William Elbert Milburn, Chaplain 8th Tennessee Cavalry
“ I was never connected to slavery; was taught from boyhood to believe it was wrong; there
never was one hour in which I approved it; I do not expect there ever will be.”
William Elbert Milburn was born on September 16, 1797 in Frederick, Virginia. His parents
Jacob Jonathan and Nancy Ann Emberson, who were married on October 10, 1796 in Greene
County had returned to Virginia to settle the estate of Jonathon's father.
There was a lot of unrest in the country in this time that culminated in the Civil War. South
Carolina was the first state to succeed from the Union. Tennessee was the last state to
succeed in June of 1861. This was an extremely divisive time. Most of the people in East
Tennessee did not want to leave the Union. However, when Tennessee did secede from the
Union there were strong feelings on both sides. Some counties were more pro-Union than
others, but within each county, each neighborhood, each church and even each family a
division was created by strong feelings on both sides of the issues. William Milburn found
himself right in the middle of this storm. Bishop James Andrews presided over the Church
Conference of 1861. He was both an influential and calming force and exerted his belief that
religion and politics should not mix. However the sentiment changed in 1862 when Bishop
John Early presided over the conference. Early was much more sympathetic to the Confederate cause and began to challenge the personal political motives of the ministers and their loyalty to the now Confederate state of Tennessee. William Milburn was among those loyalty was questioned.
In the conference of 1863, the Bishop dismissed arguments for the rights of ministers to have political beliefs that conflicted with those of the state and "ruled that the Conference had a right to arrest the character of any preacher who sympathized with the Union cause." Over the objections of some members about giving the suspected ministers the opportunity for a trial; the Bishop ruled that they could be tried immediately. As a result of this, Jonathan Mann, William Rogers, William Milburn and W. H. H. Duggins were expelled from the church by a resolution.
William Milburn joined the 8th Tennessee Cavalry Volunteers on February 6, 1864. He was mustered out in Knoxville on September 11, 1865. After the war, he was reinstated by the Holston Conference where he continued to preach and work to abolish racism until his death on December 11, 1877. He is buried in the cemetery of Milburnton United Church in Greene County on land given by his father for this church.