Historian unearthes Civil War war criminal

Historians in the News

Her breath quickened as she caught sight of a name engraved in stone. Could it possibly be him?

As Carolyn Stier Ferrell stepped closer, she could see that, yes, she had found her man! At the Odd Fellows Home Cemetery atop Boot Hill in New Providence, Ferrell found the final resting place of Thomas Pratt Turner.

"My heart started racing," Ferrell said.

Ferrell, a local historian who wrote "In Search of Nannie Tyler," was seeking information about the military history of another former Clarksville resident when she found mention that Turner was buried in Clarksville.

"It's like a treasure chest," she said. "You find something you didn't expect."

Ferrell went to Clarksville's Odd Fellows Cemetery and, in the very back, under a huge old oak tree, was a tombstone that reads:

Dr. T.P. Turner

Died December 26, 1900

Admitted from Memphis Lodge #6

Aug. 26, 1900.

"It's a historical bombshell," Ferrell said about the find, which will be documented in her next book, likely released next fall.

But what's the big deal about the finding the grave of Turner, a Memphis dentist who died more than 100 years ago, with no family to mourn him?

Ferrell said it is Turner's secret identity that makes this a major discovery. Long before he was a kindly old dentist, Turner was a ferocious young Confederate soldier who became one of the most notorious war criminals of the Civil War. Thomas Pratt Turner was the commandant — although he quibbled about that title — of Libby Prison in Richmond, Va., a place where Union soldiers who had been captured during war were tortured and murdered.

"Dr. Turner's funeral was the first to be held at the home. Did anyone know the complete story behind this elderly man when he came to live his last days at the home?" says the manuscript of Ferrell's forthcoming book. "Could anyone suspect what deeds he had committed while on this earth and looking to the next world? Or was Dr. Turner able to conceal his true identity till the day he drew his last breath?"...

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