All That Characterizes the Southern Soldier: A Memorial Day Remembrance

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

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

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

Western Military Institute

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

Dear Pat,

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

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

William A. Harper

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

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

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

Bowling Green, KY, January 14, 1861

Dear Sister Mittie:

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

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

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

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

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

I remain,

Your affectionate brother,

Willie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrys Stacion Hinds Co. August the 15 1862

Goviner Petus Dear sir

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

yours respectfuly

Julia M. Spencer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Doomed City: A Reminiscence of Jackson, Mississippi

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

JACKSON, EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of the Bowman House Hotel, Circa 1860

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle Flag of the 37th Mississippi Infantry

Battle Flag of the 37th Mississippi Infantry

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

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

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

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

Illustration of Federal Troops Occupying Jackson, Mississippi

Illustration of Federal Troops Occupying Jackson, Mississippi

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

W., Yazoo City, October, 1881

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

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

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

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

Tombstone of Joseph Henry Castles - Findagrave.com

Tombstone of Joseph Henry Castles – Findagrave.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Edward Fontaine

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully your obt. svt.,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully, Your Obt. Svt.,

Edward Fontaine

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

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

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

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

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

 

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I’m Teaching a Civil War Research Class!

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

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

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

 

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

 

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2014 in review

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

Here’s an excerpt:

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

Click here to see the complete report.

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

 

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

Vicksburg, Miss., May 6, 1862

Gov. Pettus,

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

Your svt.,

James L. Autry

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

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

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

Wartime photo of James L. Autry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camp Davis, April 11, 1861

To Jas. L. Autry Jr.

My Dear Son

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

Your devoted father

Jas. L. Autry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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A Great Deal of Suffering: Letters to Governor John J. Pettus

For quite some time now, I have been working with the Governor John J. Pettus correspondence at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Much of it is just the ordinary bureaucratic paperwork necessary to keep the government running. Pettus was a wartime governor, however, and many of his letters were from Mississippians who were seeking help, or offering advice, or just pouring out their troubles to a burdened chief executive. These letters open a window into the experiences of ordinary people who were living in extraordinary times.

A good example of this correspondence is the following letter, written by Dr. J. W. Martin. The good doctor was on his way to Richmond with a load of medical supplies to aid the Mississippians serving in the Army of Northern Virginia. Martin only made it as far as Meridian when he found a need for his supplies and medical expertise much closer to home. The Battle of Shiloh had occurred just a week earlier, and communities throughout Mississippi were struggling to care for thousands of casualties from the Battle of Shiloh:

Engraving of the Battle of Shiloh from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May 17, 1862

Engraving of the Battle of Shiloh from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, May 17, 1862

Brookhaven, Miss., April 14th 1862

Hon. J. J. Pettus:

Dear Sir,

Failing to get through to Richmond after I left Jackson on last Monday I returned to Meridian on Friday night, when I found a large number of our wounded, and fortunately for them when I started for Richmond I carried bandages, lint and other necessary articles to treat the wounded. I divided out my material with two other physicians who I found without anything.

We went to work and dressed a large number of wounds. It was deeply impressed on my mind from what I witnessed that we must lose a large number from the want of proper attention at the time and after being wounded than is killed in battle. A number of them informed us that it was from twenty-five to sixty hours after being wounded before they received any attention and their wounds had received no attention after first dressing, a large majority of those I dressed, the bandages were made of new coarse osnaburg, a new unbleached domestic which was very irritating to the wound, causing a great deal of suffering, and would finally lead to death in some cases.

Impressed with that belief and for the feeling I have for our wounded soldiers on my arrival home yesterday I had it announced in our church that we needed lint and bandages for our wounded of the proper kind and urged upon our patriotic ladies to go work in preparing them that another battle was eminent at Corinth and they would be needed, and if permitted I would go with them and give my whole attention. And as the ladies has ever come up to the help of our beloved country, they all went to work this morning in scraping lint and rolling bandages, and I have no doubt by tomorrow I will have over five hundred bandages ready rolled for use with several pounds of lint.

Another subject I wish to lay before your excellency is in regard to a hospital at this place. We could I think in one week make arrangements to take care of fifty patients, and let me assure you, that they would receive that attention that men should who are battling for our rights and liberties. If you think I can accomplish anything, and would like to confer with me in this subject, please let me hear from you at an early date, and any assistance you can lend me will be thankfully received and highly appreciated.

With high esteem, I remain your excellency’s obedient servant,

J. W. Martin

 

Just two days after Martin wrote his letter, Mary A. Jones poured out her heart in this letter to Pettus:

Natchez, Miss., April 16, 1862

Governor J.J. Pettus

In reply to your letter March 12, I went up to Yazoo City to see if I could draw any thing up there as you directed me.

"Women in Mourning, cemetery in New Orleans," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 25, 1863

“Women in Mourning, cemetery in New Orleans,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 25, 1863

I saw Mr. Mangum the sheriff of Yazoo he said I could not draw any thing yet as the law has not allowed any thing for soldiers widows. As for my husbands position I can’t get that only from Virginia Law Department so you see the sad condition I am placed in with three small children to take care of. Half of the time we have not bread to eat every body say I must be taken care of by the Confederate States they did not tell my deare husband that I should beg from door to door when he went to fight for his country; no he sacrificed every thing he had deare to him on Earth for our sake thinking that he left us in a Land of Humanity with out thought or feare give up his life in defense of his country. Kind sir if you can assist me in any thing I will [be] veary thankfull to you. I am your obedient svt., Mary A. Jones. 

This is a moving letter, and I wish I knew more about Mary Jones; the problem is that her name is so common that it makes tracking her down very difficult. If I find out any additional information about her, I will be sure to add it to this post. These are just a couple of the thousands of letters in the John J. Pettus correspondence at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. I sure there are many great stories waiting to be discovered and told in those letters, and I know that some of them will make their way into this blog.

 

 

 

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Murder Will Out: A Story of Bloody Kansas

In the summer of 1890, Joseph Tribble, a carpenter living in Grenada, Mississippi, decided to make a trip to his boyhood home in Kansas. Having been gone for thirty years, Tribble probably felt that no one would remember him, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. Shortly after arriving, Joseph Tribble was recognized, and immediately arrested. He was charged with the murder of Alexander Kincaid – a crime which had taken place in September, 1861, and had its roots in the conflict known as “Bloody Kansas.”

In the 1850s the turmoil in the Kansas territory foreshadowed the coming Civil War. The conflict had its roots in the

Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, author of the Kansas - Nebraska Act - Library of Congress

Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, author of the Kansas – Nebraska Act – Library of Congress

Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was a measure proposed by Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas to organize the territories because he wanted to build a railroad linking Illinois with California. Douglas realized that for the act to pass, he would have to make concessions to the South if he was to obtain their support for the measure. Thus the act repealed the provision of the Missouri Compromise that prohibited slavery north of 36* 30′ in the Louisiana Purchase lands. In addition, both Kansas and Nebraska territories were thrown open for settlement, and the immigrants  themselves would decide whether these lands would be slave or free – a concept known as popular sovereignty.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by Congress in May 1854, and the law set off an immediate firestorm of protest. Abolitionists in the North denounced the act as a slave holder conspiracy to add additional slave states to the Union. In the South, the law was very popular, as it was seen as an opportunity to add Kansas as a new slave state north of the old 36* 30′ Missouri Compromise line. An unintended consequence of the law was that Kansas turned into a battleground as abolitionist  and pro-slavery settlers flooded into the territory.

In his biography of Confederate guerrilla leader William Clarke Quantrill, writer Edward E. Leslie summed up very eloquently this not-quite-a-war going on in Kansas in the 1850s:

Just as in Northern Ireland and the Middle East in recent decades, it was a tit-for-tat war, a war of retribution and retaliation. It was characterized by fiery rhetoric, with talented and unscrupulous propagandists on both sides. ‘War to the knife, and knife to the hilt!’ one newspaper editor cried. It does not matter which side he was on; such

Illustration from the book, "The Reign of Terror in Kanzas" - Kansas Historical Society

Illustration from the book, “The Reign of Terror in Kanzas” – Kansas Historical Society

sentiments were echoed by both sides. – The Devil Knows How To Ride, page 6.

Joseph Tribble was born into this simmering cauldron of violence; I first found him on the 1850 United States Census as an 11 year old, living in Platte, Andrew County, Missouri, with his mother and his seven brothers and sisters. His mother, Cassandra, was a native of Tennessee, and all of the children were born in Missouri. Andrew County, located in the Northwestern part of Missouri and bordering on Kansas, was home to both pro-Union and pro-Confederate citizens during the Civil War, and was on the front lines of the guerrilla war during the conflict.

Sometime after 1850 the Tribble family picked up stakes and moved just across the state line to the town of Burr Oak, in Doniphan County, Kansas. There the family eked out a living as farmers; on the 1860 Census, Cassandra Tribble reported that she owned real estate worth $200.00, and had a personal estate valued at $100.00. Twenty-one year old Joseph was still living with his mother at this time, and listed his occupation as “farm hand.”

With the outbreak of war in 1861, citizens in Missouri and Kansas began taking sides and donning uniforms to fight. But in Missouri and Kansas, the war would not be confined to soldiers; civilians would be caught up in the ever expanding whirlwind of violence and terror. I don’t know much about Joseph Tribble’s life prior to the Civil War, but given subsequent events, it is safe to say that he was pro-Confederate in sentiment. Living in Kansas, he was bound to rub elbows with pro-Union men, and eventually one of these encounters turned violent. On September 19, 1861, the White Cloud Kansas Chief (White Cloud, Kansas), ran the following story:

A Union man named Kincaid, was murdered, on Sunday week, in Burr, Oak Township, by a Missouri Secessionist named Tribble. Kincaid was coming out of church, when Tribble stepped up to him, and asked him whether he was a coercionist? Kincaid replied in the affirmative, when Tribble stabbed him to the heart, then escaped over the river, with the assistance of Kansas traitors. The murderer is a brother to the ruffian whom the Pro-Slavery Democracy of this County attempted to shove into the office of County Treasurer, two years ago.

 

Map of the Missouri/Kansas Border where Joseph Tribble grew up - He was born in Andrew County, Missouri, but his family moved to Doniphan County, Kansas between 1850 and 1860

Map of the Missouri/Kansas Border where Joseph Tribble grew up – He was born in Andrew County, Missouri, but his family moved to Doniphan County, Kansas between 1850 and 1860

The murdered man was Alexander Kincaid, a small farmer who lived in Doniphan County. In the 1860 United States Census for Doniphan County, Kincaid listed his birthplace as New York, and he stated he had a personal estate worth $120.00. One interesting fact about Kincaid’s listing in the 1860 Census – he was on the same page as Joseph Tribble, meaning that they were neighbors. The two probably came into contact with each other quite often, and over time their political differences grew into an animosity that led to murder.

After killing Kincaid, Joseph Tribble did not wait around to face Kansas justice; where he went I have not been able to

Joseph Tribble's enlistment information from his Civil War Service Record - Fold3.com

Joseph Tribble’s enlistment information from his Civil War Service Record – Fold3.com

discover, but he next appears as a private serving in Company A, 1st Missouri Cavalry. Enlisting in December 1861, Tribble’s service record gave the following synopsis of his wartime service:

Served in Missouri State Guard, engaged at Blue Mills, Lexington, Sugar Creek, Bentonville, Elk Horn, Farmington, Iuka, Corinth. Deserted May 1, 1863, returned February 1, 1864. New Hope Church, Latimore House, Kennesaw Mountain, Atlanta, Lovejoy. Transferred to Company I, September 12, 1864. Allatoona, Georgia, Franklin, Tennessee; deserted at Nashville December 6, 1864.

Joseph Tribble enlisted in the 1st Missouri Cavalry along with his brother Andrew. The older sibling was soon promoted to sergeant, but he was captured at the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, Arkansas, and sent to a prisoner of war camp at Alton, Illinois. Apparently Andrew had seen enough of the war to suit him, as he took the oath of allegiance to the United States and was released from prison.

After deserting from the 1st Missouri Cavalry in December 1864, Joseph Tribble drops from sight until 1880, when he shows up on the United States Census in Grenada, Mississippi. The forty-one year old listed his occupation as carpenter, and he was living with his wife, Levisa J. Tribble, and their children, Claudia, Andrew, and Cassandra.

Joseph Tribble had spent a considerable amount of time in Mississippi during the war, and perhaps he liked what he saw of the state. He also had to know that with the war over and the Union victorious, returning to Kansas or Missouri would have entailed considerable risk for a man wanted for murder. By 1890, however, with 30 years between him and his crime, Tribble must have felt safe in taking a trip back to his old haunts in Kansas. But he could not have been more wrong. On July 6, 1890, the New York Herald ran the following story:

Murder Will Out.

Arrested for Killing A Man in Kansas Nearly Thirty Years Ago

St. Joseph, Mo., July 5, 1890 – Joseph Tribble, whose residence is on a plantation in the State of Mississippi, was arrested at an early hour this morning at Wathena, a little town just across the river from St. Joseph and in the state of Kansas. Tribble was a resident of Wathena twenty-nine years ago at a time when the border ruffians and bushwhackers run almost everything on the Kansas and Missouri sides of the river.

It was during these times in the year 1861 that Tribble, who sympathized with the Confederate cause, murdered Thomas Kincaid, who was a Northern sympathizer and who was at the time preparing to enlist in the Union Army. Immediately after the murder, on account of the feud then existing between Missourians and Kansans, Tribble made his escape, going to Mississippi, where he entered the Confederate army and served as a private until Lee’s surrender.

After the war he settled down on a Mississippi plantation, was married and now has in Mississippi a wife and three children, who have not yet been notified of the trouble he has gotten into. He had never visited his old home until the first day of the present month, when he came to St. Joe, then went to see friends in a little town ten miles north of here, and on the 4th he went to attend a celebration. He had no idea that any of his old acquaintances would recognize him, but they did, and his arrest followed. The murder was committed by a butcher knife in the month of September, 1861, and curious to say, the identical knife was found on his person when arrested. Tribble acknowledged that the knife was the one he used to murder Kincaid, and when asked why he carried it yet he answered: ‘I was coming back here on a visit the first time since the crime was committed and thought I would bring my friend of those times back with me.’ Tribble is now in jail at Troy, Kansas.

Justice moved quickly in the 1890s, and on July 16,1890, The Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, Kansas), reported on the opening of the trial:

The Tribble Trial

Troy, Kan., July 15 – The preliminary trial of Joseph Tribble, charged with the murder of Alexander Kincaid in September, 1861, is being held here today. A number of witnesses have been examined, but none have testified positively to the facts of the killing. Tribble is a resident of Mississippi and was here on a visit when he was recognized and arrested.

The Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha, Nebraska), also published an account of the trial on July 16, and their story includes more details about the murder:

Great was the excitement at Troy, Doniphan County, this state, today, the occasion being the preliminary examination of Joseph Tribble, who was arrested July 4 at Wathena for the murder of Alexander Kincaid on September 8, 1861. Tribble was rebel, Kincaid a man of union tendencies, although neither belonged to the regular armies. On the day mentioned, which was Sunday, the boys, both under twenty-one, met at a campmeeting. A quarrel ensued and they went at each other, Kincaid with a butcher knife, Tribble with a bowie knife. Kincaid was killed. Tribble went to Mississippi and did not reappear until July 4, when he was arrested. Today he was bound over in the sum of $7,000, which he is unable to give. The most intense excitement prevailed at Troy during the trial. The court room was crowded by men who had rebel tendencies and men of union proclivities and who openly stated them now. Tribble has a wife and five children in Mississippi, in destitute circumstances. He made no defense at the preliminary examination today.

 

Main street of Troy, Kansas, circa 1912 where the trial of Joseph Tribble took place - Special Collections, Wichita State University

Main street of Troy, Kansas, circa 1912 where the trial of Joseph Tribble took place – Special Collections, Wichita State University

One interesting statement was put forward in the Bee article – it noted that both Kincaid and Tribble were armed with knives – all of the previous statements about the murder made it sound as if Tribble simply stabbed an unarmed man to death. This information would turn out to have a great impact during the course of Tribble’s trial.

By early August, word of Joseph Tribble’s predicament had made its way back to Mississippi. On August 2, 1890, The Grenada Sentinel (Grenada, Mississippi), ran the following article:

Mr. Joe Tribble In Trouble

Arrested in Kansas for Killing a Man in 1861

Several weeks ago Mr. Joe Tribble of Jefferson, left here to visit relatives at Troy and other places in Kansas. While there he was arrested, charged with the killing of one Mr. Alexander Kincaid, in 1861. It seems that Mr. Kincaid was a rabid Federalist man, while Mr. Tribble was equally as strong a Confederate. They got into a dispute in which Mr. Kincaid was killed, and Tribble left the country and joined the Confederate Army. Mr. Tribble had a preliminary trial in Kansas some time since, and was bound over in the sum of $5,000, which bond he has not yet been able to give. None but state witnesses were examined and Mr. Tribble and his lawyers, as well as friends claim that they can easily prove that the killing was done purely in self-defense, when the trial comes before the Circuit Court. Some of his army comrades and other friends have been appealed to, and are now raising money to help him out of his trouble. We trust that all who can will contribute towards this end, and that Mr. Tribble will be acquitted. He made a brave Confederate soldier, and has a number of friends in this section. It will be hard for him to get full justice amongst strangers who know and care nothing for the South but to hate and malign her and her people.

The Grenada Sentinel article was very sympathetic to Tribble, but he was going to be tried by a Kansas jury, and his defense attorney would certainly have to work hard to obtain an acquittal for his client. The trial started in early October, 1890, and the Kansas City Times devoted considerable ink to the proceedings in the October 10, 1890, edition of the paper:

Joseph Tribble’s Hearing for a Murder in 1861 Opened at Troy

The case of Joseph Tribble for the murder of Alexander Kincaid in September, 1861, was called in the district court yesterday morning and the day was consumed in endeavoring to secure a jury. A special venire of twenty-six names was issued and this morning a jury was obtained and the trial begun. At 3 o’clock this afternoon the state rested its case and a short adjournment was had to enable the defense to prepare for its side.

One witness for the state testified that he stood by and saw Tribble stab Kincaid without any hostile demonstration on the part of the latter and that he repeated the blow in the back after Kincaid started to run. Also that before the first blow Kincaid had declined to fight Tribble. A lady testified that on the day of the murder she was visiting at a neighbor’s when Tribble came with bloody hands and upon being offered a basin of water to wash them, replied that he wanted the blood to remain so that when he reached Price’s army, he could show them the blood of an abolitionist.

After the killing Tribble went south with Price’s army, and had since made his residence in Mississippi, where he married and raised a family. Last Fourth of July he came back on a visit and was immediately arrested and placed in jail at Troy. Four witnesses who saw the killing, said that Kincaid had a sharpened butcher’s steel in his hand when he was stabbed by Tribble. By the few witnesses introduced by the defense up to adjournment it was proved that Kincaid had threatened Tribble’s life and the morning of the killing had sharpened the butcher’s steel for the purpose of killing Tribble. They met at the school house on Sunday, where church was held, and Kincaid struck Tribble and drew the steel. In self-defense Tribble drew a knife and struck the blow that caused death. The defense will set up the plea of self defense.

On this first day of the trial, the jurors had the difficult task of determining the truth from witnesses that told two entirely different stories of what happened 30 years earlier. If they believed one set of witnesses, Joseph Tribble had basically assassinated an unarmed, defenseless man. If you believed the other witnesses, Joseph Tribble had defended himself from a man who was intent on taking his life. Only time would tell which set of witnesses the jurors believed.

Today, a major murder trial might last for months; but in the 1890s justice was swift and sure, and on October 12, 1890, the Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), announced the verdict in all caps:

A CASE OF SELF DEFENSE

Joseph Tribble was acquitted of a murder in Doniphan county, Kansas, today committed over thirty years ago. Tribble was a southern sympathizer and the man he killed was Alexander Kincaid, a recruiting officer for the Union army. The evidence conclusively showed that Tribble acted wholly in self defense. Tribble is a resident of Mississippi and was arrested here the 4th day of last July while on a visit to his relatives in this section.

Without having access to the transcripts of the trial, it’s hard to second guess the verdict of the jury. The thirty years between the killing and the trial must have worked in Tribble’s favor; memories fade over time, witnesses die or move away, and the animosities generated by the war had decades to subside. All of these factors probably had something to do with Tribble’s acquittal.

With his name cleared, Tribble returned home to Mississippi and the loving embrace of his wife and children. He had endured a difficult few months, but I have to think that the acquittal must have given him peace of mind; no longer would he have to look over his shoulder waiting for law to catch up with him. As the Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), put it in their October 22, 1890 edition:  “He has been 29 years in dread of the hangman’s noose.” Tribble would no longer have to worry about a death on the gallows, but I have to wonder if his conscience ever bothered him. Was he forced to relieve the killing in nightmares night after night? Unfortunately, the historical record is silent on the subject.

The last mention I can find of Joseph Tribble is in the Confederate Widow’s Pension application of his wife, Levisa. In 1916 the 71 year old woman applied for a pension in Hinds County, Mississippi, declaring that she owned no property and lived with her son. Levisa wrote that she and Joseph were married on March 3, 1867, and that he had died on July 10, 1898.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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