The Story of


Henderson & Decatur Counties

Researched and Written by Mrs. Lincoln A. Hays

Asa Nelson Hays was the fourth son born to Samuel Ellet and Martha B. (Davis) Hays. He was not like his brothers. Maybe it was the move West when he was just a young lad that always stirred the urge in him to chase adventure. Some have told us that Asa was raised by the Indians, others say his mother was an Indian Princess, others say he was fifth cousin to Pocahontas. Legend has it that at about age 15 he ran away from home and ended up in Illinois during the time of the 1832 Black Hawk Indian War. He was captured by the Indians, but was given an opportunity to fight an Indian brave to gain his freedom. He won the fight and was allowed to go Free. During this freedom he came across and joined a Company of Illinois militia commanded by Abraham Lincoln. It is said after Asa related the events, Lincoln gave him his nickname, Black Hawk. Another legend implies that Asa Nelson Hays and his father were in eastern Missouri and that his father was killed by Indians and that Asa was captured. This story parallels the first legend. While no proof of either legend can be found,- both are important and have some basis as they were told by two separate descending lines of the family.

Record of proof regarding Asa's adventures and experiences begin on 18 Jun 1836, At that time he joined a group of men at Jackson, Madison County, Tennessee to fight in the Seminole (Florida) War. They were known as the Madison County Greys, under command of Captain McMahon. They became a part of the First Regiment under Colonel Alexander B. Bradford. The First Regiment was made up from the company of Madison County Greys plus one company each from Gibson, Franklin, Lincoln, Rutherford and Williamson Counties and two companies each from Maury and Giles Counties. The Second Regiment consisted of companies from Davidson, Sumner, Dickson, Robertson, Smith and Wilson Counties. The Colonel of the Second Regiment was William Trousdale. These two Regiments met at Fayetteville, TN and formed the Brigade of Mounted Tennessee Volunteers under the command of Brigadier General Robert Armstrong. Rejection of the 1832 removal treaty by the Seminole Indians, moving them to Indian Territory, which later became Arkansas and Oklahoma, and a massacre of a detachment of U.S. troops in Florida in 1835, was the reason for this War. Leaving Fayetteville, TN on 4 July 1836, the Brigade was detained in Alabama to counteract the threat of a possible Creek Indian uprising in that State. By the end of August, the danger from the Creeks had been removed and the Tennesseans were ordered to proceed immediately to Florida.

They traveled approximately 20 miles each day, reaching upper Florida by the middle of September. As they proceeded on towards Fort Drane, the weather became hot and muggy, the land swampy and hammocky. Many of the men became sick - some with the dreaded yellow fever. They saw no Indians. Food for both horse and man was in short supply. Food supplies finally arrived about the 10th of October at Fort Drane where the troops had been stationed since the 1st of October. Scrimmages took place over the next month with small bands of Seminole's.

On 13 November, frantic to find the Indian stronghold, General Call, Commander of all the Florida troops, divided his force in order to sweep more territory. He himself took the Tennessee Brigade, some regulars and the Florida militia back to the east side of the river. The balance under Colonel Pierce began to work its way southward. The two wings were to meet at Dade's battleground. For the next several days the fighting fell to the northern wing. On the 17th of November, about noon, a large camp of the enemy was discovered near Lake Panasoffkee. The Tennesseans rode rapidly ahead of the column, dismounted, and made a gallant charge. This broke the Indian position and the Tennesseans pursued. The pursuit led them sometimes waist deep into mud and water, but continued as long as an enemy could be found. The loss of the enemy was twenty found dead on the field, and twenty-one distinct trails of blood where they retreated. The loss to the Tennesseans was one killed, and ten wounded. The fatality occurred in Captain McMahon's Company, a private William A. Beard. One of the ten wounded was Asa Hays of the same Company. Private Hays was shot through the chest in a hand-to-hand battle with an Indian, the Indian somehow turning Private Hays' gun on him. However, Private Hays still managed to kill the Indian who had so severely wounded him. He was then taken to the Company's doctors where Surgeons Darris and Bedford treated Hays by drawing a silk handkerchief through the wound caused by the rifle ball which had passed through his chest.

Pursuit continued and another battle on the 18th resulted in more deaths and wounding of both red man and white man. With food and ammunition almost gone after 10 days of marching and fighting, General Call had to get his troops to a source of supplies. The Regiment, hungry and weak since being on half rations for the past two days, was ordered to proceed to Volusia, on the St George River in northeast Florida, a point near eighty miles from their field of battle. Private Hays, along with others wounded in the battles, were placed on litters and in wagons for the march. It took five days to reach Volusia. The Seminole's had vanished into the swampy land of southern Florida and were not pursued. History tells us that the Seminole's were not removed from Florida until the year 1842, and then only partially.

On 10 December 1836, Private Hays along with 150 other sick and wounded men were placed aboard a steam boat for Charleston SC. There they were placed on the schooner "Pilot" for New Orleans. Private Hays was closely confined from the effects of his wound up to middle January 1837 at which time he was honorably discharged and mustered out of service by General Sanders at New Orleans.

In the next chapter of the life of Asa Nelson Hays, we find that he returned to the same general vicinity between Henderson and Perry Counties in west Tennessee and bought land near where most of his family resided. During 1837-1838 he met and married Abigail Shipman born 25 Dec 1816 to Jacob and Nancy (Denton) Shipman. He is listed on the 1840 Henderson County census with a wife and two children. By 1850 he had moved east of the Tennessee River to Perry County where he received two 80 acre grants of land because of his service in the Florida War. His family had increased to five children. But by 1860, he had sold his Perry County land and once again bought land in Henderson County and increased his land holdings to a considerable amount of acres. There are now nine children.

In 1861, faced with the breaking apart of a nation, President Abraham Lincoln sent word to his old friend Black Hawk Hays, to help hold Tennessee for the Union. Even though Tennessee did secede from the Union, Black Hawk was so influential that most Henderson County persons remained loyal to the Union. In 1862, Asa N. Hays joined the 2nd Regiment, West Tennessee Cavalry which later became the Seventh Regiment, Tennessee Cavalry (Volunteers), Union Forces as a Captain of his own Company C made up of his sons, relatives, friends and neighbors. Colonel Isaac Hawkins was the Commanding Officer. Captain Hays' Company along with the other Companies of the Regiment was captured twice. The first time by General Forrest. They were released on the promise to go home and not to raise their weapons against the Confederate Armies again. They did go home but they did not keep their promise. A month later they were back in action. A year later, in March 1864 at Union City, Colonel Hawkins surrendered the entire Union Seventh Regiment to Colonel Duckworth of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry, Confederate States of America. After repelling four assaults, with a loss of only one killed and two or three wounded, Colonel Hawkins was bluffed into an unconditional surrender when a Federal force of some 2000 men marching to his assistance was only six miles away. The force surrendered totaled 16 officers and about 500 men. When the officers and men found that Colonel Hawkins had made an unconditional surrender, they cried like whipped children. They cursed Colonel Hawkins, and called him a traitor, and vowed they would never serve under him again. Colonel Hawkins had to threaten to shoot Captain Hays in order to get him to surrender. Even at that, Captain Hays broke his sword and threw it down a well rather than surrender it to General Forrest's son who had been put in charge of receiving the weapons.

Most of the Regiment was marched on foot to Georgia and imprisoned at Andersonville Prison. It is believed that after they got further into Rebel land safe from attack, the prisoners were placed on trains that led them directly into the prison area. The conditions that greeted the prisoners were unbelievable. The prison was already filled to capacity. No housing, no food, no clothing, and no medical care. The only water was a polluted stream that cut through the prison yard. These conditions, along with a breakdown of the prison exchange system, created much suffering and a mortality rate by war's end that reached 83 percent.

Captain Hays saw the death of two of his nephews, the husband of his niece, cousins, and many of his friends and neighbors. In late August of 1864, the prisoners held a prayer vigil for water, and later that night it is said lightening struck the side of the hill, and a spring erupted, flowing clean fresh water upon the ground. Many of the prisoners, so thirsty for fresh water, drank too much, and died. Sometime during the middle part of September of 1864, Captain Hays along with about 200 other officers were found to be posing as enlisted men so they could be with their men. The officers were immediately separated from their troops and transferred to Camp Asylum, S. Carolina. Captain Hays was separated from his son, a boy he would never see again. William died at Andersonville on 14 Nov 1864.

Sometime in the latter part of September 1864, when General Sherman's Union Forces occupied Atlanta and Federal cavalry columns threatened Andersonville's security, most of the prisoners were moved to camps in South Carolina and southeastern Georgia as well as northern Florida. As Sherman marched on toward the sea, by passing Andersonville by 50 miles, some of the prisoners were brought back to Andersonville while others were transferred on to New Orleans and other points.

Captain Hays was transferred to N. E. Ferry, N. Carolina where he was paroled on 4 March 1865; reported to Camp Parole, Maryland on 6 March. At the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, each soldier was checked by a doctor. When he was declared well enough to travel home, he was given a clean shirt, a pair of shoes, two months pay and twenty-five cents a day "ration money" for every day they had been in prison. On 12 March 1865 Captain Hays was honorably discharged with conditions; these conditions being to go home, and in 30 days report to the nearest release center for formal papers. Rounding up what was left of his Company and gathering together other comrades they headed for home, part of the way by train, part of the way on foot. Since their three year enlistment was not up, Captain Hays and what was left of his Company did not report to Nashville until 9 August 1865, at which time they were mustered out of service.

After the war, Captain Hays bought land in Decatur County in the late 1860s and early 1870s. He was very active in obtaining pensions for the many widows and children of the men who so courageously had given their lives for the war effort. He became guardian to some of his grandchildren and also took into his home three of his nephews who had been left orphans

On 17 November 1876, Abigail, his wife for the past 38 years, died. He buried her in the Hays Cemetery, north of the town of Darden, in Henderson County. It is presumed this cemetery is the place of burial of Captain Hays' parents, at least his mother. His brother James and most of James family are buried at this location.

On 9 Sep 1877, Captain Hays married Martha Ann Vernon Martin, born 1850, widow of Newton F. Martin. He continued to live in Decatur County and became the father of three more children.

Captain Hays fathered one child with Martha Shoemaker. Their little girl was named Mattie Pearl Hays. Mattie's mother died, and Mattie came to live with Captain Hays and Abigail. After Abigail died Mattie lived in the home of Captain Hays and Martha (Vernon) Hays. Mattie Pearl was 16 when her father died. Mattie married at age 20.

Captain Hays also fathered four boys with Rachael Davis between 1875 and 1881. These boys retained their mothers maiden name.

A few months before his death, legend has it because of hard feelings over the war, some say over a woman, Captain Hays was ambushed by Henry Elliott on the Rosson Town Road near the old Parsons school. Even though he was completely blown off his mount by 1887 force of the shotgun, he survived. However, on 13 March 1887, Captain Asa Nelson Hays died in his home from complications of all the hardships and abuse his body had suffered during his lifetime of 68 years and 7 months. He is buried at Bear Creek Cemetery, Parsons, Decatur County, Tennessee. According to legend the number of his children would approximate 66 if all were known and could be identified herein. Only 17 will be listed in these remembrances.

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Obituary from Henderson County Newspaper - April 16, 1887

Capt. Asa N. Hays, who was better known by the name of Black Hawk Hays, is dead. He died recently in Decatur County, where he had resided for a number of years. He was for a long time a citizen of this county and acquired the name of Black Hawk Hays by reason of his bravery in the Indian Wars. In a battle with them he was shot through and through by an Indian brave, recovered from his wounds and was ever afterwards called Black Hawk in honor of his bravery and courage in fighting that warlike tribe of fiery savages. He was also a Federal Captain in the late war, and at the date of his death, he was drawing a pension granted to him by a grateful country on account of wounds received in the Indian wars. Capt. Hays was in many respects a remarkable man. He was brave and generous and full of energy, and had he possessed the advantages of an education, he doubtless would have reached with some of the most illustrious men of his day. But now his warfare is over and the old soldier sleeps his last sleep.

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