Lillie Vertrees Odom's family tree makes her a very unusual person. She is one of only a handful of living people who is a son or a daughter of a Confederate soldier. Not the grandson or granddaughter. In Lillie's case, her father, Peter Vertrees, served with the 6th Kentucky Infantry from 1861 to 1865, where he witnessed the ravages of war at Shiloh and Vicksburg, among other engagements.
Lillie Vertrees Odom also is a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), an organization composed of women who can trace their family tree to an ancestor who served in the Confederate forces during the Civil War. In Odom's case, she is held in highest esteem because she is a living, or ''real,'' daughter of the Confederacy, one of only a handful still alive in Tennessee.
Finally, Lillie is black, one of a small but growing number of UDC members who have black or mixed race ancestry. Her mother was black. Her late father, Confederate veteran Peter Vertrees, was a Baptist pastor who started nine churches and was a pioneer educator in Sumner County. He was born in December 1840, the progeny of a mixed-race Baptist minister named Booker Harding and a white teenager named Mary Elizabeth ''Polly'' Skaggs.
When Peter Vertrees was 5, his mother went to the local courthouse in Edmonson County, Ky., and indentured, or apprenticed, her illegitimate son to a white farmer named Jacob Vertrees. At the time, the Commonwealth of Kentucky required that children of mixed race be given up for placement in a foster home when they reached the age of 5. In those days that probably would have meant the boy would have been raised as a slave. However, Jacob Vertrees had special reason to accept the boy into his family. Booker Harding was his son, and young Peter his grandson.
In October 1861, two months shy of his 21st birthday, Peter Vertrees followed his white uncle, Dr. John Luther Vertrees, in joining the Confederate Army at Bowling Green, Ky. Dr. Vertrees was an assistant surgeon of the 6th Kentucky Infantry Regiment. The unit later became part of the legendary ''Orphan Brigade,'' which fought at Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge and the Atlanta campaign. Peter Vertrees' assignment was to be his uncle's cook and bodyguard.
Shortly before his death in 1926, Peter Vertrees made a handwritten account of his own life, of which only a few copies were made. It also corroborated much of the family anecdotes that had been passed down. The white Vertrees family ''treated my father like what he was, a member of the family,'' Odom said. ''They didn't show any difference.''
Lillie is celebrating her 90th birthday. Doing the math, her father must have been 75 when she was born. That seems questionable but the UDC also lists four other living women in Tennessee alone whose fathers fought for the Confederacy and their ages must be about the same.
Race is not an issue to Lillie. To this 90-year-old woman it's about relationships, with blacks, whites, ''all colors.'' It's about love. ''I was raised to care about others whether they were black or white. That's not happening now. Folks don't realize you've got to have love in your heart. You've got to have it if you want to be happy in the end. I don't want to sit with the devil,'' she said, her voice raising, hinting she, too, might have taken up preaching if she'd gotten the calling.
You can read more about Lillie Vertrees Odom and her views of the world on the Tennessean web site.