Private Gardner's presidential captive

Photo by Rebecca Long

Photo by Rebecca Long

[Editor's note: In honor of Confederate History Month, Charlene Coke recounts a fantastic story about her great grandfather.]

Charlene Coke has a story to tell. The War Between the States, blood kin, and violence: There's a place for every one of these things in Ms. Coke's tale. And better yet, it's all true.

Coke's great grandfather, William Gayden Gardner, joined Monroe County's Confederate Volunteers on August 7, 1862 and was assigned to Company A, 14th regiment, Georgia Volunteer Army, Northern Virginia.

Gardner was wounded in the head in the Battle of Manassas on August 30, 1862, and in the left shoulder at Chancelorsville on May 3, 1863.

While seeking an advantageous firing position, he heard noise coming from a tree overhead. He looked up and saw a Union officer, Rutherford B. Hayes, who later became President of the United States.

Gardner ordered Hayes to surrender, but Hayes drew his sword.

Hayes said he would not surrender to an enlisted man, and Gardner shot the sword from Hayes, and two fingers from his hand.

Hayes then surrendered to Gardener.

When Hayes took the oath of office in 1877, he raised a nub that was put there by Private Gardner.

Gardner was wounded in his foot and was captured at Petersburg, Virginia on April 6, 1865, and held prisoner at Chancellorsville. While in captivity, Gardner received horrible abuse in retaliation for capturing a Union officer.

He was released at Newport News, Virginia on June 26, 1865. Gardner was given no money and was forced to walk, penniless, from Newport News to Forsyth, Georgia.

Gardner was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor in 1933 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Willie Hunt Chapter #49.

The medal was presented to Charlene's mother, Juanita Gardner Weaver.

"Mother was very proud of her grandfather," Charlene said. "She was [Gardner's] last living grandchild. She had an article on him and his medal framed."

Gardner died on December 23, 1912 and is buried in Shiloh Baptist Church Cemetery in Lamar County.

A Confederate headstone was installed on Gardner's grave in 2005 and an elaborate military memorial was held in his honor in 2005.

Other living great grandchildren are Martha G. Foster, Emily H. Hancock, Willene Weaver, and Charlene W. Coke.