Civil War rooster's portrait to be displayed

Friday, August 5, 2011
The original portrait of rooster Jake Donelson is to be on display Sunday in Lewisburg when the bird's story is to be told by a descendant of his owner.

A unique Civil War mascot with special ties to Marshall County will be remembered at the local Historical Society's next meeting.

When the Society meets Sunday in the museum in the Hardison Office Annex, members and visitors will be able to see the original portrait of the rooster Jake Donelson, and hear his story from a descendant of his owner.

George F. McCanless Jr. is the great-great-nephew of the man who bought the rooster, and the picture still belongs to the family.

According to an account first published in "Civil War Times" in April 1962 (reproduced in "The History of Cornersville" by Scotty Brock), Company H, 3rd Tennessee Regiment, was organized at Cornersville in the spring of 1861 for service in the Confederate Army, with Jerome B. McCanless as one of the lieutenants. While the company was in training at Camp Cheatham, soldiers bought some chickens from a farmer, among them a young red rooster. They noted the rooster's fighting ability and saved him from the stew pot. McCanless adopted him as his own, and christened him Jake. Jake fought rival roosters that belonged to other companies and traveled with his master until the surrender to Grant at Fort Donelson on Feb. 16, 1862.

Jake then accompanied the soldiers into captivity, cheering them up with his loud crowing as they marched through the streets of Chicago to Camp Douglass.

After seven months, the prisoners, and Jake with them, were exchanged at Vicksburg. While they were in camp in Mississippi, McCanless had Jake's portrait painted by "an itinerant painter," according to "Civil War Times."

Jake and his portrait were returned to the McCanless homestead in Cornersville, where the rooster died and was given a military burial in 1864.

Jerome McCanless continued to fight, and took part in the Vicksburg, Atlanta and Nashville campaigns, finally surrendering with Johnston's army in North Carolina. He lived until 1906, and is reported to have carried Jake's portrait to reunions of Confederate veterans.

The exact location of Jake's grave in Cornersville has never been discovered, but he will be the subject of one of Marshall County's four Civil War plaques on the Civil War trail.

The Historical Society's meeting at 2 p.m. Sunday promises to be a rare opportunity to see the original portrait of Jake Donelson, and hear his story from someone who knows it best: a family member.