On November 14, 2011, I posted an article about the Vicksburg National Military Park’s plan to remove trees in an effort to restore portions of the battlefield to its 1863 appearance. Today I toured the military park, and I am happy to say that the work is well underway – the area bounded by Battery DeGoyler, the Illinois Monument, and the Louisiana Monument is now clear. The ground is still broken and torn, and it only takes a little imagination now to visualize the land as the Yankee and Rebel soldiers saw it in 1863. Below are the pictures that I took of the newly cleared land:
Having seen the changes made to the park firsthand, I have to say I’m very pleased with the work so far. For years it has been very difficult to visualize the battlefield as the soldiers would have seen it. With the trees removed from core areas of the battlefield, this will no longer be a problem, and I’m sure it will increase the enjoyment and understanding of the park by the general public.
While doing a little research the other day, I found the following story, and as it was very interesting I decided to share it on the blog. It’s from the Macon Telegraph (Macon, GA), April 23, 1863:
HOW OLD SMITH ESCAPED
‘Old Smith,’ an old German drummer in the 16th Mississippi Regiment, was notorious for
straggling on the march whether advancing or retreating, he was always in the rear. In General Jackson’s great retreat from the valley of the Shenandoah, after whipping Banks old Smith got some miles behind, and while sitting on the roadside, solitary and alone, resting and eating his beef and biscuit he observed a full regiment of Yankee cavalry approaching. He jumped out into the woods and as the Yankees came near he thundered away on his drum beating the long roll with a terrible vim. (The long roll is the signal of an enemy at hand, and to form the line of battle.) His trick was successful; for the Yankees supposing, of course that there was an infantry regiment lying in the thicket, faced about and skedaddled in the regular Bull Run style. Old Smith, replacing his drum on his shoulder, came out into the road again with his beef and biscuit in one hand and drum sticks in the other, resumed his march with his usual equanimity.
It’s a great story – I can just see in my mind’s eye old Smith the drummer, beating furiously on his drum and laughing as he watched the Yankees advance to the rear – but the question comes to mind, is it just a story that was hatched by some reporter looking to entertain his readers, or was this an actual event? I decided to see if I could find out.
The first thing I needed to do was determine if there was a drummer named Smith who served in the 16th Mississippi Infantry. My task was made infinitely more difficult because all I had was a last name, and to make things worse the name was Smith, only the most common name in the Confederacy. I started my task by going to the National Park Service’s Soldiers and Sailors system, and pulled up the roster for the 16th Mississippi, and found that there were 34 men named Smith that served in the regiment. One by one, I clicked on the names to find out if any of them was listed as a musician. Finally on Smith #33, I got a hit – William H. Smith was listed as being in the regimental band.
Armed with a complete name, I went to the Fold3 website, and pulled up the service record of William H. Smith. The newspaper article gave me two pieces of information that I wanted to check against the service record – first it said he was old, and second it said he was German. After looking through a few of the cards in his file, I found a descriptive list that stated William H. Smith was 38 years old, which did make him an old man in that day and age. I also found that his place of birth was listed as Germany, so I was two for two. The card went on to say that Smith was captured in September 1862 by the 8th Illinois Cavalry at “Monocacy,” which was referring to the Monocacy River in Maryland – at that time the 16th was in the area as they took part in General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North, which culminated in the Battle of Sharpsburg on September 17, 1862.
So what does all of this information mean? Well, I did not find a smoking gun that proved beyond the shadow of a doubt the story is real – and I would have been very surprised if I had. But what I did find was that every solid fact about the story that I could check did turn out to be true. There was a man named Smith in the 16th Mississippi; he was 38 years old, which could be considered old at that time; his unit did serve under Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, and our man was with the unit at that time; and he was listed as being a member of the regimental band. So the best that I can say is that the story is very likely true, and something like what was reported in the Macon Telegraph did happen. But true or not, it sure is a good story.
I am greatly indebted to Riley Smith, who sent me this reminiscence about the Battle of Resaca, Georgia, written by John C. Portis, who served in Company B, 8th Mississippi Infantry. As Portis was a very good writer, I will let his letter speak for itself:
Union, Newton County, Mississippi, June 17, 1896
Dear Madam: I send herewith $1.00 [in] stamps to be used in your society on soldiers cemetery at Resaca. I have no brother or other near or even distant relative sleeping on that glorious field that I know of but seven of my regiment lie there. I will append the names that I remember. My good right arm lies about a mile south of Resaca, Ga., just north of a church at the root of a large oak or chestnut tree. It was put in a board box and buried by a comrade. Hence you see I feel an interest in the wild hills of Resaca.
I was a private in Company B, Eighth Mississippi Volunteer Inf., and was wounded in right shoulder and throat about dark in a charge on the enemy’s works, May 14, 1864, on the side of a hill just west of the village on the north side of the river. I was carried back to the bluff below the bridge, where about three or four hundred poor fellows were lying torn, bleeding, and some dying. After a time I crossed the bridge, and faint and sick, I was trying to make my way to Cheatham’s Division Hospital, which was in the church. A man came into the road with an ox wagon loaded in part with beds which appeared to be very white. Some one called him Motes and asked him about his family, and he said they had gone on to Calhoun.
Mr. Motes insisted that I should ride, and said his wife would not care if all her beds were dyed with rebel blood. He carried me to the old church. I would like to know what became of Mr. Motes; I could not see his face. The night was dark. Sunday morning, May 15, about eight o’clock, my right arm was amputated at the shoulder joint. Thirty-two years have passed since then, and strange it may may seem that a boy soldier, that few thought could live, is writing this reminiscence of those two days of carnage.
Never shall I forget the morning of that fateful 14th of May, when at early dawn the signal guns told us in tones of thunder that both armies were ready for the work of death. Bright rose the sun, tipping mountain peak with blooming rays of silver and bathing valley and woodland in a flood of golden light, a scene never to be witnessed again by hundreds of the boys who wore the blue and the gray. In the streets of Resaca that day I saw enacted a deed of heroism which challenged the admiration of all who witnessed it. A wagon occupied by several ladies was passing along north of the river and just west of the railroad, when a Yankee battery opened fire on it and, until it had passed over the bridge, poured a storm of shells around it. A young woman stood erect in the wagon waving her hat, which was dressed with red or had a red ribbon or plume on it, seemingly to defy the cowards who would make war on defenseless women.
I felt then, and I do to-day, for that woman a man could freely die. Many a rebel boy felt as I did that day. I was taken from the church to a bush-arbor on the west side of the railroad, where I expected to die. A middle-aged woman dressed in black came with nourishment and (God bless her) fed me, and during that awful day ministered to the wants of the wounded and dying. If I remember correctly she came often to me with food and drink. Who she was I may never know, but she was a noble woman.
Will you, kind lady, bear with me while I relate just another incident of that sunday? Perched upon the top of a lofty tree near the church was a mocking bird warbling his sweet notes of joy and gladness ever now and then darting out to catch a minie ball as it went singing by but my comrade told me my little bird sang on until dark. I first called attention to that sweet songster which it seemed was trying to cheer me in that dark hour of my young manhood.
I am now nearly sixty years old, my head is almost white. I have a noble son who was then a babe, now a prominent teacher. I have two sweet daughters, and five little grandchildren who never tire of hearing grandfather tell of the time when death seemed so near, and they shed tears with me while looking in my empty sleeve. I tell them my good arm is sleeping in Georgia and that sometime, in the morning of the resurrection, God will restore my arm but they cannot understand and become indignant at the Yankees.
I fear I have worried you and if you do not wish to keep this among the papers of the society you can destroy it. I felt that I would like to write this, and, that maybe someone would see if the tree is standing and perhaps find my lost arm a place in the soldier’s cemetery. If not it can rest on until God shall bid it rise and meet its long severed companion where wars dread alarm will be heard no more. May God bless the noble women of the sweet sunny South in all their work of love and devotion to the memory of the heroes who fell battling for the ‘lost cause.’
I hope that I may live to contribute more to aid you in your loyal task. Again, God bless you dear ladies, is the prayer of Private John C. Portis, Co. B, 8th Miss. Reg. Vols. Infantry U.S.A. J.E. Jackson’s Brigade, Walker’s Division.
The lady to whom Portis wrote, Mrs. Elizabeth Simmons, was president of the Ladies Memorial Association of Resaca, which had been founded in 1866 to establish a cemetery for the many Confederate dead buried around the city. Simmons spearheaded a number of improvements to the graveyard, and was so committed to the cemetery that she asked to be buried there when she died. When she passed away in 1907 her request was honored, and she remains the only female buried in the Resaca Confederate Cemetery.
Simmons was truly grateful for the letter that Portis wrote, for he revealed the names of a number of men in the 8th Mississippi that were buried at Resaca. Mrs. Simmons wrote him the following letter in reply:
Calhoun, Ga., July 1, 1896
J.C. Portis, Union, Miss.
Dear Sir: Your kind and encouraging letter received. I return thanks for the association. Your letter gave us some information that we greatly desired – probably never would have gotten otherwise in regard to a group of graves eleven in number. We knew they were in the 8th Miss., that was all. You gave us Major Watkins’ name, getting his correctly brought out the other ten, which were almost entirely obliterated, we had begun to fear that this group of graves would have to be marked ‘unknown.’ Thank you for the light, it is greatly appreciated. Rest assured I have given the resting place of your comrades special attention. They were buried in a beautiful shady place, a large crab apple tree has grown up in the center of the group.
The improvements on the cemetery are not being completed as fast as we desire for the want of funds, we are placing a small marble head stone at each grave and want to enclose the grounds with a neat substantial iron fence, the work is being done now [and] will be very substantial. Again thanking you, I am, Respectfully, Mrs. E. J. Simmons, Pres’t Memorial Association
After he recovered from his terrible wound, Portis was discharged from the army and returned to his home in Union, Mississippi. He became a Methodist minister after the war, and was a much beloved figure in his community. When he died in 1909 his obituary said of him, “He was public-spirited in all that made for his country’s good, and was a power for great moral and civil uplift in his community…He was beloved by his war comrades, and for them he always cherished a fraternal love. His mind was stored with memories of the thrilling events of the four years of the war, and he was ever ready to entertain with reminiscences. He nobly fought the battle of life, and now his armor has been laid by while he rests ‘under the shade of the trees.”
John C. Portis died on October 31, 1909, and is buried in the Memorial Park Cemetery at Union, Mississippi.
Sometimes you find the best things when you are not even looking for them – a case in point is this article entitled “A Sword Recovered,” in the March 29, 1883, edition of the Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts). This article documents an episode that took place in one of the lesser known conflicts in which Mississippians participated – the Battle of Balls Bluff, Virginia, on October 21, 1861.
A Sword Recovered
Near the close of the battle of Ball’s Bluff October 21, 1861, First Lieutenant J. Evarts Greene, of the Fifteenth Massachusetts, found himself surrounded by the enemy so that to fight longer was useless, and to run away impossible. At this moment a grey coated gentleman stepped forward, and, raising his cap courteously, said: ‘I am Captain Singleton of the Thirteenth Mississippi. [Editor’s Note: Singleton was in the 18th Mississippi] I must ask you to surrender.’ Mr. Greene returned the salute, mentioned his name and rank, and handed Captain Singleton his sword. Two young men of Captain Singleton’s company were then directed to take Lieutenant Greene to the rear. They escorted him to Leesburg, about four miles distant, chatting pleasantly by the way, for they were very obliging and friendly young fellows, and some hours later all the prisoners taken that day started from Leesburg for Centreville under a guard commanded by Captain Singleton, who showed to them all possible civility and kindness while they were under his care.
On arriving at Centreville he turned over his prisoners to the officer designated by General Beauregard to receive them, and they saw him no more. Captain Singleton had been a member of congress for three terms before the war. soon after this time he retired from the army and entered the Confederate Congress. When Mississippi was thought to be sufficiently reconstructed to be entitled again to representation in the national government, Captain Singleton, or the Hon. Otho R. Singleton as he should now be called, was elected to the house of representatives, and has been re-elected to successive congresses since. Mr. Greene has had some correspondence with him, and when visiting Washington in January last had a most agreeable interview with his former captor, who seemed inclined to make up by the warmth of his present friendship for the conditions of formal enmity under which they had first met. Of course the circumstances of their meeting were recalled, and Mr. Singleton expressed his intention to return the sword which Mr. Greene had surrendered more than twenty-one years ago.
On Tuesday the sword arrived by express addressed to Senator Hoar, who had already received the following letter; ‘Hon. Geo. F. Hoar – My Dear Sir: I have taken the liberty of sending to your address by express today a United States sword belonging to Maj. Greene, who visited you at Washington the past winter. I failed to obtain his address when here, and beg to trouble you to see that he gets it. This sword was surrendered to me by Maj. Greene immediately after the battle of Ball’s Bluff, in Virginia. My earnest desire has ever been to return it to its owner, and assure him of my great respect for him as a citizen and soldier. Most truly yours, O. R. Singleton.’
Mr. Singleton had been kind enough to promote Captain Greene one grade, but otherwise his letter calls for no further remark. The sword has suffered no damage, and is entirely fit for further service, but its owner hopes that it will never be drawn on another battle field. It will not, however, be beaten into a plowshare, nor worked up into steel pens.
Captain Otho R. Singleton commanded Company C of the 18th Mississippi Infantry, and the Battle of Ball’s Bluff was only the second fight in which the regiment had been engaged. They had fought at Bull Run in July 1861, but Ball’s Bluff would turn out to be the 18th Mississippi’s true baptism by fire. In the fighting the regiment gave a good account of itself, but the cost in lives was very high: the 18th Mississippi had 32 killed and 63 wounded. Among the dead was Colonel Erasmus R. Burt, the commander of the regiment.
Wanting to know more about the incident in which Captain Greene surrendered his sword to Captain Singleton, I did a little looking and found that Greene had written an account of his capture for The Old Guard, published in Worcester, Massachusetts, on January 20, 1886. In this article he related how he was captured:
Near the end of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff I found myself in close contact with a large number of the enemy. The sun had already set, and in the woods where we were it was dark enough so that I did not at once recognize them as enemies. I was surrounded, and escape was impossible. When they discovered that I was a ‘Yank,” some of them cried, ‘Kill him,’ ‘Bayonet the d–d Yankee,’ and other greetings of that character, and one grasped my arm. I shook him off, and called for an officer. A grave looking man, tall and soldierly, stepped forward and courteously mentioned his name, Captain Singleton of the — Mississippi. I responded, giving my name and rank, and at the same time offered him my sword, which I held in my hand. He received it, and, calling two men from the ranks, directed them to take me to the rear.
In closing out his article, Green described how he was led away to captivity by Captain Singleton, and how grateful his was for the kindness shown to him by the Mississippian:
Then began our tedious, dreary march, through rain and mud and swollen streams. It ended late the next night at the stone house on the famous Bull Run battlefield. Of the incidents of that march I cannot write here. I will only say that our guard was commanded by Captain Singleton, the same officer to whom I had surrendered, now a member of Congress from Mississippi, who was throughout courteous and kindly, and as considerate of our comfort as his strict orders permitted him to be.
Captain Jeremiah Evarts Greene was sent to Richmond, Virginia, where he was held in captivity for four months before being exchanged. He was promoted to captain in January 1862, and commanded a company in the 15th Massachusetts until he was honorably discharged in October 1862. He eventually became postmaster of his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts, a job in which he served until his death on November 8, 1902.
Otho R. Singleton resigned from the 18th Mississippi shortly after the Battle of Ball’s Bluff to become a member of the Confederate Congress, an institution in which he served until the end of the war. In 1875 he was elected to the United States Congress, and served until 1887. He died in Washington, D.C., on January 11, 1889.
I don’t know what happened to the sword of Captain Greene, but I hope that one of his descendants has it hanging in some prominent spot in his home. It’s a powerful reminder of a moment in time when two enemies put aside their differences and became friends.
For some Mississippians, the Civil War was the event of a lifetime; for others it was merely a footnote in a life filled with adventure, travel, and celebrity. One example of the latter was Prentiss Ingraham of Natchez who was one of the most prolific writers of the 19th century.
Ingraham was born in Adams County, Mississippi, on December 28, 1843, the son of Reverend Joseph Holt Ingraham. His father was one of the pioneer settlers of Mississippi, moving to the state about 1830 and settling in Natchez. In 1835 he wrote The Southwest, By A Yankee, which is one of the best early accounts of life in Mississippi.
Ingraham was still attending school when the Civil War started, and the teenager left his
studies to enlist in the Confederate army. He joined Company K, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery at Port Gibson, Mississippi, on May 7, 1862. The private spent much of his time detailed to the regimental headquarters of the battery, and he eventually worked his way up to the rank of sergeant.
During his service with the battery, Prentiss took part in the Port Hudson, Louisiana, campaign in 1863, and in later years he wrote an article about his experiences. In reminiscing about the battle he wrote: The siege was from May 21 to July, under a burning sun. The battle of Port Hudson began miles away from the stronghold, Augur’s division bringing on the fight by a sharp action at Port Hudson Plains. Sharp as it was, and at close quarters, here Abbey’s Battery – (K), First Mississippi Light Artillery – made a charge upon the enemy, unlimbering and going into action and in the very faces of General Augur’s troops, supported only by two hundred of Powers’s cavalry. We – the writer was with this command – advanced our gun muzzles until in our turn we were compelled to retreat upon our reserve, which we did, still firing. There are doubtless men of Augur’s division still living who will remember this artillery charge, which allowed the Confederate forces to retreat in good order into Port Hudson.
After being captured and paroled at Port Hudson when the garrison surrendered on July 9, 1863, Prentiss returned to Confederate service once he was declared exchanged. His service record abruptly ends in 1864 with no indication of why, so his whereabouts for the remainder of the war are uncertain.
When the war ended in 1865, most Mississippians were glad to return home and begin picking up the pieces of their shattered lives; but not Prentiss Ingraham. Apparently he had developed a taste for the soldier’s life, for he became a wandering soldier of fortune. He first went to Mexico and fought with the rebels under Juarez against Emperor Maximilian. His service was cut short, however, when he was wounded in a duel with a fellow officer he was serving with.
After recovering, Ingraham went to Europe and joined the Prussian army to fight against Austria, and when this conflict ended he traveled to Crete, where he aided the natives in their fight against the Turks. When this revolt was crushed, Ingraham visited Persia, the Holy Land, India, and China before ending up in Africa. He then toured Egypt, Algiers and Morocco, and then Spain, Italy, Germany and Russia, before finally stopping for awhile in London. It was in the English capital that Ingraham found the calling that would make him world famous: writing. He composed an article for the Pall Mall Gazette, and the editor was so impressed that he had him write a whole series of articles about his views on English society.
Sensing that his future in the literary world was bright, Ingraham decided to return to the
United States, and he began writing dime novels to make his living. In the early 1880s, he traveled to the American west, where he met and befriended Buffalo Bill Cody. Many of his novels featured Cody, as well as other western notables such as Wild Bill Hickok and Texas Jack Omohundro. A prolific author, Ingraham wrote between 600 and 1,000 novels during his 34 year career as a novelist. For much of that time Ingraham lived in New York City, Easton, Maryland, and in Chicago. In his later years he moved back to Mississippi, and eventually went to live at Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ former residence, which was then being used as a home for Confederate veterans.
The old soldier died at Beauvoir on August 16, 1904, and is buried on the grounds. During his lifetime the countless novels he had written helped romanticize the old west to a generation of American readers. In his obituary for the Times-Picayune (New Orleans),
a reporter wrote: Though just past 60 years of age, he had gone through a life’s experience as romantic and as exciting as that of the knights of olden times. Soldier, poet, journalist, novelist, traveler in many parts of the globe, he led a strenuous, reckless existence, crowding in less than fifteen years – from 1861 to 1875 – events of military prowess in a meteoric career that is perhaps unrivaled in the history of any soldier of fortune.