Doctor, Cavalry Officer, Baptist Minister: Isaac Woolsey Defends His Honor

Isaac Gray Woolsey was the captain of Company C, Eighth (Dibrell’s) Tennessee Cavalry, the same company that included my great-great-grandfather, Bvt. 2nd Lt. Andrew Jackson Lacy. Captain Woolsey submitted his resignation to Col. George Dibrell in August 1863, only two weeks after Andrew Lacy had vanished, never to be heard from again.

But before Captain Woolsey’s resignation could be approved, the Eighth Tennessee Cavalry was one of many Confederate regiments engaged in the Battle of Chickamauga. On September 19, 1863, Union forces were preparing to attack Gen. Cheatham’s division, of which the Eighth Tennessee was a part. As the Eighth moved to repel the attack, Woolsey was shot, wounded in the right bicep. Once the battle ended, the wounded could not be transported by railroad cars because Rosecrans’ forces had destroyed part of the railroad. Instead, the wounded were trundled by wagon to Burnt Shed, near Ringgold, Georgia, twenty miles east of the battlefield, where they could await transportation by railroad cars.

Within a month of the battle, Woolsey had met and married Arvazenia Hutcheson, a widow from Cleveland, Tennessee, just northeast of Chattanooga. She may have been a nurse at the hospital where Woolsey was convalescing. Once he was discharged from the army, Woolsey and his new wife began a new life. By April 1864 they had settled in northern Georgia and Woolsey was ordained as a Baptist minister.

Prior to the end of the war, as well as several years after, Woolsey served church congregations in counties across the Atlanta region before resigning his pastorships to move to Texas. He and his wife returned to Georgia in the autumn of 1873. It was here, in 1874, that his past life as a Confederate officer caught up with him.

Woolsey was held in high regard by the citizens and church leaders in the region of Griffin, Georgia where he preached, but a business transaction with another minister, Rev. H. T. Dicken, unfortunately led to arbitration. Dicken, angered by the outcome, dug up some dirt on Woolsey. He discovered Woolsey had served under Scott Bledsoe during the Civil War, prior to serving under George Dibrell in the Eighth Tennessee Cavalry. Bledsoe was a young attorney who led an independent company of Confederate cavalry and later served in the regular army. Trapped behind enemy lines, for several months in 1863-1864 Bledsoe was a key figure in leading raids against Union soldiers and sympathizers. He was denounced by his enemies as a guerrilla.

There is no evidence that, while Isaac Woolsey served in Bledsoe’s independent cavalry early in the war, he was involved in guerrilla warfare. But because of his association with Bledsoe, Rev. Dicken publicly denounced Woolsey as a horse thief and a guerrilla, with no legitimate credentials as a minister. Dicken’s actions caused great strife in the local churches, and the Flint River Baptist Association, to which these churches belonged, was compelled to convene a special meeting to address the conflict between Woolsey and Dicken. Dicken had gone so far as to solicit letters from former Union guerrillas who claimed damning knowledge of Woolsey’s Confederate service.

In the end, Woolsey was exonerated, held up as a shining example of a good Christian man, while Dicken was castigated and ordered to apologize, cease, and desist. Woolsey would go on to build a reputation as a well-loved member of the community, but Dicken would continue to sow seeds of contention and eventually be expelled from the church. There is no record that the two men were ever reconciled.


Sources:

Compiled Service Record, I. G. Woolsey, Confederate, Tennessee, Eighth (Dibrell’s) Cavalry

Kate Cumming, A Journal of Hospital Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee, from the Battle of Shiloh to the End of the War: with Sketches of Life and Character, and Brief Notices of Current Events During That Period (Louisville, KY: John P. Morgan, 1866), 94.

Samuel Boykin, History of the Baptist Denomination in Georgia: with Biographical Compendium and Portrait Gallery of Baptist Ministers and Other Georgia Baptists (Atlanta: Jas. P. Harrison & Co., 1881), 602-603

“Rev. Dr. I.G. Woolsey's Death Causes Sorrow,” Atlanta Journal, September 16, 1902.

Proceedings and Report of a Special Committee of Investigation Appointed by the Flint River Association, Griffin, Georgia, December 2, 1874.