In the spring of 1861 many young men in Mississippi had just one thought in their heads: to join the military and be part of the grand military adventure that would secure the new Southern Confederacy its independence. At the University of Mississippi, the student body had trouble concentrating on their studies, as they saw more and more of their classmates slipping away to join the Confederate army. In fact, the University had its own unit – the “University Grays,” which went on to gain much fame and glory as Company A, 11th Mississippi Infantry.
For some parents, the thought of their sons giving up their studies to don a uniform was not an attractive one. This was especially true of those that had children in the senior class, which was set to graduate in May 1861. One concerned father was William Mercer Green, the father of Berkeley Green, a senior at the University of Mississippi. The following letter was written by William Mercer Green to Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus, and is part of the Pettus correspondence at the Mississippi Department of Archives & History:
Holly Springs April 27, 1861
Hon. J.J. Pettus
My son Berkeley, who is a minor, joined the Company “University Grays” at Oxford some time ago. It was done by my tacit consent, but with no expectation that he would be called into active service before his graduation. It now seems that his company has received marching orders from you. I hope that you will not think it unbecoming in me if I make the request, as I now do, that he may be allowed to remain at his studies until the commencement. If this can be done with honor to himself and his father. I will thank you to have it done. If not, may I substitute for it another request, viz that he may be transferred to some other company or placed under another captain.
The present Captain of his company is a very young man, is an expelled student of our University, and is without that sedateness of character and sobriety of conduct which should distinguish a commander of young men. On these grounds I would respectfully protest against my son’s serving under such an officer.
I wish you however, my dear sir, to understand that under other circumstances, and under any real want of men to fill the ranks of our soldiery, I would not only cheerfully consent to my son’s obeying your call, but I would send for a younger brother of his – now at school in Maryland, to come and take his stand beside him, and even go with them myself with the offer of any services I might be able to render.
Hoping that you will not take amiss what I have here written, and tendering you my high regard I remain, Dear Sir, very truly yours,
If you should feel at liberty to grant to my son either a temporary discharge, or a transfer to another company, will you be kind enough to send it to him at Oxford as soon as may be convenient.
I have learned since I left home that my son John R. Green has become one of a company formed in Jackson within the last week or two. If the transfer which I desire can be granted I would be glad to know that my two boys were side by side with each other.
Governor John J. Pettus was a very busy man in the spring of 1861, and he received a
mountain of correspondence each month from Mississippians across the length and breadth of the state. If William Mercer Green had been a commoner, it’s doubtful if Pettus would have read his letter personally, much less acted on the request he made. But the writer was anything but common; Bishop William Mercer Green was the head of the Episcopal Church in Mississippi, and as such, he was definitely a somebody, and this somebody got what he desired: written on the back of the letter was the note, “Bishop Green, discharge granted and issued, April 30th, 1861.”
We don’t know how Berkeley Green felt about being discharged from the University Grays just as the unit was about to march off to war, but he was probably not happy about it. But his father was determined that the young man receive his degree from the University of Mississippi, and on May 8, 1861, the Oxford Intelligencer published the following statement:
University of Mississippi – The regular examination of the Senior Class of this institution took place last week. The following named young gentlemen, twenty-one in number, having passed their examinations satisfactorily, were recommended by the faculty to the board of trustees for graduation as Bachelors of Arts: Berkeley Green, Jackson Mississippi…
Shortly before his son graduated, William Green issued a prayer that he recommended for the clergy of his Diocese “To be used during the continuance of our present troubles.” When writing this prayer, the safety of his own son must have been on Green’s mind:
Almighty God, whose Providence watcheth over all things, and in whose hands is the disposal of all events, we look up to Thee for thy protection and blessing amidst the apparent and great dangers with which we are encompassed. Thou hast, in thy wisdom, permitted us to be threatened with the many evils of an unnatural and destructive war. Save us, we beseech Thee, from the hands of our enemies. Watch over our fathers and brothers and sons, whose trusting in thy defense and in the righteousness of our cause, have gone forth to the service of their country. May their lives be precious in thy sight. Preserve them from all the dangers to which they may be exposed. Enable them successfully to perform their duty to Thee and to their country. And do Thou, in thine infinite wisdom and power, so overrule events, and so dispose the hearts of all engaged in this painful struggle that it may soon end in peace and brotherly love; and lead not only to the safety, honor and welfare of our Confederate States, but to the good of thy people, and the glory of thy great name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
– Oxford Intelligencer, May 1, 1861
Bishop Green had good reason to worry because with his degree in hand, Berkeley would wait no longer to join the army – on May 24, 1861, he enlisted in the “Burt Rifles,” Company K, 18th Mississippi Infantry. If the young student turned soldier was concerned about missing the war, he needn’t have worried; over the next four years he saw more than his fair share of the fighting. He was captured at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on May 3, 1863, and exchanged just in time to rejoin his unit and fight at Gettysburg. In that battle he was again captured, and sent to Fort Delaware prisoner of war camp. He was released on May 22, 1865, after taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
After the war, Berkeley Green settled in Vicksburg and eventually became a prominent
banker in the river city. He died on May 8, 1893, in New Orleans while visiting family. His body was returned to Vicksburg and Berkeley was interred at Cedar Hill cemetery.