I thought I would share this interesting little article from the Southern Sentinel (Ripley Mississippi), published in the July 17, 1913, edition of the paper. It was written by Dr. Benjamin Franklin Ward, who in his youth, had been a surgeon with the 11th Mississippi Infantry. It’s the moving testament of an old soldier who feels his best days are behind him, and all he has left are the powerful memories of the war he fought in and the family that has preceded him in death:
“A GRAND OLD MAN”
Below we give a very tender and beautiful poem published recently in the Commercial Appeal and written by that
great and good man, Dr. B.F. Ward of Winona, one of the ablest, truest and most patriotic men Mississippi has ever produced. The Doctor is growing old now, and is left almost alone so far as his immediate family is concerned. He has buried the wife of his bosom, the mother of his children, and with her he has given up most of his family of children. Having, I believe, only two left on this side of the river. Only last year he was called upon to give up his youngest son and namesake, Ben Ward, Jr., as noble a young man as ever breathed Mississippi air. In his moments of retrospective meditation, he no doubt feels in his heart just the sentiment expressed below:
By Dr. B. F. Ward
A Soldier for Four Years in the Army of Northern Virginia
I’m waiting, yes, I’m waiting, the summons still delayed;
I’m listening for the bugle to sound the last parade.
Standing on the picket line, must be near to day.
Last relief is on the round, ‘Tis coming, now, this way.
Halt! and give the countersign, the password of the night:
‘Alone’ is the whispered word, ‘Alone’ the word is right.
The guard posts are deserted, the sentries all are gone,
and the drum beat thrills no more, the few still marching on.
At night the fleeting glimpses of the Stars and the Bars
still sweep across the vision of memory from afar.
The neighing of the horses, the jingle of the spurs,
the clanging of the sabers float faintly down the years.
The rattle of the muskets, the trampling of the Grays,
are dim and distant hailings of Stonewall and his ways.
The shouting of the victors, the fleeing of the foe,
the hot tide of battle, the redness of its flow,
the charging of the legions, the stillness of the dead,
the darkness of the war cloud that hovered overhead.
The thunder of the cannon, the smoking of its breath
are phantoms of the fury when valor leaped to death.
The groaning of the dying, the wailing and the woe,
are echoes of the dirges of comrades lying low.
No pen can draw the picture, no tongue may ever tell
the horrors of the carnage of the war that was ‘hell.’
Like draperies of twilight, that curtain down the day,
time crapes the grizzled soldiers, the boys who wore the Gray.
The shadows slowly lengthen toward the rosy east,
the golden tints of sunset are melting in the west.
The home is old and cheerless; the pictures on the wall,
the vacant chairs around me, the hatrack in the hall.
The books upon the shelving, the bible on the stand,
are now the broken fragments of wrecks upon the strand.
The roses all have perished, the hyacinths are gone,
the violets, in mourning, are weeping all alone.
The laughing of the children, the music and the song
are sleeping now with mother till resurrection morn.
The graces of her being, the beauties of her soul
are memories of gladness that never can be told.
Old comrades, I am sending this greeting and adieu,
till in the camp eternal we call the roll anew.
I’m going, yes, I’m going a journey to the west,
to shades beyond the river where, maybe, there is rest.
The way is dark and lonely, the starless night is drear,
no gentle hand shall guide me, no whispered love is near.
I’m seeing in the gleaming the shadows come and go,
the flitting of the visions of loving long ago.
I’m hearing in my dreaming sweet voices from the shore,
where meeting is forever and parting is no more.
Ward’s sad missive to love lost and memories of better times intrigued me, and I decided to see what I could find about the good doctor. Fortunately the Mississippi Department of archives and history has several manuscript collections related to Dr. Ward, and they have a good biography of him on their website:
Benjamin F. Ward was born in Abbeville County, South Carolina, on February 25, 1836. He was the seventh child of William F. and Martha Mecklin Ward. After the death of her husband, Martha Mecklin Ward moved her family to Choctaw County, Mississippi, in 1846. Benjamin F. Ward attended school in Choctaw County; later taught school in Carroll County; and began studying medicine privately. His first formal medical training was at the University of Louisiana (now Tulane University). Ward completed his medical training at Atlanta Medical College, graduating in 1859. He returned to Carroll County and established a medical practice.
Dr. Ward enlisted as a private in the Carroll Rifles in 1861, and he became a field surgeon in 1862. He was later appointed as a senior surgeon on the staff of General Joseph R. Davis. Dr. Ward served in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia during the Civil War. He was chief surgeon during the battle of Gettysburg and was later captured and imprisoned for five months at Fort McHenry. Dr. Ward was exchanged as a prisoner of war and continued serving until the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. After the war, Dr. Ward settled in Winona, Montgomery County, Mississippi, where he continued practicing medicine.
On June 3, 1868, Dr. Ward married Tennessee native Mary Hardin Hardeman, who had been raised in the home of an uncle in Grenada County, Mississippi. The Wards were the parents of seven children: Annie Bruce (b. June 7, 1873), Thomas Hardeman (b. September 26, 1875), William Constant (b. 1877), Mary (b. July 23, 1879), Maggie (b. September 3, 1882), Benjamin F., Jr. (b. October 11, 1880), and Melzana, who later married Henry Hart. Dr. Ward was president of the Mississippi State Medical Association between 1881 and 1882. He served as a member of the Mississippi State Board of Health from 1886 to 1892. Dr. Ward was later president of the Mississippi State Board of Health from 1903 to 1905. He was also a member of the American Medical Association. For many years, Dr. Ward served as chief surgeon of the United Confederate Veterans of Mississippi. Dr. Ward died at the home of his son-in-law, Henry Hart, in Winona on August 26, 1920. He was interred at Oakwood Cemetery in Winona.
While researching Dr. Ward’s life, I found the following article he wrote for the Southern Sentinel about his experiences as a surgeon at the Battle of Gettysburg, and the part played by the 11th Mississippi Infantry in the battle. It was published in the September 4, 1913, edition of the paper:
A great deal has been written about Gettysburg by people who were not there. I was there, but, like any other man know very little about it so far as material facts came under individual observation. I was not in that battle and am glad of it: because I am thankful for the privilege of having lived 50 years after it was fought. I enlisted in the Confederate service in May, 1861, as private in Company K, Eleventh Mississippi Regiment, commanded by that prince of soldiers, Col. P.F. Liddell.
At the battle of Sharpsburg, in Maryland, Col. Riddell was killed, as was also Lieut. Col. Butler and Maj. Evans, leaving the regiment without a field officer. The regimental loss in this fight was over 150 in killed and wounded. At the end of the wet and weary march from Yorktown to Richmond, while standing in the ranks footsore and muddy, the adjutant of the regiment, Capt. Joe Evans, handed me a commission as full surgeon in the Confederate States army and ordering me to report to Gen. Joseph E. Johnson for duty
Never having applied for promotion in any line, I had not the slightest information or intimation of any influence at work in my favor. The commission came directly from the secretary of war, over the head of the surgeon general. But, knowing that the army regulations required that all promotions should come thru the recommendations of an examining board, I applied to the surgeon general for permission to go before the board at Richmond, from which I received a generous endorsement, though I took a serious risk, as I was indiscreet enough to take issue with every member of the board on a question of amputations at the hip joint in military practice. My Scotch – Irish – Presbyterian ancestors would have called this predestination. My opinion is that it was simply one of the fortunes of war, rather than the reward of merit. At any rate, this commission took me out of the ranks and put me at Gettysburg – and many other hot places – as a medical officer. I was first a regimental surgeon and also a member of the army medical board for Heth’s division, in which capacity I served till the banner was furled forever at Appomattox.
Now as to Gettysburg it is history that on the first day Lee encountered only the First and Eleventh corps of Meade’s army. Gen. Reynolds was killed and his corps routed and driven in demoralization through the town of Gettysburg. The Confederates were having it all their own way. There were still two hours of daylight in which to pursue the panic stricken foe and occupy Cemetery Hill. Why did they stop? It was the fortune of war, because, as a writer on the Federal side has said, ‘Jackson is dead.’ We lost the second day’s battle after A. P. Hill had crushed Sickles in the bloody wheat field and shot his leg off – because of Longstreet’s tardiness in failing to seize Little Round Top while it was still unoccupied by the Federals. Gen. Warren, Meade’s chief engineer, said that if Longstreet had been even 30 minutes earlier he could have taken Little Round Top without opposition, which would have enabled him to enfilade Meade’s line and would have saved us the day. Again it was the fortune of war against us because ‘Jackson was dead.’
If Jackson had lived Lee would have won at Gettysburg. If Meade’s army had been vanquished and shuttered, Lee would have marshaled his victorious legions at the foot of the Washington monument and the southern Confederacy would have been the modern republic of the world. But it was the fortunes of war that this should be one nation after ‘Jackson was dead.’ In a recent article Gen. Nelson A. Miles, who put the irons on Mr. Davis, practically admits that Lee failed at Gettysburg because ‘Jackson was dead,’ and says if Lee had succeeded there, he would surely have taken Washington, and that it would have been impossible to have organized another large army in the north because the anti-war spirit was just at that time reaching its highest tide. Altogether Gettysburg was not up to the standard of Lee’s splendid skill and execution in all of his previous great battles.
As soon as he had recrossed the Potomac he tendered his resignation to President Davis and stated as one of his reasons that as he had not satisfied himself, it was fair to assume that he had not satisfied others, and that having ‘reached an age where he had to use the eyes of others,’ he felt that a younger man might accomplish more. When he said ‘It was all my fault,’ he was simply giving expression to the generous impulses of his great soul. It was not his fault. Napoleon said he could not make men, but had to use such as he found. So it was with Lee. Lee was the greatest man of all the military chieftains in history, but not the greatest general. Caesar and Napoleon was his superiors and Washington his equal. Lee, Jackson, Sidney Johnson and Forrest constitute the granite pillars upon which will rest the temple of modern military science and achievement, so far as evolved by the Confederate war. Next to these in force and efficiency was John B. Hood, who was a martyr to the fortunes of war. Forrest was the greatest cavalry officer since Marshall Ney, without Ney’s insubordinate temper toward his less capable superior officers, would class him with Murat rather than with Ney.
The Federal as well as the Confederate army, had a great many very able subordinate officers, but the north furnished no man who rose above the level of a capable commander of a large army with unlimited and inexhaustible resources – against a small army with limited and exhaustible resources. This will be the verdict of history when the generations have receded far enough from the scene of conflict to escape all bias of opinion and all color of sentiment.
The generation born since the war has been thoroughly imbued with the conviction that ‘Pickett’s Charge’ held the
front of the stage and was the crowning act of glory in the tragic drama of Gettysburg. ‘Pickett’s Charge’ is a historical myth insofar as it conveys the impression that Pickett charged further, more desperately suffered more, or accomplished more than most of the other divisions who participated in the desperate and deadly assault. Pickett made one single charge on the evening of the last day. This was his only effort. Other divisions had been charging for three days, through heat and dust and smoke and flame and blood.
His division behaved, perhaps, as well as any of the others, certainly no better. In the heraldry of battles, the list of casualties has been generally accepted as the highest test of courage and endurance. Fortunately for the truth of history, we are able to measure ‘Pickett’s Charge’ and the ‘charge’ of all others, by this standard. When Lee was preparing to retire, Gen. Heath sent me a written order to remain here as surgeon in chief of all his wounded left on the field, 690 in number, lying on the ground without food or shelter.
Let is be remembered that these were badly wounded, many of them fatally, as those who were lightly wounded and could walk or bear transportation in wagons and ambulances went to the rear with the army. Of course medical officers and nurses were left with the wounded of each brigade in the division.
The brigade surgeons were required to report every evening to the chief surgeon, the number of wounded on hand, eliminating each day the number died, or sent off to Federal hospitals during the day. These reports were compiled every night by the chief surgeon, and forwarded, in duplicates to Federal headquarters, as a basis on which rations and medical supplies would be issued.
This I did every day for three weeks, and this order under which I was acting applied to every other division. It so happened that I was the only surgeon in Lee’s army – so far as I knew – who took the trouble to secure and preserve these reports from all the Confederate surgeons exactly s they were made to the Federal authorities. I carried them in my pocket during the five months of my imprisonment and have kept them to this day. They speak for themselves.
Rhodes’ division, Surgeon Hays – 800
Pender’s division, Sg’n McAdams – 700
McLaw’s division, Sg’n Patterson – 700
Heath’s division, Sg’n Ward – 693
Hood’s division, Sg’n Means – 515
Johnson’s division, Sg’n Whitehead – 311
Pickett’s division, Sg’n Reeves – 279
Early’s division, Surgeon Gott – 259
Parson’s div., Asst. Sg’n Wilson – 171
Johnson’s division, Sg’n Sayers – 135
Anderson’s division, Sg’n Miles – 111
Pennsylvania College, under charge of Sg’n Frazies – 700
In addition to this the federals claimed that they picked up two or three thousand of our wounded and carried them to their own field hospitals. Thus, according to these figures, which are, perhaps, the most accurate that have ever been published. Gen. Lee left on that fatal field between 7,000 and 8,000 badly wounded. His whole force was 62,000 men. When he re-crossed the Potomac his army had been diminished by 19,000 killed, wounded and missing.
Gen. Meade’s force was 112,000, his losses, according to his own report, were 24,000. He stated, in effect, before the committee on conduct of the war, that if the positions of the two armies had been reversed and his had been the assaulting instead of the fortified and defending force, that success would likely have been with Gen. Lee and defeat with him.
LIEUT. BOND’S STATEMENT
W.B. Bond, late first Lieutenant and A.D.C. Daniels’ brigade, Rhodes division, Confederate army, writing to the New York Sun from Scotland Neck, N.C., said: ‘Gen. Longstreet, in his speech at Gettysburg – referring to his assault on the third day – praising Pickett’s and Trimble’s troops, but carefully ignores Heath’s. Why is all this? All soldiers know that the number of killed is the one and only test of pluck and endurance. Besides five North Carolina and three Mississippi regiments there were troops from Tennessee, Alabama and Virginia in Heth’s division, and all of them behaved gallantly, except the left brigade which was in Brockenbrough’s Virginia, and its loss in killed in this battle was 25, or five to the regiment. Pickett’s 15 (Virginia) regiments had 224 men, an average of nearly 15 to the regiment – I have never seen the casualties of the Eleventh Mississippi, but the number killed in Second and Forty-Second Mississippi and five North Carolina regiments was 338, and an average to the regiment of something something over 48. The fire of Cemetery Hill was concentrated upon Heth’s Division, and at the close f the charge its organization was, to a great extent, broken up; but, with the exception of the left brigade, this disorganization was caused by deaths and wounds. Pickett’s division, when 1,500 of them surrendered in an open field, was better organized, but this fact was owing entirely to their comparatively small loss in killed and wounded. The figures used are official. I was at Gettysburg and thee severely wounded.’
A member of the Eleventh Mississippi who lived in North Mississippi – but whose name I cannot just now recall – sent me several years ago, a report of the losses of the Eleventh Mississippi in that battle. He said the regiment went out with 446 privates and 22 officers. When it came out it had 90 privates and two lieutenants on foot and able to answer the call next morning. What was left of the regiment was commanded by Lieut. Steve Moore of Aberdeen. This looks like Heth’s men did some charging, too.
‘Pickett’s Charge’ is a romance, and has lived long enough. Fifty years is more than the average life of newspaper fiction, but this one promised to stay a half century longer – like the old fable of Lee tendering his sword to Grant and Grant generously declining to accept it. The only thing that mars the pathetic beauty of the story is there was not a syllable of truth in it.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin Ward died on August 26, 1920, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Winona, Mississippi.
On his grave was carved the words, “His ambition was to serve his fellow man.” It was a worthy tribute to a man that dedicated his life to helping his fellow Mississippians.