In the spring of 1862, the Old Dominion State of Virginia was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting yet seen in the year-old Civil War. Thousands of Mississippians took part in the fighting, and hundreds were killed or wounded. Among the casualties was Corporal James D. Feemster, a member of the “Noxubee Rifles,” Company F, 11th Mississippi Infantry, who was struck by a musket ball at the Battle of Seven Pines, May 31 – June 1, 1862. While recovering from his wounds, Feemster wrote the following letter to his sisters; it was published in the Macon Beacon on June 18, 1862:
Chimborazo Hospital, Va., June 5, 1862
Here I am at old ‘Chimborazo Hospital’ again, but will be able in a few days to bid it another adieu, and I hope a final one. I can only write you a short letter to-night as I have other letters to write, and Mr. L. Dupres leaves early in the morning. I will now give you a brief account of our fight of Saturday the 31st ultimo.
The fight opened about eleven o’clock A.M. and closed at night. From the best information I can gather, our forces numbered 20,000 and that of the enemy 40,000. The battle was fought in Chickahominy swamp six or seven miles from Richmond. On the night previous to the fight, we had a very heavy fall of rain, which overflowed the river covering the swamp, and low ground with water, and rendering the roads almost impassible.
The enemy were attacked in their camps and driven from their position, leaving their camps, a considerable amount of ammunition and army stores. Our brigade was held in reserve, and was not let into the fight until in the evening. We were then sent to the right wing, where it was thought the enemy would send a heavy force to regain their camps, and retrieve their lost fortunes. We came upon their camps, when they immediately opened a heavy and destructive fire on us from their batteries.
We had no artillery to engage them, the nature of our ground being such that we could
not use it. Gen. Whiting seeing that they were likely to make sad havoc of our men with their eight pieces of artillery, first ordered the Sixth North Carolina regiment to charge and take the battery, they made the charge, but were driven back with heavy loss. He then came to the 11th Mississippi, and asked us if we would not take the battery; the answer was ‘yes.’ We were then thrown into line and ordered a charge.
The battery was half a mile distant, and between us and them was a dense wood and a pond of water nearly waist deep, covered with bushes and briers, so that it was almost impossible to get through it at all. During all of this time the enemy were pouring the shot and shell into us like hail. By the time we reached the field beyond our lines was so badly broken that we were led back to reform, when we were taken into open ground, our line was immediately reformed and led to the charge the second time, but this time through the open field. Col. Liddel snatched up the colors and asked the boys to follow him. On we went mid a perfect storm of bullets and shells.
We had advanced more than halfway, when there was a regiment of the enemy thrown down on our right. We were then halted and ordered to fire. After firing a few rounds, we were ordered to retreat. In this position the enemy had at least four to one, besides a battery of eight pieces. The prisoners says the battery was guarded by four regiments, and these were in trenches. It was in this charge that we lost so many men. On every side could we see the wounded, dead, and dying shot and mangled in every possible form.
We still held their ground that night, sleeping in their camps. You can form some idea of the fire we were exposed to when I tell you we were not exposed longer than an hour, & during this short time we lost one hundred and ninety five men killed and wounded. I will send you a list of the killed and wounded of our company. I happened to be among the number wounded. I was struck just before dark, by a ball, part of the loading of a shell, it entered my jaw just by my ear, and passing between my upper and lower jaw lodge before it reached the corner of my mouth, had it extracted the next evening, it will be well enough in a week longer, for me to rejoin my regiment.
In the list of killed you will find the names of Ily Fant and George Hopkins, two nobler victims never died for liberty. W.J. Fant is among the missing, he was told that Ily had fallen, he went back after him and was either killed or taken prisoner. All of our wounded are doing well. Matt Bell is shot through the breast. I saw him today he is doing well, and I am in hopes he will recover.
Jas. D. Feemster
The 11th Mississippi Infantry paid heavily in blood for their courage at Seven Pines; in his history of the regiment author Stephen R. Davis wrote, “The regiment entered the battle with a strength of 504 men and lost 20 killed and 100 wounded.” It was only one of many battlefields where the 11th Mississippi paid dearly for its stubborn defense of Southern rights.
Once he recovered from his injury, Feemster returned to the 11th Mississippi and resumed his duties as a soldier. The heavy losses the Noxubee Rifles had suffered left holes to be filled in the non-commissioned officer ranks, and soon after his return Feemster was promoted to 5th sergeant.
Feemster’s time with the 11th Mississippi proved to be all too brief; at the Battle of Sharpsburg, September 17, 1862, the dedicated soldier was wounded and captured by the enemy. The Federals immediately paroled the mortally wounded Rebel, and he died in a Confederate hospital at Shepherdstown, Virginia, on October 16, 1862.
James D. Feemster apparently lies in an unmarked, soldier’s grave somewhere in Virginia – I could not find any indication that his burial place is marked. The young sergeant who gave his life fighting for Mississippi died over 150 years ago, but he has not been forgotten. On the Sharpsburg battlefield is a new monument to the 11th Mississippi infantry, dedicated in 2012 to the men of the regiment that fell on that bloody killing ground. Engraved on the stone column is the name James D. Feemster, along with those of 23 of his comrades that died on the single bloodies day of the war. In addition to the long list of names, their are a few words of Latin carved into the stone: “DUCIT AMORE PATRIAE” – The Love of My Country Leads Me.