Thomas Battle Turley

Thomas B. Turley, lawyer and U.S. senator, was born in Memphis on April 5, 1845, to Thomas and Ora Battle Turley. His uncle was Judge William B. Turley of the Tennessee Supreme Court. After attending local schools, Turley in 1861 enlisted and served in the Maynard Rifles of Memphis, a Confederate company that joined the 154th Tennessee Regiment. Turley sustained wounds at the battles of Shiloh (1862) and Atlanta (1864) before being captured in the battle of Nashville in 1864. He was imprisoned at Camp Chase, Ohio, from December 1864 until March 1865.

After the war, Turley enrolled at the University of Virginia, where he took a law degree in 1867. He began practicing law with L. D. McKissick, a former Confederate colonel, in Memphis. When former Governor Isham G. Harris teamed with them in 1876, the firm became Harris, McKissick & Turley. After McKissick moved to California, Harris and Turley remained partners until 1886, when Turley formed a partnership with Luke Edward Wright, who later served as governor-general of the Philippines and secretary of war.

Although occupied with his law practice, Turley was interested in Democratic politics. In the 1896 campaign, Turley supported William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic and Populist presidential nominee, and his pro-silver platform. After the death of Isham G. Harris in 1897, Turley was appointed to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat of his former law partner. The state legislature subsequently elected him to complete the term. As a senator, Turley promoted currency expansion, sought tariff reform, and opposed imperialism. In 1900, in one of his longest speeches, Turley successfully challenged the validity of the appointment of Matthew S. Quay, a Pennsylvania Republican, to a Senate seat. Turley retired from the Senate in 1901 and resumed his Memphis law practice.

Turley married Irene Raynor in 1870. They raised five children. He died on July 1, 1910, in Memphis and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery. Turley’s papers are in various collections in the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville.

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  • Article Title Thomas Battle Turley
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 21, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018