Mark Thrash

Photo of elderly man with white beard standing on cabin porch.
Mark Thrash on the porch of his cabin in Chickamauga Battlefield.

Quick Facts

Mark Thrash was rumored to be over 120 years old by the time he died in December 1943. Much about his early life is unknown. He claimed to have been born on Christmas Day in 1820, enslaved by a man named Christopher Thrash. The Thrashes moved to Meriwether County Georgia sometime before the Civil War. Like many African Americans in the 1800s, there is little documentary evidence of his live in slavery or immediately after it. By 1900, Mark was living in rural northwest Georgia and employed by United States government as a laborer in the recently established Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. 

He lived in a small cabin just downhill from the site of General Rosecrans' headquarters on Dyer Field. Over the years, stories of his age began to spread, and by the 1930s he was somewhat of a celebrity. People would come from all around to hear Mark Thrash tell stories about his life. He claimed to have been a servant to a soldier in the Confederate Army, and taken prisoner twice. He claimed to have served both General Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, met Abraham Lincoln, and frequently wore a coat that he said had been a gift from General Grant. He was said to have been put to work burying the dead at the Battle of Chickamauga along with his son, Chris, who was a body servant to Lt. Elmo Thrash. However, service records indicate that Elmo Thrash had only been a private in a state guard unit for a few months in late 1863 and early 1864. Almost everything about Mark Thrash's life is shrouded in mystery and memory.  

Known to the local white community as "Uncle Mark," Thrash would enthrall visitors for hours. It is unknown how much of his life's story was fictional or fact. Census records in 1870 and 1880 show a "Doc Thrash" (Thrash was sometimes known as "Doc") living near Griffin Georgia - only about thirty miles from the home of the Thrash family that had enslaved Mark. Both of these census records indicate Thrash may have been born in 1840. However, it is impossible to positively identify this as the Mark Thrash of Chickamauga Battlefield. Much of the 1890 Census was largely destroyed, and the 1900 Census shows Mark Thrash living in Chickamauga and giving his date of birth as 1822. 

Regardless of how old he really was, or how many of his public stories were true, Mark Thrash was an icon of the early years of the park. People would travel from miles around to hear him tell stories. National media ran coverage of him, declaring Thrash the nation's oldest pensioner. In the end, it is somewhat irrelevant how many of his stories are true. Thash's carefully crafted public image of "Uncle Mark" was a means by which he could not only survive, but thrive in an era in which African Americans were considered second class citizens. And in doing so, he promoted the preservation of this park, and inspired people to care about this place. Even now, decades after his death in 1943, visitors will often share with park staff stories of meeting Mark Thrash when they were younger, and how he inspired them to learn about the battle.  

Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

Last updated: March 8, 2018