The Doomed City: A Reminiscence of Jackson, Mississippi

I found the following reminiscence by a member of the 14th Mississippi Infantry in The Clarion (Jackson, Mississippi), October 13, 1881. It’s a very interesting account of the time the regiment spent in the capital city of Mississippi while serving on provost duty:

JACKSON, EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO

Eighteen years ago, this writer marched up Capitol street to the tune of ‘The Bold Soger Boy,’ played by the band of the

Photograph of Capitol Street in Jackson, Circa 1870 - Mississippi Department of Archives & History
Photograph of Capitol Street in Jackson, Circa 1870 – Mississippi Department of Archives & History

14th Mississippi Infantry. Two decades of time begin at length to clothe with a weird and fascinating interest the grand old days when gray columns marched and counter-marched, and men laughed at fate, and slept under the booming of cannon. And ex-soldiers, who were rollicking youngsters then, carelessly treading the weary march, or watching, lynx-eyed and silent, on the lonely vidette post, begin now to realize that they were then passing through the great epoch of their lives, and participating in events of mighty import.

We had campaigned in East Tennessee, wintered in Kentucky, surrendered at Fort Donelson, spent seven months in prison, and been exchanged at Vicksburg. Afterwards we had retreated before Grant from Cold Water, until Van Dorn turned him back by striking his commissary department at Holly Springs. Then came a lull in military operations in this quarter, and the 14th, by some hook or crook, got ordered to Jackson on provost duty. We reported to Brigadier General John Adams, commanding the 4th military district, whose head-quarters were up-stairs in the old brick building opposite the south side of Capitol square.

We went into camp in the old field west of the depot, where we remained five or six months doing provost duty in town

Photo of the Bowman House Hotel, Circa 1860
Photo of the Bowman House Hotel, Circa 1860 – Mississippi Department of Archives & History

and on the railroads, and had, in the language of that day, ‘a regular stavin’ time.’ Jackson was then the head-quarters of everything military and civil in this department, outside of Vicksburg. Army teamsters swore at their mules, and their wagons sunk to the hubs in the muddy streets. Quartermasters, commissaries, paymasters, and a hoard of gamblers with bogus passes in their pockets, thronged the sidewalks. The old Bowman House was a favorite resort of the latter, and here many of the members of the 14th were accustomed to deposit their Confederate stamps and return to camp in the dark hours of the night, sadder but not much wiser men. In the basement was a large billiard room with bar attached, and in the third story faro-banks drove a thriving business.

The Confederate House, near the depot, was constantly thronged, and hotels, restaurants and eating houses of every description had a regular boom of business. The impecunious officers and men of the 14th while on duty down town, used to patronize the eating house of a little Dutch woman – I have forgotten her name – down near the guard house at the foot of State street. For one dollar she gave biscuit, beef-steak, eggs and ‘genuine’ coffee. The more aristocratic officers, and those more fortunate in the mysterious games of keno and faro, took breakfast at Angelo’s. This old guard house at the foot of State street was an institution of the times. It was an old brick building on the east side, and was the receptacle of prisoners of every hue and nationality; Jew and Gentile, black and white, civil and military, all found temporary shelter and protection beneath its friendly roof. It was a kind of wayside hotel for Yankee prisoners in transit to the interior, and a safe refuge for refactory Confederates awaiting the action of court-martial. The ‘blue and gray’ met here on common ground, and shook hands across a tray of corn bread and blue beef.

Federal Troops Burning the Confederate House Hotel on May 15, 1863 - Harper's Weekly, June 20, 1863
Federal Troops Burning the Confederate House Hotel on May 15, 1863 – Harper’s Weekly, June 20, 1863

There was a broad-shouldered six foot, young Kentuckian, a splendid specimen of manhood, under sentence of death. He had murdered the major of his regiment in cold blood, deserted to the enemy, and been recaptured. One night, two weeks before the day of execution, he managed to get off his chains, and when detected, backed himself in the corner, and defied the guard with a heavy piece of iron, that he had gotten hold of by some means. He was overpowered after a desperate struggle, and two weeks later, defiant still, he tore his shirt collar, and bared his breast to the volley of musketry that sent him to eternity. One man amongst this motley crowd of prisoners wore a black stove-pipe hat, called in army parlance a ‘camp kettle;’ and he had been frequently importuned by the other prisoners to ‘come down out of it.’ He finally attempted to escape annoyance and effect his release by civil process; and one morning, the officer of the guard was served with a writ of habeas corpus. It was a mass of unintelligible jargon to him, and not knowing what better to do, after a careful perusal, he burned the papers, and locked up the civil officer who served them.

One of the most noted characters in this department was a private of Company F., known in almost every command by

Illustration of Civil War Foragers - Harper's Weekly, April 1, 1865
Illustration of Civil War Foragers – Harper’s Weekly, April 1, 1865

the euphonious sobriquet of ‘Beauregard Bill;’ though his baptismal name, if he had ever gone through a process of that nature, was Bill Mitchell. His ubiquitous propensities obtained for him a widespread acquaintance, and his admirable qualities as a forager were appreciated by all. While the army made a direct march of twenty-five miles, Bill foraged for five miles on either flank, and came into camp at night loaded down with fresh pork, canteens of sorghum and twists of half-cured tobacco, called with a kind of sardonic humor, ‘stingy green.’ Love was an emotion not found in Bill’s composition, and he parted with his stock only for money. He always got around the officer of the guard by a plausible story, a piece of fresh pork, or a canteen of sorghum or Louisiana rum. He was an old Mexican war soldier, and around the camp-fires, recited many a chapter of history not laid down in the books. He was as notorious amongst the soldiers as any general officer in the division; and he, doubtless, has a vivid recollection of every den and haunt in Jackson, and every road and by path for twenty miles around. I have introduced his name here, for the purpose of informing his surviving comrades, that he lives now a few miles from Yazoo City. He is a member of the Baptist church; drives a lonesome and shadowy mule, and is as calm and placid under a deed of trust, as when in the old days he converted himself into a walking saloon and peddled pine-top whiskey at one dollar a ‘jigger.’

All the churches were in full blast and well attended. One Sunday morning I dropped into one of them, but I cannot now recall the name nor face of the preacher, neither his text nor sermon. The church was crowded from door to pulpit, and my eyes were busy with the strange faces and varied costumes. There were officers in bright uniforms, with red, blue and buff trimmings, and others with threadbare coats buttoned to the chin to hide their faded calico shirts; privates, with well brushed brogans; civilians, in broadcloth and home-made jeans; ladies, in elegant Parisian costumes, and others in homespun dresses, with velvet cloaks and kid gloves. Antique bonnets had been withdrawn from long retirement, and forced into active service, and even sun-bonnets shaded delicately tinted cheeks and modest eyes that drooped under the soothing influences of inspiration. I had, only a few hours before, returned from a short leave of absence, and just before boarding the cars at Meridian, I had seen a telegram containing some details of the battle of Corinth, and amongst others the death of Col. Robt. McLain, of the 37th Mississippi Regiment.

Looking over the congregation I saw Col. McLain’s daughter, who was visiting at the time, relatives in Jackson. Mail and

Battle Flag of the 37th Mississippi Infantry
Battle Flag of the 37th Mississippi Infantry

telegraphic communications were uncertain in those days and correctly surmising that she was ignorant of the death of her father, I tried to avoid her on leaving the church, but was intercepted at the gate with an eager demand for news of the battle. With the truth on the end of my tongue, I looked into her blue eyes, and there, under the very shadow of the sanctuary, I told her a monster lie. She invited me to dinner, and it was a terrible temptation; my pockets were empty and I was down flat on army rations with pay-day a long way in the future. But I refused, and walked slowly away to camp, mournful for two reasons; I had missed a good dinner, and I knew that before the sun went down, the girl’s fresh young heart would be crushed by the harsh tidings my lips had refused to utter.

Our boys were the recipients of much kindness at the hands of the people of Jackson, and doubtless they remember that period as a luminous spot in the black disk of the war. There were many amusements into which they plunged with a zest, heightened by the knowledge that they could not last; and those were days when men and women grasped eagerly at pleasure with the shadow of death overhead, and threaded the dreamy waltz with the dull roar of distant siege guns booming in their ears. There came a day at length when our carnival was to end. An old copy of the Columbus Republic of that date says: ‘The enemy landed 75,000 men at Grand Gulf, on the 27th April, and approached in the direction of Jackson.’ Grant was uncoiling his ponderous army, and slowly enveloping Vicksburg in its fatal folds.

The 14th was rudely awakened from its dream of inglorious ease; and one fine morning in May, we bade adieu to Jackson, folded our tents, fell into line, and silently marched away. The commissaries, quartermasters, paymasters and army of gamblers, with their military stores and faro-banks, were already domiciled at Meridian; and the State government, with the old Roman Governor, Jno. J. Pettus, at its head, and Jones S. Hamilton, Adjutant General, was temporarily established at Enterprise. Many of the citizens left their homes, and Jackson was abandoned to the torch of the invader. The convicts from the penitentiary were released, formed into a company, and placed under command of Lieut. Trotter; but on the march they ‘vanished in thin air’ like the smoke from Grant’s batteries in the distance.

A mile or two out I paused and looked back, a carriage, filled with pale-faced refugees, dashed by; over the doomed city, a tall column of black smoke was slowly unfolding into a huge umbrella; and a sound, like the distant murmer of the sea, broke on my ear. The ‘bummers’ were getting in their work. We took the road to Canton, where Gen. Johnston attempted to gather a force for the relief of Vicksburg. Eventually the 14th, 15th, 20th and 43d Mississippi Regiments, commanded respectively by Cols. Doss, Farrell, Rora [Rorer] and Lowry, were formed into the first brigade of Loring’s division and placed under command of Gen. John Adams. The brigade remained intact through the Georgia campaign and Hood’s Tennessee campaign, until the battle of Franklin, where Adams, Farrell and Rora [Rorer] were killed, and one-half the brigade withered away before the seething fire from Schofield’s breast-works.

Illustration of Federal Troops Occupying Jackson, Mississippi
Illustration of Federal Troops Occupying Jackson, Mississippi

The field officers in this fatal charge, contrary to their usual custom, remained mounted; and Gen. Adams and his horse, riddled with bullets, went down together within a few feet of the works. Rora [Rorer] fell shot through the heart, but his horse plunged forward and dropped square across the works, his head and fore-feet dangling on the enemy’s side. Farrell was mortally wounded, and died soon after in the hospital. The brigade finished its career amongst the red hills of North Carolina, under command of Gen. Robert Lowry. A feeling of solemn awe steals over us at the awakened memories of those stirring times, and across the long lapse of years, we hear the sharp voices of the Captains, and a sound like the rush of many footsteps.

W., Yazoo City, October, 1881

Unfortunately, the writer of this wonderful little story only identified himself as “W,” from Yazoo City, Mississippi. I would, however, like to speculate as to his identity. In the story he speaks of a most notorious soldier in his regiment, Bill Mitchell of Company F, This is just a personal feeling of mine, but the way the writer talks about Mr. Mitchell, it sounds like he is talking about himself. Also, he does state that Mitchell was from Yazoo City, and the Writer does give his residence as Yazoo City. I checked the service records of the 14th Mississippi Infantry, and sure enough, there was a Private William C. Mitchell who served in Company F, 14th Mississippi Infantry. He enlisted on May 29, 1861, at Corinth, Mississippi, and listed his age as 35 years old. In the article the writer states that he served in the Mexican War, and at 35 years old, he was definitely of the right age to have served in that conflict.

At this time I can’t prove it, but I strongly suspect that William Mitchell was the writer of this article – if I find any information that sheds more light on the identity of the author, I will certainly post it, as he deserves to be remembered.

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A Fearless Soldier: Joseph Henry Castles of the 24th Mississippi Infantry

A few days ago I was on the website Findagrave.com, when I came across a listing for the grave of Joseph Henry

Tombstone of Joseph Henry Castles - Findagrave.com
Tombstone of Joseph Henry Castles – Findagrave.com

Castles, who served in Company H, “Buena Vista Hornets,” 24th Mississippi Infantry. The imagery on the tombstone was striking, as was Castles epitaph; “A True Christian and a Fearless Soldier.”

I decided to look into the service of this “Fearless soldier,” and see what I could learn about him. I pulled Castles service record and found that he enlisted in the army on September 24, 1862, at Buena Vista, in Chickasaw County, Mississippi. He was listed as “present” on every muster roll of the regiment through January – February 1864, but after that time his service record just ends without any explanation. There was one other item, a small scrap of paper, that does shed a little light on what happened to Castles – It’s nothing more than a receipt from St. Mary’s Hospital in LaGrange, Georgia, dated June 20, 1864, and stating that he was issued one jacket, value $4.00.

The hospital receipt was a strong indication that Castles was either wounded or sick during the Atlanta Campaign, but determining exactly what happened took a little more digging.

On a hunch I pulled the index to Confederate Veteran Magazine, and as luck would have it, I found a listing for Joseph H. Castles. I pulled Volume 17 of the publication, the issues for 1909, and on page 208 I found the following:

J.H. Castles, of Houston, Miss., who was a member of Company H, 24th Mississippi, Walthall’s Brigade, gives an interesting account of his war experiences. He joined the army when only sixteen, and was in all the battles with Johnston’s army. He was wounded in the battle of Atlanta, and still carries the ball in his body. He gives a pleasant episode of the defense of Lookout Mountain. He says that the pickets of both armies were so close together that there was much friendly exchange of badinage and commissaries, and that when the orders came for battle the Yankee pickets called out to the Confederate pickets to get to cover, as the firing was about to commence.

It’s not much, but the brief account from Confederate Veteran does answer many of the questions regarding the missing information from Castles service record. I was on a roll and decided to check and see if Castles filed for a Confederate Veteran’s pension. Sure enough, on August 4, 1912, he filled out the form to obtain a pension. When asked if he was ever wounded, the following was recorded: “Atlanta, Ga., shot in chin and shoulder blade. Now has ball under right shoulder blade. Right arm injured so as to prevent manual labor.” When asked if he was absent from the surrender of his regiment in 1865, Castles wrote: “Yes, on furlough, on account of wounds.”

So there we have it. Castles served faithfully until his wounding during the Atlanta Campaign. His wound was serious enough to take him out of the war, and in fact he was still carrying the Yankee bullet in his body nearly a half century after the battle in which he was shot.

I am glad I was able to find so much information about Joseph H. Castles, but the really intriguing thing to me is that it seems that the reminiscence quoted in Confederate Veteran was part of some longer manuscript. I hope that this reminiscence still exists, because I really want to read it.

All the Points About Vicksburg: The Report of Lieutenant Colonel Edward Fontaine

 

 

My ongoing research into the correspondence of Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus has turned up another interesting letter. This author was Lieutenant Colonel Edward Fontaine, who at the time the manuscript was written in late 1861 was serving as Chief of Ordnance for the state of Mississippi. The lieutenant colonel had just completed an inspection tour of Vicksburg, and in his correspondence to the governor he made recommendations for the defense of the Hill City. I found this manuscript fascinating, as many of Fontaine’s observations about the defenses needed to protect Vicksburg were later put into effect and successfully used during the 1863 siege of the city. The following letter is from the John J. Pettus correspondence at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Series 757, Box 940, Folder 9:

Head-Quarters, Army of Mississippi Ordnance Office, Jackson, Dec. 20, 1861

Edward Fontaine
Post-war photo of Lieutenant Colonel Edward Fontaine – http://www.findagrave.com

His Ex. J.J. Pettus, Govr., of Miss. Dear Sir, I have just finished an examination of all the points about Vicksburg, necessary to be fortified to make it impregnable against an attack by land and water; and to make the river impassable to the enemy’s boats; and I have made a rude estimate of the cost to the state of one fort to mount 5 – 42 pounders, & 4 – 24 pounders, & which has been already commenced. But after a careful reconnaissance of the topography of Vicksburg, I feel it my duty to recommend that no further work be done upon the fortifications there than what is necessary for their preservation, & the safe keeping of our ordnance stores; for the following reasons: 1st, If we fortify Vicksburg, it must be on a scale sufficient to resist a heavier attack than one which could not be resisted by the defenses of Columbus, & Memphis. 2d, To do this the cooperation of Louisiana is absolutely necessary; or the Confederate States must assume the control of the work. As the Yazoo River is at all times navigable for boats of light draught, and often for those of the largest size for a considerable distance above Vicksburg, and as excellent artillery roads lead to it from the bluffs on its left bank, making a land attack on the north of the city, & an approach to the Southern R. Road entirely practicable, the first point necessary to be fortified is above the mouth of that river. The place is called “Young’s Point.” Strong earthworks & bomb-proof batteries, with a heavy force on both banks of the river are necessary there, with obstructions between them.

The next points to be fortified are the first bluff of the Yazoo River & its opposite bank. The next is the great bend next to Vicksburg & above it, but south west from the city. The R. Road passes through the narrow neck, separating the river above & below. Which neck the enemy can occupy & use the R. Road for penetrating the interior of Louisiana, or for running a battery in front of Vicksburg; or they can cut a canal through the neck, and turn the river through it, and pass by Vicksburg with their flotilla. If a fort is not erected there to prevent this, in ascending from it to the next bend north of the city, with rifled cannon they can strike it from their gunboats across the wooded peninsula & the river. The Mississippi opposite Vicksburg is only eleven hundred yards wide, & the peninsula in not more than a mile across. The water battery commenced above the city is well situated to command the bend of the river; but the fire of long range guns mounted upon it would be rendered ineffectual for more than a mile and a half by a heavy body of timber on the Louisiana side, which conceals & shelters the approach of steam-boats descending from the south west to the north east.

The remains of an old Spanish Fort occupy the hill above our water battery; & which commands the city, and two roads approaching it from the Yazoo, and the river and all the country around within the range of shot and shell. It is necessary to fortify this important position for this reason, & to protect the battery at its base. A beautiful streamlet winds around its northern side, & makes a cascade over a ledge of cretaceous rock near the north east angle of the Water Battery. This waterfall makes a fine pool for bathing under a shower bath; & the water is clear & cool. The southern bank of the stream is a precipice of fifteen or twenty feet, and is a strong natural defense to the north line of the fort. The site is very comfortable & healthy; and sufficiently near the city to guard it against insurrection. Captain Taylor’s artillery company is stationed there; the men are in good health and pleased with their situation. I think it would be well to keep them there, to practice them with the siege guns, & to drill them in the exercise of light artillery; & also to guard our ordnance stores, & to protect the city against any domestic disturbance.

I ordered Major Barnes to move the 5 – 42 pounders & their carriages & chassis now lying at the R. Road Depot exposed to the weather, & many injuries, to the fort, & place them in position; & erect wooden shelters over them to be used for the drill of the company. I also instructed him to have built a plain, cheap, & substantial store house of undressed Cypress lumber at the fort, & deposit it all the vacant gun carriages, implements, and other ordnance stores, except the powder; and place the whole in the charge [of] Captain Taylor. That officer promised me to set the whole of his company to doing this work which will make it cost the state but a small sum; less I think than the expense of moving the stores away, or paying storage in the city, while the whole is going to decay. I also recommend that after Captain Taylor’s company is drilled sufficiently, it be removed to active duty in the field; and another company of artillery recruits substituted for a similar course of instruction. With this company & Genl. Tappan’s city guard, I think Vicksburg sufficiently defended for the present; if we supply the artillery company with some field pieces, and ammunition & the infantry with cartridges.

Respectfully your obt. svt.,

Ewd. Fontaine Lt. Col. & Ch. of Ordnance & Acting Engineer.

After reading this letter, I wanted to know a little bit more about Fontaine’s background, and what I found was truly fascinating. Edward Fontaine was born August 5, 1814, in Greenwood, Virginia, the son of Patrick Henry and Nancy Fontaine. He was the Great-Grandson of Revolutionary War hero Patrick Henry. Fontaine was admitted to the United States Military Academy in 1830, but was discharged in 1832 for a deficiency in math – It would prove to be one of very few failures in his life. Fontaine became a lawyer in 1835, and that same year found him in Pontotoc, Mississippi, working as a draftsman for the survey being done of Chickasaw lands acquired by Federal government.

Active in the Methodist Episcopal Church, Fontaine heard the call to preach, and was admitted to the ministry in 1838. Serving congregations in Texas, while he was in the Lone Star State he also found time to be a private secretary to Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar.

Fontaine’s first wife died in 1855, and four years later he moved back to Mississippi where he married Mrs. Susan Taylor Britton. The couple lived at Pocahontas, in northern Hinds County. When the war started Fontaine wasted no time offering his services to the Confederacy. He enlisted on May 24, 1861, as the captain of Company K “Burt Rifles,” 18th Mississippi Infantry. While serving with the 18th Mississippi at the Battle of First Manassas, Fontaine led his company so well that he was cited in General P.G.T. Beauregard’s report on the battle. It stated that “Capt. Fontaine’s company of the 18th Mississippi Regiment, are mentioned by Genl. Jones as having shown conspicuous gallantry, coolness and discipline under a combined fire of infantry and artillery.” – “Extract from General G.T. Beauregard’s Report of Operations July 21, 1861.” A copy of this extract is attached to Fontaine’s Compiled Service Record with the 18th Mississippi Infantry.

Edward Fontaine did not remain with the 18th Mississippi Infantry for very long. He resigned on October 1, 1861, to take an appointment as Chief of Ordnance for the State of Mississippi. He was serving in this capacity when he wrote the above letter to Governor John J. Pettus.

I did a little more research on Edward Fontaine, and I found a number of letters he wrote attached to his compiled service record with the 18th Mississippi Infantry. The following letter also deals with Fontaine’s thoughts on the defense of Vicksburg, so I thought it was worth including in this article:

EXECUTIVE OFFICE Jackson, Miss., April 23d, 1862

Major Genl. G.T. Beauregard, C.S.A.

Dear General I feel so much solicitude about the defense of the Mississippi River that I venture to offer to you a few suggestions in regard to it, which I hope you will pardon, and for which an apology may seem necessary as my rank and position hardly excuse what might seem to be presumptuous. Soon after my appointment as Chief of Ordnance of the State Army of Mississippi last fall, I was ordered by Govr. Pettus to examine the fortifications at Vicksburg to report a plan for completing them. I spent some time in examining the topography of the city & its vicinity, and upon my return reported that it was necessary to fortify both sides of the river above the mouth of the Yazoo in order to make Vicksburg impregnable, & the river impassable to a descending armada of gunboats & transports. The Louisiana shore was out of our jurisdiction. It was therefore necessary to get the cooperation of the State of La., or else the Confederate States Government should be requested to assume the work.

The Govr. then ordered me to write to Govr. Moore upon the subject, which I did immediately. He referred the matter to Genl. Lovell, & sent me his letter. Genl. Lovell said that the guns & men could not be obtained, & that it would be better to direct our attention to the fortification of the Mississippi in the neighbourhood of Fulton. I replied that I was confident the enemy would not attack either Columbus or Bowling, but would ascend the Tennessee and Cumberland, & attempt to march upon Memphis from the Tennessee by the direction of Purdy or the nearest and most convenient route for an attack by land, and force our troops to fall back to the south of our whole line of defense, and in that event I thought we ought to construct fortifications below Memphis on the river, much stronger than these above for the defense of Vicksburg & New Orleans. This was early in November.

Finding that our rulers differed from me, I ceased correspondence, and recommended that our siege guns be sent up to Genl. Polk, which was done immediately. I mention this, General, that you may be convinced that I have thought much about the matter, & that you may the more readily pardon me for giving you the plan I intended to pursue, if I had been ordered to fortify Vicksburg, which would have been the case, if the cooperation of Govr. Moore could have been secured; or if the wishes of Govr. Pettus could have been gratified. I considered well the topography of our river valley – & determined 1st – not to fortify heavily any part of the river where its course is serpentine, the banks low on one side, and high on the other, where, there is a “cut off,” or a hill approaching it, as represented in the following sketches for these reasons. Snap 2015-03-01 at 11.57.27 1. An enemy with superior force can cut a canal across the peninsula formed by the bends above & below the fortifications and “turn” them, as at (a) or 2. If the works are water batteries, star, or bastioned forts, crown works, or any fortifications suitable for hills, ravines, or a continuous ridge or such a locality as the Memphis, Vicksburg, or Natchez Bluffs – they can be carried by mining, assault, & regular approaches at (b). I therefore determined to select a section of the river where its course is straight or slightly tortuous for many miles – thus: Snap 2015-03-01 at 11.58.02 For these reasons: 1. Where the course of the river is straight, or slightly tortuous for many miles, the banks are usually old, high & firm. The bed of the river has not been changed for ages. This is often proven by the aboriginal mounds, & levees which occupy such situations. 2. There the banks are usually higher, & the swamps approach the river nearer than where the course of the river is serpentine. 3. Star forts can be built opposite each other and fortifications extended to the swamps, which can be made impregnable. The ditches can be filled with water. The enemy cannot mine the works; because the water will fill their mines. Cypress and other timber, better than stone or brick, is convenient for framing bomb proof shelters. The soil is not gravelly, but a closely compacted mass of loam & fine sand admirably adapted to resist shot & shell, & easily worked with the spade. 4. The swamps prevent any flanking movements of the enemy (a, b). It is easy to entrench the banks above so as to shelter sharp shooters to annoy a mortar fleet anchored at long range. I think obstructions could be placed between the forts to hold gun-boats under fire, and to prevent their descending in darkness and fogs. Cypress logs lashed together in threes by chains, and anchored with their length diagonal to the course of the current might answer a good purpose, except in the current. Snap 2015-03-01 at 11.59.49 In this current a strong iron plated floating battery or steamer might be anchored in action. Steam tugs can be used to construct these “booms” & to keep them free from drift wood, & to guard them in the night, adjusted by watch boats to do the duty of sentinels. I will not weary you with a longer letter. I am opposed to forts on bends and hills to defend the river. If you consider the above worthy of attention please refer it to a council of war, or to the proper authority.  I will only add that I am now doing but little here. The conscription law makes my services to the State Government almost unnecessary, I hold no office now but that of aid to our governor. After serving as Chief of Ordnance last fall & winter, with the rank & pay of Lieut. Col., & then Col., I resigned the office because the Legislature cut down my salary & left me no clerk. I have no talent for electioneering, and am not personally acquainted with the president, & might be disappointed if I were to ask for a Brigadiership, or even a Colonelcy.

So in a few weeks I expect to go home, & plant corn & remain with my family unless the government calls me into some service. I would be delighted to be with you again, & give our enemies another stroke in the rear as I did at Manassas, for the notice of which I sincerely thank you. I would raise another company, but some political “greenhorn” of a Colonel or General would be elected or appointed to command me & might disgrace me. But I wish you dear General to consider me at all times under your command and subject to your orders. You will come through this war gloriously & without a wound if my prayers to the God of our Fathers are answered.

Respectfully, Your Obt. Svt.,

Edward Fontaine

Shortly after this letter was written, Edward Fontaine did go home, plant corn, and remain with his family. He attempted several times to obtain a position in the Confederate army, but his efforts were never rewarded with an officer’s commission.

When the war ended, Fontaine continued his work in the ministry, but was probably best known for his scientific pursuits. Author Elmo Howell said of him, “Touched by the Fontaine wildness and extravagance of intellect, Edward was ‘a Leonardo of a man’ with an extraordinary range of interests. Soldier, educator, public official, he was also a scientist, renowned for a plan to control the water of the lower Mississippi which was subsidized by the Louisiana legislature. – Mississippi Scenes: Notes on Literature and History, pages 237-238.

Edward Fontaine died on January 19, 1884, and was buried on his plantation at Pocahontas, Mississippi. An article written about him in The Comet (Jackson, Mississippi), November 27, 1880, serves, I think, as an elegant epitaph:

Dr. Fontaine has been a close student and earnest investigator all his life, and he has the gift and faculty of learning faster and more than almost any other student. He has written enduring pages on the book of science, and made many marks in the limitless field of investigation that will stand out all the brighter after his great grandchildren are dead.”

As a final postscript, I do need to mention that one of Fontaine’s children was Lamar Fontaine, who was even more flamboyant than his father. His exploits as a soldier during the Civil War have reached the level of myth, and one day I will have to devote a blog post to him as well.