On this day October 19, in 1891, among the poor and forgotten in Cook County Cemetery at Dunning, a famous American inventor, a businessman and most notably a Confederate States Army officer during the American Civil War was buried.
How did he end up in the cemetery among paupers?
Thomas McCray (1828 – Oct. 19, 1891 was born near Jonesborough, Tennessee, to Henry and Martha (Moore) McCray. He farmed in Tennessee and moved to Arkansas, where he operated a mill. Around 1856 he moved to Texas and operated a mill near Tellico. Just before the Civil War, he returned to Arkansas, settling in Wittsburg, Cross County.
In June 1861 he joined the 5th Arkansas Infantry Regiment. He was commissioned a lieutenant and adjutant of that unit. In late 1861 he was detached from his regiment and returned to Arkansas to raise troops. He was elected major, then colonel, of the newly raised 31st Arkansas Infantry. He led a brigade of Texas and Arkansas infantry in the 1862 Kentucky Campaign. As part of Churchill’s division, his brigade distinguishing itself at the August 30, 1862 Battle of Richmond, Kentucky. General Thomas J. Churchill singled out McCray for his “gallantry and coolness” in that action.
Dissatisfied at not being promoted to Brigadier General, and realizing that his regiment had shrunk to less than 150 men and would soon be consolidated with another regiment, McCray requested transfer to the Trans-Mississippi Department. There he helped raising several regiments of Arkansas cavalry. During Price’s 1864 Missouri Raid he led a cavalry brigade in Fagan’s division. This brigade, consisting of the newly organized and ill-equipped 45th, 46th and 47th regiments of Arkansas cavalry/mounted infantry, performed poorly. Many of the men deserted, and the brigade dissolved after the raid. McCray retained a more or less nominal district command in northeast Arkansas, “powerless for good or for evil, till war’s end.
McCray is referred to as a Confederate general in numerous sources, among them Heitman’s Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Army. Eicher’s “Civil War High Commands” labels him a general, but suggest that the rank was in Arkansas state forces, not Confederate. He lists himself as “colonel” on his end-of-war parole, but it is possible that in 1864 he received an unofficial promotion to brigadier.
Like many other Confederates, he then left for Mexico. He then later returned to Arkansas, and briefly lived in Wittsburg. After that he became a traveling salesman for the McCormick Reaper Co., based in Chicago, Illinois. Something of an inventor, McCray patented several improvements for cotton and hay presses.
It is in Chicago where he fell ill. He died in Chicago’s Cook County Hospital on October 19, 1891, of uremia, and was buried in the Cook County “paupers” Cemetery without fanfare. Sadly, many people who died in Cook County Hospital were buried in Cook County Cemetery if family could not be found or if family members chose not to claim the body.
Thomas married to Angeline Gilbreath on October 11, 1845. Angeline was born April 23, 1826 in Monroe County Tennessee, the daughter of John Fisher Gilbreath 1796 – 1877 and Isabella Edington 1798-1874.
Thomas McCray divorced Angeline in January of 1855. She remarried to George Montgomery Cuson in 1856 and they then had a daughter Louise A. Cuson born 1857. Angeline was buried on the Hiwassee college campus in Madisonville Tennessee
Thomas had two children with Angeline;
Mary Belle McCray born September 9, 1846 Madisonville, Monroe County, Tennesee, married June 23, 1870 in Loudon County Tennessee to Dr. Josiah Jackson Harrison . Mary Belle McCray Harrison died March 14, 1918 at Loudon Tennessee.
Thomas Hamilton McCray had 10 grandchildren by Mary Belle. Emmett Merrick Harrison, Lula Harrison born 1868, Francis Augustine Harrison 1872 – 1948, Henry McCray Harrison 1873 – 1897, Frank Rhea Harrison 1873 – 1922, Joe James Harrison 1879 – 1934, Thomas H Harrison born 1879, John M Harrison born 1882, Fred Calloway Harrison born 1885, and Mary Belle Harrison 1892 – 1964.
His second child was Alice Julia McCray born September 17, 1849 at Madison, Tennessee. She married John McFarrin Cole on June 17, 1869 in Monroe County Tennessee. They had nine children. Alice Julia McCray Cole died September 9, 1931 in Frankston, Anderson County, Texas.
Thomas Hamilton McCray had nine grandchildren by his daughter Alice Julia. They were Angie Belle Cole 1870 – 1936, Oliver Walker Cole 1871 – 1941, Lena Louise Cole born 1874, Thomas Ray Cole born 1877, Henry Foster Cole 1879 – 1948, Asbury Lee Cole born 1882, Blanche McFerrin Cole 1885 – 1914, John McCray Cole 1888 – 1902, and Elmer Gregory Cole 1890 – 1965 married to Gertrude Harden.
Elmer Gregory Cole and his wife Gertrude had a daughter Blanche Marie Cole born June 24, 1920 in Frankston Texas and died February 27, 2010 in Carlsbad, San Diego, California. Blanche would be a great granddaughter of Thomas Hamilton McCray and appears to be one of the most current relatives until her death. She married Herbert Burett Merritt 1919 – 1993, and had two sons, Herbert Michael Meritt 1942 – 1968, and a second son that appears to still be living.
Thomas McCray married a second time to Elizabeth Vance born September 22 1830. She married Samuel Boren in 1866 and Thomas McCray in 1867. She died and was buried April 6 1883 in Texas.
His third wife was Mary Ellen Huxtable born New York in 1844 and died in Arkansas in 1911. They had one child Thomas Hamilton McCray in 1876, born Arkansas.
It is so sad that Thomas Hamilton McCray, with all these family members, died alone and was buried alone. He is just one of the 38,000 souls in Cook County Cemetery. For more of the story visit www.cookcountycemetery.com and search for others in a free database.