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Thomas Jefferson Reid was a physician and a colonel in the Confederate army during the Civil War. Reid not only fought during the war—and at one point escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp—he also served at times in a medical role. After the war, he practiced medicine in Arkansas. He moved to Illinois around 1880, where he lived the rest of his life.
Thomas Jefferson Reid was born on January 6, 1838, in Caswell County, North Carolina. He was one of twelve children born to Thomas Jefferson Reid and Frances Lightfoot Edwards “Fannie” Reid. Thomas Sr. was a descendant of Major John Reid of Virginia, who had served in the American Revolution. Reid’s mother was well educated and from a slaveholding family. In the mid-1850s, the Reid family moved from North Carolina to Tulip (Dallas County), where Thomas Sr. prospered as a planter; the 1860 census shows him owning $23,000 in real estate and $86,000 in personal property.
Thomas Jr. spent only a few years in Tulip before attending the University of Pennsylvania Medical College. He did not finish his medical training there but, instead, graduated from Richmond Medical College in Richmond, Virginia. After the outbreak of war, Reid joined the Confederate army. In July 1861, he was named a major in command of troops in the Twelfth Arkansas Infantry. In December, he moved to the cavalry.
Reid served in the western theater of war. He would have been captured at Island No. 10 in February 1862 with other Confederates, but at the time, he was in Arkansas on a recruiting mission. He became a major in the Second Arkansas Cavalry, a unit reorganized in October 1862, by which time Reid had risen to the rank of colonel. Reid was captured when Port Hudson surrendered to Union forces on July 9, 1863. He escaped from captivity in New Orleans, Louisiana, and managed to get to Mobile, Alabama—then still under Confederate control—before finding his way back to the Second Arkansas.
At the bloody September 1863 Battle of Chickamauga, Reid was commended for providing medical care to the troops. A fellow colonel noted Reid and other men’s “great aid, each doing his full duty, and great praise is due these gallant officers for courage and gallantry exhibited under the hottest fire.”
Reid was an aggressive soldier, submitting a plan to Jefferson Davis in January 1864 proposing a Confederate recapture of New Orleans. Reid said he had gathered intelligence while in captivity there and noted how the city had few Union soldiers defending it. Reid believed that, once taken by the Confederates, New Orleans could not be retaken by the Union. “In less than a week,” Reid wrote, “we could arouse the spirits of its downtrodden population and it would itself furnish a force necessary for its defense.” Reid hoped that retaking New Orleans would reverse the Confederate defeats of 1863 and “give proofs to the civilized world of the spirit which animates us in this struggle for our liberties.” General Leonidas Polk, then commanding the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, cautiously supported the plan. Braxton Bragg, his superior, however, thought the scheme foolhardy, believing it would “demoralize our troops and have them destroyed in detail.” The plan was never implemented. Reid remained in the Trans-Mississippi until the end of the war.
After the war, Reid worked as a physician in Hot Springs (Garland County); little information is available on his medical career in Arkansas, however. He was appointed postmaster in 1874. His father had been impoverished by the war and died in 1880. Around this time, Reid moved to Illinois, as did Reid’s mother, where she lived until her death in 1896.
Reid was married three times. The 1880 census lists him in Hot Springs and married to Mary Gaines Reid, a native of Mississippi. How this marriage ended is unknown. On September 21, 1881, he married Isabella Maud Kennicott—a native of Illinois and daughter of the prominent dentist—with a wedding in Hyde Park in Chicago, Illinois. The couple had two sons and a daughter, but the marriage ended in divorce. In 1903, Reid married Cecelia Caroline Wolcott; they had two sons.
Reid died in Niles, Illinois, on October 30, 1907. Reid was remembered by an Arkansas officer as a “gallant soldier.” Another wrote of him in Confederate Veteran, “His record during the war was without a blemish. He was always at his post. Duty was a sublime word to him.” He is buried in Maine Cemetery in Park Ridge, Illinois.
For additional information:
Allardice, Bruce. Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008.
“Col. T. J. Reid.” Confederate Veteran 16 (1908): 87.
Kemp. L. H. “Johnson’s Island Reminiscences.” Confederate Veteran 16 (1908): 168.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the official Record of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 34. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1882.
Colin Edward Woodward
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