As the Civil War dragged on, Mississippians had to live with shortages of just about everything: food, water, clothes, coffee, and thousands of other items, both big and small. But the one item that was coveted above almost all others, was something so simple that I imagine most people today would find it hard to believe that it was once a valuable wartime commodity. This highly desired item was nothing more than common salt.
In the days before refrigeration, salt was widely used to preserve meat, but the state of Mississippi did not have any natural sources of the mineral. Mississippi was forced to import salt from states such as Louisiana and Virginia, but as
the war went on the supply was never able to keep up with the demand. This letter, written to Governor John J. Pettus, by Jane Boykin, a widow from Smith County, perfectly illustrates the hardship that the lack of salt placed on the common people of Mississippi:
Raleigh, Smith County, Miss., July the 10th 1862
To His Excellency the Governor
I take the liberty of addressing you a line through this interposition of friends I was informed by a couple of gentlemen who was at my house to day that you would send me a sack of salt if I would make known to you my necessities and claims upon your clemency. I have 7 sons in the Confederate service some of which has been in some of the hottest engagements since the war commenced. I am too a lonely widow with several children wholy dependent upon me for a support. You can exercise your own discretion in this matter, but I am truly in want of the salt and you will confer a great favor on me.
Respectfully Yours &c
One thing about Jane Boykin’s letter intrigued me – she told Governor Pettus that she had seven sons serving in the Confederate military. In the course of my research I’ve found lots of families that sent multiple sons into the army during the Civil War, but never one that had seven. I decided this claim needed a little research, and a few minutes on Fold3.com told the tale. Mrs. Jane Boykin did not have seven sons in the Confederate army during the Civil War; she had EIGHT. In all fairness to Mrs. Boykin, at the time she wrote the letter, seven of her sons were in service; the eighth joined sometime thereafter.
Finding eight brothers w fought in the Civil War has to be a rare event, and I would like to give each one his due. Here is a brief synopsis of the service of each one:
John Franklin Boykin (Born August 13, 1828) – Enlisted June 17, 1861, in Company H, 16th Mississippi Infantry. Wounded at the Battle of Sharpsburg on September 17, 1862, after recovering he returned to the regiment and served until the surrender at Appomattox in 1865.
Solomon J. Boykin (Born March 20, 1832) – Enlisted June 17, 1861, in Company H, 16th Mississippi Infantry. He was discharged in September 1861 because of a “Depraved constitution resulting from protracted dissipation.” After recovering he enlisted in Company G, 46th Mississippi Infantry, on December 8, 1862.
Jasper Pruitt Boykin (Born November 9, 1834) – Enlisted June 1, 1861, in Company H, 16th Mississippi Infantry. He was discharged April 22, 1862, due to physical disability. After he regained his health, he enlisted in Company G, 46th Mississippi Infantry, on December 24, 1862. Captured at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, he was paroled and sent back to the army. During the 1864 Georgia Campaign, Jasper was captured at Allatoona, Georgia, on October 5, 1864. Sent to Camp Chase prisoner of war camp, he was released after taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States on June 11, 1865.
James Rankin Boykin (Born December 1, 1836) – Enlisted June 17, 1861 in Company H, 16th Mississippi Infantry. Served as a teamster and later as an ambulance driver. He was listed as absent without leave in January – February 1864, but returned to the unit thereafter, and was present at Appomattox. A note in his service record stated that he was “disabled and driving ambulance.”
Francis Marion Boykin (Born May 24, 1839) – Enlisted June 17, 1861, in Company H, 16th Mississippi Infantry. He was discharged in September 1861 because of poor health. After recovering from his ailment, he joined Company G, 46th Mississippi Infantry on April 17, 1862. Francis was detailed as a teamster on February 15, 1863, and was captured with his regiment when Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863. He was captured a second time at Fort Blakely, Alabama, on April 8, 1865, and sent to the prisoner of war camp at Ship Island, Mississippi. Francis was sent to Vicksburg and released in May 1865.
William Fletcher Boykin (Born May 14, 1841) – Enlisted in Company G, 46th Mississippi Infantry, on April 17, 1862. He was discharged from the regiment by furnishing a substitute on October 4, 1862. At some point William reenlisted in the 46th Mississippi, as he shows up in a return for the regiment on June 17, 1864, when he was admitted to Ocmulgee Hospital in Macon, Georgia.
Thomas M. Boykin ( Born November 16, 1844) – Enlisted in Company G, 46th Mississippi Infantry, on May 5, 1862, as a substitute. He was absent without leave from August – October 1862, but returned to the regiment and was captured at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. Thomas was listed as absent without leave again in February 1864, but he returned to the unit, and was captured for the second time at Fort Blakely, Alabama, on April 8, 1865.
George Washington Boykin (Born January 11, 1847) – Enlisted as a substitute in Company G, 46th Mississippi Infantry, on Mary 17, 1862. He was listed as “deserted from Big Black Bridge January 16, 1863.” George must have returned to the regiment, however, as he was listed as “discharged” on a later muster roll. On March 25, 1864, he enlisted in Company H, 16th Mississippi Infantry, and from July – August 1864 he was listed as absent without leave. George returned to the regiment and a general court martial sentenced him to forfeit six months pay for his offense. He was still serving in the 16th when the regiment surrendered at Appomattox.
I can only imagine what it must have been like for Jane Boykin, having to worry about eight of her sons who were fighting in the war. In addition she had more children still at home depending on her. Jane’s husband, Francis died in 1862, leaving the widow to support the four youngest children who were still living in the household: Susanna, Nathaniel, Amanda and Robert.
It must have been a tremendous struggle, but Jane Boykin managed to keep her family intact, and she was extremely
fortunate in that all eight of her sons survived the Civil War. Jane lived a long and fruitful life, dying in Smith County on June 26, 1896. She is buried in Trinity Methodist Church Cemetery, and her grave has the following inscription carved into it: “As a wife devoted, as a mother affectionate, as a friend ever kind and true.”