Luke Lea of Nashville, Tennessee, believed in doing the right thing. Having been elected to the U.S. Senate in 1911, at age 32, he voted to punish espionage acts and to arm merchant ships. When Congress declared war in April 1917, Lea organized a group of Tennessee volunteers to take up arms against Germany, the aggressor.
Within three months after completing their final training in Brittany, Colonel Lea and the 114th Field Artillery he commanded were transported to the front lines. They were in battle continuously until the cease-fire on November 11, 1918.
Following the armistice, peace talks got underway in Paris, with tensions running high and accusations rampant. Luke Lea was determined that Kaiser Wilhelm II should be held accountable for the death and destruction he had caused, even though, having lost the confidence of the German civilian government and military leaders, the Kaiser had abdicated on November 9, two days before the Armistice. Luke Lea believed that Kaiser Wilhelm should still be forced to stand trial for his war crimes, fearing that, otherwise, harsh terms levied against the German people would sow the seeds for yet another war.
Deciding upon a course of action, Lea took a five-day leave and brought along several of his officers and men, who had no idea what he had in mind. He confided in no one as he quietly arranged passports and transportation. The group travelled in two cars, driving from Luxembourg through Belgium to Amerongen Castle in the neutral Netherlands, where the Kaiser had fled.
As the castle came within sight, Lea said, “Men, I have come to convince the Kaiser that he must come forward before the peace conference and take responsibility for his actions.”
“But,” Luke went on, “if he won’t come willingly, then we will take him unwillingly.” Cheers went up as the men agreed.
Driving up to the castle, the men got out of their cars and knocked on the door. They were admitted and asked to state their business. Lea and his men gave their names. “We are here on a journalistic investigation and request an interview with Kaiser Wilhelm Hohenzollern,” they said. They heard their words repeated in the next room, followed by a response from a man who was almost certainly the Kaiser.
Surmising that the Kaiser was guarded and surrounded by German military personnel, Lea quickly realized that his mission would have to be aborted. There was no chance of success.
Although the visitors were treated politely and served water and cigars, the Germans reminded them that they were uninvited guests and soon asked them to leave. By this time, their cars were completely surrounded by armed Dutch civilians. Luke and his men calmly returned to their cars and drove away. The civilians fell back on either side as the Americans sped through the village.
Immediately upon returning to his regiment, Lea was faced with charges of military misconduct. He defended his actions by insisting that he had acted purely as a private citizen. “Never once,” he said, “did I state that I represented the U.S. Military.”
As a Colonel he took full responsibility and received a stern reprimand from General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. He would have accepted further punishment, but the charges were dropped. (1997)
Luke Lea was born in Nashville in 1879. His grandmother was a descendant of Judge John Overton, law partner of Andrew Jackson. His grandfather, John McCormack Lea, was mayor of Nashville in 1849. His father, Overton Lea, was an attorney. At the time of his birth his parents owned 1,000 acres of land between Granny White and Franklin Pikes known as Lealand, part of the original acreage of Travellers Rest.
Lea enrolled at the University of the South at Sewanee in 1896 and was awarded his master’s degree in 1900. Later that year he travelled briefly in Europe and then entered law school at Columbia University, becoming editor of theColumbia Law Review in 1903. After graduation he opened a law office in the Cole Building in downtown Nashville. In 1906 he married Mary Louise Warner, daughter of Percy Warner, and their sons were born in 1908 and 1909.
Lea organizedThe Tennessean Company in 1907, and by 1908 the paper was up and running efficiently enough that he was able to return to his law practice. In 1910 he chartered the Belle Meade Company for future real estate development of the 5,000-acre farm of that name, and the company presently donated 144 acres to the golf club which later became the Belle Meade Country Club.
Luke Lea was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1911, at 32 years of age, in office until 1917, at which time he took on the task of recruiting volunteers for the 114th Field Artillery. He served as their colonel until the end of the First World War.
When Lea came home from World War I, he shifted his focus toward managing his newspapers, the Nashville Tennessean and the Evening Tennessean. Late in the 1920s he also became publisher of the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Knoxville Journal, which he jointly owned with Rogers Caldwell.
During that same decade Lea acquired a number of properties, and he built Nashville’s first ramp-style parking garage on Seventh Avenue between Church and Commerce Streets. In 1927 he donated 868 acres for a public park that would be named for his father-in-law, Percy Warner.
In 1929 Tennessee Governor Henry H. Horton appointed Lea to the U.S. Senate to fill an unexpired term, but Lea declined, saying he could “do the greatest good and be of more service to Tennessee as a private citizen.”
The Great Depression brought ruin to Lea’s business affairs because of devalued assets, cash flow problems, and political maneuvering by his enemies. He was convicted of banking law violations in 1931, and his newspapers were silenced. He served two years in the North Carolina State Prison.
Less than a month after Lea was paroled, backers approached him about running for governor of Tennessee. Still hoping to re-enter the publishing field, he turned them down.
Although Lea eventually regained his health, which had deteriorated while he was imprisoned, he never regained his wealth. When he died in 1945 at age 66, a congressional investigation was underway that might have restored the Nashville Tennessean to him once again. (1997)
Notes and comments from the Nashville Historical Newsletter.
Jim Summerville, “The Battle of Nashville Monument,” NHN, March 1997
The pace is quickening at Hawkins Partners, chief contractor overseeing the relocation and restoration of the Battle of Nashville Monument. A concept plan for the new site, the southwest corner of Granny White and Battlefield Drive, is underway. By early April the firm hopes to turn over to the state architect the bid packages for all subcontracting, including the sculpting of the new 40-foot obelisk and angel that were part of the original monument. Groundbreaking may take place sometime this summer.
The Tennessee Historical Commission, which owns the monument, selected the new site in 1992. Thanks to federal, state, and local funds, as well as numerous private contributions, this great art and history treasure will be brought back to public view and appreciation.
The driving force behind the monument’s creation was May Winston Caldwell and the Ladies’ Battlefield Association. In 1911 the group secured four acres at Franklin Road and Thompson Lane, where in 1863 Union and Confederate forces had clashed fiercely. At this place the association determined to erect a memorial to mark the last major action in the western theater, the Battle of Nashville.
World War I delayed the project, and by the time the Association commissioned sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, the idea for a solders’ memorial had taken on new significance. On the battlefields of Europe, Southern and Northern young men had fought side by side, reuniting the country under one flag. Moretti expressed this idea in two rearing horses, representing the former enemies, yoked together by a youth who stood for the young men who had served on foreign fields.
Finally dedicated in 1927, the Battle of Nashville monument stood proudly for many years. Then in 1974 a tornado destroyed the obelisk and the Angel of Peace that crowned it. In the 1980s a 13-acre interchange for I-440 and I-65 pressed against the site, isolating the remaining bronze, the youth and horses, on a pinched plot of ground. For some time, acid rain has been pitting the soft marble of the base. Lately, vandals have scrawled graffiti on the stone.
This great wrong will now be righted, as the Battle of Nashville comes to its new home. In the vicinity of the new location, the Confederate line under General A. P. Stewart reached its farthest advance on the afternoon of December 15, 1864.
2. NHN: A Work of Art Needs Your Help, September 1997
Contractors working on the restoration of the Battle of Nashville Monument would be grateful to hear from anyone who possesses any fragments of the original sculpture. Pieces of the obelisk and angel would enable the careful replication of the work, which was hurled to the ground and smashed during a 1974 tornado. All fragments loaned for this purpose will be handled with care and returned promptly to the lender. Contact: The Association for Tennessee History.
3. NHN: History in Action, March 1998
Approximately $300,000 will be needed to complete the interpretive park that will be the new site for the refurbished Battle of Nashville Peace Monument. The park, located at Granny White Pike and Battlefield Drive, is scheduled to open this summer. Preliminary site preparation has begun, and sculptor Colley Coleman has been producing shop drawings that will determine the proper cutting of the new granite for the Monument. The Tennessee Historical Commission is welcoming donations to the park project.
4. NHN: History in Action, May-June 1999
Giuseppe Moretti’s Battle of Nashville Peace Monument is scheduled to be rededicated on Saturday, June 26, at 10:00 a.m. at the new historical park on Battlefield Drive. The monument, a tribute to those who fought and died in both the Civil War and World War I, was damaged by a 1974 tornado and neglected for years thereafter. The renewed monument is also a tribute to those organizations and individuals who refused to allow it to lie in ruin.
5. NHN: News & Notes, July-August 1999
The restored Battle of Nashville Peace Monument, thought to be the only Civil War monument in the United States to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers, was rededicated on June 26, 1999. The principal speaker for the occasion was venerable Nashvillian Wilbur Foster Creighton Jr., a hearty ninety-two years of age. Ward DeWitt Jr., chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission, appropriately dedicated the Peace Monument to our city’s youth. The now-pristine monument – with its mighty granite base, its bronze sculpture, and its triangular obelisk – rises to thirty feet and is topped with an Angel of Peace. Fittingly located in a new park at Granny White Pike and Battlefield Drive, this memorial could become, we believe, one of the most frequently photographed of all Tennessee outdoor statuary.
Nashville’s first public high school for African American students was the Meigs School, which opened as a grammar school in 1883 and accepted secondary students for the first time the fall of 1886. Eleven years later, in 1897, responding to rising student enrollment, the Board of Education moved all the city’s black high school students to the former Pearl Grammar School building, built in 1883 at 217 5th Ave. S (across from today’s Country Music Hall of Fame), creating Pearl High School, which remained at that location until its move to 16th Ave. N. in 1917.
The 5th Avenue building remained vacant until the fall of 1924, when it reopened as Pearl Junior High, serving grades 1-9. Four years later, on November 26, 1928, the School Board voted to change the school’s name to Cameron Junior High School, in honor of Professor H. A. Cameron.
Henry Alvin Cameron was one of eleven African American soldiers from Davidson County to die in World War I. Before enlisting at age 45, Cameron had worked as a science teacher and coach at Pearl High School, taking a leave of absence from teaching in 1917 to volunteer for service in the war. One of only twelve black soldiers from Tennessee accepted into the officer training program at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, Cameron was among the 1.2 million American soldiers who participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in the autumn of 1918. He died twelve days before the end of the war at Châtel-Chéhéry, not far from where Sgt. Alvin York had earned the Medal of Honor for courage under fire three weeks earlier.
Cameron was the fourth public school in Nashville to be named for an African American. The others were Carter School (1897), named for Nashville teacher Howard Carter (and becoming the Carter-Lawrence School after a 1940 merger); Napier School (1898), named for Henry Alonzo Napier, a Nashville school principal who had studied at West Point; and Nelson Merry School (date unknown), honoring Nashville’s first African-American ordained minister.
The original Cameron school building was a two-story brick structure. It lacked indoor plumbing, heated its classrooms by means of a scattering of stoves and grates throughout the building, and was seriously overcrowded — designed for 800 students, it typically housed 1,000 and had a lengthy waiting list. Elementary classrooms were located on the first floor; grades 7-9 met on the second.
In 1940 Cameron School moved to First Ave. S., occupying a building designed by Henry Clossen Hibbs, a celebrated architect who also designed Nashville’s NES building, along with structures at Fisk, Vanderbilt, Peabody, Scarritt, Belmont, and Meharry. This four-story facility, set on a 7-acre campus, featured 23 classrooms, two office suites, a large library, three home economics rooms, two science laboratories, a clinic, a cafeteria, and a teachers’ lounge.
Under the leadership of Principal John C. Hull, Cameron became a senior high school in the fall of 1955, when its elementary grades (1-6) moved into the newly constructed Johnson Elementary School (named for a former principal) on 2nd Avenue South. Hull oversaw the construction of a boys’ gym, an auditorium, band and chorus rooms, and a stadium. Cameron High School’s first senior class graduated in June 1957.
In 1958 Oscar Jackson, a TSU alumnus with a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina, became principal of Cameron High School. Jackson was still principal at Cameron in 1968, the year the school’s athletic program was suspended, setting off a legal battle that would continue for more than three years and would ultimately cost Oscar Jackson his health. Jackson and his staff fought the suspension in both the courtroom and the media as the battle merged with efforts to end segregation in the Nashville schools. By late summer 1970 the beloved principal, exhausted and in poor health, retired after twelve years at the helm of the school. James M. Robinson replaced Jackson, but only for a year. The battle for full school integration was nearly over.
Despite the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education declaring public school segregation unconstitutional, and the Court’s subsequent decree (1955) that integration proceed “with all deliberate speed,” Cameron High School’s student body was still entirely black in 1968 when the Metro school board and the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association suspended the school’s athletic program for a full year after a basketball tournament fracas. Cameron parents and their supporters, represented by attorney Avon N. Williams Jr., claimed that the suspension was racially motivated and also insisted that city schools should be made to conform to constitutional integration requirements. In 1971, after a federal judge ordered busing to resolve racial segregation, many white parents withdrew their children from the public schools, and private schools sprang up all over town1. Nevertheless, desegregation was finally winding down. In June 1971 the last all-black senior class graduated from Cameron High. Beginning that fall, Cameron students were bused to McGavock Comprehensive High School2 in Donelson. McGavock, which opened in 1971, initially served students in grades ten through twelve who had previously attended Cameron, Donelson and Two Rivers high schools; the school added ninth grade in 1978. Cameron became an integrated junior high school, and in 1978 pioneered Nashville’s first middle school program.
The Cameron School has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2006, and has also been designated by the Metro Nashville Historical Commission as part of a Historic Landmark District. (2021)
1 Nashville schools that opened in the early 1970s:
McGavock Comprehensive High School (public), Donelson, initially served students in grades 10-12 who had previously attended Cameron, Donelson and Two Rivers high schools; the school opened its doors in 1971;
Brentwood Academy (private), Granny White Pike, Brentwood, was chartered 20 Nov 1969 and opened September 1970;
Donelson Christian Academy (private), Donelson, founded in 1971;
Ezell-Harding Christian School (private), Bell Road, Antioch – parents began meeting about establishing the school in 1971-72; school’s first year of operation was 1973-74;
Franklin Road Academy (private), 4700 Franklin Pike, founded in 1971;
Goodpasture Christian School (private), Madison, opened to grades 7-11 in Sep 1971, adding grade 12 by fall 1972; the former East Nashville Christian School, it had opened to grades 1-6 in 1966;
Nashville Christian School (private), 7555 Sawyer Brown Rd., opened 20 Sep 1971;
St. Paul Christian Academy (private), 5033 Hillsboro Pike, opened Sep 1971 for students in grades K-6. The school added grades, 7, 8, and 9 by 1975 but phased them out by 1981 to focus on elementary education.
McGavock High School facts:
Largest high school in Tennessee in physical size – just under 500,000 square feet; its main building covers 14 acres;
First high school in Nashville to combine an academic program with extensive vocational training;
Its impressive marching band has won the state championship 25 times and has performed at the Tournament of Roses Parade, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Orange Bowl Parade, and other nationally televised events; the National Band Association has recognized it as one of the Ten Finest Bands in the U.S.
by John Lawrence Connelly, Davidson County Historian.
For a large part of the twentieth century Nashville residents either ignored or did not know that an area north of Jefferson Street was once a prominent neighborhood where many of Nashville’s leading citizens lived. To a large extent, it was a German community that began flourishing heartily in the 1840s by blending its German heritage with Irish, Italian, Swiss, and Jewish neighbors, in public schools and sometimes in churches. The Catholic Church of the Assumption, founded in 1859, held many of its services in German, as did the German Methodist Church (Barth Memorial), founded in 1854 on North College Street (today’s Second Avenue North). Many prosperous merchants of the city lived in Germantown, and their names hung prominently on retail store signs downtown: Rust, Zugermann, Zickler, Ratterman, Buddeke, Thuss, Grossholz, Jensen, Jeck, and Wheling, to name a few. What’s more, the German names in the community reflected a strong Lutheran heritage.
Within the German community many immigrants worked as butchers, a practice brought over by immigrants from Europe. These tradesmen often killed livestock and cut up the meat in their back yards or in nearby lots. Once they were able to sell their products to the Nashville Market House and other businesses, the number of people who peddled meat from door to door declined rapidly. Many residents opened their own shops or stalls. Names such as Jacobs, Dieterle, Stier, Warner, Oliver, Neuhoff, Power, Petre, Laitenberger, and White were among the best-known butchers from North Nashville. Meat suppliers from Butchertown developed the Christmas spice round, a Nashville holiday meat that would become a celebrated local tradition.
By 1915 the changes that would eventually destroy the neighborhood were beginning to take place. Just as the people who live in a community do not stay the same, old neighborhoods also undergo change. Shortly after the turn of the century, as streetcar lines expanded and motor transportation began to make advancements, Nashville saw a definite trend among the residents to move away from the “walk-to-town” areas. Moreover, the development of refrigeration led to the phasing out of many small butchering businesses. Large packing houses began to infringe upon the pleasant residential atmosphere of the neighborhood, which had often been advertised in local newspapers as a growing and fashionable community. It was World War I, however, that dealt the final blow to Germantown.
Wilbur F. Creighton’s book, Building of Nashville, provides an explanation: “In 1917 the reservoir was closed to visitors. The paper had been filled with stories of German atrocities, such as the use of poisonous gases and deliberate infection of water supplies.” Other cases of exaggerated emotional response to the war included suggestions by some that citizens should “kill their dachshunds.” Fearing for their safety, many German families instructed their older members to stop speaking German, even at home.
Changes within the Barth Memorial Church provide a good example of what was happening in Germantown. For many years sermons were delivered in German, but after World War I began, it was resolved that the church should offer only English services. Catholics and Lutherans with German backgrounds did likewise. The uniqueness of a small community with ties to the “Fatherland” was over. The neighborhood as it once was would never come back, and its steady decline continued until a handful of urban pioneers decided to attempt to create a new Germantown in the 1970s.
Germantown experienced a great deal of decay over the years as many houses were torn down and others extensively altered. Nonetheless, studies made by the Metropolitan Historical Commission in the 1970s stated: “A large percentage of structures are still intact, and it can become a viable neighborhood. The quality of architecture is exceptional, and the condition of the structures is, for the most part, quite sound.”
Today Nashville’s Germantown Historic District is one of the most architecturally heterogeneous neighborhoods in the city. The eight-block area contains a wide variety of styles and types of residences built between the 1840s and 1920s. Because of its historical and architectural significance Germantown was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in August, 1979.
For the past several years new residents have worked individually and collectively to restore Germantown. The Germantown Association has become a dynamic neighborhood group where old and new residents come together to plan for the future. A ride through the area today reveals a lively community with new and restored houses, beautiful flowers and trees, a new supermarket, a new pharmacy, and attractive brick sidewalks. Once again Nashville can take pride in this lovely neighborhood located within a few steps of the Bicentennial Mall, featuring a magnificent view of the State Capitol. Germantown has come back, with almost unlimited potential for tomorrow.
In 1980 members of the Catholic Church of the Assumption and the Monroe Street United Church (two historic churches that survived the lean years) came together to give Nashville its first Oktoberfest. This event, held on the second Saturday in October, has become one of Middle Tennessee’s most popular celebrations. The Germantown Association has sponsored a Maifest celebration for the past decade and often sells out all of its tickets. Yes, Germantown is on the map again! (2001)
Note: Although the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of Oktoberfest for a couple of years, residents plan to bring it back soon.
The World War I aviator is a pop-culture icon, a champion of single-combat heroism that evokes images of the boy David slinging stones at Goliath. In 1918, high above France, the German Goliath was everywhere. One of the Allied pilots who would daily rise to the challenge of single combat with giants in the skies was Nashville’s own Captain Ed Buford Jr. The young Tennessean experienced a brief moment of fame and then, with the sun behind him, was all but lost to history.
The Germans invented the eight rules of air combat in World War I, one of which was to “keep the sun behind you,” the best way to avoid being seen by foes. Captain Buford still seems to be hiding against the sun when one tries to find information about him, but there are a few undeniable facts on record. He was born in Nashville in 1891, attended Vanderbilt from 1909 to 1911 (without graduating), and in 1917 volunteered to go to war.
While on patrol over France on May 22, 1918, Buford single-handedly attacked five German biplanes, shooting down one and scattering the rest. For that act of heroism his country would award him its second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross. France would also honor him with her two highest military decorations, the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor, for his actions over Chateau Thierry and the Toul sector.
Eddie Rickenbacker‘s 94th Aero Squadron shared the same aerodrome as Buford’s own 95th. Rickenbacker knew Buford, but his assessment of the Nashvillian was not complimentary: his book downplays Buford’s skills, gossiping about his disdain of maps and his habit of getting lost.
Buford’s sun, though now eclipsed by Rickenbacker’s, was still blazing high and white-hot when he talked to reporters on his return home on March 17, 1919. If the reporter for the Banner can be believed, Ed never wanted to fly again. He refused to answer any questions about his air combat, leading theBanner to imply that their man had merely eavesdropped on a private family conversation.
Perhaps because the reporter for the morning American interviewed him at the family home at 2300 Elliston, Ed came across in their story as a truly genial host. One incident he described could have come right out of a Hollywood script. Ed and his fellow officers had been taking tea with some French girls at the aerodrome when someone suggested they go up on a hunt for the enemy. The lads took to the skies, and Ed bagged a German plane, one of his official kills.
Whether he shot down three planes, as reported in the Banner, or only two as the American stated, the number falls short of the five required to be officially called an ace. Both papers agreed, though, that he had another five unofficial kills. Ace or not, Captain Buford was still a hero.
The hero’s welcome Ed received on his return to Nashville gave no hint of impending tragedy. After spending five weeks in a Red Cross hospital in Paris where he battled both pneumonia and the infamous 1918 flu, the worst seemed to be behind him. However, three days after his arrival, his mother became ill, dying one week later of pneumonia. Lizinka Elliston Buford may well have picked up the flu when she met her son’s train at the crowded Union Station.
The details of Captain Buford’s post-war career are sketchy. After his father’s death in 1928, the war hero seems to have lost interest in the company his father had founded in 1889, Buford Brothers Wholesale Hardware. He married Clara Payne around 1930 and, by 1932, was living in Florida and working in the auto parts business. According to the archivist for Special Collections at Vanderbilt University, Buford retired around 1952 and died at age 71 on May 9, 1962, in Tampa. Ed Jr. may have been so lost in the sun without a map to the future, that we may never know whether he had any second thoughts about leaving it all behind.
1. Captain Buford actually went by “Eddie,” and I’ve learned one or two other important details since writing this piece. Eddie actually did fly under the famous Eddie Rickenbacker for a time, so it would be better to say that Rickenbacker not only knew him but was his commanding officer.
2. A check of Lizinka Elliston Buford’s death certificate at TSLA shows that, while pneumonia was the cause of her death, influenza was a contributing factor. Given the date of 1919, that almost certainly makes it the same Spanish flu that Eddie had suffered with in Paris prior to his return home.
3. Eddie’s marriage to Clara Payne took place in Escambia County, Florida, in 1928, and there is some evidence that it was his second marriage. His first wife was evidently named Margaret.
Throughout my life I have been a very lucky person. I am thinking of the luck that brought me to be one of the grandchildren of Jacob McGavock Dickinson Sr. Specifically, this meant that I was the heiress to all sorts of good things connected with him: namely, the many great names that brought about the cities of Nashville, Memphis, and other places in Tennessee. Perhaps I inherited a small portion of his greatness and love of life.
When I was born, my father, Captain Jacob McGavock Dickinson Jr., was fighting in the trenches in France, specifically in the Battle of Champagne during World War I. When he received the news of my arrival, he had the chaplain of his regiment christen me in absentia with a small vial of holy water that he had saved for the purpose, using his helmet for the basin. When the 42nd Rainbow Division was reactivated in 1943, he took his family with him to Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the reactivation. Upon hearing the news of my “activation” in the Rainbow, the General of the Regiment, Colonel Harry J. Collins, officially designated me “The Rainbow Girl.” I have attended many reunions of the 42nd Division since that time, basking in the recognition and praise for “The Rainbow Girl.”
After the death of my grandfather, my father and mother moved our family back to Nashville. This was in the late 1920s. They purchased my father’s ancestral home, Travellers Rest, where his mother, Martha Maxwell Overton, had been born and raised. I spent many happy years at Travellers Rest as well as at Antrim in Columbia, where I moved after my marriage to Stuart Swope Fleming.
My life has indeed been a happy one, and I like to think that perhaps some of that happiness is due to my close association with and love of my grandfather, Jacob McGavock Dickinson, Sr.
Grandfather loved his family very much. He bought Belle Meade with the idea of using it both as a place to entertain and as a retreat. When business called him elsewhere, his eldest son, Overton, and family lived there. After a very unfortunate tragedy occurred — both Overton and his wife died from complications of influenza — Grandfather sold Belle Meade, and, as far as I know, never went there again. Overton’s two little girls were entrusted to the care of his sister-in-law, but Grandfather was very attentive to their education and took them on many wonderful trips.
All of this occurred before I was born. Grandfather moved to Chicago to serve as counsel for the Illinois Central Railroad. After he established law offices there, my father, mother, and family moved to Chicago, also, settling in Winnetka, Illinois. Grandfather was a most loving grandfather. He came out on the train on Sundays for lunch, armed always with Hershey chocolates that I, being of a saving nature, squirreled away in my closet. I remember sitting on his lap, when he would run his finger up my spine and admonish me always to hold my back straight.
Grandfather was very fond of my mother. When he sometimes invited her to have lunch with him, he would order only the best. On one memorable occasion, “the best” included raw oysters. Mother was dismayed but gamely resolved to eat them. When he glanced across the table and discovered her actually trying to cut them up, Grandfather sternly admonished her to “Stop murdering those oysters!”
When Grandfather was Secretary of War under President Taft, who was a great friend of his, he was in great demand as a dinner guest. However, I don’t think he was particularly interested in the constant dinner parties. One persistent hostess kept after him, starting with an invitation for Monday night, which he declined. She progressed through the week, day by day, and when she reached the weekend, Grandfather replied, “Dammit, madam, I’ll just come Monday!”
We went into Chicago on occasion to have lunch with him in his apartment. The chairs for the dining table were upholstered in a very dark green horsehair, a very scratchy material at best. He had an elegant bedroom set consisting of bed, armoire, dresser, and night stand. I am fortunate enough to have that now here in my house. When he was taken ill, he of course was propped up in that big bed. I can see him now.
After his death, we all traveled to Nashville on the train to accompany his body, which lay in state in the Tennessee State Capitol.
In 1865 the South lay in ruins. Thousands of sick and wounded Confederate soldiers filled the hospitals or remained in prisons. But out of the ashes of defeat would also come great success stories.
Among the ragged, half-starved men who made the long trek home that spring was 23-year-old Edward L. Buford. Born in Williamson County in 1842 to William Wirt Buford and Eleanor Pointer Buford, he was barely 19 when war broke out. The Pointers, his mother’s family, came from Virginia – Ed’s great-grandfather fought there during the Revolution. The family had spread as far west as Arkansas and Louisiana during the decades leading up to the terrible conflict that would destroy the lives and fortunes of so many.
Ed Buford joined the 3rd Tennessee Infantry in May 1861, in the company of neighbors and relatives. Within a year many of them would be among the 9,500 cold, weary, and deeply shocked Confederate prisoners shipped north by steamboat and rail after Fort Donelson fell in February 1862.
Ed’s imprisonment at Camp Douglas, Illinois, ended in September 1862, when his regiment was exchanged at Vicksburg. However, in May 1864 his luck ran out again: he was recaptured in some forgotten skirmish or unrecorded clash of picket posts. Sent to Rock Island, Illinois, he was exchanged again, at City Point, Virginia, in March 1865, and paroled in May.
Young Buford, who had been educated at Spring Hill Academy, launched his post-war career on the banks of the Cumberland River, its wharf stacked high with dry goods, cotton bales, guns, ammunition, foodstuffs, and spirits. In King’s 1866Nashville City Directory we find him listed as a clerk at Stratton, Pointer & Co., Wholesale Grocers and Cotton Factors, at 9&11 Broad. The eponymous Pointer was Ed’s uncle, Thomas G. Pointer of Spring Hill.
Ed’s situation changed in 1867 when his uncle sold his interest in the business and moved back to his Spring Hill farm. Ed took a job as a clerk for O. Ewing & Co., Importers and Dealers in Hardware, Guns and Cutlery. By 1871 he was a salesman for Ewing, located in the old John Nichol House at 18 Public Square. He had also moved to the Maxwell House Hotel at the corner of today’s 4th and Church. If Ed had been content to remain there for the next 30 years, we might never have heard of him. The 1870 census listed as clerks many ex-Confederate officers from the wealthy land-owning clans of 1860. It was this leveling of social distinction in the post-war South that permitted Ed’s upward mobility. Although small towns and backwaters would cling to the old ways, cities like Nashville were filled with men like Ed who knew themselves to be as valuable as the officers they had obeyed in the late conflict. Moreover, in November of 1875 Ed had made a very good marriage.
William R. Elliston, the son of Joseph Thorpe Elliston, silversmith and former Nashville mayor, owned $235,000 in real estate and $58,500 in personal property, according to the 1860 census. When he died in 1870, he was even wealthier. He left his daughter Lizinka considerable property downtown, as well as the proceeds from the sale of others. When Ed married Lizinka Elliston, they moved into her mother’s house at 32 N High, today’s 6th Ave N. In 1881 Ed built a house on Elliston Street, today’s Elliston Place, where he and his family would live for the remainder of their lives.
During the 1880s and 1890s Ed became a partner in several business ventures, by 1889 operating a company known as Buford Brothers Wholesale Hardware. His brother Charles was a partner until his death, at which time Ed’s brother Brown joined the firm. Edward L. Buford, ex-Confederate POW and former dry goods clerk, had finally arrived.
Along the way Ed and Lizinka had four daughters, one of whom died in infancy, and one son, Ed Jr., who would return from France a celebrated WWI flying ace. The hero’s welcome given to young Ed in March 1919 was marred by sadness when his mother died of pneumonia soon afterwards. Lizinka’s obituary stressed her community work with the YWCA and portrayed her as cultured, sensitive, and tactful – a natural leader. She was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, near her parents, her daughter Louise, and her brother Elijah. In June 1928, after a long illness and confinement, Ed Buford died at age 86 and was buried next to his beloved Lizinka.
I first visited them there one gray, damp, overcast January day. That scene needed only heavy fog or howling winds to conjure up the dim past of their saga. By my second visit a month later, I was among friends, not demigods, and felt more than welcome. We become who we are through the sacrifices, choices, and missed opportunities of the people who passed this way before us. Ed Buford could have come home in 1865 to brood about defeat and the Lost Cause. Instead, he chose the future.
1) I would like to acknowledge the genealogical research of my distant cousins Zee Porter, Linda Pointer, Fred Rowe, and Brian Bivona, who generously shared their files with me. I would never have been able to sort out this huge family without their help. Other data comes from the US Census, Nashville City Directories, Civil War Soldiers’ Records, Widows’ Pension Claims, Mount Olivet Cemetery Records, the Will of W.R. Elliston, and the Nashville Banner.
2) The figure of 9500 prisoners from Fort Donelson may be too low. This was the estimate of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s biographers Jordan and Pryor in 1867, and I accepted it, since it was so close in time to the actual events. Modern historians estimate the number to have been between 12,500 and 13, 500 prisoners. I have also since determined that Ed Buford’s second capture took place at McKernan’s Island near Muscle Shoals, Alabama, according to an account written by Ed’s future brother-in-law Norman Farrell. Farrell wrote of a small cavalry skirmish that took place there within a few days of Ed’s capture. Ed wasn’t alone when he tried to cross the Tennessee River while on leave: with him was William Jackman of Carter’s Tennessee Cavalry, also on leave.
3) Ed Buford fell off a moving train in North Carolina after his exchange in 1865. His injuries were severe enough to delay his return home until July 7, 1865, weeks after the surrenders of Lee in Virginia and Johnston in North Carolina. His second stint as a POW probably saved his life, and his fall from the train, although painful, kept him out of the final battles in North Carolina.
“His heart was as big as he was, and he was a big man . . .” (Herbert Kohn, former Executive Secretary of the Y.M.H.A.). “He was a terrific force in the Jewish and in the non-Jewish community. He participated in everything” (Percy Cohen, lifelong Nashville resident). “He probably did more for Nashville than any other citizen in the last century” (a proud nephew).
These accolades characterize Lee J. Loventhal, a man of limitless energy. Born in East Nashville in 1875, he was the son of L. J. and Mary Sulzbacher Loventhal, a Jewish couple of German ancestry. Salutatorian of his Fogg High School class in 1892, he entered Vanderbilt intending to study law, but his father’s death in 1895 left him — a 19-year-old college student — responsible for his mother, his six siblings, and his father’s bustling insurance business. Not only did he manage the company successfully, but he also continued to work diligently at his studies, graduating from Vanderbilt with honors. His insurance company still thrives today, the oldest of its kind in Nashville under continuous ownership by one family.
Loventhal was a citizen exemplar in business as well as in service to the Nashville community. There was hardly an aspect of civic life in which he was not involved. For a quarter of a century he served on the Park Commission, helping develop the magnificent system of parks and playgrounds that still enhance life in Nashville. His concern for education led him to accept the position of Commissioner of Watkins Institute. He also served on the Board of Trustees and various important committees of Fisk University, whose gratitude for his support is recorded in this inscription: “Lee J. Loventhal helped to carry into our day the splendid American tradition of faith in the education and training of young men and women irrespective of color which inspired the founding of Fisk University at the close of the Civil War.”
Always loyal to Vanderbilt, Loventhal served on its Board of Trust for 22 years, donating both time and money to the university. He established the Lee J. Loventhal Prize in Public Speaking with an annual gift perpetuated in his will. Author Bill Carey names him as a major force behind fundraising for the new Vanderbilt stadium in the 1920s. When the university offered a degree in business administration, businessman Loventhal was invited to be a guest lecturer.
His generosity also extended to the Y.M.C.A. Graduate School. When this institution cooperated with Vanderbilt, Peabody, and Scarritt to form the Joint University Libraries system, Loventhal worked tirelessly on the campaign, donating generously himself. His very presence on a board lent it stature: the Public Health Nursing Society, the Nashville Boy Scouts, the Nashville Boys’ Club, and the Tennessee Children’s Home-Finding Society all benefited from his efforts.
During World War I he served as state treasurer of United War Work in Tennessee, collecting and sending the National Treasury over two million dollars to support the war effort. Meanwhile, in his role as finance chairman of the local Red Cross, he successfully raised contingency funds to keep that organization active.
At the end of the war, as society readjusted, many charities emerged. It was not uncommon then to find each street corner “worked” by well-intentioned solicitors, to the great discomfort of passers-by. Loventhal and a few others realized they could adapt the wartime effort to peacetime causes. Their vision and initiative gave rise in 1925 to the Nashville Community Chest, which coordinated fund raising with disbursements to charities. He himself served as its first president and sat on the executive committee for many years.
Amid his many commitments, Loventhal was also a charter member of the Kiwanis Club, a Mason, a Knight Commander of the Scottish Rite, and a Shriner. He helped found the Young Men’s Hebrew Association and campaigned vigorously to establish what is now the Gordon Jewish Community Center, serving for six years as its first president and working many more years as its treasurer. So vital was he in the creation of the Y.M.H.A. that a picture of him, inscribed “Our First President,” hung for years in the entrance of the building. According to a well-known anecdote of the time, a young Jewish lad who spent much time at the Y.M.H.A. was asked by a teacher whether he knew the name of the first president. Without hesitation, the boy responded, “Lee J. Loventhal.”
Devoted to Jewish causes, Loventhal served on the boards of the Federated Jewish charities, the B’nai B’rith Maimonides Lodge, and the Vine Street Temple. He also gave active support to several Jewish institutions outside Nashville: the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, the Leo N. Levy Hospital in Hot Springs, and the Old Folks’ Home in Memphis.
Despite his busy schedule, Loventhal was first and foremost a family man. His 1899 marriage to Gertrude Moses of Baltimore produced two daughters, one of whom died in childhood, and two beloved grandchildren.
Lee J. Loventhal died in 1940 after a four-month illness. In 1944 the Joint University Libraries* acquired a memorial fund from his family and friends to establish a collection of Jewish books in his honor, with specially commissioned bookplates designed by artist Robert Gregory Gifford. The collection upholds the ideals that guided Loventhal’s life: education and service to one’s fellow man.
* A trust indenture from Nashville, Tennessee established the Joint University Libraries on December 28, 1938. Libraries included in the cooperative are those of Vanderbilt University, George Peabody College for Teachers, and Scarritt College for Christian Workers.
SOURCES Jewish Federation Archives Vanderbilt Special Collections
John Crowe Ransom, future Agrarian and Fugitive poet, entered Vanderbilt University in the fall of 1903. Only fifteen, he had graduated earlier that year from Nashville’s Bowen School, 1309 Broadway, which headmaster A. G. Bowen proudly advertised in the city directory as a “high-grade preparatory school for boys.” *
Ransom was born in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1888 to Methodist minister John James Ransom and Sara Ella Crowe. Typical of ministers’ families, the Ransoms had lived in several Tennessee communities before moving to Nashville when the elder Ransom accepted the position of minister at North High Street (6th Ave.) Methodist Church. (In 1906 the congregation moved to its new building on Monroe Street.) Young John was educated at home, along with his three siblings, until he entered public school at the age of ten. He was enrolled at the Bowen School in 1899.
Ransom graduated at the top of his class of five at Bowen. His classmates were Ernest William Goodpasture, Frank S. Jones, Robert Edwin Blake, and Daniel Hillman Scales. He was literary editor of the school paper, The Bowen Blade, and a member of the debate club. His senior photograph in the 1903 yearbook, The Olio, shows a very youthful face wearing a very serious expression.
It fell to Ransom to write the class prophecy. Along with pieces written for the school newspaper, this may be one of Ransom’s first published writings. Entitled “As Seen from 1930,” he describes a dream in which he saw himself in retirement reflecting on the various careers and life-turns of his classmates.
I am not naturally a dreamer; I modestly acknowledge that I am rather a wide-awake realist than a dreamy, sleepy-headed sentimentalist. I can hardly now remember one of the dreams of my childhood. But recently I had a real dream. It was more than a dream;…it was a vision….[I]t was none of your common, everyday dreams. Nor was it the natural sequence of a hearty supper;…I ate very sparingly on the eve of my vision.
Ransom continues that when he awoke, he retained “the most minute detail of events which I had foreseen…”
…not an item escaped me. I was, from the very first, sure that this vision was not an idle imagination of a sleep-befogged brain, but was a vivid, clear, accurate insight into future events; it was truth itself.
But I refused to consign the proof of the fact that I had witnessed a vision to the mere certainty of my own opinion; I am too broad-minded for that sort of thing. I would go farther. So from its place under a huge pile of books on the top of my wardrobe I took down the well-worn Bible. Closing my eyes, I opened the book at random. The very first verse I read substantiated in full my belief. The next and the next were like it. Was it a miracle? I would refer you to the verses mentioned, but I have forgotten them.
He recounted the dream to his classmates and stated that they were “ready to show fight when I told them the events which I had foreseen. I spoke as follows, just as I had witnessed and just as if it were a recent occurrence”:
About nine o’clock one morning I was sitting on the cool veranda of my beautiful summer home, which was situated on the outskirts of a small Southern city….My surroundings were ideal.
It was the summer of 1930, and I was well advancing toward a ripe middle age. The hair upon my temples was rapidly turning gray, and I was retiring to spend the remainder of my hitherto eventful life in a rest and quietude which was still accompanied by the fame which I had gained. My term of office as a great Federal official had just been completed, and the expressions of approval with which the conscientious performance of my duties had been hailed had not quite died away. Physically I was well preserved; I was a rather tall, stout man, and was still erect and unstooped of shoulder.
He describes sitting in his easy chair reading the daily paper when a small advertisement caught his eye—“D. Hillman Scales, Phrenologist, Printer, and Photographer.” He quickly copied down the given address and “had my man hitch up an automobile, and I started away.” Finding a seat in Scales’ crowded establishment, the two old classmates caught up on the fates and whereabouts of the three other members of the class of ’03. John learned that Hillman had been in partnership with Ernest Goodpasture until recently.
Ernest—or “Doc.,” as we called him—was a fine boy. He made an M. D. of himself, as he always said he would, and then came here and went into business with me….We got along fine until at last Doc. fell in love. That ruins a young fellow; and it is worse on an old one, as Doc. was, of course, five years ago. Then Doc. had an extra bad case of it, too.
The conversation turned to Bob Blake. “Surely you have heard of Blake, the pugilist, haven’t you?” asked Hillman.
That’s Bob. You remember, he was always inclined toward athletics, and he turned out just as I knew he would. He has now for a long time been the champion heavy-weight boxer of America. But he is getting just a little old, and cannot stand the pace much longer.
In Ransom’s “dream,” Hillman continued:
Then there is Jones. I always did like Jones. As soon as Jones graduated from Bowen he went on a trip up North, and married the daughter of one of the richest brewers in the country. He met the young lady in Chicago, where they became mutually attracted to each other. Jones made an impression with the father by the common sense and arithmetic knowledge he displayed, and won over the mother by his winning personality and good looks. It was easy sailing after that….
After Hillman finished, the two classmates “sat and mused [and] reviewed…our various fortunes.” Ransom concludes:
[L]astly, here was I, comfortable, well preserved, and had been President of the United States….
I arose to go, and Hillman followed me to the door. “Do you still say you don’t want those pictures?” he demanded. Perhaps, then, you want some printing done. I give you special rates, and will charge only—”
But I was gone.
John C. Ransom
The “fortunes” of Hillman Scales, Bob Blake, and Frank Jones are unknown. Ernest W. Goodpasture did in fact become a physician and in 1930 was a member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University Medical School. Ransom’s fortune lay not in politics, but in academia. By 1930 he had been a Rhodes Scholar, joined the faculty at Vanderbilt, served at the front in WW I, and published four books of poetry.
In the early 1920s Ransom and fellow faculty members, including Donald Davidson,Robert Penn Warren, and Allen Tate, began meeting to discuss their poems and manuscripts. From 1922 through 1925 the group published their literary magazine, The Fugitive, to present their writings to the public. Most of Ransom’s poems written in those years first appeared in the magazine. He wrote very little poetry after publication of the magazine ceased.
In 1926, along with Davidson and Tate, Ransom began to shift from literary to social and cultural criticism. Calling their philosophy Agrarianism, they began a movement to counter the industrial and material culture that had dominated America since the Civil War. The result was the publication in 1930 of I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, a collection of essays which argued for a return to Southern traditions and an agriculture-based economy. He later moved away from the agrarian tenets, seeing them as archaic and invalid in modern times.
Ransom left Vanderbilt in 1937 to become a professor of poetry at Kenyon College in Ohio. In 1939 he founded the highly respected literary journal, The Kenyon Review, and continued as its editor until his retirement in 1959. Although retired as professor and editor, Ransom continued to be engaged in—and honored by—the nation’s literary community until his death at age 86 in 1974. His ashes are buried on the campus at Kenyon College.
Throughout his academic and personal life, Ransom applied lessons learned from his early education at home and at the Bowen School. Even though a minister’s son growing up in a very religious household, he was schooled in an atmosphere of open-mindedness. Later in life, looking back at his years at Bowen, Ransom stated that Principal Angus G. Bowen had done more for his education than any other man. These early influences are keys to Ransom’s mature intellectual honesty and agility. He was always open to new ideas and, after careful examination, ever able to discard unworkable stances and beliefs.
* The Bowen School, headed by Principal Angus Gordon Bowen, was founded in 1893 as the Wharton Academic School by Arthur Dickson Wharton, former principal of the Hume and Fogg Schools. In 1898 Wharton returned to that position and Bowen became principal at Wharton’s academy. The following year the school’s name was changed to Bowen Academic School. Professor Wharton died in 1900 at the age of sixty. The Bowen School was in existence until 1919. In the early 1920s Bowen became an insurance agent and maintained an office in the Chamber of Commerce building until his death in 1948. Both Bowen and Wharton are buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.
John Crowe Ransom Papers, Vanderbilt University Special Collections Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County Government Archives Tennessee Encyclopedia of History & Culture