Who Was Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman?

Sep 13, 2017

Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Discussion on the future of the statue of Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman continues in the City of Paducah. But who was Lloyd Tilghman? What did he do in Paducah and during the Civil War?

Similar to NPR's piece understanding the Confederate men memorialized with statues, WKMS News digs into history with Lloyd Tilghman House & Civil War Museum administrator Bill Baxter.

Lloyd Tilghman was born into a well-known family in the Commonwealth of Maryland on January 26, 1818. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point at the age of fifteen and graduated five years later in 1836. Following graduation, Tilghman met and married his wife, Augusta Boyd. They had six children. After fighting in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), Tilghman resigned his commission as an officer and became a civil engineer, initially working for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to the U.S. was his work as one of the lead engineers on the Panama Railway project across the Isthmus of Panama (1850-1855). The railway created a shortcut for those wanting to mine in the 1849 California Gold Rush. He gained a reputation for his rail-building skills, which lead to him moving his family and five enslaved house servants to Paducah for railwork in 1852. By bringing in the city’s first rail line, Tilghman set forth 100 years of railroading in the Paducah, which became the major economic driver for the city through World War II. The Atomic Energy Commission established plants in the 1950s, taking over as the city’s main economic driver.

Credit Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When the American Civil War broke out, Tilghman moved his family to Clarksville, Tennessee, and joined the Confederate Army in 1861. Bill Baxter said everything that we can understand about Tilghman’s decision to join the Confederate Army has to deal with the politics going on at the time. Kentucky voted to declare its neutrality to stay out of the war. According to Baxter, the Union Army did not recognize the state’s attempts at neutrality, continuing to recruit men to join their ranks among other violations of what Kentucky thought was the agreement. “Lloyd Tilghman took the position that he could not support a federal government that could not control its army in a more respectable manner and he said ‘you give me no choice, but to join the Confederate Army,’” said Baxter.

Tilghman was initially appointed to Colonel of the 3rd Kentucky Infantry Regiment, but he didn’t remain there long. In the summer of 1861, he took over as commander for Fort Donelson and later that year became a brigadier general at Fort Henry. On February 6th 1862, Tilghman was taken prisoner after being overwhelmed by seven of Ulysses S. Grant’s iron-clad gunboats. After spending several months in Boston Harbor’s Fort Warren, the general was traded back to the Confederacy as part of a large prisoner of war exchange in late 1862. Tilghman was then sent to be a part of the Confederate defensive force in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the following Spring.

On May 15th 1863, Confederate defenders engaged the Union Army in the Battle of Champion Hill. After recognizing the battle was lost, General John C. Pemberton called for a retreat, assigning Tilghman and his unit to do a rear-guard action to protect the withdrawing Confederate Army. On the afternoon of May 16th 1863, General Tilghman was struck down by artillery fire and died at the age of 47. His wife, Augusta, moved the family back to New York City soon after she learned of her husband’s death. The general was buried in a Confederate cemetery in Vicksburg.

In 1901, Tilghman's two eldest surviving sons, Frederick and Fidell, disinterred their father’s remains and reburied him alongside their mother in Woodlawn Cemetery located in the Bronx Bureau of New York City. Both sons returned to Vicksburg in 1909 to have a statue commemorating Tilghman placed at the battlefield. Later that year, they had another statue placed in Paducah’s Fountain Square. Finally, they gave a large sum of money to the City of Paducah, requesting it be used to build a school named in honor of their mother. The Augusta Tilghman High School kept its name until a new building was completed in the mid-1950s. The city renamed the institution Paducah Tilghman High School.

This story was updated to include the audio debrief.