Two years ago I wrote an article about Jane Boykin, a widow from Smith County, Mississippi, who had eight sons that served in the Confederate army. Thanks to blind luck, I have a little additional information to add to that story. If you haven’t read the original story, it can be found here:
A few weeks ago while in the course of my official duties at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, I was doing some research in the index to the official correspondence of Governor Robert Lowry. As I looked through the column of names, I
spotted one that looked familiar: “Jane Boykin.” My curiosity was aroused, and I wondered if this was the same Jane Boykin I had written about. I looked up the letter, and sure enough, it was her. The following document is from the Robert Lowry correspondence at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History:
Shongelo, Smith Co., May 17, 1886
Mr. Robert Lowry,
I will drop you a few lines to let you know that I am still a live and enjoying good health as could be expected of a woman of my age, the last time I saw you was in time of the war about 23 years ago. I will be 74 years old the 21 of August if I live to see then, and I thought I would wright to you about my family. I have raised ten boys and thare was eight of them in the war and are all a live yet except one that got drownded. I raised 13 children and they all alive yet except that one.
My family now numbers one hundred and ninety nine which is children and son in-laws and daughter in-laws and grand children and great grand children. I think you aught to make me a valuable presant or give me a pention for I don’t think thare is another woman in the state that can say as much as I can of the increase of my family. I have ben left a widow 25 years. You may not remember me by my name above. I am Jim and Jasper Boykin’s mother and Old Brance Royal’s sister, Frank Boykin’s widow. I have got a heap of children but I am two high minded to go to them for anything.
Govener if you make me a present of a mule and buggy don’t send a gray mule for I never new a gray mule to dye. I hope to hear from you soon. The reason I asked help from you is because you have the power and are able to help me. I hope you will live the life of the righteous and die the death of the same.
Shongelo P.O., Smith Co., Miss.
[Series 812, Box 1044, Folder May 1-31, 1886, MDAH]
In her letter Jane Boykin mentioned that she had last seen Governor Lowry “about 23 years ago.” She may have been 73 years old, but Jane Boykin’s memory was still sharp. Lowry had been in Smith County in the spring of 1864, but then he was General Lowry, and he was in command of an expedition to root out the deserters that were infesting south Mississippi like a plague.
I can only imagine how difficult life must have been for Jane Boykin by the spring of 1864; her husband was dead, her adult sons were away in the army, and she still had 4 small children to support. To make matters even worse, conditions in Smith County, Mississippi that spring could only be described as unsettled. On February 8, 1864, W.H.
Hardy, a retired captain who had served in the 16th Mississippi Infantry, wrote to Governor Charles Clark from Raleigh to inform him of the situation in Smith County. The captain blamed many of the county’s problems on deserters from neighboring Jones County:
They are in strong force supposed to be about 2 or 300 in Jones County and the smaller bandits through the country have combined with these and confederates for mutual protection and depredation they have become quite bold and in some sections of the country have so intimidated the people that to save themselves and their property from depredation and pillage they are beginning to give them aid and comfort, and I perceive now a spirit of this kind beginning to pervade the people to such an extent that almost every man now is afraid to say anything against the deserters for fear of some private injury and unless it is checked all law and order will soon be suspended and every loyal man driven out of the county.
There is now in this town a respectable citizen who was driven from Jones County all his property destroyed because he was a true and loyal citizen. Last week the Rev. Mr. Carlile a Baptist minister in the south western part of Jasper Co. was brutally murdered in his house by them. The Rev. Nelson West was yesterday with his family given notice to quit the county or that he shall suffer the fate of Mr. Carlile. On last week a band of them sacked several houses at Trenton of all the arms and ammunition and subsequently whipped a small band of cavalry belonging to Capt. McLean’s Co. who had been sent in pursuit.
[Charles Clark Correspondence, Series 768, Box 949, Folder 4, Mississippi Department of Archives and History]
Hardy was not the only citizen of Smith County to write to the governor asking for help; in March W.H. Quarles sent this plea to Clark:
Macon, Miss., 28th March 1864
I desire to inform you of the bad state of affairs in our (Smith) County. The cty. is infested with deserters of the worst class. Peacible citizens are driven from their homes. Our sheriff a refugee.
A few days ago I was ambushed near my plantation and shot. Union or peace meetings are boldly held and union speeches made – No man’s life is safe who deems to speak out against them. In the name of our citizens and myself I appeal to you for assistance to drive them out of our county.
I am sir with great respect,
Your Obedient Servant,
Wm. H. Quarles
[Charles Clark Correspondence, Series 768, Box 949, Folder 5, Mississippi Department of Archives and History]
Quarles’ letter had been forwarded to Governor Clark by Major D.V. Merwin, who was
with the Bureau of Conscription and was operating in Smith County. The Major included this brief message to the governor giving his thoughts on the situation in Smith County:
Bureau of Conscription
Department of Mississippi
Enterprise, March 19, 1864
Mr. W. H. Quarles a gentleman from Smith County will represent to you the condition of affairs in this county, it being infested with deserters of the worst character, and will ask for some assistance from the governor. I have but a small force of cavalry and but partially equipped, and can render no assistance for the reason that this immediate neighborhood is in a like condition, and the force here will be kept busily engaged; In this unfortunate condition of the county it is highly necessary that a force be sent, to clear the county that is so much harrased by this class of community.
I am Colonel very respectfully
Your Obt. Svt.,
D.V. Merwin, Maj. & A.A.G.
Command Conscripts Smith Co., Miss.
[Charles Clark Correspondence, Series 768, Box 949, Folder 4, Mississippi Department of Archives and History]
Governor Clark was not the only one receiving complaints about the problem with
deserters in Smith County; Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, the department commander, had been informed as well, and he felt decisive action was needed. The general had his assistant adjutant general, T.M. Jack, send Major General Dabney H. Maury the following orders:
GENERAL: Information from other sources confirms the statement in the dispatch of Colonel Maury as to the extent of the defection in the southern counties of Mississippi. The lieutenant-general commanding is of the opinion that an infantry force is indispensable so far as Smith County is concerned. He has accordingly organized such a force, which will leave here to-morrow for Meridian, under Colonel Lowry, one of the oldest colonels in the army, and an officer of vigor and decision. He will go to Smith County to commence operations.
[Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 32, Part 3, Page 661]
That same day, Colonel Lowry received his written orders from General Polk’s headquarters at Demopolis, Alabama:
SPECIAL ORDERS No. 80
HEADQUARTERS, Demopolis, Ala., March 20, 1864
I. Colonel Lowry, Sixth Mississippi Regiment, will take charge of the expedition against deserters and disloyal men between Pearl River and Tombigbee, south of the Southern Railroad. he will proceed without delay by cars to Meridian, with the command organized for that purpose, and execute with vigor the verbal instructions already received from the lieutenant-general commanding.
By command of Lieutenant-General Polk:
T.M. Jack, Assistant Adjutant General
[Official Records, Series 1, Volume 32, Part 3, Page 662]
Accompanying Colonel Lowry and his two regiments of infantry (6th Mississippi & 20th Mississippi) on the expedition was a small cavalry force under the command of Colonel J.S. Scott. His orders from General Polk were very explicit:
What has been said to Colonel Lowry is repeated to you, that in the prosecution of this
campaign you are allowed to exercise a sound discretion in the execution of its details. You will nevertheless bear in mind that the country which is the theater of this campaign has been sadly demoralized and none other than the most vigorous and decisive measures will serve to impress its inhabitants with a sense of their duties to their Government and to bring it back to a sound and healthful moral condition. You will keep a list of all captures, and if in the execution of your orders you are resisted by force of arms you will not hesitate to punish the offender with death upon the spot.
[Official Records, Series 1, Volume 32, Part 3, Page 820]
In April 1864, the editor of the Macon Beacon received a letter from an unidentified member of the 20th Mississippi Infantry, giving a detailed description of the work done by the Lowry expedition in Smith County. This letter was published in full by the newspaper:
From the Noxubee Riflemen
April 8th, 1864
Prayers have been answered, and the piney woods of dear, old Mississippi now resound to the music of our footsteps, instead of the “sloshy” limestone of ‘ye Mississippi loving Alabam.’ This touches a much talked of subject, so pardon just one moment; while at Demopolis, a Mississippi soldier went to a house, engaged breakfast, ate it, and then enquired his bill; the reply was, ‘Nothing sir, but never come here again.’ Another soldier from our state went up to the entrance of a spacious mansion and asked ‘if the dogs would bite?’ ‘No sir, they are like the people of Mississippi, they don’t care for soldiers.’ And the reply to a similar question from another Mississippian was, ‘No sir, they are like Mississippi soldiers, there is no danger in them.’
All this had its origin in Polk’s retreat from Canton, augmented by the Mobile Register’s remarks upon that retreat and the Jones County deserters. It is unjust to a people to judge them by isolated examples of its members, for what would become of the honorable name conferred upon Alabama by her glorious 4th Reg’t at the first Manassas, should the unpleasant order of Baker’s Creek be inhaled too freely? But enough. I am surprised at this Mobile Journal, as the editor says his remarks were intended for those only who fell off like ‘autumn leaves,’ and was not intended to reflect upon those who stood by their flag in that severest of all ordeals, a long retreat, for his remarks could only reach those who did not desert, as they who took the woods, had no opportunities of reading or profiting by his sarcasm. We soldiers think it a shallow excuse for an unjust calumny.
On the 22 ult., the 20th and 6th Mississippi Regiments, under command of Col. Robt. Lowry of the 6th, were formed into a detachment, and sent back here for the purpose of breaking up the nests of deserters known to exist in Smith, Jones and adjoining counties. We reached Raleigh in Smith County on the 29th March. Head Quarters were established there, and detachments sent out in various directions for the purpose of gobbling up all stray cattle of the C.S. army, deserters, tories, bushwackers, paroled (Vicksburg) prisoners, conscripts, furloughed men overstaying their time, and all other shirkers.
The 6th charged a church about five miles from town and caught ten or fifteen. I cannot
describe the scene among the softer sex as I did not participate, but from what I have heard, it was rich, and worthy of the region. On the same day, Sunday 29th, the day of our arrival, Major C.K. Massey, of the 20th, with four or five men caught three deserters and tories; but one of their prisoners effected his escape by slipping through a noose peculiarly adopted for ‘hard cases.’ The man’s name was Rains, and had been noted for his activity in encouraging desertion.
The Major appears to be unlucky in this respect, as he caught several more a few days afterwards, and again allowed one of them to escape; and strangely enough in the very same manner in which Rains got off and that seems stranger still this second man whose name was McNeill, slipped through a noose in the very same rope used by rains to effect his escape. McNeill is represented to have been a very bad man; he deserted just after the battle of Corinth and had been lying out ever since, and by some is said to have been one of the party of desperadoes who went to Paulding in Jasper County not long since and stole the Government property left there. A ‘roll book’ containing a great many names was found on his person, supposed to have constituted that batch of tories known as ‘McNeill’s Battalion.’
Col. Brown, of the 20th, captured a large gang including the notorious Hawkins of ‘Illinois corn’ fame; this man Hawkins has four sons, deserters, who managed to elude us; they are a bad family, and the true citizens regret that he was not Massey-cred as soon as arrested. Hawkins is the man who went to St. Louis, Illinois and other places in the North at the beginning of the war for the purpose of procuring corn for the starving people of his district; the result of that agency kept him quiet until Sherman made his grand raid into the state, when thinking the state was lost beyond doubt, he showed the cloven foot, spoke to Union meetings, advocated ‘no meddling with private property, but fight the rebel soldiers like the devil,’ and was known and feared as an uncompromising Unionist. With him was
captured a badly gotten up Union Flag; it is made of coarse, white cotton cloth, upon which is worked in spotted calico, the shape of an eagle, surrounded by thirty-seven blue stars, with the letters U.S.A. in flaming blue capitals below the eagle. This flag was taken from around the body of Hawkins’ wife, who said ‘she would rather die than surrender it:’ but came the flag, which now floats its dishonoring folds in front of Head Quarters – an emblem of treason and desertion. A copy of Helpers Impending Crisis was also found at his house, with another abolition pamphlet. Hawkins is a native of North Caroline; his case was tried before a military court, and turned over to civil authorities.
Some of the men arrested were soldiers paroled at Vicksburg and were impressed with the belief that they were not exchanged; these men are sent to parole camps or to their respective command, and will make as good soldiers as we have. But the large majority were ‘hard nuts,’ and I would respectfully suggest to our authorities that they send all these whom they do not shoot, to the Virginia army, as they will never do to make trusty soldiers in this Department.
Our ‘bull-ring’ would present a curious study for the phrenologist; every conceivable variety of a ‘frontispiece’ is there presented; the snotty-nosed ‘babe’ of ‘just eighteen next fall,’ the blear-eyed dirty bushwhacker, and the veritable piney-woods ‘stump-shakers;’ our frame is frequently sent with pictures of Smith County femininity, who come to bring their traitorous relatives grub and clean shirts; and these same pictures are the primary causes of so much desertion. We have caught eight or ten men who had been married but a few days; some were dragged from the nuptial couch, and substituted for ‘coral lips’ and ‘silken tresses,’ the smutty face and wrinkled locks of some fellow-deserter who had ‘gone up before.’
Altogether this is a wild, exciting service, and although arduous in the extreme, the boys like it exceedingly and strive to excel in the business. There are many true, patriotic citizens in Smith County, but the mean ones are in the majority. You would be surprised to see the number of men in the out-of-the-way county who are not in the army – some never have been conscripted, and with no exemption papers either. Up to last Monday of _____ week from the date of our arrival, we had arrested 217 men, and out of the number retained in custody about 150, 76 were sent here day before yesterday under guard and that is why I write from Enterprise. We will doubtless start for Raleigh tomorrow, and I doubt not will have a second cargo await transportation.
Col. Lowry is managing matters finely, and I assure you his is no enviable ‘posish.’ If we are permitted to remain long in that section of country, I am confident that the death blow to desertion and toryism will be dealt with a heavy hand by Col. L. The citizens fear that we will leave them too soon, and that after we are gone the deserters will be more audacious than ever; but time shall we ask to wipe out these bloches on the fair name of our state, and when that is done we hope to be transferred to some honorable duty, for this is the most degrading of duties to a volunteer Southern soldier. I will keep you posted if I can. Our advance into Jones may be more exciting.
By the way we had forgotten to mention that on _____day, Lt. Evans, of the 6th, was [wounded] by a man in ambush. Lt. Evans was wounded through both thighs and two other men were struck, one _____ the body, the other in the ankle. The bushwhacker used a double barrel shot gun and got off safely.
[Macon Beacon, April 20, 1864]
Colonel Lowry’s raid into Smith County may have settled things for a time, but all too soon the troops left – they were going to be needed on many a bloody battlefield in Georgia. I doubt the situation for Jane Boykin and hundreds of others like her in Smith County improved substantially until the war ended. And one question remains to be answered – did Mrs. Boykin ever get that mule from Governor Lowry?