Tonight, June 28, 2011, I am speaking to the Jackson Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp. The talk will be a powerpoint presentation entitled “A Tour of Civil War Vicksburg.” The talk, which is open to the public, will be at the Municipal Art Gallery at 839 North State Street in Jackson, Mississippi. Refreshments will be served at 5:00 p.m., and the talk will start at 6:00 p.m. I hope to see you there!
Chapter 2: The Siege Begins
It has always seemed to me that we came very near being too late getting to our position on that evening of the 17th. We were the first troops to begin skirmishing, and if we had been a half hour later, the Federals could have walked into our works unopposed; and had they been advised of the actual situation, they would undoubtedly have done so.
Some of our troops on the immediate right of our regiment were in bad shape on this
evening; they did not like to face the rifle fire of the enemy, and when he brought up some cannon and began to throw grape and canister, they broke and ran down the hill. The officers got them back with some difficulty, but their heart was not in the work and they seemed more anxious to protect themselves from danger than to fight.
About this time a Yankee skirmisher was hit by some of us, and raised the most awful yell I ever heard in my life; this seemed to put them in good humor, they began to laugh and crack jokes, their line was reformed and their fire became rapid and steady. I mention this incident merely to show what an important effect a slight circumstance may sometimes have on the morale of troops in action. We continued skirmishing from this position, not attempting to advance and the Yanks not attempting to push us, till night came on. There was some desultory firing during the night, but nothing to amount to anything, and just about daylight we retired to our breast-works, and took up the position held by us throughout the siege.
The morning of May 18th 1863 dawned clear and beautiful. Not a cloud obscured the sky; the air was soft, balmy and redolent of wild flowers; and as the sun arose, the dewdrops on the grass sparkled in his rays like myriads of diamonds. The mocking birds were filling the air with melody, and the little wrens, tom-tits, and thrushes were tittering with gladness, and they built their nests or sought their food, all unconscious of the terrible tragedy impending. It was a typical May morning, cool and pleasant, bright and lovely; all nature seemed restful and glad, and man alone was out of harmony with the peaceful scene.
The Federals like ourselves, were badly fatigued with constant marching and fighting, and knowing that they now had us completely hemmed in, were in no hurry to move on the morning of the 18th, and it was ten o’clock before they began the advance in our front. The first movement was made by a thin line of skirmishers or scouts accompanied by mounted officers with field glasses, who scanned our lines, noted their general contour, and selected and marked positions for their artillery. The forward movement stopped on the brow of the ridge across the valley from our works, and distant about three quarters of a mile, and pretty soon afterwards we could see their artillery approaching at a gallop to take position.
Up to this time no firing had occurred, but our batteries now opened on the flying artillery with some effect. Men and horses were killed and some of their guns disabled and could not be brought into position; the most of them however soon reached the stations assigned them, and were throwing shells at us in return.
During this day they brought very few troops besides artillery to the firing line, as there was no shelter for them; but the next morning when it was light enough for us to see, we found they had during the night erected a solid line of entrenchments, which were now full of men, who very soon began to pop at us with their rifles. They had also during the night, brought up all their remaining field batteries and had them well protected by earth works. As soon as it was light enough, they began to shell our lines, and the fire was kept up incessantly as long as daylight lasted.
At first, our batteries replied briskly, but it soon became apparent that the Yanks were greatly superior both in number of guns and weight of metal, and after an hour or two when they had gotten the range, it became dangerous for one of our guns to show her muzzle through and embrasure; and as there was no real necessity for our guns to fire, they reserved their ammunition for emergencies and were rolled back out of danger. After the first two days, our cannon fired very little except when a charge was on, when they would be brought to the front and belch grape and canister regardless of consequences.
Our command was located about a half a mile due north of the city cemetery, at the head of a ravine running north from the eastern boundary of the cemetery as then laid out. On the preceding page, I have made a diagram which shows the position of our company and partly of the regiment, and which will serve to illustrate some incidents I propose to mention.
By glancing at this line, it will be observed that the portion of the line occupied by the company, deviates sharply from the general direction of the breast-works, which was east and west, and points almost directly to the northwest. This was a grave error in the construction of the works, as this point was plainly commanded by one on the opposing ridge where the Federals afterwards located a gun. I cannot account for this error, except on the hypothesis that the field marks of the engineer had been moved or obliterated before the trench was dug. Whatever may have been its occasion, the error was a fatal one for us and resulted in the death of three good men.
The space occupied by Company “I” extended from A to B enclosed in red marks. The left of the company rested near the redoubt D, which was occupied by two guns of Wofford’s Battery. By drawing a line from point C, to the point G, marked Federal gun, it will be seen that this gun commanded the line lengthwise, or in military phraseology, enfiladed it. This gun was a three-inch rifle, of great power and accuracy and was evidently handled by expert gunners.
We did not observe it till the afternoon of the second day of the siege, when it began to fire in our direction. The first few shots seemed to be directed at the redoubt to our left, but presently a shell struck on the parapet about the center of our company, showing that they had realized the insecurity of our position. The second shot struck just at the point C, but a little too low, and bounded over the works doing no injury; the third came on the same line just high enough to graze the top of the ditch, and coming inside, killed Alexander, Rayner, and Huddleston.
Editor’s note: Martin had this to say about Siah Alexander – From Lauderdale County, enlisted at Meridian, formerly of the 14th Mississippi. Killed by a cannon shot during the siege of Vicksburg. He was the next man to my left in the trenches, and was standing in a stooping position with his face to the front, engaged in digging out a more comfortable seat, while I was sitting down with my back to the embankment reading a book. My legs were crossed, the open book resting on my knee, and held open by my left hand. The shot after tearing away Alexander’s back and cutting him nearly in two, passed over my knee, near enough to scorch the back of my hand, and killed two men on my left. I had many narrow escapes from death during the war, but never one that impressed me so forcibly as this. In thinking over the situation afterwards, I could never understand how it was that I escaped, except that it was by the direct interposition of God for some wise purpose of his own.
Aaron Raynor – From New Ireland, enlisted at Union. Aaron was a son-in-law of George Doole, a near neighbor of ours during my boyhood and I knew him well. He was a good man and did his duty faithfully as a soldier, but his heart was never in it; he was always trying to get a furlough or get off on sick leave, and was what we termed in those days a ‘croaker,’ or a person who took a pessimistic view of the war. he was killed at Vicksburg during the siege, by the cannon shot that also killed Si Alexander and Coon Huddleston, both his legs being cut off below the knees. It is a singular fact, that although Alexander’s back was torn off and he was almost cut in twain, yet he survived for two hours, while Raynor died in thirty minutes.
Coon Huddleston – An erratic, crack-brained kind of a fellow, but honest, kind hearted and as brave as a lion. He was not quarrelsome, but if he thought he was being imposed on, would fight any number of men, singly or collectively. He was killed during the siege of Vicksburg by the same cannon shot that killed Si Alexander. The shot struck Coon on the right knee, entirely carrying away the kneecap and leaving the lower part of the leg dangling. his leg was amputated above the knee and he was rapidly recovering when Erysipelas set in and he died twenty-four hours afterwards. Coon was a witty kind of a fellow and often got off good things. On one occasion he was having a heated discussion with one of the boys about something, when the other fellow told Coon he was a fool. Coon promptly responded, ‘Yes I think you and I are both fools, I for the want of money and you for the want of sense.’
Captain Watts was ill at the time, and Lieutenant Burgess being absent in the city, I was in command of the company. I at once reported the facts to the Colonel, who directed me to remove the men to the ravine at the point marked F, which I did, and we remained there till night. As soon as it was dark, we came up and built a traverse across the end of the ditch to prevent the shells from coming in, but the next morning finding it was hardly high enough, we got some cotton bales and placed on top of it.
Editor’s note: Martin had this to say about Captain Jubal Watts – Captain Watts was in some respects peculiar, being straight laced in his opinions, with strong prejudices and somewhat inclined to intolerance; he was however unswervingly honest, faithful to his friends and loyal to his convictions. He was intensely devoted to the south and her cause and the last I heard of him some years since, was still wholly un-reconstructed. He always took great interest in my welfare, and it is a pleasure to acknowledge many benefits at his hands.
Timothy T. Burgess – Of Morton, Scott County Mississippi, was in many respects the best man I ever saw. He was poorly educated and a complete novice in the ways of the world; and as a result, was continually being imposed on, overreached and beaten by sharpers, whose methods he did not understand and could never learn. This did not seem to affect him seriously however; his large hearted charity and sweetness of disposition were proof against such annoyances, and I have often heard him speak cheerfully and dispassionately of indignities that would have made an ordinary man furious. He was the comrade and personal friend of every man in the company, entered into their joys and sorrows, and looked after their welfare in sickness and in health.
We soon found this to be a mistake; about the second shot the Yanks made, [they] knocked one of the bales down in the trench on the men and nearly crushed some of them to death. After a few more shots, a shell struck just on top [of] one of the bales, cut the ropes and exploding, set the cotton afire; as soon as the ropes were severed, the bale bulged out and began to burn rapidly. Bill West and myself first tried to put it out by pouring water on it from canteens, but soon found it wouldn’t do and so we rolled it off down the hill and were ordered back into the ravine. We afterwards built up the traverse so as to make us perfectly secure from this gun, but continued to occupy the ravine in the day-time, going up to the works only at night.
Editor’s note: Martin had this to say about William West – From Lauderdale County, enlisted at Meridian in the spring of 1862. He was a man of fine character and brave to a fault; he served through the war without a wound. Some years after the war he emigrated to Texas, and passing through Brandon stopped to see me. I have never heard from him since.
At the base of the bluff where the ravine ended, we dug out a square place in the shape of a house, which we covered with heavy logs and three or four feet of dirt, making a refuge which was almost perfectly secure. We called this a “Bomb Proof.” The protection ditch leading from the works to the bomb proof was deep enough to shelter us from bullets while passing to and fro. Ditches of this kind were made at intervals all along our lines, to enable the men to pass to the rear into the ravines, where there was no danger except from stray shells and spent balls; but these dangers were not by any means to be despised, as many men were killed and wounded while passing through.
After we had built our bomb proof, we had very little to do. We would sleep in the trenches, but as soon as daylight appeared would return to our refuge and stay there the remainder of the day, engaged in such occupations as came to hand, mostly playing cards or drafts. Fortunately there was but little rain, and our cave was dry and comfortable; if the weather had been rainy and damp, it would have been very disagreeable as well as unhealthy.
During the siege, the health of the men was fairly good. There were some fevers and diarrhea, (somehow soldiers nearly always seem to have the diarrhea) but nothing that could be considered serious till the siege had been underway for some three weeks when the Diphtheria broke out and raged with some violence; P. G. Keene died of it.
Editor’s note: Martin had this to say about P. G. Keene – From Tallashee, enlisted at Union and died at Vicksburg during the siege, of Diphtheria. Keene was a good man, but rather eccentric in manner. He was left an orphan and entirely destitute when very young, and when almost on the verge of starvation, was adopted by one of the tribes of Indians of the Choctaw Nation, with whom he remained till he was grown to manhood. He then left these friends in need, married a white lady and settled down among the whites. He was an intelligent man and spoke English perfectly, but he had the accent, abrupt manner, and morose disposition of the Indians.
Another disease that caused considerable mortality during the siege was Erysipelas. It attacked wounded men, sometimes when they were almost well, and nearly always proved fatal. I am of the opinion that it was nothing but a form of blood poisoning, resulting from lack of proper cleanliness and disinfection.
The hospitals for our command were located on the bayou just south of the cemetery, and as they wagon yards and commissary were also in the same locality, there was a great deal of passing back and forth. This was attended with a good deal of danger, as missiles were continually dropping in the cemetery, not only from our front, but from the eastern part of the lines also. Many casualties occurred here.
One night a lot of us were going down to the yards, among others Priestly Taylor, when a piece of shell struck the heel of Taylor’s shoe, tripping him up and landing him right on top of his head. We all thought him killed, and were much surprised when he jumped up laughing. He sustained no injury further than the loss of his shoe heel.
Editor’s note: Martin had this to say about Priestly Taylor – From Lauderdale County, enlisted at Meridian. Was with us till after the siege of Vicksburg and in parole camp at Enterprise, from which place he deserted when the command left for Mobile. When Sherman was approaching Meridian in the winter of 1863, our command was ordered up to reinforce Johnston, and while there, Taylor was brought to our camp by the commandant of the post at Meridian, having been captured in the country near there. The commandant offered to turn him over to me provided I would guarantee his future good conduct; I talked with Taylor and he made all sorts of pledges, begging that I would not allow him to be court-martialed for desertion. I finally agreed to take him and become responsible for him, and he paid me by deserting again that night.
End of Chapter 2
In the first decade of the 20th century, Simeon R. Martin of Vicksburg began writing a memoir about his service to the Confederacy during the Civil War. Martin explained in the introduction his reasons for writing of his wartime exploits:
As it may be a matter of interest to my descendants, especially my own children in after years, I propose to give a brief outline of my participation in the greatest war of modern times, viz: ‘The War Between the States,’ or as our friends the enemy term it, ‘The War of the Rebellion,’ together with my impressions of men and measures during that fateful period, and such comments as shall occur to me during the course of the narrative.
When he completed his manuscript, Martin had it privately published under the title, “Recollections of the War Between the States,” and distributed the copies to the members of his family. The old soldier never intended for his work to be published, and in relating to his children his wartime experiences, Martin pulled no punches. He presented the men with whom he served as they were, the heroes and cowards, rascals and colorful characters.
In describing the horrors he witnessed on the battlefield, Martin told his children of the blood and gore and didn’t try to gloss over the butchery of war. He has seen some terrible sights during his years in the army and felt that his children should not have a false idea of what Civil War combat was like. In speaking of the war he said, “It means misery, heart-breakings, desolation and death. This it the true picture, but it is not always thus painted.”
Simeon R. Martin began his military career in the spring of 1862 when he enlisted in a local company, the “Southern Rights,” that was forming in Union, Mississippi, a small town in Newton County. During the summer of 1862 this company along with several others were attached to the 6th Mississippi Battalion, which was later reorganized into the 46th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, the Southern Rights being designated as Company I.
The 46th Mississippi first saw action just north of Vicksburg at the battle of Chickasaw Bayou, December 27-29, 1862. The regiment was not heavily engaged, however, and casualties were very light. For the men of the 46th Mississippi, the 1863 Vicksburg Campaign was their bloody introduction to the horrors of modern warfare.
Martin’s memoir covered all four years of his wartime service, but for this work I have chosen only the chapters relating to the Vicksburg Campaign. As even this portion of the memoir is quite lengthy, I will post the work chapter by chapter as I have time. The narrative begins with the battle of Port Gibson, Mississippi, on May 1, 1863, and concludes with the surrender of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863.
The words in this memoir are Simeon Martin’s; the only changed I have made are to paragraph the material to make it easier to read and to place the events mentioned in chronological order to ease the flow of the narrative.
In the beginning of his memoir Martin wrote a few notes about the men in his company that he served with. Some of the comments are funny, some are sad, more than a few depict his comrades in an unflattering light, but they help to put a face to the men that made up the Southern Rights, and where possible I have included these comments in the text.
Martin had a quick wit, an engaging writing style, and an honesty that sets his work apart from many other Civil war memoirs. I hope you like it as much as I did.
Chapter 1 – Port Gibson
After Chickasaw Bayou, nothing of importance transpired in the vicinity of Vicksburg till late in April 1863, when the Federals succeeded in running several boats by our batteries. This was done one very dark morning just before daylight. Our regiment was picketing the river that night and we saw the whole thing, or as much of it as could be seen, which was not a great deal.
I don’t know what the matter was, and have never hear it explained, but the fire of our batteries seemed wholly ineffectual, and so far as we knew inflicted no damage on the passing boats. The passing of these boats changed the whole appearance of things, and it was not evident that we should soon have more fighting to do. Grant now having ample facilities for crossing his troops over the river, it was to be supposed that he would lose no time in moving south and endeavoring to approach the city from the rear.
After the fleet succeeded in passing Vicksburg, Grant marched his army across the neck of land west of the city and down the river to a point opposite Bruinsburg, where he crossed over and established a base. As soon as he had sufficient troops and supplies brought up, and he began the movement to the rear of Vicksburg by way of Port Gibson.
Our command was ordered out to meet this movement, and we came in contact with Grant’s advance, three or four miles west of Port Gibson on the morning of the first day of May 1863. We took up position just at the intersection of the roads leading to Bruinsburg and Grand Gulf, our regiment being formed along a ridge to the left of the first mentioned road, to support Bledsoe’s Missouri Battery.
We had not been in position many minutes before the Yankees came in range, and the shells and minnie balls began to whistle round in unpleasantly close proximity to our various anatomies. The Federals ran a battery of five guns, up within about eight or nine hundred yards of us, and opened fire on two guns of the Missouri battery above mentioned, which were situated just at the right of the regiment, and then the fun began. As we were slightly below the brow of the ridge, they couldn’t see us at all and were not firing at us but at the guns; but this was little consolation to us, as the fragments of bursting shells scattered in every direction and occasionally wounded some of our men.
This is the most trying ordeal that troops can be subjected to, to have to lie still under fire which they cannot return, with nothing to do and nothing to think of, except how long it will probably be before their turn comes to die or suffer mutilation. Rush them into action in a charge or place them where they have an equal chance with the enemy, and they will think little of the danger, but to remain idle under fire, with no protection, will try the nerves of the finest troops on earth.
Fortunately we remained here but a short time. The two Missouri guns were manned by young fellows, none of them seemingly more than eighteen or twenty years old, but they were the coolest lot of fellows and the finest gunners I saw in action during the war. The shells were coming round them thick and fast, bursting, tearing up the ground and making a terrible noise, but they paid no more attention to them than if they had been base-balls.
They worked their guns with clock-like regularity, aimed with care and precision and every shot seemed to count. We could see their shells bursting right in the midst of the Federal batterymen, and it was not more than fifteen minutes from the beginning of the duel, before the Yankees moved off with three of their guns, the other two being dismounted, and leaving several men and horses dead. Not one of our guns or gunners were touched, the only casualty in the battery being an Irishman who was down under the hill holding horses, and he was wounded only in the pants, which had the effect of making him swear vociferously.
After the Federal position had been abandoned by their battery, we were advanced about a quarter of a mile to the front, down the Bruinsburg Road, and took position in an open field in full view of the enemy, and exposed to an open fire from both artillery and small arms. Many blunders are made in war, and this was one of them, and a fatal one for many of our men. This field was not more than two hundred yards wide, with timber on both sides of it, in which we could have had good shelter from the enemy’s fire, and yet we were kept there for a full half hour, in a bare level field, with not a tree, stump or anything else to shelter us, exposed to a merciless fire of shells, grape, canister and minnie balls.
It was here that Sam Smith was killed and John Campbell wounded, and where I had another narrow escape myself. After we had suffered severe loss, in killed and wounded, we were finally withdrawn into the road where we where sheltered by the high banks. We were then deployed as skirmishers and advanced to the front through the timber till we were in sight of the enemy, when we began firing, and kept it up till night pretty much in the same position. This was a hot place too. We were very near to the Yanks, not more than a hundred yards or so away, and in some places much nearer. Many were killed here on both sides, and at one time a few of the Yanks wandered into our line and were captured.
Editor’s note: Martin had this to say about Sam Smith: “Enlisted at Union and killed at the battle of Port Gibson, May 1st 1863. The bullet that killed him would undoubtedly have killed me, but for the fact that it struck him first. John Campbell had just been hit by a piece of shell, and as he was near to us, Sam and myself both raised up to see if he was badly hurt, when a minnie ball struck Sam, going through his head and killing him instantly. My head was just behind his, and the ball also struck it but not with sufficient force to penetrate, my head being to some extent protected by a stiff piece of leather in the top of my cap.”
Martin also said this about John Campbell: “Enlisted at Union, was with the command at all times and places and was always ready for duty. Was wounded at Port Gibson May 1st, 1863, and killed in the second days battle at Nashville, Tennessee, in December 1864. John was a good man and brave soldier. He opposed me for the Lieutenancy when I was elected and took his defeat with very bad grace, in fact was never cordial to me afterward, but this made no difference in my intercourse with him, I was always his friend and sincerely regretted his death.”
About nine o’clock that night, we were withdrawn and retreated, passing through Port Gibson and going down in the direction of Grand Gulf, as it was feared that Grant might send a column in that direction; but as he did not, after remaining in the neighborhood for two days we were brought back, crossed the Big Black at Baldwin’s Ferry and camped in the woods this side, where we remained for several days. When we moved from this camp, we went up the Black River to the railroad bridge, where we were on the day of the battle there, but in which we did not take part.
That night we were marched back to Vicksburg and occupied our old quarters. We were tired to death and it was a great relief to get back to our tents, beds, and extra clothing. We had carried no change of clothing with us, and were all very dirty and in bad shape generally. The first thing I did was to take a good bath and put on clean clothes, and then without waiting for anything to eat, I lay down on my cot about sundown and I don’t think I turned over or moved till sun-rise next morning, when the drum beat for roll call.
In the meantime the rest of our army had fallen back on the east side of Big Black, pursued by the enemy and had fought disastrous battles of Baker’s Creek, Champion Hills and Big Black, being finally forced across the latter stream at the railroad crossing and driven back to Vicksburg, reaching there the same night we did, viz: May 17th, 1863. After a good night’s sleep, we spent the next day in cleaning up our equipments, putting our clothing in order and resting.
About four o’clock in the afternoon, we were formed in line, marched leisurely to the
north of the city cemetery and took position as skirmishers about a quarter of a mile in front of the breast-works, which had been prepared for the defense of the city some time before. We had not been in this position for more than twenty minutes before the Federal skirmishers were in touch with us, and we were hammering away at each other for dear life.
End of Chapter 1
I love doing research about rank and file soldiers from Mississippi – the men who did the marching and the fighting, the killing and the dying. Their stories are often lost in the histories of the Civil War – you can find tons of information on the generals and major battles, but ferreting out the long forgotten history of an individual soldier from the Magnolia State takes a little more effort. To illustrate what can be found about an individual soldier, I want to provide an example from my personal Civil War collections: a series of photographs & postcards that belonged to Elias M. Oden, who served in the 24th & 35th Mississippi Infantry Regiments.
Some years ago I picked up a set of real-photo postcards at an antique shop in Clinton, Mississippi – The thing about them that drew my interest was the address on one of the postcards that was dated July 15, 1921: “Mrs. E. M. Oden, Biloxi, Mississippi, C/O Beauvoir.” It was the “Courtesy of Beauvoir” that really caught my eye, as Beauvoir was Jefferson Davis’ postwar home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and I knew that after his death the building had been used as a nursing home for elderly Confederate veterans and their wives.
Along with the Beauvoir postcard was another photo postcard showing an older woman posing with a small child on the steps of a monument. Although only a small portion of the monument was visible, I immediately recognized the structure, as I walked past it quite often – it was the monument to Mississippi’s Confederate dead, located beside the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson, Mississippi:
The postcards were only a couple of dollars so I bought them, and went home and proceeded to do some research. Fortunately Beauvoir is now a museum and presidential library dedicated to the life of Jefferson Davis, and a quick search of their website turned up a list of veterans and their wives who had been admitted to the facility. On the female list their was only one Oden listed – Annie Oden, who had been admitted on May 6, 1921. A look at the list of males who lived at the facility turned up only one Oden as well – Elias M. Oden, who served in Company B, 35th Mississippi Infantry.
Since both Elias and Annie were both alive as late as 1921, I thought it likely that one of them might have filed for a veterans or widow’s Confederate pension with the state of Mississippi. I took a quick look at the Mississippi Confederate Pension index and found that Annie had filed for a widow’s pension in 1926:
Armed with this new information, I then went to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and looked up Elias’ service record with the Confederate army. What I found was that he had actually served in two different infantry regiments during the course of the war. He started out in 1861 by enlisting in Company I, 24th Mississippi Infantry. After serving a short enlistment with this unit he was discharged, and then he enlisted again, this time in Company B of the 35th Mississippi Infantry. His service record with the 35th was short, but it indicated that Elias saw a good bit of action during his time with the unit; in fact, he was captured twice, once in 1862 at either the battle of Iuka, Mississippi or the battle of Corinth,Mississippi, and again in 1865 at the battle of Blakely, Alabama.
With all of this information in hand, I had a really good idea of what Elias Oden had done during the Civil War. But one thing still bothered me – I didn’t have a picture of Elias himself. Sometimes, however, I think that the people I research want to be found, and want their time on earth to be remembered.
A month or two after I had completed my research, I was at the Flea Market that used to be held every weekend at the fairgrounds in Jackson, Mississippi. I collect old photographs, and while looking though a pile of dusty pictures at one table, I found an 1880s era cabinet card of a husband and wife. I turned the image over, and written in a neat hand were the names of the couple: Elias and Annie Oden. It was an amazing coincidence, or perhaps it was no coincidence at all – it may be that I was meant to find the picture and tell you about Elias and Annie Oden.
Diary of John Louis Whitaker Phares, Part II
Dallas Morning News, September 4, 1927
Saturday, December 27, 1862:
Editor’s note: the article states that Colonel Posey detailed Phares;
To do dental work for the brigade. Shoes sent from home arrived today. There were welcome, as our boys were in great need of them.
Editor’s note: the article also states that Phares noted that the citizens of Wilkinson County sent packages of clothes for the soldiers and that
The boys were _____, each fellow eager to open [his] bundle to see what it contained from home.
Thursday, January 1, 1863:
Editors note: the article states there were rumors in camp that
The enemy are falling back toward Washington. I hope that success may follow us as the New Year advances, and that long peace and happiness may _____ where discord and strife now ______. We have cause to be thankful for the blessings God has bestowed on us since last spring. Many victories.
Friday, January 2:
The enemy balloon was up several times today opposite Fredericksburg. Little of interest in camp until Richmond cars brought the news of Gen. Bragg’s victory over the Hessians at Murfreesboro, Tenn. The good news revived our spirits.
Editor’s note: The “enemy balloon” of which Phares speaks was part of the Union army Balloon Corps, organized and run by civilian scientist Thaddeus Lowe. These balloons were used for surveillance of Confederate movements at a number of battles from 1861 – 1863.
Date unreadable in article [January 4-6]
Come in from picket duty at 10 last night. _____ on the river above Fredericksburg. In speaking distance of enemy pickets, but were not allowed to speak to them nor permitted to fire on them by order of Gen. Lee.
Wednesday, January 7:
Regiment paid off today up to Jan. 1, two months in all. Weather very inclement, detailed to work on earthworks today. My mess commenced building a house of pine logs for winter quarters. Had to [carry] poles a mile on our shoulders. The house is nearly finished, covered with tent flies. _____ in at dark but chimney not yet finished. Sent $50 to Richmond this morning for material to do dental work with.
Monday, January 12:
Our house is finished. It has only a dirt floor, but is quite comfortable compared to our usual way of camping. Orders came to march on a moment’s notice. Heard from Ma today. The enemy is reported to be making a demonstration along the river _____ here.
Sunday, January 18:
Col. Posey received a promotion yesterday to Brigadier General. He made a farewell speech this evening to the regiment. All much affected, as it was thought he would be transferred. At dusk he returned from Gen. Featherstone’s headquarters informing us he would command the brigade. He was serenaded after dark by the band.
Tuesday, January 20:
We went to [bid] Gen. Featherstone adieu. Col. Taylor of the Twelfth Mississippi expressed regrets of the brigade in losing Gen. Featherstone. The General said said it was his honest opinion that this was the best brigade that ever the sun of heaven shone on. Gen. Posey took command of the brigade today.
Thursday, January 22:
Before light today sound of cannon was heard, presumably de_____ the approach of the enemy. The long roll was beat and every man answered roll call promptly. It was found to be a false alarm, however, and all returned to camp. A house had burned at Fredericksburg in which shells were placed, this causing the sounds. Parson Reeves made farewell remarks tonight, as he transferred. A gentleman from Mississippi preached to the Sixteenth Regiment. It is the first sermon I have heard since last summer at Charlottesville.
Date not stated [January 1863]
Editors note: the article states that Phares and a companion went into Fredericksburg and
While in town we walked into the cupola of the Baptist church and took a view of the
enemy on the opposite side of the river. They are plentiful, passing to and fro. Several regiments of infantry were marching, with wagons moving in various directions. Enemy soldiers were walking about _____. Their pickets are just across the river from us We were in speaking distance of them.
Date not stated [January – February 1863]
This is the second picket duty for us in a week. The world is a white sheet of snow today. More that twelve inches deep. Brother William arrived at Capt. Sims’ company today. We were relieved from picket duty after three days. I got a _____ chair at Fredericksburg to do dental work in. The enemy is thickly astir across the river today.
Friday, February 13:
Elected Harry Lewis Third Lieutenant today. Had considerable sport out of a member of Company C, making him believe he had been elected Third Lieutenant of Company K. Never did I see a joke run on a fellow so hard before. Had a snowball frolic before dark.
Sunday, February 22:
Snow fell all day, most disagreeable weather. About noon sound of cannon in the direction of Fredericksburg was heard. Everyone expected to be called out, but it proved to be a salute in honor of Washington’s birthday.
Thursday, March 5:
Had battalion drill today. I was appointed corporal yesterday.
Editor’s note: the article states that Phares was left with a guard detachment when the remainder of the regiment was ordered to United States Ford twelve miles up the river:
The enemy keeps up a stir across the river, drums beating and rumbling of wagons continuous.
Friday, March 27:
This is the day appointed by the President for prayer and fasting. Attended preaching both morning and afternoon. Whole earth covered with snow. Spent some time with a young lady, the first visit I have made this year.
Sunday, April 26:
Had a good time on picket duty today. The enemy came down to water’s edge across the river while we were fishing on our side. They seemed to want to be sociable, but all communications are forbidden by commanders on both sides. Sent to Richmond for $25 worth of gold foil.
Thursday, April 30:
Posey’s Brigade retreated from Chancellorsville to Fredericksburg. We threw up breastworks but in our company there was only one shovel and one pick. Our company was the first to complete rifle pits. Gen. Wright’s Georgia Brigade is here. The enemy charged several times, but we repulsed them. Reinforcements are arriving. Gen. Jackson came up this morning. Our regiment was much pleased to see him.
Saturday, May 2:
We lay on our arms. Skirmishing went on all night. Gen. Lee came along at noon and stopped near us. This is the first time I have seen him in this campaign. Gen. Lee ordered us out double quick to the battle line. Several men wounded.
Sunday, May 3:
The enemy gave way on our left. Gen. Jackson flanked them yesterday, attacking their rear. They fell back at night. The enemy took Fredericksburg Heights today and advanced on our flank till we made a stand at a brick church. The enemy charged our lines desperately, but were drive back with great slaughter. Gen. Jackson was wounded last night just after midnight. It is said he was shot by North Carolinians who thought he and his staff were enemy cavalry.
Monday, May 4:
The enemy gave way before us yesterday, being driven from their fortifications with little resistance. Frequently we could hear their officers ordering them to go forward, but they would not obey.
Sunday, May 10:
Today has been set apart by Gen. Lee to return thanks to the Most High for great victory over our enemy. But Gen. Jackson’s death at 3:30 p.m. today shocked and saddened us. He lost his left arm and was wounded in the right hand, his death being caused by pneumonia. A gloom is over the whole army. Many shed tears. All lament him. Our cause is greatly weakened by his loss.
Thursday, June 4:
My leg pains me so much I can hardly bear it. Our sick squad of 120 entrain for Gordonsville today. Yesterday I saw the house in which Gen. Jackson died. It is a good-sized brick dwelling, with four chimneys, some distance down the road from town on a little hill.
Date not stated [June 1863]
Editor’s note: The article states that Phares and the other sick of the regiment were sent from Gordonsville to Lynchburg where
We spent the night in a tobacco building near the depot converted into a hospital. This morning after riding around to several hospitals all filled, I was taken into Crumpton Hospital, Third Division, first ward.
Thursday, July 9:
Editor’s note: The article states that Phares was confined to his hospital bed for weeks, and wrote:
The news from Vicksburg causes us to wear long faces.
It went on to note that Phares’ leg refused to heal, and he was given a furlough to return home to Mississippi and recuperate there. He traveled by train, steamer and mule-drawn buggy across the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama before reaching his native state. His last night on the road was spent in a camp by the road to Liberty, Mississippi.
Tuesday, August 19:
Left camp before light today. Arrived at Mr. Robert Richards about 11 a.m. Reached home at Woodville at 1 p.m., my little mule ‘Jerry’ making thirty-two miles from Liberty to this place in good time.
After the war Phares got married and in 1871 he and his wife moved to Texas. Among the items that the doctor carefully packed for the trip to his new home were the diaries that he had kept during the Civil War. The couple settled in Dallas, Texas, where Phares built up a thriving dental practice. On December 5, 1917, Phares died of pneumonia at the age of 81. Some nine years later the family allowed his Civil War diaries to be published by the Dallas Morning Herald.
Diary of John Louis Whitaker Phares
Company K, “Wilkinson Rifles,”
16th Mississippi Infantry
(Taken from the Dallas Morning News, August 28, 1927)
One of the reasons that I love being an historian is that it gives me an excuse to root around and find neat things that no one has seen for a very long time. A good example is the diary of John Louis Whitaker Phares, who served in Company K of the 16th Mississippi Infantry. His diary was published in the Dallas Morning News, the first part in the August 28, 1927 edition, and the second part in the September 4, 1927 copy of the paper.
Phares was a dentist residing in Woodville, Mississippi, when the war broke out, and he gave up his practice to enlist as a private in the Wilkinson Rifles. The diary kept by Phares covers the period from May 1862 – August 1863, and illustrates the war as seen by one of the rank and file who served under General Robert E. Lee in the Army of Northern Virginia.
A note – in places the original article was illegible, and in places I have left blanks where words had been obscured. In other places where I was reasonably sure of the writer’s intent, I put the probable word that Phares wrote in brackets. In some places the article summarizes the journal entries rather than quoting them directly, and I include this information in the “editor’s notes.”
The 16th Mississippi Infantry was formally organized in Corinth, Mississippi, on June 17, 1861 when the unit was called into the service of the Confederate States of America. Carnot Posey, a veteran of the Mexican War who had served under Jefferson Davis in the 1st Mississippi Rifles was elected Colonel of the regiment. The 16th left for Virginia in July 1861, but didn’t see any significant action until the spring of 1862, when the regiment took part in General Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign in May and June of that year. As the diary opens, the 16th Mississippi is engaged in the battle of Front Royal, Virginia:
Friday, May 23, 1862:
Made an attack on the enemy at Fort [Front] Royal. The hour was 3 p.m. They showed but little fight and soon were put to flight. Captured the First Maryland Regiment, and others of other regiments. Took $500,000 worth of Government stores. The enemy did not burn the bridges near town. Took large amount of ammunition and other valuables. Captured nearly 3,500 prisoners in three days.
Editor’s note: While the 16th Mississippi was on the field during the battle of Fort Royal, they were not engaged, and suffered no casualties.
Friday, May 30:
The army began to retreat. In one march we tramped twenty-three miles.
Tuesday, June 3:
Crossed the Shenandoah two miles from Mount Jackson, set the bridge on fire. The enemy came up while it was burning. Our battery shelled them. We marched two miles beyond New Market. Moving all night long.
Wednesday, June 4:
Our brigade is the rear guard of the army. The boys suffered considerably from hunger today. Rations are short. Camped four miles from Harrisonburg.
Friday, June 6:
Marched twenty miles yesterday. The enemy pursued closely. Roads very bad, difficult to get wagon train along. Had a skirmish at 3 p.m., took forty-three prisoners, one Colonel. They were regulars but we held the field. Losses great on both sides. Colonel Ashby killed.
Editor’s note: the “Colonel Ashby” mentioned by Phares is Brigadier General Turner
Ashby, who commanded cavalry in General Stonewall Jackson’s command during the Valley Campaign. He was killed while leading an assault on June 6, 1862.
Saturday, June 7:
General Jackson went forward with his division to meet General Shields, Colonel Ewell remaining with his command. Enemy a little more cautious about following us today.
Sunday, June 8:
At noon we engaged the enemy. Our regiment charged the Eighth New York Regiment, repulsing them with great loss on their side. Fought until 5 p.m. We fought well, driving back three separate enemy regiments, then a brigade; a battery was driven back in a single charge. I was wounded in the last charge. Colonel Posey and I were carried back three miles to a farm house. The enemy lost ten men to our one.
Editor’s note: the engagement that Phares mentions in this entry is the battle of Cross Keys, Virginia. The 16thMississippi was heavily involved in this fight, suffering 6 killed and 27 wounded.
Date not stated [June 1862]
Editors note: the article states that Phares and Colonel Carnot Posey were transported by ambulance 20 miles to Waynesborough, Virginia, then put on a train and carried to a hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia. The article went on to state that Privates Phares, William Patterson, T. N. McMorriss and Tom Rowland were:
Moved from the university to a small house, very comfortable. Large reinforcements passed through for Jackson today.
Friday, June 29:
Fighting commenced at Richmond today. Wounded in the Wilkinson Rifles were Sol Oliver, Tom Haynes, George Thornton, R. A. Babers and others.
Editor’s note: the fighting of which Phares speaks was part of the Seven Days battles for Richmond. The 16th Mississippi was heavily engaged during the battle of Gaine’s Mill on June 27 and at the battle of Malvern Hill on July 1. In these two battles the regiment had 15 killed, 51 wounded, and 19 missing.
Wednesday, July 9:
Editors note: the article states that the house where Phares was recuperating was struck by lightning.
Considerable thunder gust. Swartz and McMorris left for home today.
Wednesday, August 13:
The doctors have been busy all day amputating limbs of the wounded. Quite a pile of limbs are in sight of our room.
Thursday, August 21:
Visiting the soldiers graveyard near the university with John Patterson, where I saw the grave of E. H. Bell, made arrangements to leave for the army since my wound is almost well.
Editor’s note: E. H. Bell was Edgar H. Bell, a private in Company K of the 16th Mississippi.
Date not stated [August 1862]
Editors note: the article states that Phares and John Patterson walked to Gordonsville, Virginia, then on to Orange Courthouse and crossed the Rapidan River and reached Culpeper, Virginia, about nightfall. The pair then
Slept on a warehouse platform. Tried to get breakfast in several places without success. Reached Brandy Station at noon. The regiment had been ordered forward, but the cook detail was still in camp.
Date not stated [August 1862]
Editors note: The article states that Phares rejoined his company and marched with it through the towns of Orleans and Salem, heading in the direction of Manassas, Virginia.
Wednesday, August 27:
I could not keep up with the regiment last night.
Date not stated [August 1862]
Editors note: The article states that the following entry was made about the battle of Second Manassas. In the battle the brigade to which the 16th Mississippi belonged suffered 26 killed and 142 wounded.
Marching and countermarching until 2 o’clock at night. Heavy shelling from the enemy. We advanced across the area where the battle of Manassas was fought last year. It is covered with wounded from both sides. The enemy blew up the stone bridge across Bull Run last night We camped near Leesburg. Strangely enough, nothing of interest today. I wrote to ma.
Saturday, September 6:
Waded the [Potomac] river into Maryland. Captured enemy canal boats loaded with groceries. Camped later on the Monocacy River, bathing and washing our clothes. Drew two days rations of meat, flour, coffee and molasses; our appetites pretty sharp.
Wednesday, September 17:
Editors note: entry was made at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, where the Union garrison there was forced to surrender to the Confederates who had them surrounded. Although Phares has this in his diary as happening on September 17, the surrender actually took place on September 15.
The enemy made unconditional surrender. Fighting was mostly cannonading. Commenced at daylight and continued until they showed the white flag. Slept on our arms. Ten to fifteen thousand prisoners taken. General Longstreet is fighting [in] Maryland.
Editors note: a second entry was made that is dated September 17 about the fighting at Sharpsburg, Maryland – this battle is incorrectly listed in the article as taking place at Shepardstown, Virginia:
The engagement was general and said to be the largest battle fought to date. Wilkinson Rifles lost twenty-seven men. Both wings of our army were victorious, but the center was a draw fight, the enemy having advantage in position. The dead and wounded were left in the field. We lay on our arms both sides skirmishing, but afraid to attack.
Editor’s note: the battle of Sharpsburg, also known as Antietam, was one of the bloodiest of the war for the 16thMississippi. Of the 228 men that the regiment took into the fight, 27 were killed, 100 wounded, and 20 missing.
Saturday, September 20:
Editors note: the article states that by this date, the Confederate army had retreated to Charleston, Virginia, and then began a march to Winchester, Virginia:
Robert Gerald, Nole Dickson and I foraged for Irish potatoes and apples. Too cold to sleep with the little cover we have. Had an election in our company for third lieutenant. James Bryan was chosen.
Friday, October 3:
Foraged for plenty of cider, one loaf of bread and a good dinner. Returned from a frolic last night and was arrested by the provost guard. The rest escaped. Nothing of interest today.
Sunday, November 2:
Editors note: this entry was written from Culpeper, Virginia:
Men more worsted than ever before. Many are barefooted. All cheerful.
Wednesday, November 5:
E. R. Davis died yesterday. Frank Best, Robert Gerald, Frank Leatherman, Flitch Lewis and I went eight miles from Culpeper to Mrs. Moise’s to bury him. Spent night in barn. Snow several inches deep.
Date not stated, [November 1862]
Editors note: the article states that the 16th Mississippi made a forced march to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where Phares made this entry:
The citizens having moved to the country at threat of the enemys shells. General Patrick warned them under flag of truce to surrender the city. Worked on the breastworks tonight. Our brigade was called tonight without five minutes notice on news that the enemy was crossing the river. Lay on our arms all night. No attack. Snow several inches deep.
Thursday, December 4:
Editor’s note: The paper states that after doing picket duty and having several engagements that caused numerous casualties in the Wilkinson Rifles, Phares made this entry:
Howell Cobb wounded and died this morning. Last night our company, under Captain Counsel, returned from picket duty. We dug entrenchments, then were ordered to leave them and move further along to the right, with the left wing of our regiment covering the road. We dug strong entrenchments. The second night we have not slept. Supplied canteens before light as position is exposed. At daylight were fired on. Our batteries routed the enemy. They ran, throwing away their guns. Rest of the day passed quietly.
Editor’s note: Phares had his Cobb’s mixed up – it was General Thomas R. R. Cobb who was killed at Fredericksburg, not his brother Howell Cobb, who was also a Confederate general.
Date not stated, [December 1862]
Editor’s note: the article states that after lying on their arms for two days and suffering from the cold, Colonel Posey ordered the Wilkinson Rifles to go into Fredericksburg and investigate the conditions there:
Several shells were thrown at us without effect. We went through the back streets, separating into squads, searching every house. Destruction and havoc everywhere. Citizens left their homes on a moment’s notice. Stores and furnishings all looted by the enemy. Every house shell ridden. Many burned. A squad captured one Hessian. Returned to regiment with blankets and shoes left in town and on the battlefield by the enemy. Lay on our arms for a week.
Editor’s note: The battle of Fredericksburg took place on December 11 – 15, 1862, and resulted in a Confederate victory when the Union assaults were repulsed with heavy casualties. The 16th Mississippi suffered only light casualties, having 3 killed and 17 wounded.
Friday, December 19:
The enemy fired a signal gun. Our long roll beat. In less than five minutes our army was marching to the front. The enemy remained inactive and we returned to camp. Sent a letter to Ms by Mack Lewis.
Monday, December 22:
Subscription in camp to relieve suffering in Fredericksburg district. Wilkinson Rifles gave $13.50.
Wednesday, December 24:
Weather mild and cloudy; company drill this morning. Everything dull in camp, nothing to change the monotony.
Thursday, December 25:
This has been the mildest Christmas I have ever seen. Moved camp a mile; now situated on a ridge with fine wood and water. Sad changes have taken place in our little band in a year. Many the pride of company and life of the whole camp are now consigned to the cold earth, either stricken down by disease from exposure or fallen contending for liberty. While looking back on our misfortunes with sadness, we have cause to be thankful to Almighty God that our sufferings have been no worse. While the enemy has been two-thirds greater in every battle in which we have taken part, we have been victors in every instance.
End of Part I – I will have Part II of the diary posted soon.
I received a really nice message from Sheilah Broughton, who is the G-G-G niece of Colonel William W. Witherspoon, who commanded the 36th Mississippi Infantry. I have had a interest in the 36th Mississippi for a number of years, as I had a G-G-G uncle, James M. Godwin, who served as a private in Company I, “Stephens Guards,” of the 36th Mississippi.
In her note Sheilah asked about where the 36th Mississippi was stationed during the siege of Vicksburg, and I thought the answer would make an interesting post for the readers, so here we go.
Raised in the spring of 1862, the 36th Mississippi was a veteran regiment by the time of the siege of Vicksburg, having been blooded in the battles of Iuka and Corinth in 1862. When the 1863 campaign for Vicksburg kicked off the regiment was part of Brigadier General Louis Hebert’s brigade, which consisted of the following units: 3rd Louisiana Infantry, 21st Louisiana Infantry, 7th Mississippi Infantry Battalion, 36th Mississippi Infantry, 38th Mississippi Infantry, and the 43rd Mississippi Infantry.
Hebert’s brigade was stationed just north of Vicksburg at Snyder’s Bluff while battles of Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill and Big Black River were fought. After the Confederate defeat at Champion Hill on May 16, 1863, General John C. Pemberton sent orders for the troops stationed at Snyder’s bluff to march to Vicksburg. Hebert quickly complied with this order, and marched his men into the Vicksburg defenses.
Hebert was ordered to the earthworks in rear of the city and charged with defending the line of entrenchments between the Graveyard Road and the Jackson Road. Hebert deployed his brigade in the following order from left to right: the 36th Mississippi held the Stockade Redan, a large earthwork fort guarding the Graveyard Road; next came the 7th Mississippi Battalion, 37th Mississippi, 38th Mississippi, and 43rd Mississippi; the 3rd Louisiana held a redan north of the Jackson Road, and the 21st Louisiana anchored the brigade right flank in the Great Redoubt on the south side of the Jackson Road.
Because the Graveyard and Jackson Roads were natural avenues of approach to the city, the section of line held by Hebert’s men was destined to be the scene of some of the most intense fighting of the siege.
On May 19th, Union forces assaulted the Confederate defenses, and the Stockade Redan was a focal point of the union attack. Sergeant George Powell Clarke, a member of Company C “Harper Reserves,” of the 36th Mississippi wrote this account of the attack:
“At 10:00 A.M. the firing ceased and the Federals advanced in two lines of battle, halted about 300 yards from our position to reform their lines. Numbers of battle flags could be seen just behind the hill, waving in the morning breeze. We could plainly hear when the order was given to advance; the flags were seen mounting up the hill, and soon the long, glittering line of bayonets came in sight, as with martial tread this tremendous war machine marched to the attack. On reaching the top of the hill and coming into plain view, they gave a prolonged yell, and broke into a double quick towards our lines…At the proper time our batteries opened on them with with grape, canister, and shrapnel shells, which told fearfully on their crowded ranks. When they had reached within fifty yards of our lines we opened upon them with musketry, using the ‘buck and ball’ cartridge with murderous effect…But they were brave men and did not falter, though hundreds were falling all around them, until within a few feet of us. They then wavered, rallied once, but finally gave way and retreated to their own position.” – REMINISCENCE AND ANECDOTES OF THE WAR FOR SOUTHERN INDEPENDENCE by George Powell Clarke, pg. 100
The Union forces attempted a second assault on Vicksburg’s defenses on May 22, but met with the same result. Sgt. Clarke wrote that when the Yankees attacked,
“A withering fire of musketry, grape, canister and shells greeted them as they came in sight, and men fell like grass before the reaper…Here, now, the eye witness could have seen war in all its awful sublimity and grandeur.”
After the failure of the May 22 assault, General Ulysses S. Grant decided to besiege the city and starve the Rebel garrison into submission. For the 36th, the war became a waiting game in the trenches with the threat of death a constant companion.
On June 2, 1863, the 36th Mississippi was moved to a new position line the line on the brigade right flank. If you tour the Vicksburg National Military Park, the marker for this position is located about 200 yards south of the Louisiana State Memorial. The regiment remained in this position for the remainder of the siege.
The siege of Vicksburg ended on July 4, 1863, and the survivors of the 36th Mississippi stacked their muskets and marched out of the earthworks they had defended so well. The regiment had suffered terribly during the siege: of the approximately 300 men in the unit when the fighting began, 28 were killed and 72 wounded.
This may be a little off topic, but not by much. I will be at Pentimento Books signing copies of my new book, An Illustrated Guide to the Vicksburg Campaign & National Military Park on Saturday, June 11, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Pentimento Books is located at 302 Jefferson Street in Clinton – you can find more information about the book signing here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=189132117805059
In 1862 the Confederate Congress passed an act to authorize the award of medals and badges of distinction to soldiers as a “reward for courage and good conduct on the field of battle.” The Confederacy did not have the manufacturing capability to make badges, so on October 3, 1863, the Confederate Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office changed the award from a badge to having the soldier’s name read at the head of his regiment at the first dress parade after its receipt and having his name published in at least one newspaper in his home state.
2,053 men were posted to the roll of honor during the war, and of that number, 373 were awarded to Mississippians – the highest number issued to a single state of the Confederacy.
The big difference between the Confederate Roll of Honor and the Union Medal of Honor was that the enlisted men in the southern army got to choose the men placed on the roll. According to the regulations issued by the Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office, “The noncommissioned officers and privates are authorized, at the first dress-parade after each victory the company shall have assisted to achieve, to distinguish, by a majority of their votes, one private or noncommissioned officer most conspicuous for gallantry and good conduct in the battle. Should more than one soldier be hereafter selected by a company, as equal in merit, the name to announced on the roll will be determined by lot. Commissioned officers, distinguished for gallantry on the field, are not to be selected by the vote of the company, battalion or regiment to which they belong, but a statement of their special good conduct should be made by their immediate commander, and forwarded, through the regular channel, to this office.” – The Official Confederate Roll of Honor.
Participation in the roll of honor was voluntary, and many Mississippi units did not choose men for the roll. They felt that with so many men displaying bravery in battle, it was wrong to single out one person for a special honor.
Mississippians distinguished themselves on battlefields throughout the south and in every theater of the conflict. To give just one example, at the battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, December 30, 1862 – January 1, 1863, so many Mississippians died trying to take a strong Federal position in a small skirt of woods that afterwards the area was known as the “Mississippian’s Half-Acre or Hell’s Half-Acre”
Private John W. Simmons of the 27th Mississippi Infantry was involved in the fight at the Mississippian’s Half Acre, and after the war he wrote, “I believe I saw as much war as any man in it, never being absent, but I never in all the war saw as many dead men of one single command in so small a place, as I did there on the plains of Murfreesboro. Attala County ought to erect a monument on the spot to mark the place where her gallant sons fell. – The Attala Ledger, May 17, 1897.
The Mississippians who fought so gallantly for their state were well motivated; they were defending their homes and their very way of life from a ruthless invader. Sergeant Major John T. Kern of the 45th Mississippi Infantry wrote of this in his diary saying, “We have passed through some of the prettiest country on this move that I have ever seen, it is hard to give up so much of our Dixie to the vandal hordes of Lincoln. God will surely aid us in driving them back to their bleak north and give us our goodly land in his own good time when he finds we have suffered enough and are worthy.” – Diary of John T. Kern, May 22, 1864. Original diary is at the Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg, MS.
Colonel Winchester B. Shelby of the 39th Mississippi spoke of the motivation his men had to fight when he wrote his report on the siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana: “I trust I may be pardoned for saying a few words with reference to my own regiment. The conduct of officers & men alike meets with my unqualified approbation. They evinced that spirit which ever activates men fighting for the Holiest of Causes Freedom & their homes…” – Report of Colonel Winchester B. Shelby, Tulane University Library, New Orleans, LA.
Very often, the officers of Mississippi troops had to inspire their men with a display of personal bravery, very often at great risk to themselves. One example of this is found in the Official Records: “I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of the troops under my command. Lieutenant Colonel Reed, temporarily commanding the Fifth Mississippi Cavalry, was pre-eminently daring, and fell mortally wounded while standing on the rifle pits and encouraging his men to the charge, and Lieutenant Burton was killed at his side.” – Report of General James R. Chalmers on the capture of Fort Pillow, Tennessee. Official Records, Series 1, Volume 32, Part 1, Page 622.
Sometimes the loss of a relative or friend would bring out an almost suicidal bravery in a soldier. Major Robert Stiles of the Richmond Howitzers witnessed this in Judson Smith of the 21st Mississippi Infantry after his brother William was killed at the battle of Savage Station, Virginia on June 29, 1862. Stiles wrote that Judson was “altogether deranged” by the death of his brother, and when the 21st Mississippi attacked Malvern Hill on July 1, “…when the regiment, on its first charge, stopped ascending that fearful slope of death and turned back, Jud. Smith did not stop. He went right on, never returned and was never seen or heard of again.” To make the story even more tragic, when their father heard of the loss of his only two sons, “…he left home, joined Price’s army as a private soldier, and at Iuka did just as his eldest son had done at Malvern Hill, which was the last ever seen or heard of him, and the family became extinct..” – Four Years Under Marse Robert, pages 116-117.
Not all Mississippians were brave soldiers who gallantly fought the enemy for four years; there were also cowards and deserters to be found in ranks as well. Many of the problems with cowardice and desertion stemmed from the use of conscription by the Confederate army that forced many men to serve against their will.
By the spring of 1862 the Confederacy found itself facing a manpower shortage with not enough men volunteering to join the army. To remedy this situation, on April 16, 1862, the Confederate Congress passed the first conscription law in American History, drafting for three years all white males between 18 and 35 who were not legally exempt. As the war continued and southern losses grew, the conscription age was raised to 45 in September 1862 and by February 1864, the limits were 17 and 50.
Exempted from the draft were certain occupations critical to the war effort and to the home front, such as railroad workers, telegraph operators, and druggists. The most controversial exemption allowed the owner or overseer of a plantation with twenty or more slaves to be free from the draft. Known as the Twenty-Negro Law, this exemption proved to be very unpopular. Another widely disliked exemption was the substitution system, where a man could pay another man not liable to the draft to serve in his stead. These last two exemptions were hated by the common people of the Confederacy who called it “A rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” As the manpower shortage worsened as the war went on, both of these measures were abolished.
Reaction to the Confederate draft was very negative, particularly in regions that were poor and had few slaves. In the end about ½ of those drafted reported for duty, producing about 120,000 soldiers throughout the Confederacy, about 20% of all Rebel soldiers.
Desertion was a problem that plagued the Confederate army from the very earliest days of its existence, and the problem only got worse as the war went on and the conflict began to turn against the south.
Part of the desertion problem stemmed from the fact that southern soldiers were very individualistic and had a hard time accepting the discipline that army life required. Private Joseph Pendleton of the 38th Mississippi Infantry summed up this attitude in a letter to his sister when he wrote, “I am getting tired of being bound when I cannot go when I please I always wanted to be free.” – Pendleton Letters, Confederate Research Center, Hillsboro, TX.
Many southerners felt that the army treated them like slaves, something they were very sensitive about. Many volunteers in the army believed they were no better than slaves when a provision of the conscription act in 1862 extended the terms of volunteers already in the service to an additional three years. In 1864 their enlistments were extended to the duration of the war, and only a crippling wound, chronic disease, or death could release a soldier from the army.
Although the draft brought many men into the Confederate army, the quality of these men was often very poor, and many sought to desert at the first opportunity. One Mississippi regiment that had extensive problems with deserters was the 38th Mississippi Infantry. Organized in the spring of 1862, the regiment contained a number of men who were conscripts or who had joined the unit to avoid the stigma of being labeled a conscript.
The unreliability of these conscripts in the 38th Mississippi was realized during the Corinth campaign, as many of these men slipped away from the regiment and went home. Colonel Preston Brent, commander of the 38th later wrote his wife that the morning of the battle he left camp with 314 men but arrived on the field with only 150. He explained to her the reason for the loss: “This was owing a great deal to the fatiguing march that we had to make the morning of the battle, and a great deal to the cowardice of some of the men, that never had any fight in them or ever will. I have heard from most of them and they were on their way home, no doubt they will tell great tale of what they have seen and what they have gone through with; poor cowardly devils they have not done anything but couch themselves up in some hospital or tent and fraim themselves sick. Studying up all the while to devise some plan to get home, but finding it impossible to get a proper furlough, they openly desert from hospital and regiment, claiming to be badly mistreated. I hope the citizens will treat them with perfect contempt and as far as possible annoy them so that they will have to return to their command. Beneath Torn and Tattered Flags, Pages 50-51.
Many Mississippians deserted as the war turned against the south and the Yankees ravaged large parts of the state. It was very tempting for men serving in the army far from their homes to desert when they had wives, children, and family in Mississippi that were in the path of the invading Union armies.
Private Robert M. Holmes of the 24th Mississippi Infantry wrote in his diary how bad news from home affected the men in the ranks: “Several of the boys received letters this morning from which we learn the sad news that the Yankees are invading the soil of Mississippi very fast. These letters stated that they were near our homes which causes us to feel very much discontented.” – May 5, 1863. Kemper County Rebel.
The hardships of a soldier’s life caused many Mississippians to desert; besides being killed or wounded in battle, food was poor and often hard to come by at all, pay was slow in coming, and as the war went on soaring inflation in the south meant that soldier’s could buy very little when they were paid. Many soldiers desperately wanted to see their families at home, but furloughs were very hard to obtain.
After 1863 armed bands of deserters acted freely in many parts of the state, and in some areas local officials aided these groups in resisting the enforcement of Confederate conscription laws. The northeast part of the state was one area where there was widespread opposition to conscription and deserters were common. Poor citizens of counties such as Tishomingo, Pontotoc, and Itawamba had opposed the war from the start, and these areas proved a haven to deserters from the Confederate army.
Another area of the state that had serious problems with deserters was Jones County. Deserters became so rampant in Jones and surrounding counties in 1864 that in March Colonel Robert Lowry was sent into the area with the 6th and 20thMississippi Infantry Regiments to clean out the region.
When he entered Smith County, Lowry had the following notice printed in the local paper: “To the CITIZENS OF SMITH COUNTY: I came among you a few days since for the purpose of correcting evils which had well-nigh destroyed your county…You are now free from this curse, and if you will now perform your duties as patriots and freemen you will remain so…When you find in your midst a deserter, secure and send him to his command. If loyal citizens are ordered from their homes by a band of marauders and house burners, treat them as outlaws and common enemies to mankind.” – Official Records, Series 1, Volume LII, Part 2, Page 658.
After rounding up deserters in Smith County, Lowry moved on to Jones County to deal with one of the most notorious deserters in the state; Newt Knight. Knight was the leader of an armed band of deserters in Jones County that had plagued Confederate officials for many months. Lowry pulled no punches in his fight against the Knight and his followers, using dogs to track down the men and torturing them to obtain information about where deserters were hiding. Lowry also executed a number of deserters who were captured after firing on his men. Captain William C. Thompson of the 6th Mississippi described the execution of four of these deserters saying, “In front of a military formation and the townspeople the four young men, with their hands tied behind them, were placed in a wagon bed. Ropes were tied around their necks and fastened to the limb of a large oak tree. After they had been given time for last prayers the wagon was driven from under them. This was one of the most revolting sights I had ever witnessed, and I am glad I had no active part in it.” – Civil War Times Illustrated, February 1965.
Colonel Lowry continued the expedition against deserters until early May 1864 when he was ordered to rejoin the army. During his campaign against the hundreds of men were returned to their commands, nine were hung, two shot, and one wounded at at cost of one of Lowry’s men killed and two wounded.
As the war neared its end in 1865, desertion was rampant in the Confederate armies. In February 1865 John S. Preston, Superintendent of the Bureau of Conscription, estimated that there were over 100,000 deserters scattered throughout the Confederacy.
A tabulation prepared at the very end of the war by the Confederate War Department showed 198,494 officers and men absent and only 160,198 men present in the Rebel armies on the eve of surrender.
Boatner, Mark M. III. The Civil War Dictionary. New York: David McKay Company, 1959.
Dennis, Frank A., Ed. Kemper County Rebel: The Civil War Diary of Robert Masten Holmes, C.S.A. Jackson, MS: University & College Press of Mississippi, 1973.
Holmes, Jack D. L. “The Mississippi County that ‘Seceded’ From the Confederate States of America;” Civil War Times Illustrated, (February, 1965).
Howell, H. Grady. For Dixie Land I’ll Take My Stand. Jackson, MS: Chickasaw Bayou Press, 1998.
Moneyhon, Carl and Bobby Roberts. Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Mississippi In The Civil War. Fayetteville, AK: University of Arkansas Press, 1993.
The Official Confederate Roll of Honor. The Georgia Mint, no date.
Rowland, Dunbar. Military History of Mississippi 1803-1898. Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Company, 1978.
Stiles, Robert. Four Years Under Marse Robert. New York: Neale, 1903.
United States War Department, Compiler. War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 73 Volumes, 128 Parts; Washington, DC: 1880-1902.
Wiley, Bell I. The Life of Johnny Reb. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1943.
Woodhead, Henry. Ed. Echoes of Glory: Arms & Equipment of the Confederacy. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1991.
During the Civil War combat took up a very small part of the Mississippi soldier’s time. For every day spent fighting, a soldier might spend weeks or even months in camp or on the march. For the most part, soldiering was a tedious daily routine filled with hard work.
Army regulations called for Civil War camps to be laid out in a fixed grid pattern, with officer’s quarters at the front end of each street and enlisted men’s quarters aligned to the rear. The camp was set up roughly along the lines the regiment would draw up in a line of battle.
In the summer soldiers slept in canvas tents, and early in the war very large ones were used that could hold 20 men or more, but as the conflict went on, smaller tents became more common, housing 2-4 men. When on campaign, the soldiers often used no tents at all, sleeping under their blankets. If the weather was bad they might build an improvised shelter from blankets and ground cloths known as a “shebang.”
When in camp the average soldier’s day began at 5 A.M. during the summer and 6 A.M. during the winter, when he was awakened by reveille. After roll was taken to account for all of the men, breakfast was eaten and the soldiers prepared for the first of as many as five drill sessions during the day.
During drill the soldiers practiced the rigidly choreographed, close order tactics that had changed little since Napoleon’s time. All of this drill was needed to pound the complex military maneuvers into the heads of the men so that in battle they would be able to move and fire quickly without hesitation in response to orders.
Adjutant James R. Binford of the 15th Mississippi Infantry described the process of teaching drill to the new soldiers of his regiment in the early days of the war: “We remained in camp…about six weeks, drilling twice each day. The officers and men all being raw recruits, discipline was very galling to them, and as they would be brought under rigid military discipline a large amount of first-class swearing could be heard every day…” – Recollections of the Fifteenth Regiment of Mississippi Infantry, C.S.A., Patrick Henry Papers, MDAH.
In between bouts of drilling, soldiers cleaned the camp, built roads, dug trenches for latrines, and gathered wood for cooking and heating. Finding clean water was a constant problem and drinking tainted water led to disease and many deaths.
In the early days of the war, soldiers in camp tended to eat very well. In a letter written on May 18, 1862, Sergeant James W. Thornhill of the 38th Mississippi Infantry told his wife of the rations he had been issued while in camp at Jackson, Mississippi: “We are getting along verry well hear so fare. We have plenty to eat we get corn meal and flour and sugar and coffee and molasses and peas and pork and some gets beef…we get vinegar and soap and salt I think we are fareing verry well although som complain mightly…” – Beneath Torn and Tattered Flags, pg. 26.
Generally there were no camp cooks, and the men were responsible for preparing their own food. Most soldiers would band together in groups of three or more men called a “mess” to share what food they had and prepare a communal meal. A soldier would mess with relatives or close friends, so these groups were very close, and the loss of a messmate to disease or combat was very deeply felt.
As the war progressed, Mississippi soldiers saw their rations reduced as the strain of the conflict made it difficult to get enough food to the troops in the field. It was especially difficult to supply the men when they were in the middle of a long campaign. At these times Mississippian saw little beef and few vegetables; they subsisted for the most part on salt pork, dried beans, corn bread and hard tack. Hard tack was a flour and water biscuit that was very hard and had little taste.
Observers often commented on how lean the soldiers looked, but that the lack of food had not diminished their fighting spirit. During the Antietam Campaign in 1862, a civilian in Frederick, Maryland said of the Confederates who marched through the town, “They were the dirtiest men I ever saw, a most ragged, lean and hungry set of wolves. Yet there was a dash about them that the northern men lacked.” – Echoes of Glory, pg. 15.
To make up for their lack of rations, hungry Mississippians were often forced to live off the land. Fighting on their home ground, the Confederacy tried hard to curb outright pillaging, and much in the way of foodstuffs was freely given by civilians to hungry soldiers. But it was not uncommon for hungry Rebels to steal chickens, hogs, and even whole cows from farms near their camps. One funny story involving Mississippians foraging during the Gettysburg Campaign is as follows: “When brigaded with the Fourth Alabama, Sixth North Carolina and Second Mississippi, under General Whiting, Colonel Pender, of the Sixth North Carolina, reported to headquarters that a hog had been killed within the lines of the Eleventh Mississippi. General Whiting inquired what evidence he had of this. Colonel Pender stated that he heard the report of the gun inside their lines and heard the hog squeal. ‘I am satisfied that you are mistaken, Colonel,’ replied General Whiting, ‘when a Eleventh Mississippian shoots a hog it don’t squeal.’ – “Mississippi at Gettysburg” by William A. Love. Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Volume 9, 1906.
One of the big problems that Mississippi soldiers faced when they did have food was the lack of proper utensils for preparing it; this was especially true when on the march during times of active campaigning, for the men could not carry much in the way of cooking implements with them. Sergeant George P. Clarke of the 36th Mississippi Infantry described in his memoir how he overcame the lack of utensils to cook a meal: “We found on arrival that orders had been issued to prepare three days rations, which took nearly all night owing to the lack of cooking utensils. I remember that I had to bake my bread that night on an old broke fire shovel, hoe cake fashion. Soldiers were often reduced to wonderful straits in this respect, for the provisions were often dished out to us when we had nothing to cook it in, and we could hunt up something, we could cook it in the ashes, or devour it raw, just as we saw proper.” – Reminiscence and Anecdotes of the War for Southern Independence.
One of the most important staples to the soldiers was coffee. Men pounded the beans with rocks or crushed them with the butts of their guns to obtain grounds to brew coffee. Confederate soldiers were often forced to make do with substitutes made from peanuts, potatoes, peas, or chicory. When they could, Rebel soldiers would trade tobacco, which was plentiful, to Yankee soldiers for coffee.
Spending so much time in camp, boredom was a constant part of the soldier’s life, and the men had to find outlets to break the monotony. The exchange of letters with family and friends at home was a very important way that soldiers overcame the boredom and homesickness of life in the army. The Civil War began a wave of letter writing in Mississippi that has probably never been equaled, and as a consequence we have rich documentary evidence about the lives of Mississippi soldiers during the war. It can’t be overstated how important receiving mail was to keeping up the morale of the soldiers in the field.
On June 23, 1861, Dr. Robert H. Peel of the 19th Mississippi Infantry wrote to his sister-in-law and begged her to write to him saying, “Oh! Sis, if you could only know how a soldier appreciates a letter from home, when he scarcely expects to see the dear spot again, or to grasp once more the hands of kindred and friends, you would certainly find time to write me often if you could only know how deeply I feel the disappointment, when each eavening our post-boy returns to camp without a letter or a word for me, while all others around me are made glad with kind words from the dear ones, from home, You would write something, if twas only a line per weak.” – available at the 19th Miss. Inf. Website, http://myweb.cableone.net/4jdurham/peel/ltr062361.html.
One common theme in letters sent from home to the soldiers were warnings about the evils of life in camp. Within a Civil War camp existed every vice known to man, and for many new recruits these vices irresistible. Gambling, drinking, and profanity were all very common, and soldiers received constant reminders from home to stay on the straight and narrow.
J. A. Gillespie wrote to her brother William Allen, a private in the 38th Mississippi Infantry, and warned him: “Oh! William let me entreat you to beware of the sins of the camp. Do not be tempted to join in them remember you have an angel wife in heaven and your hearts desire is to go to her. Be a true Christian and perhaps you may influence others to do right.” – June 30, 1862. Beneath Torn and Tattered Flags, pg. 26.
Regardless of the warnings, soldiers took part in many vices in camp, one of the most popular being gambling. Card playing was one of the favorite modes of gambling, but soldiers were known to bet on anything, even louse races. One Mississippi soldier who was very upset by his tentmates gambling was G. W. Roberts, who wrote to his family complaining, “I have ask them to quit playing cards in our tent or about our tent…It does not become any man to entrude upon me like they do. If they wish to play cards let them build a house off to themselves then they could play to their own satisfaction.” – G. W. Roberts Diary, May 12 & 27, 1864. Catalog # Z/0585.000, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Another evil in camp just as prevalent as gambling was drinking; in the 19th Century Mississippians drank a lot of liquor, and soldiers were no exception. Although alcohol was generally prohibited in camp, thirsty soldiers found ways to smuggle it in. “Some enterprising members of a Mississippi company smuggled a half-gallon of liquor into camp in a hollowed-out watermelon, and hid it beneath the floor of their tent. They tapped the watermelon with a straw, and when one of them wanted a drink he lay flat on the floor and sucked the straw. His comrades stood by to cut him off after his Adam’s Apple registered his ration of two swallows.” – Confederate Veteran Magazine, Volume V, 1897, pg. 276.
Although there was certainly vice in the Civil War camps, religion was also an important part of most soldiers lives. Each Mississippi regiment had its own chaplain, most of whom were protestant, although there were a few units with Catholic chaplains. Religious activity in the camps increased in the spring of 1863 when a wave of revivals swept through the Confederate armies. Pinkney Johnston, Chaplain of the 38th Mississippi Infantry described the religious fervor sweeping through the ranks: “We have had for the past week very interesting prayer meetings. They were well attended and the very highest interest manifested. Souls are hungry for the ‘bread of life.’ Often in these prayer meetings there are from twelve to twenty mourners. There have already been two or three conversions, and four have joined the church. Sinners are being awakened, mourners, comforted, and the Christians established in the faith.” – William W. Bennett, A Narrative of the Great Revival Which Prevailed in the Southern Armies, pg. 268-269.
One cause of the great revival in the Confederate army was the series of defeats that hit the Rebels in 1863, particularly the twin defeats of Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Both soldiers and civilians felt that God caused these defeats because of their sins, and only if they humbled themselves would he bring them victory.
General Mark P. Lowrey commanded a brigade of Mississippians in the Army of Tennessee. A pre-war Baptist minister, Lowrey often preached to his men, and was known as the “Preacher General,” and in one two week period he baptized fifty men.
One of the favorite recreations that the men had was music; in camp and on the march Mississippi soldiers took comfort in the songs of the day. Much of the singing was done informally around the campfire, but sometimes programs were staged for an audience. There were many tunes sung by the soldiers, but some of the most popular were Dixie, the Bonnie Blue Flag, Lorena, and Maryland My Maryland. Instrumental music was also an important part of the soldier’s life, with organized regimental bands playing on the march and giving concerts in camp.
James J. Kirkpatrick of the 16th Mississippi Infantry wrote on October 30, 1863, about his regimental band, “Camp, 2 miles South of the Rappahannock. Drilling as usual. Went over to the band in the evening to hear some vocal and instrumental music. Our band is a great institution. It always keeps its numbers undiminished, and labors with the greatest assiduity at ‘tooting.’ Their music, however, is never the sweetest nor most harmonious.” – Diary of James J. Kirkpatrick, Eugene Barber History Center, University of Texas, Austin, TX.
During the Civil War commanders on both sides tried to avoid large-scale movements of men during the winter months. Consequently, when winter weather hit, offensive operations were often suspended and the men allowed to establish what was known as “winter quarters.” This usually happened in November or early December, but sometimes active fighting delayed the move to winter quarters. The commanding general would try to find a place for winter quarters that had plenty of wood and water, good drainage, and proximity to transportation facilities.
When the soldier’s went into winter quarters, they often built wooden cabins to have more protection from the elements. The most common type built were small huts made of logs, chinked and daubed like a pioneer cabin. David Holt of the 16th Mississippi Infantry described how his cabin was built: “The days began to get cold and weather signs warned of snow. We set about building our first bunks for winter quarters. It takes two to build a bunk so cousin Jim and I worked together. First we dug a hole in the ground. It measured six by eight feet and two and a half feet deep. We then cut logs and fashioned a crib about five feet in height, which gave us a room about seven feet high. Chinking the logs, we used dirt to plaster up the cracks. The fireplace was cut in one end of the pit and a stick chimney built over it. Next came the roof, the hardest job of all.” – Reminiscences of a Mississippian in the Army of Northern Virginia, page 130.
When winter ended and the spring campaigning season began, Mississippi soldiers discarded many items they had acquired during the winter for comfort. It was simply a matter of weight; a man on the march couldn’t carry very much.
During the months of active campaigning when the soldiers were constantly on the march, they suffered more hardships than any other time of the year. The men couldn’t carry much with them in the way of food or equipment, and often the commissary was slow in getting food to the men in the ranks. The men were exposed to cold, rain mud and blistering heat in the course of a campaigning season, with just what he could carry on his back to protect him from the elements: a ground cloth, a blanket, and perhaps a tent fly, all rolled up and worn over the shoulder in a blanket roll.
Mississippians quickly learned how to survive in the harshest conditions with very little to protect themselves from the elements. David Holt of the 16th Mississippi Infantry described how he and his comrades survived the cold one freezing night on the march: “At last, late in the night, we filed to the right into a heavy forest. We were dead tired. We made a fire first thing. Wood was plentiful, and we made a fire at least twenty feet long beside a large log and then thawed out on the smokey side until we were smoked out. Then we wiped our eyes and breathed on the wind side until frozen out…Cousin Jim had worked extra hard trying to keep on his feet. He said that he just had to lie down. He spread down a pair of linen tent flies, and we lay down on them and covered with both blankets. We tied our handkerchiefs over our hats and under our chins and kept on all of our clothes. Sleep came instantly. We slept as long as the heat lasted, then got cold and awakened to find the top blanket, my blanket, frozen to the ground and covered with sleet.” – Reminiscences of a Mississippian in the Army of Northern Virginia, pg. 160-161.
Mississippi soldiers faced their deadliest foe in camp from disease. Most Mississippi soldiers came from rural backgrounds and had never been exposed to the diseases that were common to city-raised soldiers. Consequently, when exposed to large groups for the first time in their lives, the casualties from disease were staggering: an estimated 164,000 Confederate soldiers died of disease during the war.
During the first months of a Mississippi regiments service, it was not uncommon for half the men in the unit to be unfit for duty at one time because of sickness. They were struck by communicable diseases such as measles, mumps, chicken pox, and whooping cough, and by other diseases such at malaria, and typhoid.
The 38th Mississippi Infantry is a good example of the effects that disease could have on a new regiment of soldiers. From 1862 – 1865, 1354 men served in the 38th. Of that number, 218 men died of disease, more than twice the number of men who died in combat. Of the 218 who died of disease, 190 died in the first nine months of the unit’s service after the men’s initial exposure to new diseases.
Sergeant James W. Thornhill of the 38th Mississippi wrote to his wife on June 10, 1862, about the effect that disease was having on the regiment saying, “…this leaves me in tolerable health although I am not well I have something simalar to the mumps my jaws has been swelled and sore for several days but they are better now I do not think I have got the mumps. J. J. Erwin and W. L. Owens are gone to hospital Isham has the measles this morning they are broak out right smart. J. C. Erwin is sick and Elisha Breland is sick he has the measles…” Less than a month after he wrote this letter, Sgt. Thornhill was dead of the disease he wrote of in his letter. – Beneath Torn and Tattered Flags, pg. 33.
Unfortunately for the sick and wounded soldiers, the Civil War came at a time when medical knowledge was sorely lacking. Most doctors of the era got their degrees by spending at most two years in medical school, and anyone that could afford the tuition was admitted. Others learned the trade by apprenticeship, learning the age-old myths and misapplications from watching ill-informed older doctors.
At this time germs were unheard of, as was an understanding of how to prevent the spread of infection by disinfecting instruments. Most medicines were useless if not downright harmful, and some methods of treatment had not changed since the Roman era. A Civil War soldier was ten times more likely to die from disease and eight times more likely to die from a battlefield wound than an American soldier in World War One.
Confederate Surgeons were terribly overworked; in the southern armies there was only one doctor for every 324 soldiers, and during times of heavy fighting many men died before a doctor could see them.
Bullet wounds accounted for approximately 93% of battlefield injuries; those from artillery 6%, and those from sabers or bayonets, less than 1%. Friends or litter bearers carried those fortunate not to fall between the lines from the field. Casualties were taken to a field hospital near the battlefield where they were sorted, slightly wounded who could wait from those needing immediate attention, and those thought to be fatally wounded.
For Mississippians wounded in a limb, three out of four cases ended in amputation. Usually the soldier was given some anesthesia before the operation, the preferred form being chloroform. It was administered by putting a soaked sponge or cloth over the patient’s nose until he went limp.
Lieutenant Colonel William L. Brandon of the 21stMississippi Infantry was wounded in the leg at the battle of Malvern Hill, Virginia, and had to have his leg amputated. He later wrote this account of the operation:
“On examining the wound, he said there was no doubt of the propriety of an immediate amputation. I asked if he had chloroform, he said yes and proceeded. When I felt the tourniquet tighten on my leg, I called to him, I was not under the influence of chloroform. He said he had no more, & asked should he proceed? I replied ‘off with it!’ I supposed I could stand it. The operation was performed in an inconceivable short time, but the pain was horrible, particularly the tying up the arteries.” – Military Reminiscences of William L. Brandon, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina.
When performing surgery with hundreds of men waiting to be seen, doctors often moved from patient to patient, without cleaning their hands or instruments. Many diseases and infections were spread in this manner.
If the wounded soldier survived his time at the field hospital, he was taken to the rear to one of the hundreds of general hospitals located throughout the south. A number of general hospitals were set up in Mississippi; some of the larger ones were Way Hospital at Meridian, Lauderdale Springs Hospital in Lauderdale County, and Semmes Hospital at Canton. Many hospitals opened in the state to take care of the flood of wounded soldiers being sent south from the battlefield of Shiloh in April, 1862.
One of the hospitals set up to tend casualties of Shiloh was on the campus of the University of Mississippi, and in her history of the hospital Mrs. Jemmy G. Johnson described how the campus was quickly set up to receive patients from the battle: “There was a rushing and hurrying to and from between the town and the campus. Many of the homes were stripped of mattresses, beds, cots, bedding and everything that could be spared…The chapel building was filled with cots, and even the galleries were spread with pallets so thick that there was scarcely room for the attendants to pass between. – Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Volume 12, pg 96-97.
Southern women who volunteered their services in tending to wounded and sick soldiers aided the nursing staff of many hospitals in Mississippi. A good example is Kate Cumming, a Scottish immigrant who lived in Mobile, Alabama. After the battle of Shiloh Kate went to Corinth to help nurse the wounded soldiers. On April 12 she wrote in her diary, “I sat up all night, bathing the men’s wounds, and giving them water. Every one attending to them seemed completely worn out. Some of the doctors told me that they had scarcely slept since the battle…I have been busy all day, and can scarcely tell what I have been doing; I have not taken time to even eat, and certainly not time to sit down.” – A Journal of Hospital Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee from the Battle of Shiloh to the end of the war, pg. 15.
Despite the state of medical information during the Civil War, Confederate doctors and hospitals were generally competent, and achieved results equal to their Union counterparts.
During the Civil War many Mississippi soldiers were captured and had to spend time in Union prisoner of war camps. Life in these camps could be just as difficult as serving in combat, only in prison the difficulties were exposure, disease, and boredom.
During the first two years of the war, few Mississippians were held as prisoners for very long as most were paroled soon after capture. Parole was a system whereby the Union and Confederacy would swap prisoners after they were captured. In 1863 the parole system broke down, and it was at this time that large numbers of Confederates were sent to hastily-built northern prison camps.
Living conditions for Mississippians held in Union prison camps were very difficult. The south didn’t have the resources to properly feed, clothe, and house the thousands of prisoners they held, and the north retaliated against the Confederate soldiers they held by treating them the same way.
Benjamin H. Bounds of the 4th Mississippi Infantry spent time at Fort Delaware prison camp in Delaware, and he wrote about the harsh conditions he faced there: “Here I remained for seventeen months. The hardships are privations endured cannot be described. Our bedding consisted of one blanket and one suit of clothes to the man spread on the bare floor with the thermometer ranging from 103 above to 28 degrees below zero. We had one stove to every 500 men, and one bushel of coal per day during the winter months. The cold was so severe that men would cry like children.” – Ben H. Bounds: Methodist Minister and Prominent Mason.
With lots of spare time on their hands, many soldiers took up hobbies such as woodcarving, making trinkets to send to friends and family. The Old Capitol has a number of these artifacts in its collections.
There was one prison camp for Confederate prisoners on Mississippi soil; in 1864 Union authorities began sending captured Rebels to Ship Island off the Mississippi coast. The camp operated from October 1864 to June 1865, and during that time over 5,000 Confederates were held prisoner there.
Ship Island was very barren, and conditions for the prisoners were very unpleasant. One Union soldier said of the island, “This is the most desolate place I ever saw. Its nothing but a heap of sand surrounded by water, no vegetation on whatever I could see.” – Private Isaac Jackson, 83rd Ohio Infantry. Gulf Islands National Seashore Website.
During the course of the war, 214,000 Confederates were sent to northern prisons, and 25,976 died. Union death rates in southern prisons were about the same; of 194,000 who spent time in Confederate prisons, 30,024 died.
Ballard, Michael B., and Thomas D. Cockrell, Ed. A Mississippi Rebel in the Army of Northern Virginia. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1995.
Bennett, William W. A Narrative of the Great Revival Which Prevailed in the Southern Armies. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1989.
Bounds, Charles L. Ben H. Bounds: Methodist Minister and Prominent Mason. No publisher, no date.
Brandon, William L. Military Reminiscences of William L. Brandon. Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.
Clarke, George P. Reminiscence and Anecdotes of the War for Southern Independence. Decatur, MS: Privately Published, no date.
Current, Richard N. Ed. Encyclopedia of the Confederacy, Volume II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Davis, William C. The Fighting Men of the Civil War. New York: Gallery Books, 1989.
Giambrone, Jeff T. Beneath Torn and Tattered Flags: A History of the 38th Mississippi Infantry C.S.A. Bolton, MS: Smokey Row Press, 1998.
Harwell, Richard B., Ed. Kate: The Journal Of A Confederate Nurse. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1959.
Johnson, Mrs. Jemmy Grant. “The University War Hospital.” Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Volume 12, 1912.
“Prisoners of Ship Island.” Gulf Islands National Seashore Website. Located at http://www.nps.gov/guis/extended/MIS/MHistory/POW.htm.
Wiley, Bell I. The Life of Johnny Reb. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1943.
Woodhead, Henry. Ed. Echoes of Glory: Arms & Equipment of the Confederacy. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1991.