The following account of Christmas in the 18th Mississippi Infantry was taken from a letter published by the Memphis Daily Appeal on January 7, 1862. At the time this account was written, the 18th was camped at Leesburg, Virginia, and the men of the regiment were spending their first Christmas away from home:
While I now write, preparations are going on for ‘winter quarters,’ and the sounds
of axes and falling timber are resounding through the weeds on every hand. Game cocks tied to the tent by one leg, are crowing defiantly in all directions – chicken-fights are progressing in every sunny spot, while violins and circles of dancers are scattered in every warm and dry location, while others roar out bachanalian and war-like strains from every tent. It is Christmas! Far away from friends and home, these brave and simple-hearted volunteers make the welkin ring with their boisterous mirth – huge logs are crackling and roaring on camp fires – pots are boiling and bubbling, and hissing for egg-nog, beef and pork are frying, and bread is baking – the regimental band has been imbibing, and is now playing away with great gusto, while some have formed setts for quadrilles to be danced by the fire light.
It is Christmas! Groups are reading the newspapers and deciding the fate and progress of the war, officers and men are hobnobbing over the social glass; negroes are busy and gaseous over a pyramid of pots and pans, while the ear-splitting laughter and incessant rolling of eyes gives positive assurance that they have made acquaintance with something stronger than water. Boxes, bales, and trunks, and parcels have come from ‘home’ – coats, and blankets, and boots, and hats are hawked about, and swapped, and sold, and tossed about, while long letters from the ‘Governor,’ and short ones from ‘sweethearts’ are read, and praised, and laughed at, while ‘payday’ coming on the morrow, cheers are given for the quartermaster, and stentorian groans for the inartistic or tardy cash.
It is Christmas! Friends with mysterious bundles and parcels, hid under the coat, arrive from town, and dive therewith into the depth and recesses of the tent, and hide them under the straw – friends with turkeys and fowl, and a hundred other things, meet together and do hungry justice to the same, while songs and stories go the rounds of tents and camps, and everybody laughs, and everybody is ‘jolly’ except the poor and unfortunate frost-covered sentinel, who, with muffled form and a very red nose, walks his lonely rounds and grins at what he cannot then enjoy.
It is Christmas time, and even the lean, lank, solemn looking parson unbends in dignity for the occasion, and while forming one of a circle round the blazing logs, cup in hand, essays to joke, but being ‘coughed down’ for the attempt, winks ominously at the egg-nog, and apostrophises largely on the vanity of things generally. The colonel too, and the lieutenant, and the shrill-toned, brisk and soldierly adjutant smoke their Havanas on the portico of ‘headquarters’ with solemn dignity, while the French band-master electrifies a knot of youngsters with all sorts of ‘impossibilities’ on the trombone.
It is Christmas time, and coming but once a year none care for expenses. The
Yankees are the last persons thought of – cock-fighting and egg-nog, and egg-nog and cock-fighting interspersed with songs and egg-nog and story-telling are the prime order of things just now, and despite all the parson says, and nothwithstanding the ‘starchiness’ of full-blown officials, rye and ‘egg fruit’ are decidedly in the ascendant, and more than that has no baneful effect, since it simply lends to revive old associations and strengthen those bonds of brotherhood which has indissolubly linked us for ever to the fortunes of our country.
The above letter was only signed T.E.C., but fortunately I was able to figure out this these initials stood for Thomas E. Caffey, a private in Company D “Hamer Rifles,” 18th Mississippi Infantry.
Caffey enlisted in the Hamer Rifles at Yazoo City in May 1861 for 12 months service. The 25 year old was a native of London, England, and listed his occupation as teacher. At the end of his year’s enlistment, he applied for a discharge, stating he had to return to England to take care of the estate of his deceased parents. In 1864 Caffey published a book about his experiences in the war titled Battlefields of the South From Bull Run to Fredericksburg. This book is available for free download from the Hathitrust.org website.
On a personal note I would like to thank everyone who reads and enjoys my blog – your kind comments make it all worthwhile I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas!
I recently picked up a curious little relic of the Battle of Champion Hill on Ebay; to be honest it doesn’t look like much more than the party invitation that it is. But this party was special; it was held on May 16, 1913, at Newburgh, Indiana, to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Champion Hill. To the attendees of the party, this date and this battle held a special significance, as most of them had fought for their lives on the “Hill of Death.”
The party was hosted by William A. Warren and his wife Lida, at their home in Newburgh. William was a survivor of the Battle of Champion Hill, having served in Company F, 24th Indiana Infantry. As part of Brigadier General Alvin P. Hovey’s division, the 24th Indiana had fought on Champion Hill itself, and had suffered grievous casualties: 27 killed, 166 wounded, and 8 missing, in a regiment that numbered less than 500 men when the battle started. William A. Warren was one of those casualties in the 24th Indiana; wounded in the right arm during the fighting, he had to have the limb amputated to save his life.
I wanted to find out a little more about the Champion Hill anniversary party, so I went to Genealogybank.com, and got lucky – the Evansville Courier & Press had detailed coverage of the event in the May 17, 1913, edition of the paper:
BOYS IN BLUE AT BATTLE BANQUET
Fiftieth Anniversary of Champion Hill Fight Celebrated at Warren Home
At Newburg Home Veterans Revive Memories of Historic Battle Scenes
The 11 o’clock Evansville suburban Newburg car was loaded with veterans, their families and friends, and received a hearty welcome at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. William Warren. The ladies hired themselves to the house, while the gentlemen gathered in groups about the grounds and enjoyed reminiscences over the time of the Vicksburg campaign until Mrs. Warren announced that dinner was ready.
Three tables in the double dining room were laden with choice viands not generally found on the soldiers bill of fare at least during the Vicksburg campaign. About 60 of the veterans and their families were seated at the tables and did justice to the tempting viands spread before them. At the conclusion of the meal short readings and talks were in order.
The talk of Comrade John Rudolph, of the Twenty-Fourth Indiana, delivered with
simple pathos, brought tears to the eyes of many, as did the remarks of Comrade Christ Wunderlich of the First Indiana battery. Comrade John Gough delivered a fine address. Miss Sadie Hill read some extracts from the last edition of the “Vicksburg Daily Citizen,” printed on wall paper, of date July 4, 1863. This last edition of the “Citizen” was “finished” by a printer of General Grant’s army on July 4, 1863, and contained the following: ‘Two days bring about great changes. The banner of the union floats above Vicksburg. General Grant has caught the rabbit. He has dined in Vicksburg and he did bring his rabbit with him.’
After dinner the guests adjourned to the grounds and formed in social groups, reviewing the incidents of the march, the camp and the battle field.
Warriors Who Were Guests
The following survivors of the battle of Champion Hill were present: C.W. Barenfanger, Eleventh Indiana; Henry Baldwin, Twenty-Fourth Indiana; John Behagg, Twenty-Fourth Indiana; Ralph Bonnel, First Indiana Cavalry; John F. Crisp, Twenty-Fourth Indiana; Robert Day, Twenty-Fourth Indiana; John R. Elderfield, Sixtieth Indiana; W.H. Ellison, Forty-Third Tennessee, Confederate; W.P. Graham, Twenty-Fourth Indiana; C.D. Heldt, Twenty-Fourth Indiana; Robert Hornbrook, Eleventh Indiana; Thomas Ingle, Twenty-Fourth Indiana; August Leich, Twenty-Fourth Indiana; Charles Meissner, Twenty-Fourth Indiana; George Nester, First Indiana Battery; Alexander Oliphant, Twenty-Fourth Indiana; John Rudolph, Twenty-Fourth Indiana; John Rohner, Twenty-Second Kentucky; W.H. Redman, Twenty-Fourth Indiana; Frank Snurpus, Eleventh Indiana; Thomas Seifritz, Eleventh Indiana; August Sauer, First Indiana Battery; Joshua Seward, First Indiana Cavalry; Julius Tzschhoppe, Twenty-Fourth Indiana; Christ Wunderlich, First Indiana Battery; William Warren, Twenty-Fourth Indiana.
Other veterans present were Edward Gough, One Hundred and Thirty-Sixth Indiana; William Wilson, Thirty-Third Indiana; John R. Weed, Sixty-Fifth Indiana. Invited guests were Charles Hovey, son of Winston Menzies and grandson of General Alvin T. Hovey.
Souvenirs for Guests
Each guest was presented with a minie ball, picked up on the Champion Hill battlefield a few years ago by William Warren, and also with a blue and gray pencil as souvenirs of the day. Mrs. Major Menzies, daughter of General Hovey sent Richmond roses to be given to the survivors of the battle. Mr. Warren presented each survivor with a double photograph of himself, as he appeared in 1863 and at the present time.
A three-course supper was served at 5:30 o’clock. The 6:30 o’clock car brought more friends and members of Farragut Post who came to express their congratulation and good wishes to Mr. and Mrs. Warren. Refreshments were served during the evening to all present.
A pleasant incident of the evening was the presentation to Mr. Warren of a solid silver loving cup by twenty of his friends. The cup was presented by Dr. S.F. Jacobi. It was in the battle of Champion Hill that Mr. Warren lost his arm and John F. Crisp and Robert Day were wounded, and a number of the members of the Eleventh and Twenty-Fourth Indiana regiments were killed and wounded. This interesting semi-centennial celebration was much enjoyed and will be long remembered by all of the participants.
Story of the Battle
The battle of Champion Hill was the hardest fought battle of the Vicksburg campaign, and Hovey’s division bore the brunt of the fighting, losing 1,202 men and 59 officers. The Eleventh Indiana regiment’s loss was 167, and that of the Twenty-Fourth Indiana was 201.
General Grant in his Memoirs, writes: ‘The battle of Champion Hill lasted about four hours. Hard fighting preceded two or three hours of skirmishing, some of which almost rose to the dignity of battle. Every man of Hovey’s division and of McPherson’s two divisions was engaged during the battle. We had in this battle about 15,000 men absolutely engaged. Our loss was 410 killed, 1,844 wounded, and 187 missing. Hovey alone lost 1,200 killed, wounded and missing – more than one-third of his division.’
Another writer in ‘Indiana at Vicksburg’ gives the following account of Hovey’s division at Champion Hill:
‘With the enemy outnumbering him three to one, Hovey fought him with bulldog
tenacity and fierce combativeness. He was ably seconded by his subordinate officers, as they were by the men. Vicksburg, so long striven for, was understood to hang in the balance, as it was the garrison of that citadel which contested the field. Seldom, perhaps never, was a battle more stubbornly fought. Hovey’s veterans, hard pressed, swayed backward and forward, and back again, rising and falling like a sea lashing the rocky shore. Can they hold the ground until the promised help comes? was the war cry. Again and again they rallied to the colors. At last the long-looked for reinforcements arrived. The foe was checked: one more determined charge was made on his lines, and exultant cheers proclaimed the success of that last desperate onset, and the enemy was in full retreat. The pursuit was taken up by fresh troops and Hovey’s tired heroes rested on the bloody field.’
Men that fifty years ago assembled at the call of the bugle, and in obedience to stern orders, faced each other in mortal combat, yesterday again faced each other from opposite sides of the festal board in response to the following summons:
Unfortunately this is where the newspaper article ends – it seems like the end of the article was left off by mistake, as I checked all the remaining pages of the newspaper, but could not find the remainder of the story.
I did however, in my search, find another story which mentioned William
A. Warren. In May 1900, the survivors of Company F, 24th Indiana Infantry held a reunion to remember the anniversary of the Battle of Champion Hill. The Evansville Courier and Press published a story about the reunion in its May 17 edition. In the article it stated that the 24th Indiana
“…lost all told, killed and wounded, 201 men. Company F went into the engagement with forty-six men and came out with twenty-two. William Warren of this city lost his arm in the engagement.”
The reunion was held at the home of John F. Crisp, and the newspaper gave a detailed account of the arrangements:
“The house of Mr. and Mrs. Crisp was beautifully decorated with flags and flowers. On the outside was stretched an army camp and everything had a war like appearance. The old veterans were served with dinner and supper. Mrs. Crisp was assisted at the tables by Mrs. John Bullen, Mrs. Minnie Keller and Al Clark. The women wore red, white and blue aprons and caps. Strains of sweet music were wafted through the house and the old soldiers lived the past over again.”
After William Warren was wounded at Champion Hill, it took more than a month for the folks back home to learn of his fate. On June 23, 1863, the Evansville Journal noted:
“PERSONAL – We were pleased to greet the return of Johnny Wheeler, yesterday, who arrived Sunday morning on the steamer Courier. Johnny was a member of Company F, 24th Indiana, and received two wounds in the battle of Champion Hill. He was captured by the rebels while in the hospital at Champion Hill, and paroled. He brings the glad tidings that some of our boys who were reported dead are alive and doing well – among others, William Warren.”
After Warren recovered from his wound, he was discharged from the army and returned home to Indiana. The loss of an arm did not seem to slow the young man down, and in 1864 he ran for public office. In the election results posted by the Evansville Daily Journal, April 5, 1864, for assessor, the paper noted that there were three posts to fill; the leading candidate was William Warren, Jr., with 769 votes.
The assessor’s position was just the beginning of Warren’s political career; on July 23, 1866, The Evansville Journal wrote that the Deputy Collector for the county had resigned, and that “We also learn that Captain Hornbrook, of this city, and William Warren, Jr., a gallant private soldier, who lost an arm at the bloody battle of Champion Hill, are applicants for the position. Both are competent for the place. Young Warren, since he returned home – being only one of nine survivors of one hundred noble men that constituted one of the companies of the 24th – has learned to write handsomely with his left hand and is otherwise amply qualified to discharge the duties of the office. Either of the gentlemen would be acceptable, we think, to the majority of our citizens.”
William A. Warren went on to have a very prosperous future; he served as
deputy collector of internal revenue for Vanderburgh County, Indiana, from 1866 – 1869, as Vanderburgh County auditor from 1878 – 1882, and by the time he hosted the 1913 reunion he was a bank president. He lived to a ripe old age, dying on January 1, 1937; he was the next to last surviving member of his Grand Army of the Republic Post. Warren is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Evansville, Indiana.
During the Civil War there were four ranks of general in the Confederate army; from lowest to highest they were brigadier general, major general, lieutenant general, and full general. There were twenty-four Mississippians who were brigadier generals, five who were major generals, and no lieutenant generals or full generals.
The brigadier generals from Mississippi were Wirt Adams, William E.
Baldwin, William Barksdale, Samuel Benton, William L. Brandon, William F. Brantley James R. Chalmers, Charles Clark, Douglas H. Cooper, Joseph R. Davis, Winfield S. Featherston, Samuel W. Ferguson, John W. Frazer, Samuel J. Ghoulson, Richard Griffith, Nathaniel H. Harris, Benjamin G. Humphreys, Mark P. Lowrey, Robert Lowry, Carnot Posey, Claudius W. Sears, Jacob H. Sharp, Peter B. Starke, and William F. Tucker.
The major generals from Mississippi were: Samuel G. French, William T. Martin, Earl Van Dorn, Edward C. Walthall, and William H. C. Whiting.
Being a general in the Civil War could be a very hazardous job, as they were often required to be at the forefront of the attack to inspire their men and often found themselves in the thickest of the fight. The list of killed and wounded Mississippi generals bears out the dangerous nature of their work. Of the 29 generals who served from Mississippi, five were killed in battle and ten were wounded in action, three of them more than once.
The five Mississippi generals who were killed in action were as follows: William Barksdale, mortally wounded at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 2, 1863; Samuel Benton, mortally wounded at Atlanta, Georgia, on July 28, 1864; Richard Griffith, killed at Savage Station, Virginia, on June 29, 1862; Carnot Posey, mortally wounded at Bristoe Station, Virginia, on October 14, 1863; and William H. C. Whiting, mortally wounded at Fort
Fisher, North Carolina, January 15, 1865.
In addition, there were two Mississippi generals who died by misadventure: William Baldwin died on February 19, 1864 at Dog River Factory, Alabama, when he was thrown from his horse; Earl Van Dorn was murdered on May 7, 1863 at Spring Hill, Tennessee by an enraged husband who said the general “violated the sanctity of his home” by his affair with the man’s wife.
The ten Mississippi generals who were wounded in action were as follows: William L. Brandon at Malvern Hill, Virginia; had to have his leg amputated. Brandon actually became a general of Mississippi state troops after he lost his leg; he was only a lieutenant colonel at the time he was wounded; James R. Chalmers, wounded at Stone’s River, Tennessee; Charles Clark, wounded at Shiloh, Tennessee and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; the second wound crippled him for life; Samuel J. Gholson, wounded at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, and Egypt,
Mississippi; Benjamin G. Humphreys, wounded at Berryville, Virginia; Mark P. Lowry, wounded at Perryville, Kentucky; Robert Lowry, wounded twice at Shiloh, Tennessee; Claudius W. Sears, wounded at Nashville, Tennessee and had to have his leg amputated; William F. Tucker, wounded Resaca, Georgia; and Edward C. Walthall, wounded at Missionary Ridge, Tennessee.
No better example of the fighting spirit required of a Civil War general can be found than that of Brigadier General William Barksdale at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. While waiting to be given the order to assault the federal troops in the Peach Orchard, the Mississippian were being hit by Union artillery fire. Barksdale pleaded with his superior to be allowed to attack saying “I wish you would let me go in general; I will take that battery in five minutes.” At 6:30 p.m. he was finally given the command to charge, and Barksdale rode up in front of the 13th Mississippi Infantry and as he turned toward the enemy one of his aides said his face was “radiant with joy.”
In a matter of minutes Barksdale’s Brigade broke the Union line and
smashed the federal brigade defending the Peach Orchard, capturing it’s commander, Brigadier General Charles K. Graham. One Union colonel called the advance “the grandest charge that was ever made by mortal man.” The Mississippians continued onward in the face of heavy fire, capturing an artillery battery of six guns at the Trostle Farm. Finally federal reinforcements stopped the advancing Mississippians, and as he tried to rally his men for another charge, Barksdale was shot from the saddle and captured by the Federals. Before he died Barksdale told a federal surgeon, “Tell my wife I am shot, but we fought like hell.”
The bravery displayed by Mississippi generals and the men they led was
not uncommon during the war, and it was often remarked on. Major General Richard H. Anderson wrote in his official report on the battle of Chancellorsville glowing praise for the Mississippi Brigade commanded by General Carnot Posey, saying of them, “Where all performed their duty with so much zeal and courage, it is almost impossible to make a distinction; but Brigadier-General Posey and his brave, untiring, persevering Mississippians seem to me to deserve special notice. Their steadiness at the furnace on Saturday evening, when pressed by greatly superior numbers, saved our army from great peril, while their chivalrous charge upon the trenches on Sunday contributed largely to the successes of that day.” – Official Records, Series 1, Volume 24, Part 1, 852.
In June 1897, William Wirt Thomson of Greene County, Mississippi,
traveled to Nashville to attend the 7th annual United Confederate Veterans reunion. After the reunion ended, Thomson took a side trip to the nearby town of Franklin Tennessee, the site where he had fought nearly 33 years earlier.
Visiting Franklin stirred up many old memories for Thomson – he had participated in the battle as the captain of Company A, “Gaines Warriors,” 24th Mississippi Infantry, seen his regiment decimated, and himself captured and sent to a prison camp for the remainder of the war.
Captain Thomson wrote an article about his trip to Franklin entitled simply “The Battle of Franklin, Tennessee,” which was published in The Pascagoula Democrat-Star on September 3, 1897 – it’s an eloquent account of an old warrior visiting the scene of his final battle:
For a distance of nearly twenty miles, the railroad running south from Nashville passes down through a valley of surpassing beauty and loveliness. Nature has been wonderfully prodigal of her beautiful scenery all along those miles of valley and mountain, and the hand and taste of man has added much thereto.
Just where this great thoroughfare crosses the Archer river, on the south side, lies a high plateau, almost level, and surrounded on three sides by this picturesque little stream. Here, in its golden setting of fields of waving grain, sets the historic little town of Franklin, with its straight, clean, tree-bordered trees radiating out from a broad, well-kept plaza or open space, around which are ranged the handsome public buildings and offices of Williamson County, out of which Franklin is the county site. Just south of the town, and stretching away to the east and west in beautiful undulations, and with a valley in its midst, is another and higher plateau, while still further south the horizon settles down on a range of wooded hills, on the crest and near the center of which, clearly silhouetted against the evening sky, stands a tree, alone, and higher than those near by. To this tree the citizen who may accompany you will point and tell you “That is Hood’s Tree.”
View north from Hood’s headquarters on Winstead Hill (engraving from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War)
Bathed in the haze of a summer evening, this scene so calm, so lovely, so quiet and pastoral, is so nearly a dream of heavenly loveliness, that you can scarcely be made to believe that here, thirty-three years ago, was fought the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, perhaps the bloodiest ever fought on this earth.
From that lone tree, a great Confederate commander looked down and
watched his grey legions – the veteranremnants of the grandest army the worldhas ever seen, as they charged across the valley and up the slope to where Thomas, “The Rock of Chickamauga,” with his trained and tried troops stood waiting to receive them. With the river behind and on two sides of him, Thomas and his army were fighting for their very existence, while the flushed and victorious Confederates were rushing forward to strike what they fondly believed would be a crushing blow – a blow they hoped would end the war, and free their loved Southland from the hated invader forever. “Man proposes, God disposes.” From side to side of this beautiful valley, the tide of battle and carnage rolled, and from right to left, heroes dashed on to death, and fell. At the old gin house, and across the pike at the Carter house and the “bloody angle,” destruction stalked supreme and the demon of death held his highest carnival. Around the old gin, Missourians and Texans, Mississippians and Tennesseans, Alabamians and Arkansians – all mingled in heaps together; and amid them lay Cleburne and Adams and Granberry, general and colonel and private – heroes all, no rank, no distinction, all glorious together.
Across the pike at the Carter house, on the “bloody angle,” lay the gallant Strahl, and piled three and four feet deep in the trenches were the veterans who in other days and in other battles had followed the peerless Walthall and Tucker to victory. Here on this fateful corner, the gallant Ball planted the colors of the 24th Mississippi, and with his white girlish hand on its riven staff, lay with his face on the works, pierced with sixteen bullets, and beside him Capt. Ben Toomer, “the noblest Roman of them all.” It was a battle of the giants, and nature stood aghast, while from his place by that lone tree Hood stood and watched his matchless soldiers melt away, until the murky clouds of war and the smoke from the burning woods below, covered the valley and shut it all from view.
Thirty-three years have come and gone, and the stranger who goes there now cannot imagine all this to have taken place amid the beautiful, peaceful scenes that now rise before him on every side. A dim line of yellow clay, almost level with the surface, is all that is left to mark the place where these bloody breastworks stood; and over this, at the Carter house, a few short weeks ago, Irish potatoes were growing on a soil where four hundred and twenty-four of Mississippi’s best and bravest boys poured out their life’s blood. A beautiful female seminary stands on the site of the historic old gin house, and near by Missouri, mindful of her gallant dead, has erected a chaste marble monument to their memory.
Irish potatoes and gourd vines mark where Mississippians fell, and other states have nothing. Can it be that it is believed that ingratitude and negligence fosters patriotism? If so, let the Southern youth visit Franklin today and grow patriotic. Greece has handed down through the ages, immortalized in story and song, her Marathon and her Thermopylae, while other grandly historic names will go ringing down through all time, but Franklin, crowned with the heroism and washed in the blood of martyrs of human freedom, will find no place in the record, and no shaft will rise to perpetuate the memory of the Southern soldier there.
It has been said that the battle of Franklin was bad generalship, and a mistake. It was neither the one nor the other. It was the inevitable. Had Hood failed to attack Thomas here, the Confederate soldier could never have been made to believe that he had not lost his supreme opportunity, and that a beaten, demoralized and routed foe had been let slip from his grasp. It was the crowning wave of Southern valor, endurance and vengeance sweeping northward, that dashed its crest into bloody foam on the breastworks at Franklin; and sixteen days later it was the undertow of defeat that drove it south again, beaten, vanquished and discomfited forever.
A fortunate coincidence carried us (myself and wife) down to Franklin on the
morning after the closing exercises of the grand Reunion at Nashville. Here we met the delegation from Missouri and received a generous and cordial welcome from a people as intensely loyal to the Southern cause, as they were in the days when the storm of battle was raging around them. We were met and taken from the railroad depot in carriages out to and around about the battle field, and from there to the Confederate cemetery, a beautiful spot on a tree-crowned ridge. To this peaceful, lovely spot these great-hearted people have removed, at their own expense, our dead from their graves on the field, and marked each soldier’s resting place with a neat head-stone. Standing here under the trees and amid these graves, Major Aken, a gallant Tennessee soldier, said, “We could almost wish that we, too, had been killed in battle, so that we might be buried here.” Here, George S. Nichols, of Co. B, 1st Tennessee Infantry, whose war record is written all over his honest, battle-scarred face, has stipulated that he shall be laid to rest when death’s reveille sounds to call him home. Mississippi, to her credit this much may be said, has paid these people in ample measure for their care and trouble for her dead; but Mississippi alone, of all the old Confederate states, has done this. To this people it was a labor of love for the old Confederate soldier; they have asked no return, and they never will. But this does not discharge the debt of grateful remembrance that each state owes the heroes sleeping here.
From the cemetery the ridge slopes up to the residence of Mrs. John McGavock,
and here, too, we were carried to pay a just and willing homage to one of the grandest women of the South, and were received with a gracious hospitality. On her wide veranda she pointed out the spot where five Confederate generals lay dead at the same time, and her spacious hall and rooms were crowded with Confederate wounded, to whom she ministered with her own tender hands the whole of that awful night. With a dauntless heroism she remained in her house and saw Hood’s grey and tattered veterans sweep through her yard and on down into the valley of death, and with a cheek unblanched and a heart unquailing, watched her Southern soldiers dash up against “The Rock of Chickamauga.”
At one time during the fiercest of the battle, Forrest dashed past her, through the hall and up the stairway to a portico on the second story, the most elevated position on the battle field, and there through his glass scanned the progress of the fight. What a glorious type of Southern womanhood is this gentle, quiet lady! To touch her honored hand is the privilege of a lifetime, to see her smile is like catching a sunset ray from our glorious past, and her fervent ‘God bless you’ a benediction, to receive which, royalty itself might gladly bend the knee.
From her house, along an avenue shaded by locust trees, we were carried to the
home of her son-in-law, Lieut. Geo. L. Cowan, once a member of Forrest’s escort. Lieut. Cowan is a courtly gentleman of the old school, and under the trees around his pleasant home, his lovely wife – a worthy daughter of so honored and distinguished a mother – had spread a generous and appetizing collation, to which we all did such ample justice as might have been expected from hungry Confederate veterans. In this entertainment Mrs. Cowan was ably assisted by such other charming ladies of Franklin as Mrs. Kincaid, Mrs. March, Mrs. Duke, and the lovely Miss Mary Nichols. After an evening spent in this old Confederate soldier’s home, we were taken back to the depot in time to meet the evening train for Nashville. We departed leaving behind us kind wishes for our generous friends, and carrying with us pleasant memories that will mark this as the red-letter day of our life. Proud? Yes, prouder than ever that we had been a Confederate soldier, and that we are still spared to be a Confederate veteran.
Leaf, Miss., August 20, 1897
While doing a little research into the life of Captain Thomson, I found another interesting story about him attached to the posting about his grave on findagrave.com. The story is apparently from a newspaper article, but unfortunately the person who posted it did not give the date or name of the paper it was published in:
Honor in the Field
During the battle of Franklin, Major H. M. Spain captured Capt. W. Wirt Thomson,
of Co. A, 24th Mississippi Infantry, who reluctantly gave up his sword, saying that he’d rather leave his dead body on the field than surrender it as it was a present from his company and had never been dishonored. The major generously promised that if both lived until the close of the war he would return the sword. In 1874, Capt. Thomson was elected a member of the Mississippi Legislature. He wrote the Adjutant-General of Indiana for the Major’s address. A correspondence ensued and in February 1874 they met and the battlefield promise was fulfilled.
At the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, November 30, 1864, Captain Thomson’s regiment, the 24th Mississippi Infantry, had 18 men killed, 31 wounded, 14 captured, and 1 missing. Among the captured was Thomson, who spent the remainder of the war at Johnson’s Island prisoner of war camp in Ohio. He was released on June 17, 1865, after taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. Captain Thomson went home to Greene County, raised a family, and lived a relatively long life for that day and age, dying at 62 in 1900. He is buried in Leaf Cemetery, Greene County, Mississippi.
I am going to close this post with a link to a song about the Battle of Franklin performed by Billy Ray Reynolds for his album “Privates to the Front.” This is a modern song, but I think it is a perfect tribute to the Southern soldiers that fought at Franklin, Tennessee, so many years ago: