Robert Hatton was born in Steubenville, Ohio on November 2, 1826. He was one of six children of Robert Clopton Hatton, a Methodist Episcopal minister, and Margaret Campbell Hatton. Hatton’s family lived in various locations in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania before moving to Nashville, Tennessee in 1835. Hatton attended several schools during his youth. Although he was only eighteen years old, in 1845, Hatton entered Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee as a member of the junior class. Hatton graduated in June 1847.
After graduation, Hatton studied law at Cumberland University. Lacking funds to complete his studies, Hatton left school in 1849 to serve as principal and teacher at Woodland Academy in Sumner County. While performing his duties at Woodland, he continued to study law and passed the bar exam in 1850. Hatton and Colonel Jordan Stokes then opened a successful law practice in Lebanon, Tennessee.
Two years later, on December 16, 1852, Hatton married Sophie K. Reilly of Williamson County. The couple settled in Lebanon, which would be Hatton’s adoptive hometown for the rest of his life.
While living in Lebanon, Hatton became an active member of the Whig Party. In 1855, voters elected him to serve in the General Assembly of Tennessee for two years. In 1857, he made an unsuccessful bid for the governorship of Tennessee. As the Whig Party began to dissolve in the South during the 1850s, Hatton changed his party affiliation to the Opposition Party, which opposed secession and the extension of slavery into U.S. territories. In 1858, voters elected Hatton to the U.S. House of Representatives. Hatton served in the 36th Congress from March 4, 1859 to March 3, 1861. During his tenure, he was Chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs.
Although Hatton opposed secession, he cast his lot with his home state of Tennessee when President Abraham Lincoln issued his call for volunteers to put down the rebellion in the South. Hatton returned home and formed the Lebanon Blues, a Confederate military company of approximately one hundred soldiers. While training at Camp Trousdale in Sumner County, the Lebanon Blues merged with other local units to form the 7th Tennessee Infantry Regiment. On May 27, 1861, the men of the 7th elected Hatton as their regimental colonel. Hatton’s regiment served under Robert E. Lee during the Confederacy’s Operations in western Virginia in the fall of 1861, and the men also served under Stonewall Jackson during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in the spring of 1862.
When Major General George McClellan launched his Peninsula Campaign into eastern Virginia in March 1862, Confederate leaders dispatched Hatton’s regiment to the Richmond area to help check the Union advance. On May 23, Confederate officials promoted Hatton to brigadier general, commanding the 5th brigade, 1st division, 1st corps of General Joseph Johnston’s Army of Northern Virginia.
Death at the Battle of Seven Pines
Eight days later, on May 31, Hatton’s brigade went into combat during the Battle of Seven Pines, also known as the Battle of Fair Oaks. While leading his troops in an assault against Union soldiers on Nine Mile Road, enemy soldiers shot Hatton’s horse from beneath him. Moments later, as Hatton continued to lead the attack on foot, a rifle or cannon shot to the head killed him instantly.
Hatton’s soldiers removed his body from the battlefield and sent it to Knoxville, Tennessee for burial. After the war, Hatton’s remains were disinterred and sent to Lebanon, Tennessee, where they were reburied at Cedar Grove Cemetery on March 23, 1866. In 1912, the citizens of Lebanon erected a memorial statue of Hatton in the town square.