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.