Rangers. In fact, he is the one who taught the rest how to do their jobs. His exploits provide great reading, but a tidbit about his early life is what intrigued me.John Coffee Hays

Hays was born in Little Cedar Lick, Tennessee. When I read about his birthplace, a small memory crept to the front of my mind. Several years ago, I was speaking at Rotary about Tennesseans who became famous in the American West. I mentioned the obvious ones like Sam Houston and David Crockett. However, I also talked about John Chisum, Clay Allison and Peter Burnett.

When the presentation ended, a man in the back asked if I knew anything about the guy from Wilson County who became a Texas Ranger. At the time, I did not know anything about him, but this book may have made the introduction.

Like all great investigators, I did a Google search and discovered that John Coffee Hays was born in Wilson County. I also discovered that all of the sites that have information about Hays must have been copied from the same source. Almost all of them were word for word duplicates. The only differences were about his relationship with Andrew Jackson.

I read that his grandfather sold Jackson the land that would become the Hermitage. There was also the story of Jackson being John’s uncle. Also, his father fought with Jackson during the War of 1812. Oh yeah, another said that John spent many days at the Hermitage.

All of that may be true, but, around here, everyone wants to be connected to Jackson. If your ancestors lived in this area while Jackson was alive, then they were best friends. If your name is Jackson, then you are descended from him, which would be difficult since he did not have children.

I will have to ask my colleague, who has a great blog called Jacksonian America and who is one of the leading experts on Andrew Jackson.

Then, I remembered that I know someone named Hays. I sent a text to Nick Hays, who is running for County Trustee, and asked if he was related to John Coffee Hays. He replied that he was, but the family did not have much information on him. He learned most about him from Monty Pope. On the first day he walked into Monty’s class, he asked Nick if he knew about the Hays who became a Texas Ranger.

By the way, if you live in Wilson County be sure to vote for Nick.

As I read about Hays, I began to wonder about the place where he was born. I have lived here all of my life and have heard many stories about its history, but I have never heard of Little Cedar Lick. I thought about asking the folks at the Wilson County Archives, but I do not have much faith in them these days.

Instead, I went to good old Google. Man, that thing is as handy as a pocket on a shirt. All I found was Little Cedar Lick Church. With nothing else to go on, I drove to the location. It was on a road that I had never been on, and I had no idea what to expect. The picture in my mind was of a little country church.

Instead, I found this.image-3

I have no idea if this is the same area where John Coffee Hays was born. I only know that he was born in Wilson County and made his name as a Texas Ranger. Then, he moved to California and became the sheriff of San Francisco before being one of the founders of Oakland.

Throughout all of that, Hays may have looked back and remembered Little Cedar Lick, but I am afraid that place may have disappeared through the ages.

 

The Farm House – A Great Dining Experience

6 Jul

Today is our first anniversary, and we have been celebrating for the past couple of days. The Fourth of July was spent at a friend’s pool, and, last night, we spent an evening in Nashville. We got a room at the Omni Hotel and had dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Choosing the hotel was not difficult. The Omni has quickly established itself as Nashville’s best hotel. However, choosing a place to eat proved more difficult. I type that in a good way. Great restaurants have popped up all over the place, and Nashville has become foodie heaven. Chefs from throughout the nation have opened eateries, and magazines have named Nashville the “It City” when it comes to great dining.

We have made it a mission to dine at as many of them as possible. Husk. The Catbird Seat. Urban Grub. There are too many to name.

Last night, we chose one that was near the hotel. We have been hearing a lot about it and figured it would be a good time to try it out. There is only one thing I know to say.

The Farm House is the best restaurant in Nashville. The food was awesome, and it was plentiful. One of the problems I have with hip restaurants is that they bring out an artistic creation, but it leaves you hungry afterwards. Farmhouse is the best of both. The food is an artistic creation. However, they know you are there to eat and make sure you go away knowing that you have done so.Farmhouse

All of that is awesome, but here is the best thing. The owner/chef did not come to us from New York or Los Angeles. He grew up right here in Wilson County. In fact, he offers a great drink called the Wilson County Sangria. With a name like that, we had to have one.

It is always good to see a local person do good, and we told the waiter that very thing. The next thing we know, a dessert is being delivered to us by the owner himself, Trey Cioccia. He talked about growing up in these parts and how he got into the cooking business. He also talked about how there are only a few chefs in Nashville who are natives and how they feel proud to be doing this in their hometown.

We walked out proud of him because someone from our hometown has created the best dining experience in the area. On top of that, he is in the process of moving out of the big city and buying some property back home in Wilson County.

If you find yourself in Nashville, then you have to make your way to The Farm House.

 

History is Local – Tennessee Style

30 Apr

Another academic year is coming to a close, and, over the past few days, I have been reflecting upon it. Things have gone decently, but this is the first year that I have wondered if anyone is listening. As usual, there have been some engaged students and some who would probably rather be somewhere else. However, I have gotten more frustrated this time than ever before.

At our university, all students are required to take two semesters of History, and I realize that most of them are taking it because they have to take it. They are not planning on being historians, museum curators, lawyers or any other of the great professions you can get with a History degree. Still, it would be nice if they did not stare out of the windows or sneakily play with their phones. Heck, it would be even nice if some of them brought paper and pencil to class.

Honestly, it gets frustrating. I may not get them to love the subject, but I want them to get something out of it. To accomplish this, I sprinkle some local history in with the American history. They may not be interested in the millworks of New England, but they may be interested in the millworks of our town. Simply, not all history takes place far away. Some of it takes place right around the corner in places they pass everyday.

That is why I throw as much Tennessee history into the mix as I can. This might perk them up, and it might help them realize that this state has played an important role in our nation’s past.Tennessee Flag

We cover the three Tennessee presidents – Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson – because presidents are important. Did you know that Polk is the president that brought California into the United States? Yep, a guy from Columbia, Tennessee did that.

However, I like to go deeper than that and talk about people who they may have never heard of.

Peter Burnett, a Tennessee native, was the first governor of California.

Grantland Rice, perhaps the greatest sportswriter to sit behind a typewriter, was from Murfreesboro. He wrote about the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame and a line that goes like this:

For when the One Great Scorer comes

To mark against your name,

He writes – not that you won or lost –

But how you played the game.

Cordell Hull, a graduate of Cumberland University (where I work), was known as the “Father of the United Nations” and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on that organization.

David Crockett, defender of the Alamo and hero to millions of kids in the 1950s, was a Tennessean.

Sam Houston, who led the rebel forces in the fight for Texas independence, had his first law office here in Lebanon.

W.E.B. DuBois graduated from Fisk University and taught school in Wilson County before going on to create the NAACP.

George Rappelyea thought of a publicity stunt to draw attention to his town of Dayton. They arrested John Scopes for teaching the theory of evolution and hosted the Scopes Monkey Trial, one of the many “Trials of the Century.” It sparked a debate that continues to this day.

John Butler, the legislator who sponsored the anti-evolution bill, represented the neighboring counties of Sumner, Trousdale and Macon.

Oak Ridge is a small town that came to prominence as one of the sites of the Manhattan Project, which brought us into the atomic age.

In 1920, legislative leaders met at the Hermitage Hotel to discuss voting for or against the 19th Amendment. It is a long story, but they eventually approved it. That made Tennessee the decisive state in women getting the right to vote.

John Chisum was born in Tennessee but gained notoriety as the “King of the Pecos”, one of the most successful cattlemen in the West.

I could name others, but these are a few that I can think of. I really think mentioning local people helps students learn a little more about American history. At least, I hope it does.

The County of Wilson

25 Apr

A new bridge is being built across the Cumberland River, and, the other day, I drove across it for the first time. I guess that means I drove across it twice. First, I went over it. Then, I came back. It was that return trip that I noticed our county seal displayed prominently.

This took me by surprise because I have lived in Wilson County all of my life and had never seen it. Heck, I did not even know it existed. However, that was not the only thing that surprised me. It did not look like a typical seal.County Seal

Most seals that I have seen have symbols that represent the area. There may be some sort of plant that grows in the area. There may be a farmer. There may be some representation of industry. The Wilson County seal looks like something you would see at the post office. The bald eagle is patriotic, but I have not seen many bald eagles around here lately.

It made me think that this must be a more recent creation. The seals with crops, farmers and industry are from a time long past. This one looks more modern. With this on my mind, I called the Wilson County Archives to find out when this seal came into being. They had no idea but agreed that it must come from more recent times.

Anyway, I am on a mission to find out when the Wilson County seal was created and why it does not represent anything special about the area. It is American, but it is not Wilsonian.

That brings me to something that has bugged me for a long time. Why is Wilson County named Wilson? I know why our city is named Lebanon. The settlers saw all of the cedar trees and thought of the Cedars of Lebanon in the Bible. Unfortunately, they are not cedars. They are junipers.

Here is something else. Lebanon, Oregon is named after Lebanon, Tennessee. Some guy from here hopped on the Oregon Trail and named his new town after his old one. That means there is a city in Oregon named for a city in Tennessee that is named after the wrong kind of tree.

Now, back to Wilson. The county is named for Major David Wilson, a prominent man who lived in Sumner County. That is the county that sits on the other side of the new bridge. He was born around Charlotte, North Carolina and fought in the American Revolution. He settled in these parts, which was the western part of North Carolina, and involved himself in many activities of a landed gentleman. Politician, surveyor and other jobs that do not require strenuous labor.

I am sure he was a great man. Wilson County was named in his honor in 1799, a few years before his death. However, I am wondering something. Did he ever make his way across the river and into the land that would bear his name? Did he own property here? Did he help create the new county? What role did this man play in our county’s history?

It is like the seal that really does not represent anything about Wilson County. Did the man who it is named after represent the county?

I guess it does not matter, but it still makes me wonder.