The Bulldogs of War: A Letter from An Officer in the 17th Mississippi Infantry

I found this letter recently while doing some research, and as I found it interesting, I wanted to share. It was written by John M. Lyles, who enlisted April 23, 1861, as Captain of the “Magnolia Guards,” Company K, 17th Mississippi Infantry. Promoted to major on June 5, 1862, Lyles was dropped from the regiment on April 26, 1862, when the 17th Mississippi was reorganized. The letter was published in The Monitor Herald (Calhoun County), May 2, 1935:

The following letter was written by Capt. John M. Lyles, who was Captain of the Magnolia Guards, a company which marched away from old Duncan School at Sarepta to the Civil War – one of the first company’s to leave the county. Mrs. S.T. Lyles, wife of the present Sheriff of Lafayette County, handed us the letter for publication. She requests that anyone in the county having any information about this company please communicate with her. Her address is: Mrs. S.T. Lyles, 1803 Jefferson Ave., Oxford, Miss. The letter follows:

Manasa [Manassas] Junction, Prince William County, July 13, 1861

Judge Paris,

Dear Sir:

After a long lapse of time, I take my seat this rainy evening, to fulfill my promise to you, but just as I commenced writing, I am startled by the report of heavy cannonading, it is in the direction of Fairfax Co. Courthouse twelve miles off, whether it is a fight or whether they are empting [emptying] their guns in consequence of rust, I am not able to say.

Illustration of Manassas Junction by Robert Knox Sneden, a member of the 40th New York Infantry

I know that the armies have been close to each other for some time, and expecting a fight, if it is a fight we will receive marching order to-night: we are ready. I must not speak of the various little skirmish fights, for you know as much about them as I do no doubt.

It is pretty well authenticated that the Federal force on this side of Alexandria amounts to 45,000, those near Winchester 30,000. We have been _____ prepared with cooked rations, etc., preparatory to move at an hour’s warning for ten days, but we are still STATUS QUO. The bulldogs of war, I think, will certainly be turned loose before the expiration of another ten days and then, woe be unto the vanquished, will it be us? God forbid, will it be the Yankees, God grant it.

Judge, I could write you a good deal that would interest you indeed, but I dare not, my hands are tied with a cord of secrecy. It incommodes me very much in writing letters, for that, that I would write I dare not, and again I want to write nothing but the truth, and I hardly know when I am doing that, for battle just fought, fighting, and to be fought on to-morrow, is our daily news and is often contradicted, these rumors go the rounds with electric speed.

The health of our regiment is improving somewhat, and I assure when well you have a star regiment. Our brigade is composed of the Fifth S. Carolina regiment, the Seventeenth regiment Miss. volunteers, under the immediate command of Brig. Gen. D.R. Jones, a man with whom we are well pleased. Our chief in command is Beauregard, one of the most

Brigadier General David R. Jones was the 17th Mississippi’s brigade commander.

complete little French gentlemen I ever saw. He will converse as socially with a private in ranks upon ordinary matters as he would with Jeff Davis, but to get anything out of him relative to war, etc., is a thing that can’t be did [done] by his most intimate friends. He says that if his coat knew anything about his plan of operations, he would pull it off and burn it up. So much for the Frenchman. I like him, I have become somewhat intimate with him. Of our Col. and Lt. Col. I will not speak but pardon your humble servant when he tells you of [not] one word of complaint against him since his promotion.

L. G. has been sick but is up now, and will soon be himself again. He is a noble boy, you may  well be proud of him, tell his mother to rest easy, for I can assure her for he will never disgrace the name of Paris. I wish she had a dozen more to send to us. Judge, I would like very much to see you in old Va., especially with that Lady whom you promised to bring with you.  Don’t you recollect? Cause I hold you to your promise, I want my W. to come up and if it [is] convenient for you to come, I want you to bring her and the baby. I don’t want her to come alone, but with some gentleman that can take her to Culpeper or Lynchburg in case of an emergency in a hurry, yourself for instance, or any other nice gentleman. G.N Wheeler did speak of coming, I would be glad [if] your could consult him on the matter and if it [is] convenient for her to come, I would be glad [if] she would do so. I don’t really know whether she could leave home conveniently or not. She must decide that. If she concludes to come, G.N. Wheeler will furnish you with money to defray her expenses, I want to see her mighty bad I assure you.

[Editor’s Note: There was no L.G. Paris in the Magnolia Guards, but there was a Sergeant Leonidas O. Paris in the company, and this is the soldier to whom Lyles in referring. Paris transferred to the 4th Mississippi Infantry on October 18, 1861. Paris eventually rose to captain of Company D, of the 4th Mississippi. He was killed at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, and is buried in McGavock Cemetery in Franklin.]

I like too have forgotten to tell you that Beauregard speaks of making our brigade his body-guard. That you know is considered a highly honored position. You may think, or some of our soldiers have a hard time of it, but [it] is a mistake, save sickness and guard duties we do nearly as well as if at home, if my family was near me I could be content. I have no desire to go home, until we convense the Yankees that we are determined to be free.

Before I close I have a request to make of the ladies, I mean our ladies. That is this, that they furnish the Magnolia Guards with a handsome suit of gray jeans. Home Made and sent to them by the first of Sept. I have written to the Sarepta and Banner people about it, they had better get together and agree as to the trimmings which they can adapt to suit themselves, the coat must be a frock and suitable for winter, they will need shoes and hats also. Our people must clothe them, for I doubt their getting any pay soon, and if they do clothing is not to be had here.

My love to all,

Good Bye,

Write Soon

John M. Lyles