Biffle Researchers

Col. Jacob Biffle - Second Only to Forrest

Reprinted from an article originally printed in the Valley Featurette, Athens, Alabama, 29 January 1971. I found it in Bugger Saga: The Civil War Story of Guerrilla and Bushwhacker Warfare in Lauderdale County, Alabama by Wade Pruitt, Columbia, Tenn.: P-Vine Press, 1977.

As late as the 1930s, whenever the thinning ranks of Confederate veterans gathered, there would invariably be one bearded old man who would recall with pride that he "rode with Biffle."

Colonel Jacob B. Biffle of Wayne County, Tennessee, was second only to General Nathan B. Forrest in capturing the admiration and inspiring the loyalty of the crusty, hard-bitten horse soldiers of the Army of Tennessee.

Official records are literally dotted with references to Biffle's command. He was at times an unorthodox militarist and as such was often branded as a guerilla by Federal officers. Following the example set by Forrest, under whom he served, Biffle paid scant attention to the traditional standards of cavalry warfare. By breaking rules and adjusting tactics to suit his own conception of combat fighting, Colonel Jake became noted for "his deeds of matchless daring."

The dashing colonel was of Dutch descent and his earliest known ancestor was Paul Beefle (sometimes Biefel) who came from Rotterdarm [sic] in 1738 and settled in Rowan Co., N.C. [As we now know, this is incorrect, his ancestors came from Contwig in what is now Germany, but sailed from Rotterdam to Philadelphia.] Colonel Jake's grandfather, Jacob Biffle, was a son of this immigrant from Holland. Old Jacob signed his name Biffel, whereas his sons used Biffle.

Old Jacob served in the American Revolution and fought at the Battle of King's Mountain. He also saw action at Charleston and the Moravian Town and drew a pension for his service. He came to Maury County, Tennessee, in 1810 and made his home near the present village of Hampshire. Here the Biffles were early and faithful members of the Pisgah Methodist Church--the first Methodist Church south of Duck River in Tennessee. Old Jacob died in 1844 and was buried in the Pisgah churchyard.

One of Old Jacob's sons, John Biffle, married Polly Chambers in Maury County in 1814, and they moved to Wayne County, settling near Ashland where their son Jacob B. Biffle was born. They kept close contact with their Maury County relatives and there was much visiting back and forth.

When the Mexican War was declared in 1846, Colonel Jake was eighteen and he volunteered at Columbia in a company formed by Albert G. Cooper. Wearing a uniform of brown jeans, with a "roundabout" coat and riding an $80 horse, young Jake galloped off to war. Before his return to Tennessee, he would fight in some of the bloody battles at Matamoros and Monterey.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Union sentiment was quite strong in Wayne County--the county voted 905 to 409 to stay in the Union. Southern sympathizers found the climate unhealthy, and those who wished to serve in the Confederate army had to go elsewhere to join.

Somehow, Jacob Biffle recruited enough Wayne County men for a company, but they had to organize at Camp Lee (near Mt. Pleasant). At the organization in July 1861, Jacob was elected captain. The company was mustered into service a month later as part of the 2nd Tennessee Cavalry Battalion and sent to Kentucky.

By December, Biffle had been promoted to lieutenant-colonel of the battalion which included men from Maury, Perry, Lewis, Wayne, and Hickman counties. In 1862, the 2nd Cavalry was consolidated and became the 6th (Wheeler's) Cavalry.

Editors of Tennesseans in the Civil War wrote that there was "considerable confusion as to the number and nomenclature of practically all Tennessee cavalry organizations." Nowhere is this more evident than in Colonel Biffle's next and most famous command.

In the summer of 1862, Colonel Jake had been sent to Tennessee to recruit a new cavalry regiment, which became the 19th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment. Although the 19th was its official number, the group was known in the field as, mustered as, and paroled as, the 9th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment. Most would fight and die believing themselves members of the 9th Cavalry, whereas they were officially members of the 19th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment.

Colonel Jake was made a full colonel of this new command, and Albert G. Cooper (his superior officer in Mexico) became his lieutenant-colonel.

In December 1862, the 9th Cavalry became part of Forrest's brigade and fought with him in his raids in west Tennessee, in the battles at Thompson Station and Brentwood, and in the pursuit of Streight into Alabama.

At Brentwood, Biffle gave his most famous charge. His command was cut off from the other Confederates and the colonel shouted, "All who will go back 'live or die,' hold up your right hands." All his me held up their hands. Their charge was a winning one.

Following the Battle of Chickamauga, the 9th served several months in east Tennessee.

Before Gen. John B. Hood's invasion of Tennessee in November 1864, Biffle's men spent some time in middle Tennessee scouting and raiding. They tore up railroads, ripped down telegraph lines, confiscated supplies, and harassed Unionists. One veteran of Biffle's command frankly admitted that in the latter days of the way they became out-and-out partisan rangers.

Reporting to Hood in north Alabama, the 9th came with him into Tennessee and retreated with him into Mississippi.

On a sad day in May 1865, Colonel Jake watched his crestfallen men stack arms in Gainesville, Alabama, and a military career which stretched from the plains of Mexico to the bloody field at Nashville was at an end.

Although the war was over, Colonel Biffle found that he could not return to his home in Wayne County. Biffle's men had been particularly severe in their treatment of Union men in that county, and there was much bitterness against them there. It is said that his life was threatened should he come back to Wayne County.

He moved to Texas where he became a rancher. One December 15, 1876, he was shot by a hired hand in an argument about the proper way to cook venison. The shot entered his side, and he lingered in agony until he died the first day of January 1877. His murderer had fled immediately following the shooting and was never captured, although a $500 reward was posted. The colonel was survived by a wife and five children and was buried in Texas.

The name of Biffle, which struck such terror in the hearts of Union men, proved to be an unfortunate one for the colonel's relatives during the war.

His uncle William Biffle, a white-haired old man, was arrested by the Federals in 1864 on the flimsy charge of giving information to the Confederates. He was considered disloyal because he had several sons in the Southern army; but most dangerous of all, he was the uncle of the notorious Biffle. The Federals, planning to hang him, locked the old man in a blacksmith shop at Hampshire until a suitable gallows could be erected. Only an outcry by the local citizenry forced his release.

William's son, Jacob D. Biffle (Little Jake) was not so lucky. Little Jake and Willis B. Embry, members of the 9th Cavalry, were on their way to Maury County when they were surprised and captured at Ashland in Wayne County. Little Jake was shot after he surrendered, dying on August 11, 1864, a few months before his twenty-first birthday. His companion was also killed--shot in the head while begging for his life.

The news of the wanton murders spread rapidly throughout middle Tennessee, and there was much indignation over the soldiers' deaths. For a time there was talk of retaliation against Federal prisoners. Little Jake's bereaved father never forgot and had "Shot five times after surrendering" carved on his son's tombstone.

Through the years there has been some speculation that Little Jake was killed because his name was Jacob Biffle. Some say that he was mistakenly taken for his cousin Colonel Jacob Biffle, the scourge of loyal Unionists.

In January 1864, the Federals captured Captain J.J. Biffle (Jonathan Isom Biffle) of the 9th Cavalry--another cousin of Colonel Jake. William Sooy Smith, Federal commander at Savannah, Tennessee, wired Paducah: "I send you a lot of prisoners whom I can by no means recommend. Some of them are desperate characters, and all of them bear the closest kind of watching…" Smith described Captain Biffle as "especially guilty and to be strictly guarded." Captain Biffle lived only 16 days after his capture--the official cause given was pneumonia. The treatment reserved for one of the "dangerous Biffles" has been said to be the real cause of death.


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