Murder Will Out: A Story of Bloody Kansas

In the summer of 1890, Joseph Tribble, a carpenter living in Grenada, Mississippi, decided to make a trip to his boyhood home in Kansas. Having been gone for thirty years, Tribble probably felt that no one would remember him, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. Shortly after arriving, Joseph Tribble was recognized, and immediately arrested. He was charged with the murder of Alexander Kincaid – a crime which had taken place in September, 1861, and had its roots in the conflict known as “Bloody Kansas.”

In the 1850s the turmoil in the Kansas territory foreshadowed the coming Civil War. The conflict had its roots in the

Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, author of the Kansas - Nebraska Act - Library of Congress
Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, author of the Kansas – Nebraska Act – Library of Congress

Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was a measure proposed by Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas to organize the territories because he wanted to build a railroad linking Illinois with California. Douglas realized that for the act to pass, he would have to make concessions to the South if he was to obtain their support for the measure. Thus the act repealed the provision of the Missouri Compromise that prohibited slavery north of 36* 30′ in the Louisiana Purchase lands. In addition, both Kansas and Nebraska territories were thrown open for settlement, and the immigrants  themselves would decide whether these lands would be slave or free – a concept known as popular sovereignty.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by Congress in May 1854, and the law set off an immediate firestorm of protest. Abolitionists in the North denounced the act as a slave holder conspiracy to add additional slave states to the Union. In the South, the law was very popular, as it was seen as an opportunity to add Kansas as a new slave state north of the old 36* 30′ Missouri Compromise line. An unintended consequence of the law was that Kansas turned into a battleground as abolitionist  and pro-slavery settlers flooded into the territory.

In his biography of Confederate guerrilla leader William Clarke Quantrill, writer Edward E. Leslie summed up very eloquently this not-quite-a-war going on in Kansas in the 1850s:

Just as in Northern Ireland and the Middle East in recent decades, it was a tit-for-tat war, a war of retribution and retaliation. It was characterized by fiery rhetoric, with talented and unscrupulous propagandists on both sides. ‘War to the knife, and knife to the hilt!’ one newspaper editor cried. It does not matter which side he was on; such

Illustration from the book, "The Reign of Terror in Kanzas" - Kansas Historical Society
Illustration from the book, “The Reign of Terror in Kanzas” – Kansas Historical Society

sentiments were echoed by both sides. – The Devil Knows How To Ride, page 6.

Joseph Tribble was born into this simmering cauldron of violence; I first found him on the 1850 United States Census as an 11 year old, living in Platte, Andrew County, Missouri, with his mother and his seven brothers and sisters. His mother, Cassandra, was a native of Tennessee, and all of the children were born in Missouri. Andrew County, located in the Northwestern part of Missouri and bordering on Kansas, was home to both pro-Union and pro-Confederate citizens during the Civil War, and was on the front lines of the guerrilla war during the conflict.

Sometime after 1850 the Tribble family picked up stakes and moved just across the state line to the town of Burr Oak, in Doniphan County, Kansas. There the family eked out a living as farmers; on the 1860 Census, Cassandra Tribble reported that she owned real estate worth $200.00, and had a personal estate valued at $100.00. Twenty-one year old Joseph was still living with his mother at this time, and listed his occupation as “farm hand.”

With the outbreak of war in 1861, citizens in Missouri and Kansas began taking sides and donning uniforms to fight. But in Missouri and Kansas, the war would not be confined to soldiers; civilians would be caught up in the ever expanding whirlwind of violence and terror. I don’t know much about Joseph Tribble’s life prior to the Civil War, but given subsequent events, it is safe to say that he was pro-Confederate in sentiment. Living in Kansas, he was bound to rub elbows with pro-Union men, and eventually one of these encounters turned violent. On September 19, 1861, the White Cloud Kansas Chief (White Cloud, Kansas), ran the following story:

A Union man named Kincaid, was murdered, on Sunday week, in Burr, Oak Township, by a Missouri Secessionist named Tribble. Kincaid was coming out of church, when Tribble stepped up to him, and asked him whether he was a coercionist? Kincaid replied in the affirmative, when Tribble stabbed him to the heart, then escaped over the river, with the assistance of Kansas traitors. The murderer is a brother to the ruffian whom the Pro-Slavery Democracy of this County attempted to shove into the office of County Treasurer, two years ago.


Map of the Missouri/Kansas Border where Joseph Tribble grew up - He was born in Andrew County, Missouri, but his family moved to Doniphan County, Kansas between 1850 and 1860
Map of the Missouri/Kansas Border where Joseph Tribble grew up – He was born in Andrew County, Missouri, but his family moved to Doniphan County, Kansas between 1850 and 1860

The murdered man was Alexander Kincaid, a small farmer who lived in Doniphan County. In the 1860 United States Census for Doniphan County, Kincaid listed his birthplace as New York, and he stated he had a personal estate worth $120.00. One interesting fact about Kincaid’s listing in the 1860 Census – he was on the same page as Joseph Tribble, meaning that they were neighbors. The two probably came into contact with each other quite often, and over time their political differences grew into an animosity that led to murder.

After killing Kincaid, Joseph Tribble did not wait around to face Kansas justice; where he went I have not been able to

Joseph Tribble's enlistment information from his Civil War Service Record -
Joseph Tribble’s enlistment information from his Civil War Service Record –

discover, but he next appears as a private serving in Company A, 1st Missouri Cavalry. Enlisting in December 1861, Tribble’s service record gave the following synopsis of his wartime service:

Served in Missouri State Guard, engaged at Blue Mills, Lexington, Sugar Creek, Bentonville, Elk Horn, Farmington, Iuka, Corinth. Deserted May 1, 1863, returned February 1, 1864. New Hope Church, Latimore House, Kennesaw Mountain, Atlanta, Lovejoy. Transferred to Company I, September 12, 1864. Allatoona, Georgia, Franklin, Tennessee; deserted at Nashville December 6, 1864.

Joseph Tribble enlisted in the 1st Missouri Cavalry along with his brother Andrew. The older sibling was soon promoted to sergeant, but he was captured at the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, Arkansas, and sent to a prisoner of war camp at Alton, Illinois. Apparently Andrew had seen enough of the war to suit him, as he took the oath of allegiance to the United States and was released from prison.

After deserting from the 1st Missouri Cavalry in December 1864, Joseph Tribble drops from sight until 1880, when he shows up on the United States Census in Grenada, Mississippi. The forty-one year old listed his occupation as carpenter, and he was living with his wife, Levisa J. Tribble, and their children, Claudia, Andrew, and Cassandra.

Joseph Tribble had spent a considerable amount of time in Mississippi during the war, and perhaps he liked what he saw of the state. He also had to know that with the war over and the Union victorious, returning to Kansas or Missouri would have entailed considerable risk for a man wanted for murder. By 1890, however, with 30 years between him and his crime, Tribble must have felt safe in taking a trip back to his old haunts in Kansas. But he could not have been more wrong. On July 6, 1890, the New York Herald ran the following story:

Murder Will Out.

Arrested for Killing A Man in Kansas Nearly Thirty Years Ago

St. Joseph, Mo., July 5, 1890 – Joseph Tribble, whose residence is on a plantation in the State of Mississippi, was arrested at an early hour this morning at Wathena, a little town just across the river from St. Joseph and in the state of Kansas. Tribble was a resident of Wathena twenty-nine years ago at a time when the border ruffians and bushwhackers run almost everything on the Kansas and Missouri sides of the river.

It was during these times in the year 1861 that Tribble, who sympathized with the Confederate cause, murdered Thomas Kincaid, who was a Northern sympathizer and who was at the time preparing to enlist in the Union Army. Immediately after the murder, on account of the feud then existing between Missourians and Kansans, Tribble made his escape, going to Mississippi, where he entered the Confederate army and served as a private until Lee’s surrender.

After the war he settled down on a Mississippi plantation, was married and now has in Mississippi a wife and three children, who have not yet been notified of the trouble he has gotten into. He had never visited his old home until the first day of the present month, when he came to St. Joe, then went to see friends in a little town ten miles north of here, and on the 4th he went to attend a celebration. He had no idea that any of his old acquaintances would recognize him, but they did, and his arrest followed. The murder was committed by a butcher knife in the month of September, 1861, and curious to say, the identical knife was found on his person when arrested. Tribble acknowledged that the knife was the one he used to murder Kincaid, and when asked why he carried it yet he answered: ‘I was coming back here on a visit the first time since the crime was committed and thought I would bring my friend of those times back with me.’ Tribble is now in jail at Troy, Kansas.

Justice moved quickly in the 1890s, and on July 16,1890, The Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, Kansas), reported on the opening of the trial:

The Tribble Trial

Troy, Kan., July 15 – The preliminary trial of Joseph Tribble, charged with the murder of Alexander Kincaid in September, 1861, is being held here today. A number of witnesses have been examined, but none have testified positively to the facts of the killing. Tribble is a resident of Mississippi and was here on a visit when he was recognized and arrested.

The Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha, Nebraska), also published an account of the trial on July 16, and their story includes more details about the murder:

Great was the excitement at Troy, Doniphan County, this state, today, the occasion being the preliminary examination of Joseph Tribble, who was arrested July 4 at Wathena for the murder of Alexander Kincaid on September 8, 1861. Tribble was rebel, Kincaid a man of union tendencies, although neither belonged to the regular armies. On the day mentioned, which was Sunday, the boys, both under twenty-one, met at a campmeeting. A quarrel ensued and they went at each other, Kincaid with a butcher knife, Tribble with a bowie knife. Kincaid was killed. Tribble went to Mississippi and did not reappear until July 4, when he was arrested. Today he was bound over in the sum of $7,000, which he is unable to give. The most intense excitement prevailed at Troy during the trial. The court room was crowded by men who had rebel tendencies and men of union proclivities and who openly stated them now. Tribble has a wife and five children in Mississippi, in destitute circumstances. He made no defense at the preliminary examination today.


Main street of Troy, Kansas, circa 1912 where the trial of Joseph Tribble took place - Special Collections, Wichita State University
Main street of Troy, Kansas, circa 1912 where the trial of Joseph Tribble took place – Special Collections, Wichita State University

One interesting statement was put forward in the Bee article – it noted that both Kincaid and Tribble were armed with knives – all of the previous statements about the murder made it sound as if Tribble simply stabbed an unarmed man to death. This information would turn out to have a great impact during the course of Tribble’s trial.

By early August, word of Joseph Tribble’s predicament had made its way back to Mississippi. On August 2, 1890, The Grenada Sentinel (Grenada, Mississippi), ran the following article:

Mr. Joe Tribble In Trouble

Arrested in Kansas for Killing a Man in 1861

Several weeks ago Mr. Joe Tribble of Jefferson, left here to visit relatives at Troy and other places in Kansas. While there he was arrested, charged with the killing of one Mr. Alexander Kincaid, in 1861. It seems that Mr. Kincaid was a rabid Federalist man, while Mr. Tribble was equally as strong a Confederate. They got into a dispute in which Mr. Kincaid was killed, and Tribble left the country and joined the Confederate Army. Mr. Tribble had a preliminary trial in Kansas some time since, and was bound over in the sum of $5,000, which bond he has not yet been able to give. None but state witnesses were examined and Mr. Tribble and his lawyers, as well as friends claim that they can easily prove that the killing was done purely in self-defense, when the trial comes before the Circuit Court. Some of his army comrades and other friends have been appealed to, and are now raising money to help him out of his trouble. We trust that all who can will contribute towards this end, and that Mr. Tribble will be acquitted. He made a brave Confederate soldier, and has a number of friends in this section. It will be hard for him to get full justice amongst strangers who know and care nothing for the South but to hate and malign her and her people.

The Grenada Sentinel article was very sympathetic to Tribble, but he was going to be tried by a Kansas jury, and his defense attorney would certainly have to work hard to obtain an acquittal for his client. The trial started in early October, 1890, and the Kansas City Times devoted considerable ink to the proceedings in the October 10, 1890, edition of the paper:

Joseph Tribble’s Hearing for a Murder in 1861 Opened at Troy

The case of Joseph Tribble for the murder of Alexander Kincaid in September, 1861, was called in the district court yesterday morning and the day was consumed in endeavoring to secure a jury. A special venire of twenty-six names was issued and this morning a jury was obtained and the trial begun. At 3 o’clock this afternoon the state rested its case and a short adjournment was had to enable the defense to prepare for its side.

One witness for the state testified that he stood by and saw Tribble stab Kincaid without any hostile demonstration on the part of the latter and that he repeated the blow in the back after Kincaid started to run. Also that before the first blow Kincaid had declined to fight Tribble. A lady testified that on the day of the murder she was visiting at a neighbor’s when Tribble came with bloody hands and upon being offered a basin of water to wash them, replied that he wanted the blood to remain so that when he reached Price’s army, he could show them the blood of an abolitionist.

After the killing Tribble went south with Price’s army, and had since made his residence in Mississippi, where he married and raised a family. Last Fourth of July he came back on a visit and was immediately arrested and placed in jail at Troy. Four witnesses who saw the killing, said that Kincaid had a sharpened butcher’s steel in his hand when he was stabbed by Tribble. By the few witnesses introduced by the defense up to adjournment it was proved that Kincaid had threatened Tribble’s life and the morning of the killing had sharpened the butcher’s steel for the purpose of killing Tribble. They met at the school house on Sunday, where church was held, and Kincaid struck Tribble and drew the steel. In self-defense Tribble drew a knife and struck the blow that caused death. The defense will set up the plea of self defense.

On this first day of the trial, the jurors had the difficult task of determining the truth from witnesses that told two entirely different stories of what happened 30 years earlier. If they believed one set of witnesses, Joseph Tribble had basically assassinated an unarmed, defenseless man. If you believed the other witnesses, Joseph Tribble had defended himself from a man who was intent on taking his life. Only time would tell which set of witnesses the jurors believed.

Today, a major murder trial might last for months; but in the 1890s justice was swift and sure, and on October 12, 1890, the Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), announced the verdict in all caps:


Joseph Tribble was acquitted of a murder in Doniphan county, Kansas, today committed over thirty years ago. Tribble was a southern sympathizer and the man he killed was Alexander Kincaid, a recruiting officer for the Union army. The evidence conclusively showed that Tribble acted wholly in self defense. Tribble is a resident of Mississippi and was arrested here the 4th day of last July while on a visit to his relatives in this section.

Without having access to the transcripts of the trial, it’s hard to second guess the verdict of the jury. The thirty years between the killing and the trial must have worked in Tribble’s favor; memories fade over time, witnesses die or move away, and the animosities generated by the war had decades to subside. All of these factors probably had something to do with Tribble’s acquittal.

With his name cleared, Tribble returned home to Mississippi and the loving embrace of his wife and children. He had endured a difficult few months, but I have to think that the acquittal must have given him peace of mind; no longer would he have to look over his shoulder waiting for law to catch up with him. As the Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), put it in their October 22, 1890 edition:  “He has been 29 years in dread of the hangman’s noose.” Tribble would no longer have to worry about a death on the gallows, but I have to wonder if his conscience ever bothered him. Was he forced to relieve the killing in nightmares night after night? Unfortunately, the historical record is silent on the subject.

The last mention I can find of Joseph Tribble is in the Confederate Widow’s Pension application of his wife, Levisa. In 1916 the 71 year old woman applied for a pension in Hinds County, Mississippi, declaring that she owned no property and lived with her son. Levisa wrote that she and Joseph were married on March 3, 1867, and that he had died on July 10, 1898.









Often Defeated, Never Doubted: A Veteran Defends the Army of Tennessee

The Civil War was a bloody affair, but in the decades that followed another war was fought in the pages of books, newspapers, and magazines as

Confederate Veteran at the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion -
Confederate Veteran at the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion –

veterans battled over their understanding of the conflict. In this new war, no blood was spilled, but plenty of ink was, as soldiers both Blue and Gray sought to remind the public of the importance of the sacrifices made in their behalf for four long and bloody years. Quite often this war of words was between former comrades, as the old veterans jealously guarded the reputations of their former units from any slight, real or perceived. In particular, men who had served in the Army of Tennessee often felt that their service was overlooked in favor of their comrades who served in the eastern theater with the Army of Northern Virginia. The cult of personality that grew up in the post-war South around Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia was considerable, and for the men who served in the Western theater, it often felt like they were living in the shadow of that more successful army.

From time to time, men who served in the western theater took up the pen and sought to vindicate their service during the war. I found a good example of such recently, and wanted to share it on my blog. The following article, published in the Holmes County Times, August 3, 1906, was written by Thomas W. Smith of Lexington, Mississippi, who served in Company A, 38th Mississippi Infantry, during the war. Enlisting in the “Holmes County Volunteers” on March 15, 1862, Smith fought in some of the most important battles of the western theater, including the Siege of Vicksburg where he survived 47 days of siege before the garrison surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant.


Comrade Smith’s Recent Able Address to Veterans of Holmes

Comrades: Forty years ago, the last shot was fired, and the last roll call was had in the Confederate army. Those of us who were spared through the four preceding years of bloody warfare, returned to our humble homes to be tried anew through the ever memorable years of reconstruction. We passed from period to period, until finally the passions and bitter animosities engendered by the war were either ameliorated or forgotten, when the present dawned upon us, and by that present we were reminded that history had been, and was being, written.

It also dawned upon us that such as had been written was not in all respects a true statement of facts, and placed the people of the South and the cause for which they fought falsely before the world and the children of our Southland. To correct, as far as possible, these errors, and to give to future generations a true conception of the aims and purposes of the Confederates, camps, such as our own, were formed, and it should be the duty of each and every member of these camps to place on record such facts as shall assist the future historians to write of us truly. History is only valuable as true. Opinions are not history. Acts and facts alone constitute matters historic. With this line of thought in view, I wish to bring to mind a few facts and acts, pertaining to the armies of Virginia and the West, or the Army of Tennessee.

Some fifteen, or perhaps twenty years ago, a young man born and reared in our town said to me, that “the Army of Virginia did

Union Broadside with the "On to Richmond" slogan -
Union Broadside with the “On to Richmond” slogan –

more fighting, severer fighting, and against greater odds, than did the Army of Tennessee; that the world accorded the Army of Virginia the greatest [measure] of praise, and that it was justly entitled thereto.” This opinion was neither new nor strange. That such opinions prevailed is not a matter of surprise when we remember that the fighting began on Virginia soil. That Richmond, the Confederate capitol, was the goal of the Federal soldier, and the cry “On to Richmond” the slogan of the Federal government. On the other hand, the Confederate soldier strained every nerve, and the government exhausted every means for its defense. Every maneuver by either army was heralded both from Richmond and Washington like lightning flashes, throughout the globe. All felt that with the fall of Richmond the dissolution of the Confederacy would follow.

General Lee, whose star of glory rose at his first battle, rose higher and higher, and shone with greater luster and brightness with each successive encounter, and did not go down with his surrender at Appomattox, commanded the Army of Virginia the greater part of the war continuously. Being in close proximity to the Confederate capitol, he had the full confidence of the president and cabinet – was in close touch with them and they each day knew his intentions and contemplated moves against the enemy. His army was at all times thoroughly organized under his various lieutenants, and was never divided or broken up, except when Longstreet was sent to Tennessee. Never a maneuver or movement was made that it was not give to, thoroughly understood, and if possible, executed by his subordinates, and they, together, with all his army, had perfect confidence in his ability.

Again, the contracted area covered by the Army of Virginia, enabled it by quick and rapid marching and counter marching, to foil the enemy, and attack him with the whole army when he might least expect it. Not so with the Army of Tennessee. The vastness of territory to be defended, the great distances between the various subdivisions, and the long hard marches to be made, rendered it a matter of impossibility to always unite in time to give battle.

Again, the commanding general was not at all times calculated to win the confidence of his men and lieutenants, and frequently, when with them long enough to inspire that trust and confidence necessary between them, some breach would occur between him and Richmond authorities, or for some other cause, he would be relieved, sent to another department, and another sometimes new and almost untried, placed in command. These and various other causes, all of which you, comrades, may call to mind, detracted from the Army of Tennessee, or the West.

I yield to no one a greater admiration for Lee and his men, the Army of Virginia, who won laurels that are deserved and imperishable, and those who utter a word in depreciation of their superb worth and splendid works of heroism, must be traitors to the glorious memories of the Confederacy. Its achievements made illustrious both its officers and men, who met every requirement that patriotism, undaunted courage and self-denial could demand or accomplish. It suffered losses, endured dangers and hardships, and evinced a valor which are among the greatest treasures of the most chivalric army that ever battled for sacred rights and the land they loved. As said before, the very purpose for which it was organized, and the positions it held gave it a presence and tendency to overshadow all other portions of the Confederate hosts.

In the west, Price with his little band of Missourians were pouring out their life’s blood freely for the mastery in that state, finally

General Sterling Price, veteran of many battles in the Western Theater - Library of Congress
General Sterling Price, veteran of many battles in the Western Theater – Library of Congress

closing their campaign with the battle of Elkhorn in Arkansas, but the actual great battle of the war was not fought until April, 1862.

Shiloh, with its terrible loss of life, gave to the South and her people a foretaste of the awful holocaust that was demanded of her in her efforts to be free and independent. Thirteen thousand federals killed and wounded and eleven thousand Confederates, were appalling figures, and staggered the minds of the people in their contemplation. On this bloody field, the chivalric soldiers of the South, was met in stubborn conflict by the sturdy western warrior. The losses in all other encounters dignified with the name of battle were insignificant when the minds of the people were awakened to the terrible casualty list of twenty-five thousand in a single battle. The enormity of these figures forced into the hearts and homes of the people both north and south, the calamity of war, and demonstrated the fierceness with which free men could meet free men, in defense of a principle for which they are willing, if need be to lay down their lives.

The army of the west made no claim of being better soldiers than the army of the east. They recognize the fact that the record of one Confederate redounds to the glory of all. All that the men who marched or died along the great father of the waters – from Belmont, Mo., to New Orleans, and in the states of Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina ask, is that it be known that they exhibited the same willingness to suffer and die, the same unselfish patriotism, as did the men whose blood crimsoned the Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania soil.

The army of the west, at all times overwhelmed by numbers, never despaired; often defeated, never doubted. No misfortune discouraged it, or cast a gloom over its spirits. Being far removed from the center of attraction Richmond, it did not have the best equipment the Confederate authorities could provide, but this aroused no complaint. It was too loyal not to be in sympathy with the efforts being put forth by the government to drive back the mighty hosts of federal soldiers who were pressing down upon the Confederate capitol.

The Federal army on its front and flank supplied, to a very great extent, its quarter-master’s stores, and the ever brave and vigilant knights of the saddle under Forrest, Buford and Wheeler, were its most bountiful commissary. Naked or clothed, barefoot or shod, hungry or well fed, it declined no service and hesitated at no sacrifice. Whether on the march or on the field of battle, it exhibited unsurpassed courage and fortitude. One single thought dominated every soul. The defense of home and loved ones, and the defeat of the foe, being the all-absorbing principle that made them such splendid fighters in battles like Vicksburg, Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Franklin.

Comrades, permit me to call your attention to the fact that every battle engaged in by the Army of Virginia had its counterpart in the west; and also to compare two assaults on the enemy, one by Saunder’s brigade at the “Crater;” the other by Mabry’s brigade at Harrisburg. Both insignificant, but got to show more forcibly the point I am endeavoring to make. The first has been eulogized in books and public prints. The latter was published in a county newspaper in our state. For the first I quote extracts from Capt. John C. Featherston in the Confederate veteran. “On we went, as it seemed to us, literally to the mouth of hell. This practically ended the fight inside the fort; but the two armies outside continued firing at this common center, and it seemed to us that the shot, shell, and musket balls came from every point of the compass and the mortar shells rained down from above. They had previously attacked us from below. So this unfortunate fort was one of the few points in the war or any other the history of which I have read, which had the unique distinction of having been assailed from literally every quarter. By the report of Capt. George Clark, assistant adjutant general, this brigade of five regiments carried into the battle of the ‘Cratre,’ six hundred and twenty-eight men, and of this number it lost eighty-nine.”

For the last, I quote from Lt. Col. Jones’ letter to the Woodville Republican: “The 38th Mississippi regiment made the charge that

Colonel Hinchie P. Mabry commanded the brigade to which Thomas W. Smith's regiment served at the Battle of Harrisburg - Confederate Veteran Magazine, Volume 20, (June 1912)
Colonel Hinchie P. Mabry commanded the brigade to which Thomas W. Smith’s regiment served at the Battle of Harrisburg – Confederate Veteran Magazine, Volume 20, (June 1912)

day with about 300 men, rank and file. Forty-four escaped unwounded. Every field and line officer was killed or wounded except Jasper Green, now a Baptist minister in Rankin County. The little remnant of survivors rallied around him in a thicket not over fifty yards from the entrenched line and a four-gun battery of the enemy. Col. Mabry ordered him to renew the charge, and his reply , as I was afterwards informed, was this: ‘Colonel, we have exhausted every round of ammunition, but if you say so, we will try again with empty guns.’ Nothing could be more Spartan like than this.”

Gen. S. D. Lee does the men who made the charge at Harrisburg but simple justice when he says that he “never saw soldiers fight better. Except in numbers engaged, Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg did not excel the desperate charge of Mabry’s brigade at Harrisburg. Nor did the famous charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava equal in desperation that of the 38th Mississippi regiment, if we may judge by the percentage of loss incurred by each.”

I wish now to draw your attention to a few of the battles of the west which are fearful in mortality and show the courage of the men engaged in them, whose conduct challenges human admiration, and give them highest rank among the world’s heroes. Having mentioned Shiloh, I pass to Chickamauga, where, in the month of September, 1863, forty thousand Confederates were met by fifty thousand Federals in deadly conflict. Sixteen thousand Federals and eleven thousand Confederates attest the determination of both. No fiercer fight had been witnessed on this continent. On these two days, assistance was out of the question. No reserves were to be had, and every man was at his post.

Some of the men who had won distinction on many fields in Virginia were to charge the enemy side by side with the men who had valiantly fought at Fishing Creek, Corinth, Shiloh, and Stone River. These Virginia veterans soon learned that the Army of Tennessee were their equals. In this bloody battle the Army of Tennessee lost none of their daring courage as compared with the men who at Sharpsburg, Manassas and Seven Pines had written in the great book of fame the story of Confederate heroism.

On the 8th day of October 1862, Gen. Bragg with 15,000 Confederates, confronted Gen. Buell with 28,000 Federals at Perryville Kentucky. The Confederates being elated at the forward movement through the blue grass state, felt confident of victory, and when the order to assault the enemy came, it met with the heartiest response. The battle was begun at 2 o’clock in the evening and by the shade of night came on 3400 Confederates and 4400 Federals killed and wounded, show how terribly earnest were the men engaged. Those who witnessed Shiloh and many other hotly contested fields declare that for numbers engaged, Perryville was the most dreadful they had________________ Franklin, Tennessee, to cover with glory as unfading as time the Army of Tennessee.

Poetry and song alike magnify the assault of Pickett at Gettysburg as being paralleled only by the charge of the Old Guard at

Mississippi Monument on the Franklin battlefield -
Mississippi Monument on the Franklin battlefield –

Waterloo, and as being the bloodiest of the age. Pickett’s loss was 21 per cent, while the loss at Franklin reached the enormous percentage of 33. Thirteen regimental commanders were killed, 32 wounded and nine captured. Of the brigadier generals, 4 in one division, 3 were killed and the other captured, and the major general so severely wounded that the day after the battle, his division was commanded by a colonel. In proportion to the numbers, the battle of Franklin was the bloodiest of modern times, and it was a sad fate in a noble response to the call of duty, for the Army of Tennessee to meet with practical annihilation.

Of the 70 regiments in the Confederate service holding the highest percent of loss in a single battle the west has to its credit 17 of these at Chickamauga alone. Of the 18 brigades suffering the greatest loss in a single battle Chickamauga had 4 and Gettysburg had 4 and it is said that the west is entitled to a majority of all so far reported.

And now, comrades, in conclusion, the reverberating peals of the thundering artillery in the seven days around Richmond, proclaiming the severest trials that men could endure, are answered by the clash of resounding arms from Missionary Ridge to, and around Atlanta. When the east speaks with pride of the glory won at Gettysburg, the west answers, here is Chickamauga.

As the east catching the echoes of heroism that rise from the hills of Sharpsburg, the west answers with consciousness of duty well done, and points to the blood stained field of Shiloh. When the east lifts to view the glory head of Malvern Hill, and when Second Manassas and Fredericksburg are mentioned, the west answers back with the requiem of its slain and the heroism of its deeds at Franklin, Stone River, Corinth, Iuka, Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

And from the regions beyond the great Mississippi comes the refrain of the fearless deeds of our comrades who dared and did all that human could do. And the world listens with wonder and admiration, as from all sections of our sunny south comes the same story of illustrious courage, patriotism and unselfish consecration to the cause of truth, right and justice.

T.W. Smith,

Holmes County Camp No. 398,

Lexington, Miss.


Thomas W. Smith made it very clear in his letter the importance he attached to his memory of the past; and he did his part to make sure that this history was not forgotten. When the Holmes County Veterans memorial was dedicated on December 2, 1908, the monument was accepted on

The grave of Thomas W. Smith in Odd Fellows Cemetery, Lexington, Mississippi -
The grave of Thomas W. Smith in Odd Fellows Cemetery, Lexington, Mississippi –

behalf of the veterans by Smith. In his acceptance speech the veteran spoke eloquently on how he hoped future generations would remember the Confederate soldier:

May it forever stand, as a perpetual memorial to induce them to emulate the virtue and devotion to duty, of the Confederate soldiers, who offered their lives in defense of that independence and political freedom, bequeathed to us by our revolutionary fathers. It will speak in silent language to them of a citizenry and soldiery scarcely equaled, and never excelled, in any age.

Thomas W. Smith died in Lexington, Mississippi, on April 27, 1919. In his obituary it was noted that “He served with conspicuous bravery and unswerving loyalty in the Confederate army during the Civil War. In civil life he was always aligned with the forces and influences that worked for the moral and material advancement of the community.” Smith is buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery at Lexington, Mississippi; in addition to the dates of his birth and death on his tombstone, there is a simple inscription: “Company A, 38th Miss. Regt., C.S.A.”