“Determined to Storm Headquarters:” The Attack of the 38th Mississippi on their Commanding General

The Civil War was filled with days of valor, glory, and bloodshed, but most of the time soldiers battled nothing more dangerous than boredom. The young men found many ways to relieve the tedium of life in the army. Quite often in reminiscences of the war, soldiers talk about the pranks that they played on their fellow soldiers. Armies then as now were made up of young men, and there is nothing than young men like more than tricking their fellow soldiers. James Henry Jones, an officer in the 38th Mississippi Infantry, related the following story in the Magnolia Gazette, December 3, 1887:

A NIGHT ATTACK

Col. Jones of the Thirty-Eighth Mississippi Regiment, tells the following story:

In the early part of 1864 the regiment was mounted. This was considered by the men as being retired from active service,

Post-war photograph of James Henry Jones, Lieutenant Colonel of the 38th Mississippi - Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society

Post-war photograph of James Henry Jones, Lieutenant Colonel of the 38th Mississippi – Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society

for the infantry entertained a profound contempt for the cavalry, or Buttermilk Rangers, as they were derisively termed. Of course this was unjust.

Soon after reporting for duty the regiment joined in an attack on some lightly armed gun-boats on the Yazoo River. A skirmish line was formed, a dash made for the river bank which was reached without loss and the boats were covered by our rifles from the protection of a levy. In such a situation gunboats must close their side ports and are helpless and our artillery soon made short work of them.

Thee was really little risk and the work was familiar, but it pleased our new General, and as a reward, we were exempted from all fatigue duty except furnishing a nightly guard for headquarters. And thereby hangs a tale. One night the commissariat was robbed, no doubt with the connivance of the guard, and the regiment was disposed from its favored place and made to do ordinary duty in consequence. But our General had “reckoned without his host,” and did not fully understand the resources of the old Thirty-Eighth in an emergency.

Soon after their disgrace a party of the boys prepared a lot of grenades – corn-cob shells they called them – and determined to storm headquarters. These shells were made by taking the pith out of the cob of a full ear of corn and replacing it with powder. A short fuse was inserted and the hole plugged. It will be seen at a glance that this was a weapon of offense not to be despised. It exploded with a report quite equal to that of a musket, and the grains flew in all directions with stinging force. Armed with these shells they approached the General’s tent in the dead of night.

The sentry was speedily routed, and the General, in great alarm, rushed from his tent in his night robe, which report says, was uncommonly short. A shell or so exploding between his legs speedily sent him to cover, and he was kept under his blankets, though his curses were vigorous and eloquent during the siege. They remonstrated with him on his carelessness in sleeping without guards. They assured him his life was necessary to the safety of his command, and implored him, for their sake, to be more cautious in the future. During this address a shell was occasionally exploded in the tent to enforce a patient hearing, for the General, like all Texans, was known to be handy with the pistol, and his temper was none of the sweetest.

Having accomplished their purpose the attacking force was withdrawn in true military style. A rear guard of one man was left, who kept up a lively fusillade, under cover of which the main body withdrew. When these were safe the rear guard took to his heels. Next morning the General had recovered his good humor, and laughed heartily at the joke, and restored the regiment to its former post of honor and of ease.

The “General” who was so rudely attacked by the 38th Mississippi was Colonel Hinche Parham Mabry. Starting the war as

Colonel Hinche P. Mabry - Confederate Veteran Magazine, Volume 20, (June 1912)

Colonel Hinche P. Mabry – Confederate Veteran Magazine, Volume 20, (June 1912)

Captain of Company G, 3rd Texas Cavalry, Mabry worked his way up to command of the regiment. At the battle of Iuka the fiery Texan had been wounded three times and captured by the Federals. Offered a parole by the Yankees, the obstinate Colonel refused because the parole document referred to his country as the “so called” Confederate States of America. Mabry refused to sign the insulting papers and spent several months in a prison camp before being exchanged. Such was the spirit of the man tasked with whipping a rag-tag brigade into fighting trim, and he definitely had his work cut out for him.  Douglas Hale, The Third Texas Cavalry in the Civil War (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 28, 127-129.

Mabry’s first assignment after assuming command of the brigade to which the 38th Mississippi belonged was to take his men and operate in Yazoo County to protect the property of local citizens from Yankee raiding expeditions. The Colonel began his assignment in grand style, capturing the tinclad gunboat U.S.S. Petrel above Yazoo City on April 22, 1864. The boat was proceeding up the Yazoo River on a cotton stealing expedition when it blundered into a trap and was attacked by a detachment of Mabry’s brigade commanded by Colonel John Griffith of the 11th & 17th Arkansas. United States Navy Department, Comp., Official Records of the Union And Confederate Navies In The War of The Rebellion; (Washington D. C., 1895-1929), Series 1, Volume 26, 248.  

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