Chester Martin: Captain Nathan Campbell Napier Of Walker County

Saturday, March 9, 2019 - by Chester Martin
Napier home, “Woodside”
Napier home, “Woodside”

Although the following story is complete in itself it refers back to earlier writings I have done on the Broomtown Road  (Ga. Hwy. 337) between LaFayette and Menlo, Georgia. My last writing was about the long-disappeared TAG Railroad community of Harrisburg, only a few miles away to the southwest of the Woodside Plantation" (of today's story), and barely inside Chattooga County.  Captain Napier's sizable land holdings in that county were eventually all taken into Walker County.

Popularly known to everyone up and down the Broomtown Road, regardless of county affiliation, Nathan was a much respected local hero, and legendary captain of the Old Confederacy.

I mainly know about Captain Napier through my dad's many ramblings about him as we drove past his still very attractive farmhouse - former "big house" of the plantation known as "Woodside". You can see its actual location to this day when watching the local weather on any Chattanooga TV station: It is the tiny little portion of Walker County which protrudes down into Chattooga County on the southern border of that county. The county line is absolutely straight, from east to west, except for that one little tic of land which still bears witness to the powerful political clout once wielded by Captain Nathan Campbell Napier. Getting state boundaries - or even county lines - changed is no easy matter, but he was able to do it.

My parents and I passed that way nearly every Sunday back in the 1940's and early 1950's, and on those occasions when dad would point the house out to me I was always fascinated by the floor-to-ceiling windows on the front porch, and, although the captain was long since deceased, I always imagined that it still looked just as it did in the captain's day. I have seen it only recently via Google Earth, even though I have my own photos of it made just several years ago. House and grounds both appear to be well-cared for...almost like ready to welcome the captain and family home at any moment. If not already on the National Register of Historic Places, it could certainly qualify for that honor. A gift from his landholder father, Woodside Plantation was the cause for much pride - and wealth - for Napier and family. I have sometimes wondered why he preferred Walker to Chattooga as I think Chattooga's tax base might have been lower. 

Although identifying strongly with Walker County, he needed the closest ties possible with the  cotton market which was at Rome, Ga., and which had close connections to Atlanta. His plantation was based almost entirely on "king cotton", and so, as my dad used to tell it, Captain Napier, with all his political power, was able to have a straight telephone line installed from his Woodside Plantation to the cotton markets at Rome, due south in Floyd County. Rome then had connections to Atlanta, and Atlanta in turn had connections to the seaports of Savannah and Charleston., the destination for his product, before being shipped off to Europe.  According to my father, the first long-distance call ever heard of by the locals at that time was from Captain Napier's "Woodside" to Rome, Ga. And that was really "high tech" news for that day, folks, because none of my people - or their neighbors - had phone service or electricity until 1950!  (The area was just outside of the TVA watershed so did not qualify for TVA power).

But who was this "Captain Napier" anyway? Although a Georgian by birth, he was not native to Walker County. His father, however, was a great landholder, as already mentioned, owning large tracts of land all over the south, and was able to give each of his children a sizable farm. Nathan Napier received the 1,000 acres called "Woodside" which he owned and farmed for many years.

At a young age his excellent primary education in Georgia later granted him access to Yale University - only to soon leave for medical school in Dresden, Germany. For reasons unknown, he left Dresden in turn for a second attempt at medical studies, this time in Philadelphia, USA, and there is no indication he ever finished that school or practiced medicine. Instead, he returned home and began farming at his estate in Chattooga County, (before he was able to get it into Walker County). That was only a stone's throw away from where my father was later born. Napier married there, but when the imminent Civil War broke out he enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army.  Sent to Kentucky, the Confederate Army generals soon decided they needed a new regiment of cavalry. Probably due to his fine education, Private Nathan Campbell Napier was immediately  promoted (elected) on the spot to the rank of 2nd lieutenant in Company H, - a distinct honor. There he fast became engaged in surprise skirmishes with the enemy resulting in the loss of his right eye, and was left for dead on the battlefield. Fortunately discovered "alive" by Federal forces, their surgeons saved his life and placed him in the care of a local miller and his family - even though legally still a Prisoner of War.  It is indeed amazing that he survived that life-threatening battlefield wound, especially as there were no antibiotics or other medical amenities to ward off infections in 1862. Perhaps having been saved as a hostage, he was later exchanged for a northern POW and  returned home to fully recuperate. At Woodside again, he lost little time in raising a new troupe from Georgia, later called Company K, 6th Georgia Cavalry, in time to fight at Chickamauga. It is unclear exactly when Napier was accorded the rank of captain, but was quite possibly following his grueling battlefield blinding experience, later recuperation, and then being re-called into further active duty. When the Southern cause was clearly lost, and after the war ended, a Yale University document about Napier ended with the following words:   ".....maimed and impoverished, (he) returned to North Georgia.....took up the thread of his life again, and began farming on his plantation at Woodside, in Walker County." 

While the farm virtually ran itself through loyal hired help, Napier taught school for a time, and received much adulation for his wartime service to the Confederate cause. He later bought the Walker County Messenger and became its editor for a long time - a weekly newspaper which is still running today. As a newspaper editor, and now based in LaFayette, he became devoted to civic causes and, among other things, encouraged the development of a local chapter for the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Advertising appearing in his Messenger helped him restore a bit of his lost Confederate wealth.  He is buried in LaFayette Cemetery.

~Chester Martin

Capt. Nathan Campbell Napier, 1834 – 1902
Capt. Nathan Campbell Napier, 1834 – 1902

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