The most chronically underrepresented group in first person accounts of the Civil War are without a doubt those of African Americans. Their voices are often silent, or their stories have to be told by others, simply because of the dearth of letters, diaries, and reminiscences of black soldiers and slaves. Thus I was very excited to find the following letter published in a Greenville newspaper in 1890:
Fort Adams, Miss., April 25, 1890
Mr. J.S. McNeily, Greenville:
Dear Sir – I write to you to ascertain if yourself and Mr. W.K. Gildart and any of Company
E, 21st Mississippi Regiment expect to attend the reunion of the Confederate soldiers at Vicksburg on the 25th to the 30th of May, as I would like to see and meet with all my friends, as we may never meet again. Please be sure and answer me at once, as I don’t wish to go unless I can meet you all. I will be more than proud to meet you, especially on account of your favors in the past, which I will never forget.
I am still a true and tried Democrat and am still with my party and the people. I wish to hear from you in regard to the meeting. I have nothing more to write. Only write soon.
I remain your obedient servant,
Henry Wyatt, Col’d
Henry was a popular member of the regimental servants squad. He will especially remembered by a pathetic circumstance at the death of his master, Orderly Sergeant Beech of Company E, a mere boy but a brave and tried soldier. Killed at the battle of Cedar Creek, the news of his death brought Henry to the front, regardless of the dangers of which he ordinarily had a ludicrously lively sense. After a brief indulgence in lamentations he set about burying the corpse, but was interrupted by the renewal of battle and rout of the Confederates. Under hot fire he bore the remains on his shoulders along with the retreat, only relinquishing his sad task to avoid capture.
(The Weekly Democrat-Times, Greenville, Mississippi, May 10, 1890)
Henry Wyatt, was not a soldier; he was a slave, bound to serve his master, William H. Beach, a member of the “Hurricane Rifles,” Company E, 21st Mississippi Infantry. Beach had enlisted in the 21st Mississippi on June 6, 1861, as a private, and he must have shown some talent as a soldier, for he was promoted to 4th corporal on January 1, 1863, and to 1st sergeant on August 1, 1863. This was a very rapid rise in rank for a boy who was only 17 at the time he enlisted. William H. Beach received a minor wound at the battle of Chickamauga, on September 20, 1863; he recovered from his injury only to be killed in action at the battle of Cedar Creek, October 19, 1864, leading to the recovery of his body by his slave Henry Wyatt.
I started looking for background information on Henry Wyatt, and the first thing I found on him was a listing in the 1870 United States Census for Wilkinson County, Mississippi. He was listed as a “farm laborer” along with his wife Anna, and children Malinda, Monroe and Robena. I was unable to find Wyatt in the 1880 census, but I did find him in the 1890 Veteran’s Schedules – it was only supposed to record Union veterans, but some former Confederate soldiers and servants were enumerated as well, and he was one of them.
I was curious to know if Henry Wyatt attended the 1890 reunion at Vicksburg. I did some looking and was rewarded with an article in a local newspaper published under the title, “A Veteran’s Arrival.”
Henry Wyatt, colored, attached during the late war to the 21st Mississippi Regiment and
who was noted throughout the war for going wherever the regiment did, arrived yesterday on the steamer Laura Lee from Fort Adams, to attend the reunion and was received as an honored guest and at once provided with quarters. He went out with the regiment and returned with it at the close of hostilities, being faithful to the end, as he has been indeed ever since. He now holds a position of trust at the Fort Adams landing acting as night watchman and clerk, handling and receiving freight, etc. His only object in coming, as he expressed it is “to meet the boys.”
He will be remembered by all survivors of the gallant Twenty-First and especially by the members of Company E, for his gallant attempt to recover the body of his young master, in the midst of a heavy fire from the enemy.
(The Daily Commercial Herald, Vicksburg, Mississippi, May 24, 1890)
Wyatt apparently made regular appearances on the reunion circuit, as I found this article in an 1895 Jackson newspaper:
There is present in attendance on the Reunion of the Veterans a colored man from Wilkinson county, Henry Wyatt, who has a record to be proud of. He was a servant in the Twenty-First Regiment, and at the battle of Cedar Creek he went into the thickest of the fight and bore off the body of his young master, who was killed. Henry has been a staunch Democrat since the war and is still an enthusiastic ex-Reb. All honor to such colored men. (The Clarion-Ledger, January 22, 1895) This same issue of the paper listed the veterans attending the Jackson reunion – among those mentioned was ‘Henry Wyatt, (col.)‘ an ‘honorary member‘ of Woodville Camp Number 48 of the United Confederate Veterans.
Henry Wyatt passed away in 1907, and the newspaper carried a lengthy obituary for him:
A Worthy Negro Goes to His Reward.
Col. Matt Johnson, who served his full term as a Confederate soldier, and who is a prominent citizen of Natchez, states that ‘Henry Wyatt, a good old Confederate negro was buried today (Friday) and is gone to where the good negroes go. In a letter from Capt. J.S. McNeily of the Vicksburg Herald, he speaks of old Henry as an honest, worthy and brave man. His owner was my friend and messmate during the war. Henry cooked for us until late in the war when his master was killed on the battlefield.
Henry went forward between the line of battle, shouldered his master and carried him to the rear. In so doing he was severely wounded in both hands, one shot entirely off. He has been receiving a Confederate pension of which he was worthy. He wore the cross of honor of Confederate Veterans and other insignias of worthy conduct. Since the war for the last twenty-six years, old Henry has been landing-keeper at Fort Adams and performed his duty to the satisfaction of the owners and all river men who knew him and speak of him in the highest praise of many acts of honesty and bravery.
Capt. McNeily of Vicksburg, in writing to me about him, says: ‘I will stand for anything that this good man needs. It is with great pleasure to tell you and the public of the life and deeds of this good old negro for there are not many left of his character.’ – Natchez Democrat
That old darky was what he was because of his training by white people, and for his white folks he would have suffered any kind of torture. Here in Yazoo there are still some of the ‘old guard,’ of blacks, but they are fast passing away. Would not training by whites have some influence on the younger generation, and be better for them and the country than cutting them off entirely, leaving them to be trained by their own superstitious race?
(The Yazoo Herald, Yazoo City, Mississippi, April 19, 1907)
There was a place for men like Henry Wyatt at Confederate reunions, as long as they fit into the very narrow confines of the Lost Cause narrative: faithful slaves that willingly served their masters in time of war. To all outward appearances, Wyatt cheerfully stayed within the boundaries set for him by white society, but he did have a powerful financial reason for doing so. Henry Wyatt began receiving a Confederate servant’s pension from the state of Mississippi in March 1894, and to continue receiving this allotment he had to be very careful about what he said and did.
Without additional information, such as letters, diaries or interviews, it’s hard to say with any certainty what Wyatt’s true feelings about the war and his place in it were. I will keep a sharp eye out, and perhaps someday I will find some additional evidence regarding Henry Wyatt’s thoughts on the Civil War.
I have been a Civil War collector for as long as I can remember – I bought my first relic,
a dug U.S. General service button, in the 1970’s when I was about 10 years old. I paid fifty cents for that button, and I still have it proudly displayed among my many Civil War artifacts.
Some 40-odd years after buying that button I am still adding to my collection, and this article concerns one of my latest acquisitions – a small pamphlet written by Confederate soldier C.W. Shipp of Water Valley, Mississippi.
I purchased the Shipp pamphlet from the same place I get most of my relics these days – on Ebay. It didn’t cost much; I think I paid about 10 dollars for the document, planning at the time to use it in an article for the blog. It has taken me a couple of years to get around to it, but I am finally writing the article – I hope you like it!
The pamphlet was written by Cleophas W. Shipp of Water Valley, Mississippi, and after looking up his service record on Fold3.com, I found the document had the basic information of his Civil War service correct. Shipp enlisted in September 1861 as 3rd Sergeant of the “Dave Rogers Rifles,” Company G, 1st Mississippi Infantry. He was captured at Fort Donelson in February 1862, and sent to Camp Morton, Indiana. After being exchanged, Shipp returned to his regiment, only to be captured again at Port Hudson, Louisiana, when the garrison surrendered in July 1863. Returning to his unit in the fall of 1863, Shipp served until November 30, 1864, when he was wounded in the foot during the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, and sent to a local hospital. Captured by Federal forces in December 1864, Shipp was sent to Camp Chase, Ohio, where he remained until taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States on June 13, 1865. (C.W. Shipp Compiled Service Record, Accessed on Fold3.com)
Shipp’s pamphlet stated that he was paralyzed, but after examining his service record, it didn’t appear that his disability was related to any of his Civil War injuries. I did some research through Newspapers.com, and was able to find some answers in a 1902 newspaper article:
A CALL FOR AID
OLD VETERAN ASKS HELP TO SAVE HIS HOME
An old soldier, C.W. Shipp of Water Valley, Miss., sends me his photo as he lies in his bed, where he has been for twenty-two years, paralyzed from wounds received at the battle of Franklin. He enlisted in Company G, First Mississippi Infantry; was in fights at Fort Donaldson and Fort [Port] Hudson and followed Hood from Atlanta to Tennessee; was wounded at battle of Franklin and taken prisoner. He has written a poem and dedicated it to his comrades. His home has an old debt of $400 hanging over it, and will be sold before long. How many of the veterans who are going to Dallas will send him a dollar or a half to save his old home? He will send each one [of] his picture[s] and a copy of his poem.
The above call for aid was clipped from Bill Arp’ letter in the Atlanta Constitution of April
21. It was handed us by R.O. Simmons of Lebanon, Miss., who says he will give fifty cents toward saving the old veteran’s home to him. Mr. Simmons is an old veteran himself having served during the war in the 25th Georgia regiment, Company A, Longstreet’s corps, Kershaw[‘s] division, Walthall’s brigade. He is very much in earnest about helping Mr. Shipp and makes the request that other state papers publish the extract above. (Clarion-Ledger, May 14, 1902)
The Clarion-Ledger article was interesting, but I felt it was incorrect in one regard; it stated that Shipp’s paralysis was the result of his wound from the battle of Franklin. The service record of Shipp stated that his wound was only a “simple flesh wound of left foot, outer surface.” This does not sound like the kind of injury that would leave a man permanently crippled.
I did some additional research, and found an article in Confederate Veteran Magazine that gives, I believe, a much more accurate account of how Shipp came by his injury:
“Comrade C.W. Shipp, of Mississippi, writes that his State is doing well by its crippled Confederates. The State gives $150,000 a year to them. Mr. Shipp was thrown from a horse March 6, 1880, and his spine broken and his entire body paralyzed, and his lower extremities completely paralyzed, which has confined him to his bed for more than sixteen years.” (Confederate Veteran Magazine, Volume 8, Number 8, August 1900)
The timing of Shipp’s accident seems correct – I looked him up in the 1880 U.S. Census for Lafayette County, and found him listed as a 37 year old farmer. Also under the category “Sick” was written one word: “Paralysis.” For a relatively young man with a large family to support, Shipp’s injury must have had a huge impact on the family finances. In addition to his wife Sarah, age 38, he had 3 sons and 2 daughters, ranging in age from 17 to 3 years old. (United States Census for Lafayette County, Mississippi, accessed on Ancestry.com)
Unfortunately for Cleophas Shipp and his family, at the time of his accident in 1880, there were few, if any, government programs to aid the disabled. Those unable to work had to rely on the kindness of family, friends, and local private charitable institutions for assistance.
In 1888 the state of Mississippi did pass a pension law to aid Confederate veterans, but as
it was written, it would seem that Shipp did not qualify. The legislation was very narrowly focused to allow pensions to only those veterans who were unable to work because of a war-related injury.
Although Shipp’s wounds were not caused by the war, he did indeed receive a pension under the 1888 law. In August 1889 he received his first yearly payment which amounted to $17.85.
Although he technically did not qualify for a pension under the 1888 law, the county officials may have disregarded the letter of the law and approved the pension for an obviously needy veteran. This flouting of the letter of the law would only have been necessary for two years; in 1890 the state adopted a new constitution, and it changed the rules of eligibility, making Shipp qualified for a pension:
“The legislature shall provide by law, pensions for indigent soldiers and sailors who enlisted and honorably served in the Confederate army or navy in the late civil war, who are now resident in this state, and are not able to earn a support by their own labor. Pensions shall also be allowed to the indigent widows of such soldiers or sailors now dead, when from age or disease they cannot earn a support. Pensions shall also be allowed to the wives of such soldiers or sailors upon the death of the husband, if disabled and indigent as aforesaid. Pensions granted to widows shall cease upon their subsequent marriage.” (http://www.mdah.ms.gov/arrec/digital_archives/pensions/desc).
The first yearly payment Cleophas Shipp received was $17.85, which was not enough money to support a disabled individual, much less one with a large family. In 1896 the Mississippi House of Representatives introduced House Bill 341 “An Act for the Relief of C.W. Shipp,” but the bill failed to pass. (Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Mississippi, 1896, page 439).
Fortunately for Shipp, there was someone willing to step up and help. Richard O. Simmons, the man who sent the initial information about Shipp’s plight to the Clarion-Ledger in 1902, made another appeal later that same year in another newspaper:
Lebanon, Miss., July 7, 1902
To the Editor of the South.
When I made a call through your most eminent paper for the old veteran, Bro. C.W. Shipp, of Water Valley, Miss., who has been confined to his bed over twenty-two years and can’t even sit up, has to lie all the time, there was a debt on his old home and I said I would be one of 800 to give the old brother 50 cents to pay the old home out. I supposed there would have been that number in the state who would give that amount. Only $50 was paid and the court ordered the old home sold. C.W. Shipp bid off the old home for $150. He paid the $50 leaving $100 due. He said to me in a private letter, if we would pay the $100 for him he would be mighty thankful for the same.
All the Southern States have a home for the old soldiers but Mississippi. Now, I will ask the ladies of the state to help me save the old brother’s home for him. I am no blood kin to him. I was in Lee’s army and he was in the Western and that makes us brothers in the Confederate cause. He lost his old mother last fall and that brought up the sale. Can I find 400 ladies in the state who will give the old Reb 25 cents and pay the $100 for him? Ladies, I will take the lead and give 50 cents more. Where are the Daughters of the Confederacy? Mrs. Hancock, of Red Banks, has given $1 and Mrs. Mary E. Anderson, of Pickens, sent me $1 for the old brother.
God bless the good ladies! Take them out and there would not be a man in these United States in fifteen years.
Who will comfort me in sorrow.
Who will dry the fallen tear;
Gently smooth the wrinkled forehead,
Who will whisper words of cheer?
Let his knapsack be my pillow,
And my mantle be the sky;
Hasten, comrades, to the battle,
I will like a soldier die.
Soon with angels I’ll be marching,
With bright laurels on my brow;
I have for my country fallen,
Who will care for me now?
Lay me where sweet flowers blossom,
Where the dainty lily grows,
Where the pinks and violets mingle,
Lay my head beneath a rose.
(The Canton Times, Canton, Mississippi, August 8, 1902)
I was curious to learn more about the man who was so willing to help a fellow veteran. I found that Richard O. Simmons was not a rich man; he was a farmer living in Marshall County, Mississippi, with his widowed daughter and three grandchildren. In all likelihood he had never met C.W. Shipp, who lived in Lafayette County. But Simmons saw in Shipp a fellow soldier, and even though they had fought in different armies and different theaters of the war, they were comrades united through service in a common cause. (1900 United States Census, Marshall County, Enumeration District 70, Page 10)
Richard O. Simmons enlisted in Company A, 24th Georgia Infantry, in March 1862. He served in the Army of Northern Virginia, and was still with his regiment when it surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. (Compiled Service Record of R.O. Simmons, 24th Georgia Infantry; accessed on Fold3.com, March 28, 2018)
In his letter Simmons bemoaned the fact that Mississippi had no veteran’s home to take care of indigent and disabled veterans. In fact, Mississippi was the next to last state of those that joined the Confederacy to establish a facility to care for its old soldiers. On December 10, 1903, Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ home in Biloxi, opened as a veteran’s home. (“Jefferson Davis Soldier Home – Beauvoir,” by Lisa C. Foster and Susannah J. Ural, http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov)
Unfortunately neither Cleophas Shipp or Richard Simmons lived to see the opening of the Beauvoir soldier’s home. Shipp passed away on March 31, 1903, a victim of typhoid fever. Simmons died on November 13, 1903, less than a month before the opening of Beauvoir. (Confederate Grave Registration Card of C.W. Shipp, Mississippi Department of Archives and History; Findagrave listing for Richard O. Simmons, http://www.findagrave.com)
Although it came to late to help Cleophas Shipp, I’d like to think that both he and Richard Simmons would have been happy knowing that other veterans like themselves lived out their lives in comfort at Beauvoir on the Mississippi gulf coast.
In 1907, the newspaper in Ripley, Mississippi, published a letter written by Cornelius H. Ray, who was then living in Texas but had grown up in Tippah County, Mississippi. This is an interesting letter written by someone who was a child during the Civil War, explaining how the conflict impacted his family:
THE TEXAS LETTER
As I write this my mind runs back to the time when a lad in the hills of Tippah County, Miss., being born in January 1859, I can remember some things that occurred during the war of ’61 to ’64. The people call it the civil war, but I don’t. I call it the cruel war, as all others have been. My father was a Southern soldier and fought four years in that war, but I want to say now that while I am full of Southern blood and had all the Southern principles instilled into me that yet, with me the war is over. I could not be the sort of Christian man I ought to be and hold malice against my fellow-man, so I love them all, and any reference that I should make to the things that I remember about the war is not mentioned in malice, but only as matters of interest.
I remember when the first Northern soldiers came into Tippah county that they wore the uniform of the Southern men, and as they came up by Ruckersville, the good old Dr. Rucker lived there and had a shotgun, and they asked him what he had that gun for, and he said: ‘To kill Yankees with,’ so they took him along with them, and up a little further they met my grandfather, Spencer Gibbs, and my father, Mack Ray. They had started to mill horseback and were in their shirt sleeves, and as they saw the soldiers grandfather hallooed: ‘Hurrah for the rebs!’ so they took them in. In the same raid they got Uncle Jess Ray and took them all off to a Northern prison. Uncle Jess died there, as did many others, and the rest of them wished for their coats after being captured that day. Grandfather saw Dr. Rucker and said, ‘Hello, doctor; what are you doing here?’ He answered that he saw that crowd needed a gentleman in it, so he had just come along with them.
[Editor’s Note: Cornelius Ray’s father, Marion “Mack” Ray, his uncle, Jesse “Jess” Ray, and grandfather, Spencer Gibbs, were Confederate soldiers. All three enlisted in the 2nd Mississippi Infantry (Davidson’s) Army of 10,000, in December 1861. The three were discharged when the unit disbanded in early 1862, and they all later enlisted in Company G, 7th Mississippi Cavalry. Their service records do not mention the incident of being captured by the Federals, but it could have happened before they enlisted for the second time. (Compiled Service Records, Accessed on Fold3.Com). The “Dr. Rucker” may be Charles Covington Rucker, a local physician who lived in Tippah County (1860 Tippah County Census, page 471)]
I remember how my poor mother and our grandmother cried as they came back by home with father and grandfather, and how, as they looked up the road after them as they carried them off. But begging did no good; it was war time and a time it was. I don’t know how long it was before they got back home, but a good while, and I have forgotten what became of that corn. I guess they took it also with the men, mules and horses, as all were needed in war.
[Editor’s Note: Cornelius Ray’s mother was Elizabeth “Eliza” Jane Ray. The grandmother he was speaking of may be Sarah Ann Gibbs, the wife of Spencer Gibbs. (Findagrave.com listings for Elizabeth Ray and Sarah Ann Gibbs).
Later I remember that grandfather had an old fashioned gin and thresher combined, and that it had a lot of wheat straw around it, and one day a man rode up to the gate and asked for a chunk of fire to light his pipe with. Grandmother took it to him and he rode off to the gin and threw it in the straw, but mother went at once with a bucket of water and put it out, so it stood long after the war was over. My grandfather’s place was ten miles south of Pocahontas, Tenn., on the Ripley and Pocahontas road. Many Tippah County folks knew where it is or was. I remember the battle of Corinth. I remember to have heard the cannon and the roar of battle. I was 25 miles away, but we could hear it plain. This letter is long enough. More by and by.
Southern Sentinel (Ripley, Mississippi), September 19, 1907
Cornelius H. Ray was born on January 8, 1859, in Union County South Carolina. His parents and grandparents moved from South Carolina to Tippah County, Mississippi, in the late 1850s. The findagrave.com listing for his grandfather, Spencer Gibbs, notes: “He and his family joined a caravan of several families moving from the Cross Keys area in Union District to Jonesborough in Tippah Co, MS in late October 1859.” The Ray family moved to Texas in the 1870’s, and eventually settled in the town of Weatherford. Cornelius H. Ray became a Baptist minister in Weatherford, and lived there until his death on March 12, 1941.
I have often seen it written in histories of the city of Vicksburg, that after the surrender of July 4, 1863, the citizens did not celebrate another 4th of July for 82 years – that it took the end of World War 2 before the people could bring themselves to mark the occasion of the American colonies from Great Britain. As with many popular stories, it does have a grain of truth; celebrations of Independence Day were rather muted for many years. But to say that they were entirely absent for those 82 years is just not true.
To begin with, one must remember that Vicksburg was occupied by Union troops after
the surrender of the city, and remained Federal territory until the end of the war. For the Union soldiers stationed in Vicksburg, July 4, 1864, was not only the birthday of the United States, it also marked the anniversary of one of the greatest victories of the war, the surrender of the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy.”
On July 2, 1864, The Vicksburg Herald, a newspaper run by former Union soldier Ira A. Batterton, wrote of the importance of Independence day:
FOURTH OF JULY – Monday being the 4th day of July, we desire to consecrate it to the noble memories of the glorious men who on that day ushered into existence a mighty nation. Printers regard it as little short of sacrilege to work upon that day, and we shall therefore issue no paper on the 5th. Let us all do honor to the glorious 4th. Let gay banners flaunt in the air, and grateful hearts be lifted up in ardent prayer for the salvation of the Union which has made us great. Printers, too, are fond of doing the honors of the 4th in the manner customary among gentlemen; and those of our patriotic produce merchants who wish to aid us in properly appreciating the day, will please forward their bottles of —– at as early an hour today as convenient, as we are naturally slow about drinking, and unless we start today may fail in taking on sufficient patriotism to run us through the fourth.
(The Vicksburg Herald, July 2, 1864)
The Herald was as good as its word about not publishing an issue on July 5th, so the next day’s paper carried the story about the Independence Day Celebration in Vicksburg:
THE FOURTH OF JULY IN VICKSBURG
The historic importance of the fourth of July to the city of Vicksburg suggest that the day should have been celebrated in grand old style; but we are sorry to say that there were no general arrangements made for the celebration of the first anniversary of the surrender of the city and the 88th of the Independence of the United States. This was a subject of almost universal regret on part of many of our citizens who seemed to have anticipated a grand gala-day. Why there were no preparations for a general celebration, we are not able to state.
Early in the morning the city exhibited some signs of patriotic demonstrations. The streets
were crowded with persons anxiously enquiring the programme of the day. The greater number of business houses in the city displayed the “Stars and Stripes.”
The day began very pleasantly; there was no dust to add to the discomfiture of travelers – a fine shower of rain having fallen on the day previous. The contrast between this day and its anniversary is quite noticeable. The white flag floated over the city, and a victorious army marched through its streets after besieging it for forty-seven days. Well do we remember the grateful relief felt by besieger and besieged upon the capitulation of the city. What a grand sight it was to the Union soldier to see the white flag floating in the breeze along with the “Stars and Stripes,” and when that noble ensign of American liberty was seen waving from the dome of the Court House, the Union soldier, so deep were his emotions, could do or say but little else than point to “that dear old flag” and exclaim “long may it wave.”
Feeling the necessity of some kind of a demonstration to relieve the tedium of the day an impromptu celebration was gotten up by Lieut. E.S. Johnson, Post Quartermaster, who turned out the full force of his department for the occasion. There were six twelve mule teams in the procession, headed by a brass band. [Editor’s Note: Lieutenant E.S. Johnston was quartermaster of the 93rd Illinois Infantry. I found an order that he was “Relieved from duty as post Q.M. at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and will join his regiment without delay. The order was dated June 14, 1864, but must have taken some time to reach Johnston, as he was still on duty in July 1864. (Army & Navy Gazette, Volume 2, Page 14. Published in 1865)
The procession proceeded to the headquarters of Major-General Slocum, where it was halted and speeches made. Captain J. W. Davis, Commissary of Subsistence, was introduced and made a very appropriate and patriotic speech of an hour’s length, during which the Captain was frequently cheered. We regret that we are not able to give a synopsis of his speech. It will be remembered that the Captain is a war democrat of the Logan and McClernand school, and is wholly devoted to the cause of his country.[Editor’s Note: J.W. Davis apparently stayed in Vicksburg after the war, as I found a notice in the local paper that mentioned he was “Late of the U.S. Army and solicitor of the Freedman’s Bureau.” (Vicksburg Journal, March 8, 1866)
Private Gregg of the 124th regiment Illinois infantry, was next introduced and spoke for nearly an hour in regular old-fashioned 4th of July style, drawing forth frequent cheering. Major Barnes, U.S.A., was loudly called for, and responded in a short and telling speech, after which it was announced that the Grant-Pemberton monument would be erected at three o’clock in the afternoon, under the direction of Major McKee, Provost Marshal. The assemblage then dispersed.[Editor’s Note: “Private Gregg” was Private George W. Gregg of Company B, 124th Illinois Infantry. He enlisted in the regiment on September 10, 1862, and was mustered out on August 15, 1865. He was a resident of Batavia, Illinois. (https://civilwar.illinoisgenweb.org/reg_html/124_reg.html)%5D
Owing to the ill health of Major McKee, the erection of the monument was given by him in charge to Major Barnes and Captain Anderson U.S.A., who proceeded to the site, and found that every preparation had been made for the ceremony by Mr. Ed Miner, foreman in the employ of Captain William Finkler, Assistant Quartermaster, and to whom belongs the credit of having originated the scheme under the direction of the Captain.[Editor’s Note:
“Major McKee” was Major George C. McKee of the 11th Illinois Infantry. After the siege ended, McKee remained in the city as Provost Marshal of the District of Vicksburg. On November 1, 1864, he was appointed Brigadier General of Enrolled Militia of the District of Vicksburg. McKee remained in Vicksburg after the war and got involved in politics, and served in the United States House of Representatives from 1869 – 1875. (http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/gcmckee.htm)%5D
Quite a large assemblage having collected, the monument was placed in position at 4:30 o’clock, under the direction of Major Barnes and Captain Anderson, assisted by several other persons among whom the editorial “we” was to be found. The affair passed off splendidly, and every one engaged felt as though he had performed only what duty required, without display or ceremony.
The monument is of white marble, surrounded by an iron fence, the whole presenting a neat but rather imposing appearance. There is a square base upon which stands the main shaft of about eight feet in length, which is surmounted by the ornamental ball. The full height of the monument is about twelve feet. Upon the western face is the inscription:
Site of Interview
Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant, U.S.A.,
July 3rd, 1863
The Daily Herald (Vicksburg, Mississippi,) July 6, 1864
In addition to the impromptu celebration held in Vicksburg, another, better organized commemoration was held at Brierfield, the home of Jefferson Davis, located at Davis Bend, south of Vicksburg. The local newspaper had a very detailed account of the July 4th festivities held there:
Celebration of the Fourth of July,
At the Residence of
Davis’s Bend, Mississippi
THE FREEDMEN”S PARADISE
By invitation of the “Committee of Arrangements” a party of teachers and their escorts and other friends of the Freedmen, embarked on bard the “Diligent” on the morning of the 4th inst. The Diligent left the levee at Vicksburg soon after 7 o’clock a.m., and made a pleasant trip in about three hours, down the river, stopping at the landing at Davis’ Bend, whence the party were conveyed in ambulances, wagons, buggies and other vehicles, to the late residence of JEFFERSON DAVIS, about two miles from said landing.
This is one of the most extraordinary bends of the wonderful Mississippi river, and has received its name from the fact of the settlement on the peninsula formed by the bend, two members of the Davis family, known as “JEFF,” and “JOE.” This peninsula is some twelve miles in length, and at the point where it is attached to the mainland of the State of Mississippi, it is so narrow, that the enterprising planters have dug a canal across, not unlike the celebrated Butler canal of Vicksburg fame, although not near so long. This canal is called the “cut-off,” and in high water the peninsula becomes, in fact, an island. This tract of land is of great fertility, being entirely a deposit of the rich soil washed from the prairies of the great west. On this tract is some six plantations of from 800 to 1200 acres each. Two of the largest and best of these were owned by JEFF and JOE DAVIS, and are known now as the “JEFF. An JOE places.”
The form of this peninsula is such that a few companies of soldiers with one or two stockades can keep out an army of rebels, and the inhabitants, although frequently surrounded by the hordes of Southern murderers and thieves on the opposite banks of the river and canal, dwell in peace and comparative security. In fact this site, from being the home of traitors and oppressors of the poor, has become a sort of earthly paradise for colored refugees. There they flock in large numbers, and like Lazarus of old are permitted, as it were, to “repose in Father Abraham’s bosom.” The rich men of the “Southern Confederacy;” now homeless wanderers, occasionally cry across for the Lazarus whom they have oppressed and despised, but he is not sent unto them, because between the two parties “there is a great gulf fixed; so that they which would pass from hence cannot.” On this Freedmen’s paradise parties for cultivating the soil are organized under the superintendence of missionaries, each party cultivating from ten to 100 acres, with a fair prospect of realizing handsomely. These efforts are aided by the government, rations, teams, &c, being supplied and charged to each party, to be deducted from the proceeds of their crops. Cotton is chiefly cultivated, and some very handsome “stands” appear.
THE “JOE PLACE.”
The “JOE PLACE” is nearest the landing. The fine brick house, however, is nearly demolished, but the cottage used as a sort of law library and office, is remaining uninjured. The negro quarters also remain.
THE “JEFF. PLACE”
The “JEFF. PLACE” is also a very fine plantation. The residence has not been injured, except the door locks and one or two marble mantels broken up, apparently for trophies. The JEFF furniture has been removed, but the rooms are still furnished with furniture brought here.
THE HOUSE THAT JEFF BUILT
The house is in its ground plan, in the form of a cross – but one floor with large rooms and ample verandas. The portico in front is supported with pillars, and these form the only ornamental features of the house, except such as were added for this occasion by the artistic touches of our Northern sisters. Of these were festoons, wreaths, stars and garlands, mysteriously woven in evergreens and flowers. Over the portico entrance outside, were the following inscriptions, the letters being formed by cedar foliage:
“THE HOUSE THAT JEFF. BUILT.”
The latter motto was arched and with the festoons made a very beautiful appearance. Inside were beautiful stars and garlands of flowers and over the exit at the back door the following inscription, surmounted by a star;
It was facetiously remarked by an observer, that the moral was:
“Down with the traitor
And up with the star.”
We understand that to Miss Lee, of Pa., and Miss Jennie Huddleson, of Inda., the party was indebted for those ingenious and appropriate devices. Very likely, for wit and satire, for traitors and a cordial welcome to the loyal and patriotic, are characteristics of these whole-souled missionaries. The reception rooms were also decorated with flowers, and everything around showed that “gentle hands” had laid on “the last touches” of fragrance, grace and beauty. [Editor’s Note: “Miss Lee” is probably Henrietta Lee, who is listed as a teacher of freedmen at Davis Bend in the Book “The Evangelical Repository, and United Presbyterian Review, Old Series XLII, New Series Vol. IV, Page 96.]
These “ladies of the management,” were dressed in neat “patriotic prints;” they needed no addition to their toilets to add to the charming air of comfort which they so appropriately infused. Their smiles of welcome needed no verbal explanation; and the heartiness with which they were engaged in their “labors of love,” and the evidence of their success in all the surroundings, showed that they perfectly understand the science of “making home happy.” Whether they have read Mrs. H.B. Stowe’s “House and Home Papers” in the Atlantic, we know not, but there are many others, besides that literary lady (Mrs. S) who understand “how to keep house; “ by magic touches, to turn the most simple objects into luxuries of ornamentation. We suspect that Mrs. M. Watson and Miss Lizzie Findley had been engaged in these preparations, although appearing more in the character of guests. [Editor’s Note: Lizzie Findley is listed as a teacher of freedmen at Davis Bend in the Book “The Evangelical Repository, and United Presbyterian Review, Old Series XLII, New Series Vol. IV, Page 96. On Page 98 of the same publication it is noted that Lizzie Findley had died “Since the last Meeting of the Assembly.”]
There were some other ladies to whom we had not the honor of an introduction, who doubtless deserve particular mention; but your reporter, as the sequel of his story will show, only received his appointment as a publication committee after all was over, and consequently, if he should omit anybody’s name that deserves mention, this must be his apology. He now declares his desire to be just to all, and especially to those whose devotion and patriotism rendered the fourth of July, 1864, the happiest day of the year.
On the grounds, in front of the residence the gunboat crew, suspended a string of signal colors, on each side of the “starry banner,” presenting an effect amid the dense foliage of the live-oaks, and the grey moss, “altogether beauteous to look upon,” while on the tables under the trees were spread things not only “pleasant to the sight,” but “good for food.” And when we saw these pleasing objects, the “work of their hands,” and the merry, happy faces of the guests and their “escorts” and reflected that the sable sons, by a guard of whom we were surrounded, were “no longer slaves;” that they had with thousands of their brethren been brought out from the House of Bondage, by the “God of Abraham;” that the very house now occupied by missionaries and teachers had but a year ago, been in the service of despotism; built in fact as a temple of slavery by the great chief who preferred to rule in a miserable petty despotism, to serving in a great and magnanimous Republic, we could but think that Heaven looked approvingly upon the scene; that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.”
Rev. Dr. Warren conducted the exercises as President of the occasion, and he did it with that ease,
freedom, and regard for the rights and interests of all, which usually characterize his public and social conduct. He opened the proceedings under a grove of trees in front of the house with an appropriate prayer, and then called upon those appointed to take part.
MR. ROUNDTREE read the “Declaration of Independence” in a clear, emphatic and impressive manner. It was listened to with becoming reverence for the great truths it contains by both the white and colored races. It is quite improbably that these “self-evident” truths were ever expressed before publicly in this locality, and within hearing of every one within the “House that Jeff. Built.” REV. MR. LIVERMORE, of Wis., delivered an appropriate oration. The meeting then adjourned for dinner. A gentle shower at this time rendered the air cool and pleasant, but rendered it necessary to remove the dining tables to the house.
[Editor’s Note: The “Rev. Mr. Livermore” may be Daniel Parker Livermore, a Universalist Minister from Massachusetts. His wife, Mary A. Livermore, was an associate manager of the Chicago Sanitary Commission, and she made a trip to Vicksburg in 1863 to bring supplies to the troops. (Chicago Portraits: New Edition, by June Skinner Sawyers, Page 197.
A sumptuous dinner was served on the veranda at the back of the mansion. There was an abundance of all that could be desired. A blessing asked by REV. MR. ALLEN. This being concluded, the following sentiments were presented and responded to in an impromptu, but appropriate manner by the various speakers:
1. The day we celebrate – The old ship was launched in ’76; the bow anchors cast out last year at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. May the stern anchors be dropped to day at Richmond and Atlanta.
Response by MR. ISRAEL LOMBARD,
[Editor’s Note: There was an Israel Lombard, Junior, from Boston, Massachusetts, that was a supporter of abolition, and he is mentioned several times in the anti-slavery newspaper “The Liberator;” This may very well be the same man. (See The Liberator, January 5, 1855, and May 18, 1860)]
2. The President – Proved honest and wise by four years of unprecedented trial, we shall keep keep him there.
Responded to by DR. WRIGHT,
3. Lieut. Gen. Grant – We can tie to him in a gale.
Responded to by COL. CLARK,
4. The house that Jeff. Built.
Responded to by CAPT. POWELL,
The following song composed for the occasion, was lead by Mr. McConnell:
THE HOUSE THAT JEFF. BUILT.
Air – “Auld Lang Syne,”
How oft within these airy halls
The traitor of the day
Has heard ambition’s trumpet calls,
Or dreamed of war’s array!
Or of an Empire dreamed, whose base
Millions of blacks should be:
Aha! Before this day’s sweet face
Where can his visions be?
Those Empire dreams shall be fulfilled,
But not as rebels thought –
Like water at the cistern spilled,
Their boasts shall come to nought.
From gulf to lake, from sea to sea,
Behold our country grand!
The very home of Liberty –
And guarded by her hand.
We revel in his halls to day:
Next year where will he be?
A dread account he has to pay:
May we be there to see!
And now for country, truth and right –
Our heritage all free,
We’ll live and die, we’ll sing and fight:
THE UNION! Three time three.
5. The Army and Navy: Veterans of three years; The heart of the Nation beats anxiously at the cry, “Onward to Victory:
Response by DR. FOSTER,
6. Our Patriot Dead: Silence their most speaking eulogy.
7. The Union: The storm will but root it more firmly.
Response by REV. A.J. COMPTON,
The Star Spangled Banner – sung by the whole company, led by MR. MCCONNELL.
8. Missionaries to Freedmen – Peace has its heroes.
Response by REV. MR. BUCKLEY, Chaplain 47th U.S.C.I.
9. General Sherman, second in command “All I am I owe to my government, and nothing could tempt me to sacrifice my honor or my allegiance.”
Response by CAPTAIN GILPIN, C.S.
[Editor’s Note: “Captain Gilpin” was Captain James B. Gilpin, who served as Depot Commissary Officer at Vicksburg. (Vicksburg Herald, June 30, 1864)]
10. The Freedmen – Slaves yesterday; to day free: what shall they be tomorrow?
11. Our Revolutionary Fathers: – “Their memory is sweet,
and blossoms in the dust.”
12. Our Mothers at Home: Let us not, while givign praise to the noble sons, forget those who fought for each one of us in the fierce battle of life in by-gone days. Let the memory of their unselfish love make us true and brave in this our country’s darkest hour.
Response by Mrs. FRANCES D. GAGE,
[Editor’s Note: Frances D. Gage worked for the Western Sanitary Commission – I wrote a lengthy blog article about her in 2014 – it can be found here: https://mississippiconfederates.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/three-weeks-in-the-soldiers-home-at-vicksburg/]
13. Our Colored Troops: Deserving of freedom because they fight like men.
Response by LIEUT. WAKEMAN.
Song – “Babylon is fallen.”
14. Sweethearts and Wives; Woman, lovely woman. Nature made you to temper man; we had been brutes without you. Angels are painted fair to look like you. There is in you all that we believe of heaven, amazing brightness, purity and truth, eternal and everlasting love.
Response by REV. MR. ALLEN, Episcopal minister of Aurora, Illinois.
The party, after selecting a few simple trophies, such as fig branches for walking canes, large pond lillies, flowers, wreaths and boquets, returned to the landing, and reembarked for Vicksburg.
On the boat the following business was transacted:
Vote of thanks to COL. THOMAS and staff for getting up the celebration: to the Orator of the day, PARSON LIVERMORE, to the President, REV. DR. WARREN, who made a brief response; and also to CAPTAIN WIGHTMAN and officers of the “Diligent.”
Cheers were given for Abraham Lincoln, and groans for Jeff. Davis. The song, “The House that Jeff Built,” was again sung, and CAPTAIN GILPIN, C.S., appointed a committee to furnish a copy of the same to the New York Tribune and also to JEFF. Davis.
CAPTAIN HENRY S. CLUBB A.Q.M., was appointed a committee to furnish a report of the proceedings of the day to the Vicksburg Daily Herald. The Diligent arrived at Vicksburg at half-past eleven o’clock, p.m. The celebration was regarded as a great success, and expressions of satisfaction and enjoyment were universal.
In the course of my research, I also managed to turn up an account of the 4th of July Celebration at Davis Island written by a member of the crew of the ironclad U.S.S. Mound City, who only identified himself by the initials “B.A.” The unnamed crewman wrote:
And now I wish to give you a little idea of how we spent the glorious 4th in this land of cinnamon seeds and sandy bottoms. The day was ushered in at sunrise by a rousing salute of 21 guns from the Mound City. They were no ear splitting six pounders, but full charged nine inch guns and 100 lbs. rifles fired at regular intervals, their sullen thunder reverberating for miles through the forests on either side the river. A similar salute was fired at meridian and again at sundown.
The arrangement was made to give all the loyal people in the vicinity an opportunity of celebrating the 4th at the residence of Mr. Jefferson Davis, Esq., novel idea! Through the exertions of several “Yankee school marms,” the house was tastefully decorated for the occasion…”
The banquet was spread in the wide verandas and the tables groaned beneath their weight of good things. The cusine had been well attended to and there was no lack of delicacies or substantials. About 10 a.m., the steamer Diligent arrived from Vicksburg with a merry party of ladies and gentlemen to participate with us. It would hardly be proper to dignify the gathering as a celebration, and pic-nic would be better adapted, therefore we will call it a pic-nic on the 4th of July at Jeff. Davis’ house, Briarly place, his residence, his plantation.
Let the northern people for a moment suppose what the practical position of things must be, should enemies be on that day revelling at the house of Abraham Lincoln, at Springfield. The thought should inspire any Union man with hope. I was credibly informed that an invitation was passed through the lines to be forwarded to Old Jeff. to be present on the occasion; but his non-appearance was easily accounted for.
(Fox Lake Gazette, Fox Lake, Wisconsin, July 20, 1864)
The Civil War ended in 1865, and within a few years the occupation troops were gone
from Vicksburg, but some residents did continue to participate in celebrations of the 4th of July. In particular, Vicksburg’s African American residents made sure that Independence Day was remembered. In 1884 a Vicksburg newspaper noted:
‘All the high-toned colored people that reside for miles around’ excurted on on the steamer Cherokee yesterday to Anthony’s Ferry, in celebration of the glorious fourth. A colored picnic on DeSoto Island was also a strong feature of the days celebrations in the Hill City. (The Vicksburg Herald, July 5, 1884)
As time went on, white residents of Vicksburg began to celebrate Independence Day as well. On July 4, 1917, a Vicksburg newspaper carried the bold headline “Glorious Fourth To Be Observed Today,” and wrote that
Many Vicksburgers will participate in the celebration of Independence Day today. A barbecue and picnic at Swett’s Pond will be the chief feature of attraction during the day and tonight, beginning at 8:30 o’clock, an appropriate and patriotic program will be presented at the Carnegie Library…Many of the stores of the city will close during the afternoon hours, in order to allow their clerks to attend the barbecue. Conveyances will operate between the grounds and city throughout the day. (The Vicksburg Herald, July 4, 1918)
In July 1945, with the war in Europe over, and the war against Japan in its final months, the city of Vicksburg held a 4th of July celebration that was claimed at the time to be the first since the Civil War.
While it was not the first celebration of the 4th of July in Vicksburg since the Civil War, it was almost certainly the largest. The day’s festivities included a parade, baseball game, and an air show that included fly-over’s by B-29 Bombers and P-51 fighters. (The Clarion-Ledger, July 1, 1945)
Having found the 1945 July 4th celebration to be very popular, Vicksburg’s city fathers invited United States Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson to be the guest of honor at the 1946 Independence Day festivities. Patterson accepted the offer, and 1,700 soldiers from Camp Polk, Louisiana, were sent to Vicksburg to march in the city’s parade. (The Clarion-Ledger, July 4, 1946).
After two successful celebrations in a row, Vicksburg pulled out all the stops for the 1947 celebration of the 4th of July. Too large to be contained to only one day, the “Carnival of the Confederacy” spanned three days, and was climaxed with a speech by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
A newspaper said of the 1947 celebration:
Vicksburg fell to Grant’s 75,000 men after a 47-day siege during which mule meat became a table luxury for the bedraggled Confederates. But today General Eisenhower was welcomed with welcome arms.
Eisenhower declared that ‘just as Vicksburg was a crucible where differences were fired and joined into a strong and inseparable national unity, so the last war, which ended with an inferno of destruction, can be the start of a world union for peace.’ (The Morning News, Wilmington, Delaware, July 5, 1947)
In 1948 Vicksburg officials invited Harry Truman to be the celebrity speaker on the 4th
of July, but the president declined, and the city had to settle for Senator John Stennis as the guest of honor. The last of the big time celebrations was over, but Vicksburg would continue to acknowledge the 4th of July with less spectacular but very patriotic observances from that day forward. (The Hattiesburg American, June 24, 1948.
On June 25, 1863, the 3rd Louisiana Redan disappeared in a choking cloud of flame, earth, and smoke as 2,200 pounds of black powder were detonated in a mine located beneath the earthwork fort. The blast gouged out a huge crater where the front face of the redan had been, and as the debris settled a Union assault force poured into the breach in the Confederate line, sparking a bloody fight that would last well into the night.
One of the soldiers who took part in the assault on the 3rd Louisiana Redan was John T.
Wiesman, a cannoneer with McAllister’s Battery, also known as Company D, 1st Illinois Light Artillery. In October 1906 Wiesman traveled from his home in Nebraska to Vicksburg for the dedication of the Illinois Monument at the National Military Park. The visit to the battlefield was a moving experience for Wiesman, and after he returned to Nebraska he wrote an article about the trip for his local paper, The Nebraska State Journal, which was published on November 11, 1906.
At the siege of Vicksburg two guns of the battery held positions on the Jackson wagon road near the now famous white house (Shirley house). The other two guns stood in front of the white house on the spot where the Illinois monument has been erected where Capt. Henry A. Rogers and four enlisted men were killed during the siege.
Explosion of a Mine
Sometime after the charge of the 22d of may, which was a failure, General Grant conceived the idea of tunneling under Ft. Hill, called by the confederates the Third Louisiana redoubt. A tunnel was started a short distance from the battery and was run so as to reach directly under the fort. After it was completed, 2,200 pounds of powder was placed in the mine and when all was ready, a fuse leading into the mine was lighted and a terrific explosion resulted, which hurled men and cannons up in the air.
It was a sight never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it. One negro who was tossed up with the earth, came down on our side of the line unharmed. After the explosion, which formed a crater about the size of a half block, the Forty-Fifth Illinois was rushed into the crater to make a lodgment in the confederate line and tried to break through, but the explosion had not accomplished what was expected and the confederates immediately went to work trying to restore their shattered works.
Threw Shells by Hand
After a short time a squad of the battery under command of Lieut. Edgar H. Cooper, afterward promoted to captain, was detailed to enter the crater to throw shells over the enemies breastworks by hand, cutting the fuse at five seconds. While so engaged, David W. Ocker, of our squad, was blown to pieces by the premature discharge of a shell. A.D. Burr of this city and myself were in this squad. As we emerged from the tunnel into the crater, a hand grenade struck Lieutenant Colonel Reese of [the] Thirty-First Illinois which literally disemboweled him.
A Death Crater
We stood for some time on the edge of the crater waiting for orders, seeing sights which were well calculated to freeze the blood in one’s veins. Over on the confederate side of the crater men were grappling with each other, some clubbing with their muskets but at the same time they were gradually rebuilding their works. After awhile, General Logan, Major Stohlbrand, his chief of artillery, led our squad to the confederate side of the crater and we began to throw shells over in the midst of the confederates, who soon returned the compliment by throwing shells by hand into the crater.
It was my duty to hold a lighted taper with which, when the fuse was cut, I lighted the shell when it would be thrown over the breastworks. I lay close to the enemy’s works, that seeming to me to be the safest place. During the fight in the crater the confederates rolled a cottonwood sapling over to our side, striking me square on the back of my neck. Although it was very light, I thought the whole confederacy had fallen on me, Jeff Davis along with the rest of them.
After dark the assault in the crater was abandoned and the army settled down to a regular siege, and when “Johnnie Rebel” had eaten his last steak of mule meat, Vicksburg was surrendered.
Visit to Comrade’s Grave
I went to the national cemetery where over 16,000 of our boys in blue are buried, two-thirds of them in unknown graves and as I stood by the grave of James W. Ditto, an intimate comrade of mine, and thought of him as he looked just before he fell forty-three years ago, a fine, manly, young fellow, scarcely eighteen years old, the idol of the company, my eyes filled with tears. If the recording angel keeps a correct account, the men who were responsible for bringing on the war between the north and the south will be kept very busy explaining matters to Saint Peter when the big book is opened on the day of judgment.
If the old veterans who were at Vicksburg during the siege, should happen to go back there
now, they would be surprised. Vicksburg is not the sleepy city it was then. The government has established a national military park, dotted with fine monuments and markers laid out in beautiful driveways, at a cost of millions of dollars. The city is booming and has taken on a new life. The visitors attending the dedication of the Illinois state monument were royally entertained by the ex-confederate soldiers.
The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska), November 11, 1906
I was intrigued by John Wiesman’s story, and thought I would see what else I could find out about him. My efforts were immediately successful, as I found a letter he wrote to the editor of the National Tribune concerning the battle of the crater at Vicksburg:
The Crater at Fort Hill
Editor National Tribune: I have been very much interested in your history of the Opening of the Mississippi, and take it for granted that you wish to be absolutely correct in your statements. Now, you give a minute description of what took place in the crater at Fort Hill, and only mention what the several infantry commands did. You say that shells were thrown by hand over the rebel breastworks by the tunnel diggers and the infantry. Now, as a matter of fact, not a single shell was thrown by any of them.
Shortly after the explosion, McAllister’s Battery was detailed by sections to throw shells by hand, cutting the fuse at five seconds. Every shell thrown in the crater was thrown by artillery. Serg’t David W. Ocker was killed by a shell thrown from the rebel side, and, by the way he stands today, in the Illinois State Roster, branded as a deserter. How is it possible that this brave boy, who gave up his life for his country in that hellhole, could be marked as a deserter? I cannot imagine, unless it was done by some lunkhead clerk in the Adjutant’s office at the time the roster was printed.
The artillery detail was in charge of Lieut. Edgar H. Cooper, who after the death of Capt. H.A. Rodgers, killed during the siege, was promoted to Captain and afterwards to Major for bravery displayed on the battlefield of Atlanta, July 22, 1864. Major Cooper is still living and resides in Chicago.
As to who threw the shells in the crater it matters little, I suppose, at this late day, but credit should be given where credit is due. After the surrender the 45th Ill., was given the post of honor, being the first to enter Vicksburg. McAllister’s Battery came second, following immediately after the 45th, and was the first artillery to enter the city.
– John T. Wiesman, Co. D, 1st Ill. Art., Lincoln, Neb. (The National Tribune, Washington, D.C.., December 27, 1906.)
I also found a letter, written by Charles Koch, a member of the Illinois Vicksburg Military Park Commission, to William T. Rigby, superintendent of the Vicksburg National Military Park, concerning the part played by Battery D, 1st Illinois Light Artillery, in the fighting at the crater:
June 25th came the day when Fort Hill was blown up. Immediately after the explosion, it having been discovered that the embrasure was not sufficient to permit our troops to march in to Vicksburg, Lt. Cooper was called upon by Gen. Logan and asked to furnish 12 volunteers for the purpose of throwing hand grenade over the works from the aperture made by the explosion into the enemies works. Volunteers failed to respond so Lt. Cooper asked how many would follow him and all responded, so that a choice had to be made of 12 men,…out of the 12 men who entered the crater, viz: E.H. Cooper was unhurt, C.L. Pratt was unhurt; Francis Meek, wounded and died December 1, 1863, at Vicksburg; David Ocker, killed June 25th; Eli Sprague lost a finger; Chauncey I. Cooper flesh wound in left thigh; Vincent Bowers wounded in right leg; John T. Wiesman, flesh wound in the left arm; B.D. Washington wounded in the right wrist; A.D. Burr not hurt; Richard Henderson not hurt; George A. Potter not hurt. (Always in the Middle of the Battle: Edward Kiniry and the 1st Illinois Light Artillery Battery D by David Edward Wall)
After the war, John Wiesman moved about the mid-west before finally settling in Nebraska and becoming a railroad conductor. In addition to visiting Vicksburg, he also attended a reunion at the Shiloh battlefield in 1895. (The Nebraska State Journal, April 10, 1895, and June 1, 1910.) The old veteran passed away in Lincoln, Nebraska, on May 31, 1910, and is buried in Wyuka Cemetery. (findagrave.com listing for John T. Wiesman).
On November 15, 1906, the Iowa Monument was dedicated in honor of the men from the Hawkeye State that fought in the siege of Vicksburg. In honor of the occasion, a local newspaper had local citizen William H. Bleything write an article about his Civil War service, which they published in that day’s edition. (Vicksburg Evening Post, November 15, 1906). The Post had a very good reason for choosing Bleything to write about his civil war experiences; he was, as they asserted, “the only citizen here who served in the rank and file of an Iowa regiment during the war.” Bleything was a good writer, and he gives a very detailed account of his regiment’s participation in the siege of Vicksburg. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Reminiscences of Iowa Soldier Now a Citizen of Vicksburg
Company F, 30th Iowa Infantry
Mr. W.H. Bleything, who has been a citizen of Vicksburg for many years, and highly respected by the community, is we believe the only citizen here who served in the rank and file of an Iowa regiment during the war. At the request of The Post, Mr. Bleything has given us a brief sketch of his war experiences, which we are sure will be read with great interest by his army comrades as well as by the people of the city.
The picture above is copied from one that was taken when Mr. Bleything was a young man and wearing his blue uniform. The following is the substance of what Mr. Bleything gave us in regard to his services and experiences in the Union army.
I enlisted in Troy, Davis County, Iowa, on August 13, 1862. Our company was organized at
Bloomfield, Iowa, where we were mustered into the U.S. service by Major Ball, U.S. Army, as Co. F, 30th Iowa Infantry. The regiment was ordered to St. Louis in November; thence to Helena, Arkansas, where we were assigned to the 1st division, 15th Army Corps, Gen. Fred. Steele, commanding the division and Gen. W.T. Sherman the corps. Our entire service was in the 1st Division, 15th Corps.
We took part in the unsuccessful Chickasaw Bayou expedition; re-embarked on the boats and went up the Mississippi to mouth of the Arkansas River, and up that stream to Arkansas Post, the 30th Iowa regiment being engaged and taking an active part in the capture of the fort and garrison on January 11, 1863.
We again took boat, came down the river to Young’s Point, marched across the peninsula
and camped on the O’Brien place just below the mouth of the canal. We lay there a short while in the mud and water, digging the canal. We were then ordered down the river to Biggs plantation where we were camped when Commander Farragut with his fleet came up from below and Grant ran by Vicksburg with his gun boats and transports. While at this point, the dummy gun boat was floated by the Vicksburg batteries, and caused the Confederates to blow up the fine iron clad Indianola, which they had captured from us in Davis Bend.
In April our camp was moved up to the Crane plantation above Young’s Point. On May 2nd we broke camp, and marched by way of Milliken’s Bend and Richmond to Hard Times Landing, Louisiana, where we took boat and were ferried across the river and landed at Grand Gulf, Miss., on May 6th. We marched by way of Raymond to Jackson, Miss., reaching there on May 14th. We lay at Jackson the 15th, tearing up the railroad. We left Jackson on the morning of the 16th; got to Messenger’s Ferry on Big Black River on the evening of the 17th. Company F was detailed to help wagon train across the pontoon bridge and we were up all night.
On the morning of May 18th we took the march for Vicksburg, coming in on the Graveyard Road, and came in touch of the enemy in the afternoon at what is now Will Kleinman’s place. We took position on the 19th, on north side of Mint Springs Bayou, and lost 7 men wounded. On the night of the 19th we crossed over to the south side of the Bayou and made lodgement under the hills below the Confederate main line. This position we held until the surrender, digging up a little closer every night so that when the place was surrendered July 4th, we had approached within a few yards of their works.
On the morning of May 20th my company had a brisk skirmish beginning about daylight. Early in the afternoon our ammunition gave out. Lieut. Ph. Bence called for volunteers to go back to the rear to get a new supply of ammunition; no one seemed anxious for the job, and I volunteered to go and get a supply. I immediately started and of course was a mark for the Confederate sharpshooters for some distance until I reached a point of safety inside our lines. Securing a supply of 1000 rounds, two young soldiers volunteered to return with me a part of the distance, but it was left for me to carry the box to the front when we reached the point where we came under fire. On May 21st I had a similar experience, again volunteering, and going after and bringing back a supply of ammunition, and was the target for many Confederate rifles.
[Editor’s Note: Philip H. Bence was first lieutenant of Company F, 30th Iowa
Infantry, during the siege of Vicksburg. He was later promoted to captain and commanded Company F until he was wounded during the Atlanta Campaign. While home on leave in Iowa he was killed by guerrillas, October 12, 1864 – Findagrave.com listing for Philip H. Bence]
On the 22nd of May our whole regiment was on the firing line, and several other regiments were ordered to our support. After McClernand’s assault on the R.R. redoubt, he urged Gen. Grant to order an assault on other portions of the line. In the afternoon several of the regiments along our portion of the line were ordered to assault, which they did with great gallantry but suffered a bloody repulse. Then my regiment, the 30th Iowa, and others were ordered to charge. Just at this moment, our Colonel, Abbott, arose to give orders for the advance, when he was shot through the head and instantly killed, then the Lieutenant-Colonel being absent, the command of the 30th regiment devolved on the Major, J.P. Milliken. He had proceeded only a few steps when he was shot through the body and mortally wounded, dying the next day. There being no field officers the several companies advanced to the charge, and got very near the Confederate works, but were unable to go over them. The assault was repulsed; our regiment suffering a loss according to official records, of 15 killed, 34 wounded, and 1 missing. The missing man was never definitely accounted for.
Our command was withdrawn during the night; and Grant’s army settled down to regular siege operations. The charge was made on Friday, May 22nd. We were unable to get our dead away from the places where they had fallen in front of the Confederate breastworks, and their bodies began to putrify. On the following Sunday afternoon May 24th under a flag of truce details from the various commands were sent to remove our dead. I was in the detail for this sorrowful and disagreeable work. Among the bodies we found was that of Ambrose Brumby, which was laying against the Confederate works; and I have thought that he was the man who was reported missing, and who should have been reported among the killed. We brought the dead bodies, which were in bad state of decomposition, to a point within our lines under a hill on Mint Spring Bayou, where a trench was dug, the bodies hastily thrown in, and covered over with earth.
Our command continued siege operations, and dug a sap approach running in zig-zag shape so that Confederate bullets could not reach us. At the time of the surrender, we had approached within a few yards of the Confederate breastworks; the supposition being that the Union army would make a general assault on the 4th of July; a number of other Federal commands having made similar approaches.
After the assault on the 22d of May our command also dug a tunnel through the hill back of
our position on the firing line, so that our soldiers could go to our camp in the rear and return without danger. But for the tunnel we would have been exposed to fire. That tunnel caved in after the war, but has been restored to its wartime shape, by the National Park Commission.
From the 22d of May until the surrender, our command was on duty on the firing line every other day. On the night of the 4th of July our command was ordered towards the Big Black River to meet Gen. Joe Johnston’s army which was expected to make an attack on Grant’s forces with the intention of relieving Pemberton, and not believing that Pemberton would surrender. Our command followed Johnston to Jackson and Brandon; then returned to Camp Sherman near Bovina where we remained until September. Then we were ordered to the relief of Rosecrans at Chattanooga and passed through Vicksburg, Memphis, Corinth, etc., and finally reached Chattanooga where we were temporarily assigned to Hooker’s Corps.
We participated in the battle of Lookout Mountain (termed the battle above the clouds); and also Missionary Ridge; and afterwards at Ringgold, Georgia, which was a very hot fight. The following year, I took part in the battles of Resaca, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain (another severe fight), and the battle of Atlanta on July 22d; Ezra Chapel on July 28th; Jonesboro, Lovejoy, etc.
Afterwards, our command was with Gen. Sherman in his famous “march to the sea.” Then were were in the Carolina campaign, the 30th Iowa leading the advance into Columbia, S.C. Our last fight was at Bentonville, N.C. Soon afterwards Joe Johnston surrendered, and the war was over. [We] marched to Washington City via Petersburg, Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Mount Vernon.
On May 24, 1865, our command took part in the grand review of Union veterans at Washington, which was one of the most notable events [in] history. Shortly after we were mustered out; and our regiment was [sent] to Davenport, Iowa, where we [were] paid off, discharged and returned to our homes.
In the fall of 1870, I went to Madison Parish, La., and in 1872 located [to] Vicksburg. I was married in Vicksburg, in 1876 (captured by a Vicksburg lady) and have resided here [ever] since.
After moving to Vicksburg, William H. Bleything married Louisa Bohannon, and the former soldier made his living as a carpenter. In 1887 Bleything was involved with the construction of the S.P. Metzger residence at the corner of South and Adams street, and a local newspaper noted:
The interior of the building far surpasses the handsome exterior; for here was afforded the opportunity for Mr. Bleything’s display of skillful joiner work, and the architect’s taste in the use of varied woods. The hall floor is laid in alternating strips of walnut and ash, the wainscoting, door and window-frames are of hard wood finish, while the staircase is a marvel of skillful carpenter work…Curphey and Mundy had the contract for the house, and to them and their efficient foreman Mr. Bleything, and the other gentlemen we have mentioned, and to the liberality of the owner, the community is indebted for a structure which is so creditable to the city. (Vicksburg Evening Post, December 1, 1887).
Although he lived in Vicksburg, Bleything kept in close contact with his relatives and former comrades-in-arms in Iowa. In 1892, the Vicksburg newspaper made note of a trip that Bleything took to Iowa:
Mr. W.H. Bleything, left this morning for Keokuk, Iowa, and will remain in that state, his old home, a month or more. During his stay in Iowa, Mr. Bleything will attend the reunion of his old regiment (the 30th Iowa) at Fairfield some time in August. He carried with him from this city, two gavels made from an oak tree which grew on the ridge near Vicksburg, one which the regiment charged on the 22d of May 1863, and which was afterward occupied by the Regiment. These reminders of a historical event, will no doubt be greatly appreciated by Mr. Bleything’s old comrades.
Mr. Bleything has been a resident of Vicksburg for many years, and his home and fortunes are cast with our people. The old soldiers, Union or Confederate, make good citizens wherever they live, and we only wish the North would send us down a great many more veterans like Mr. Bleything. (Vicksburg Evening Post, July 20, 1892).
After returning to Vicksburg in September, the Post informed readers of what Mr. Bleything had done on his trip to Iowa:
Mr. Bleything attended a re-union of his old Regiment at Drakesville, Davis County, Iowa,
on the 14th and 15th days of this month, where he was warmly greeted by his old comrades. Sixteen of his company were present at the Re-union, and 108 members of the Regiment. Their old battle-flags were again unfurled to the breeze and the veterans lived over again the exciting times and scenes of over a quarter of a century ago.
Mr. Bleything took with him a piece of oak that grew on the battle-fields near Vicksburg, had it made into a gavel, and presented it to the Regiment. It was used by the presiding officer during the Re-union. He also carried along a lot of bullets that were dug from the fortifications, and gave one of them to each member of the old regiment.
Mr. Bleything had a splendid time among his old friends, associates and comrades. He was greatly improved by his rest and recreation, and the invigorating atmosphere of the Northwest. He will now resume his old place with Curphey & Mundy, and assist in building more of the elegant houses in Vicksburg for which that firm is famous. (Vicksburg Evening Post, September 21, 1892).
In addition to building houses, William Bleything’s company also did work in the Vicksburg National Military Park; in 1905 a local paper noted:
The field work is still in progress with such men as W. H. Bleything, W.A. Claver and F.H.
Foote in charge. Mr. Bleything has been doing concrete guttering all summer and is now ready to take his forces to the Pennsylvania site whenever it becomes time to lay the foundation for that state’s memorial. The stone is now on its way, with some on the ground now but it is not likely that the contractor will be on hand until frost is pretty well developed. (The Vicksburg Herald, September 30, 1905).
Sometime between 1905 and 1908, Bleything went from working in the National Park to working for the Vicksburg National Military Park. A brief article in a Vicksburg newspaper in 1908 noted:
By request of the chairman, Park Employees Frank H. Foote, W.H. Bleything, W.A. Claver and L.C. Swett have been appointed deputy sheriffs, authorized to keep the peace and to make arrests within the park lines. (The Vicksburg Herald, May 24, 1908).
It must have been a rewarding experience for Bleything, working on the battlefield where he had fought as a youth and helping to keep the memories alive of what he and his comrades had done there. He was especially keen to make sure the men of his regiment, the 30th Iowa, were properly remembered at Vicksburg. In 1909 Bleything made a trip to Iowa, and one of the goals of the trip was to garner support for building a monument at Vicksburg to Charles H. Abbott, the gallant colonel of the 30th Iowa. The Vicksburg paper said of this trip:
Mr. Bleything expects to be absent about two weeks, and while away will go to Keokuk, Iowa, where the widow and family of Col. Chas. H. Abbott are now living. Col. Abbott was killed here during the siege. Mr. Bleything is desirous that a statue of Colonel Abbott be placed in the National Military Park, and he will try and interest the Abbott family in the matter. Failing in this, Mr. Bleything will bring the matter before the Iowa veterans, and it is possible a popular subscription will be taken up to raise funds for the erection of the statue. (Vicksburg Evening Post, September 10, 1909).
Bleything must not have had much luck in his fundraising efforts, as a statue of Colonel Abbott was never built. He is not entirely forgotten however; the monument to Thayer’s brigade at Vicksburg does mention the gallant colonel’s sacrifice.
In the fall of 1909, the citizens of Vicksburg were thrilled to learn that the President of the United States, William Howard Taft, planned to visit their city and tour the National Military Park. Selected to be the president’s guide through the park was none other than William H. Bleything. A few weeks after the president’s visit, Bleything received a warm letter from Beryl F. Carroll, governor of Iowa, who had accompanied Taft on his trip. The Vicksburg paper reported the letter thus:
State of Iowa
Des Moines, Nov. 5, 1909
My Dear Bleything – I want to take this opportunity to express to you my very high appreciation of the courtesy shown me by you while at Vicksburg. You were able to show
me in the short time I was there more than I could have otherwise have seen in many hours.
The nation ought to be proud of its Vicksburg Park. It is one of the grandest places on the continent and very interesting indeed, as well as instructive. I hope that it will not be long until our monument there will be entirely completed. I heard it very highly spoken of by many persons who were with us on our trip down the river. They seemed to regard it as one of the best monuments in the Park.
With personal regards, I remain,
Very truly yours,
Governor of Iowa
(Vicksburg Evening Post, November 13, 1909)
Just two years after William H. Bleything guided the President of the United States through the Vicksburg National Military Park, the local newspaper announced with a bold headline the death of the Iowa veteran: “Brave Old Soldier Crosses Dark River.” The obituary went on to say of Bleything:
When a youth he had enlisted in Company F, the 30th Iowa Infantry, and served through
the war with signal honor. He participated in the siege of Vicksburg, and the war-time experiences were always a favorite topic with Mr. Bleything…Mr. Bleything, for several years past, has been in charge of a force of workmen engaged in improving the Vicksburg National Military Park. Capt. W.T. Rigby, President of the Commission, says, on behalf of the Commission, that Mr. Bleything was not only very efficient but he was as faithful as it was possible for any man to be, and that he was devoted to and took heartfelt interest in the Park and the work that devolved upon him.
(Vicksburg Evening Post, March 21, 1911)
I really admire William H. Bleything; he fought for a cause he believed in, and after the war was over, he settled among his former enemies and made a good life for himself. He literally helped to build the Vicksburg National Military Park, and guided everyone from governors to the President of the United States through it. The next time I am in Vicksburg, I plan to talk a walk through Cedar Hill Cemetery and put some flowers on the grave of William H. Bleything; he certainly deserves them.
November 11, 2018, will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of “The War to End All
Wars,” better known today because of subsequent events as World War 1. A Century may seem like a long time, but it’s really no so long ago; in fact, the last American veteran of World War 1, Frank Buckles, only passed away in 2011.
When the United States entered World War 1 in 1917, the Civil War was only some 50-odd years in the past, and there were still a number of surviving Union and Confederate veterans that took great interest in this new conflict. While doing some research recently I found an article about a rally held in Rankin County to encourage local support for the American Red Cross. One of the highlights of this rally was the reading of a speech by Pleasant B. Berry, a Confederate veteran who knew from his own military service the pressing need that soldiers had for high quality medical care. The speech was reported in The Brandon News, December 27, 1917, and is below:
The following was written by Capt. P.B. Berry of Florence, and read for him by Mrs. D. Taylor at the Red Cross rally in Florence last Sunday afternoon. It aroused much attention
and interest and should be published for the benefit of the many in Rankin County who were not present. Capt. Berry is now an old Confederate Veteran and he should be heeded at this time:
“With the experience I have had and what I have been an eye-witness to, I just don’t know how to begin to tell the great need of an organization of the Red Cross, the good it can do in so many different ways on the battle-field, – yes, and on the firing line. Red Cross details are expected to be on the firing line to help take care of the wounded – binding up wounds and administering nourishments, & etc.
Then, in the hospital they can do so much good in caring for the sick. I have been in battle, I have gone over the battle-fields after the battle had been fought, and it makes me shudder until this day, to see so many lying all over the battle-ground, begging for help and begging for water – yes, pleading in so many ways for help. Then we had no Red Cross organization and our poor boys had to lie there and suffer awful pains; and many of them lay there and died for the want of Red Cross nurses.
Now, it’s in the hands of everybody to do their bit. I cannot help believing that everybody who has any patriotism about them will join and help out the Red Cross organization. None of us know whose son, or husband or friend may be in great need of the Red Cross before this cruel war is over. No telling what is going to come to pass. War is a fearful thing; and I, for one, think its high time we were pushing the Red Cross to the greatest height. Nothing like preparedness, be ready to do something when help is needed. No doubt in my mind but much help will be needed before this war is over, and how in the name of common sense can anybody with any kind [of] patriotism stand idle and not try to help our men on the battlefields in their terrible sufferings.
Now, I beg of all to get busy and do something. These men have gone across the water to
fight for us and risk their lives and be exposed to all kinds of danger, while we are at home enjoying ourselves. I was a soldier once for four of the longest years I ever experienced, and I know what I am talking about. Then, we had no Red Cross organization because we were not able to have one. Many lives could have been saved if we could have had their assistance. I could go on and tell much more of my experience in battles, and my seeing, the suffering on the battlefields and in hospitals, etc., but I feel that it is no use to say more, only let me beg of you all to do your bit and help take care of the men that have already gone and those that will be sure to follow very soon. No telling whose Mother’s son will need help and need it bad. I fear but few of our people are realizing the seriousness of this terrible world’s war.
Now it occurs to me to ask what can be done to get the people more interested and brought down to more earnest thinking. As for myself I have had very serious thoughts about this war from the first; and no telling when it will end, nor how many more men may be called on to go. So, I think it’s the duty of everybody to join the Red Cross and do their bit.”
Pleasant Berry’s speech struck a cord, with me, as my grandfather, Lynnly C. Adams, was
from Rankin County, and served in the United States Navy during World War 1. Lynnly was a victim of the deadly 1918 influenza epidemic that killed millions worldwide, and spent time in a naval hospital at Brest, France. According to a story that was passed down to me by my mother, Lynnly was not expected to live, and the doctors at the hospital had him placed outside the building in a tent with other sailors who were not expected to live. There was one nurse, however, who refused to give up on these men and she took care of my grandfather until he recovered from his illness.
Pleasant Boggan Berry enlisted in the “Rankin Greys,” Company I, 6th Mississippi Infantry, in 1861, and the unit was mustered into service on May 4 of that year. Over the next four years the young soldier took part in numerous major battles, and saw more than his fair share of wounded, sick, and dying men. In the 6th Mississippi’s first major battle at Shiloh, Tennessee, the regiment had over 300 men killed or wounded out of the 425 it had taken into the fight. The casualty rate for the 6th Mississippi at Shiloh was 70% – the highest percentage of any Magnolia State unit for the entire war. The regiment had duly won the nickname it carried until the end of the war: “The Bloody Sixth.” (Going to Meet the Yankees: A History of the ‘Bloody Sixth’ Mississippi Infantry, C.S.A., page 98.)
Veterans such as Pleasant Berry knew firsthand how terrible war was, and they worked very hard in their communities to make sure that the “Doughboys” had access to the best medical care available. The United Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy supported organizations such as the American Red Cross, which provided medical care to United States soldiers both at home and abroad. I found the following description of their activities on the American Red Cross website:
Prior to the First World War, the Red Cross introduced its first aid, water safety, and public
health nursing programs. With the outbreak of war, the organization experienced phenomenal growth. The number of local chapters jumped from 107 in 1914 to 3,864 in 1918 and membership grew from 17,000 to over 20 million adult and 11 million junior Red Cross members. The public contributed $400 million in funds and material to support Red Cross programs, including those for American and allied forces and civilian refugees. The Red Cross staffed hospitals and ambulance companies and recruited 20,000 registered nurses to serve the military. Additional Red Cross nurses came forward to combat the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918. (http://www.redcross.org/local/florida/south-
Thanks to the advances in medical knowledge and the work of groups such as the Red Cross, World War 1 casualties had a much better chance of surviving than their Civil War
counterparts. In World War 1, there was one death for every 40 soldiers who served; in the Civil War there was one death for every five soldiers. (“American War Dead, by the Numbers” by Paul Waldman – http://prospect.org/article/american-war-dead-numbers)
Because of civilians such as Pleasant Berry who wanted the men fighting in the Great War to have the very best medical care, thousands of soldiers, sailors and marines survived the conflict that might otherwise have died. One of those sailors was my grandfather, who came home to marry my grandmother and have nine children, one of whom was my mother, Lois Anice Adams, born September 1, 1930. We owe these Mississippians who gave of their time and money to support the troops our gratitude, and I am very glad I can highlight their efforts in this blog.
Working at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History affords me the opportunity to search through many obscure collections for interesting material. I found the following letter in a grouping that was simply labeled, “Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection:”
A Letter to Mrs. Chester Rockwell from her Nephew:
Comp. A, 12th Miss. Regt.
Camp Near Orange Court House, Va.
My Dear Aunt Carrie,
I have written to you twice or three times since I was at your house and enjoyed myself
so well with you and Uncle Rockwell but have never received a letter from you up to this time and I now write you again and hope to hear from you soon.
Aunt, it was a great shock to me when I heard of poor Aunt Hellen and Cousin Sue Lee’s death, for I loved Aunt Hellen like a mother, and Cousin Sue like a sister, but the great giver of all things giveth and taketh away and believing that they were both Christians I willingly give them up believing that they have been transferred from this wicked and troublesome world to that better world on high where peace and happiness reign forever. Aunt, it is a great consolation for us to know we are ready and prepared to go when called upon to depart this life. We all ought to try and be prepared for that great day though I fear there are a great many who are not prepared and I fear never will be and awfull will be the consequences.
Well Aunt, I heard from home some time ago and they were all well and doing very well. They said they had not been visited by the Yankees in some time and I hope and pray that they may never be visited again by the unprincipled wretches for I know it is any thing else than pleasant to have the ruthless invaders around them. Father, mother,
sisters, and brothers requested me when I wrote to you to remember them to you and Uncle Rockwell. Aunt and Uncle, we are only getting a quarter of a pound of meat now and I nearly starve and if you can send me a couple of sides of bacon and some beans you will oblige me very much indeed and if you do direct to me in care of J.J. Hood, agent of the Miss. Depot and send it by express.
Well, I must close, so give my love to Uncle and the children, also to all my relatives and except a large portion for yourself so good bye untill next time and I remain your affectionate Nephew, Emory V.M. Lee.
Aunt write soon and let me hear from you and you must select me a nice young lady for a sweetheart and write me who she is and oblige your nephew,
Emory Vincent Murphy Lee.
Emory Lee was the son of James C. and Maria W. Lee, natives of North Carolina that moved to Mississippi in the 1830’s. The Lee family prospered in their new home, and on the 1860 U.S. Census for Utica, Hinds County, James valued his real estate holdings at $5,870, and his personal estate at $16,570. In addition to Emory, James and Maria had sons Henderson, Bailey, and Daniel, and daughters Susan and Mary. (1850 U.S. Census, Hinds County, Mississippi)
It took a good bit of research, but I believe that I have identified the recipient of Emory Lee’s letter – “Dear Aunt Carrie.” I looked for a Chester Rockwell in Mississippi, but didn’t find any likely candidates living in the state before the Civil War. Then I decided to try looking in North Carolina, the birth state of both James and Maria Lee. I very quickly found a match for the limited information that I had: Chester Rockwell, age 59, and his
wife Caroline, age 42, living in Columbus, North Carolina, in the 1860 U.S. Census. I also found that Caroline’s maiden name was Yates, and Emory’s father, James C. Lee, is buried in the Daniel Yates Family Cemetery in Utica, Mississippi. (U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560 to 1900, Ancestry.com, and the listing for James C. Lee on Findagrave.com)
Emory Lee enlisted in the “Raymond Fencibles,” Company A, 12th Mississippi Infantry, in April 1861. He showed up as “Present” on all of his company’s muster rolls, except for one 30 day furlough he received on April 12, 1863, and the last muster roll card, which simply reads, “Killed May 24, 1864.” This was the end of Lee’s service record, but fortunately in our “Miscellaneous Manuscripts,” there was a transcript of a second letter, written to Emory’s Aunt by his mother, which gives much more detail about his death:
A Letter to Mrs. Chester Rockwell from her Sister:
Utica (Mississippi) July 22, 1864
It becomes my painfull duty to inform you of the death of my son Emory. He was killed on
the twenty-fourth of May in Virginia. He was standing picket at night. The ball passed through the main artery of the thigh, and he bled to death. No one saw him fall, no one was near to sooth his dying hours. He crawled over a hundred yards after he was wounded, when found life was extinct. I sometimes think it is impossible for me to bear it. Then again, I think I have not long to live, and I will soon meet him in a brighter and happier world.
He was a good and affectionate boy to me. He was a favorite with all. He thought so much of you all, often spoke of you in his letters. He professed religion before his death. He died a Christian, Oh blessed consolation. We will never meet him here on earth again, but let us live so my Sister that when we are called to die we may meet him in that Spirit Land where death is unknown. I have only two sons left, one is in the army, the other is too small yet. I heard from Betsy Lee a few weeks since, she has but one son in the army. He was captured a short time after he joined and she has never heard from him since. Daniel Yates has three sons in the service, one in Georgia, one in Mississippi, and one in Virginia. He had one killed at Vicksburg – Alex Yates. It seems that we are to live to see all our children buried. Friend after friend departs, star by star declines untill all have passed away. Poor Em wrote me that his Aunt Helen was dead, poor thing, she lost all of her sons but one, and then was called to meet them.
The Yankees made a raid out here last week, they did not get to our house. We have very good crops, but I am afraid they will take them from us as soon as we gather them. I pray that this cruel war may end though my poor child is gone, I feel for the rest. All send love to you and all the relatives. I feel that we will never meet on this earth again, but may we meet in heaven is my prayer. Pray for me, that I may bear the loss of my dear child with fortitude.
Winnie M. Lee
Reading Mary Lee’s letter touched me, as I could feel her anguish at losing a son in the war. She didn’t even have the consolation that he had died in a major battle defending his home and kinfolk – Emory Lee had died in a minor skirmish, nothing more. Military History of Mississippi only gives one line to the fight saying that the 12th Mississippi “fought on the North Anna May 24.” (Military History of Mississippi 1803 – 1898, page 64).
I wish I had more information about Emory Lee and his family, but all I had to work with were the two letters listed above; they weren’t even the original letters, just transcripts. There is no telling where the original letters are, or if they even exist; I’m just glad someone went to the trouble to send those copies to the archive; otherwise Emory Lee would be just another statistic of the war, and not the beloved son of Mary Lee, who grieved for her lost son.
The Emory Lee letters are located in the Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, Z/1600.000/S, Box 3, Folder 31, MDAH.
I found this story, written by a member of the 15th Mississippi Infantry identified only as “Judge,” in The Atlanta Constitution, May 16, 1886. It’s a funny little article, but it does point out the hardships faced by many Confederate soldiers due to the lack of timely payment from the Confederate government.
A WAR INCIDENT
A Rich Story of Adventure – The New Moon and the Seven Stars, or the Biter Bit.
In the spring of 1863, the regiment to which I belonged, the 15th Mississippi infantry, was ordered from Port Hudson, La., to Tulahoma, Tenn., as was understood. We went as far as Montgomery, Ala., and for some cause unknown to the writer, were ordered back to Mississippi. But what I wish to tell you occurred on the way from Port Hudson to Montgomery.
We had not been paid off in a good long while, and as a consequence were all out of money. As usual, we were extremely anxious to get hold of anything to eat that was more palatable than corn bread and blue bull beef. If we did this we had to buy it, and, as I said money was scarce. We were in Jackson, Miss. I was emphatically hungry for something extra and set about borrowing a small sum with which to purchase it. Our good Major Terry lent me two dollars out of a five-dollar bill. Now, you must remember that Major Terry had only five dollars. He let me have two dollars, with the full understanding that three dollars in change had to be returned to him so you will see that I had no control of three dollars of the money. After I got the money I set about investing it. I went to a little shop on the right-hand side of the street that led from the confederate house, by the governor’s mansion, to the capitol. The little shop was just next to the confederate house and was kept by an Irish woman, the wife of a railroad man, as I then understood.
Now let me, in a few lines, describe an average confederate store’s stock at that time. It generally consisted of dilapidated veils, currycombs, ribbons – faded and ancient – sleighs, saws, artificial flowers – tangled, twisted and old – calico, at several dollars per yard, boiled eggs, pies, breeches at fabulous prices, and to cut the description short a confederate stock consisted of a conglomerated mass of misfitted and ill-assorted heterogeneousness. Such were the contents of the shop to which I repaired and it was as good as the average – the very best stocks generally had in addition to the above, parasols and fish-hooks.
The question was, how should I spend my two dollars. I didn’t want any veils or wheel-whirls, but I wanted something ‘to chaw’ as we used to classically express it. I knew the woman sold hard boiled eggs and I knew they were two dollars per dozen. I thought a dozen eggs would ‘go further’ than two dollars’ worth of anything else, and decided to get them, but while negotiating for the eggs, I saw a very fine half-moon pie put into the stove. I wanted it, too, but the two dollars wouldn’t get the eggs and the pie also. So I resolved to lift (not steal) the pie while the woman went into a little back room for the eggs, which she kept already boiled. The strategy that I put into practice was to call upon the woman, hurriedly, for the eggs just at the moment when the pie was not quite ready to take from the stove and yet so nearly done that it would be just ready for ‘lifting’ while she was counting my eggs. Now this was a nice calculation and no one but a regular rebel infantry man with just two borrowed dollars to go upon could have made it. So just in the nick of time I said: ‘Madam, get me a dozen eggs just as quick as you can. I’m in a big hurry.’ Just as I had expected, she glanced at the pie (the stove door was open – maybe it had no door) it looked too pale – not quite brown enough. I suppose she calculated that it would be justabout right to take up by the time she got me the dozen eggs.
We were in a kind of middle-room. As soon as her back was well turned, I lifted the pie. Jerusalem, how hot it was! I danced it around on the tips of the fingers of my right hand while I unbuttoned the bosom of my over-shirt, so that I might poke the pie into my bosom between my overshirt and undershirt. I worked fast for I heard the woman coming with the eggs, in fact so great was my hurry that I thrust the red hot pie not between the two shirts but under both of them, right next to the naked skin – slap up against the hide! ‘Gewhilikens! The whoopee! oo! oo! oo! oh! hoo! hoo! oop-ee! hell!’ were something like the expressions that I wished to give voice to. No use a talkin’, fellow citizens, that pie hurt me, and as the woman had returned, I couldn’t jerk it out of my bosom, nor could I yell, but I had to ‘grin and endure it,’ while she (we had gone to the front room) was giving me my eggs and Major Terry’s three dollars. I would have sloped, but I had to wait for the three dollars. As she counted out the eggs and change I leaned over to the left, so that the hot pie could fall from my devoted side.
To make matters worse, by some means or other I squeezed several wads of hot dried apples out of the pie, and every wad put in its work, and the devil of it was, the woman was a long while giving me the change. As soon as I got out of the house I clawed that pie out of my bosom with a kind of underscored emphasis. I had got beat at my own game. I couldn’t keep the thing to myself. I told the boys of my regiment and showed them where I was branded with a half moon and seven stars – the wads of hot apples fixed the stars – allow me to say they were fixed stars. For weeks afterwards the boys would now and then bawl out: ‘Hello judge! When will the moon change?’
Now, the readers of THE CONSTITUTION – a paper for one dollar, worth fifty-two dollars per year – must not think that I was a thief and that I stole that pie. What the lawyers call ‘felonious intent’ didn’t enter into the taking of that pie. I didn’t feel mean while taking it. I only felt like owning the pie, and I got it, and – well, it got me too, and I felt mean afterwards.
After the war was over and hard-boiled eggs had ceased to be a staple commodity, and half-moon pies and confederate overshirts had been relegated – numbered among the things that were – I, in company with one of my brothers, was in Jackson. I told him this tale, and requested him to help me hunt up the woman shop-keeper. We found her in much better and nicer quarters. She was the proprietress of a West Jackson bakery. I told her the foregoing tale. She enjoyed its recital and exclaimed when I had finished it: ‘Oh, and I knew you had the pie, jist, and that is the rason I was so long makin’ the change, honey; but I don’t care at all. I wish you had got all my stuff, ye southern b’ys, for in a few wakes the Yankees robbed me of all the goods I had. Now be sated, yez, and yez brother and ate of whatever yez wants, at my expense, for it is as free as wather;’ and we took our seats at a nice table, in a clean room and partook of a magnificent dinner, to which we were truly welcome and for which the good woman would receive no remuneration.
Meridian, Miss., May 10, 1886
Thus far I have not been able to figure out the identity of “Judge,” the unlucky pie thief. I believe I have, however, discovered who the owner of the bakery was. “Judge” mentioned in his article that he visited the bakery owner after the war in her shop at West Jackson. I searched through the post-war Jackson newspapers, and found only one bakery in West Jackson that fit the with the information found in the article. In 1869 I found an ad for the “Pearl Street Bakery,” proprietor M. McLaughlin.
I looked for “M. McLaughlin” in the United States Census, had no luck in 1870, but struck paydirt in 1880: Michael L. McLaughlin, age 42, occupation merchant, and his wife, Mary E. McLaughlin, age 37, occupation housewife. Michael listed his birthplace as Ireland, and Mary gave her birthplace as Mississippi, but both her parents were born in Ireland. I can’t say for certain the McLaughlin bakery was the one that “Judge” wrote about, but it does fit the limited information given in the article. If I find any additional information about the identity of “Judge,” or the Pearl Street Bakery, I will add an update to this post.
This final installment of Beneath Torn and Tattered Flags documents the regiment’s participation in the Battle of Harrisburg and the final movements of the unit in the closing days of the war. It also documents the lives of the men from the 38th as they adjusted to life in post-war Mississippi. I hope you have enjoyed the book – it was a labor of love, and I have learned much from writing it that has stood me in good stead for the many articles I have written on this blog.
The battle of Harrisburg will furnish the historian a bloody record, but it will also stamp with immortality the gallant dead and the living heroes it has made1
– Nathan Bedford Forrest
On receipt of the orders transferring his brigade, Colonel Mabry quickly had his men in the saddle headed for north Mississippi. The 38th Mississippi arrived with the brigade in Okolona on June 13, 1864, and were assigned to the army commanded by the Confederate “Wizard of the Saddle,” Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest.2 The 38th
arrived just after Forrest completed one of his greatest victories, the battle of Brice’s Cross Roads on June 10, 1864. Confidence in their new general was high among the members of the regiment, and Erastus Hoskins wrote his wife, “Our men are all anxious to get in one fight under Forrest.”3 Having missed the battle of Brices Cross Roads, Mabry’s Brigade remained at Okolona until the end of June, when they were ordered to Saltillo, Mississippi.4
Forrest’s victory at Brice’s Cross Roads had a very strong impact on Union strategy and led to the 38th’s first fight with their new command. At this time General Sherman was engaged in his Georgia Campaign, and his army was supplied via the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. If Forrest could cut this vital lifeline, the Union army in Georgia might grind to a halt.5 After Brice’s Cross Roads, the threat from Forrest seemed very real, and Sherman resolved to deal with the problem once and for all. On June 16, 1864, the fiery general issued the following order to Major General James B. McPherson, commander of the Department of the Tennessee:
…I wish you to organize as large a force as possible at Memphis, with Generals A. J. Smith or Mower in command, to pursue Forrest on foot, devastating the land over which he has passed or may pass, and make him and the people of Tennessee and Mississippi realize that although a bold, daring, and successful leader, he will bring ruin and misery on any country where he may pause or tarry. If we do not punish Forrest and the people now, the whole effect of our past conquests will be lost.6
Command of the expedition to destroy Forrest was given to Major General Andrew J.
Smith, and on July 5, 1864, he led a force of 14,000 men and 24 cannon out of La Grange, Tennessee, headed south into Mississippi. To combat this expedition Forrest had an army of 7,500 cavalry, 2,100 dismounted cavalry serving as infantry, and 20 cannon.7
In response to the federal advance, Mabry’s Brigade was moved forward from Saltillo to Ellistown, 15 miles northwest of Tupelo, on July 9. On arrival the brigade was temporarily attached to Brigadier General Abraham Buford’s Division for the coming battle.8
Before the 38th Left Ellistown, Major McCay penned a hasty letter to his wife Elizabeth, speculating on where the regiment was headed. He told her:
I drop you a line to say we are sending everything to the rear except what we can carry on horseback, and suppose by tomorrow we will be on our way to Sherman’s rear, or else to Tennessee. We are certainly going this time to do something, what, the distant future will have to reveal. God grant that we will meet with success, and all return safe. I go to do my duty and if we fight will try to make a name for my command.9
At this point in the campaign, it appeared that the Union column was headed for Okolona, and in anticipation of this move the 38th, along with the rest of Buford’s Division, was ordered to Pontotoc as a blocking force. The weary Rebels arrived in town the morning of July 10 after an exhausting all night ride.10 That same day, Stephen D.
Lee, the department commander, and General Forrest, the army commander, set up a joint headquarters at Okolona. Lee, being the senior officer present, assumed overall command of the expedition against the Federals.
When he arrived in Pontotoc, General Buford was ordered to position his men so that they were in front of and on the flank of the approaching Yankee column. He placed his men, including the 38th, five miles south of Pontotoc on the Pontotoc-Okolona Road. His orders stated he was to offer a stern resistance to the Union advance and only retreat back to Okolona if compelled by a superior enemy force.11
On July 11, the Yankees marched into Pontotoc, driving out the advance pickets of Buford’s Brigade. The next day, the Union soldiers marched out of town heading straight for the Confederate defensive line south of Pontotoc. Heavy skirmishing took place as the Rebels contested the Yankee advance, but the 38th was held in reserve and took no part in the fighting.12 On July 13, General Smith changed his line of march and moved off to the east toward Tupelo. This move came as quite a surprise to Lee and Forrest, who planned to fight the decisive battle against Smith on ground of their choosing near Okolona.13
As the Federals moved rapidly toward Tupelo, Mabry’s Brigade, with Forrest at its head, pressed the rear guard of the retreating army. As the Yankees passed through Pontotoc, Forrest ordered Mabry to force his way into the town. The Colonel led his men in a furious charge into the hamlet, pushing aside the 7th Kansas Cavalry and Company A of the 61st United States Colored Infantry. Private F. H. Holloway of the Brent Rifles later wrote an account of this charge for Confederate Veteran Magazine saying:
I should like to hear from any old soldier who was with Mabry’s Brigade, Forrest’s Command, in July, 1864, at Pontotoc, Miss., when the Yanks began to fall back. Do you remember how the ladies shouted and waved their handkerchiefs at seeing the boys in gray after them? How we scoured the thickets for the Yanks, and how they would fire a volley and run?14
The 38th continued the pursuit of the retreating Federals, fighting numerous skirmishes throughout the day as the Union column pushed on toward Tupelo. The chase continued until 2 a.m. on July 14, when the Rebel horse soldiers pulled up their sweat streaked mounts one mile outside of Harrisburg, a small hamlet two miles west of Tupelo.15 There the Rebels found the Federal army drawn up in line of battle, waiting to receive an attack. Although the Confederates were outnumbered and facing a determined enemy, General Lee felt he had to attack. He later explained his decision to fight saying,
…all the armies of the Confederacy were facing superior numbers and resources, and everywhere Confederate armies at this stage of the war had to fight against great odds or not fight at all. On this occasion not to fight would have been to have given up the great corn region of Mississippi, the main support of other armies facing the enemy on more important fields.16
The Union army was in a very strong defensive position, their line of battle running for a mile and a half along the crest of a ridge which gave an excellent view of the surrounding landscape. From the crest of the ridge the land sloped gently downward to a wood line several hundred yards away.17 To
Map of the Harrisburg Battlefield
Mabry’s Brigade was on the extreme
left of the Confederate line, north
of the Pontotoc Road.
(Confederate Military History, Volume 7)
reach the Federals, Mabry’s men would have to advance uphill and cross several hundred yards of open ground while exposed to artillery and musket fire. To make matters worse, the Rebels had to make their assault under a blistering Mississippi sun, and heat exhaustion would take a heavy toll.18
Preparing to attack, General Lee took personal command of the left wing of the army, which would attack the right and center of the Federal line. General Forrest took command of the right wing of the army, and was ordered to swing his men around the Union left and attack the vulnerable flank.19
The 38th Mississippi dismounted from their horses and deployed with Mabry’s Brigade on the extreme Confederate left and prepared to advance. Just after 8:00 a.m. General Lee gave the order to attack, and with Major McCay at their head the regiment pressed forward toward the Union line.20
According to General Lee’s plan, the left wing under his command was to attack first and strike the Federal right a hard blow to keep their attention on that section of the battlefield. Once the Rebel left was heavily engaged, Forrest was to smash the Federal left flank. The plan went badly from the start, with the brigades of Lee’s left wing failing to coordinate their movements and attacking piecemeal, allowing the Federals to concentrate their fire and shred each unit as it attacked.21
As the 38th Mississippi cleared the woods and moved into the open, they were immediately targeted by the Union cannoneers, and iron shot and shell began to tear holes in the gray line. The Mississippians dressed their ranks and continued across the killing field separating them from the Yankees. When they were within 300 yards of the Union line a terrific fire from the Union infantry opened on them, but the 38th pressed forward through the hailstorm of lead.22 Major McCay was at the forefront of the regiment urging his men to go on when he was struck in the head by a Yankee bullet. He fell into the arms of Colonel Mabry, dead before he touched the ground.23 In his after action report, Mabry gave a vivid account of the charge that killed so many of his men:
I immediately ordered a charge, but the heat was so intense and the distance so great that some men and officers fell exhausted and fainting along my line, while the fire from the enemy’s line of works by both artillery and small-arms was so heavy and well directed that many were killed and wounded. These two causes of depletion left my line almost like a line of skirmishers.24
Despite heavy casualties, the 38th Mississippi pressed on, leaving a trail of gray clad
bodies to mark the path of their advance. At about sixty yards from the Union line the fire was so intense that the survivors of the regiment were forced to take shelter in a small depression that afforded them some protection from the hurricane of fire being thrown at them. The men quickly brought their muskets to bear on the nearby Union line, loading and firing as fast as they could.25 Those who made it to the relative safety of the depression found themselves under the leadership of Captain John J. Green of the Johnston Avengers, the only company commander still with the regiment. Mabry eventually gave Green the order to take his men and advance on the Yankee line, but the young Captain bluntly stated, “Colonel, we have exhausted every round of ammunition, but if you say so we will try again with empty guns.” On hearing these words Mabry replied, “We can’t stay here and live. Order your men back.”26
The heavy fire from the Union Infantry and artillery kept the 38th pinned in place, and the regiment was not able to immediately withdraw. The men were only able to pull back after the Tennessee brigade of Colonel Tyree H. Bell advanced on their right and the Yankees switched their fire to the new threat.27 When the musket fire slackened, the 38th retreated out of the range of the Union guns, and the dazed survivors took stock of the calamity that had befallen them. The regiment was smashed and took no further part in the battle.28
The other units in Lee’s left wing suffered the same fate as the 38th – their piecemeal attacks were all easily repulsed with very heavy losses to the Rebels. When General Forrest saw the fearful destruction of the left wing, he called off the attack on the right by the men under his command. The Confederates then prepared themselves for a Union counter attack, but General Smith thought his exhausted men had seen enough action for one day and did not elect to continue the contest. On July 15, with his men low on ammunition and food, he decided to return to Memphis. General Lee initially followed the retreating Federals, but owing to the thoroughly worn out condition of his men, and the heavy casualties his army had sustained, he called off the pursuit on July 16.29
The charge at Harrisburg was clearly the high water mark of the 38th Mississippi’s
service. Outnumbered and outgunned, the rank and file of the regiment pressed home their attack with great valor in spite of the odds against them. For their bravery, the regiment paid a very dear price: twenty men were killed, fifty-one wounded, and three were missing. for a total casualty list of seventy-four. An examination of the dead and wounded shows the officers of the 38th paid a particularly high price at Harrisburg: three were killed, including the commanding officer Robert McCay, and nine were wounded. Captain John J. Green was the only company commander in the regiment to come out of the fight unhurt. The command structure of the 38th had been decimated in a few short hours.30
Shortly after the battle Erastus Hoskins wrote his wife and gave her a detailed account of the battle:
…the enemy threw up works of rails & logs and early in the morning of the 14th our forces advanced and the battle raged in earnest – our boys say it was the hottest place they had ever been in – our regiment lost very heavily – it went into the fight with 158 men – and lost 13 killed and 57 wounded – and 10 missing – in all 74 – which was more than any other regiment – it went farther than any other in the charge and remained longer Col. Mabry says there never was a more gallant charge made – than the one made by the 38th Maj. McCay acted gallantly and was shot in the head and fell dead in the field – Adjt. W. L. Ware was mortally wounded in the breast – but of 9 officers commanding companies – 1 was killed and 7 wounded – a severe blow to the 38th. I don’t think we gained any thing by the fight it might be termed a draw battle I think the loss on both sides about the same – and while the enemy could not advance south – We could not advance on them – the enemy finally retreated leaving us in possession of the field – Which makes us the victors though dearly paid for.31
Six days after the battle, Colonel Mabry penned a letter to Elizabeth McCay, wife of Major Robert McCay, to inform her of her husband’s death. His compassionate words are a fitting tribute to Major McCay:
With feelings of deepest sorrow, I announce to you the death of your husband – Maj. Robert
C. McCay 38th Miss. (Mounted Infantry). He was killed in battle at Harrisburg, Miss. on the 14th Inst. while gallantly leading his regiment. While nothing can atone to you and your children for his loss, it will be a consolation to know that he died nobly at his post. He was shot through the head and fell in my arms and expired without a struggle. None excelled him in devotion to his family, fidelity to his country, and gallantry as a champion in the glorious struggle for freedom. As his commander, as his associate, as his friend I mourn with you his loss. May that faith in him who does all things aright, soften the sorrows of your sad bereavement.32
The battle of Harrisburg left the 38th Mississippi a broken ruin of it’s former self, but for the rank and file of the regiment, there were still battles left to fight. They were few in number, but these soldiers were survivors of the very worst the Yankees could throw at them, and they fought on to the bitter end.
1Official Records, Series 1, Volume 39, Part 1, 324.
32 Hinchie P. Mabry to Elizabeth McCay, 20 July 1864. Original letter in the McCay Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
The End Of The War
The triumphs of might are transient – they pass and are forgotten. The sufferings of right are graven deepest on the chronicle of nations.1
– Father Abraham J. Ryan
“A Land Without Ruins”
The 38th Mississippi’s history after the battle of Harrisburg is rather difficult to document, as sources on this period are few and far between. There are enough documents however to track the movement of Mabry’s Brigade as a whole, and thus gain an understanding of what the regiment experienced in the last nine months of the war.
Two weeks after Harrisburg, Mabry’s Brigade was detached from Forrest’s command,
and the men spent the next several months moving about central and north Mississippi, working to improve the defenses throughout the region.2 The 38th saw little action during this time other than an occasional skirmish, and the respite afforded the regiment a chance to begin rebuilding its shattered ranks. As the wounded and missing from Harrisburg began to filter in, the 38th was able to slowly build its strength. On October 14, 1864, 1st Lieutenant E. T. Harrington reported 225 men present for duty in Grenada.3
The 38th was beginning to look like a regiment again, but it still needed a permanent commanding officer to take the place of Major McCay. The records do not indicate who was in command of the unit during this period of rebuilding, but it was probably Captain John J. Green, the highest ranking officer not injured at Harrisburg. To solve the 38th’s leadership problem, Confederate authorities promoted the senior surviving Captain, James H. Jones, Lieutenant Colonel to rank from July 14, 1864.4
Lieutenant Colonel Jones was still recuperating from his wounds at home when his promotion came through, and the records are unclear as to when he actually returned to the regiment. In a post-war history of Company D, Jones mentions being with the regiment in the spring of 1865, but he does not mention when he actually reported for duty.5
The 38th’s period of relative peace ended in late October, 1864, when Mabry’s Brigade was ordered to rejoin Forrest’s command at Jackson, Tennessee. Because of the poor condition of many of the brigade’s horses, Colonel Mabry was able to ride with only 300 men from the entire brigade. The remaining 700 whose horses were too weak for the trip were left behind in Grenada.6
With the reinforcements he received from Mississippi, Forrest had a force of 3,500 men, and with them he planned to wreck Sherman’s supply lines, just as the Union general had feared.7 When Mabry arrived with his Mississippians, Forrest ordered the colonel to remain with his brigade at Paris, Tennessee, while the main body moved down the Tennessee River to set a trap for the Union boats which plied the waterway. Forrest had his men set up hidden artillery batteries at Fort Heiman and at Paris Landing, and his plan was to let the ships move into the stretch of river between the two batteries where they could be captured or destroyed with ease. The plan worked to perfection, and Forrest sank one enemy vessel and captured four others. The wily general put his own men on two of the captured boats and used them as his own private navy as he advanced on the Union supply depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee.8
On November 3, 1864, Mabry’s Brigade was ordered from Paris to rejoin Forrest’s main body near Johnsonville. On arrival the Mississippians were ordered to a position on the riverbank just above and opposite the town. Forrest then deployed his artillery on the riverbank, for the Union supply warehouses and docked boats on the other side of the waterway were an irresistible target. On November 4 at 3:00 p.m., the Confederate batteries opened fire on the town, and the red hot slivers of iron shrapnel from the bursting shells soon had the warehouses and a number of the supply vessels burning.9
The Rebel cannoneers left the Union depot at Johnsonville a smoldering ruin, and with his objective destroyed, Forrest began a slow march back to Mississippi, arriving at Corinth on November 10. The raid was wildly successful, and Forrest estimated the loss to the Federals at $6,700,000. Confederate casualties were light during the expedition, only two killed and nine wounded.10
On November 13, Mabry’s Brigade was detached from Forrest again, this time to serve as
a garrison for Corinth.11 Near the end of the month a detachment made up of men from the 4th Mississippi Cavalry and the 38th Mississippi, numbering 180 men, was sent as reinforcements to Colonel John Griffith, commanding a brigade in central Mississippi. This detachment from the 38th was with Griffith’s Brigade in the action at Concord Church in Yazoo County on December 1, 1864. Griffith’s men attacked a Union column under Colonel Embury D. Osband that was raiding in Yazoo County and forced them to retreat back to Vicksburg. The men of the 4th and 38th were held in reserve during the fight and took no part in the action.12
By this stage of the war Union raiding parties were roaming at will through much of Mississippi, and it was not long before Mabry’s Brigade was called upon to help combat one of these raids. On December 21, 1864, a Union cavalry force under Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson rode out of Memphis with orders to destroy the Mobile & Ohio Railroad in Mississippi. The Federal troopers damaged the track at Booneville, and nearly destroyed one bridge below Baldwyn before the Confederates could react. At this time 250 men from Mabry’s Brigade under the command of Colonel Thomas C. Lipscomb of the 6th Mississippi Cavalry were at Macon, in Noxubee County. The men were ordered to intercept the raiders, but the Union horse soldiers beat a hasty retreat back to Memphis and the Rebels were unable to catch them.13
By the time the new year of 1865 dawned, it was clear to most people that the Confederacy was living on borrowed time. Union forces had penetrated deep into the southern heartland, and the ability of the Rebel armies to defend their territory lessened with each passing day. Many units suffered so heavily from casualties and desertion that they existed in name only, and early in 1865 the Confederacy was forced to consolidate many units to build up one regiment to fighting strength. Mabry’s Brigade fell victim to such a reorganization in February, when the unit was broken up and the 38th Mississippi and 14th Confederate Cavalry were ordered to report to General Wirt Adams at Jackson.
In the new organization the 38th belonged to Adams’ Brigade of Brigadier General James Chalmers’ Division, Forrest’s Cavalry Corps.14 In early March the 38th Mississippi, 14th Confederate Cavalry, and 3rd Mississippi Cavalry (State Troops), were combined into one consolidated unit, known as the 38th, 14th, and 3rd Regiments Consolidated Confederate Cavalry.15
By the time of the consolidation the end of the war was little more than a month away, but for the survivors of the old 38th, there was one battle left to fight. On March 22, 1865, Union Major General James Wilson began a raid into Alabama with 12,000 cavalry troopers to destroy the war-making potential of the state.16 General Forrest had a force of some 6,400 men to oppose this raid, not including Adams’ Brigade that was left at Columbus, Mississippi to guard the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.17
On March 30, Wilson ordered Brigadier General John T. Croxton to take a 1,500-man brigade, split from the main column and go to Tuscaloosa to destroy any military facilities in the city.18 The Union soldiers entered Tuscaloosa on April 4, and quickly completed the job of wrecking the city’s war-making potential. With his mission done, Croxton decided to ride to the southwest and destroy the railroad between Demopolis, Alabama, and Meridian, Mississippi. The Union troopers left Tuscaloosa on April 5, and that night camped 25 miles west of the city heading toward Columbus, Mississippi.19
In response to the movements of Croxton’s Brigade, General Adams was ordered to leave Columbus and ride 20 miles southeast to Pickensville, Alabama, one of the major crossing points of the Tombigbee River. Croxton had reached Lanier’s Mill on the Sipsey River when he learned of the Confederate force blocking his path, and he decided to reverse his course and head toward Tuscaloosa. General Adams soon had his troopers in pursuit, and on April 6 at 10:00 a.m., the Rebel cavalry slammed into the 6th Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.), the rear guard of the Yankee column.20 Adams’ Mississippians broke through the Kentuckians, seizing some of the Federal supply wagons and scattering the Yankee formation. The Federals made a hasty retreat and the action dissolved into a series of skirmishes as the Rebels pressed hard on the tail of the Union cavalry until darkness put an end to the pursuit. In the swirling, day-long fight, Croxton’s Brigade suffered thirty-four casualties. On April 7, fearing the Yankees might slip around him and threaten the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, Adams turned back, arriving in Columbus on April 8.21
The fight near the Sipsey River was the last battle for the war-weary men of the 38th, as the collapse of the Confederacy was near at hand. General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865; General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered the Army of Tennessee on April 26. The 38th Mississippi was officially surrendered by Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commander of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, on May 4, 1865.22 The 38th stacked its arms for the last time at Brewersville, Alabama, and the men began the long journey home to begin rebuilding their lives.23
In his farewell address, General Forrest gave the following advice to the men who had served him so well:
I have never on the field of battle sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers; you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous.24
Forrest gave the soldiers of the 38th Mississippi very good advice – the fight to win the independence of the Confederate States of America was over, and the south had lost. And although they had wagered much and lost much, they had not lost everything. They still had their honor, won by the valor they had displayed and the blood they had shed on so many battlefields of the war. In the post-war south it would be a struggle to maintain that honor, and it lasted the veterans of the 38th Mississippi the rest of their lives.
1 Abraham J. Ryan, Poems: Patriotic, Religious, Miscellaneous. (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1895), 90.
3 The information on the strength of the regiment is contained in an application for a pass for James. B. Applewhite. A copy of this document is in the Pension application of James B. Applewhite, November, 1909, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, TX.
4 Roster of Company D, 38th Mississippi Infantry, Record Group 9, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, MS.
I am a little old cripple waiting for the last bugle call.1
– Joseph W. Pendleton, August 27, 1914
The 38th Mississippi’s veterans returned home in 1865 to find their assets gone and the state thoroughly ravaged. Sixty percent of the states livestock had been destroyed, and most of the cotton seized by the United States Government. Even worse than the property loss was the human toll exacted by the war. Over 78,000 Mississippians served in the Confederate armed forces, and of that number at least 27,000 perished.2 The war had forever changed Mississippi, and the returning soldiers of the 38th had an enormous effort awaiting them as they tried to build a new life amidst the ashes of the old.
While the men set about rebuilding their lives, the state government of Mississippi was also being rebuilt to reflect the new political reality. In May 1865, President Andrew Johnson appointed William L. Sharkey provisional governor of Mississippi. Johnson’s
first directive to the new governor was to call a state constitutional convention to draw up a new constitution for Mississippi. The president required the new constitution to meet three criteria: (1) abolish slavery; (2) nullify the state ordinance of secession; and (3) repudiate all state debts from the war. Johnson also encouraged the convention to extend limited voting rights to blacks who were literate or owned over $250.00 in property.3
The delegates to the convention ignored the president’s criteria for the new constitution, refusing to ratify the 13th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution abolishing slavery or to repudiate the states war debts. They also declined to extend voting rights, no matter how limited, to blacks.4
The precedent set by the convention carried over into the new state legislature that promptly began passing laws to restrict the freedom and movement of blacks.5 It is now known how the rank and file of the old 38th felt about these actions, but one member of the unit did make his thoughts very clear on the subject. James H. Jones wrote a history of reconstruction in Wilkinson County, and he said of the state legislature,
Looking back upon the methods by which that legislature undertook to deal with the Negro problem, one is amazed at such stupidity; at such a display of monumental folly committed by men of ordinary intelligence. It’s members seem to have been asleep, like Rip Van Winkle, during the war, and when awakened from their long nap, they began to legislate in relation to negroes just where the Code of 1857 left off.6
The actions of Mississippi and most of the other southern states to restrict the freedom of blacks alarmed many northern Republicans, and they came to the realization that more forceful measures had to be taken to bring the former Confederate states into line. In 1867 the U. S. Congress passed a reconstruction act that divided the south into five military districts. The state governments were declared to be provisional and subject to the orders of the Union occupation forces. Congress stipulated that for the southern states to be readmitted to the Union, several steps had to be taken: (1) adopt a constitution allowing blacks to vote; (2) voters must ratify the state constitution and the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.7
Under the reconstruction act, Mississippi and Arkansas became part of a military district
commanded by Major General Edward O. C. Ord. On taking over his new district the general supervised the registration of blacks and whites to vote, and these voters chose delegates to write the new state constitution.8
The Republican Party that had formed in the state soon after the start of military occupation organized black voters in Mississippi, and for that work most white southerners roundly despised them. The Republicans in Mississippi were made up of two groups; northerners who had come south, contemptuously called “carpetbaggers” by the locals, and some native southerners, who were given the nickname “scalawags”. The Republicans were very successful in recruiting blacks to vote for their ticket of candidates, a development that was viewed with alarm by many white Mississippians.9
James H. Jones felt the work of the Republican Party poisoned relations between blacks and whites in Mississippi, saying of them,
The kindly relations formerly existing between them were rudely severed, never again to be fully restored. The simple, credulous negroes fell an easy prey to the sinister influence of their white leaders, and soon forgot the good that came to them under the almost paternal conditions of slavery, and remembered, and with bitterness, only the bad.10
In December 1869 the constitution written by the convention was passed, and in 1870
Mississippi was formally readmitted to the Union. The Republicans had a firm grip on the state government at this time, led by Governor James L. Alcorn. The party promised to help all Mississippians regardless of race or wealth, but many whites still hated the organization with a passion. Martha Gwin, wife of Lieutenant Samuel D. Gwin of the Holmes County Volunteers, very clearly expressed her thoughts on Republican rule:
I have lived through three periods of war – the Civil, the Cuban, and the World War. Their ravages can hardly compare with the reconstruction period. For in those years the oppression of our Northern enemies became so unbearable Southern indignation was aroused to throw off carpetbag rule in our Southland.11
To fight against Republican rule, many white southerners joined groups such as the Ku Klux Klan that sought to intimidate blacks and keep them from voting. It is not known how many members of the 38th served in these organizations, but research has shown that large numbers of Confederate veterans joined such groups.12 One member of the 38th who was involved in such a group was Samuel D. Gwin, and his wife Martha gave the following vivid account of one of her husband’s nighttime operations:
On one occasion when ready to leave me for a night of investigation he bade me good-bye saying, ‘Here is a double barreled shotgun, be very brave and use it if necessary. I am leaving Sam Lee, a trusted Negro of the plantation, on the steps armed with pistols, and he knows if harm befall you his life will pay the penalty.’ He then bent over our sleeping boy (John D.) with choking voice said ‘Good-bye my son. Should I not return your mother will teach you that I died trying to defend your rights.’ He returned a victor at the dawn of a new day.13
White southerners were very successful in their efforts to undermine the Republican-led
government, and in 1875 the resurgent Democratic Party regained control of the state legislature. In 1876, the Republican Governor and Lieutenant Governor were impeached and Democrat John M. Stone became the new governor, putting Mississippi firmly under the control of white southerners.14
For most of the rank and file who had served in the 38th, the political struggle took a back seat to the daily struggle for survival. Most of the veterans expected to rebuild their fortunes growing cotton, but natural disasters and low cotton prices combined to keep most living from hand to mouth.15
The men who served in the 38th had been bonded together by the war, and in at least one instance the old comrades banded together to help one of their number who had fallen on hard times. In the February 20, 1874 edition of the Lexington Advertiser, John S. Hoskins, former captain of the Holmes County Volunteers, ran the following as on the front page of the paper:
Attention Company! Information has been sent here, by a letter to M. D. Brown, that Dr. Long who was a fighting soldier, a member of Company A 38th Miss. Regiment, has been sick for three years and is now in the city of Philadelphia in a starving condition. I know that the gallant men of the company, who marched and fought by the doctor’s side, will take pleasure in assisting him. A little from each will make a great deal to him. I will take charge of your contributions and attend to forwarding the same to him. Your action should be prompt.16
The unsettled economic conditions in Mississippi led many veterans to leave the state and settle in Texas, the one former Confederate state where land was plentiful. So many ex-soldiers moved to Texas that by 1890 the lone star state had the highest percentage of Confederate Veterans of any southern state.17 The number of men from the 38th who made the exodus to Texas is not known, but a cursory search turned up eleven men from the regiment who were living in the state after the war.18
As the decades slipped away, time began to take a toll on the aging veterans of the 38th. One of the first officers of the regiment to pass away was Preston Brent, who died on August 12, 1884. After the war Brent had studied Medicine and became a doctor, but the wound he received at Vicksburg troubled him the rest of his life and many felt it sent him to an early grave at the age of fifty. One local paper eulogized Brent saying, “He was a good and just man – one of nature’s noblemen, and in his death his neighborhood loses a citizen that ever had the best interests of the country at heart.”19
The next high-ranking officer to die was Walter L. Keirn who passed away on his plantation in Holmes County on January 5, 1901. The day after his death the Lexington Advertiser made the following remarks about Keirn’s life:
…for thirty-eight years of hopeful courage and heroic patience this courteous, genial gentleman lived among us, dignifying every relation of life. On January 5, 1901, his greatest triumph came, his ‘coronation day’ when he wrapped his unsullied mantle about him and ‘laid him down and slept’: Rich in experience that angels might covet: Rich in faith that had grown through the years.20
The last surviving Field & Staff officer in the 38th was James H. Jones, who died in Woodville on December 10, 1911. Of all the men who served in the regiment Jones had by far the most successful post-war career. Elected to the state senate in 1890, he was later elected Lieutenant Governor, serving in that office from 1896-1900. The Woodville Republican praised Jones as
…a living example of the gentleman of the old school, a type that is fast passing from us. In him were combined those gentlemanly and courteous manners, high ideals and generous hospitality which were always found in the true Southern gentleman of antebellum days.21
As the generation that fought the war began to fade away, the surviving veterans took a great interest to insure that future generations remembered the cause for which they fought.22 On December 2, 1908, the Holmes County Confederate Soldiers monument was unveiled on the lawn of the Lexington County Court House, honoring the men in the county who had fought for the Confederacy. Accepting the monument on behalf of the veterans was Thomas W. Smith of the Holmes County Volunteers. In his speech the old soldier eloquently stated how he hoped future generations would remember he and his comrades:
…may it forever stand, as a perpetual memorial to induce them to emulate the virtue and devotion to duty, of the Confederate soldiers, who offered their lives in defense of that independence and political freedom, bequeathed to us by our revolutionary fathers. It will speak in silent language to them of a citizenry and soldiery scarcely equaled, and never excelled, in any age.23
With each succeeding decade, the ranks of Confederate veterans grew thinner, as illness and old age took its toll. In 1920 there were 100,000 of the old Rebels left; by 1930, the number had declined to 35,000, and in 1941 there were only 1,000 still alive.24 The last documented veteran of the 38th to die was William Willis Durden, who enlisted in the Holmes County Volunteers at age 17 in 1862, and served with the regiment until the surrender in 1865. After the war he was a very successful planter, owning over 15,000 acres of land. He passed away in 1937 at the age of 92, and with his death the 38th Mississippi passed into memory.25
With the death of William Durden all of the men who had marched under the flag of the 38th Mississippi were gone, but they left a powerful legacy for their descendants. The nature of this legacy was reflected in a passage written about the Holmes County Volunteers in 1901:
As we pass in memory beneath torn and tattered flags, the mementos of the victories and failures of our newly-born nation, the marvelous spirit of patriotism burns anew, and so long as we have hearts to love we will glory in commemorating it’s deeds of heroism…26
The men who fought under the banner of the Confederacy exist today only in our memories, but they can still whisper their story to us, if we will only take the time to listen. As long as we remember them, and pass on what we have learned, the men of the 38th Mississippi will live forever.
1 Pension application of Joseph W. Pendleton, August, 1914, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, TX.
2 William C. Harris, “The Reconstruction of the Commonwealth 1865-1870,” in A History of Mississippi, ed., Richard A. McLemore, (Hattiesburg, MS: University & College Press, 1973), 1: 542-543.
3 James M. McPherson, Ordeal By Fire (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992), 496-498.