A Band of 8 Brothers: The Sons of Alexander Slay, Sr.

I have received numerous comments concerning my article about the eight sons of Jane Boykin that served in the Civil War. Without a doubt the most interesting came from Bradley Jeffreys, who informed me that his family also included eight brothers who fought for the Confederacy. Alexander Slay and his wife Elizabeth of Copiah County had 11 children, 8 of whom were soldiers in the Civil War. Bradley sent me the following information about his Slay relatives, which I am happy to post:

Elijah Slay (1838-1864)

Captain, Company C, 16th Mississippi Infantry

June 10/1864

What a strange scene meets the eye on every side.  Forts on the plains and in the woods.  Constant roar of Artillery and

Slay Family Marker in County Line Cemetery, Copiah County, Mississippi. Included on the stone are the names of Elijah and Cincinatus Slay. Photo courtesy of Bradley Jeffreys.

Slay Family Marker in County Line Cemetery, Copiah County, Mississippi. Included on the stone are the names of Elijah and Cincinatus Slay. Photo courtesy of Bradley Jeffreys.

bursting of shells.  Even as I write I saw one poor fellow shot down as he left his shelter.  May God forgive the men who brought about this war.  I fear that I shall yet hate them.” Lt. E.H. Rhodes witnessed the death of Elijah Slay.

Rhodes, Robert Hunt (1985). All for the Union: The Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes.  New York: Orion Books.  page 161

In the family bible record of his father is recorded that Elijah “departed this life June 10th 1864 killed by a Yankee sharp shooter at Cold Arbor near Richmond, Va.”

His close friend was by his side, A.A. Lomax, and he reported the news to the family back in Copiah Co that Elijah was killed while adjusting his shade.

June 10-12, 1864. Cold Harbor.

For a week now there has been little activity – although it is dangerous to raise one’s head above the embankments.”  “In our regiment both Capt. Slay (C) and Lieut. Lewis (K) have been killed.  Captain Slay was sitting in the trenches preparing an awning to protect himself from the sun when he was struck and killed immediately by a minnie ball from a sharpshooter.  Chaplain Lomax, who conducted his funeral, has written his wife – who just recently left Richmond to return to Crystal Springs to bear their second child.”

Dobbins, Austin C. (1988).  Grandfather’s Journal.  Dayton, Ohio: Morningside.  page 199

Corydon Slay

Company C, 16th Mississippi Infantry



was a member of a brass band in Hazlehurst after the war

Born 1841, Died at Beauvoir (Confederate Soldiers’ Home) in 1918

Post Civil War Photo of Corydon Slay (Third from Left) posed with his band. Photo Courtesy of Bradley Jeffreys.

Post Civil War Photo of Corydon Slay (Third from Left) posed with his band. Photo Courtesy of Bradley Jeffreys.

Norvell Slay




16th Mississippi Infantry

Norvell (Norval) Slay was a founder of Harmony Baptist Church in 1887.

Nathan W. Slay



second sergeant 


Nathan W. Slay, also a brother of Corydon and Elijah Slay, served in the “Crystal Springs Southern Rights Rifles” as did his brothers.  His first enlistment ended by discharge due to a wound.  He was shot through the face and lost one eye at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee on April 6, 1862.  His second enlistment was in Powers’ Cavalry which ended by virtue of the general surrender at Gainesville, Alabama.  Nathan W. Slay first enlisted on August 24, 1861 at age 31.  He was elected Sergeant, Second Sergeant, and then Captain of his Company.  He was five feet, eight inches tall, had blue eyes, auburn hair and a fair complexion.”

Jeffreys, J. Bradley (1985).  A Genealogy of the Slay Family in America.  page 269

Alexander Slay, Jr.


Co. A, 4th Mississippi Cavalry (Terrell’s Dragoons)

This unit captured and sank the Union steamer Lone Star on the Mississippi River in November 1862.

Leonidas Slay



Co A, Powers Regiment Mississippi Cavalry

Survived the war but three years later, “shot by his own pistol by accident”

Cincinatus Slay

1846 – Dec 31, 1864

Co F, 6th Mississippi Infantry (“Crystal Springs Guards”)


Family bible records states “killed by the cars near Iuka”

As it was passed down through the family, Cincinatus and another man had survived the recent Battle of Nashville (December 15-16, 1864).  (Would have been part of Loring’s Division).  After their defeat the Rebels walked from Nashville to near Tupelo.  Here was an opportunity to ride a train rather than walk.  The wounded and sick were laid on flat cars.  Cincinatus Slay and another man, being well, put a board between two flat cars since there was no other place for them.  At some time after the train cars began rolling, the board collapsed and he was crushed by the train.

Alonzo D. Slay

May 28, 1848 – 1921


Uncle Lonzo was too young to be a soldier but, wanting to join all 7 of his older brothers, ran off from home and became a member of Company A, Powers’ Regiment Mississippi Cavalry, in which unit his oldest brother Nathan also served.  Later Alonzo was a founder of Harmony Baptist Church in 1887.

The family was very musically gifted, and the family tradition is the Slay boys were always leading the men in song to keep up their spirits.  Their musical talents continued after they returned from war.  Corydon was in a brass band in Hazlehurst; Alex Jr. often lead the choir at Damascus Baptist Church, where he’s buried.

Photo of the Alexander Slay, Sr., homestead where the eight Slay brothers were raised. The home is located on Terry - Gatesville Road in the Northeastern corner of Copiah County, and it is still standing. Photo Courtesy of Bradley Jeffreys.

Photo of the Alexander Slay, Sr., homestead where the eight Slay brothers were raised. The home is located on Terry – Gatesville Road in the Northeastern corner of Copiah County, and it is still standing. Photo Courtesy of Bradley Jeffreys.

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I Have 7 Sons In The Confederate Service: Jane Boykin’s Letter to Governor Pettus

As the Civil War dragged on, Mississippians had to live with shortages of just about everything: food, water, clothes, coffee, and thousands of other items, both big and small. But the one item that was coveted above almost all others, was something so simple that I imagine most people today would find it hard to believe that it was once a valuable wartime commodity. This highly desired item was nothing more than common salt.

In the days before refrigeration, salt was widely used to preserve meat, but the state of Mississippi did not have any natural sources of the mineral. Mississippi was forced to import salt from states such as Louisiana and Virginia, but as

Advertisement for Salt in the Memphis Daily Appeal, December 23, 1862

Advertisement for Salt in the Memphis Daily Appeal, December 23, 1862

the war went on the supply was never able to keep up with the demand. This letter, written to Governor John J. Pettus, by Jane Boykin, a widow from Smith County, perfectly illustrates the hardship that the lack of salt placed on the common people of Mississippi:

Raleigh, Smith County, Miss., July the 10th 1862

To His Excellency the Governor

Dear Sir

I take the liberty of addressing you a line through this interposition of friends I was informed by a couple of gentlemen who was at my house to day that you would send me a sack of salt if I would make known to you my necessities and claims upon your clemency. I have 7 sons in the Confederate service some of which has been in some of the hottest engagements since the war commenced. I am too a lonely widow with several children wholy dependent upon me for a support. You can exercise your own discretion in this matter, but I am truly in want of the salt and you will confer a great favor on me.

Respectfully Yours &c

Jane Boykin

One thing about Jane Boykin’s letter intrigued me – she told Governor Pettus that she had seven sons serving in the Confederate military. In the course of my research I’ve found lots of families that sent multiple sons into the army during the Civil War, but never one that had seven. I decided this claim needed a little research, and a few minutes on Fold3.com told the tale. Mrs. Jane Boykin did not have seven sons in the Confederate army during the Civil War; she had EIGHT. In all fairness to Mrs. Boykin, at the time she wrote the letter, seven of her sons were in service; the eighth joined sometime thereafter.

Finding eight brothers w fought in the Civil War has to be a rare event, and I would like to give each one his due. Here is a brief synopsis of the service of each one:

John Franklin Boykin (Born August 13, 1828) – Enlisted June 17, 1861, in Company H, 16th Mississippi Infantry. Wounded at the Battle of Sharpsburg on September 17, 1862, after recovering he returned to the regiment and served until the surrender at Appomattox in 1865.

Solomon J. Boykin (Born March 20, 1832) – Enlisted June 17, 1861, in Company H, 16th Mississippi Infantry. He was discharged in September 1861 because of a “Depraved constitution resulting from protracted dissipation.” After recovering he enlisted in Company G, 46th Mississippi Infantry, on December 8, 1862.

Jasper Pruitt Boykin (Born November 9, 1834) – Enlisted June 1, 1861, in Company H, 16th Mississippi Infantry. He was discharged April 22, 1862, due to physical disability. After he regained his health, he enlisted in Company G, 46th Mississippi Infantry, on December 24, 1862. Captured at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, he was paroled and sent back to the army. During the 1864 Georgia Campaign, Jasper was captured at Allatoona, Georgia, on October 5, 1864. Sent to Camp Chase prisoner of war camp, he was released after taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States on June 11, 1865.

James Rankin Boykin (Born December 1, 1836) – Enlisted June 17, 1861 in Company H, 16th Mississippi Infantry. Served as a teamster and later as an ambulance driver. He was listed as absent without leave in January – February 1864, but returned to the unit thereafter, and was present at Appomattox. A note in his service record stated that he was “disabled and driving ambulance.”

Francis Marion Boykin (Born May 24, 1839) – Enlisted June 17, 1861, in Company H, 16th Mississippi Infantry. He was discharged in September 1861 because of poor health. After recovering from his ailment, he joined Company G, 46th Mississippi Infantry on April 17, 1862. Francis was detailed as a teamster on February 15, 1863, and was captured with his regiment when Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863. He was captured a second time at Fort Blakely, Alabama, on April 8, 1865, and sent to the prisoner of war camp at Ship Island, Mississippi. Francis was sent to Vicksburg and released in May 1865.

William Fletcher Boykin (Born May 14, 1841) – Enlisted in Company G, 46th Mississippi Infantry, on April 17, 1862. He was discharged from the regiment by furnishing a substitute on October 4, 1862. At some point William reenlisted in the 46th Mississippi, as he shows up in a return for the regiment on June 17, 1864, when he was admitted to Ocmulgee Hospital in Macon, Georgia.

Thomas M. Boykin ( Born November 16, 1844) – Enlisted in Company G, 46th Mississippi Infantry, on May 5, 1862, as a substitute. He was absent without leave from August – October 1862, but returned to the regiment and was captured at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. Thomas was listed as absent without leave again in February 1864, but he returned to the unit, and was captured for the second time at Fort Blakely, Alabama, on April 8, 1865.

George Washington Boykin (Born January 11, 1847) – Enlisted as a substitute in Company G, 46th Mississippi Infantry, on Mary 17, 1862. He was listed as “deserted from Big Black Bridge January 16, 1863.” George must have returned to the regiment, however, as he was listed as “discharged” on  a later muster roll. On March 25, 1864, he enlisted in Company H, 16th Mississippi Infantry, and from July – August 1864 he was listed as absent without leave. George returned to the regiment and a general court martial sentenced him to forfeit six months pay for his offense. He was still serving in the 16th when the regiment surrendered at Appomattox.

I can only imagine what it must have been like for Jane Boykin, having to worry about eight of her sons who were fighting in the war. In addition she had more children still at home depending on her. Jane’s husband, Francis died in 1862, leaving the widow to support the four youngest children who were still living in the household: Susanna, Nathaniel, Amanda and Robert.

It must have been a tremendous struggle, but Jane Boykin managed to keep her family intact, and she was extremely

Grave of Jane Boykin - Findagrave.com

Grave of Jane Boykin – Findagrave.com

fortunate in that all eight of her sons survived the Civil War. Jane lived a long and fruitful life, dying in Smith County on June 26, 1896. She is buried in Trinity Methodist Church Cemetery, and her grave has the following inscription carved into it: “As a wife devoted, as a mother affectionate, as a friend ever kind and true.”

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All That Characterizes the Southern Soldier: A Memorial Day Remembrance

Today is Confederate Memorial Day, a holiday set aside to remember those Mississippians who served in the Civil War. For this Memorial Day, I thought I would share a remembrance of one of my relatives who wore the gray – My G-G Uncle, William A. Harper of Rankin County, Mississippi.

William A. Harper was born in 1844, and was the son of William C. Harper, an attorney in Brandon. His mother, Mary C. Harper, was my G-G-G Grandmother. William Harper was Mary’s second husband; her first, Lyttleton Johnson, died in the 1840s near what is today Huntsville, Alabama. A widow with three small children to support, Mary soon married William Harper and the couple moved to Brandon, Mississippi, and had three more children: Susan, William and Ella.

When Mississippi seceded from the Union, William was a cadet at Western Military Institute in Nashville, Tennessee. Before leaving the school to return home and join the army, William recorded the following message in his friend Pat Henry’s autograph book:

Western Military Institute

W.M.I., January 20th, 1861

Dear Pat,

It is with pleasure that I lay these few sentiments upon the sacred altars of friendship – It is useless for me to _____ to the happy scenes and associations of the past – enough that we have been true friends. A friendship which I hope will ever remain pure & sacred – and which it shall be my pleasure to cherish & strengthen. It is my fervent hope that the future may bring unalloyed happiness to you – and that the stars of _____ fortune may shed their selected influence upon your every undertaking.

Your friend & brother in the Bonds of EAE [Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity]

William A. Harper

(Patrick Henry Papers, Z/0215.000/S, Box 1, Mississippi Department of Archives & History)

Not long after William returned home, he enlisted as a corporal in the Rankin Greys, which became Company I, 6th Mississippi Infantry. Although he was only 17 years old, his time as a cadet at Western Military Institute mush have stood him in good stead, for in a few short months he had been made an officer. By September 1861 he was a 1st Lieutenant, having been transferred to Company D, “Lowry Rifles,” 6th Mississippi Infantry.

In the fall of 1861, the 6th Mississippi was ordered to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where they spent a long, hard winter guarding the town. In January, William wrote the following letter to his sister Mittie Johnson, giving her all the latest news from camp, and describing the hardships that he and his men were having to learn to cope with:

Bowling Green, KY, January 14, 1861

Dear Sister Mittie:

Your very welcome letter was received a few days since – as I had not had one from home in some time you know how eagerly it was perused & how glad to know you were all well & enjoying yourselves (as much as circumstances would permit). As the accustomed merry & jovial days of Christmas as the war necessarily throws a gloom over the whole country – one that penetrates every private sentiment where there are hearts to love & feel for the concomitant disasters, hardships & sufferings it necessarily produced. Still it is not necessary for you all to feel a deep melancholy for our situation. The duties are often severe & the sufferings great but it is sweet & honorable to die for one’s country – especially when the cause of that country is the perpetuation of liberty & independence, the defense of home & all its endearments from the desecrating hand of an invader, it is better to die thus, than expire [amidst] all the comforts & luxuries produced – ‘Better be where the extinguished Spartans still are free, in their proud channel of Thermopylae’ than lie ensconced amid luxuries & comforts, in the hour of our country’s peril.

We have not ourselves experienced many of the real severities of an arduous campaigner, as it is contrary to our policy to push forward into the enemy’s country & carry to his own home those sufferings & that destruction he would inflict on us. It is evident that our career is too tame & restricted for the spirit & character of our troops, in every field where our arms have been victorious & triumphant we have always been inferior in numbers. Why then not take advantage of this superiority in endurance, in valor & in all that characterizes the Southern soldier, instead of leaving them as prey to diseases of the most terrible nature – either to kill them, or sap all their spirit & vivacity – these are the melancholy reflections, from visiting our hospital & thinking of how many good soldiers have gone to their ‘last homes’ & how many are now prostrate with disease.

We have lost 85 soldiers since we arrived at this place. What an immortality we could have gained, how manfully could we have fought the invader without such fatality, but camp makes us welcome battle & deadly enemy that the bullets of the Yankees & he has thinned our ranks & broken our spirit. Our regiment is somewhat improving & I expect spring with its reviving and magical influence will do much for us. A day or two ago the air was balmy, the sun unusual & gave almost evidence of approaching spring, but the north wind arose & soon dissipated the warm influences – & it is now bleak & cold, the ground is white with snow & we have superabundance of ice & cold – although our tents with their fire places prove comfortable enough.

The climate here seems equally as mild & changeable as at home. We have had but little cold weather & that of short duration. I expect spring will be raw & bitter. I see no signs of a coming engagement, troops continue to pour into this place & both sides are well prepared to meet the advancing foe. We continue to fortify & so do the Yankees, which will probably be ‘never’. They will try to draw us out from this place by flanking  which is what we desire – but I really know no more than you & my speculations are not any better – we are all tired [of] waiting, & will welcome it anytime. I am glad that Sister Sue took a trip to N.O. [New Orleans] she has been so industrious & faithful all the time the change is needed – & especially so, will it prove pleasant to meet her old school mate & correspondent – whose letters give evidence of both good head & heart.

You say I have neglected Ma in my writings. I have written to sis Sue oftener than anybody else – because in my hurried moments it is easier – I have written to her often & she always answers so punctually then it is much more natural to write to her than any one. I am much pained that Ma should have felt slighted, especially as I know I have been as true to home associations & influences as any boy. I wrote to her about a week ago – & had not yours.

I remain,

Your affectionate brother,


(I wish y’d send the ‘Mississippian’ occasionally)

William Harper’s wish that his regiment would meet the Yankees in battle was granted all to soon. At a quiet Tennessee hamlet named Shiloh,  his unit, the 6th Mississippi Infantry, earned the name that they carry to this day: “The Bloody Sixth;” but that is a story for another day.

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Sister of the South: A Mississippi Wife Writes to Governor Pettus

By the summer of 1862, the Civil War was causing true hardships for the people of Mississippi. As in all wars, the

"Women on the Home Front" - North Carolina Museum of History

“Women on the Home Front” – North Carolina Museum of History

women and children left behind on the home front were the ones who suffered most. The following letter, written by Mrs. Julia M. Spencer of Terry, Mississippi, is a poignant reminder of the impact the war had on civilians far from the battlefield. I have left the spelling and punctuation just as Mrs. Spencer wrote it, as I think there is a certain power to her words, imperfect though her writing may be:

Terrys Stacion Hinds Co. August the 15 1862

Goviner Petus Dear sir

I have just received a letter from my housband Gilbert Spencer hwo [who] was musterd in survis on the first day of may 1862 and he has bin sick the most of his time he has bin with his company the most of his time he stood gard all day liast wednsday with a fever on him he has found that camp life does not agree with him and if he dos have to stay he will soon be so he will not be any sirvice to the southern confederacy nor his family either and it is his desire to do something as long as he is able now goviner will you please take him from camp life and let him do sumthink else for our country he could stand gard at the penitentiary or go and help make slt [salt] he can go to La [Louisiana] and make salt he nos whar their is plenty of strong salt watery and he would freely go and make salt for the goverment if you will releace him or do any thing else for you, driving stock in could not be as bad as camp life on him, now gov will you for my sake a sister of the south releace him from camp be fore it is too late fore him to get well and do any good for his country that is all that he is battling for he has no property to fight for he volintiered to fite for his cuntry and now he is not able to do it will you please anser my letter be candid with me as a father for I nead one or sum friend

yours respectfuly

Julia M. Spencer

he belongs to Captin Johnsons Co. Starks cavalry Co. I

– John J. Pettus Correspondence, Series 757, Box 942, Folder 6, Mississippi Department of Archives & History

Written on the back of the letter was a brief statement of its contents, probably written by Governor Pettus’ private secretary – it stated that “Mrs. Spencer wants her husband detailed for some other service than camp duty.” The answer to the poor woman’s plea was simply three words, scrawled in a shaky hand underneath: “Have no control.”

The writer was correct – Gilbert Spencer was a member of Company I, 28th Mississippi Cavalry; as such his unit was a

Flag of Company I, 28th Mississippi Cavalry - Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Flag of Company I, 28th Mississippi Cavalry – Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg, Mississippi

part of what was known as P.A.C.S. – the Provisional Army of the Confederate States. As a Confederate unit, Governor Pettus had no authority to release Private Spencer from his military service.

I was intrigued by the letter written by Julia, and decided to do a little research on the Spencer family. I found them in the 1860 United States Census living at Terry’s Depot, Mississippi, in Hinds County: Gilbert Spencer age 32; born in Mississippi; by occupation a carpenter; he reported the value of his personal estate at a paltry $200.00. Also living in the household was his 22 year old wife, Julia, who was born in Alabama, and daughters M.L. age 3, and L.A., who was less than a year old.

I pulled Gilbert Spencer’s CIvil War service record, and found that he enlisted in the 28th Mississippi Cavalry in the Spring of 1862, at Jackson, Mississippi. The date of Spencer’s enlistment is significant – the Confederate Congress had enacted a conscription law in April 1862, and there were a number of Mississippians who quickly joined up so that they could choose the unit they served in and avoid the stigma of being called a conscript. This is probably what Gilbert Spencer did. I can understand why he did not join the army sooner; a poor man with a wife and two small daughters to support, he had nothing to gain and everything to lose by leaving them and going off to war.

Gilbert Spencer’s service record was very short – it consisted of only three cards. The first two had the basic information

A Card from the Service Record of Gilbert Spencer Giving the Information About His Death - Fold3.com

A Card from the Service Record of Gilbert Spencer Giving the Information About His Death – Fold3.com

about his enlistment; the last confirmed the worst fears of Julia – on the regimental return of October 1862 it was noted that Private Spencer had “Died Sept. 21.”

I couldn’t find any other information about the Spencer family during the war, but using the United States Census I was able to follow Julia and the children through the years. By 1870 Julia had remarried and her last name was Statham. Living in the household with her were the three children Julia had with Gilbert: Leona age 13, Lula age 10, and Sidney, age 9. In addition she had one child by her new husband; Jesse, age 3.

Sometime between 1870 and 1880, Julia and her family moved to Rayville, Alabama. I found her on the 1880 U.S. Census, once again listed as a widow. Making her living as a hotel keeper, she still had Lula, Sidney, and Jesse in the household; in addition there was another child, Hettie, age 9.

The last trace I could find of Julia was her listing on the 1900 United States Census; she was still living in Rayville, and was taking in boarders to make ends meet. Julia also had two of her grown children living in the household with her. After 1900 Julia disappears from the written record, she may have died, or perhaps moved, but her ultimate fate remains a mystery.

Julia’s story is a small one, just a little piece of a great big war. There were thousands of women like her in Mississippi, and I greatly admire their fortitude in the face of overwhelming hardships. Julia Spencer was made a widow by the Civil War, with three small children depending on her for their support. Life in the broken and defeated South must have been extremely difficult, but Julia managed to keep her family intact and raise her children to adulthood. A century and a half after the fact, her story had been all but forgotten until I found her crudely written plea to Governor Pettus. It’s a touching reminder of the impact the war had on the common people of the South.

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The Doomed City: A Reminiscence of Jackson, Mississippi

I found the following reminiscence by a member of the 14th Mississippi Infantry in The Clarion (Jackson, Mississippi), October 13, 1881. It’s a very interesting account of the time the regiment spent in the capital city of Mississippi while serving on provost duty:


Eighteen years ago, this writer marched up Capitol street to the tune of ‘The Bold Soger Boy,’ played by the band of the

Photograph of Capitol Street in Jackson, Circa 1870 - Mississippi Department of Archives & History

Photograph of Capitol Street in Jackson, Circa 1870 – Mississippi Department of Archives & History

14th Mississippi Infantry. Two decades of time begin at length to clothe with a weird and fascinating interest the grand old days when gray columns marched and counter-marched, and men laughed at fate, and slept under the booming of cannon. And ex-soldiers, who were rollicking youngsters then, carelessly treading the weary march, or watching, lynx-eyed and silent, on the lonely vidette post, begin now to realize that they were then passing through the great epoch of their lives, and participating in events of mighty import.

We had campaigned in East Tennessee, wintered in Kentucky, surrendered at Fort Donelson, spent seven months in prison, and been exchanged at Vicksburg. Afterwards we had retreated before Grant from Cold Water, until Van Dorn turned him back by striking his commissary department at Holly Springs. Then came a lull in military operations in this quarter, and the 14th, by some hook or crook, got ordered to Jackson on provost duty. We reported to Brigadier General John Adams, commanding the 4th military district, whose head-quarters were up-stairs in the old brick building opposite the south side of Capitol square.

We went into camp in the old field west of the depot, where we remained five or six months doing provost duty in town

Photo of the Bowman House Hotel, Circa 1860

Photo of the Bowman House Hotel, Circa 1860 – Mississippi Department of Archives & History

and on the railroads, and had, in the language of that day, ‘a regular stavin’ time.’ Jackson was then the head-quarters of everything military and civil in this department, outside of Vicksburg. Army teamsters swore at their mules, and their wagons sunk to the hubs in the muddy streets. Quartermasters, commissaries, paymasters, and a hoard of gamblers with bogus passes in their pockets, thronged the sidewalks. The old Bowman House was a favorite resort of the latter, and here many of the members of the 14th were accustomed to deposit their Confederate stamps and return to camp in the dark hours of the night, sadder but not much wiser men. In the basement was a large billiard room with bar attached, and in the third story faro-banks drove a thriving business.

The Confederate House, near the depot, was constantly thronged, and hotels, restaurants and eating houses of every description had a regular boom of business. The impecunious officers and men of the 14th while on duty down town, used to patronize the eating house of a little Dutch woman – I have forgotten her name – down near the guard house at the foot of State street. For one dollar she gave biscuit, beef-steak, eggs and ‘genuine’ coffee. The more aristocratic officers, and those more fortunate in the mysterious games of keno and faro, took breakfast at Angelo’s. This old guard house at the foot of State street was an institution of the times. It was an old brick building on the east side, and was the receptacle of prisoners of every hue and nationality; Jew and Gentile, black and white, civil and military, all found temporary shelter and protection beneath its friendly roof. It was a kind of wayside hotel for Yankee prisoners in transit to the interior, and a safe refuge for refactory Confederates awaiting the action of court-martial. The ‘blue and gray’ met here on common ground, and shook hands across a tray of corn bread and blue beef.

Federal Troops Burning the Confederate House Hotel on May 15, 1863 - Harper's Weekly, June 20, 1863

Federal Troops Burning the Confederate House Hotel on May 15, 1863 – Harper’s Weekly, June 20, 1863

There was a broad-shouldered six foot, young Kentuckian, a splendid specimen of manhood, under sentence of death. He had murdered the major of his regiment in cold blood, deserted to the enemy, and been recaptured. One night, two weeks before the day of execution, he managed to get off his chains, and when detected, backed himself in the corner, and defied the guard with a heavy piece of iron, that he had gotten hold of by some means. He was overpowered after a desperate struggle, and two weeks later, defiant still, he tore his shirt collar, and bared his breast to the volley of musketry that sent him to eternity. One man amongst this motley crowd of prisoners wore a black stove-pipe hat, called in army parlance a ‘camp kettle;’ and he had been frequently importuned by the other prisoners to ‘come down out of it.’ He finally attempted to escape annoyance and effect his release by civil process; and one morning, the officer of the guard was served with a writ of habeas corpus. It was a mass of unintelligible jargon to him, and not knowing what better to do, after a careful perusal, he burned the papers, and locked up the civil officer who served them.

One of the most noted characters in this department was a private of Company F., known in almost every command by

Illustration of Civil War Foragers - Harper's Weekly, April 1, 1865

Illustration of Civil War Foragers – Harper’s Weekly, April 1, 1865

the euphonious sobriquet of ‘Beauregard Bill;’ though his baptismal name, if he had ever gone through a process of that nature, was Bill Mitchell. His ubiquitous propensities obtained for him a widespread acquaintance, and his admirable qualities as a forager were appreciated by all. While the army made a direct march of twenty-five miles, Bill foraged for five miles on either flank, and came into camp at night loaded down with fresh pork, canteens of sorghum and twists of half-cured tobacco, called with a kind of sardonic humor, ‘stingy green.’ Love was an emotion not found in Bill’s composition, and he parted with his stock only for money. He always got around the officer of the guard by a plausible story, a piece of fresh pork, or a canteen of sorghum or Louisiana rum. He was an old Mexican war soldier, and around the camp-fires, recited many a chapter of history not laid down in the books. He was as notorious amongst the soldiers as any general officer in the division; and he, doubtless, has a vivid recollection of every den and haunt in Jackson, and every road and by path for twenty miles around. I have introduced his name here, for the purpose of informing his surviving comrades, that he lives now a few miles from Yazoo City. He is a member of the Baptist church; drives a lonesome and shadowy mule, and is as calm and placid under a deed of trust, as when in the old days he converted himself into a walking saloon and peddled pine-top whiskey at one dollar a ‘jigger.’

All the churches were in full blast and well attended. One Sunday morning I dropped into one of them, but I cannot now recall the name nor face of the preacher, neither his text nor sermon. The church was crowded from door to pulpit, and my eyes were busy with the strange faces and varied costumes. There were officers in bright uniforms, with red, blue and buff trimmings, and others with threadbare coats buttoned to the chin to hide their faded calico shirts; privates, with well brushed brogans; civilians, in broadcloth and home-made jeans; ladies, in elegant Parisian costumes, and others in homespun dresses, with velvet cloaks and kid gloves. Antique bonnets had been withdrawn from long retirement, and forced into active service, and even sun-bonnets shaded delicately tinted cheeks and modest eyes that drooped under the soothing influences of inspiration. I had, only a few hours before, returned from a short leave of absence, and just before boarding the cars at Meridian, I had seen a telegram containing some details of the battle of Corinth, and amongst others the death of Col. Robt. McLain, of the 37th Mississippi Regiment.

Looking over the congregation I saw Col. McLain’s daughter, who was visiting at the time, relatives in Jackson. Mail and

Battle Flag of the 37th Mississippi Infantry

Battle Flag of the 37th Mississippi Infantry

telegraphic communications were uncertain in those days and correctly surmising that she was ignorant of the death of her father, I tried to avoid her on leaving the church, but was intercepted at the gate with an eager demand for news of the battle. With the truth on the end of my tongue, I looked into her blue eyes, and there, under the very shadow of the sanctuary, I told her a monster lie. She invited me to dinner, and it was a terrible temptation; my pockets were empty and I was down flat on army rations with pay-day a long way in the future. But I refused, and walked slowly away to camp, mournful for two reasons; I had missed a good dinner, and I knew that before the sun went down, the girl’s fresh young heart would be crushed by the harsh tidings my lips had refused to utter.

Our boys were the recipients of much kindness at the hands of the people of Jackson, and doubtless they remember that period as a luminous spot in the black disk of the war. There were many amusements into which they plunged with a zest, heightened by the knowledge that they could not last; and those were days when men and women grasped eagerly at pleasure with the shadow of death overhead, and threaded the dreamy waltz with the dull roar of distant siege guns booming in their ears. There came a day at length when our carnival was to end. An old copy of the Columbus Republic of that date says: ‘The enemy landed 75,000 men at Grand Gulf, on the 27th April, and approached in the direction of Jackson.’ Grant was uncoiling his ponderous army, and slowly enveloping Vicksburg in its fatal folds.

The 14th was rudely awakened from its dream of inglorious ease; and one fine morning in May, we bade adieu to Jackson, folded our tents, fell into line, and silently marched away. The commissaries, quartermasters, paymasters and army of gamblers, with their military stores and faro-banks, were already domiciled at Meridian; and the State government, with the old Roman Governor, Jno. J. Pettus, at its head, and Jones S. Hamilton, Adjutant General, was temporarily established at Enterprise. Many of the citizens left their homes, and Jackson was abandoned to the torch of the invader. The convicts from the penitentiary were released, formed into a company, and placed under command of Lieut. Trotter; but on the march they ‘vanished in thin air’ like the smoke from Grant’s batteries in the distance.

A mile or two out I paused and looked back, a carriage, filled with pale-faced refugees, dashed by; over the doomed city, a tall column of black smoke was slowly unfolding into a huge umbrella; and a sound, like the distant murmer of the sea, broke on my ear. The ‘bummers’ were getting in their work. We took the road to Canton, where Gen. Johnston attempted to gather a force for the relief of Vicksburg. Eventually the 14th, 15th, 20th and 43d Mississippi Regiments, commanded respectively by Cols. Doss, Farrell, Rora [Rorer] and Lowry, were formed into the first brigade of Loring’s division and placed under command of Gen. John Adams. The brigade remained intact through the Georgia campaign and Hood’s Tennessee campaign, until the battle of Franklin, where Adams, Farrell and Rora [Rorer] were killed, and one-half the brigade withered away before the seething fire from Schofield’s breast-works.

Illustration of Federal Troops Occupying Jackson, Mississippi

Illustration of Federal Troops Occupying Jackson, Mississippi

The field officers in this fatal charge, contrary to their usual custom, remained mounted; and Gen. Adams and his horse, riddled with bullets, went down together within a few feet of the works. Rora [Rorer] fell shot through the heart, but his horse plunged forward and dropped square across the works, his head and fore-feet dangling on the enemy’s side. Farrell was mortally wounded, and died soon after in the hospital. The brigade finished its career amongst the red hills of North Carolina, under command of Gen. Robert Lowry. A feeling of solemn awe steals over us at the awakened memories of those stirring times, and across the long lapse of years, we hear the sharp voices of the Captains, and a sound like the rush of many footsteps.

W., Yazoo City, October, 1881

Unfortunately, the writer of this wonderful little story only identified himself as “W,” from Yazoo City, Mississippi. I would, however, like to speculate as to his identity. In the story he speaks of a most notorious soldier in his regiment, Bill Mitchell of Company F, This is just a personal feeling of mine, but the way the writer talks about Mr. Mitchell, it sounds like he is talking about himself. Also, he does state that Mitchell was from Yazoo City, and the Writer does give his residence as Yazoo City. I checked the service records of the 14th Mississippi Infantry, and sure enough, there was a Private William C. Mitchell who served in Company F, 14th Mississippi Infantry. He enlisted on May 29, 1861, at Corinth, Mississippi, and listed his age as 35 years old. In the article the writer states that he served in the Mexican War, and at 35 years old, he was definitely of the right age to have served in that conflict.

At this time I can’t prove it, but I strongly suspect that William Mitchell was the writer of this article – if I find any information that sheds more light on the identity of the author, I will certainly post it, as he deserves to be remembered.

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A Fearless Soldier: Joseph Henry Castles of the 24th Mississippi Infantry

A few days ago I was on the website Findagrave.com, when I came across a listing for the grave of Joseph Henry

Tombstone of Joseph Henry Castles - Findagrave.com

Tombstone of Joseph Henry Castles – Findagrave.com

Castles, who served in Company H, “Buena Vista Hornets,” 24th Mississippi Infantry. The imagery on the tombstone was striking, as was Castles epitaph; “A True Christian and a Fearless Soldier.”

I decided to look into the service of this “Fearless soldier,” and see what I could learn about him. I pulled Castles service record and found that he enlisted in the army on September 24, 1862, at Buena Vista, in Chickasaw County, Mississippi. He was listed as “present” on every muster roll of the regiment through January – February 1864, but after that time his service record just ends without any explanation. There was one other item, a small scrap of paper, that does shed a little light on what happened to Castles – It’s nothing more than a receipt from St. Mary’s Hospital in LaGrange, Georgia, dated June 20, 1864, and stating that he was issued one jacket, value $4.00.

The hospital receipt was a strong indication that Castles was either wounded or sick during the Atlanta Campaign, but determining exactly what happened took a little more digging.

On a hunch I pulled the index to Confederate Veteran Magazine, and as luck would have it, I found a listing for Joseph H. Castles. I pulled Volume 17 of the publication, the issues for 1909, and on page 208 I found the following:

J.H. Castles, of Houston, Miss., who was a member of Company H, 24th Mississippi, Walthall’s Brigade, gives an interesting account of his war experiences. He joined the army when only sixteen, and was in all the battles with Johnston’s army. He was wounded in the battle of Atlanta, and still carries the ball in his body. He gives a pleasant episode of the defense of Lookout Mountain. He says that the pickets of both armies were so close together that there was much friendly exchange of badinage and commissaries, and that when the orders came for battle the Yankee pickets called out to the Confederate pickets to get to cover, as the firing was about to commence.

It’s not much, but the brief account from Confederate Veteran does answer many of the questions regarding the missing information from Castles service record. I was on a roll and decided to check and see if Castles filed for a Confederate Veteran’s pension. Sure enough, on August 4, 1912, he filled out the form to obtain a pension. When asked if he was ever wounded, the following was recorded: “Atlanta, Ga., shot in chin and shoulder blade. Now has ball under right shoulder blade. Right arm injured so as to prevent manual labor.” When asked if he was absent from the surrender of his regiment in 1865, Castles wrote: “Yes, on furlough, on account of wounds.”

So there we have it. Castles served faithfully until his wounding during the Atlanta Campaign. His wound was serious enough to take him out of the war, and in fact he was still carrying the Yankee bullet in his body nearly a half century after the battle in which he was shot.

I am glad I was able to find so much information about Joseph H. Castles, but the really intriguing thing to me is that it seems that the reminiscence quoted in Confederate Veteran was part of some longer manuscript. I hope that this reminiscence still exists, because I really want to read it.

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All the Points About Vicksburg: The Report of Lieutenant Colonel Edward Fontaine



My ongoing research into the correspondence of Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus has turned up another interesting letter. This author was Lieutenant Colonel Edward Fontaine, who at the time the manuscript was written in late 1861 was serving as Chief of Ordnance for the state of Mississippi. The lieutenant colonel had just completed an inspection tour of Vicksburg, and in his correspondence to the governor he made recommendations for the defense of the Hill City. I found this manuscript fascinating, as many of Fontaine’s observations about the defenses needed to protect Vicksburg were later put into effect and successfully used during the 1863 siege of the city. The following letter is from the John J. Pettus correspondence at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Series 757, Box 940, Folder 9:

Head-Quarters, Army of Mississippi Ordnance Office, Jackson, Dec. 20, 1861

Edward Fontaine

Post-war photo of Lieutenant Colonel Edward Fontaine – http://www.findagrave.com

His Ex. J.J. Pettus, Govr., of Miss. Dear Sir, I have just finished an examination of all the points about Vicksburg, necessary to be fortified to make it impregnable against an attack by land and water; and to make the river impassable to the enemy’s boats; and I have made a rude estimate of the cost to the state of one fort to mount 5 – 42 pounders, & 4 – 24 pounders, & which has been already commenced. But after a careful reconnaissance of the topography of Vicksburg, I feel it my duty to recommend that no further work be done upon the fortifications there than what is necessary for their preservation, & the safe keeping of our ordnance stores; for the following reasons: 1st, If we fortify Vicksburg, it must be on a scale sufficient to resist a heavier attack than one which could not be resisted by the defenses of Columbus, & Memphis. 2d, To do this the cooperation of Louisiana is absolutely necessary; or the Confederate States must assume the control of the work. As the Yazoo River is at all times navigable for boats of light draught, and often for those of the largest size for a considerable distance above Vicksburg, and as excellent artillery roads lead to it from the bluffs on its left bank, making a land attack on the north of the city, & an approach to the Southern R. Road entirely practicable, the first point necessary to be fortified is above the mouth of that river. The place is called “Young’s Point.” Strong earthworks & bomb-proof batteries, with a heavy force on both banks of the river are necessary there, with obstructions between them.

The next points to be fortified are the first bluff of the Yazoo River & its opposite bank. The next is the great bend next to Vicksburg & above it, but south west from the city. The R. Road passes through the narrow neck, separating the river above & below. Which neck the enemy can occupy & use the R. Road for penetrating the interior of Louisiana, or for running a battery in front of Vicksburg; or they can cut a canal through the neck, and turn the river through it, and pass by Vicksburg with their flotilla. If a fort is not erected there to prevent this, in ascending from it to the next bend north of the city, with rifled cannon they can strike it from their gunboats across the wooded peninsula & the river. The Mississippi opposite Vicksburg is only eleven hundred yards wide, & the peninsula in not more than a mile across. The water battery commenced above the city is well situated to command the bend of the river; but the fire of long range guns mounted upon it would be rendered ineffectual for more than a mile and a half by a heavy body of timber on the Louisiana side, which conceals & shelters the approach of steam-boats descending from the south west to the north east.

The remains of an old Spanish Fort occupy the hill above our water battery; & which commands the city, and two roads approaching it from the Yazoo, and the river and all the country around within the range of shot and shell. It is necessary to fortify this important position for this reason, & to protect the battery at its base. A beautiful streamlet winds around its northern side, & makes a cascade over a ledge of cretaceous rock near the north east angle of the Water Battery. This waterfall makes a fine pool for bathing under a shower bath; & the water is clear & cool. The southern bank of the stream is a precipice of fifteen or twenty feet, and is a strong natural defense to the north line of the fort. The site is very comfortable & healthy; and sufficiently near the city to guard it against insurrection. Captain Taylor’s artillery company is stationed there; the men are in good health and pleased with their situation. I think it would be well to keep them there, to practice them with the siege guns, & to drill them in the exercise of light artillery; & also to guard our ordnance stores, & to protect the city against any domestic disturbance.

I ordered Major Barnes to move the 5 – 42 pounders & their carriages & chassis now lying at the R. Road Depot exposed to the weather, & many injuries, to the fort, & place them in position; & erect wooden shelters over them to be used for the drill of the company. I also instructed him to have built a plain, cheap, & substantial store house of undressed Cypress lumber at the fort, & deposit it all the vacant gun carriages, implements, and other ordnance stores, except the powder; and place the whole in the charge [of] Captain Taylor. That officer promised me to set the whole of his company to doing this work which will make it cost the state but a small sum; less I think than the expense of moving the stores away, or paying storage in the city, while the whole is going to decay. I also recommend that after Captain Taylor’s company is drilled sufficiently, it be removed to active duty in the field; and another company of artillery recruits substituted for a similar course of instruction. With this company & Genl. Tappan’s city guard, I think Vicksburg sufficiently defended for the present; if we supply the artillery company with some field pieces, and ammunition & the infantry with cartridges.

Respectfully your obt. svt.,

Ewd. Fontaine Lt. Col. & Ch. of Ordnance & Acting Engineer.

After reading this letter, I wanted to know a little bit more about Fontaine’s background, and what I found was truly fascinating. Edward Fontaine was born August 5, 1814, in Greenwood, Virginia, the son of Patrick Henry and Nancy Fontaine. He was the Great-Grandson of Revolutionary War hero Patrick Henry. Fontaine was admitted to the United States Military Academy in 1830, but was discharged in 1832 for a deficiency in math – It would prove to be one of very few failures in his life. Fontaine became a lawyer in 1835, and that same year found him in Pontotoc, Mississippi, working as a draftsman for the survey being done of Chickasaw lands acquired by Federal government.

Active in the Methodist Episcopal Church, Fontaine heard the call to preach, and was admitted to the ministry in 1838. Serving congregations in Texas, while he was in the Lone Star State he also found time to be a private secretary to Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar.

Fontaine’s first wife died in 1855, and four years later he moved back to Mississippi where he married Mrs. Susan Taylor Britton. The couple lived at Pocahontas, in northern Hinds County. When the war started Fontaine wasted no time offering his services to the Confederacy. He enlisted on May 24, 1861, as the captain of Company K “Burt Rifles,” 18th Mississippi Infantry. While serving with the 18th Mississippi at the Battle of First Manassas, Fontaine led his company so well that he was cited in General P.G.T. Beauregard’s report on the battle. It stated that “Capt. Fontaine’s company of the 18th Mississippi Regiment, are mentioned by Genl. Jones as having shown conspicuous gallantry, coolness and discipline under a combined fire of infantry and artillery.” – “Extract from General G.T. Beauregard’s Report of Operations July 21, 1861.” A copy of this extract is attached to Fontaine’s Compiled Service Record with the 18th Mississippi Infantry.

Edward Fontaine did not remain with the 18th Mississippi Infantry for very long. He resigned on October 1, 1861, to take an appointment as Chief of Ordnance for the State of Mississippi. He was serving in this capacity when he wrote the above letter to Governor John J. Pettus.

I did a little more research on Edward Fontaine, and I found a number of letters he wrote attached to his compiled service record with the 18th Mississippi Infantry. The following letter also deals with Fontaine’s thoughts on the defense of Vicksburg, so I thought it was worth including in this article:

EXECUTIVE OFFICE Jackson, Miss., April 23d, 1862

Major Genl. G.T. Beauregard, C.S.A.

Dear General I feel so much solicitude about the defense of the Mississippi River that I venture to offer to you a few suggestions in regard to it, which I hope you will pardon, and for which an apology may seem necessary as my rank and position hardly excuse what might seem to be presumptuous. Soon after my appointment as Chief of Ordnance of the State Army of Mississippi last fall, I was ordered by Govr. Pettus to examine the fortifications at Vicksburg to report a plan for completing them. I spent some time in examining the topography of the city & its vicinity, and upon my return reported that it was necessary to fortify both sides of the river above the mouth of the Yazoo in order to make Vicksburg impregnable, & the river impassable to a descending armada of gunboats & transports. The Louisiana shore was out of our jurisdiction. It was therefore necessary to get the cooperation of the State of La., or else the Confederate States Government should be requested to assume the work.

The Govr. then ordered me to write to Govr. Moore upon the subject, which I did immediately. He referred the matter to Genl. Lovell, & sent me his letter. Genl. Lovell said that the guns & men could not be obtained, & that it would be better to direct our attention to the fortification of the Mississippi in the neighbourhood of Fulton. I replied that I was confident the enemy would not attack either Columbus or Bowling, but would ascend the Tennessee and Cumberland, & attempt to march upon Memphis from the Tennessee by the direction of Purdy or the nearest and most convenient route for an attack by land, and force our troops to fall back to the south of our whole line of defense, and in that event I thought we ought to construct fortifications below Memphis on the river, much stronger than these above for the defense of Vicksburg & New Orleans. This was early in November.

Finding that our rulers differed from me, I ceased correspondence, and recommended that our siege guns be sent up to Genl. Polk, which was done immediately. I mention this, General, that you may be convinced that I have thought much about the matter, & that you may the more readily pardon me for giving you the plan I intended to pursue, if I had been ordered to fortify Vicksburg, which would have been the case, if the cooperation of Govr. Moore could have been secured; or if the wishes of Govr. Pettus could have been gratified. I considered well the topography of our river valley – & determined 1st – not to fortify heavily any part of the river where its course is serpentine, the banks low on one side, and high on the other, where, there is a “cut off,” or a hill approaching it, as represented in the following sketches for these reasons. Snap 2015-03-01 at 11.57.27 1. An enemy with superior force can cut a canal across the peninsula formed by the bends above & below the fortifications and “turn” them, as at (a) or 2. If the works are water batteries, star, or bastioned forts, crown works, or any fortifications suitable for hills, ravines, or a continuous ridge or such a locality as the Memphis, Vicksburg, or Natchez Bluffs – they can be carried by mining, assault, & regular approaches at (b). I therefore determined to select a section of the river where its course is straight or slightly tortuous for many miles – thus: Snap 2015-03-01 at 11.58.02 For these reasons: 1. Where the course of the river is straight, or slightly tortuous for many miles, the banks are usually old, high & firm. The bed of the river has not been changed for ages. This is often proven by the aboriginal mounds, & levees which occupy such situations. 2. There the banks are usually higher, & the swamps approach the river nearer than where the course of the river is serpentine. 3. Star forts can be built opposite each other and fortifications extended to the swamps, which can be made impregnable. The ditches can be filled with water. The enemy cannot mine the works; because the water will fill their mines. Cypress and other timber, better than stone or brick, is convenient for framing bomb proof shelters. The soil is not gravelly, but a closely compacted mass of loam & fine sand admirably adapted to resist shot & shell, & easily worked with the spade. 4. The swamps prevent any flanking movements of the enemy (a, b). It is easy to entrench the banks above so as to shelter sharp shooters to annoy a mortar fleet anchored at long range. I think obstructions could be placed between the forts to hold gun-boats under fire, and to prevent their descending in darkness and fogs. Cypress logs lashed together in threes by chains, and anchored with their length diagonal to the course of the current might answer a good purpose, except in the current. Snap 2015-03-01 at 11.59.49 In this current a strong iron plated floating battery or steamer might be anchored in action. Steam tugs can be used to construct these “booms” & to keep them free from drift wood, & to guard them in the night, adjusted by watch boats to do the duty of sentinels. I will not weary you with a longer letter. I am opposed to forts on bends and hills to defend the river. If you consider the above worthy of attention please refer it to a council of war, or to the proper authority.  I will only add that I am now doing but little here. The conscription law makes my services to the State Government almost unnecessary, I hold no office now but that of aid to our governor. After serving as Chief of Ordnance last fall & winter, with the rank & pay of Lieut. Col., & then Col., I resigned the office because the Legislature cut down my salary & left me no clerk. I have no talent for electioneering, and am not personally acquainted with the president, & might be disappointed if I were to ask for a Brigadiership, or even a Colonelcy.

So in a few weeks I expect to go home, & plant corn & remain with my family unless the government calls me into some service. I would be delighted to be with you again, & give our enemies another stroke in the rear as I did at Manassas, for the notice of which I sincerely thank you. I would raise another company, but some political “greenhorn” of a Colonel or General would be elected or appointed to command me & might disgrace me. But I wish you dear General to consider me at all times under your command and subject to your orders. You will come through this war gloriously & without a wound if my prayers to the God of our Fathers are answered.

Respectfully, Your Obt. Svt.,

Edward Fontaine

Shortly after this letter was written, Edward Fontaine did go home, plant corn, and remain with his family. He attempted several times to obtain a position in the Confederate army, but his efforts were never rewarded with an officer’s commission.

When the war ended, Fontaine continued his work in the ministry, but was probably best known for his scientific pursuits. Author Elmo Howell said of him, “Touched by the Fontaine wildness and extravagance of intellect, Edward was ‘a Leonardo of a man’ with an extraordinary range of interests. Soldier, educator, public official, he was also a scientist, renowned for a plan to control the water of the lower Mississippi which was subsidized by the Louisiana legislature. – Mississippi Scenes: Notes on Literature and History, pages 237-238.

Edward Fontaine died on January 19, 1884, and was buried on his plantation at Pocahontas, Mississippi. An article written about him in The Comet (Jackson, Mississippi), November 27, 1880, serves, I think, as an elegant epitaph:

Dr. Fontaine has been a close student and earnest investigator all his life, and he has the gift and faculty of learning faster and more than almost any other student. He has written enduring pages on the book of science, and made many marks in the limitless field of investigation that will stand out all the brighter after his great grandchildren are dead.”

As a final postscript, I do need to mention that one of Fontaine’s children was Lamar Fontaine, who was even more flamboyant than his father. His exploits as a soldier during the Civil War have reached the level of myth, and one day I will have to devote a blog post to him as well.


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I’m Teaching a Civil War Research Class!

I thought I would use the blog to spread the news that I am teaching a non-credit class in researching your Mississippi Civil War ancestor at Millsaps College as part of their Community Enrichment Series. The class will meet at Millsaps on Thursday nights from 6:00 – 7:00 p.m., and will run from January 29 – February 19, 2015.

The class I am teaching will cover the basics on researching the military service of Mississippians who served in the Union or Confederate armies during the Civil War. Among the topics to be covered will be locating and understanding Civil War service records, pensions, and burial information. The class will also discuss how to research a relative’s Civil War unit to understand what battles they might have participated in.

The cost of the class is $75.00, and you can register online at: http://www.millsaps.edu/conted.


It will be a great class, and I hope to see you there!


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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 35,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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He Died For His Country: Lieutenant Colonel James L. Autry, 27th Mississippi Infantry


I found the following letter recently, and this is the perfect time to post it, as today’s date, the final day of 2014, is the 152nd anniversary of the death of the man who wrote it. The letter is as follows:

Vicksburg, Miss., May 6, 1862

Gov. Pettus,

We need the following articles immediately – 400 sabos & the straps for 10 inch shells – 60 hand spikes – 15 thirty-two pounder sponges – 15 thirty-two pounder rammers. 500 plugs & fuses for shells – 1,000 32 pound cartridge bags – 30 priming wires – Telegraph for them to be sent tonight – the enemies boats passed Fort Adams this morning at 9 0’clock – May be here by noon to-morrow.

Your svt.,

James L. Autry

Be sure to send a dispatch to send them out to-night by an extra train – no train was here to-night, therefor no danger of a collision. 

– John J. Pettus Correspondence, Mississippi Department of Archives & History

The letter above was written by Lieutenant Colonel James L. Autry, and if his message had a sense of urgency about it,

Wartime photo of James L. Autry

Wartime photo of James L. Autry – Fondren Library, Rice University

there was a very good reason. Autry was military governor of the post of Vicksburg, and at the time he wrote Governor Pettus, Union naval forces were closing on the city from above and below.

On May 18, 1862, the lead elements of the Union flotilla reached Vicksburg, and Commander S. Phillips Lee of the United States navy sent a message demanding the immediate surrender of the city. Lee received three replies to his ultimatum: one from Laz Lindsay, Vicksburg’s mayor; one from General Martin L. Smith, commanding the Confederate forces defending the city; and the last from Autry, acting in his capacity as post commander. While all three documents rejected the call for surrender, I think that Autry’s was the most eloquent:

I have to state that Mississippians don’t know, and refuse to learn how to surrender to an enemy. If Commodore Farragut or Brigadier General Butler can teach them, then let them come and try.

Autry’s defiant tone struck just the right cord among the Confederate populace, and his words were reprinted in newspapers throughout the South. The lieutenant colonel well understood the importance of taking a stand against a powerful foe; his own father, Micajah Autry, was one of the defenders of the Alamo, and died when the mission fell to Mexican forces.

James Lockhart Autry was born on January 8, 1830, in the town of Hayesborough, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville.

Micajah Autry at the Battle of the Alamo - Fondren Library, Rice University

Micajah Autry at the Battle of the Alamo – Fondren Library, Rice University

As he came into the world, cannon were booming as a spirited celebration of the anniversary of Andrew Jackson’s victory over the British at New Orleans in 1815 was taking place. After the death of his father at the Alamo, his mother, Martha Wyche Autry, moved her family to Holly Springs, Mississippi. As the young man became an adult, Autry decided on a career in the law, and after passing the bar he opened a practice along with two fellow Mississippians that made names for themselves during the Civil War: L.Q.C. Lamar and Christopher H. Mott. From practicing law, it was an easy transition for Autry to go into politics; he served as a representative for Marshall County in the Mississippi legislature from 1854 – 1859, and during the last two years of his term he was Speaker of the House of Representatives.

When the Civil War came, James Autry wasted no time in volunteering; he was mustered in as 3rd lieutenant of Company B, 9th Mississippi Infantry, on February 16, 1861, at Holly Springs. The young man advanced quickly in rank, being elected lieutenant colonel of the 9th on April 12, 1861. After serving for a year with the regiment, the 9th Mississippi was reorganized, and Autry was detached from the unit for temporary duty as post commander at Vicksburg. After his defiant stand and the Union failure to take the hill city in the summer of 1862, Autry received orders to report to the 27th Mississippi Infantry to serve as the unit’s lieutenant colonel.

In his first battle with the 27th Mississippi, at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 152 years ago today, James L. Autry was shot down while leading his men from the front. In his after action report on the battle, General Patton Anderson wrote:

The ordeal to which they were subjected was a severe one, but the task was undertaken with that spirit and courage which always deserves success and seldom fails achieving it. As often as their ranks were shattered and broken by grape and canister did they rally, reform and renew the attack under the leadership of their gallant officers. They were ordered to take the batteries at all hazards and they obeyed the order, not, however, without heavy losses of officers and men. Not far from where the batteries were playing, and while cheering and encouraging his men forward, Lieut. Col. James L. Autry, commanding the 27th Mississippi, fell, pierced through the head by a Minnie ball.

– Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Centenary Series, Volume I, page 460.

When Martha Autry was notified of the death of her son, she exclaimed,

My poor boy! The first sound that ever came to him was the booming of cannon, and it was the last sound he ever heard. Peace let him rest! God knoweth best! – Ibid, page 457.

In addition to a widowed mother, Autry left behind a wife, Jeanie, and a namesake: James L. Autry, Jr. Born in 1859, Autry’s son was only a toddler when his father died, and had few, if any memories of him. But he did have one keepsake from his father: The day before James Autry was elected lieutenant colonel of the 9th Mississippi, he wrote his son a letter in the event he should fall in battle. The handwriting was hard to read, and this is the best transcription I could make of it:

Camp Davis, April 11, 1861

To Jas. L. Autry Jr.

My Dear Son

Your father may fall to-night in battle – Your mother will keep this & when you are old enough to comprehend she will read it to you – My dear boy, never do a mean or cowardly act – let all your actions be upright, just, honorable and in accordance with the teachings of the Bible which you should ever make your guide through life – Be kind to your mother – always listen to her advice & never do ought towards her save in kindness – She is every thing that a pure, virtuous woman can be, as near perfection as any human being can be. “Beware of entrance into a quarrel,” but _____ in _____ like a man in the true _____ of the term – Never tell a falsehood – die before doing so under any circumstances – Put your trust in God & _____ and revere his name – And now my son God bless and protect you through life – Farewell

Your devoted father

Jas. L. Autry

– “Letter from Col. James L. Autry to James L. Autry, II,” Woodson Research Center – Fondren Library  Rice University, accessed December 27, 2014, http://exhibits.library.rice.edu/items/show/2287.

Lieutenant Colonel James L. Autry’s body was brought back to Holly Springs, and he was buried at Hill Crest Cemetery.

Grave of James L. Autry - www.findagrave.com

Grave of James L. Autry – http://www.findagrave.com

During the graveside services, Colonel H.W. Walter said of him:

He has come back to us. What an awful return. A few moments since he was under his own roof, and a wail of agony went up from the hearthstone. The plaintive call of wife and mother fell on cold and listless ears. He is before us here. The eye that sparkled with affection is closed – the hand that grasped hand with friendship is paralyzed – the manly form that moved with vigor once, is still and cold now, and the body is sinking slowly, sadly to its final rest. No, thank God; not to its final rest; for we believe it will rise again, as we believe that his spirit has passed to that heaven where law is love – where legislation is Jehovah, where battles are never fought, and where happiness is unmixed and eternal.

– Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Centenary Series, Volume I, page 461.

James Lockhart Autry continues his eternal slumber in Hill Crest Cemetery, his grave marked with a beautiful marker. His epitaph is simple, but true: He died for his country.




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