In 1866 the number of children orphaned in Mississippi by the Civil War was estimated to be 10,000. The problem was so acute that the Confederate Orphans Home of Mississippi was established by the Mississippi Baptist State Convention in 1865 at Lauderdale Springs, outside of Meridian. In less than two years the facility was home to over 200 orphans, and it remained in operation until 1878 when the last of its charges had been placed into good homes.
The great majority of orphaned children in Mississippi, however, never saw the inside of an orphans home, as most were taken in by friends or family. The following article, published in the Atlanta Constitution, and republished by the Duluth News-Tribune on May 15, 1904, tells the story of one orphaned Mississippi girl who had an amazing reunion with her long lost soldier father almost 40 years after the war ended:
“The great internecine conflict known as the civil war was prolific of tragedy, but the darkest pigments laid upon the awful picture of human woe painted in the blood and strife of Americans were not those which mark the graves of the fallen. They are to be found in the hearts of those who lived, bereft of kindred and shorn of all that makes life inviting.
The real tragedies of war are written, not in blood of fallen heroes, but in the tears of the widow and the orphan. The real cost of the conflict is not counted in coin, but summed up in the sighs and sufferings of the survivors. After the reading thrill of the marrow searching bullet, slow days and nights of fevered agony; after the sharp torture of the conflict, the dragging years of bereavement. This is a page which the historian never writes, because the poverty of words, precludes the adequate portrayal of its miseries.
To none among the disappointed ones of whom the peace of 1865 proffered the cup of myrrh, did life offer less than to J.B. Box of Myrtle, Union County, Miss. When he enlisted in the Twenty-Sixth Mississippi regiment, early in the great civil war strife, Mr. Box left a devoted wife and a sweet little daughter of 4 years in his Southern home. The pride that shone in the brimming eyes of the young wife and mother as he shouldered his musket and marched down the road in his uniform to join his command sustained him through many a weary march and gladdened his heart in many a darkened hour. The clasp of baby fingers about his face, as the little one was lifted for a last kiss, went with him through it all. Above the weird wooing of the love words cooed into his ear by childish lips. The stern humors of the battlefield never drowned completely the tender impulses that drew his heart towards his cottage hearth in Mississippi, and no march was ever hard enough to prevent his feet from wandering back, in dreams, to the hills and dales of his own little plantation, where the companionship of his own awaited him when the war was over.
It came at last. The Confederacy bowed beneath the weight of adversity and laid down its arms. Lee had surrendered. The cause for which Box had fought was lost, but his home was left – and in that home the faithful wife and idolized daughter were waiting to welcome him. With a heart in which the sorrows of disappointed patriotism were yet unable to repress the swellings of personal happiness, he drew near the lowly home within his heart had sheltered during all the years of war and wandering.
They met him as he came down the road. Not his wife and daughter, but sympathetic neighbors. The wife had laid down during the preceding winter and had died, breathing a blessing upon him with her last breath. And the little girl?
You who have hearts to suffer, be sorrowful with this stricken man. His daughter had been taken by a neighbor, who had removed during the uncertainties of the war time, no one knew whither. Not the slightest clue could be given him. He passed over his deserted threshold, and while his tears fell upon the cold hearthstone he registered a vow to his God that he would never rest until he should have discovered the whereabouts of his child. There, in the desolate home, he consecrated himself to the search.
It was apparently a hopeless one. In the great disorder prevailing at the time there was neither mail nor telegraphic facilities. The neighbor who had taken the child had vanished from the ken of this world. Time after time he started out upon his mission, only to bring up against impassable barriers. There was no clue.
But he did not despair, or if he did he only ate his bread in bitterness and continued his search unceasingly. Last November he wrote to an address furnished by a friend in the mountains of Alabama, asking for information of his long lost child, and the God who cares for the weak and soothes the broken in spirit heard his petition at last.
It happened that on the night when his friend in Alabama received this letter and read it aloud to his household, a stranger had knocked on the door, asking permission to stay for the night. Southern hospitality had made him welcome, and the stranger was among those who sat about the fireplace when the weary-hearted father’s letter was read aloud.
At the conclusion of the reading the stranger rose to his feet and declared that the letter was from his wife’s father. Correspondence followed, and it was soon established as a fact beyond all reasonable doubt. The daughter had been discovered at last. She was now a wife and mother, but the father’s heart went out to her no less tenderly than it had to the little child he had carried in his heart all these weary years.
The meeting between father and daughter took place a short time later. Ten miles out from Cullman, Ala., lies the mountain home of the long lost daughter of J.S. Box. There her sturdy sons and worthy husband labor for the comfortable support which is theirs. There the father went to meet her, and the scene was one that no words can depict. The search of forty years was rewarded in that meeting, and the old Confederate sat beside his daughter’s fireside that night and listened to the story of her life and looked upon the manly faces of his grandsons, he felt that even the bitterest lot in life has its compensations for those who search for them in diligence and faith.”
There was a second article recounting the reunion of J.S. Box with his daughter in the New Orleans Item, April 25, 1904, that provided some additional details on the compelling story:
“When their only child, a little girl, was four years of age, Mr. Box responded to the call to arms, enlisting in the Twenty-Sixth Mississippi. During his log absence his wife died and the child was taken to live with a neighbor. On his return from the war after the surrender of Lee, Mr. Box could not find his child, the family she had gone to live with having moved from the county. He spent several years searching for the little one, but as he did not know the name of the family, never found her, and finally gave up in despair. However, last November Mr. Box wrote to an old friend in Alabama and incidentally mentioned his long lost daughter. The letter was read around the family fireside that night and a stranger who happened to be present on a visit jumped to his feet and declared his belief that his own wife was the long lost daughter of the writer of the letter, forty years old and living in Cullman County, Ala. Mr. Box was notified and went immediately to Alabama to see for himself. He had no trouble in establishing the identity of the daughter by a scar on her forehead. The meeting was witnessed by quite a crowd and is described as one of the happiest. incidents of the lives of any of them.”
In the course of researching this article, I looked for information on John S. Box, but he has proved hard to track down. Despite my best efforts I could not find the name of his daughter that he was so joyously reunited with in 1904. I did find that he applied for a Confederate Soldier’s pension with the state of Mississippi in September 1900. Box declared in his application that he had enlisted in Company B of the 26th Mississippi Infantry in the summer of 1861, but soon thereafter transferred to Company K of the regiment. He also stated that he was wounded twice at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in the right breast and arm in 1862, and was wounded again at Petersburg, Virginia, in 1865. At some point after the war Box must have remarried, for he wrote that he was married on the pension application, and that he and his wife were living at his son’s residence.
J.S. Box was approximately 67 years old when he found his daughter. He died in 1913 in Alcorn County, and I am sure his last few years were filled with joy, as he had found his long lost daughter.