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Thomas Jefferson Key was born January 17, 1831, in Bolivar, Tennessee. At the age of 11 he was apprenticed to the publisher of a Tuscumbia, Alabama weekly newspaper, which he subsequently purchased. In his early twenties, Thomas Key sold that newspaper and moved to Kansas City, Kansas. There he began publishing a pro-southern newspaper called The Kansas Constitutionalist. Despite being in the heart of the abolitionist Kansas Territory, Key edited his newspaper as he believed. He was instrumental in writing the pro-slavery state constitution in Lecompton. One written by the abolitionists later replaced that constitution. He soon discovered that the Southern element in Kansas was fighting a losing battle because of the tremendous wave of immigration coming from the north and east. Then, as a result of his beliefs, he received numerous threats on his life by the Kansas Free Staters. Eventually the newspaper failed and Key moved to Helena, Arkansas.
Key was 30 years old when the War Between the States broke out. He joined the Confederate Army as a private in the 15th Arkansas Infantry. However, his talents were quickly recognized and General Patrick Cleburne commissioned him a Second Lieutenant in the artillery. Serving in Calvert's Battery, he gained combat experience fighting in northern Mississippi, in Bragg's Kentucky campaign, and in the battle at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In that battle he commanded the battery that won fame as "Key's Battery". Promotion came quickly to the rank of captain. After the Battle of Chickamauga on September 19 and 20, 1863, Generals D. H. Hill, Patrick Cleburne, and Leonidas Polk all cited him for bravery stating that in the fiercest part of the fight he ran his battery to within 60 yards of the enemy line to increase its effectiveness. He later fought in the battles of Missionary Ridge, Ringgold Gap, Tunnel Hill, and Hood's ill-fated campaign in Tennessee. In the "hundred days" fighting between Dalton and Atlanta Georgia, he won the rank of Major, and was in the fiercest of the battles. He finished the war fighting in General Joseph Johnston's army in North Carolina. For an opportunity to see his wartime diary look here.
After the war, Key continued in his career as a newspaper editor in Louisville, Kentucky and then in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1897 he moved his paper, The Southern Agriculturist and Home, to Nashville, Tennessee. He died there April 5, 1908,and was laid to rest in Spring Hill Cemetery, near Nashville.
This poem accompanied his obituary published in The Southern Agriculturist.
by H.L. Mencken
The Gettysburg speech was at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history...the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous. But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it. Put it into the cold words of everyday. The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination; that government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves.