Name: Axalla John Hoole
Highest Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Unit: 8th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry
Service Record: Volunteered for service before shots were fired. Fought in the Peninsula campaign, Seven Days’ battles, Harpers Ferry, Sharpsburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Killed in action at Chickamauga on September 20, 1863.
When the Civil War broke out Axalla John “Zell” Hoole nearly 40, considerably older was , than most of the Southern boys who so enthusiastically, and perhaps naively, went off to war. He was a husband and father, a progressive farmer and a respected and active leader in his South Carolina community. A quiet, benevolent, principled man, he was hard-working and proud, but far from wealthy. He strongly supported states’ rights, loved his home state of South Carolina and was intensely loyal to the South.
Axalla was born in Darlington District, S.C., in 1822. His father died when he was young, leaving a large family with few assets. However, due to the influence of his mother, he received an excellent education and taught for 12 years.
Following in the distinguished military tradition of his family, Axalla joined a local militia at 20, the earliest age at which he could muster. The boys of the Darlington Rifles, it was said, could “shoot a squirrel through the eye,” and Hoole was reputed to be one of the best. He was eventually promoted to captain.
In the spring of 1856, Hoole and his bride of only a few hours left the relative prosperity and security of home, traveling more than 1,200 miles to settle in lawless Kansas Territory. Congress had provided for the territory to enter the Union as either a slave or free state, decided by popular vote. Hoole hoped to lawfully influence the vote for the Southern cause. He soon became an influential and respected leader, and was elected judge of the Douglas County Court. After a year and a half, however, the long-anticipated vote defeated the Southern effort, and Hoole and his family returned to South Carolina.
As the country spiraled toward war, Hoole resumed his leadership role in the Rifles. He and his unit volunteered for service before shots were fired, and the Rifles became Company A of the 8th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry. During the summer of 1861, the 8th fought at Manassas, both at Mitchell’s Ford and later near the Henry House.
In an 1862 reorganization Hoole, highly regarded by his men for his leadership abilities, teaching skills and character, was elected lieutenant colonel of the 8th. “Colonel Hoole,” wrote a captain in his regiment, “was a man of unassuming manner, quiet and determined, always at the post of duty, and was much beloved by all who knew him.” The regiment became part of Brig. Gen. Joseph Kershaw’s Brigade in Longstreet’s corps.
Lieutenant Colonel Hoole served with the 8th through some of the Army of Northern Virginia’s most ferocious fighting during the first two years of war, and he commanded the regiment at Sharpsburg. In September 1863, the 8th rode the rails to north Georgia with the rest of Longstreet’s corps in a desperate attempt to help stop the Federal advance into the Southern heartland. Two huge armies clashed at Chickamauga, resulting in 34,000 casualties. Hoole was one of them, killed while leading his men on the slopes of Snodgrass Hill. In his official report Brig. Gen. Kershaw wrote: “Lieutenant Colonel Hoole was an officer of much merit….He was much beloved for his personal qualities, and his loss will be deeply deplored by his comrades.”
Hoole left behind his wife, Betsie, and four children, the last a son born five days after his death. Betsie, well educated like her husband, was also resilient. Having already braved the turmoil of Kansas Territory, she steered her family through the death and destruction of the war and afterward through the hardships of Reconstruction. She never remarried and died in 1925.
Zell Hoole did not wish for war, but when it came he did not shirk his duty. “Do your duty in all things,” said Robert E. Lee. “You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less.” Axalla Hoole would have made General Lee proud.
Originally published in the September 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.