Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Alice Thompson, Heroine of Thompson Station

17-year old Alice Thompson
"Heroine of the Battle of Thompson Station"
Source: Battles and Sketches of the Army of Tennessee, 1906
There is a fascinating story forever associated with the Civil War Battle of Thompson's Station, Tennessee, fought on this date in 1863. The Confederate cavalry, victorious in that battle, received critical help from an unlikely source, a 17-year old named Alice Thompson. No recounting of the battle would be complete without mentioning the heroic role she played.

Daughter of Elijah Thompson, the town's eponym, Alice was on her way to visit a neighbor when Confederate and Federal troops collided in her small community. As the fighting approached, she dashed for the nearest safe place, the basement under the Thomas Banks home, where she sheltered with the family. Alice and the frightened family witnessed some of the fiercest fighting of the day, watching through the small windows for several hours as the battle raged around them. Alice looked on as Confederate soldiers charged towards a nearby hill and were repulsed. It was the dismounted 3rd Arkansas Regiment of Armstrong's Brigade. The soldiers charged again, but were repulsed a second time. In this attack, the regiment lost its commander, Col. S.G. Earle, shot in the head while leading his brave men. The regimental color-bearer was also struck. Both events left the troops in obvious disorder.

What Alice did next was simply astounding.

When she saw the regimental color-bearer down, brave Alice bolted from her shelter, snatched up the banner, and began waving it to rally the troops. Seeing such valor displayed by one of their women, the Confederates charged again, and this time they took the hill. Even the enemy cheered her heroism. After the battle, Alice tended many of the wounded who were taken into the Banks house.

Alice's deed that day made quite a lasting impression. It's referenced in a number sources by many witnesses. One such example is that of esteemed cavalry colonel, W.S. McLemore, who years after the war recalled Alice's bravery in the book, Battles and Sketches of the Army of Tennessee. While he admitted that many of the war's details had been forgotten, he could not forget the "heroine at Thompson's Station." For the book's publication in 1906, another vet provided the author with a picture he saved of the young woman.

Alice later married Dr. David H. Dungan, the brigade surgeon she assisted at the hospital set up in the Banks home after the battle. Sadly, Alice enjoyed only a short life, dying in 1869 at the age of 23. She is buried in her family's cemetery at Thompson's Station. Their home was just north of Banks house (now Homestead Manor) on the opposite side of the road.

Reflecting on Alice's amazing act in such a brief life, I can't help but call to mind Walter Scott's famous verse:
Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife!
To all the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name.
Sources: Eyewitness to the Civil War (from Tennessee Antebellum Trail Guidebook by David R. Logsdon); Battles and Sketches of the Army of Tennessee, Broomfield L. Ridley; Official Records, Vol. 23, Pt. 1

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