For the past four years as I have worked at the Mississippi Department of Archives & History, I have been able to look out the windows of our reading room and watch the construction of the Museum of Mississippi History. I take great pride in this building, as I played a small part in helping to create the exhibits that went into it. Before coming to work at MDAH, I was employed as an historical researcher at Communication Arts Company in Jackson. At the time I was hired, my primary job was to do research for the exhibits going into the new museum, and I spent years in completing that task. After so much work, and so many years of waiting, the museum opening is only two days away; the grand opening is on December 9, 2017!
In honor of the opening of our new Museum of Mississippi History, I thought I would share some information about Civil War artifacts that were donated to MDAH in the early years of the department’s history. A few weeks ago while doing some research I found a catalog of the museum’s holdings dating from the late 1920’s – the following information comes from this manuscript:
“CATALOG OF THE COLLECTIONS IN THE HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM OF THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF ARCHIVES AND HISTORY”
[Series 1382, Box 5415, MDAH]
When the Mississippi Department of Archives and History was being proposed in 1901, one of the main components of the new agency was envisioned as “An Historical Art Gallery. It is intended that this collection should embrace the portraits or statues of great Mississippians and the views of historic places and events.” [“Historical Society,” Weekly Clarion-Ledger, November 28, 1901]
When the Mississippi Department of Archives and History was established in 1902, it did indeed include a “Hall of Fame” which is still in existence and is still adding portraits of distinguished Mississippians. By the time this catalog was written in the late 1920’s, the Hall of Fame already had 96 portraits, many of which were Mississippians that had fought in the Civil War. Among those listed in the catalog were the following portraits:
I already mentioned that the catalog was compiled in the late 1920’s – the manuscript itself is not dated, but this description of a dress on pages 4-5 gave me a very clear indication of when it was put together:
“This dress was made about 1781, several years before the cotton gins invention. Made 148
years ago. Mrs. Jane Grafton, who lived in Adams County near Natchez, raised the cotton, picked the seed from the cotton, spun the thread, wove the cloth, raised the indigo used in dyeing the blue stripe and made the garment by hand, sewing it with homespun thread. Preserved and presented to the State Historical Department by Mrs. S.L. Chamberlain of Greenwood, Mississippi, a great grand daughter of Mrs. Jane Grafton, September 19, 1917.”
On page 5 I found this curiously worded listing:
“Presentation of flag to Rodney Guards, Co. D, 22nd Miss. Inf. C.S.A.”
I found the following article concerning the flag of the Rodney Guards in the Port Gibson Reville (Mississippi), April 12, 1906:
One of those pathetic incidents that so often spring up in connection with the late War Between the States occurred yesterday afternoon in the offices of the Department of Archives and History, when two battle-scarred veterans of the Civil War turned over to the the State the flags under which they had fought so valiantly and which they had preserved with so much care for over forty years.
The mementoes of that tragic conflict were secured by John W. Broughton, Confederate history commissioner for Jefferson County, while the two men who released their much prized banners were Joseph Kling of Jefferson County and A.M. McCallum of Union Church. The flags were of most magnificent design. The first was that of the Rodney Guards, which was made and presented during the early part of the war by the ladies of Rodney, to whom it was returned when the regimental flag was adopted…The most pathetic feature of the presentation came when Mr. Kling, who had been desperately wounded at the Battle of Shiloh, gave up his old company flag.
The old man, now fast approaching the allotted three score and ten years, made a striking figure with his long, wavy hair, which time had changed to a silvery gray, with his eyes moistened with tears at the thought of parting with his much loved flag, and with voice throbbing with emotion and feeling. He stated to Mr. Rowland in charge of the department, that he had intended to die and be buried with the banner by his side, but after much persuasion had been induced to donate it to the collection being gotten up by his state for the preservation of the memories of that noted conflict. A strange coincidence is the fact that yesterday was the forty-fifth anniversary of the wounding of Mr. Kling at the battle of Shiloh…
At the time of the battle of Shiloh, Joseph Kling was serving as a sergeant in the “Rodney Guards,” Company D, 22nd Mississippi Infantry. His service record notes that he was “wounded and taken prisoner at battle Shiloh & returned to Co. October 24, 1862.” Kling returned to the 22nd Mississippi, and was wounded and captured again at Pulaski, Tennessee, on December 24, 1864. He spent the remainder of the war in a prison camp. Kling lived in Jefferson County, Mississippi, until his death in 1914.
On Page 7 was an item that spoke to a significant loss to the Union navy during the Civil War:
“This brass ring was a part of the steam cylinder of the Federal Gunboat De Kalb, sunk by the Confederates in the Yazoo River, one an one-half miles below Yazoo City, in 1864. Presented Aug. 29, 1911, by W. G. Deles of Yazoo City.”
Since the sinking of the Baron DeKalb in 1863, when the Yazoo River is low, the remains of the boat are visible – the picture below was taken in the early 1950’s:
During the war, both the Union and Confederate armies were swept by religious revivals; one reminder of this spiritual awakening was found on Page 12:
“Book of Prayers and other Devotions for the use of the soldiers of the army of the Confederate States” A copy of this book has been digitized and can be found online at: docsouth.unc.edu.
Some artifacts listed in the catalog were powerful reminders of the “Lost Cause.” such as this listing from Page 14:
“Star from Head Quarters Flag of General N.H. Harris, which was used at the siege of Petersburg.”
There are many items on the catalog list that belonged to Confederate officers that served in the Civil War; one such item is listed on Page 16:
“Derringer captured by General W.S. Featherston from a Federal Officer during the Confederate War. Presented by Mrs. Hamilton Johnson, January 19, 1920.
Some of the artifacts initially donated to the State Historical Museum were found to be better suited to the State Archives: a good example is the following manuscript found on Page 17:
“Note Book of Rev. A. A. Lomax, Chaplain Sixteenth Mississippi Regiment Infantry, Army of
Northern Virginia, 1864.” This item is now in the Archive holdings listed under catalog #Z/0772.000/SF. This notebook belonged to Reverend Alexander A. Lomax, and our online catalog describes it thus: “Diary and notebook of the Reverend Alexander A. Lomax, chaplain of the 16th Mississippi Regiment. The book includes a ‘catalog of officers and members of church, 16th Miss.,’ a list of sick and wounded in the regiment, a list of persons baptized by Lomax in 1863 and 1864.”
Originally a member of the 12th Mississippi Infantry, Lomax became chaplain of the 16th Mississippi Infantry in December 1863. He was known as the “fighting chaplain” for his habit of picking up a musket and fighting during the regiment’s battles. He explained his reason for fighting thus: “My place is on the firing line; for if any of my boys should be mortally wounded, I would be there to take a dying message to a loving mother, wife, sister or sweetheart; and if in the rear, the poor soldier might die before I could get to him.” [http://npshistory.com/series/symposia/gettysburg_seminars/5/essay8.htm]
Some of the artifacts listed in the catalog were very simple, but filled with meaning. One such item was listed simply: “This book was the property of Colonel M. Farrel, Fifteenth Mississippi who was killed at the Battle of Franklin…The book was a present from Lieutenant Robert L. Johnson, Company C, Fifteenth Mississippi.”
Colonel Michael Farrell was an Irish immigrant who commanded the 15th Mississippi
Infantry; mortally wounded at the Battle of Franklin, he died on Christmas Day, 1864. He must have been much beloved by his men, as they campaigned after the war to have a monument built to his memory. I found the following written about Colonel Farrell in The Nashville American, November 13, 1905: “As to our lamented and brave Mike Farrell, too much cannot be said in his praise. As an officer you know his record, and as a true Southern patriot he fought and died for principle. He did not have a relative in the South, neither did he own one dollar’s worth of property. He was a very poor man, working at his trade – a brickmason – when the war began, and even the horse he rode and loved so dearly (Old Bullet) was a present to him from his command.”
Colonel Farrell never got his monument; today he rests in the Confederate cemetery at
Franklin Tennessee, his only marker a small, square stone with the letters “Col. M.F.” chiseled into it. His small book, however, still exists in the collections of the Mississippi Museum of history as a small reminder of the gallant Colonel Farrell of the 15th Mississippi.
Some of the artifacts listed in this catalog belonged to people I have already written about: a good example is found on Page 36: “The Historical Relics on the two middle shelves are preserved in the Mississippi State Museum in memory of Captain T. Otis Baker of Natchez, Mississippi, Captain of Company B. Tenth Mississippi Regiment of Infantry, C.S.A.” I wrote about T. Otis Baker back in July 2011, and that article can be found here: https://mississippiconfederates.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/soldier-spotlight-t-otis-baker-10th-mississippi-infantry/. I highly recommend reading this article, although I must say I am a bit biased; but still it’s a very interesting story about a young soldier who grew up on the battlefields of the Civil War. I am also very happy to say that T. Otis Baker’s Uniform and equipment have a honored spot in the new Museum of Mississippi History.
Some items in the catalog are reminders of the famous ships used in the war; such as this artifact found on Page 38: “Brass spike from the ‘Star of the West,’ vessel which was sunk in the Tallahatchie River to prevent Grant’s army’s reaching Vicksburg 1863. Same vessel which drove the United States forces from the harbor of Charleston in 1861. Had been captured by the Confederates.”
For years after she was sunk, the wreck of the Star of the West was visible when the Tallahatchie River was low. In 1870 a newspaper said of the wreck:
At Fort Pemberton, six miles above the entrance of the Tallahatchie into the Yazoo, the wreck of the famous steamship Star of the West lies where she scuttled and sunk, directly in the middle of the river, and a dangerous obstruction to passing steamers. The engine walking beam, greatly injured by rust, and one weather-beaten wheel-house of this monster steam-ship stand high above the level of the river, to warn approaching vessels from above
or below that they must give the wreck as wide a berth as possible. The channel at this point admits only a few spare feet on either side, while the current is swift as a mill-race, and pilots must exercise their best care and skill to make the run successfully. The Star of the West, it will be remembered, was driven to sea, off Charleston harbor, by Confederate batteries, when making an effort to provision Fort Sumter, and caused the firing of the first gun of the war. She was afterwards captured off Galveston, Texas, by Van Dorn and a party of Confederates under him, carried into New Orleans, and finally up the Yazoo. She was an unlucky vessel, and never did the Confederates any good, except to entail expense in caring for her. The blackened hulk and rusty, weather-beaten machinery may lie for ages in their present position, a fitting emblem of her useless career. [Tri-Weekly Clarion, January 1, 1870]
Some of the items donated to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History were rather…esoteric, such as this item from Page 40 of the catalog:
“This tobacco is 60 years old. It was brought home by John McDonnell of Cowan’s Battery
at the close of the Civil War. Preserved by Mrs. Elizabeth McDonnell and presented December 15, 1910.” A Jackson newspaper actually wrote an article about this donation to the museum, saying, “The tobacco is of the home-made plug, and is in an excellent state of of preservation. It is 45 years old, and still retains much of its strength.” [Jackson Daily News, December 6, 1910]
Fortunately for posterity, John McDonnell’s wife left the museum a few other artifacts related to his service in the Civil War:
“Confederate coat, Knapsack and saddle bags of John McDonnell of Cowan’s Battery…Preserved by Mrs. Elizabeth McDonnell and presented December 15, 1910.”
I am not certain about the tobacco, but I am happy to report that John McDonnell’s Uniform coat is on display in the new museum.
I thought I would close this article with an artifact from the catalog that has a very personal meaning to me. Found on Page 43 of the catalog is the following description:
“A remnant of the Battle Flag of the ‘Bloody” Sixth Mississippi Regiment carried at the Battle of Shiloh and through many battles during the War for Southern independence. At the Battle of Shiloh, seven color bearers were killed and wounded while carrying the flag.”
I get a little thrill every time I see these scraps of flag, still in the same apothecary jar it was in when donated to the museum. The reason is simple, it’s the call of blood and kinship; my G-G Grandfather, Littleton H. Johnson, and his half-brother, William H. Harper, both served in the 6th Mississippi, and would have seen this restless symbol of the Confederacy defiantly waving in the breeze.
There are thousands of artifacts on display in the Museum of Mississippi History, and I am sure that many of them will speak to you the way that the flag of the 6th Mississippi Infantry speaks to me. I encourage everyone that has an appreciation for Mississippi History to go see the new museum – you won’t be disappointed!