Chaplain Marion Zellner
12th Tennessee Cavalry Partisan Rangers
By Dr. H. Rondel Rumburg
Marion Zellner, the third son of Arnold Zellner and his first wife Margaret Holmes, was born July 23rd, 1817 in Lincoln County, Georgia. When Marion was two or three years of age his parents moved to Giles County and then to Maury County, Tennessee.
The Lord sought out Marion and during a Methodist camp meeting in 1834 it pleased the gracious God to bring Marion Zellner to repentance of sin and faith in Christ as his Saviour and Lord. Some time following his conversion experience he moved to Oxford, Mississippi and here he joined the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Marion Zellner’s first marriage was to Helen Whitney in Maury County June 10th, 1837. Sorrow visited Marion and his faith was tested when Helen died while giving birth to a daughter Margaret Helen Marion. Two years later he remarried. This marriage was to Martha Adeline Alexander in DeSoto County, Mississippi. His home was said to be “an admirable place.” Their first two children were born in Mississippi. Then the Zellner family moved back to Tennessee. They settled near the town of Hickory Withe in Fayette County. The 1850 census for Fayette County listed that Marion Zellner was the father of five children which included his first child by Helen. All of his children had been born by 1860 and in his quiver there were four sons and six daughters. His fatherhood was blessed with ten children.
Zellner began to have a concern about the ministry. He was convinced in 1848 that God had called him to preach Christ. This led to his being received as a candidate to the ministry under the care of the Memphis Presbytery. His ordination to pastoral work took place in 1857. He was described as “a successful minister.” Zellner was not privileged to have a very extensive education but he was described as having a fine mind and this he put to use for the Lord and His work. “By his diligence and perseverance in the use of his mind he soon became a man of more than ordinary information. He soon became popular as a preacher, and was ever in demand as a pastor.” Zellner pastored the following Cumberland Presbyterian Churches: Pleasant Grove, Shady Grove, Mt. Carmel, Morning Sun, Hickory Withe, Mt. Pleasant, Germantown, Collierville and other places. The following churches were established under his ministry: Morning Sun, Hickory Withe, Galloway and Bartlet.
Those who knew Rev. Zellner were aware that he was a fine presbyter. He was very knowledgeable of church order. The ministry of his denomination weighed heavily upon him and he did what he could to insure or encourage growth and development. Also, Zellner became a great help to those young men who sought to enter the ministry. By this means he had a great impact on the future of the denomination. Many years he served as chairman of the Committee on Examination.
Usually life is not smooth sailing for the Lord’s people as they are tested and proved in the special providence of God. One writing of his life said, “For many years Brother Zellner was the subject of great and trying afflictions, but in the midst of it all he did what he could with the greatest Christian fortitude.”
Rev. Marion Zellner saw the destructive element called war come to Tennessee by the invasion of Federal soldiers. Therefore, he felt it an important contribution on his part to become a minister to the Confederate Soldiers of his area. Zellner like many ministers enlisted on October 11th, 1862 as a private soldier. He was in Company E of the 1st Regiment of the Tennessee Partisan Rangers and Company E became a part of the 12th Regiment of Tennessee Cavalry of the CSA. He was after that appointed chaplain of the 12th Tennessee Cavalry. His time was devoted to ministering to the spiritual needs of those under his care. As with most chaplains his duties went beyond preaching and visiting the sick and dying. There was the assistance the chaplains sought to render in any way to help the men and the cause, which was true of Chaplain Zellner.
His ministry in the pastorate resumed after the war. The days following the great conflict were spent catching up with his family and reintroducing himself to the Lord’s work which was placid compared to dealing with rapid moving and hard fighting cavalry.
One wrote of Zellner,
it may be truly said that he fought a good fight, that he finished his course, that he kept the faith, and that he is now in the enjoyment of that crown of righteousness which the Lord shall give to all in that day; or to use the figure of another, ‘He came to his grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in his season.’
After a life of service to his Lord the Lord’s Day morning of November 10th, 1895 the Rev. Marion Zellner’s life returned to the Lord who gave it. His passing was said to have been characterized as peaceful. He was seventy-eight years of age. Thirty-eight of those years were devoted to the work of the Lord. He and Martha are buried side by side in Mt. Pleasant Cumberland Presbyterian Cemetery at Hickory Withe, Tennessee. Martha outlived Marion many years. Not long before her demise Martha was honored in Arlington, Tennessee for being the mother of a Confederate soldier. The news account is interesting:
A beautiful and touching ceremony occurred in Arlington, TN last week when Mrs. Martha A. Zellner was presented with a gold bar of honor in token of the fact that she was the mother of a son who fought in the Confederate army during the dark days in 1861-65. Mrs. Zellner will be 100 years old in October.
Representatives of five generations were present when the bar was pinned upon Mrs. Zellner. It was the gift of the Southern Confederate Memorial Association and Mrs. Charles W. Frazier, state president from Tennessee and Mrs. C. L. Bryan, president of the Memphis association had intended being present and had planned a formal presentation ceremony. However, Mrs. Zellner had been very ill, and it was deemed inadvisable for anyone to be present save members of her family and her family physician, Dr. R. E. Herring.
The box containing the bar of honor was placed in the hand of Mrs. Zellner by her Great-great-grandson, Robert Gragg Wilson, whose picture, taken several months ago, is shown with that of his great-great grandmother. Dr. Herring pinned the bar upon the dress of his patient and at her request led the family in prayer with all of them joining in the Lord’s Prayer led by Mrs. Zellner.
Members of the Zellner family present included her daughters, Mrs. Fannie McNeely and Mrs. Joanna Alexander, her grandson and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. S. Y. Wilson, her great grandson and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Robert Wilson and her great-great grandson, little Robert Gragg Wilson.
A gold bar of honor for every living mother of a Confederate veteran was the “happy thought” of Mrs. M. Wilson, present general of the Confederate Southern Memorial Association which was presented at the annual convention of the association in October, at Atlanta. All state presidents were instructed to find the mothers in their states, with name and credentials of their veteran sons, and report same to the president general. Twelve applications had been received up to Feb. 1, from Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Louisiana, ages ranging from 95 to 102.
Mrs. Charles W. Frazier, state president from Tennessee, has had the honor of presenting the bar to the next oldest mother in the person of Mrs. Zellner, who will be 100 years of age on Oct. 31, 1920. Mrs. Zellner is the mother of the late John W. Zellner, 13th Tennessee regiment. She is the widow of the late Rev. Marion Zellner who was appointed chaplain in the 12th Tennessee cavalry partisans Rangers, under Col. Richardson. Both father and son served until the end of the war, the latter dying many years afterwards from the effects of wounds he received in service and from which he suffered throughout his life. Mrs. Zellner, as well as her husband, was born in North Carolina; immigrated to Mississippi, was married at Hernando in February 1842, came to Tennessee as a bride and reared a family of four sons and five daughters of whom one son and three daughters now live.
She makes her home with a daughter, Mrs. McNeely, who, widowed in her youth, has devoted her life in the care and comfort of her mother. Mrs. Zellner has 18 grandchildren, 55 great-grandchildren and 7 great-great grandchildren. She takes an active interest in all current events and followed the course of the world war. Her recent formal presentation of her bar … Wednesday in her own room in the presence of her family, it was given to her by Master Robert Gragg Wilson.
To know her is to love her. She is a wonderful character. She gave her heart to God when she was a little girl. When she was a little over 22 years old she gave her life into the care and keeping of a noble young man. They lived together happily until the Civil War took her husband and 17 year old son to fight for their country, leaving her alone with very small children on a big country farm. Everyone who lived through those dark days knows what a struggle this was. She fought on bravely alone, until the close of the war, when God gave her back her husband to live to a ripe old age and to take his grandchildren on his knee and tell them stories of the days of the Confederacy.
Her son, John William Zellner, though wounded five times, came back to his home at the close of the war, and later married and reared a large family of children.
To Mrs. Zellner goes the honor of receiving the first of the bars which will be awarded to all living mothers of former Confederate soldiers.
Martha outlived Marion and died just a few months short of her one hundredth birthday for she had lived 99 years, 7 months and 25 days.
Sketch by Shirley Zellner Gall or Mary Owens and Zeni Zellner Batte.
The Cumberland Presbyterian, November 22, 1900, page 586.
The Cumberland Presbyterian, January 2, 1896, page 388.