I found the following article in the Louisiana Times-Picayune some time back, and I am finally getting around to writing about it. It concerns Captain William T. Ratliff, a Confederate veteran, giving tours of the Champion Hill battlefield to Union veterans who
fought there on May 16, 1863. A lieutenant in Company A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Ratliff”s unit was in the thickest of the fight, suffering 8 killed, 2 wounded, and 8 captured. Among the dead was the battery commander, Captain Samuel J. Ridley, shot down while trying to serve one of his cannon by himself after its crew was lost.
By a quirk of fate, Ratliff was not with his unit when it made its heroic stand at Champion Hill; 10 days prior to the battle he had been detailed to serve as the temporary commander of Battery C, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, which was stationed at Snyder’s Bluff north of Vicksburg.
Jackson, Miss., Dec. 18, 1904
Captain W.T. Ratliff, one of Hinds County’s prominent citizens, who served with distinction in the Civil War, has received from two soldiers of the Northern Army letters which breathe the spirit of brotherly love. Captain Ratliff has given these letters to the press. They are as follows:
Cincinnati, Ohio, Nov. 27, 1904
Dear Captain Ratliff: I take the first opportunity following a busy week to thank you for your great courtesy in being my guide over to the left (your right) of the line occupied during the Champion Hill battle of May 16, 1863. It was a visit I have longed to make ever since the war, and it would have been impossible to have seen the ground under more favorable auspices or with better company.
As our three companies of the Eighty-Third Ohio were about all the infantry employed on the left, and as we had it so hot from your batteries all the afternoon, it made it all the more a day to be remembered by me – one of the fortunate ones. I would have liked to have hunted up the old piano at Edwards Station, where Champion says it now is, and seen whether its tone was as good as when we played it that evening, but perhaps another time will come.
The Coker House was as we left it and the surroundings little different, and if our regiment comes to the dedication next May at Vicksburg we shall try to make an expedition to the Coker house, if no further. Again tendering you my thanks and assurances of my appreciation of your kindness, I am, sincerely yours,
William M. Davis.
The other letter is from an Indiana man, as is as follows:
Fountain City, Ind., November 29, 1904.
Captain W.T. Ratliff, Raymond, Miss.: My Dear Friend – I am extremely sorry that we found it impossible to accept your kind invitation to visit you at your home, but in the language of the Rooseveltian period, we found our life a very strenuous one while in your state. The Sunday following our Champion Hill visit we visited the Chickasaw battle field, and on Monday we put in the day with Captain Rigby getting some matters in shape on the battle line around Vicksburg, and on Monday night we left for home.
General McGinnis is the Postmaster at Indianapolis, and had a ten-day leave of absence and had to get home or be mustered out as a deserter. Major Hill and myself did not like to let him go home by himself. I am sure that we, not you, were the losers in not visiting you at your home. I know we should have enjoyed it very much. I think I heard General McGinnis tell a dozen times about his trading knives with Captain Ratliff, and each time he showed the knife and said he would not take $50 for it. (Captain Ratliff says he got the best of Major McGinnis in the trade.) The fact is that we all came home completely in love with the people of the South, who each and every one treated us so splendidly. This is not to be wondered at. After all, we are all American citizens, and to the people belongs the whole country, and no class of people understands this so well as the ex-soldiers of both armies. There has been no fight between them and has not been since April 1865. I brought the ‘whole armada’ story home with me, and have had the satisfaction of telling to many times, and it universally brings down the house. I think it the best army story I ever heard, and especially coming from the source it did. With every good wish for you and Mrs. Ratliff and those you love, believe me, sincerely yours,
It has been the policy of this grand old man of Hinds County to pilot quite a number of former Federal soldiers over the old battle field of Champion Hill, and he has quite a number of warm personal friends among those who were formerly arrayed against him in deadly conflict.
I found a very good write-up about William T. Ratliff on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History website – the man had quite a career after the Civil War:
William Thomas Ratliff was born in Raymond, Mississippi, on September 16, 1835. His parents were William Ratliff of Pike County, Mississippi, and Jane Davis of Belfast, Ireland. Orphaned as a child, Ratliff was raised by his grandmother, Isabella Spencer, of Clinton, Mississippi. He attended Mississippi College at Clinton from 1852 to 1856. While there, he organized the Hermenian Society and served as its first president. Ratliff married Mary Olive Cook of Edwards, Mississippi, on June 18, 1856. The Ratliffs were the parents of William Davis, Alma, Percy Cook, McKinney Cook, Thomas Wilson, Mary, Paul D., Jeannette, Clifton, and Isabella. They settled at Edwards in the western part of Hinds County, where Ratliff studied law and worked as a teacher and farmer from 1859 to 1860.
Ratliff first served in the Confederate infantry in Kentucky during the winter of 1861 and in 1862. He later served in Company A, First Regiment, Mississippi Light Artillery. Ratliff commanded a battery of 360 men in General Louis Hebert’s brigade of Major General William H. Forney’s division during the engagements around Vicksburg, Mississippi, and during the siege of that city in July of 1863. He was promoted to captain after the fall of Vicksburg, and he remained in the Confederate army until his parole in Jackson, Mississippi, on May 12, 1865.
After the Civil War, Ratliff operated a military school at his home in Raymond, Mississippi. Ratliff was elected probate clerk of Hinds County, Mississippi, in 1865, and he remained in office until his removal by Governor Adelbert Ames in 1869. He was also chairman of the Hinds County Democratic Committee during Reconstruction. In 1874, Ratliff was active in the Taxpayers’ League, an organization that hastened the demise of the carpetbaggers in Mississippi. He was elected as Hinds County chancery clerk in 1875, an office he held for twelve years, and afterwards served as Hinds County sheriff for four years. Ratliff served as Hinds County administrator in 1900. He was a member of the board of trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, serving from 1910 to 1916. He was unanimously elected to serve as vice-president of the board in 1913, succeeding board member Stephen D. Lee.
Ratliff served as a deacon of the Raymond Baptist Church. He also served as president of the board of trustees of Mississippi College for forty-five years. Ratliff was president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention in 1906. He was an honored guest at the October 19, 1916, wedding of his grandson and namesake, William T. Ratliff, Jr., to Minnie Money Vardaman, youngest child of James K. Vardaman. Ratliff died on January 20, 1918.