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Alvan Gillem served as a general in the Union army during the Civil War and in the Fourth Military District, which included Arkansas, during Reconstruction. He was involved in the process of establishing and approving a new state constitution for Arkansas in 1868 so the state could be readmitted to the union.
Alvan Cullem Gillem was born in Gainesboro, Tennessee, to a farming family on July 29, 1830. The son of Samuel and Ruth Gillem, Alvan had two brothers and a sister. At the age of seventeen, he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Graduating in 1851 as the eleventh ranked student in the class, he received a commission as a second lieutenant in the field artillery branch. Service followed in Florida against the Seminoles and in Texas.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Gillem was serving as a first lieutenant and was promoted to captain on May 14, 1861. Serving as the Chief Quartermaster of the Army of the Ohio, Gillem saw action at the Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky, on January 19, 1862, and was promoted to major for gallantry in the battle. During the Shiloh Campaign, Gillem also commanded the siege artillery of the army.
In February 1862, Nashville, Tennessee, fell to Union forces, and efforts began to recruit Unionist units in the city. Gillem was named colonel of the Tenth Tennessee Infantry in May 1862. He served with the unit and later as provost marshal of Nashville. At the request of the military governor of the state of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson, Gillem was named as the adjutant general of the state and was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on August 17.
In his role as adjutant general, Gillem spent time both organizing and leading troops in the field and working to help reorganize the state government. He led units in eastern Tennessee to oppose Confederate raids in the area, and troops under his command killed Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan at Greeneville on September 4, 1864. That winter, Gillem led units into Virginia, where he served under Major General George Stoneman at the Battle of Marion. At the conclusion of the war, Gillem received a brevet promotion to major general of volunteers. Gillem also received a promotion to colonel in the regular army and was given command of the Twenty-Eighth Infantry Regiment.
The states that seceded from the Union, with the exception of Tennessee, were divided into five military districts and were occupied by Federal troops. The Fourth District consisted of Arkansas and Mississippi and was further subdivided into departments. On January 9, 1868, Gillem took command of the Fourth Military District from Major General Edward Ord. The previous commanding general had worked to call a constitutional convention in the Arkansas. Gillem took command two days after the convention began meeting. The new constitution was necessary for the state to reenter the Union.
The constitution was placed on the ballot with voting opening on March 13. The state board of election declared the constitution ratified on April 1. Due to claims of fraud, an investigation into the election was launched. Gillem declared the election fair on April 23, and the final vote showed 25,600 voters approving the constitution with 22,994 voting against the document. With the new constitution approved, the Arkansas General Assembly took additional steps to reenter the Union, including naming senators and ratifying the Fourteenth Amendment. These steps were recognized by Congress, and on June 22, 1868, Arkansas was readmitted to the Union.
Gillem commanded the Fourth Military District until President Ulysses Grant took office in March 1869. Afterward, he served in Texas but was soon transferred to California, where he was stationed at Benicia Barracks. Gillem saw service against the Modoc Indians in 1873 and 1874 but was removed from command after a detachment from his unit were ambushed and many were killed or wounded. Falling ill before he departed California, he returned home to Tennessee, where he died on December 2, 1875. He is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.
Gillem married Margaret Jones in 1855. The couple had a son and a daughter. His son served as a colonel in the army, while a grandson graduated from the United States Military Academy and served as a lieutenant general in the United States Air Force.
For additional information:
Moneyhon, Carl. The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on Arkansas: Persistence in the Midst of Ruin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994.
Warner, Ezra. Generals in Blue. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964.
Henderson State University
Last Updated 12/29/2017
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