James Gallant Spears

James Gallant Spears was born in Bledsoe County, Tennessee, on March 29, 1816. After he became of age he acquired a meager education by his own efforts, studied law, and located at Pikeville, Tennessee, to practice his profession. In 1848 he was elected clerk of the circuit court and by 1851 had acquired both land and slaves. Spears, a Douglas Democrat and an uncompromising Unionist, was a delegate to the Knoxville convention in May, 1861, and to the meeting of the same body in Greeneville in June. In the summer of 1861 he learned that he was to be arrested for disloyalty to the Confederate government; whereupon he fled to Kentucky, aided in organizing the 1st Tennessee (Union) Infantry, and was appointed its lieutenant colonel on September 1, 1861. The following March 5 he was promoted to brigadier general. The 1st Tennessee was in reality a battalion, with Spears its senior officer; he led it at Wild Cat Mountain and Mill Springs. In June, 1862, he was in charge of a brigade of the Army of the Ohio which took part in the capture of Cumberland Gap, as well as in the subsequent retreat to the Ohio River in the fall of the year; with another brigade he arrived on the field of Murfreesboro in time to take part in the action on January 3, 1863. At Chickamauga his brigade was a part of Granger's reserve corps but was not actually engaged in the battle. He later took part in the relief of Knoxville. In spite of his staunch Union sympathies Spears felt that the Emancipation Proclamation, which deprived him of his Negroes, was illegal and unconstitutional. He expressed himself on the matter in such violent language that his sentiments were communicated to Washington. This resulted in an investigation authorized by President Lincoln and on February 6, 1864, his arrest. By the verdict of a court-martial Spears was dismissed from the service on August 30, 1864, after disdaining an offer which would have permitted him to resign. "He was brave in battle, but hot-headed, impulsive, and obstinate in what he thought was right. . . ." He then returned to his home and set about retrieving his fortune, which had been considerable. On July 22, 1869, he died at his summer home at Braden's Knob in Bledsoe County, and was buried in Pikeville.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.