I found this story, written by a member of the 15th Mississippi Infantry identified only as “Judge,” in The Atlanta Constitution, May 16, 1886. It’s a funny little article, but it does point out the hardships faced by many Confederate soldiers due to the lack of timely payment from the Confederate government.
A WAR INCIDENT
A Rich Story of Adventure – The New Moon and the Seven Stars, or the Biter Bit.
In the spring of 1863, the regiment to which I belonged, the 15th Mississippi infantry, was ordered from Port Hudson, La., to Tulahoma, Tenn., as was understood. We went as far as Montgomery, Ala., and for some cause unknown to the writer, were ordered back to Mississippi. But what I wish to tell you occurred on the way from Port Hudson to Montgomery.
We had not been paid off in a good long while, and as a consequence were all out of money. As usual, we were extremely anxious to get hold of anything to eat that was more palatable than corn bread and blue bull beef. If we did this we had to buy it, and, as I said money was scarce. We were in Jackson, Miss. I was emphatically hungry for something extra and set about borrowing a small sum with which to purchase it. Our good Major Terry lent me two dollars out of a five-dollar bill. Now, you must remember that Major Terry had only five dollars. He let me have two dollars, with the full understanding that three dollars in change had to be returned to him so you will see that I had no control of three dollars of the money. After I got the money I set about investing it. I went to a little shop on the right-hand side of the street that led from the confederate house, by the governor’s mansion, to the capitol. The little shop was just next to the confederate house and was kept by an Irish woman, the wife of a railroad man, as I then understood.
Now let me, in a few lines, describe an average confederate store’s stock at that time. It generally consisted of dilapidated veils, currycombs, ribbons – faded and ancient – sleighs, saws, artificial flowers – tangled, twisted and old – calico, at several dollars per yard, boiled eggs, pies, breeches at fabulous prices, and to cut the description short a confederate stock consisted of a conglomerated mass of misfitted and ill-assorted heterogeneousness. Such were the contents of the shop to which I repaired and it was as good as the average – the very best stocks generally had in addition to the above, parasols and fish-hooks.
The question was, how should I spend my two dollars. I didn’t want any veils or wheel-whirls, but I wanted something ‘to chaw’ as we used to classically express it. I knew the woman sold hard boiled eggs and I knew they were two dollars per dozen. I thought a dozen eggs would ‘go further’ than two dollars’ worth of anything else, and decided to get them, but while negotiating for the eggs, I saw a very fine half-moon pie put into the stove. I wanted it, too, but the two dollars wouldn’t get the eggs and the pie also. So I resolved to lift (not steal) the pie while the woman went into a little back room for the eggs, which she kept already boiled. The strategy that I put into practice was to call upon the woman, hurriedly, for the eggs just at the moment when the pie was not quite ready to take from the stove and yet so nearly done that it would be just ready for ‘lifting’ while she was counting my eggs. Now this was a nice calculation and no one but a regular rebel infantry man with just two borrowed dollars to go upon could have made it. So just in the nick of time I said: ‘Madam, get me a dozen eggs just as quick as you can. I’m in a big hurry.’ Just as I had expected, she glanced at the pie (the stove door was open – maybe it had no door) it looked too pale – not quite brown enough. I suppose she calculated that it would be justabout right to take up by the time she got me the dozen eggs.
We were in a kind of middle-room. As soon as her back was well turned, I lifted the pie. Jerusalem, how hot it was! I danced it around on the tips of the fingers of my right hand while I unbuttoned the bosom of my over-shirt, so that I might poke the pie into my bosom between my overshirt and undershirt. I worked fast for I heard the woman coming with the eggs, in fact so great was my hurry that I thrust the red hot pie not between the two shirts but under both of them, right next to the naked skin – slap up against the hide! ‘Gewhilikens! The whoopee! oo! oo! oo! oh! hoo! hoo! oop-ee! hell!’ were something like the expressions that I wished to give voice to. No use a talkin’, fellow citizens, that pie hurt me, and as the woman had returned, I couldn’t jerk it out of my bosom, nor could I yell, but I had to ‘grin and endure it,’ while she (we had gone to the front room) was giving me my eggs and Major Terry’s three dollars. I would have sloped, but I had to wait for the three dollars. As she counted out the eggs and change I leaned over to the left, so that the hot pie could fall from my devoted side.
To make matters worse, by some means or other I squeezed several wads of hot dried apples out of the pie, and every wad put in its work, and the devil of it was, the woman was a long while giving me the change. As soon as I got out of the house I clawed that pie out of my bosom with a kind of underscored emphasis. I had got beat at my own game. I couldn’t keep the thing to myself. I told the boys of my regiment and showed them where I was branded with a half moon and seven stars – the wads of hot apples fixed the stars – allow me to say they were fixed stars. For weeks afterwards the boys would now and then bawl out: ‘Hello judge! When will the moon change?’
Now, the readers of THE CONSTITUTION – a paper for one dollar, worth fifty-two dollars per year – must not think that I was a thief and that I stole that pie. What the lawyers call ‘felonious intent’ didn’t enter into the taking of that pie. I didn’t feel mean while taking it. I only felt like owning the pie, and I got it, and – well, it got me too, and I felt mean afterwards.
After the war was over and hard-boiled eggs had ceased to be a staple commodity, and half-moon pies and confederate overshirts had been relegated – numbered among the things that were – I, in company with one of my brothers, was in Jackson. I told him this tale, and requested him to help me hunt up the woman shop-keeper. We found her in much better and nicer quarters. She was the proprietress of a West Jackson bakery. I told her the foregoing tale. She enjoyed its recital and exclaimed when I had finished it: ‘Oh, and I knew you had the pie, jist, and that is the rason I was so long makin’ the change, honey; but I don’t care at all. I wish you had got all my stuff, ye southern b’ys, for in a few wakes the Yankees robbed me of all the goods I had. Now be sated, yez, and yez brother and ate of whatever yez wants, at my expense, for it is as free as wather;’ and we took our seats at a nice table, in a clean room and partook of a magnificent dinner, to which we were truly welcome and for which the good woman would receive no remuneration.
Meridian, Miss., May 10, 1886
Thus far I have not been able to figure out the identity of “Judge,” the unlucky pie thief. I believe I have, however, discovered who the owner of the bakery was. “Judge” mentioned in his article that he visited the bakery owner after the war in her shop at West Jackson. I searched through the post-war Jackson newspapers, and found only one bakery in West Jackson that fit the with the information found in the article. In 1869 I found an ad for the “Pearl Street Bakery,” proprietor M. McLaughlin.
I looked for “M. McLaughlin” in the United States Census, had no luck in 1870, but struck paydirt in 1880: Michael L. McLaughlin, age 42, occupation merchant, and his wife, Mary E. McLaughlin, age 37, occupation housewife. Michael listed his birthplace as Ireland, and Mary gave her birthplace as Mississippi, but both her parents were born in Ireland. I can’t say for certain the McLaughlin bakery was the one that “Judge” wrote about, but it does fit the limited information given in the article. If I find any additional information about the identity of “Judge,” or the Pearl Street Bakery, I will add an update to this post.
This final installment of Beneath Torn and Tattered Flags documents the regiment’s participation in the Battle of Harrisburg and the final movements of the unit in the closing days of the war. It also documents the lives of the men from the 38th as they adjusted to life in post-war Mississippi. I hope you have enjoyed the book – it was a labor of love, and I have learned much from writing it that has stood me in good stead for the many articles I have written on this blog.
The battle of Harrisburg will furnish the historian a bloody record, but it will also stamp with immortality the gallant dead and the living heroes it has made1
– Nathan Bedford Forrest
On receipt of the orders transferring his brigade, Colonel Mabry quickly had his men in the saddle headed for north Mississippi. The 38th Mississippi arrived with the brigade in Okolona on June 13, 1864, and were assigned to the army commanded by the Confederate “Wizard of the Saddle,” Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest.2 The 38th
arrived just after Forrest completed one of his greatest victories, the battle of Brice’s Cross Roads on June 10, 1864. Confidence in their new general was high among the members of the regiment, and Erastus Hoskins wrote his wife, “Our men are all anxious to get in one fight under Forrest.”3 Having missed the battle of Brices Cross Roads, Mabry’s Brigade remained at Okolona until the end of June, when they were ordered to Saltillo, Mississippi.4
Forrest’s victory at Brice’s Cross Roads had a very strong impact on Union strategy and led to the 38th’s first fight with their new command. At this time General Sherman was engaged in his Georgia Campaign, and his army was supplied via the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. If Forrest could cut this vital lifeline, the Union army in Georgia might grind to a halt.5 After Brice’s Cross Roads, the threat from Forrest seemed very real, and Sherman resolved to deal with the problem once and for all. On June 16, 1864, the fiery general issued the following order to Major General James B. McPherson, commander of the Department of the Tennessee:
…I wish you to organize as large a force as possible at Memphis, with Generals A. J. Smith or Mower in command, to pursue Forrest on foot, devastating the land over which he has passed or may pass, and make him and the people of Tennessee and Mississippi realize that although a bold, daring, and successful leader, he will bring ruin and misery on any country where he may pause or tarry. If we do not punish Forrest and the people now, the whole effect of our past conquests will be lost.6
Command of the expedition to destroy Forrest was given to Major General Andrew J.
Smith, and on July 5, 1864, he led a force of 14,000 men and 24 cannon out of La Grange, Tennessee, headed south into Mississippi. To combat this expedition Forrest had an army of 7,500 cavalry, 2,100 dismounted cavalry serving as infantry, and 20 cannon.7
In response to the federal advance, Mabry’s Brigade was moved forward from Saltillo to Ellistown, 15 miles northwest of Tupelo, on July 9. On arrival the brigade was temporarily attached to Brigadier General Abraham Buford’s Division for the coming battle.8
Before the 38th Left Ellistown, Major McCay penned a hasty letter to his wife Elizabeth, speculating on where the regiment was headed. He told her:
I drop you a line to say we are sending everything to the rear except what we can carry on horseback, and suppose by tomorrow we will be on our way to Sherman’s rear, or else to Tennessee. We are certainly going this time to do something, what, the distant future will have to reveal. God grant that we will meet with success, and all return safe. I go to do my duty and if we fight will try to make a name for my command.9
At this point in the campaign, it appeared that the Union column was headed for Okolona, and in anticipation of this move the 38th, along with the rest of Buford’s Division, was ordered to Pontotoc as a blocking force. The weary Rebels arrived in town the morning of July 10 after an exhausting all night ride.10 That same day, Stephen D.
Lee, the department commander, and General Forrest, the army commander, set up a joint headquarters at Okolona. Lee, being the senior officer present, assumed overall command of the expedition against the Federals.
When he arrived in Pontotoc, General Buford was ordered to position his men so that they were in front of and on the flank of the approaching Yankee column. He placed his men, including the 38th, five miles south of Pontotoc on the Pontotoc-Okolona Road. His orders stated he was to offer a stern resistance to the Union advance and only retreat back to Okolona if compelled by a superior enemy force.11
On July 11, the Yankees marched into Pontotoc, driving out the advance pickets of Buford’s Brigade. The next day, the Union soldiers marched out of town heading straight for the Confederate defensive line south of Pontotoc. Heavy skirmishing took place as the Rebels contested the Yankee advance, but the 38th was held in reserve and took no part in the fighting.12 On July 13, General Smith changed his line of march and moved off to the east toward Tupelo. This move came as quite a surprise to Lee and Forrest, who planned to fight the decisive battle against Smith on ground of their choosing near Okolona.13
As the Federals moved rapidly toward Tupelo, Mabry’s Brigade, with Forrest at its head, pressed the rear guard of the retreating army. As the Yankees passed through Pontotoc, Forrest ordered Mabry to force his way into the town. The Colonel led his men in a furious charge into the hamlet, pushing aside the 7th Kansas Cavalry and Company A of the 61st United States Colored Infantry. Private F. H. Holloway of the Brent Rifles later wrote an account of this charge for Confederate Veteran Magazine saying:
I should like to hear from any old soldier who was with Mabry’s Brigade, Forrest’s Command, in July, 1864, at Pontotoc, Miss., when the Yanks began to fall back. Do you remember how the ladies shouted and waved their handkerchiefs at seeing the boys in gray after them? How we scoured the thickets for the Yanks, and how they would fire a volley and run?14
The 38th continued the pursuit of the retreating Federals, fighting numerous skirmishes throughout the day as the Union column pushed on toward Tupelo. The chase continued until 2 a.m. on July 14, when the Rebel horse soldiers pulled up their sweat streaked mounts one mile outside of Harrisburg, a small hamlet two miles west of Tupelo.15 There the Rebels found the Federal army drawn up in line of battle, waiting to receive an attack. Although the Confederates were outnumbered and facing a determined enemy, General Lee felt he had to attack. He later explained his decision to fight saying,
…all the armies of the Confederacy were facing superior numbers and resources, and everywhere Confederate armies at this stage of the war had to fight against great odds or not fight at all. On this occasion not to fight would have been to have given up the great corn region of Mississippi, the main support of other armies facing the enemy on more important fields.16
The Union army was in a very strong defensive position, their line of battle running for a mile and a half along the crest of a ridge which gave an excellent view of the surrounding landscape. From the crest of the ridge the land sloped gently downward to a wood line several hundred yards away.17 To
Map of the Harrisburg Battlefield
Mabry’s Brigade was on the extreme
left of the Confederate line, north
of the Pontotoc Road.
(Confederate Military History, Volume 7)
reach the Federals, Mabry’s men would have to advance uphill and cross several hundred yards of open ground while exposed to artillery and musket fire. To make matters worse, the Rebels had to make their assault under a blistering Mississippi sun, and heat exhaustion would take a heavy toll.18
Preparing to attack, General Lee took personal command of the left wing of the army, which would attack the right and center of the Federal line. General Forrest took command of the right wing of the army, and was ordered to swing his men around the Union left and attack the vulnerable flank.19
The 38th Mississippi dismounted from their horses and deployed with Mabry’s Brigade on the extreme Confederate left and prepared to advance. Just after 8:00 a.m. General Lee gave the order to attack, and with Major McCay at their head the regiment pressed forward toward the Union line.20
According to General Lee’s plan, the left wing under his command was to attack first and strike the Federal right a hard blow to keep their attention on that section of the battlefield. Once the Rebel left was heavily engaged, Forrest was to smash the Federal left flank. The plan went badly from the start, with the brigades of Lee’s left wing failing to coordinate their movements and attacking piecemeal, allowing the Federals to concentrate their fire and shred each unit as it attacked.21
As the 38th Mississippi cleared the woods and moved into the open, they were immediately targeted by the Union cannoneers, and iron shot and shell began to tear holes in the gray line. The Mississippians dressed their ranks and continued across the killing field separating them from the Yankees. When they were within 300 yards of the Union line a terrific fire from the Union infantry opened on them, but the 38th pressed forward through the hailstorm of lead.22 Major McCay was at the forefront of the regiment urging his men to go on when he was struck in the head by a Yankee bullet. He fell into the arms of Colonel Mabry, dead before he touched the ground.23 In his after action report, Mabry gave a vivid account of the charge that killed so many of his men:
I immediately ordered a charge, but the heat was so intense and the distance so great that some men and officers fell exhausted and fainting along my line, while the fire from the enemy’s line of works by both artillery and small-arms was so heavy and well directed that many were killed and wounded. These two causes of depletion left my line almost like a line of skirmishers.24
Despite heavy casualties, the 38th Mississippi pressed on, leaving a trail of gray clad
bodies to mark the path of their advance. At about sixty yards from the Union line the fire was so intense that the survivors of the regiment were forced to take shelter in a small depression that afforded them some protection from the hurricane of fire being thrown at them. The men quickly brought their muskets to bear on the nearby Union line, loading and firing as fast as they could.25 Those who made it to the relative safety of the depression found themselves under the leadership of Captain John J. Green of the Johnston Avengers, the only company commander still with the regiment. Mabry eventually gave Green the order to take his men and advance on the Yankee line, but the young Captain bluntly stated, “Colonel, we have exhausted every round of ammunition, but if you say so we will try again with empty guns.” On hearing these words Mabry replied, “We can’t stay here and live. Order your men back.”26
The heavy fire from the Union Infantry and artillery kept the 38th pinned in place, and the regiment was not able to immediately withdraw. The men were only able to pull back after the Tennessee brigade of Colonel Tyree H. Bell advanced on their right and the Yankees switched their fire to the new threat.27 When the musket fire slackened, the 38th retreated out of the range of the Union guns, and the dazed survivors took stock of the calamity that had befallen them. The regiment was smashed and took no further part in the battle.28
The other units in Lee’s left wing suffered the same fate as the 38th – their piecemeal attacks were all easily repulsed with very heavy losses to the Rebels. When General Forrest saw the fearful destruction of the left wing, he called off the attack on the right by the men under his command. The Confederates then prepared themselves for a Union counter attack, but General Smith thought his exhausted men had seen enough action for one day and did not elect to continue the contest. On July 15, with his men low on ammunition and food, he decided to return to Memphis. General Lee initially followed the retreating Federals, but owing to the thoroughly worn out condition of his men, and the heavy casualties his army had sustained, he called off the pursuit on July 16.29
The charge at Harrisburg was clearly the high water mark of the 38th Mississippi’s
service. Outnumbered and outgunned, the rank and file of the regiment pressed home their attack with great valor in spite of the odds against them. For their bravery, the regiment paid a very dear price: twenty men were killed, fifty-one wounded, and three were missing. for a total casualty list of seventy-four. An examination of the dead and wounded shows the officers of the 38th paid a particularly high price at Harrisburg: three were killed, including the commanding officer Robert McCay, and nine were wounded. Captain John J. Green was the only company commander in the regiment to come out of the fight unhurt. The command structure of the 38th had been decimated in a few short hours.30
Shortly after the battle Erastus Hoskins wrote his wife and gave her a detailed account of the battle:
…the enemy threw up works of rails & logs and early in the morning of the 14th our forces advanced and the battle raged in earnest – our boys say it was the hottest place they had ever been in – our regiment lost very heavily – it went into the fight with 158 men – and lost 13 killed and 57 wounded – and 10 missing – in all 74 – which was more than any other regiment – it went farther than any other in the charge and remained longer Col. Mabry says there never was a more gallant charge made – than the one made by the 38th Maj. McCay acted gallantly and was shot in the head and fell dead in the field – Adjt. W. L. Ware was mortally wounded in the breast – but of 9 officers commanding companies – 1 was killed and 7 wounded – a severe blow to the 38th. I don’t think we gained any thing by the fight it might be termed a draw battle I think the loss on both sides about the same – and while the enemy could not advance south – We could not advance on them – the enemy finally retreated leaving us in possession of the field – Which makes us the victors though dearly paid for.31
Six days after the battle, Colonel Mabry penned a letter to Elizabeth McCay, wife of Major Robert McCay, to inform her of her husband’s death. His compassionate words are a fitting tribute to Major McCay:
With feelings of deepest sorrow, I announce to you the death of your husband – Maj. Robert
C. McCay 38th Miss. (Mounted Infantry). He was killed in battle at Harrisburg, Miss. on the 14th Inst. while gallantly leading his regiment. While nothing can atone to you and your children for his loss, it will be a consolation to know that he died nobly at his post. He was shot through the head and fell in my arms and expired without a struggle. None excelled him in devotion to his family, fidelity to his country, and gallantry as a champion in the glorious struggle for freedom. As his commander, as his associate, as his friend I mourn with you his loss. May that faith in him who does all things aright, soften the sorrows of your sad bereavement.32
The battle of Harrisburg left the 38th Mississippi a broken ruin of it’s former self, but for the rank and file of the regiment, there were still battles left to fight. They were few in number, but these soldiers were survivors of the very worst the Yankees could throw at them, and they fought on to the bitter end.
1Official Records, Series 1, Volume 39, Part 1, 324.
32 Hinchie P. Mabry to Elizabeth McCay, 20 July 1864. Original letter in the McCay Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
The End Of The War
The triumphs of might are transient – they pass and are forgotten. The sufferings of right are graven deepest on the chronicle of nations.1
– Father Abraham J. Ryan
“A Land Without Ruins”
The 38th Mississippi’s history after the battle of Harrisburg is rather difficult to document, as sources on this period are few and far between. There are enough documents however to track the movement of Mabry’s Brigade as a whole, and thus gain an understanding of what the regiment experienced in the last nine months of the war.
Two weeks after Harrisburg, Mabry’s Brigade was detached from Forrest’s command,
and the men spent the next several months moving about central and north Mississippi, working to improve the defenses throughout the region.2 The 38th saw little action during this time other than an occasional skirmish, and the respite afforded the regiment a chance to begin rebuilding its shattered ranks. As the wounded and missing from Harrisburg began to filter in, the 38th was able to slowly build its strength. On October 14, 1864, 1st Lieutenant E. T. Harrington reported 225 men present for duty in Grenada.3
The 38th was beginning to look like a regiment again, but it still needed a permanent commanding officer to take the place of Major McCay. The records do not indicate who was in command of the unit during this period of rebuilding, but it was probably Captain John J. Green, the highest ranking officer not injured at Harrisburg. To solve the 38th’s leadership problem, Confederate authorities promoted the senior surviving Captain, James H. Jones, Lieutenant Colonel to rank from July 14, 1864.4
Lieutenant Colonel Jones was still recuperating from his wounds at home when his promotion came through, and the records are unclear as to when he actually returned to the regiment. In a post-war history of Company D, Jones mentions being with the regiment in the spring of 1865, but he does not mention when he actually reported for duty.5
The 38th’s period of relative peace ended in late October, 1864, when Mabry’s Brigade was ordered to rejoin Forrest’s command at Jackson, Tennessee. Because of the poor condition of many of the brigade’s horses, Colonel Mabry was able to ride with only 300 men from the entire brigade. The remaining 700 whose horses were too weak for the trip were left behind in Grenada.6
With the reinforcements he received from Mississippi, Forrest had a force of 3,500 men, and with them he planned to wreck Sherman’s supply lines, just as the Union general had feared.7 When Mabry arrived with his Mississippians, Forrest ordered the colonel to remain with his brigade at Paris, Tennessee, while the main body moved down the Tennessee River to set a trap for the Union boats which plied the waterway. Forrest had his men set up hidden artillery batteries at Fort Heiman and at Paris Landing, and his plan was to let the ships move into the stretch of river between the two batteries where they could be captured or destroyed with ease. The plan worked to perfection, and Forrest sank one enemy vessel and captured four others. The wily general put his own men on two of the captured boats and used them as his own private navy as he advanced on the Union supply depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee.8
On November 3, 1864, Mabry’s Brigade was ordered from Paris to rejoin Forrest’s main body near Johnsonville. On arrival the Mississippians were ordered to a position on the riverbank just above and opposite the town. Forrest then deployed his artillery on the riverbank, for the Union supply warehouses and docked boats on the other side of the waterway were an irresistible target. On November 4 at 3:00 p.m., the Confederate batteries opened fire on the town, and the red hot slivers of iron shrapnel from the bursting shells soon had the warehouses and a number of the supply vessels burning.9
The Rebel cannoneers left the Union depot at Johnsonville a smoldering ruin, and with his objective destroyed, Forrest began a slow march back to Mississippi, arriving at Corinth on November 10. The raid was wildly successful, and Forrest estimated the loss to the Federals at $6,700,000. Confederate casualties were light during the expedition, only two killed and nine wounded.10
On November 13, Mabry’s Brigade was detached from Forrest again, this time to serve as
a garrison for Corinth.11 Near the end of the month a detachment made up of men from the 4th Mississippi Cavalry and the 38th Mississippi, numbering 180 men, was sent as reinforcements to Colonel John Griffith, commanding a brigade in central Mississippi. This detachment from the 38th was with Griffith’s Brigade in the action at Concord Church in Yazoo County on December 1, 1864. Griffith’s men attacked a Union column under Colonel Embury D. Osband that was raiding in Yazoo County and forced them to retreat back to Vicksburg. The men of the 4th and 38th were held in reserve during the fight and took no part in the action.12
By this stage of the war Union raiding parties were roaming at will through much of Mississippi, and it was not long before Mabry’s Brigade was called upon to help combat one of these raids. On December 21, 1864, a Union cavalry force under Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson rode out of Memphis with orders to destroy the Mobile & Ohio Railroad in Mississippi. The Federal troopers damaged the track at Booneville, and nearly destroyed one bridge below Baldwyn before the Confederates could react. At this time 250 men from Mabry’s Brigade under the command of Colonel Thomas C. Lipscomb of the 6th Mississippi Cavalry were at Macon, in Noxubee County. The men were ordered to intercept the raiders, but the Union horse soldiers beat a hasty retreat back to Memphis and the Rebels were unable to catch them.13
By the time the new year of 1865 dawned, it was clear to most people that the Confederacy was living on borrowed time. Union forces had penetrated deep into the southern heartland, and the ability of the Rebel armies to defend their territory lessened with each passing day. Many units suffered so heavily from casualties and desertion that they existed in name only, and early in 1865 the Confederacy was forced to consolidate many units to build up one regiment to fighting strength. Mabry’s Brigade fell victim to such a reorganization in February, when the unit was broken up and the 38th Mississippi and 14th Confederate Cavalry were ordered to report to General Wirt Adams at Jackson.
In the new organization the 38th belonged to Adams’ Brigade of Brigadier General James Chalmers’ Division, Forrest’s Cavalry Corps.14 In early March the 38th Mississippi, 14th Confederate Cavalry, and 3rd Mississippi Cavalry (State Troops), were combined into one consolidated unit, known as the 38th, 14th, and 3rd Regiments Consolidated Confederate Cavalry.15
By the time of the consolidation the end of the war was little more than a month away, but for the survivors of the old 38th, there was one battle left to fight. On March 22, 1865, Union Major General James Wilson began a raid into Alabama with 12,000 cavalry troopers to destroy the war-making potential of the state.16 General Forrest had a force of some 6,400 men to oppose this raid, not including Adams’ Brigade that was left at Columbus, Mississippi to guard the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.17
On March 30, Wilson ordered Brigadier General John T. Croxton to take a 1,500-man brigade, split from the main column and go to Tuscaloosa to destroy any military facilities in the city.18 The Union soldiers entered Tuscaloosa on April 4, and quickly completed the job of wrecking the city’s war-making potential. With his mission done, Croxton decided to ride to the southwest and destroy the railroad between Demopolis, Alabama, and Meridian, Mississippi. The Union troopers left Tuscaloosa on April 5, and that night camped 25 miles west of the city heading toward Columbus, Mississippi.19
In response to the movements of Croxton’s Brigade, General Adams was ordered to leave Columbus and ride 20 miles southeast to Pickensville, Alabama, one of the major crossing points of the Tombigbee River. Croxton had reached Lanier’s Mill on the Sipsey River when he learned of the Confederate force blocking his path, and he decided to reverse his course and head toward Tuscaloosa. General Adams soon had his troopers in pursuit, and on April 6 at 10:00 a.m., the Rebel cavalry slammed into the 6th Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.), the rear guard of the Yankee column.20 Adams’ Mississippians broke through the Kentuckians, seizing some of the Federal supply wagons and scattering the Yankee formation. The Federals made a hasty retreat and the action dissolved into a series of skirmishes as the Rebels pressed hard on the tail of the Union cavalry until darkness put an end to the pursuit. In the swirling, day-long fight, Croxton’s Brigade suffered thirty-four casualties. On April 7, fearing the Yankees might slip around him and threaten the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, Adams turned back, arriving in Columbus on April 8.21
The fight near the Sipsey River was the last battle for the war-weary men of the 38th, as the collapse of the Confederacy was near at hand. General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865; General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered the Army of Tennessee on April 26. The 38th Mississippi was officially surrendered by Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commander of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, on May 4, 1865.22 The 38th stacked its arms for the last time at Brewersville, Alabama, and the men began the long journey home to begin rebuilding their lives.23
In his farewell address, General Forrest gave the following advice to the men who had served him so well:
I have never on the field of battle sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers; you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous.24
Forrest gave the soldiers of the 38th Mississippi very good advice – the fight to win the independence of the Confederate States of America was over, and the south had lost. And although they had wagered much and lost much, they had not lost everything. They still had their honor, won by the valor they had displayed and the blood they had shed on so many battlefields of the war. In the post-war south it would be a struggle to maintain that honor, and it lasted the veterans of the 38th Mississippi the rest of their lives.
1 Abraham J. Ryan, Poems: Patriotic, Religious, Miscellaneous. (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1895), 90.
3 The information on the strength of the regiment is contained in an application for a pass for James. B. Applewhite. A copy of this document is in the Pension application of James B. Applewhite, November, 1909, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, TX.
4 Roster of Company D, 38th Mississippi Infantry, Record Group 9, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, MS.
I am a little old cripple waiting for the last bugle call.1
– Joseph W. Pendleton, August 27, 1914
The 38th Mississippi’s veterans returned home in 1865 to find their assets gone and the state thoroughly ravaged. Sixty percent of the states livestock had been destroyed, and most of the cotton seized by the United States Government. Even worse than the property loss was the human toll exacted by the war. Over 78,000 Mississippians served in the Confederate armed forces, and of that number at least 27,000 perished.2 The war had forever changed Mississippi, and the returning soldiers of the 38th had an enormous effort awaiting them as they tried to build a new life amidst the ashes of the old.
While the men set about rebuilding their lives, the state government of Mississippi was also being rebuilt to reflect the new political reality. In May 1865, President Andrew Johnson appointed William L. Sharkey provisional governor of Mississippi. Johnson’s
first directive to the new governor was to call a state constitutional convention to draw up a new constitution for Mississippi. The president required the new constitution to meet three criteria: (1) abolish slavery; (2) nullify the state ordinance of secession; and (3) repudiate all state debts from the war. Johnson also encouraged the convention to extend limited voting rights to blacks who were literate or owned over $250.00 in property.3
The delegates to the convention ignored the president’s criteria for the new constitution, refusing to ratify the 13th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution abolishing slavery or to repudiate the states war debts. They also declined to extend voting rights, no matter how limited, to blacks.4
The precedent set by the convention carried over into the new state legislature that promptly began passing laws to restrict the freedom and movement of blacks.5 It is now known how the rank and file of the old 38th felt about these actions, but one member of the unit did make his thoughts very clear on the subject. James H. Jones wrote a history of reconstruction in Wilkinson County, and he said of the state legislature,
Looking back upon the methods by which that legislature undertook to deal with the Negro problem, one is amazed at such stupidity; at such a display of monumental folly committed by men of ordinary intelligence. It’s members seem to have been asleep, like Rip Van Winkle, during the war, and when awakened from their long nap, they began to legislate in relation to negroes just where the Code of 1857 left off.6
The actions of Mississippi and most of the other southern states to restrict the freedom of blacks alarmed many northern Republicans, and they came to the realization that more forceful measures had to be taken to bring the former Confederate states into line. In 1867 the U. S. Congress passed a reconstruction act that divided the south into five military districts. The state governments were declared to be provisional and subject to the orders of the Union occupation forces. Congress stipulated that for the southern states to be readmitted to the Union, several steps had to be taken: (1) adopt a constitution allowing blacks to vote; (2) voters must ratify the state constitution and the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.7
Under the reconstruction act, Mississippi and Arkansas became part of a military district
commanded by Major General Edward O. C. Ord. On taking over his new district the general supervised the registration of blacks and whites to vote, and these voters chose delegates to write the new state constitution.8
The Republican Party that had formed in the state soon after the start of military occupation organized black voters in Mississippi, and for that work most white southerners roundly despised them. The Republicans in Mississippi were made up of two groups; northerners who had come south, contemptuously called “carpetbaggers” by the locals, and some native southerners, who were given the nickname “scalawags”. The Republicans were very successful in recruiting blacks to vote for their ticket of candidates, a development that was viewed with alarm by many white Mississippians.9
James H. Jones felt the work of the Republican Party poisoned relations between blacks and whites in Mississippi, saying of them,
The kindly relations formerly existing between them were rudely severed, never again to be fully restored. The simple, credulous negroes fell an easy prey to the sinister influence of their white leaders, and soon forgot the good that came to them under the almost paternal conditions of slavery, and remembered, and with bitterness, only the bad.10
In December 1869 the constitution written by the convention was passed, and in 1870
Mississippi was formally readmitted to the Union. The Republicans had a firm grip on the state government at this time, led by Governor James L. Alcorn. The party promised to help all Mississippians regardless of race or wealth, but many whites still hated the organization with a passion. Martha Gwin, wife of Lieutenant Samuel D. Gwin of the Holmes County Volunteers, very clearly expressed her thoughts on Republican rule:
I have lived through three periods of war – the Civil, the Cuban, and the World War. Their ravages can hardly compare with the reconstruction period. For in those years the oppression of our Northern enemies became so unbearable Southern indignation was aroused to throw off carpetbag rule in our Southland.11
To fight against Republican rule, many white southerners joined groups such as the Ku Klux Klan that sought to intimidate blacks and keep them from voting. It is not known how many members of the 38th served in these organizations, but research has shown that large numbers of Confederate veterans joined such groups.12 One member of the 38th who was involved in such a group was Samuel D. Gwin, and his wife Martha gave the following vivid account of one of her husband’s nighttime operations:
On one occasion when ready to leave me for a night of investigation he bade me good-bye saying, ‘Here is a double barreled shotgun, be very brave and use it if necessary. I am leaving Sam Lee, a trusted Negro of the plantation, on the steps armed with pistols, and he knows if harm befall you his life will pay the penalty.’ He then bent over our sleeping boy (John D.) with choking voice said ‘Good-bye my son. Should I not return your mother will teach you that I died trying to defend your rights.’ He returned a victor at the dawn of a new day.13
White southerners were very successful in their efforts to undermine the Republican-led
government, and in 1875 the resurgent Democratic Party regained control of the state legislature. In 1876, the Republican Governor and Lieutenant Governor were impeached and Democrat John M. Stone became the new governor, putting Mississippi firmly under the control of white southerners.14
For most of the rank and file who had served in the 38th, the political struggle took a back seat to the daily struggle for survival. Most of the veterans expected to rebuild their fortunes growing cotton, but natural disasters and low cotton prices combined to keep most living from hand to mouth.15
The men who served in the 38th had been bonded together by the war, and in at least one instance the old comrades banded together to help one of their number who had fallen on hard times. In the February 20, 1874 edition of the Lexington Advertiser, John S. Hoskins, former captain of the Holmes County Volunteers, ran the following as on the front page of the paper:
Attention Company! Information has been sent here, by a letter to M. D. Brown, that Dr. Long who was a fighting soldier, a member of Company A 38th Miss. Regiment, has been sick for three years and is now in the city of Philadelphia in a starving condition. I know that the gallant men of the company, who marched and fought by the doctor’s side, will take pleasure in assisting him. A little from each will make a great deal to him. I will take charge of your contributions and attend to forwarding the same to him. Your action should be prompt.16
The unsettled economic conditions in Mississippi led many veterans to leave the state and settle in Texas, the one former Confederate state where land was plentiful. So many ex-soldiers moved to Texas that by 1890 the lone star state had the highest percentage of Confederate Veterans of any southern state.17 The number of men from the 38th who made the exodus to Texas is not known, but a cursory search turned up eleven men from the regiment who were living in the state after the war.18
As the decades slipped away, time began to take a toll on the aging veterans of the 38th. One of the first officers of the regiment to pass away was Preston Brent, who died on August 12, 1884. After the war Brent had studied Medicine and became a doctor, but the wound he received at Vicksburg troubled him the rest of his life and many felt it sent him to an early grave at the age of fifty. One local paper eulogized Brent saying, “He was a good and just man – one of nature’s noblemen, and in his death his neighborhood loses a citizen that ever had the best interests of the country at heart.”19
The next high-ranking officer to die was Walter L. Keirn who passed away on his plantation in Holmes County on January 5, 1901. The day after his death the Lexington Advertiser made the following remarks about Keirn’s life:
…for thirty-eight years of hopeful courage and heroic patience this courteous, genial gentleman lived among us, dignifying every relation of life. On January 5, 1901, his greatest triumph came, his ‘coronation day’ when he wrapped his unsullied mantle about him and ‘laid him down and slept’: Rich in experience that angels might covet: Rich in faith that had grown through the years.20
The last surviving Field & Staff officer in the 38th was James H. Jones, who died in Woodville on December 10, 1911. Of all the men who served in the regiment Jones had by far the most successful post-war career. Elected to the state senate in 1890, he was later elected Lieutenant Governor, serving in that office from 1896-1900. The Woodville Republican praised Jones as
…a living example of the gentleman of the old school, a type that is fast passing from us. In him were combined those gentlemanly and courteous manners, high ideals and generous hospitality which were always found in the true Southern gentleman of antebellum days.21
As the generation that fought the war began to fade away, the surviving veterans took a great interest to insure that future generations remembered the cause for which they fought.22 On December 2, 1908, the Holmes County Confederate Soldiers monument was unveiled on the lawn of the Lexington County Court House, honoring the men in the county who had fought for the Confederacy. Accepting the monument on behalf of the veterans was Thomas W. Smith of the Holmes County Volunteers. In his speech the old soldier eloquently stated how he hoped future generations would remember he and his comrades:
…may it forever stand, as a perpetual memorial to induce them to emulate the virtue and devotion to duty, of the Confederate soldiers, who offered their lives in defense of that independence and political freedom, bequeathed to us by our revolutionary fathers. It will speak in silent language to them of a citizenry and soldiery scarcely equaled, and never excelled, in any age.23
With each succeeding decade, the ranks of Confederate veterans grew thinner, as illness and old age took its toll. In 1920 there were 100,000 of the old Rebels left; by 1930, the number had declined to 35,000, and in 1941 there were only 1,000 still alive.24 The last documented veteran of the 38th to die was William Willis Durden, who enlisted in the Holmes County Volunteers at age 17 in 1862, and served with the regiment until the surrender in 1865. After the war he was a very successful planter, owning over 15,000 acres of land. He passed away in 1937 at the age of 92, and with his death the 38th Mississippi passed into memory.25
With the death of William Durden all of the men who had marched under the flag of the 38th Mississippi were gone, but they left a powerful legacy for their descendants. The nature of this legacy was reflected in a passage written about the Holmes County Volunteers in 1901:
As we pass in memory beneath torn and tattered flags, the mementos of the victories and failures of our newly-born nation, the marvelous spirit of patriotism burns anew, and so long as we have hearts to love we will glory in commemorating it’s deeds of heroism…26
The men who fought under the banner of the Confederacy exist today only in our memories, but they can still whisper their story to us, if we will only take the time to listen. As long as we remember them, and pass on what we have learned, the men of the 38th Mississippi will live forever.
1 Pension application of Joseph W. Pendleton, August, 1914, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, TX.
2 William C. Harris, “The Reconstruction of the Commonwealth 1865-1870,” in A History of Mississippi, ed., Richard A. McLemore, (Hattiesburg, MS: University & College Press, 1973), 1: 542-543.
3 James M. McPherson, Ordeal By Fire (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992), 496-498.