“The Memory of a Distant Past” – Remembering the Civil War

The Civil War was a momentus event in Mississippi’s history, impacting the state so forcefully that the tremors can still be felt over 150 years later. For those that lived through it, the conflict was not some abstract historical event to be learned in school or read about in a history book. The Civil War saw large portions of the state laid waste and thousands of husbands, fathers, and sons killed or wounded. In the years immediately after the surrender, it didn’t take much to remind Mississippians of the war, as the mental scars were still extremely fresh. Examples of this can be found in the 1868 edition of The Vicksburg Daily Herald, as seen in the article transcripts below.

Sometimes the memories were caused by a person, such as when a notable Civil War soldier visited:

The Vicksburg Herald, January 8, 1868

Lieut. Gen. N.B. Forrest – This distinguished soldier reached our city yesterday morning

Civilian Image of General Nathan Bedford Forrest from the book BEDFORD FORREST AND HIS CRITTER COMPANY
Civilian Image of General Nathan Bedford Forrest from the book BEDFORD FORREST AND HIS CRITTER COMPANY

from New Orleans, where he has been spending some weeks. Gen. Forrest is stopping at the Washington Hotel, and will remain with us for perhaps a week, before he turns his face towards his home in Memphis. The General is the representative of several insurance companies, and we believe it is his purpose to establish agencies for the companies he represents, in our city. There are very few who, to look at the mild mannered man that he is, would ever guess that Bedford Forrest was the celebrated chief whose very name was once a terror to our country’s foes. Those who have seen the blaze of his eye in battle, will never forget the man, while those who have not, can hardly believe that the quiet gentleman seen on our streets, is the MURAT of an hundred stricken fields. We are glad to see that he is in excellent health.

Sometimes the memories came from the death of one of the soldiers who fought in the war:

The Vicksburg Herald, February 26, 1868

The community was startled yesterday by the announcement of the death of Henry H.

Battleflag of the 21st Mississippi Infantry, in the collections of the Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg, Mississippi
Battleflag of the 21st Mississippi Infantry, in the collections of the Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Hayes, for many years a citizen of this city, and during the war, an officer in Company A, (the “Volunteer Southrons,”) 21st Mississippi Regiment…During his residence here, his integrity, his modesty, moral worth, and simplicity of character, won for him friends among all classes of our people. When the war commenced, he promptly threw his sword into the scale in defense of his adopted home, and from that hour, until the “conquered banner” was furled, the Confederate States had no braver, more devoted or unselfish soldier, than Henry Hayes – “Brave as the bravest that wore the grey,” duty was ever his guiding star, and whether on the march, in bivouac, or on the red field of strife, he was ever the true soldier. No complaint ever passed his lips, and though often in wretched health, more than once suffering from painful wounds, nothing could dampen his ardor or chill his sense of duty…Lieutenant Hayes was thrice wounded – once at Sharpsburg, and twice at Gettysburg. At the latter place he received a ball through one lung, which doubtless hastened his death, by contributing to a disease hereditary in his family – consumption. For several months it has been apparent that death had marked him for its own, but the announcement that he was no more, fell with sorrowful tones upon all who heard it. It had been so short a time since his familiar face was seen in its accustomed places on our streets, that people found it difficult to realize that he was really gone.

Often the memories came with the date on the calendar; the arrival of the anniversary of a major battle brought forth a flood of reminiscences in the veterans who fought on that particular killing field. The Herald noted two such anniversaries in 1868: the Battle of Fort Gregg in April, and Spottsylvania Court House in May.

The Vicksburg Herald, April 3, 1868

Yesterday was the anniversary of the Battle of Fort Gregg, the last effort made by the Confederates to defend the lines around Petersburg. It was on this occasion that Harris’ Mississippi Brigade, three hundred strong, held a t bay for long and weary hours, the entire corps of Gibon, [Gibbon] generally regarded as one of the finest in the Army of the Potomac. The war has no brighter record for the boys who wore the grey, than that sad yet glorious 2d of April. Years will pass ere its deed of deathless daring are forgotten, and generations yet unborn will render honor and praise to the deathless three hundred.

The Storming of Fort Gregg - Library of Congress
The Storming of Fort Gregg – Library of Congress

Sometimes the memories came with the death of a former foe:

The Vicksburg Herald, April 26, 1868

Bvt. Major Henry C. Robinett, Captain 1st U.S. Infantry, stationed at

Obituary of Henry C. Robinett from the New York Times
Obituary of Henry C. Robinett from the New York Times

Jackson Barracks, below New Orleans, while laboring, it is supposed, under a temporary fit of insanity, committed suicide on the morning of the 22d inst., by shooting himself through the head with a pistol. From the position in which he was found lying it is supposed he was standing, looking into his mirror when he fired the fatal shot. He was a first lieutenant from civil life on the 5th of August, 1861. He was born in Virginia, and appointed from Delaware. He commanded the Robinette Battery at Corinth, in the action at that point on the 4th of October, 1862.

The Vicksburg Herald, May 13, 1868

The weather, yesterday, was of all sorts. It brought to our memory the 12th of May, 1864, that ever memorable day of the battle of Spottsylvania Court House, when just such a disagreeable spell of weather prevailed. Then, the dismal wails of the wind were well nigh drowned in the roar of battle, as armies charged, cannon belched forth thunder, and the sharp whiz of bullets filled the startled air. Then the cold, steel, gray clouds o’ershadowed a scene of blood and carnage, and the moaning wind sobbed drearily over many a mangled form. The sullen heavens seemed aghast at the deadly storm which raged upon the earth, and the rain fell fitfully like tears from a pitying God. ‘Tis a long, long retrospect. Though but four years have elapsed, those scenes seem to have passed away into a bygone age – the dark days of Appomattox shed a gloom upon them, like the mist which gathers over the memory of a distant past. But those who took part in the daring deeds of the war, will never forget the deadly fray, the toilsome midnight marches, the cheerless nights of picket, away from warmth or comfort, or the gloom of the retreat, or any of the thousand events which then thrilled every soldier’s heart.

Dead Confederate Soldier at Spottsylvania - Library of Congress
Dead Confederate Soldier at Spottsylvania – Library of Congress

The twelfth of May 1868, opened upon another scene. No tread of armed cohorts meets the car; no cannon’s thunders fill the air; no flashing bayonets give back the splendor of the sun. The sounds of commerce are alone to be heard; yet in every scene which reminds us of the days of war, an involuntary throb is felt in the heart of the old soldier, and a gloom of martial fire is in his eye.

Sometimes the memories came with a plea for information from the relatives of one who disappeared during the war:

The Vicksburg Herald, September 26, 1868

Information is wanted of Mr. Thomas Fallon, who left Dublin in 1832, and resided in Vicksburg until the breaking out of the war, since which time, nothing has been heard from him. Any information of him left at this office will be thankfully received by his distressed relatives.

This was just a small sampling of Civil War related articles from one paper, for part of one year. Having done extensive reading of postwar Mississippi newspapers, I can say for certain that such material was very common, and continued well into the 20th century.