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William McNeeley Gourley (March 23, 1829 - December 16, 1864) served as a captain in Company A, 13th Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry.

Cpt William M. Gourley, ca. 1864.

Personal life

William Gourley was born March 23, 1829 in Carter County, Tennessee to Charles McDonnell and Nancy (Morgan) Gourley. He married Lucinda Jane Edens (1836-1870) with whom he had one son.

Bridge burner

Gourley was an active participant in the bridge burnings in 1861, and helped burn the bridge across the Holston River at Zollicoffer. As Gourley rode with his party to meet other men at the Holston River bridge it was recalled by John G. Burchfield that he said, "Boys, we have a dangerous job on hands to-night. It will be the death to any of us should we be captured."[1]

A few days before Christmas 1861, Gourley, Andrew Fondren, Lawson Hyder, and Isaac Ellis were captured. Gourley and Fondren were identified as bridge burners and were to be executed on the 25th. Because the prison at Elizabethton was full, the men were kept under guard by a few Confederate soldiers. Several Union women devised a plan for their escape by hosting a party at the home of William Hawkins on the 24th.[2]

The guards and prisoners were first invited to the home of James Perry, who lived near Elizabethton, for supper. Perry reportedly provided plentiful apple brandy to the rebel soldiers to get them drunk. After supper they went to Hawkins' home where drinking continued and dancing broke out. Gourley remained sober and when the guards were sufficiently distracted, he gave a signal to the other men to run from the house. Distracted by the women, drinking, dancing, and singing, the guards did not discover what had happened until it was too dark to follow Gourley, Fondren, and Hyder who had made it to Lynn Mountain. Ellis remained a prisoner, but he was not considered very important and made his escape the next day.[3]

As a "marked man" by Confederate authorities, Gourley hid in the mountains until he fled Tennessee for Kentucky in April 1863 with the assistance of Daniel Ellis where he formally joined the U.S. Army.

Civil War service

In Kentucky, Gourley enlisted in as a private in Company B, 4th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry on April 14, 1863 for a period of three years. He mustered in June 15, 1863 in Knoxville.

Gourley was captured with the regiment at McMinnville, Tennessee on October 3, 1863 while on garrison duty there. He is listed as missing in action beginning October 3, 1863 and was kept on the regimental records as "on parole" from that date until April 1, 1865.[4] Gourley was subsequently transferred to Company F on April 29, 1864. He was discharged May 17, 1864 from the 4th Tennessee Infantry to accept a commission as captain of Company A, 13th Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry effective May 10, 1864 to fill a vacancy left by Captain Pleasant Williams who resigned his commission.

He is listed as present for duty every month until his death.

Gourley was killed in action on December 16, 1864 at Marion, Virginia During Stoneman's raid it was learned that Confederate Brigadier General John Vaughn's Brigade was advancing toward Marion, Virginia. To prevent them from reaching Marion, an advance guard with sharpshooters from the 13th Tennessee Cavalry engaged Vaughn's men outside of the town, but the rebels were driven into Marion. It was not yet daybreak and as the rest of the regiment charged into the town, confusion set in and several of the men mistakenly began firing at each other instead of the rebels. The regimental history records that Gourley, "recognizing the uniform of a Confederate officer near him struck him with his sword; the officer instantly shot Gourley dead. Gourley had scarcely fall from his horse when Robert Shell of Company H, who had witnessed the personal encounter, killed the Confederate officer, who it was learned was Colonel Gideon of Gen. Vaughn's command."[5]

After Vaughn's men were driven from Marion the men of the 13th Tennessee Cavalry were so enraged by Gourley's death that they set fire to a house near where he was killed. The regimental history added that, "A young lady was pleading with the men not to burn the house. Lieut. Angel recognized her voice as that of Miss Mary Johnson, of Elizabethton, who was visiting her sister, Mrs. Huff, who lived at Marion. He rode up and made himself known to her, and insisted on her getting out of danger, as the firing was lively in that vicinity."[6]

The regimental history notes that Gourley "was an ardent Union man, a good citizen and a brave and capable officer. He was a great favorite with Col. Ingerton, who called him 'Old Fighting Gourley'. 'Old' was an expression used by Colonel Ingerton to mean old in the head--reliable."[7]

At the time of his death Gourley had received a $25 bounty and was owed a $75 bounty for his service with the 4th Tennessee Infantry.

He was originally interred at Dublin, Virginia; his remains were moved to Knoxville National Cemetery in 1877.

His wife applied for a widow's pension on September 9, 1865. His son applied for a minor's pension on September 8, 1871.


  1. Scott & Angel, p. 74.
  2. Scott & Angel identify the women as Sarah Folsom, Eliza O'Brien, Margaret Barker, Lydia Barker, Jennie Garrison, Politha Heatherly, Hester Heatherly, and Loyette Hilton. They noted that others may have been involved as well.
  3. Scott & Angel, pp. 366-367.
  4. Where Gourley reported to prison camp until exchanged has not been located.
  5. Scott & Angel, p. 222.
  6. Scott & Angel, p. 223.
  7. Scott & Angel, p. 223.

External links

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