Tough German blacksmith, soldier forges Bartlett legacy

In front of the Gotten House are, from left, Dr. Nicholas Gotten Jr., Nicholas Gotten III and Dr. Nicholas Gotten Sr. The photo was taken about 30 years ago.
In front of the Gotten House are, from left, Dr. Nicholas Gotten Jr., Nicholas Gotten III and Dr. Nicholas Gotten Sr. The photo was taken about 30 years ago.


Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight prominent people, places and events in Bartlett in honor of the city’s 150th anniversary this year. Article edited on March 7, 2016, to add sourcing; see end of article.

Nicholas Gotten was born in the year 1832 in Spangdahlen, Germany. We have been able to trace the family back to 1733 from church records in that small German village. The name was spelled Goetten until it was Americanized by dropping the first “e.”

Nick Gotten was one of 11 children. He came to America by himself when he was 22. He settled in Chicago for about four years, but we have no information about that period in his life. In 1858 he came to the Memphis area, where he resided for two years, then moved to Bartlett, known at that time as Union Depot.

Nick Gotten was a blacksmith and a mechanic. He was said to be strong, about 5’6’ in height and known for his ability to “cuss, drink and work hard.”

When the Civil War broke out in 1861 he was opposed to secession, but nevertheless volunteered after the battles of Ft. Henry and Ft. Donelson. Besides, everyone knew that the war wouldn’t last more than six months, and the South would be an independent nation.

Nick Gotten enlisted in Company C, Tennessee 3rd Cavalry, under Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest. Nick Gotten was a fighting soldier but was willing to shoe any horse in the Confederate army if needed.

The fall of Forts Henry and Donelson left Nashville and Memphis highly vulnerable, and both cities were easily occupied by Union troops. Nick Gotten enlisted for a period of one year, but in reality his duration of service was to the bitter end. I have his compiled service record which indicates that in May of 1864 he was severely wounded near Bolivar, Tenn., and left for dead on the battlefield. He was taken to a private home and nursed back to health by the kind ladies of Bolivar.

He attempted to rejoin his regiment but was captured and sent to the notorious Irving Block Prison in Memphis. At the prison he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the United States and was told that he was to be executed the next morning in retaliation for the recent “massacre” at Fort Pillow.

Nick Gotten told his captors that nothing would please him more than to be a martyr for the Southern cause, but he was sure that when General Forrest and the boys of the old battalion hear about his execution they would never take another live Yankee to camp. This pronouncement had the effect of stopping all talk about execution. Nevertheless, they did want to be rid of him, and he was sent to the Federal prison in Vicksburg, Miss.

There he was exchanged for a Union prisoner, which was a common practice during the war in order to keep from having to take care of so many prisoners. The prisoners were free to go back to their units. Thus, Nick Gotten walked from Vicksburg to Jackson, Miss., and joined his old battalion. Soon thereafter the Confederacy collapsed, and Nick Gotten was a prisoner again. This time he took the oath of allegiance and was paroled. I have a fragment of his parole paper, and he was sent home with one horse — his only worldly possession.

As one can imagine, times were extremely hard after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. The South was largely destroyed, destitute, and starving. Nick Gotten returned to Bartlett and got to work. He established a blacksmith shop and later was able to buy property, start a cotton gin, general store, and undertaking business. He invented a cotton gin feeder and received a patent for it, but it was not a commercial success.

In 1869 he married Julia Sophia Coleman. She was from a prominent family in the Raleigh area and was the sister of Nick Gotten’s comrade in arms, James Henry Coleman. In 1870 they bought the lot on which the Gotten House still stands. The lot was owned by Dr. Nicholas Blackwell and the price was $300. In 1871 they built their house, which still stands and houses the Bartlett Historical Society and Museum.

The family prospered and grew. They had three children, Peter Monroe (my grandfather), David Henry (who died an untimely death in a shooting accident), and Maggie Amelia. They all attended Bartlett public schools. Julia Gotten died an untimely death in 1892 and was buried in the back yard of their home. She was later moved to Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis. Nick Gotten lived another 27 years and raised his three children by himself. He never remarried. He died in 1919 of arteriosclerosis. He is buried next to his wife in Forest Hill Cemetery.

In retrospect, Nick Gotten must have been an extraordinary man. First, he was courageous. He left his home, family, and native country to venture forth into America. He came here with no money, no common language, and no job. He fought bravely in a war in which he had no ideological position, at least initially, but felt he must defend his home, village, and state. Secondly, he was clever, determined, and above all, hardworking. He prospered, married well, and was a steady, devoted family man to his wife and three children.

The Gotten family is proud of its legacy. Our ancestor laid the foundation for a large family that is flourishing and residing in the Memphis area and as far away as Los Angeles, Calif.; Austin, Texas; Connecticut; and Washington, D.C.
Nick Gotten represents the very best of the tidal wave of seekers of freedom and opportunity that came to these shores in the 1800s and made this the greatest country on Earth. Well done, sir. Rest in peace.

Written by Nick Gotten Jr., M.D., special to the Express. Gotten is a member of the Bartlett Historical Society and a descendant of the prominent Bartlett citizen featured in this article. Sources for this article include oral history handed down by relatives, online genealogy research and two publications: “Confederate Military History, vol. VIII,” Atlanta, Ga., Confederate Publishing Co., 1899; and “The Old Guard in Gray. Researches in the Annals of the Confederate Historical Assn.” by J. Harvey Mathes, Press of S.C. Toof & Co., Memphis, 1897.