Benajah Harvey Carroll was born in Mississippi to Benajah and Mary Eliza Mallard Carroll in 1843. The family was of Irish descent with B. H.’s great grandfather having been born in Ireland. The Carrolls moved first to Arkansas before settling in Burleson County, Texas near Caldwell in the late 1850s. He was known in his family as a reader and his brother Dr. J. M. Carroll recalled that on the trip to Texas, Benajah would ride a mule while reading a book. He often would get ahead of the wagons and come to a place to stop for the night. When his family arrived, Carroll would have built a large fire and would be sitting beside it, reading.
By all accounts, Carroll was quite intelligient. The following story is from an article about him written by J. B. Cranfill. “It is related of him that on the first day he went to school, having learned to read at home, he was given a First Reader. At noon he brought the book back to his teacher, having memorized every word of it.” His incredible memory was still remarked upon, even in his senior years.
Benajah was educated in the country schools and did well, though early on, he was known as being a rabble-rousing joker. He entered Baylor University at Independence in Washington County in 1859 and was a student when the Civil War broke out two years later. Two months before he was to have graduated, he joined the Army.
His brother related that Carroll was a Unionist and, like Sam Houston, was not in farvor of Texas’ succession from the Union. Being a Unionist was not a popular sentiment in Texas at that time, but before he left the county, Carroll is said to have given a speech in support of the Union. After raising the American flag, he presented his arguments. Carroll is said to have paraphrased the words of Henry Clay from a speech that Clay made at Bunker Hill, “You ask me when I’d rend the scroll our fathers’ names are written o’er, when I could see our flag unroll its mingled stars and stripes no more; when with a worse than felon hand or felon counsels I would sever the union of this glorious land? I answer: Never! Never!”
As we know, the succession convention voted to leave the Union and also called for the formation of a group to protect the frontier. In response, Carroll and a brother named Fuller joined twelve other youths from the area to ride five days on horseback and make the 200 mile trip to San Antonio. There they joined a regiment of rangers in April, 1861. For about a year, the outfit remained in Texas keeping the peace, fighting Indians and otherwise providing a protective presence in the area.
He had a reputation as being a crack shot, though he was by his own admission sometimes more lucky than accurate. Carroll used to joke that one day he was out looking for game when he came upon a group of ducks drinking at a pond. He fired into the group and accidentally hit one in the head. When he brought it back, one of his fellow rangers remarked at the accuracy of the shot. A little later, a flock of geese flew overhead and his fellow ranger challenged Carroll to bring one of them down. Carroll pointed his rifle up and again accidentally shot one, the lead gander. After retrieving his prize he was once more congratulated for his good marksmanship. He replied instead that it was a terrible shot, and that he had actually hit the bird a half an inch back of where he had intended.
After a year of “rangering,” Carroll (then eighteen years old) and his brother Fuller joined the Seventeenth Volunteer Texas Regiment of Infantry, commanded by R. T. P. Allen and attached to McCullough’s Brigade of Walker’s Division. They were also joined by another brother, Laban. Carroll was known for bravery that sometimes bordered on the foolhardy. The brothers served together in numerous battles across the south. At the Battle of Mansfield, Louisiana, Benajah took a minnie ball shot to the leg, grazing the bone and femoral artery. He was carried through fire to safety by his brother Laban. Laban was the tallest of the three, but all three brothers were at least six feet three inches tall, which was unusually tall for the day. Carroll was operated on and eventually recovered. All three brothers survived the war. Laban, who had carried Benajah to safety on the battlefield, became a minister but died of unknown causes in 1868.
Carroll was briefly married and divorced during the Civil War. The reason given for the breakup was that his young wife and found another man while he was away. After returning to Texas to recuperate from his wound, Carroll briefly taught school and was by his brother’s account a charismatic teacher. He had further honed his speaking skills by having participated in fireside debates during the war. Carroll rejoined his outfit just as the war was about to end, but the long ride had again aggravated his leg wound and when he arrived, he was ordered to return to Texas.
Around this time, Carroll attended a Methodist youth service in 1865 and became a Christian. Soon afterward, he married his second wife, Ellen Bell, with whom he would remain married until her death. He had considered becoming a lawyer, but instead felt a calling to become a minister. Not long after he was married to Ellen, he was ordained by a local Baptist church. He returned to teaching school for a few years before moving to Waco where he became an associate pastor of First Baptist Church. He later became the senior pastor there and served for over thirty years.
He was considered to be influential in Texas in support of causes like prohibition. He is not known to have ever run for political office but was active in denominational work for many decades. He had a strong interest in education, raising funds in support of schools as he also was writing and teaching. He was also widely sought as a speaker and debater. A self-educated theologian, he wrote numerous books and commentaries on the subject of theology. After many years of serving as the chairman of the religion department at Baylor University in Waco, he co-founded a seminary in Fort Worth and served as its president for many years.
Carroll’s second wife Ellen Virginia Bell Carroll passed away in 1897 and he later married the former Hallie Harrison, with whom he was married until he died. Hallie was the daughter of Thomas and Sarah Ellis McDonald Harrison, long time Waco residents and members of Carroll’s congregation.
(Image credit: Findagrave.com)
The above image is a monochrome photograph of an oil painting that hangs in the Fort Worth seminary. Carroll was known to have enjoyed a good cigar. A bit of folklore surrounding the painting is that the painting was supposedly modified at some point to hide a cigar held in one of Carroll’s hands. Though no images of the painting that show a cigar are known to exist, it is easy to speculate that Carroll would have been amused by all this. Carroll, the old ranger, soldier, minister, professor and administrator, passed away in 1914 and was laid to rest in Oakwood Cemetery in Waco, McLennan County, Texas.
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