One can only imagine what the Union soldiers must have thought at the sight of a giant wearing a confederate uniform running toward them in the heat of battle. Henry Clay Thruston was beyond a doubt the tallest man in the Confederate army. Perhaps at the time he lived he could have been one of the tallest men in the world at 7 feet 7 ½ inches in height. The average height of the Union soldier was 5 feet 8 inches, and the tallest Union soldier was only 6 feet 10 ½ inches. This Rebel towered over all the other fighting men like a pine sapling.
Henry was born May 4, 1830 in Greenville, S.C. However soon after his birth his family moved to Missouri where he spent his early years. In 1850 Henry married a distant cousin, Mary Thruston, and they had four children.
When the civil war broke out, Henry joined the Confederate Army, serving as a private under Col. John Q. Burbridge in the 4th Missouri Calvary. Thruston survived the war hostilities with only a couple of relatively minor wounds. He became a prisoner of war late in the conflict, but did not spend long in confinement, being paroled in June of 1865.
After the war, Thruston reunited with his family in Missouri then migrated to Texas, stopping when he got to Titus County. He purchased 100 acres of land east of Mount Vernon, Texas, and spent most of the rest of his life there.
For many years following the Civil War, he spent most of his time traveling with a circus, and was always billed in these side shows as being “The World’s Tallest Man”. In order to accent his height, he wore a tall beaver hat, high-top boots, and a long coat. This made him look ten feet tall. In those days, one of the big events of a circus coming to town was the parade through the downtown. When the circus was in any of the Confederate states, he would always walk in the lead of the parade carrying a large Confederate flag over his shoulder, much like a human flag pole.
However, if the circus was performing in a Union state, he would usually lead the parade dressed as Uncle Sam, and carrying both the Union and Confederate flags.
Judge R. T. Wilkinson, of Mt. Vernon, was one of Thruston’s closest friends, and he said that Thruston was a vain old fellow, and proud of his height. He was always willing and ready to recount events of the Civil War and of his life. The Judge said that his hands were as big as hams, and his feet were so large that he had to have his shoes specially made, as well as his clothes.
He rode horseback quite a bit and when he was riding a smaller horse, his knees were usually pulled up as high as the horse’s back in order that his feet would not drag the ground. He had a buggy specially built for him with the seat built high up in order that he could ride more comfortably. In fact, Judge Wilkinson said that the old fellow always took great pains to call attention to his great height.
On Friday, July 2, 1909, Thruston sat down to supper with his son, Edward, his daughter-in-law and their son. Mrs. Thruston told him that since he had not been feeling very well, he’d better pass on the cabbage. The big man began to butter a biscuit when he fell back in his chair in heart failure.
Before Thruston could be laid to rest, the local undertaker had to await the arrival by train of a custom-made casket from Texarkana. Being eight feet long, it could not fit into the hearse with the doors closed. They buried him in a grave much longer than deep in Mt. Pleasant’s Edwards Cemetery. His house, which had nine foot ceilings, still stands in Mount Vernon.
The editor of the local newspaper spoke for the whole community when he concluded, “He was our friend and we shall miss his cheering words and hearty handshake.”
Texas Tales – “Tallest Rebel” - Mike Cox – 2/2/2007
Confederate Veteran Magazine - December, 1909 issue
“THE CONFEDERATE GIANT”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
PO BOX 511
107 HEMLOCK STREET
SAN AUGUSTINE, TX 75972