William Holland was born a slave in Todd County, Kentucky in the 1820s. William made his dash for freedom when the Union Army invaded Middle Tennessee. He made his way from the Benjamin Harlan farm in Maury County to the Union Army. Attaching himself to them, and probably working for the Yankees, until officially enlisting into the 111th regiment of United States Colored Troops. Holland and his regiment spent roughly six months guarding railroads in the mid-state area until Sep 23-24, 1864 when most of the regiment, roughly 1,000, including Holland were captured by Forrest at Athens, Alabama.
While a prisoner, Holland was a servant for Forrest’s Chief Surgeon, Dr. James Cowan. In this capacity, he most likely tended to Dr. Cowan’s personal errands and to the medical needs of sick and wounded soldiers. Sometime after the Battle of Nashville, William escaped and returned to his unit.
For the duration of their military service, the 111th Regiment USCT served under the command of Chaplain William Earnshaw in the reinterment of Federal soldiers in the Stones River National Cemetery in Murfreesboro. Holland and his regiment continued the reburial work and the construction of the stone wall surrounding the cemetery until 1866 when the regiment was mustered out of service. Holland took up residence near the cemetery and continued working there as a general laborer, receiving one dollar per day as pay, until 1880, when he was badly injured in an accident. In 1909, Holland died and was buried on his property near where the Hazen Brigade monument stands today on the Stones River National Battlefield.
Chaplain William Earnshaw
Chaplain Earnshaw was born on April 12, 1828, in Chester, Pennsylvania. Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted April 16, 1861, as a private in the 49th Pennsylvania Infantry and was mustered in as the regiment's chaplain with the rank of captain. Earnshaw resigned his commission on October 12, 1862, when the regiment was consolidated with another regiment. He was appointed a hospital chaplain in the U.S. Volunteers April 22, 1863, and remained in the service until August 27, 1867.
With the necessity of creating national cemeteries, Earnshaw was superintendent of the construction of Stones River National Cemetery and Nashville National Cemetery. He was elected chaplain of the National Military Home in Dayton, Ohio on September 5, 1867, and held the post until illness forced him to retire.
Earnshaw was Commander of the Ohio Department, Grand Army of the Republic in 1876, Junior Vice-Commander in 1877, and presided at the national encampment of the G.A.R. in Albany, New York in 1879 when he was elected to serve as the national organization's 8th Commander-in-Chief.
He died July 7, 1885, in Dayton, Ohio and is buried there in Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum.
Dr. James Benjamin Cowan
Commissioned assistant surgeon with the 9th Mississippi Infantry, CSA. In late 1861 he became the surgeon for Forrest's Battalion. In June 1862 he was promoted to the rank of chief surgeon of cavalry and assigned to the staff of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and remained with Forrest until the surrender of his command in May 1865.
One hundred and eleventh, U. S. Colored Infantry.
Organized June 25, 1864, from 3rd Alabama Colored Infantry. Attached to garrison at
Pulaski, Tenn., District of North Alabama, Dept. of the Cumberland, to February, 1865.
Defences of Nashville & Northwestern Railroad, Dept. of the Cumberland, to March, 1865.
3rd Sub-District, District of Middle Tennessee, to July, 1865. Dept. of the Tennessee to
SERVICE.-Duty at Pulaski, Tenn.. and Athens, Ala., District of North Alabama, till
September, 1864. Action at Athens with Forest September 23-24 (most of Regiment captured).
Sulphur Branch Trestle September 25 (Detachment). Duty at Pulaski, Tenn., till January,
1865. Guard duty on Nashville & Northwestern Railroad and in Middle Tennessee till
April, 1866. Mustered out April 30, 1866.
Frederick A. Dyer "A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion" vol. 3
Sulphur Branch Trestle, Ala.,
Sept. 25, 1864.
Detachments of 111th U. S. Colored Infantry, 9th Indiana and
3d Tennessee Cavalry.
During Forrest's raid into Alabama and Tennessee he approached
the bridge over Sulphur branch on the morning of the 25th. The
garrison there had been reinforced, and on the appearance of
the enemy it was all called into the blockhouse. After
several hours of desperate resistance the Federals were
overpowered and compelled to surrender to a greatly superior
While the casualties for the whole Union command were not
definitely reported they amounted in the detachments of the
111th U. S. Colored infantry and 9th Ind. cavalry to 47 killed,
6 wounded and 379 captured.
No Confederate losses were reported.
Source: The Union Army, Vol. 6, p. 860