A Mississippian Goes West

In the years leading up to the Civil War, many Mississippians moved west, lured by the limitless opportunities the land seemed to hold. Texas was destination of choice for most men and women from the Magnolia State, and thousands moved there to carve new homes from the wilderness.

One example of such a pioneer was David Alexander Nunn, a native of Noxubee County who was born at Summerville on October 1, 1836. His father, John Nunn, was one of the early planters in the state, and he was able to afford to send his son to the University at Murfreesboro and afterwards to law school at Lebanon, Tennessee. David A. Nunn was

Photo of David A. Nunn and his wife Helen, taken on their wedding day - www.findagrave.com
Photo of David A. Nunn and his wife Helen, taken on their wedding day – http://www.findagrave.com

admitted to the bar in Mississippi in 1857, and began practicing law that same year in Noxubee County. On June 8, 1858, he married Helen Williams, and that same day the newlyweds set out to make their fortune in Texas. The couple settled in the town of Crockett, a small community in east Texas that had only been incorporated the year before David and Helen arrived. David Nunn began practicing law in Crockett, and soon made a name for himself among the locals; the young Mississippian was chosen the town’s first mayor.

Undated photo of Crockett, Texas - www.crocketttexas.org
Undated photo of Crockett, Texas – http://www.crocketttexas.org

When Civil War broke out, Nunn used his popularity in the town to raise a cavalry company for service in the Confederate army. This unit was mustered into service on September 29, 1861, as Company I, 4th Texas Cavalry, with Nunn as its commanding officer. As part of the 4th Texas Cavalry, Nunn took part in some of the westernmost actions of the Civil War; the New Mexico Campaign of 1861-1862. On January 15, 1862, the Macon Beacon in Noxubee County published a letter written by Nunn to his father-in-law while he was participating in the New Mexico Campaign. Note: the newspaper in which this letter appears was very faded, and in a few places the words were impossible to decipher.


Mr. B.T. Williams has allowed us the use of a private letter from his son-in-law, Dr. D.A. Nunn, formerly of this county, who is now on the far off plains of New Mexico, in command of a cavalry company belonging to a regiment which left Texas for that country some two months since. The letter is dated ‘In Camp, 480 mile west of San Antonio, and 780 miles west of Crockett, Nov. 28, 1861.’ We make some extracts:

‘You all may think very strange of my leaving my family among comparative strangers and coming off on this wild goose chase. I was among the first if not the first who took public position in my county for secession. If I had not done so I would have been recreant to every principle of honor and duty to myself, family and country, with my view of _____.

After secession the war came. I felt it to to be my duty to prove my _____ by my works, and when Lincoln called for 400,000 men and 400,000,000 of dollars, I felt also_____ of my circumstances and condition must rally to the support of their country’s cause. I did so. I raised a company and though my intention was to serve in my own state, yest I am not in this wilderness country making my way to New Mexico, having left far away a beloved family. These are the sacrifices I have made, and this is a brief history of my course of late date. I hope it affords a sufficient explanation for my leaving my beloved family. I cannot think of our being conquered, subjugated, enslaved. I will never see it. Nor can I think of other men suffering for me when I am able to do my own part, and yet remain in selfish inactivity. I have gone in for the war trusting to good luck and a protecting Providence for my return to my family.

Today is Thanksgiving Day. We drilled an hour and then had an interesting sermon. Many rumors of a heavy force that we have to meet, _____ _____ as many men as are in this brigade. Our force, when it all comes up, will be about 3,500 – the 3d Regiment will not be up in some time, the 2nd is still behind. We will either have a very fine time or a most desperate one if we meet 10 or 15,000 men we will have to fight terribly, and the worst of it is, we are miserably armed – good many without any guns, very few six shooters, &c – horses broken down &c. Upon the whole we are in a bad condition for a fight. There will be a very great unnecessary sacrifice of life for the  want of sufficient arms. It is very cold here, the weather dry but changeable and disagreeable; a stiff norther blowing on us every day or two.

Some of the boys are poorly provided for in the way of blankets and winter clothing. I have a fine company numbering 75 men, including commissioned officers. I frequently sleep in hat, trowsers, two coats, boots and spurs – get up the next morning, eat breakfast without washing or combing head, and repeat this for several days in succession, habits perfectly repulsive and intolerable to me before I engaged in camp life.

This is a desert wilderness for hundreds of miles in every direction. The lands are totally worthless from here to Fort Clark, 110 miles this side of San Antonio. Many parts of it are picturesque, grand and _____ romantic. Large mountain (or rather hills) of huge rock, some of them apparently one solid rock with the most peculiar crags and other interesting formations.

The New Mexico Campaign culminated in the Battle of Valverde on February 20-21, 1862. The Confederates won the battle, and David Nunn was mentioned in the after action report written by Lt. Col. William Scurry as taking part in a cavalry charge “which decided the fortunes of the day.”

Immediately after the battle, Nunn resigned as captain in the 4th Texas, apparently in

Post-war photo of David A. Nunn from Confederate Veteran Magazine
Post-war photo of David A. Nunn from Confederate Veteran Magazine

response to a petition circulated by his men. He went back to Crockett, raised another company for service in Walker’s Texas Division, and served with that unit until the end of the war. Nunn died in Crockett on August 13, 1911, and is buried in Glenwood Cemetery.


One thought on “A Mississippian Goes West

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

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