Many of the Civil War soldiers who served from Mississippi lived well into the 20th century, and saw many technological advances: automobiles, telephones, airplanes and electric lights just to name a few. Those that survived into the second decade of the new century also saw the United States take part in “The War to End All Wars,” better known today as World War I.
In September 1917 a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram visited Camp Bowie, in
Tarrant County, Texas, shortly after the facility opened to train the 36th Infantry Division. Accompanying him was Fort Worth Judge Charles C. Cummings, who was a combat veteran of the 17th Mississippi Infantry. The reporter was eager to hear Cummings thoughts on the modern army, and he wrote the following article about his visit for the September 2, 1917, edition of the paper:
Bombs huried to earth from aircraft on European battlefields, machine guns pouring forth their destructive fire, shrapnel bursting and dealing death in its wake, thousands of soldiers falling dead or wounded – Such was the mental picture of Judge C.C. Cummings, pioneer resident of Fort Worth and a veteran of the Civil War, when he visited Camp Bowie with a Star-Telegram reporter to get a glimpse of modern military training methods. The veteran’s thoughts at the sight of so many Sammies drilling, the endless rows of tents, and the officers hurrying here and there dispatching orders, made him reminiscent, and took him back to the day, some fifty odd years ago, when he, himself, then a young man, marched forth with his comrades from Holly Springs, Miss., as a private soldier in Company B, Seventeenth Mississippi Infantry, known as ‘The Mississippi Rangers,’ with a musket on his shoulder to ‘do his bit’ for the Confederate States in the memorable Civil War.
How War Has Changed
But military tactics, facilities and conditions were different [in] those days. Shrapnel, gas bombs, dum-dum bullets, hand grenades, poison gas, Zepplins and other modern tools of warfare were then unknown. The soldier of that yesteryear period had to rely upon his musket, squirrel rifle, or whatever variety of weapon he found available. And according to Judge Cummings, uniforms were also at a premium. Those who could not obtain uniforms went in their civilian clothes. Some went barefoot.
‘But,’ says Cummings, ‘the American soldier of today is furnished with an ample supply of clothing of very serviceable quality, and when it wears out, his wardrobe is restocked. Also, the twentieth century Sammie has more accurate firearms at his command, and should his gun become lost or disabled, he is immediately provided with another. When I faced the shot and shell these modern conditions did not prevail. The soldier who lost his gun was indeed ‘out of luck.’
Tells of Training
‘I enlisted April 27, 1861, at Holly Springs, Miss., and went immediately to the training camp at Corinth, Miss. The drilling was constant and very laborious, though not any more severe than the present method of drilling. More time was required to make a regiment proficient in drilling than at present, however, because few of the officers were experienced in conducting the maneuvers. When the call to arms was sounded we volunteers ‘fell in’ with whatever arms we could muster. Some carried shotguns, others muskets, and still others squirrel rifles. We were taught to drill with hands placed tight to seams of pants. The present day soldier drills with arms swinging loosely, which is less laborsome and much more comfortable. But I cannot get used to seeing the soldiers drilling with arms swinging.
Mobilized , Pell Mell
We were mobilized pell mell fashion and were not given time for sufficient training before we were rushed into battle. The improvement in war methods since I shouldered a gun has been marvelous. The French method of fighting is indeed very efficient, and general war science has advanced wonderfully. The arms are more accurate and the whole system operates in clockwork schedule, thus saving much time, energy and loss of life. We had no adequate hospitals, no labor-saving war implements, and we did not fight from trenches to any extent. The majority of the fighting was done in the open. It is indeed a revelation to witness the efficient methods of modern military training. The sight of the boys training here at Camp Bowie carries me back some fifty years ago, when I was doing the same thing. I can prophesy nothing but victory for the United States and her allies.
Cummings participated in many of the bitter engagements now written into the history of the Civil War. He was wounded at Gettysburg, losing his right hand.
A native of Holly Springs, Mississippi, Charles C. Cummings moved to Fort Worth, Texas,
in 1873. A lawyer by profession, he served as a county judge from 1876 to 1880, and also became the first superintendent of schools for the city of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. Cummings was a very active member of the United Confederate Veterans, and served as historian for the Texas Division of the organization. In this capacity he wrote extensively about the Civil War, and often talked about his experiences as a soldier in the 17th Mississippi Infantry.
Charles Cummings lived to see the start of World War I, but he didn’t see its conclusion – the old soldier died on May 18, 1918, six months before the conflict ended. He is buried in Pioneers Rest Cemetery in Fort Worth.
A local television station, WAPT, reported this morning that the Vicksburg National Military Park is going ahead with plans to remove approximately 80 to 90 acres of trees to return the land to its 1863 appearance. The article states that the area to be cleared covers an area bounded by the Illinois Memorial, Battery DeGolyer, and the Louisiana State Memorial. The work is expected to be finished by spring 2012. If anyone wishes to read about the project, the article can be found here: http://www.wapt.com/news/29762639/detail.html.
When the Siege of Vicksburg ended in July 1863, the battlefield was a scarred, barren place, and most of the trees had been cut down or blasted to bits by artillery fire. After the war ended, much of the Vicksburg battlefield reverted to the farmland that it had been before the conflict. After the Vicksburg National Military Park was created in 1899, the battlefield remained mostly open terrain without any major obstructions to the historic sightline. This changed to 1933 when control of the park passed from the War Department to the Department of the Interior.
The park was faced with severe erosion problems, and to deal with them four Civilian Conservation Corps camps were established on the battlefield. More than 800 men, most of them Mississippians, worked in the camps, installing drainage ditches, laying and maintaining sod, installing concrete gutters, and terracing hills. Once the CCC had completed their landscaping, trees and vegetation were planted in the park to help hold the soil in place.
In 1936, 60 percent of the Vicksburg National Military Park was characterized as sparsely wooded or open ground. The tree planting done by the CCC, combined with the growth of trees already present, gradually changed the appearance of the park over time. By 2008 over two-thirds of the park was covered in forest, significantly impacting the historical landscape and making it difficult for visitors to understand how the battle unfolded. The National Park Service has already taken small steps to deal with the problem by removing trees at Fort Garrott and the Railroad Redoubt. The latest area to be targeted for tree removal was the scene of intense fighting during the siege, and a restored landscape will give visitors a much better understanding of what took place there during the summer of 1863.
I wanted to do something special in honor of Veteran’s Day, and I think the best way to
do that is to let one of Mississippi’s Confederate soldiers speak for himself. The following letter was written by Edward M. Burruss, a private in Company D, 21st Mississippi Infantry, about the assault made by his brigade at the Battle of Knoxville, Tennessee, on November 29, 1863. As fate would have it, the 21st Mississippi was placed in reserve for the attack, so Burruss had to watch as his fellow Mississippians assaulted Fort Sanders, a nearly impregnable Yankee bastion. His words are a much better tribute to the valor of Mississippi’s Civil war soldiers than anything I could ever possibly write:
On the morning of the 29th Nov. an attack on the fort was ordered – This fort was what is known as a Star Fort – the strongest of all forts – & it was the most immense work of any kind that I have ever seen. It was protected by an abattis of several hundred yards width – All this was reported to Genl. Longstreet & also the fact that the parapet was insurmountable without ladders. Longstreet however was pleased to prefer the information of his staff officers who ‘had scrutinized the work with strong field glasses’ at the distance of a mile or mile & a half, to that of men & officers who had been skirmishing for a week within 350 or 400 yards of the fort – So the attack was ordered without any of the proper arrangements.
Two regiments of our brigade & two from Genl. Bryant’s were ordered for the ‘Forlorn Hope.’ It was the turn of the 13th & 17th [Mississippi] to go on picket that morning & of the 18th & 21st to support – consequently it fell to the lot of the 13th & 17th to bear the brunt of the fight while we supported…It was an intensely, bitterly cold morning – water froze on my whiskers while washing my face & if there had been no other reason this should have been sufficient to defer the charge – It was awful – almost apalling to think of fighting – of getting wounded on such a morning. However Longstreet had ordered it & it must be done & not a murmur did I hear.
About half an hour before day break we were drawn up in line of battle as near the fort as possible without being seen & awaited the signal which was to be the opening of a battery in quick succession on our right as soon as the gunners could see to shoot. My eyes were watery from cold but this became more so from deeper cause as I looked down the line of half clothed, less than half shod heroes & saw their knees actually smiting together & their teeth russling like dry bones – but not from fright; watched their look of calm confidence & then thought of the terrible struggle that awaited them.
However just after day’s break the guns on our right crashed forth their ‘loud alarm’ one, two, three, four, five & at the some time the sharp shooters in our front opened, sounding like a cane-break on fire. Every one straightened himself into position & drew a quick breath; ‘forward the 13th & 17th’ & it seemed to me that I could see the words before me freeze into a tangible form & shape. The 18th & 21st stood fast.
I watched the colors of the two regiments as they struggled forward through bushes &
briars & over rocks & logs. The Yankees were taken partially by surprise & we did not meet the resistance expected. It was enough however as it was. I watched the flags getting nearer & nearer the fort, suddenly they went down almost out of sight but came up again & I saw the color-bearer of the 17th scramble about half way up the parapet, plant his flag staff in the side & then fall back headlong in the ditch. We thought the fort carried & raised a yell of admiration & encouragement – the work had not commenced.
Instead of there being not a ditch in front – nothing but the parapet to climb over – as Longstreet’s allwise staff had represented there was a ditch of from 4 to 8 feet deep & from 10 to 14 feet wide – which made the parapet from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the work about 18 feet high. You must remember also that the ground was frozen hard as a rock: the boys would scramble up the sides – the powder of the Yankees guns burning their faces – one would slip & in falling knock a dozen back in the ditch. What few reached the top were shot like hogs & fell headforemost inside the fort.
Still they might have succeeded – nay probably would – but about that time Colonel Ruff commanding Wofford’s Brigade misunderstood his instructions & instead of simply acting as support brought up to the fort the whole brigade. This was of course twice the number necessary: they crowded one another the different commands became mixed & confused & finally Wofford’s men fled ingloriously. Still our brigade & Bryant’s fought on until finally General Humphreys though best to order them to fall back before they were all killed – & thus ended the Battle of Knoxville.
The slaughter of the 13th & 17th Mississippi regiments was every bit as bad as Burruss described it. In his after action report, General Benjamin Humphreys stated that the two regiments lost 140 men killed, wounded, or missing in the assault. He then paid tribute
to his men saying: “I am called upon to notice the patience, fortitude, and constancy with which the troops endured the privations and hardships of the campaign; the ardor, zeal, and courage with which they discharged every duty; and especially the valor and heroic daring of the Thirteenth and Seventeenth Mississippi Regiments in the assault.”
Edward M. Burruss, the eloquent writer of this letter, continued to serve in the ranks as a private until he was badly wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864. Never able to return to the 21st Mississippi, he survived the war, and returned home. He died in 1878 and is buried in Bowling Green Cemetery, Woodville, Mississippi.
For some time I have been wanting to write an article about the 38th Mississippi Infantry, as the regiment is very near and dear to my heart. It is the first Mississippi regiment that I seriously researched, and it set me on the path that I follow to this day.
In the late 1990s I was working on my master’s degree in history at Mississippi College, and I was trying to come up with a topic for my thesis. I wanted to do a regimental history, and I was leaning toward the 38th Mississippi as I had two g-g-uncles who served in Company H, the “Price Relief.”
I had reservations about taking on the 38th Mississippi project – I had done a little looking, and there did not seem to be much material published on the regiment. If I was going to write the unit’s history, I was going to have to go out and find the letters, diaries, and other assorted manuscripts that would make the 38th Mississippi Infantry come to life, and give a voice to the men who served in the regiment during the war.
I was still trying to make up my mind about doing the project when my good friend Grady
Howell gave me some advice I’ll never forget – “If you don’t write a history of the 38th Mississippi, who will?” Grady’s words carried a lot of weight with me, as he had written one of the best regimental histories available for a Mississippi unit: Going to Meet the Yankees, about the 6th Mississippi Infantry.
With some trepidation, I began the monumental task of tracking down the history of the 38th Mississippi. I was soon pleasantly surprised to find there was a wealth of information available, more than enough to write a history of the regiment’s activities during the Civil War.
Some of the first manuscripts I found related to the 38th Mississippi were written by James H. Jones of Woodville, who had served as a captain and later a lieutenant colonel in the regiment. He was a prolific writer in the postwar period, and worked diligently to see that the sacrifices made by the men under his command were not forgotten. Colonel Jones had good reason to want to see this done: his three younger brothers had all been killed at his side while serving in the 38th Mississippi.
James Henry Jones was born on October 9, 1836, in Autauga County, Alabama, and was the oldest of seven children born to John and Mary Jones. While still a small child Jones moved with his family to Mobile, but after the death of his father they settled in Macon County, Alabama.
In 1856 Jones entered the University of Mississippi, and soon proved himself to be a prodigy. He graduated two years later ranked 1st out of 56 in the class of 1858. Jones then moved to Woodville, Mississippi, where he began the study of law with the firm of Gordon & Barber, one of the leading firms in the county. While living in Woodville Jones married Helen M. Davis, and after he passed the bar the young couple moved to Bastrop, Texas.
At the outbreak of war in 1861, Jones returned to Woodville and joined the Mississippi militia as a private for 60 days service under Brigadier General James L. Alcorn. After this duty was completed, Jones went back to Wilkinson County and began recruiting a company to serve in the Confederate army. Organized on April 1, 1862, at Woodville, the “Wilkinson Guards” became part of the 38th Mississippi Infantry in early May.
The new regiment was given little time to train, as they were rushed to Corinth, Mississippi in late May as reinforcements to the army commanded by General P. G. T. Beauregard. After being defeated at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862, the Rebel general had retreated to Corinth and quickly set his men to work improving the defenses protecting the city. The Confederates had plenty of incentive to work hard, as a Union army commanded by Major General Henry W. Halleck was slowly advancing on Corinth with 110,000 men. To oppose this force Beauregard had only 66,000 men, including many untrained reinforcements such as the 38th Mississippi.
The 38th Mississippi arrived in Corinth about May 27, and the regiment spent only a couple of days in the entrenchments before Beauregard ordered a retreat south to Tupelo, some 52 miles distant. The march to Tupelo was difficult for the green troops of the 38th, and was made worse by the outbreak of disease that swept through the regiment. Most of the men came from rural backgrounds, and had never been exposed to the diseases that were common to city-born troops. Consequently, when exposed to large groups of men for the first time in their lives, they fell sick in alarming numbers.
The Wilkinson Guards had the dubious distinction of losing more men to disease than any other company in the regiment. In a letter published in the Weekly Pelican (New Orleans) on November 19, 1887, Jones recounted the awful toll that disease had on his men: “That night Corinth was evacuated. The measles, a disease very fatal to soldiers, had already appeared in camp and the exposure of this retreat resulted in the death of fifty-nine men in my company of 130. The regiment had been hurried to the front before submitting to the hardening process of a camp of instruction, through the ambitious vanity of its colonel, who was in haste to win a brigadier’s wreath.”
It was during the march to Tupelo that Captain Jones first began to experience the hardships of soldier life, as most of his possessions were lost in the retreat. In the article for the Weekly Pelican he explained how they were destroyed: “I had provided myself with an ample supply of bedding, including a mattress, and took along a trunk containing some elegant citizen’s clothing for dress or social occasions. One day our quartermaster requested us to send all baggage to the depot for ‘convenience of transportation in case of retreat.’ This was thoughtful of him and I felt grateful, but not for long. In a few hours it transpired that our luggage was not to be checked through, but was to be burned…when I rushed off to the depot and found several acres of similar impediments piled up for a burnt offering I felt somewhat relieved. It was clear that my ears were no longer than my neighbors.”
The 38th Mississippi saw their first combat at the Battle of Iuka, Mississippi, on September 19, 1862, but it was anything but an auspicious beginning for the regiment. When the 38th came under artillery fire for the first time, Colonel Fleming W. Adams, commander of the regiment, panicked and ran for the rear, taking a good portion of the unit with him. Captain Jones later wrote of this incident, “Participated in the battle of Iuka, and was one of two companies that stood after the flight of their colonel from the fire of a masked battery.” In the article for the Weekly Pelican Jones was even more emphatic about the scorn he felt for the 38th’s cowardly colonel: “It occasioned no surprise that the lean Jack Falstaff ran away from our first serious fight at Iuka and we saw him no more.”
Under the leadership of a new colonel, Preston Brent of Pike County, the 38th Mississippi
redeemed itself at the Battle of Corinth, October 3-4, 1862. The regiment fought well, and suffered casualties of 9 men killed, 25 wounded, 2 missing, and 35 taken prisoner. The Wilkinson Guards must have fought the battle under a lucky star, for they have no documented casualties from the fight at Corinth.
After the Battle of Corinth the 38th Mississippi was transferred to a brigade commanded by Brigadier General Louis Hebert. It was with this unit that the 38th Mississippi would fight in one of the most important campaigns of the Civil War: Vicksburg.
Hebert’s brigade was not involved in the early battles of the Vicksburg Campaign that saw the victorious Federals sweep the Confederates before them and march to the gates of the city. During the siege Hebert’s men were charged with defending the line of entrenchments between the Graveyard Road and the Jackson Road. The 38th’s initial position was located several hundred yards south of the Stockade Redan.
On May 19th, the Federals made their first attempt to take the Vicksburg entrenchments by storm. The Stockade Redan was a focal point of the Union attack and was the scene of a series of ill-coordinated assaults. Captain Jones simply wrote of this attack, “During the evening of the 19th, after a sharp cannonade, an assault was made upon our front, which was easily repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy, but with little to us. The result of this attack must have been disappointing to General Grant.”
On May 22 General Ulysses S. Grant ordered an even bigger and better coordinated assault on the Vicksburg defenses, and once again the area around the Stockade Redan was a focal point of the attack. The heavily entrenched Confederates inflicted a heavy toll on the Yankee soldiers, and the attack was repulsed with heavy casualties for the attacker. The bravery displayed by the Northern troops in the face of such overwhelming odds made quite an impression on Captain Jones, and years later he was moved to write about the gallantry he witnessed in his foes that day: “When the cannonade ceased the Federals formed three [four] lines of battle, near the woods, and began a steady advance upon our works. Their lines were about one hundred yards apart. They came on as rapidly as the fallen timber would permit, and in perfect order. We waited in silence until the first line had advanced within easy rifle range, when a murderous fire was opened from the breastworks. We had a few pieces of artillery which ploughed their ranks with destructive effect. Still they never faltered, but came bravely on. It was indeed a gallant sight though an awful one…Surely no more desperate courage than this could be displayed by mortal men.”
After the May 22 assault, General Grant acknowledged that Vicksburg could not be taken by direct assault, and he decided to starve the Rebel garrison into submission. For the 38th, the war was now a waiting game in the trenches with the threat of death a constant companion. Captain Jones said of these long days in the trenches: “It was by no means a dull routine. The thunder of the cannon greeted us by day and by night; the sharp crack of the rifle, the hiss of the minie ball; somebody wounded; somebody dying – all the time.”
Life got more interesting for the 38th Mississippi on June 2, when the regiment was
ordered to move to a different section of the entrenchments. Their new position was just to the right of the 3rd Louisiana Redan on the Jackson Road. The fortifications that the 38th were now called upon to defend were very exposed to Yankee fire, and casualties from enemy fire happened with terrible regularity. The Federals has even erected a tower in their lines to look down into the Confederate trenches and shoot at the Rebels. On June 20, Captain Jones’ brother Robert was slightly wounded by a Union minie ball. Ten days later his brother John, a sergeant in the Wilkinson Guards, was killed by a Yankee sharpshooter. Jones sadly wrote of the event, “My oldest brother was wounded and died a few days before the surrender and myself and younger brother were with him at his death. He sleeps in Vicksburg now.”
On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg surrendered, and the men of the 38th Mississippi marched out of the trenches that they had defended so well for 47 days. The regiment had suffered a heavy loss at Vicksburg: 43 killed, 37 wounded, and 2 missing, out of approximately 300 men.
The 38th Mississippi marched out of Vicksburg when the men’s paroles were completed, and for a few precious months they were allowed to go home and be free of the war. But all too soon the call of duty brought them back to battle in defense of the South.
The 38th began reorganizing in the fall of 1863, and by the end of the year the regiment had been officially declared exchanged and they were free to fight again. As 1864 dawned the new year brought some surprising news to the regiment: in January Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk ordered that the 38th become a mounted infantry unit. Serving in this role the regiment would still fight on foot with standard infantry weapons as they always had. Being mounted would simply allow them to be a mobile strike force that could quickly move to meet any enemy threat.
In April 1864 the Wilkinson Guards received a new recruit: 17-year-old Elisha M. Jones, the youngest brother of Captain James Henry Jones. He joined the unit in time to take part in the last major battle in which the 38th would fight: Harrisburg, Mississippi, on July 14, 1864.
Attached to a cavalry brigade commanded by Texas Colonel Hinchie P. Mabry, the 38th was called on to make a near suicidal charge on an entrenched Federal force at Harrisburg. This attack would cost Captain Jones both of his brothers, and nearly his own life, and he would write about it with a great deal of bitterness: “To properly appreciate the intense feeling of indignation for the Harrisburg blunder that animates the survivors, it is only necessary to state a few facts. The 38th Regiment made the charge that day with about three hundred men, rank and file; forty four escaped unwounded. Every field or line officer was killed or wounded, except Capt. Jasper Green, now a Baptist minister in Rankin County. The little remnant of survivors rallied around him in a little thicket not over fifty yards from the entrenched line, and a four gun battery of the enemy…We all lost relatives and friends. Before I was shot down I saw two little brothers, boy soldiers, fall with their faces to the front, and they never rose again.”
The charge at Harrisburg was clearly the high water mark of the 38th Mississippi’s service. Outnumbered and outgunned, the rank and file of the regiment pressed home their attack with great valor in spite of the odds against them. This bravery was paid for in blood: the 38th had 20 men killed, 51 wounded, and 3 missing. The officers of the regiment paid a particularly high price: three were killed, including commanding officer Major Robert McCay; nine others were wounded, including Captain Jones, who was hit in both legs. The 38th Mississippi infantry suffered the highest casualties of any Confederate unit that fought at Harrisburg.
As the senior surviving officer of the 38th, Jones was promoted to lieutenant colonel, but he was still at home recovering from his wounds when he was given command of the 38th. By the spring of 1865 he had recovered sufficiently to rejoin the unit, and he would lead the regiment through the final months of the war. The 38th Mississippi was officially surrendered by Lieutenant General Richard Taylor on May 4, 1865.
Lieutenant Colonel Jones returned home to Woodville at the end of the war, and he had a
very successful career in politics. Elected to the state senate in 1890, he was eventually elected lieutenant governor of Mississippi, serving from 1896-1900. Jones passed away on December 10, 1911, and in his obituary the Woodville Republican praised him as “A Living example of the gentleman of the old school, a type that is fast passing from us. In him were combined those gentlemanly and courteous manners, high ideals and generous hospitality which were always found in the true Southern gentleman of antebellum days.”