“Determined to Storm Headquarters:” The Attack of the 38th Mississippi on their Commanding General

The Civil War was filled with days of valor, glory, and bloodshed, but most of the time soldiers battled nothing more dangerous than boredom. The young men found many ways to relieve the tedium of life in the army. Quite often in reminiscences of the war, soldiers talk about the pranks that they played on their fellow soldiers. Armies then as now were made up of young men, and there is nothing than young men like more than tricking their fellow soldiers. James Henry Jones, an officer in the 38th Mississippi Infantry, related the following story in the Magnolia Gazette, December 3, 1887:


Col. Jones of the Thirty-Eighth Mississippi Regiment, tells the following story:

In the early part of 1864 the regiment was mounted. This was considered by the men as being retired from active service,

Post-war photograph of James Henry Jones, Lieutenant Colonel of the 38th Mississippi - Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society

Post-war photograph of James Henry Jones, Lieutenant Colonel of the 38th Mississippi – Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society

for the infantry entertained a profound contempt for the cavalry, or Buttermilk Rangers, as they were derisively termed. Of course this was unjust.

Soon after reporting for duty the regiment joined in an attack on some lightly armed gun-boats on the Yazoo River. A skirmish line was formed, a dash made for the river bank which was reached without loss and the boats were covered by our rifles from the protection of a levy. In such a situation gunboats must close their side ports and are helpless and our artillery soon made short work of them.

Thee was really little risk and the work was familiar, but it pleased our new General, and as a reward, we were exempted from all fatigue duty except furnishing a nightly guard for headquarters. And thereby hangs a tale. One night the commissariat was robbed, no doubt with the connivance of the guard, and the regiment was disposed from its favored place and made to do ordinary duty in consequence. But our General had “reckoned without his host,” and did not fully understand the resources of the old Thirty-Eighth in an emergency.

Soon after their disgrace a party of the boys prepared a lot of grenades – corn-cob shells they called them – and determined to storm headquarters. These shells were made by taking the pith out of the cob of a full ear of corn and replacing it with powder. A short fuse was inserted and the hole plugged. It will be seen at a glance that this was a weapon of offense not to be despised. It exploded with a report quite equal to that of a musket, and the grains flew in all directions with stinging force. Armed with these shells they approached the General’s tent in the dead of night.

The sentry was speedily routed, and the General, in great alarm, rushed from his tent in his night robe, which report says, was uncommonly short. A shell or so exploding between his legs speedily sent him to cover, and he was kept under his blankets, though his curses were vigorous and eloquent during the siege. They remonstrated with him on his carelessness in sleeping without guards. They assured him his life was necessary to the safety of his command, and implored him, for their sake, to be more cautious in the future. During this address a shell was occasionally exploded in the tent to enforce a patient hearing, for the General, like all Texans, was known to be handy with the pistol, and his temper was none of the sweetest.

Having accomplished their purpose the attacking force was withdrawn in true military style. A rear guard of one man was left, who kept up a lively fusillade, under cover of which the main body withdrew. When these were safe the rear guard took to his heels. Next morning the General had recovered his good humor, and laughed heartily at the joke, and restored the regiment to its former post of honor and of ease.

The “General” who was so rudely attacked by the 38th Mississippi was Colonel Hinche Parham Mabry. Starting the war as

Colonel Hinche P. Mabry - Confederate Veteran Magazine, Volume 20, (June 1912)

Colonel Hinche P. Mabry – Confederate Veteran Magazine, Volume 20, (June 1912)

Captain of Company G, 3rd Texas Cavalry, Mabry worked his way up to command of the regiment. At the battle of Iuka the fiery Texan had been wounded three times and captured by the Federals. Offered a parole by the Yankees, the obstinate Colonel refused because the parole document referred to his country as the “so called” Confederate States of America. Mabry refused to sign the insulting papers and spent several months in a prison camp before being exchanged. Such was the spirit of the man tasked with whipping a rag-tag brigade into fighting trim, and he definitely had his work cut out for him.  Douglas Hale, The Third Texas Cavalry in the Civil War (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 28, 127-129.

Mabry’s first assignment after assuming command of the brigade to which the 38th Mississippi belonged was to take his men and operate in Yazoo County to protect the property of local citizens from Yankee raiding expeditions. The Colonel began his assignment in grand style, capturing the tinclad gunboat U.S.S. Petrel above Yazoo City on April 22, 1864. The boat was proceeding up the Yazoo River on a cotton stealing expedition when it blundered into a trap and was attacked by a detachment of Mabry’s brigade commanded by Colonel John Griffith of the 11th & 17th Arkansas. United States Navy Department, Comp., Official Records of the Union And Confederate Navies In The War of The Rebellion; (Washington D. C., 1895-1929), Series 1, Volume 26, 248.  

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“Oh You Cannot Get Away:” The Prisoner of War Memoir of George A. McGehee, 22nd Mississippi Infantry

In 1861, George A. McGehee enlisted in the “Liberty Guards,” Company E, 22nd Mississippi Infantry, and marched off to

Post Civil War picture of George A. McGehee - www.findagrave.com

Post Civil War picture of George A. McGehee – http://www.findagrave.com

defend Mississippi. In the years that followed, McGehee saw the hard hand of war up close and very personally. He was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh, recovered, and returned to the 22nd Mississippi just in time to fight in the Battle of Corinth, where he was wounded again. By the time of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, McGehee had been promoted to Sergeant in the Liberty Guards, and was involved in some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. But his time as a fighter abruptly came to a close when McGehee was captured and sent to Camp Douglas prisoner of war camp. On March 17 & 24, 1939, MCGehee’s memoir of prison life was published in the Gloster Record of Amite County, Mississippi. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Experience of Confederate Prisoner
Written by Geo. A. McGehee

On the 5th of July, 1864, on a line about five miles south of Marietta, Georgia, I was awakened by a charge of Yankees on our empty breastworks and on jumping up three Yankee soldiers on top of the breastworks cried out “surrender” and on looking to see if there was any chance to get away – one said, “Oh you cannot get away, I say, surrender,” which I did. They came to me and asked me when the army left and as I was left by the company sound asleep, I did not know which I told them as I certainly would have gone with them if I had known the time of departure.

They told me to leave my gun and cartridge box and the camp kettle as I would not need them, and one of them conducted me back to his company a part of Sixty-odd Ohio Regiment where they were preparing a breakfast of coffee and bacon and plenty of hard tack which they courteously asked me to partake of. Many questions were asked which I answered as far as I could, but the main question was “do you think you Johnnies will win this war?” My answer, “yes, I believe we will.” They seemed to like my answer and said they liked for a man to talk that way.

Confederate Earthworks along the south bank of the Chattahoochee River, Georgia. George A. McGehee was captured while serving in the Chattahoochee defenses. - http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/civil_war_series/7/sec6.htm

Confederate Earthworks along the south bank of the Chattahoochee River, Georgia. George A. McGehee was captured while serving in the Chattahoochee defenses. – http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/civil_war_series/7/sec6.htm

I was conducted to the provost guard, where there were other prisoners, and I am sorry to say a good many deserters, whom the yanks treated with scornful words; the guard moved in the rear of the advancing army for one day then we were marched to Marietta, a place where the inhabitants numbered 15,000 but 10,000 were dead Yankees, so a lady from Marietta told me about eight years ago.

The prisoners were placed on cars and shipped to Chattanooga, where we saw insolent negro soldiers and as we were suffering for water we asked that our canteens be filled, but our thirst was not assuaged nor did we ever see our canteens again, demonstrating that the negros natural propensity is to steal. We were put in the guard house and the next morning we were shipped to Nashville where we remained in the penitentiary buildings two more days. From there we went to Louisville and crossed the Ohio River to Jeffersonville at which place all the deserters were turned loose to shift for themselves. Possibly they were supplied by the officers with money but the soldiers in line considered all such as cowards and a disgrace to their country.

From Jeffersonville we were shipped to Chicago where we arrived July 16, 1864, being eleven days on this journey. We were marched out to “Camp Douglas” on Lake Michigan and in sight of Stephen A. Douglas residence. I here note that I had about three days rations in my havre sack and the Yanks forgot to furnish anything at Jeffersonville, and I having shared with a friend from east Miss., grew very hungry and began to grumble as I had not eaten anything in twenty four hours. The Yankee guard sitting in the door of the box car in which we were traveling asked me if what I said was true and I told him it was. He threw me two crackers saying “I cannot let a man suffer if I can help it.” I gave one of them to my friend, but there were others hungry.

Wartime photograph of Camp Douglas prisoner of war camp - http://deadconfederates.com/2011/12/26/escape-from-camp-douglas/

Wartime photograph of Camp Douglas prisoner of war camp – http://deadconfederates.com/2011/12/26/escape-from-camp-douglas/

At Camp Douglas the guards were told to search us but as they had been in front, they took my pocket book, merely opened it looked in and handed it back. We were then called off to barracks No. 7. There were four of these barracks to cross about sixty feet long and 20 feet wide with one door about the middle of the house with a kitchen on one end, kitchens were facing an alley about 20 feet in between there were streets between each row and there were 8 or 9 rows, the last row being the hospital row. The whole camp was surrounded by a plank wall about 20 feet high and a platform about four feet from the top was built on which guards were placed about thirty yards apart with orders to shoot anyone who crossed the “dead line” which was staked off about twenty feet from the fence. The camp was said to be 1500 yards in circumference and contained about twenty eight acres.

The inside guards consisted of a Yankee sergeant and corporal for each row and a private police guard, which was to see that all the prisoners obeyed the orders given. Also a Yankee was a kitchen guard or sergeant who attended to the kitchens as to sanitary conditions, and was considered the most exacting Yankee in the camp and of course was not liked by the prisoners. Besides each barracks had a Confederate as sergeant of the barracks who called the barracks in line when ordered by the authorities and attending any duties that might come up. There also was a kitchen sergeant whose duties with six others called cooks, prepared the food and distributed it to the men according to messes, which consisted of rations in a wooden box about sixteen inches square, for twelve men.

The barracks when full contained 180 men, and also running through the middle of barracks with frames for bunks on either side were for twelve men, four at bottom, four in middle and four in the top. There was a large stove in each end of the barracks and a fire was allowed in it all night especially when the night was very cold. The kitchen had a large kettle which held sixty gallons and was heated by a furnace. Plenty of fuel was furnished.

Confederate prisoners inside their barracks at Camp Douglas - Harper's Weekly, April 5, 1862

Confederate prisoners inside their barracks at Camp Douglas – Harper’s Weekly, April 5, 1862

About the middle of November, 1864, the Yankees sent in lumber dressed and tongue and grooved, and relaid the floor cross ways, thus making the boys more comfortable, and also recovered the barracks. The sick were attended by a physician and if a

George McGehee's bunkmate at Camp Douglas was Andew J. Nixon of Company C, 9th Arkansas Infantry. He was sent to New Orleans for exchange in May 1865. - www.findagrave.com

George McGehee’s bunkmate at Camp Douglas was Andew J. Nixon of Company C, 9th Arkansas Infantry. He was sent to New Orleans for exchange in May 1865. – http://www.findagrave.com

case was considered dangerous was sent to the hospital barracks where the patient received good attention. There were several cases of small pox all of which were taken to the mess house, my bed mate, a 9th Arkansas man, named Nixon, had it broken out on him and the man on the other side of me had fever and both of them were carried out in the morning, I sunned our blankets that evening and used them afterwards but I guess I was immune as I never took it. I had had a spell of rheumatism just before this, and had gone through a course of medicine.

Col. Sweet was in charge of the camp and most of the soldiers had seen service on the firing line and they were as a general thing kind to the prisoners, but woe to the ones who transgressed any rules for _____ punishment would follow and that of [the] most excruciating kind.
Many of the prisoners became experts in the manufacture of gutta – perch rings with gold and silver settings which some of the guards would carry out and sell. Besides we had games of chess, seven-up and other games, and some teaching especially arithmetic and algebra.

In December, 1864, the kitchen sergeant removed the cooks and sergeant of the kitchen for some cause I never found out, and he chose seven others to take charge of the kitchen and by the request of the barracks I was put in charge. In assuming this responsibility, I allowed the opposite kitchen sergeant to divide the rations sent as it had been done before. But as we were all required to retire to sleep at sundown and not get up till sunrise I had plenty of time to make a rule of division which in less than ten minutes I saw there was nothing in it except partnership rule and strange today there were college graduates there who had not seen it.

A great many of the prisoners were Gen. Morgan’s command and captured in the raid through Ohio. The rations were sent in a cart for barracks 7 and 8 and had to be divided. I was told that all kitchen sergeant’s adopted the same rule – The rations for a man was 7 loaves of bread for 10 men, 14 oz. beef, 2 oz. Irish potatoes, some salt, and every tenth day 10 oz pickled pork, also a few beans, and soap, as all were required to keep clean. In preparing the rations the meats were boiled in the large kettles and when boned gave each man a fraction over 4 oz. of meat or beef to the man which with ½ loaf of bread was issued through a draw window to the men in the barracks for dinner. The balance of bread was cut up and put in the liquer where the meat was boiled and was issued to the men for breakfast, the potatoes and beans was put in with the bread and pork liquor, and was much relished by the boys, only once in the 6 months that I was in charge did they (Yankees) fail to give us the full rations. I reported same to headquarters and in a short time a cart brought us the balance due.

I here remark that after a time the kitchen sergeant of barracks was removed and Enoch Carruth was put in charge of that kitchen, thus forming a friendship between us that lasted as long as he lived. He was a man and true Christian. One of the cooks with me was F.M. Martin from Pike County, who after coming home studied medicine, while Enoch lived in Lincoln County near Adams Camp Ground.

[Editor’s Note: Enoch Carruth was Joseph Enoch Carruth, Sergeant Major of the 45th Mississippi Infantry. He was captured at Franklin, Tennessee, on November 30, 1864, and sent to Camp Douglas.]

As I found when I was captured that as I had my hands in the lions mouth, it was best to go quietly along and do nothing which would cause me to break any rules. I therefore was not punished in any way, but acquired the good will of the sergeant and corporal of barracks and also of the kitchen sergeant, for whom I did some clerical work.

When Lincoln was assassinated the prisoners were much excited and some of the boys lost all discretion and showed their joy so plainly that an old guard said to have been a preacher, lost control of himself and soon showed that Lincoln was the Idol of the Yankee army and all our demonstrations of joy led to the severest kinds of punishment, while some of us did not show it, yet I do not doubt that every Confederate rejoiced in his heart that the great bulwark of the war was broken as we thought, and I at this time can not see that Lincoln was such a great president.
About June 1st, 1865, the camp officials began to parole the prisoners, commencing with those who had been longest there. Before this all the prisoners had asked in petition some very unwillingly, especially Morgan men, not to be paroled but the paroling continued day after day, each prisoner taking the Amnesty oath, and on the 11th day of June 1865, my name with others was reached and under guard we were marched to the depot of a railroad and put aboard passenger cars, and shipped to Cairo, where we arrived the next day late in the evening.

I met Johnnie Walker and J. Monroe Whittington, Elaine’s son, from Fort Delaware, who had been prisoners about eighteen months. The guards there were negro soldiers, and no doubt but the men suffered many indignities that the Wisconsin men did not put on their prisoners. Johnnie, Monroe and I were put aboard a steamboat for Natchez, June 1865, where I met a dear school mate, who formed a guard of ex-Confederates and conducted us to my father’s house about 12 miles. My father came in about 2 p.m., and told Monroe that his father was in town, and he and Johnnie came back to old Amite free and independent men.

On the 6th day of July 1865, I came back to Amite and I trust that I have been a true and faithful citizen of this my native county. Born January 1st, 1842 on the same hill where my mother was born in 1818, May 18, on land entered by Angus Wilkinson her paternal uncle in Zion Hill neighborhood.

The reason I slept so soundly the morning I was captured was that I had been first a picket on July 2nd, remained till about 12 midnight on 3rd, marched in line till daylight, had charge of squad digging ditches on the 4th, and was simply worn out when I went to sleep and our orderly overlooked me when he woke the company to leave.


George McGehee took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and was discharged from Camp Douglas on June 16,

1865. He went home to Amite County married Josephine A. Cotten, and had a house full of children. In the 1870 U.S. Census, George and Josephine were living in Amite County with their two children. George was making his living as a schoolteacher, and told the census taker that his personal estate was valued at a modest 100.00.

George A. McGehee lived a long life, and was active in his local United Confederate Veterans camp. He died on January 4, 1924, and was buried in Liberty Cemetery in Amite County.

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Long Ago

I found the following poem in The Meridian Semi-Weekly Gazette, June 13, 1867, and the mournful, sad lines spoke to me. The writer, identified only as “E.S.,” was certainly someone that had suffered great loss, and the pain they were suffering was all to common in the post war South.

I am sitting, sitting all alone,

19th Century Depiction of a Woman in Mourning - http://cwciv.tripod.com/mourning.html

19th Century Depiction of a Woman in Mourning – http://cwciv.tripod.com/mourning.html

In the little cottage door;

Where oft I’ve sat with loved ones

In the halcyon days of yore –

Memory reverts in a sadness,

To the time I used to rove

Round about this quiet cottage,

With those I fondly loved –

Unbidden tears are falling,

As a glance I backward throw,

Through the sad and many changes,

Since the times of long ago.

Twas here I spent my childhood,

Neath this cottage roof so low;

Floating on the stream of pleasure,

In the time of long ago;

With those I loved to join me,

In the sports of my delight,

From the early dawn of morning,

Till the reign of dismal night.

Oh! blissful days of childhood,

Why did ye fly so fast?

And leave the weary heart to feel,

Life’s sweetest joys are past.

Twas then, I had a mother dear,

With a voice so sweet and low,

And a father kissed me often,

In times of long ago.

And too, I had a brother dear,

With a heart so manly firm

And a sister to caress me

With a love that’s always true.

But all have gone and left me,

There are none that love me now –

There are none that love me now –

There are none to caress me,

Nor soothe my aching brow.

My mother’s form is mouldering,

Beneath the old Elm tree;

My father’s bones are lying,

‘Neath the deep and far off sea;

The grass and flowers are growing,

On the little mound we made,

In the corner of the garden,

Where my darling sister’s laid.

My brother, oh my brother –

He never had a grave –

He fell, as falls the soldier,

The bravest of the brave.

The world’s a desert now to me,

One field of endless woe,

I ne’er again shall see such days,

As the times of long ago.

But whereso’er I wander,

Over land, or over sea;

My thoughts shall come at evening,

Childhood’s home to thee,

And when my living ceases,

And my body slumbers low,

I’ll join in Heaven my loved ones,

As in the times of long ago.


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

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

Elijah Slay (1838-1864)

Captain, Company C, 16th Mississippi Infantry

June 10/1864

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 10-12, 1864. Cold Harbor.

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

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

Corydon Slay

Company C, 16th Mississippi Infantry



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

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

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

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

Norvell Slay




16th Mississippi Infantry

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

Nathan W. Slay



second sergeant 


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

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

Alexander Slay, Jr.


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

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

Leonidas Slay



Co A, Powers Regiment Mississippi Cavalry

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

Cincinatus Slay

1846 – Dec 31, 1864

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


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

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

Alonzo D. Slay

May 28, 1848 – 1921


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To His Excellency the Governor

Dear Sir

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

Respectfully Yours &c

Jane Boykin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grave of Jane Boykin - Findagrave.com

Grave of Jane Boykin – Findagrave.com

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

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All That Characterizes the Southern Soldier: A Memorial Day Remembrance

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

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

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

Western Military Institute

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

Dear Pat,

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

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

William A. Harper

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

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

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

Bowling Green, KY, January 14, 1861

Dear Sister Mittie:

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

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

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

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

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

I remain,

Your affectionate brother,


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrys Stacion Hinds Co. August the 15 1862

Goviner Petus Dear sir

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

yours respectfuly

Julia M. Spencer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Doomed City: A Reminiscence of Jackson, Mississippi

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of the Bowman House Hotel, Circa 1860

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle Flag of the 37th Mississippi Infantry

Battle Flag of the 37th Mississippi Infantry

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

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

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

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

Illustration of Federal Troops Occupying Jackson, Mississippi

Illustration of Federal Troops Occupying Jackson, Mississippi

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

W., Yazoo City, October, 1881

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

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

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

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

Tombstone of Joseph Henry Castles - Findagrave.com

Tombstone of Joseph Henry Castles – Findagrave.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Edward Fontaine

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully your obt. svt.,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully, Your Obt. Svt.,

Edward Fontaine

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

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

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

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

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


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