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The Story of Six Burnett Brothers from Union County who all fought for the Confederacy in the American Civil War


Our Deepest Appreciation goes out to Don Sanford, (the Great-Grandson of James Knox Polk Burnett of Sharps Chapel, who along with his five brothers, fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War) for providing this valuable information


I had known for years that my Great Grandfather, James Knox Polk Burnett from Sharps Chapel fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. James was buried in Browning Cemetery & moved with other family members by the TVA in 1935 to Big Barren Cemetery. The year of birth was engraved incorrectly on his head stone. I never really had the burning desire to find out more about him or other members of our family until a few years ago when my mom, Bonnie Burnett Sanford, indicated she wanted to find out more about her heritage. Growing up as a youngster in Union County our family seldom talked about their past and when questions were asked of my grandparents, Cleatus and Della Jane McBee Burnett, and other relatives the typical response was “Why do you want to talk about that for?”

On one particular visit back home to Union County, about three years ago, I met Lynn Sexton at Big Barren Cemetery where he gave me an email address of a man who was researching the Burnett’s. He told Lynn the date of birth was incorrect on James’ marker. Impressed with this information,  I contacted Eric Beeler.  I found he was a Confederate Civil War Re-enactor, from Knoxville &  a 4th great grandson of Martin Burell Burnett.  Eric had found in his research quite a bit of information including several of the Burnett brothers Civil War Pension Applications. Eric indicated that Martin and William Burnett were also buried in Big Barren. He also knew the exact location of John Burnett’s grave in Ousley-Graves Cemetery in Sharps Chapel. Eric though had not been able to find the pensions or graves of Pleasant or Daniel Franklin Burnett. He felt Daniel was possibly captured then sent to Camp Morton Confederate Prison in Indianapolis, Indiana & died there. Martin Burnett and some of his brothers were captured by the Union Army & sent to the same prison.

Returning home I began searching for Pleasant and Daniel Franklin Burnet. After several months and untold countless hours of research via the internet as well as  phone calls, through the grace of God, I finally located the burial places for both Pleasant and Daniel. Soon afterwards I made a trip home to visit their along with the remaining brothers grave sites and place Confederate Flags on each grave.

Daniel Franklin’s grave was the only one marked with a Confederate Military Veterans marker. I ordered the remaining brothers markers via the Veterans Administration and had them delivered to my home in Indiana.

Martin and James Knox Polk’s applications were denied because their graves were already marked so I had a marker made for James. In March of 2007 I met Eric Beeler in Middlesboro where he helped me proudly place the markers there & in Union County, TN. The following morning My Mom, Uncle Milus Burnett, cousins, Sue & Hilda and I met in Big Barren Cemetery and placed James Knox Polk Burnett’s marker in front of his family head stone.

All six sons of Bayless Sylvester & Louisa Miller Burnett were born in a part of Claiborne County which is today Sharps Chapel, Union County. They all fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Family versions state Bayless, who was a Confederate Scout, went to Cumberland Gap to take ID tags he made for each of his sons and to fight with them. A battle was just ready to start & Bayless was sent to the rear because he was too old. He rode off and was shortly killed by or for his horse. Another family version is he was captured by the Union Army and hung for treason. Burial locations for Bayless & his wife Louisa are unknown.

Update Sept. 4, 2011: A Burnett reunion was started in Rose Hill, VA. August, 2008. The reunion was moved to Sharps Chapel, TN.  August 2009. At our August 2011 reunion it was approved to take reunion funds & purchase a Confederate marker For Martin as well as  memorial markers for Bayless and Louisa Miller Burnett. The decision was made to place Bayless & Louisa’s memorial markers in Ousley-Graves Cemetery, Sharps Chapel. After the Civil War ended Louisa lost her home & land. . It is believed she moved in with her son John Burnett who lived nearby. John & his wife were laid to rest in Ousley- Graves Cemetery.  Louisa may be buried there in an unmarked grave.

Martin Burell Burnett, born 30 Dec. 1830, died 29 Dec. 1899. Served as a Private in Carter’s 1st, Tenn. Cav. Company L. Buried in Big Barren Memorial Cemetery, Union County, TN.
Martin was captured at Cumberland Gap, TN. taken to Camp Morton, Indianapolis, IN. . It is documented he was absent from his command in March, 1864 Martin was later exchanged for Union Prisoners. Martin did not take the Oath Of Allegiance at the surrender at Cumberland Gap. Martin married Louisa Jane Lay on 17 Mar 1861, then Surelda Jane Phipps on  07 Jan 1873.

John Burnett, born 12 June 1832, died 23 Dec 1905. Served as a Private in Carter’s 1st, Tenn. Cav. Company L. Buried in Ousley-Graves Cemetery, Sharps Chapel, Union County, TN.  In the Battle of Piedmont VA., John was wounded in the right forearm by a gunshot breaking his radius and dislocating the ulna at the lower extremity causing loss of use of his right arm. He was left wounded in the battlefield and when found taken to a house and from there to a hospital in Arlington, VA. The attending surgeons were Dr Hoffman and Dr Lightfoot. John a prisoner of war remained in the hospital until Lee surrendered. John took the Oath for Protection. John married Emily (Emeline) Sharp on 10 Jan 1856.

Pleasant Burnett, born 02 Feb 1837 died 16 Dec 1915. Served as a Private in Ashby’s 2nd. Tennessee Cavalry. Buried in Colson/Middlesboro Cemetery, Middlesboro, Bell County, KY.  Pleasant was never taken prisoner nor was he listed as injured during the war. Pleasant took the Oath of Allegiance at the surrender at Cumberland Gap on the 5th of May 1865. In Pleasant's wife’s, Matilda Jane Barker Burnett, pension application as stated by witness Steve Owsley that he was with Pleasant when they were cut off from their command by the enemy about six months before the surrender. Pleasant married Matilda Jane Barker on 08 Mar 1868

Dr. William M Burnett, born 06 Jun 1840, died 16 Jan 1914. Served as a Private in Ashby’s 2nd. Tennessee Cavalry. Buried in Big Barren Memorial Cemetery, Union County, TN. William was not wounded but developed diabetes during the march from Clinton to Monticello, KY in March 1863. Chronic diarrhea and rheumatism was contracted in Georgia in the spring of 1864.William was incapacitated for duty due to these illness and was not discharged from the Army, he was sent to GA for the purpose of resting up and nurturing his health. William was furloughed from Dalton, GA for 14 days to get a horse for service and furnished transportation to Bristol VA.. William could not get back to his command because the enemy was between him and his command and he could not travel at night. William then found and was attached with Col. Carters 1st Tennessee Cavalry and served until the end of the war. William was captured and taken to Camp Morton, In and paroled on May 5th 1865.by US Army Col. W. Y. Dillard. He was a medical doctor. William married Cordelia A. (Cordie) Monroe on 19 Aug 1869.

James Knox Polk Burnett, born, 06 May 1842, died 03 Jan 1929. Served as a Private in Carter’s 1st, Tenn. Cav. Company L.. Buried in Big Barren Memorial Cemetery, Union County, TN. James Knox Polk Burnett filed a Tennessee Soldier's Application for Pension on 8 Sept., 1913.  Louisa Angeline Carter Burnett, wife of JPK Burnett, filed for Civil War Widow's Indigent Pension on 4 Feb. 1929.  In his State of Tennessee Soldiers Application for Pension dated Sept. 8th, 1913 James listed his date of birth as 6 May, 1842. He received a flesh wound in the hip. Their unit was disbanded in 1865. In this Civil War pension application James indicated he did not take the Oath of Allegiance. A Knoxville Journal death notice which ran in 1929 indicated James was the last surviving Confederate Soldier left in Union County at the time of his death. James headstone is engraved he was born in 1882 which is incorrect. James married Louisa Angeline Carter on 21 Dec 1882.

Daniel Franklin Burnett, born 20 Feb 1845, died 29 Mar 1918. Served as a Private in Carter’s 1st, Tenn. Cav. Company L.. Buried in Nurseries/Old Thompson Cemetery, Rose Hill, Lee County, VA. No pension or Widows pension has ever been found for Daniel Franklin or his wife Rhoda Bales Thompson Burnett. His name is listed in the roster of Tennessee Confederate Soldiers and his grave was identified by a Confederate Bronze Civil War Marker. Daniel married Rhoda Bales Thompson on 01 Aug 1867 then Sarah M (Sally) Hobbs Robinson after 1913.

Some of the battles the Burnett brothers fought in are: Piedmont, VA. in 1864, Winchester TN, Jefferson Springs, La Vergne, Nolensville, Murfreesboro, Cumberland Gap, Kingsport, Dalton, GA, Marietta, GA 20 June 1864 & New Hope Church VA., 27 Nov 1863 - 2 Dec 1863.

After the war ended & during reconstruction, some of the brothers not protected by the Oath of Allegiance fled into Southwest VA. as they feared for their lives.  They returned to Union County in the last 1860’s.

It has never been found any of the Burnett brothers owned slaves. They were poor farmers and barely had enough to feed themselves. They fought for the South, for the homeland they dearly loved.

The following was communicated on 28 July 2005 From 1st. Sgt E. Beeler 63rd. Tenn. Inf. who is the 4th great-grandson of Martin Burell Burnett to his cousin, Don Sanford, family researcher and the great grandson of Martin’s  brother, James Knox Polk Burnett.

"My dear sir, why would I fill uncomfortable with that with what you have gathered; now Martin and his brothers will live forever and another generation that I have never seen will know their hardships. The information I did give you, but without your own free will, you would have never emailed me. You took the journey that James has asked you to take. There is a reason you search for these answers, there is a reason I reenact the war that cost us so dearly. I am 50 percent southern and 50 percent Cherokee and in the Cherokee belief, if you forget of these men and what they tried to protect, then they are dead, but if you and I and the ones that read what you have written then they will live forever in our hearts and minds. If we forget what they witnessed, then our children, our grandchildren will repeat the same mistakes. I am much honored that you mention me in your history and so is Martin. Hard times they lived in cuz, the war cost them everything. They died poor and we people of the south still fill the scares of the Great War today. Teach your children and grandchildren of the horrors and pain these great men went through."

Don Sanford
Anderson, IN
email ohno2311@comcast.net


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James Knox Polk Burnett - May 06, 1842 - Jan 03, 1929. Great Grandfather of Don Sanford

1929 Knoxville News-Sentinel Article announcing the death of James K. P. Burnett's Death

CSA Marker of James Knox Polk Burnett - May 06, 1842 - died Dec 23, 1929

Head Stone of Martin B. Burnett - Dec 30, 1830 - Dec 29, 1899 and his wife, Surrelda

CSA Marker of John Burnett - June 12, 1832 - Dec 23, 1905

CSA Marker of Pleasant Burnett - Feb 2, 1832 - Dec 16, 1915

CSA Marker of William M. Burnett - June 6, 1840 - Jan 6, 1914

CSA Marker of Daniel F. Burnett - Feb 20, 1845 - Mar 29, 1918

Photograph of Daniel Franklin Burnett, and his wife, Rhoda B. Thompson Burnett