Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Confederate Images: Private Ninian Oliver Bell

On May 6, 2006 a dedication of Pvt. Ninian Bell’s marker was held by members of the Gen. Lloyd Tilghman Camp #1495, Paducah, KY in the Mount Hope Cemetery at Belleville, IL. A Battle Flag was flown from the cemetery’s main flag pole during the dedication. Pvt. Bell’s grave had been unmarked, but research by Gene Beals led to the placement of the marker. The story was covered very favorably by the Belleville News Democrat.

By Gene Beals

Ninian Oliver Bell was born April 15, 1847 at Adams, Robertson County, Tennessee. He was of Scottish-German ancestry and the youngest of four children born to Richard W. Bell and Eliza (Orndorff) Bell. His father was a successful farmer and a constable for many years.

Ninian enlisted as a Private in Company E 8th Kentucky Cavalry on October 4, 1864. The 8th Kentucky was part of Thompson’s-Crossland’s-Lyon’s brigade, Buford’s Division, Forrest’s Cavalry Corps. Company E consisted of Kentuckians and Tennesseans. His service record states he was 5 feet 10 inches tall, fair complexion, light hair and gray eyes. He was seventeen years old at the time of enlistment.
The 8th Kentucky Cavalry at the time of Ninian’s enlistment was busy preparing to take part in John Bell Hood’s 1864 Tennessee Campaign.

Gen. John Bell Hood’s plan was to use the Army of Tennessee to attack Gen. William T. Sherman’s line of communications and hopefully pull Sherman back up north to protect his line of communications. The unit participated in the battle at Spring Hill, Tennessee on November 29th and seemed poised to defeat General John Schoefield ‘s Union forces, but through a series of blunders the Confederates allowed Schoefield to escape .Hood’s army was almost completely destroyed the following day at the battle of Franklin by Schoefields’s entrenched forces. The 8th Kentucky also took part in the battle at Nashville on December 15 and 16. The Union Forces led by George H. Thomas routed the Confederate army thus ending the Hood’s 1864 campaign The 8th was part of Buford’s Division, Forrest’s Cavalry Corps during the entire Campaign.

The 8th Kentucky merged with the 12th Kentucky Cavalry in January 1865 following the death of the 12th Kentucky’s Colonel, William W. Faulkner. The reorganized unit was now part of Crossland’s Brigade, Forrest’s Cavalry Corps. The reorganization was needed to meet the next challenge in the form of Gen. James H.Wilson’s Raid into Alabama.

Wilson’s plan was to drive deep into Alabama and give relief to the Union forces engaged at the siege of Mobile Bay. Wilson began his raid on March 22, 1865. Wilson was met with little resistance in the initial phase of his raid. Forrest was busy trying to gather his forces of some 10,000 scattered over parts of Alabama and Mississippi. Wilson reached the outskirts of Selma on April 1, 1864 forcing the Confederates back inside the city. The battle continued the next day and into the night. The Confederates were flanked and overrun by superior numbers & manpower.

Ninian was able to escape in the cover of night by swimming across the Alabama River to avoid capture. Selma was looted and burned by the Union forces. He was captured near Selma on April 18, 1865. He was one of many separated from their units trying to escape the Union onslaught. He was released on April 28, 1865 following the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston on April 26, 1865, which ended hostilities for the most part in the western theater.

He returned home to Adams soon after his release & began farming once again. He married Rose Roberts on April 29, 1869. Two children were born from this union, Lennie in 1870 and Floyd in 1878. He moved to nearby Springfield around 1900 & took a position as a mail carrier. His wife Rose died in 1903 and was buried in the Elmwood Cemetery in Springfield.

Ninian moved to East St. Louis in 1913 working as a Gateman for the Illinois Central Railroad. He later worked as a watchman for the American Range & Foundry Company on State Street in East St. Louis. He died on May 30, Decoration Day (Memorial Day), 1940 at St. Mary’s Hospital. His final resting place is now marked with a Veteran’s Administration headstone, and research led the author to find his grave unmarked. Ninian was a 17-year-old when he joined the cause for Southern Independence and was a captured 3 days after his 18th birthday. Today’s youth of 17 to 18 years of age are busy planning to attend various school activities such as sporting events, the prom & graduation. Ninian spent this time participating in some of the bloodiest battles in American history and had the honor of serving under Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest is considered by many to be the greatest cavalry commander this country has ever produced. The general once stated, “ I’ve got no respect for a young man who won’t join the colors!” He went to war a boy and left it a man with the respect of General Forrest and his fellow countrymen.

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