A Civil War Biography

Felix Kirk Zollicoffer

Zollicoffer was born 19 May 1812 in Bigbyville, Maury County, Tennessee. He received his early education in the old field schools then spent a year working on his father's plantation. He spent the next year studying at Jackson College in Columbia, Tennessee then, at the age of 16, he began a career in the newspaper business in Paris, Tennessee. The first paper on which he worked failed in 1830. He then became a journeyman printer in Knoxville, Tennessee where he stayed until 1832. In 1834 he became editor and part owner of the Columbia Observer. He also helped edit the Huntsville Mercury and the Southern Agriculturist. In 1835 he was named state printer.

He fought in the Seminole War of 1836 serving as a lieutenant in the Tennessee Volunteers. In 1841 he became editor of the Nashville Republican Banner, a major publication of the Whig party. He served as adjutant general of Tennessee from 1841 until 1843. He served as comptroller of Tennessee from 4 October 1843 until 15 October 1849. He represented Davidson County in the state senate from 1849 until 1851. In 1852 he was a delegate to the Whig National Convention. His influence helped carry Tennessee for Winfield Scott, the Whig party presidential candidate that year and Zollicoffer was elected to represent the 8th district in the US House of Representatives. He was reelected twice, serving three terms from 4 March 1853 until 3 March 1859. He served on the state executive committee of the Whig party in 1855 and the state executive committee of the Opposition party in 1859. He supported John Bell for president in the 1860 election. On 24 January 1861 he was elected a delegate to the Washington Peace Conference. Although he was an ardent supporter of states rights, he was opposed to secession, but after Tennessee voted to leave the Union he chose to side with the South.

After the war erupted Zollicoffer was commissioned a brigadier general in the Provisional Army of Tennessee on 9 May 1861 by Isham G. Harris, the governor of the state. When the provisional army came under Confederate jurisdiction it became the Army of Tennessee and Zollicoffer received a brigadier general commission on 9 July 1861. On 1 August 1861 he was assigned command of the District of East Tennessee, Department #2 and tasked with preserving the peace, protecting the railroad, and repelling invasion in a non-slaveholding area that was unsympathetic to the Confederate cause. Since the Confederate government saw more pressing needs for supplies, Zollicoffer's troop were under fed and poorly armed. They were also thinly stretched covering the eastern part of the state. On 8 December 1861 George B. Crittenden took over command in East Tennessee. In early 1862 he ordered Zollicoffer to attack George H. Thomas's Federal troops at Mill Springs, Kentucky. In the early morning of 19 January 1862 Zollicoffer, while assessing enemy troop positions, mistakenly wandered into Federal lines of the 4th Kentucky commanded by Speed S. Fry. Once he discovered his mistake, Zollicoffer, whose uniform was hidden by a white raincoat, attempted to escape by pretending to be a Union officer. The Yankees discovering Zollicoffer's identity opened fire and Zollicoffer fell dead.

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