“A Few of Us Remained True to the Old Government:” Unionists in Tippah County, Mississippi

Mississippi is so strongly identified with the Confederacy during the Civil War that it is easy to overlook the fact that not all citizens of the state supported secession. One of the strongholds of Unionist sentiment in the state was the hill counties of Northeast Mississippi. Once the Magnolia State secession convention voted to remove themselves from the United States, many Unionists in Mississippi searched their hearts and made the difficult choice to stay loyal to the government of their birth. For more than a few, this meant turning their backs on friends and neighbors, and the possibility of being forced into exile or worse by their pro-Confederate neighbors.

Documentation on Unionists in Mississippi can be hard to find – after the war ended, and particularly after Reconstruction, most whites that supported the Federal government during the conflict were not eager to advertise the fact. Many left the state for more welcoming climes, while those that did remain in Mississippi were decidedly low key about their wartime sentiments.

Thus I was very interested when I found the following documentation concerning a group of pro-Union men from Tippah County, Mississippi, that not only remained loyal to the Federal government, but they felt so strongly about it that they joined the Union army. The following letter was written on August 11, 1865, to William L. Sharkey, who was installed as provisional governor of Mississippi by the Federals after the Confederate surrender:

Tippah County, Miss., Aug. 11, 1865

Hon. Gov. Sharkey

Sir, with a degree of backwardness, I write this letter, but being promoted by pure motives, I beg you to excuse its imperfections. At the

Post Civil War Tintype of William T. Rowland - Ancestry.com
Post Civil War Tintype of William T. Rowland – Ancestry.com

commencement of the late rebellion, a few of us remained true to the Old Government. After doging [dodging] the Confederate Conscripters for a few months we went to the Federal lines where we enlisted in different Regts.

I with a number of others enlisted on the 24 of July 1862 in Company “I” 11th Ills. Cav. We were discharged at Memphis, Tenn., June 9, 1865. Since which time we have returned to our former homes in Tippah County, Miss. Those who are acting in authority here require us to take the Amnesty Oath, not that there is any thing in the Oath that we would object to, but it seams strange that we should have to undergo the same process that a Rebel Soldier does to become a loyal citizen of our native state and county.

If you consider this worthy of your notice pleas send us information on the subject of what it takes to constitute a loyal citizen.

Your Obt. Servt.,

W.T. Rowland

My address at presant is Pochahontas, Tenn.

– W.L. Sharkey Letters and Petitions, 1865 (Series 771, Box 956, Mississippi Department of Archives and History).

The writer of this missive to Governor Sharkey was William T. Rowland, a Union man from Tippah County who served nearly three years in Federal blue as a member of the 11th Illinois Cavalry. I wanted to find out a little more about this man, so I looked for him in the United States Census. I found Rowland on the 1850 U.S. Census for Tippah County, living with his parents, David and Nancy Rowland, and his five younger siblings. Among the children listed was William’s younger brother,  James, who also served in the 11th Illinois Cavalry.

William’s father, David, listed his birthplace as North Carolina, and his occupation as farmer. He must have had a small farm, as the value of his

William T. Rowlands 1865 discharge from the Union Army - Ancestry.com
William T. Rowlands 1865 discharge from the Union Army – Ancestry.com

real estate was listed as only $250.00 on the 1850 Census. This is just the sort of family that was hostile to the Confederacy – small farmers from the hill country with few or more likely no slaves, just trying to eke out a hardscrabble existence from the rocky soil. By the time the next census rolled around, in 1860, William was living on his own, albeit next-door to his parents, and like his father, he was making a living as a small farmer – in the Census that year he listed the value of his real estate at $300.00.

When William and James left home to join the Union army, they did not go alone; a number of their friends and neighbors went with them. The group traveled to Bethel, Tennessee, about 90 miles north from Tippah County, where they enlisted in the 11th Illinois Cavalry. It seems that most of the Mississippians were placed into Company I of the regiment; Francis A. Luthey, a member of the unit, wrote in a letter to his hometown newspaper: “Since we arrived at Bethel, ten Mississippians have joined our company, thereby making it the biggest and best company in the regiment.” Macomb Eagle, August 23, 1862

I wanted to get a better idea of just who the Mississippians were that joined the 11th Illinois Cavalry; but research was hampered by the fact that the Civil War service records of the 11th Illinois Cavalry are not yet on the fold3.com website. I was, however, able to find the Illinois Adjutant General’s roster for Company I of the 11th Illinois at http://www.civilwar.illinoisgenweb.org. This roster gives some details about the men in the company, including where they enlisted. I decided to focus my research on the men that joined Company I at Bethel, Tennessee.

Through the power of the internet, using ancestry.com, fold3.com, findagrave.com, the United States Census, and the 1890 Veterans Census for Mississippi, I was able to document pretty conclusively that 10 men from Tippah County served in the 11th Illinois Cavalry. Further, I found a number of other men from Tippah that I believe served in the regiment based on a match of names from the U.S. Census for 1850 and 1860 in Tippah County.

In addition to William and James Rowland, the men who definitely served in the 11th Illinois Cavalry from Tippah County were as follows:

Moses Parker and Talbot F. Parker – I found Moses Parker on the 1860 U.S. Census for Tippah County; the 43 year old farmer was living with his wife and seven children, the oldest of whom was 15 year old T.F. Parker. Moses died during the war, and was originally buried in Pocahontas, Tennessee. After the conflict ended his body was moved to the Corinth National Cemetery where he was buried in Plot 14, Grave number 3606. The Illinois Adjutant General’s roster states that Talbot “deserted March 1, 1863,” so the teenager may have decided to return home after the death of his father.

Hansel E. Moore – Listed in the 1860 U.S. Census for Tippah County as H.E. Moore, the 40 year old lived with his wife, Mary, and four children. He joined the 11th Illinois Cavalry at Bethel, Tennessee, date not listed. I will be speaking more of Hansel Moore shortly.

Eli Moore – Listed in the 1860 U.S. Census for Tippah County, Eli Moore, probably related to Hansel E. Moore, was living with his wife and two children. He enlisted in the 11th Illinois Cavalry at Bethel, Tennessee, on August 18, 1862, and was discharged on November 1, 1862, for unknown reasons. Eli is listed on the 1890 U.S. Veteran’s Census as still living in Tippah County, and he filed for a veteran’s pension on July 31, 1890. He died on February 23, 1906, and is buried in Tippah County.

John B. Sasser – I found J.B. Sasser on the 1870 U.S. Census for Tippah County, he was 29 years old. According to information I found on the 1st Alabama Cavalry, United States Volunteers website, John was the half-brother of David and Thomas Stephens/Stevens, both of whom served in Company I of the 11th Illinois Cavalry. Sasser joined the 11th at Bethel, Tennessee, on July 24, 1862, and was discharged December 6, 1864, to take a promotion to 1st Lieutenant in the 1st Mississippi Mounted Rifles. The 1st Mississippi was the only Union white regiment officially credited to Mississippi during the Civil War.

David Stephens – Enlisted at Bethel, Tennessee, date not known. He was the brother of Thomas Stephens and half-brother of John B. Sasser.

David Stephens/Stevens served in the 11th Illinois Cavalry with his brother and half brother. He died in Vicksburg of chronic diarrhea on September 18, 1864 - www.1stalabamacavalryusv.com
David Stephens/Stevens served in the 11th Illinois Cavalry with his brother and half brother. He died in Vicksburg of chronic diarrhea on September 18, 1864 – http://www.1stalabamacavalryusv.com

Thomas Porter Devereaux Stephens – listed on the 1860 U.S. Census for Tippah County, the 23 year old was living with his wife and two children. He was the brother of David Stephens and the half-brother of John B. Sasser. Stephens filed for a U.S. pension in 1910 while living in Arkansas.

John C. Whitley and William T. Whitley These brothers enlisted in the 11th Illinois Cavalry at Bethel, Tennessee on August 1, 1862. Both men survived the war, and they mustered out of service on June 9, 1865. I found them in the 1860 U.S. Census for Tippah County, living with their father, J.H.B. Whitley, and mother Ann Whitley. John was listed as being 18 years of age, while his younger brother William was only 16.

The other men I found that I suspect were from Tippah County were as follows: William R. Boyd, William S. Dawson, Almonta May, Jesse Overton, William Rainey, and Samuel M. Thompson. All of these men enlisted at Bethel, Tennessee, and I have found individuals with the same names living in Tippah County on the U.S. Census for 1850 or 1860. I am hoping that further research will enable me to definitely prove the service of these men with the 11th Illinois Cavalry.

While doing a little background research on the 11th Illinois Cavalry, I noted that the regiment saw extensive service inside the state of Mississippi. This would have put the Union men in the unit in the position of having to fight against their fellow Mississippians, and often in their familiar stomping grounds of the northern part of the state. I was also struck by the fact that these men would have been of invaluable aid to the 11th – being residents of north Mississippi, they would have been very familiar with the terrain, and could serve as expert guides.

Among the battles and skirmishes in which the 11th was engaged in Mississippi were the following: Corinth; Grant’s Central Mississippi Campaign; Expedition from Memphis, Tennessee to Grenada, Mississippi; Expedition from Big Black River to Yazoo City; Expedition to Canton; the Meridian Campaign; Expedition from Vicksburg to Yazoo City; Expedition from Vicksburg to Rodney and Fayette; Expedition from Natchez to Woodville; Operations in Issaquena and Washington Counties; and Egypt Station. During its term of service, the 11th Illinois Cavalry lost 2 officers and 32 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded, and 8 officers and 237 enlisted men that died of disease. (A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion by Frederick H. Dyer)

The 11th Illinois Cavalry mustered out of service in the fall of 1865, with the majority of the men returning to Illinois for a heroes welcome from their friends, family, and neighbors. For the Tippah County contingent, however, going home meant something entirely different – they would have to resume their lives while living amidst the very people they had fought against for nearly three years. Their ex-Confederate neighbors were bound to hold grudges, and the threat of violence was a very real possibility. To protect themselves, the Union men of Tippah County formed a militia company for self defense. On September 23, 1865, Hansel E. Moore, a former member of the 11th Illinois, wrote the following letter to Governor Sharkey:

Tippah County Miss., Sept. 23rd/65

Gov. Sharkey, Jackson, Miss.

Dear Sir, I am credibly informed that several men in this county have, or are going to join together and petition to you to “put down” my company by stating that the company is composed of “bad men, tories &c,” and also that there is “not any use for a company of any kind here.” You can do as you wish in regard to putting down my company – But I can prove by the oldest citizens of the county several of whom are Secessionist & Union men too, that these statements against my company are false, entirely so. And the men whom I say I can make the proof by are men who has not been in the army on neither side. 

     When you remove this company (mine) you then leave this country in a bad condition – the northern part of the county is composed mostly of Union men (I mean loyal men), and numbers of them too are men who have served their time out in this war in the U.S. Service. And these very men who are saying the most against the company are the very men who are saying that “There is not any Union and that all Union men and men who served in the U.S. army shall leave their homes, land &c, and shall move north as soon as the U.S. troops leave the state & the rail-roads close by here.”  Now we, as loyal men call on you to sustain yourself & us in all patriotical efforts.

My company is made up in compliance with your proclamation, and agreeable to an act of the revised code & the amendment thereto, passed on the 10th day of Feb. 1860. I wish an answer from you in regard to all this immediately. In haste, Yours respectfully,

H.E. Moore Capt.

P.S. – I do nothing secretly nor try to undermine any person, all I do and say I wish it published to the world. My last & most earnest wish is that you have this letter published in the Miss. & Memphis papers. If those men have, or do send, such a “petition” to you, I wish it and their names published also.

Yours truly,

H.E. Moore Capt.

Write to me at Jonesboro, Miss., via Pocahontas, Tenn.

H.E. Moore

– W.L. Sharkey Letters and Petitions, 1865 (Series 771, Box 956, Mississippi Department of Archives and History).

It’s no surprise that the pro-Confederate population of Tippah County would have been angered by the formation of a county militia made up of

Wartime image of T.P.D. Stephens/Stevens, probably taken after he had joined the 1st Mississippi Mounted Rifles, as he is wearing officer's rank on his uniform - www.1stalabamacavalryusv.com
Wartime image of T.P.D. Stephens/Stevens  – This photo was probably taken after Stephens was made an officer in the 1st Mississippi Mounted Infantry, and he is wearing officer’s insignia on his uniform. – http://www.1stalabamacavalryusv.com

former Union soldiers, and done their utmost to have it disbanded. I wish I knew what Governor Sharkey’s response to Moore was, but so far I have not been able to find one. I did, however, find one last piece of information regarding Moore’s militia company – the captain submitted the official results of the election of officers in his unit, probably in an effort to prove to the governor that they were a legitimate militia unit. The document begins by giving the results of the militia company’s voting for officers:

For Capt. H.E. Moore – 25

1st Lieut. T.P.D. Stevens – 25

2nd Lieut. W.T. Rowland – 25

All three of the men elected officers in the company were veterans of the 11th Illinois. The document goes on to explain the particulars of the election:

We the judges and clerks of an election held at Jonesburough on the 9 day of Sept. 1865, for the offices of Capt., 1st Lieut., and 2nd Lieut., of a Cav. Com. organized at Jonesburough Miss., in pursuance to Gov. Sharkey’s proclamation do certify H.E. Moore received Twenty-five (25) votes for Capt., that T.P.D. Stevens received Twenty-five (25) votes for 1st Lieut., that W.T. Rowland received Twenty-five (25) votes for the office of 2nd Lieut.

D.T. Bobo, Judge; T.P.D. Stevens, Judge; Clerks: W.T. Rowland, W.L. Skinner

State of Miss., Tippah County

Charles A. Stevens {Seal} Justice of the Peace

W.L. Sharkey Letters and Petitions, 1865 (Series 771, Box 956, Mississippi Department of Archives and History).

I wish I knew more about what happened to the Unionists in Tippah County during Reconstruction, but documentation can be very hard to come by. That’s why I would like to make an appeal to any descendants of Union soldiers from Tippah County, or anyone with more information about them, to please contact me – I would love to post additional information about these men.

I want to close this story with a brief quote from the book The Iron Furnace: Or, Slavery And Secession, by Reverend John H. Aughey of Choctaw County, Mississippi. Aughey was an outspoken supporter of the Union during the Civil War, so much so that he was arrested and thrown into prison at Tupelo and threatened with execution. The good reverend eventually escaped from prison, but he was weak and exhausted and left with the dilemma of whom to turn to for help. For Aughey, the choice was simple:

I despaired of getting much further. I thought I must perish in the Iron Furnace of secession, which was heated very hot for me. Feeling confident that I must be near Tippah County, and knowing that there were many Union men in that county, I resolved to call at the first house on my route. If I remained where I was, I must perish, as I could go no further, and if I met with a Union family, I should be saved; if with “a secesh,” I might possibly impose upon their credulity, and get refreshment without being arrested. They might, however, cause my arrest. It was a dilemma such as I hope never to be placed in again. – The Iron Furnace, page 192.

Reverend Aughey’s instincts were good; the first house he came to in Tippah County was owned by a Unionist who aided him in escaping to the Federal lines. Aughey did not name his benefactor, as his book was published during the war, and he did not want to place him in any danger. I like to think, however, that the unnamed farmer had relatives or friends fighting for the Union in the 11th Illinois Cavalry.