University of Nashville in the DAB

by Mike Slate.

The Dictionary of American Biography, an esteemed multi-volume reference work, contains essays on individuals who died before 1981. One portion of its master index lists the subjects of the biographies by the college or university they attended. Under “University of Nashville” are seventeen names: William Barksdale, John Bell, Jacob McGavock Dickinson, Andrew Jackson Donelson, Tolbert Fanning, Ephraim Hubbard Foster, Henry Hitchcock, Cave Johnson, John Berrien Lindsley, George Earle Maney, Robert Paine, Gideon Johnson Pillow, James Davis Porter, Wickliffe Rose, William Walker, John Anthony Winston, and William Yerger.

Lindsley Hall, the main classroom building of the University of Nashville, still stands near the Howard Municipal Office Building at 2nd and Lindsley.

Of these seventeen, ten are also featured in The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History & Culture, and we refer the reader to that volume for their biographies. Here we offer introductions to the remaining seven, not only to highlight their lives but also to illustrate the extensive influence of the University of Nashville.

William Barksdale (1821-1863), born in Rutherford County, Tennessee, attended the University of Nashville and studied law in Columbus, Mississippi. He became editor of the Columbus Democrat before serving in the U.S. Congress from 1853-1861. An advocate of slavery, Barksdale rose to the rank of brigadier-general during the Civil War. He died of wounds received at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Jacob McGavock Dickinson (1851-1928) was born in Columbus, Mississippi, but moved to Nashville and became one of the city’s most accomplished citizens. From the University of Nashville he received the A.B. degree in 1871 and the A.M. the following year. A well-known lawyer and judge, Dickinson served as president of the American Bar Association from 1907-1908. His appointment as Secretary of War under long-time friend William Taft is another of his many achievements. An interesting fact not mentioned in the DAB (but noted by Margaret Lindsley Warden in Nashville: A Family Town) is that at various times Dickinson was the owner of three of Nashville’s historic estates: Ensworth, Polk Place, and Belle Meade.

Henry Hitchcock (1829-1902), an Alabama native, graduated from the University of Nashville in 1846 and from Yale in 1848. He was pro-Union and served under Sherman during that General’s march to the sea. A scholarly jurist and able speaker, Hitchcock organized the law school of Washington University in St. Louis and was its first dean. Like Dickinson, he served as president of the American Bar Association (1889-1890).

Born in Franklin, Tennessee, George Earl Maney (1826-1901) graduated from the University of Nashville a year before Hitchcock but, as a Confederate brigadier-general, fought against Sherman in the Atlanta Campaign. After the War, Maney became president of the Tennessee & Pacific Railroad and was elected to the state legislature. From 1881 to 1894 he served as a diplomat in South America.

In 1814 Robert Paine (1799-1882) moved from North Carolina to Giles County, Tennessee. The DAB reports that he was “ready to enter the sophomore class of Cumberland College [a forerunner of the University of Nashville]” when a religious experience moved him to preach. In 1846, after serving for sixteen years as president of LaGrange College in Alabama, he was elected Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and moved to Aberdeen, Mississippi. He is the author of Life and Times of William McKendree.

John Anthony Winston (1812-1871), born in Madison County, Alabama, “spent some time at Cumberland College” in Nashville and became a successful planter, owning plantations in four Southern states. He was governor of Alabama (1853-1857), and, after the Civil War, was elected to the U.S. Senate. An ardent Confederate, he was denied his Senate seat after refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the United States.

William Yerger (1816-1872), born in Lebanon, Tennessee, graduated from the University of Nashville in 1833. He moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where he developed one of the largest law practices in the state. Although he opposed secession, Yerger was elected to the state legislature and remained in that office throughout the War. At war’s end, he was instrumental in bringing Mississippi back into the Union.

The seventeen DAB articles on men who attended the University of Nashville reinforce the importance of that institution in our city’s history. In addition, Nashville-related entries in standard reference works remind us that our history often ceases to be only “local” and becomes national or even international in significance.

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