Very little biographical detail exists for this 19th century American poet and soldier. Neither date of birth nor death can be confirmed and what follows is extracted from material supplied by a great grandson, Mr Ron Holcombe.
Alfred Biddleton McCreary was born, probably sometime during the 1840s, in the small town of Bradner which lies in the north western part of Ohio.
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 McCreary said goodbye to his family and friends for what would be a prolonged period of military service. He enlisted in the 26th Ohio Volunteer Infantry whose allegiance was to the Union side. He was stationed in the West Virginia area for around a year before moving to Kentucky. It was a costly campaign for McCreary’s regiment as they would go on to lose a huge proportion of their men at bloody battles such as Missionary Ridge, Chickamauga and the Siege of Corinth.
The regiment saw further service in the Atlanta campaign waged by General Sherman until finally being decommissioned in Texas in 1865. McCreary’s military career did not end there though as he served with the 16th Kansas Cavalry on the Western Frontier. He wrote poetry and letters home whenever he could and was ideally placed to observe, with great sadness, the impact on the way of life that was gradually being taken away from the Native Americans.
It is clear from McCreary’s great poem In Old Tennessee that he was a gifted poet. In this poem he described in great detail the loneliness of night time guard duty with nothing and no one for company except your rifle and your fear of what might lie out there in the pitch darkness at dead of night. Emotions such as homesickness and despair would mingle with pride in your regiment and love for family back home. It was something that all soldiers in his position had to endure and was an extremely difficult, but necessary, duty.
Here is the poem in full.