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Ballentine Laird Newbill

Obituary of Col. John Goff Ballentine, Pulaski, Tennessee.

By Mrs. Grace Meredith Newbill

John Goff Ballentine was born in Pulaski, Giles County, Tenn., May 20, 1825, son of Andrew Mitchell and Mary Tuttle (Goff)) Ballentine, of Scotch-Irish descent. His father as a valiant young Irish soldier fought under Lord Wellington, and immediately following the defeat of Napolean he emigrated to America coming direct to Tennessee and to Pulaski.

Colonel Ballentone was a man of splendid personality and brilliant intellect. He graduated from Wurtemburg Academy in 1841, from the University of Nashville in 1845, and from Harvard in 1848. At the time of his death he was the oldest living graduate of the University of Nashville and was a member of Harvard Law School Association. One of his Harvard professors was Henry W. Longfellow and another Simon Greenleaf. He began the practice of law in Pulaski, Tenn., in association with Judge Bramlitt and was soon recognized as a lawyer of ability. He belonged to Livingston Law School, of New York, and was a delegate at different time to Jackson, Miss., to assist in the rehabilitation of the State.

Soon after his marriage, in 1854, he moved to Mississippi, thence to Memphis, Tenn., where he was practicing his profession at the outbreak of the War between the States. As a soldier in the army of the Confederate States Colonel Ballentine was noted for his superb courage, dash, and all the fine qualities which go to make a perfect soldier. In 1861 he enlisted as a private in the Shelby County Dragoons and was soon elevated to the command of this company. While in this position he was offered a place on the staff of Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer, which he declined, loyally preferring to remain with and lead this company of men who had honored him with their confidence and esteem. Later he was promoted to the command of Ballentine's Regiment, composed of West Tennessee and North Mississippi men. The devotion of the men who served under him has rarely been equaled, and his gallant conduct under all circumstances inspired their firmest confidence. One who served under him in those days which tried souls has recently written to his bereaved family this beautiful tribute:

"Colonel Ballentine was one of God's noblemen, kind to his men in war and always thoughtful of their comfort in battle or in camp. He led his regiment in battle, always in the forefront and ready to enter single combat with any man in the Yankee ranks who dared cross swords with him. His enthusiastic demeanor in the thickest of battle was an inspiration to his men, who followed him with that trusting devotion which dispelled fear."

In May, 1862, a Federal force was sent out in the direction of Paris and Dresden, Tenn., for the capture of medical supplies reported to have been sent out from Paducah to the Confederate army. Colonel Ballentine, with five companies of his regiment, followed the trail of this expedition thirty-six hours without stopping, overtook them at Lockridge's Mill, surprised the pickets, charged the Federals, and pursued them in hot chase fourteen miles. In this charge Colonel Ballentine was especially conspicuous for gallant bearing and use of saber and pistols. He engaged in a hand-to-hand combat with a brave Federal officer, who several times pierced Colonel Ballentine's coat, and on vicious thrust removed the brim from the soft felt hat worn by him. Realizing that in this Federal officer he had a foeman worthy of his steel, Colonel Ballentine made a desperate thrust, piercing the side of his opponent, who surrendered, and before dying he expressed admiration for the man who slew him and asked that he accept his horse, saddle and saber. Perhaps on account of this incident Gen. C. V. Smith, in command of the Federals at Paducah, set a price on Colonel Ballentine's head. Later Gen. Leonidas Polk sent Colonel Ballentine under a flag of truce into General Smith's lines to bring out relatives of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston. With characteristic gallantry and manly demeanor he so impressed his foe that later they became warm personal friends. Colonel Ballentine was with Gen. Van Dorn at the time of his death, entering the room just as his assassin was passing out, and received his dying bequest the General's cavalry pistols, which are now a valued relic in the Ballentine family. With the modesty characteristic of a brave nature, Colonel Ballentine refrained from discussing these thrilling events; but occasionally, when he could be induced to do so for a few chosen friends, his language was so elegant and convincing, his gestures so fine and graceful, his love for the cause so great that we sat in mute admiration and did not wonder that the men who served under him delighted to do him honor.

Colonel Ballentine was wounded in 1864, in front of Sherman in the Georgia campaign. On General Hood's retreat he was ordered to remain behind and police the Tennessee River. Hood's army in retreat passed through Pulaski, Colonel Ballentine's home town, and in sight of his boyhood home. He was the last Confederate to cross Richland Bridge, defending his retreat with his saber. Just before the collapse of the Confederacy he was notified that he had been made brigadier general, with instructions to report to Gen. Dick Taylor for his commission; but when he reached Selma all was confusion, General Taylor had packed and gone, and the Confederacy was defeated. Soon after the close of the Colonel Ballentine returned to his native town, Pulaski. He represented this district with conspicuous loyalty and ability in the Forty-Eighth and Forty-Ninth Congress, refusing nomination for a third term on account of failing health. In 1854 he was married to Miss Mary E. Laird, who, with five chilren, survives him.

From the little town of Pulaski, which witnessed his birth and which he had felt the impulse of his upright deeds during the years of his long and honored life, the soul of Colonel Ballentine went forth in peace to his exceeding great reward on the morning of Novemebr 23, 1915, aged ninety years. Perhaps no other man was more tenderly cherished and reverenced by family by family and friends, and no man ever evinced more loyal devotion in return, He was a forceful, successful man of the highest personal integrity. His uprightness of purpose in public or private life was never questioned. The character of unspotted honor that he has left to his children in their proudest heritage, and the entire community is in loving sympathy with them because of the passing of a revered husband and father, while Pulaski and Giles County mourn the loss of their oldest and most honored citizen.

SOURCE: Confederate Veteran Magazine, June, 1916.

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