“The Old Soldiers Make Good Citizens:” A Union Veteran Settles in Vicksburg

On November 15, 1906, the Iowa Monument was dedicated in honor of the men from the Hawkeye State that fought in the siege  of Vicksburg. In honor of the occasion, a local newspaper  had local citizen William H. Bleything write an article about his Civil War service, which they published in that day’s edition. (Vicksburg Evening Post, November 15, 1906). The Post had a very good reason for choosing Bleything to write about his civil war experiences; he was, as they asserted, “the only citizen here who served in the rank and file of an Iowa regiment during the war.” Bleything was a good writer, and he gives a very detailed account of his regiment’s participation in the siege of Vicksburg. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Iowa_1
The Iowa State Memorial in Vicksburg National Military Park (National Park Service)

Reminiscences of Iowa Soldier Now a Citizen of Vicksburg

W.H. Bleything

Company F, 30th Iowa Infantry

Mr. W.H. Bleything, who has been a citizen of Vicksburg for many years, and highly respected by the community, is we believe the only citizen here who served in the rank and file of an Iowa regiment during the war. At the request of The Post, Mr. Bleything has given us a brief sketch of his war experiences, which we are sure will be read with great interest by his army comrades as well as by the people of the city.

Bleything 1
The copy of Bleything’s photo in the November 15, 1906, edition of The Vicksburg Evening Post was very dark and hard to see. Fortunately they used it again in the paper for his obituary, and this copy is much better. It is in the March 21, 1911, edition of the Post.

The picture above is copied from one that was taken when Mr. Bleything was a young man and wearing his blue uniform. The following is the substance of what Mr. Bleything gave us in regard to his services and experiences in the Union army.

I enlisted in Troy, Davis County, Iowa, on August 13, 1862. Our company was organized at

15th A.C. 1st Div. Badge
Civil War Badge of the 15th Army Corps, 1st Division (Worthpoint.com)

Bloomfield, Iowa, where we were mustered into the U.S. service by Major Ball, U.S. Army, as Co. F, 30th Iowa Infantry. The regiment was ordered to St. Louis in November; thence to Helena, Arkansas, where we were assigned to the 1st division, 15th Army Corps, Gen. Fred. Steele, commanding the division and Gen. W.T. Sherman the corps. Our entire service was in the 1st Division, 15th Corps.

We took part in the unsuccessful Chickasaw Bayou expedition; re-embarked on the boats and went up the Mississippi to mouth of the Arkansas River, and up that stream to Arkansas Post, the 30th Iowa regiment being engaged and taking an active part in the capture of the fort and garrison on January 11, 1863.

We again took boat, came down the river to Young’s Point, marched across the peninsula

Grant's Canal
Union Soldiers working on the Canal Opposite Vicksburg (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 28, 1863 – Library of Congress)

and camped on the O’Brien place just below the mouth of the canal. We lay there a short while in the mud and water, digging the canal. We were then ordered down the river to Biggs plantation where we were camped when Commander Farragut with his fleet came up from below and Grant ran by Vicksburg with his gun boats and transports. While at this point, the dummy gun boat was floated by the Vicksburg batteries, and caused the Confederates to blow up the fine iron clad Indianola, which they had captured from us in Davis Bend.

In April our camp was moved up to the Crane plantation above Young’s Point. On May 2nd we broke camp, and marched by way of Milliken’s Bend and Richmond to Hard Times Landing, Louisiana, where we took boat and were ferried across the river and landed at Grand Gulf, Miss., on May 6th. We marched by way of Raymond to Jackson, Miss., reaching there on May 14th. We lay at Jackson the 15th, tearing up the railroad. We left Jackson on the morning of the 16th; got to Messenger’s Ferry on Big Black River on the evening of the 17th. Company F was detailed to help wagon train across the pontoon bridge and we were up all night.

Big Black River
Union Pontoon Bridge Over the Big Black River (www.erdc.usace.army.mil)

On the morning of May 18th we took the march for Vicksburg, coming in on the Graveyard Road, and came in touch of the enemy in the afternoon at what is now Will Kleinman’s place. We took position on the 19th, on north side of Mint Springs Bayou, and lost 7 men wounded. On the night of the 19th we crossed over to the south side of the Bayou and made lodgement under the hills below the Confederate main line. This position we held until the surrender, digging up a little closer every night so that when the place was surrendered July 4th, we had approached within a few yards of their works.

Civil War Trust Map
The 30th Iowa Infantry was in Brigadier General John M. Thayer’s brigade during the siege of Vicksburg, stationed on the northern end of the Union line. (Civil War Trust)

On the morning of May 20th my company had a brisk skirmish beginning about daylight. Early in the afternoon our ammunition gave out. Lieut. Ph. Bence called for volunteers to go back to the rear to get a new supply of ammunition; no one seemed anxious for the job, and I volunteered to go and get a supply. I immediately started and of course was a mark for the Confederate sharpshooters for some distance until I reached a point of safety inside our lines. Securing a supply of 1000 rounds, two young soldiers volunteered to return with me a part of the distance, but it was left for me to carry the box to the front when we reached the point where we came under fire. On May 21st I had a similar experience, again volunteering, and going after and bringing back a supply of ammunition, and was the target for many Confederate rifles.

[Editor’s Note: Philip H. Bence was first lieutenant of Company F, 30th Iowa

P.H. Bence
Philip H. Bence was murdered by Confederate Guerrilla Jim Jackson in October 1864 (Ames Daily Tribune, February 18, 1935)

Infantry, during the siege of Vicksburg. He was later promoted to captain and commanded Company F until he was wounded during the Atlanta Campaign. While home on leave in Iowa he was killed by guerrillas, October 12, 1864 – Findagrave.com listing for Philip H. Bence]

On the 22nd of May our whole regiment was on the firing line, and several other regiments were ordered to our support. After McClernand’s assault on the R.R. redoubt, he urged Gen. Grant to order an assault on other portions of the line. In the afternoon several of the regiments along our portion of the line were ordered to assault, which they did with great gallantry but suffered a bloody repulse. Then my regiment, the 30th Iowa, and others were ordered to charge. Just at this moment, our Colonel, Abbott, arose to give orders for the advance, when he was shot through the head and instantly killed, then the Lieutenant-Colonel being absent, the command of the 30th regiment devolved on the Major, J.P. Milliken. He had proceeded only a few steps when he was shot through the body and mortally wounded, dying the next day. There being no field officers the several companies advanced to the charge, and got very near the Confederate works, but were unable to go over them. The assault was repulsed; our regiment suffering a loss according to official records, of 15 killed, 34 wounded, and 1 missing. The missing man was never definitely accounted for.

Charles H. Abbott grave
Grave of Colonel Charles H. Abbott – he commanded the 30th Iowa Infantry until his death at Vicksburg on May 22, 1863 (findagrave.com)

Our command was withdrawn during the night; and Grant’s army settled down to regular siege operations. The charge was made on Friday, May 22nd. We were unable to get our dead away from the places where they had fallen in front of the Confederate breastworks, and their bodies began to putrify. On the following Sunday afternoon May 24th under a flag of truce details from the various commands were sent to remove our dead. I was in the detail for this sorrowful and disagreeable work. Among the bodies we found was that of Ambrose Brumby, which was laying against the Confederate works; and I have thought that he was the man who was reported missing, and who should have been reported among the killed. We brought the dead bodies, which were in bad state of decomposition, to a point within our lines under a hill on Mint Spring Bayou, where a trench was dug, the bodies hastily thrown in, and covered over with earth.

mint-spring-waterfall-DSC_5604_1
Modern Photo of Mint Springs Bayou in Vicksburg (National Park Service)

Our command continued siege operations, and dug a sap approach running in zig-zag shape so that Confederate bullets could not reach us. At the time of the surrender, we had approached within a few yards of the Confederate breastworks; the supposition being that the Union army would make a general assault on the 4th of July; a number of other Federal commands having made similar approaches. 

After the assault on the 22d of May our command also dug a tunnel through the hill back of

thayer's-approach-tunnel1_1
Tunnel dug by General Thayer’s men so that they could move to the rear without exposing themselves to Confederate fire (National Park Service)

our position on the firing line, so that our soldiers could go to our camp in the rear and return without danger. But for the tunnel we would have been exposed to fire. That tunnel caved in after the war, but has been restored to its wartime shape, by the National Park Commission.

From the 22d of May until the surrender, our command was on duty on the firing line every other day. On the night of the 4th of July our command was ordered towards the Big Black River to meet Gen. Joe Johnston’s army which was expected to make an attack on Grant’s forces with the intention of relieving Pemberton, and not believing that Pemberton would surrender. Our command followed Johnston to Jackson and Brandon; then returned to Camp Sherman near Bovina where we remained until September. Then we were ordered to the relief of Rosecrans at Chattanooga and passed through Vicksburg, Memphis, Corinth, etc., and finally reached Chattanooga where we were temporarily assigned to Hooker’s Corps. 

We participated in the battle of Lookout Mountain (termed the battle above the clouds); and also Missionary Ridge; and afterwards at Ringgold, Georgia, which was a very hot fight. The following year, I took part in the battles of Resaca, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain (another severe fight), and the battle of Atlanta on July 22d; Ezra Chapel on July 28th; Jonesboro, Lovejoy, etc.

Afterwards, our command was with Gen. Sherman in his famous “march to the sea.” Then were were in the Carolina campaign, the 30th Iowa leading the advance into Columbia, S.C. Our last fight was at Bentonville, N.C. Soon afterwards Joe Johnston surrendered, and the war was over. [We] marched to Washington City via Petersburg, Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Mount Vernon.

On May 24, 1865, our command took part in the grand review of Union veterans at Washington, which was one of the most notable events [in] history. Shortly after we were mustered out; and our regiment was [sent] to Davenport, Iowa, where we [were] paid off, discharged and returned to our homes. 

Grand Review 2
Union soldiers marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., during the Grand Review (Library of Congress)

In the fall of 1870, I went to Madison Parish, La., and in 1872 located [to] Vicksburg. I was married in Vicksburg, in 1876 (captured by a Vicksburg lady) and have resided here [ever] since.

After moving to Vicksburg, William H. Bleything married Louisa Bohannon, and the former soldier made his living as a carpenter. In 1887 Bleything was involved with the construction of the S.P. Metzger residence at the corner of South and Adams street, and a local newspaper noted:

The interior of the building far surpasses the handsome exterior; for here was afforded the opportunity for Mr. Bleything’s display of skillful joiner work, and the architect’s taste in the use of varied woods. The hall floor is laid in alternating strips of walnut and ash, the wainscoting, door and window-frames are of hard wood finish, while the staircase is a marvel of skillful carpenter work…Curphey and Mundy had the contract for the house, and to them and their efficient foreman Mr. Bleything, and the other gentlemen we have mentioned, and to the liberality of the owner, the community is indebted for a structure which is so creditable to the city. (Vicksburg Evening Post, December 1, 1887).

The_Vicksburg_Herald_Thu__Sep_17__1908_
Advertisement for William H. Bleything’s Employer, the firm of Curphey & Mundy in Vicksburg (The Vicksburg Herald, September 17, 1908).

Although he lived in Vicksburg, Bleything kept in close contact with his relatives and former comrades-in-arms in Iowa. In 1892, the Vicksburg newspaper made note of a trip that Bleything took to Iowa:

Mr. W.H. Bleything, left this morning for Keokuk, Iowa, and will remain in that state, his old home, a month or more. During his stay in Iowa, Mr. Bleything will attend the reunion of his old regiment (the 30th Iowa) at Fairfield some time in August. He carried with him from this city, two gavels made from an oak tree which grew on the ridge near Vicksburg, one which the regiment charged on the 22d of May 1863, and which was afterward occupied by the Regiment. These reminders of a historical event, will no doubt be greatly appreciated by Mr. Bleything’s old comrades. 

Mr. Bleything has been a resident of Vicksburg for many years, and his home and fortunes are cast with our people. The old soldiers, Union or Confederate, make good citizens wherever they live, and we only wish the North would send us down a great many more veterans like Mr. Bleything. (Vicksburg Evening Post, July 20, 1892).

After returning to Vicksburg in September, the Post informed readers of what Mr. Bleything had done on his trip to Iowa:

Mr. Bleything attended a re-union of his old Regiment at Drakesville, Davis County, Iowa,

30th Iowa Flag
National Colors Carried by the 30th Iowa Infantry (State Historical Society of Iowa)

on the 14th and 15th days of this month, where he was warmly greeted by his old comrades. Sixteen of his company were present at the Re-union, and 108 members of the Regiment. Their old battle-flags were again unfurled to the breeze and the veterans lived over again the exciting times and scenes of over a quarter of a century ago. 

Mr. Bleything took with him a piece of oak that grew on the battle-fields near Vicksburg, had it made into a gavel, and presented it to the Regiment. It was used by the presiding officer during the Re-union. He also carried along a lot of bullets that were dug from the fortifications, and gave one of them to each member of the old regiment.

Mr. Bleything had a splendid time among his old friends, associates and comrades. He was greatly improved by his rest and recreation, and the invigorating atmosphere of the Northwest. He will now resume his old place with Curphey & Mundy, and assist in building more of the elegant houses in Vicksburg for which that firm is famous. (Vicksburg Evening Post, September 21, 1892).

In addition to building houses, William Bleything’s company also did work in the Vicksburg National Military Park; in 1905 a local paper noted:

The field work is still in progress with such men as W. H. Bleything, W.A. Claver and F.H.

Pennsylvania Monument
The Pennsylvania Monument at Vicksburg was dedicated on March 24, 1906 (National Park Service).

Foote in charge. Mr. Bleything has been doing concrete guttering all summer and is now ready to take his forces to the Pennsylvania site whenever it becomes time to lay the foundation for that state’s memorial. The stone is now on its way, with some on the ground now but it is not likely that the contractor will be on hand until frost is pretty well developed. (The Vicksburg Herald, September 30, 1905).

Sometime between 1905 and 1908, Bleything went from working in the National Park to working for the Vicksburg National Military Park. A brief article in a Vicksburg newspaper in 1908 noted:

By request of the chairman, Park Employees Frank H. Foote, W.H. Bleything, W.A. Claver and L.C. Swett have been appointed deputy sheriffs, authorized to keep the peace and to make arrests within the park lines. (The Vicksburg Herald, May 24, 1908).

It must have been a rewarding experience for Bleything, working on the battlefield where he had fought as a youth and helping to keep the memories alive of what he and his comrades had done there. He was especially keen to make sure the men of his regiment, the 30th Iowa, were properly remembered at Vicksburg. In 1909 Bleything made a trip to Iowa, and one of the goals of the trip was to garner support for building a monument at Vicksburg to Charles H. Abbott, the gallant colonel of the 30th Iowa. The Vicksburg paper said of this trip:

Mr. Bleything expects to be absent about two weeks, and while away will go to Keokuk, Iowa, where the widow and family of Col. Chas. H. Abbott are now living. Col. Abbott was killed here during the siege. Mr. Bleything is desirous that a statue of Colonel Abbott be placed in the National Military Park, and he will try and interest the Abbott family in the matter. Failing in this, Mr. Bleything will bring the matter before the Iowa veterans, and it is possible a popular subscription will be taken up to raise funds for the erection of the statue. (Vicksburg Evening Post, September 10, 1909).

Bleything must not have had much luck in his fundraising efforts, as a statue of Colonel Abbott was never built. He is not entirely forgotten however; the monument to Thayer’s brigade at Vicksburg does mention the gallant colonel’s sacrifice.

Iowa Brigade Monument Vicksburg
Monument to Thayer’s brigade in the Vicksburg National Military Park (iowacivilwarmonuments.com)

In the fall of 1909, the citizens of Vicksburg were thrilled to learn that the President of the United States, William Howard Taft, planned to visit their city and tour the National Military Park. Selected to be the president’s guide through the park was none other than William H. Bleything. A few weeks after the president’s visit, Bleything received a warm letter from Beryl F. Carroll, governor of Iowa, who had accompanied Taft on his trip. The Vicksburg paper reported the letter thus:

State of Iowa

Executive Department

Des Moines, Nov. 5, 1909

My Dear Bleything – I want to take this opportunity to express to you my very high appreciation of the courtesy shown me by you while at Vicksburg. You were able to show

Beryl_F._Carroll
Beryl F. Carroll was the 20th Governor of Iowa, serving from 1909 – 1913 (wikipedia)

me in the short time I was there more than I could have otherwise have seen in many hours.

The nation ought to be proud of its Vicksburg Park. It is one of the grandest places on the continent and very interesting indeed, as well as instructive. I hope that it will not be long until our monument there will be entirely completed. I heard it very  highly spoken of by many persons who were with us on our trip down the river. They seemed to regard it as one of the best monuments in the Park.

With personal regards, I remain,

Very truly yours,

B.F. Carroll

Governor of Iowa

(Vicksburg Evening Post, November 13, 1909)

Just two years after William H. Bleything guided the President of the United States through the Vicksburg National Military Park, the local newspaper announced with a bold headline the death of the Iowa veteran: “Brave Old Soldier Crosses Dark River.” The obituary went on to say of Bleything:

When a youth he had enlisted in Company F, the 30th Iowa Infantry, and served through

Bleything Grave
Grave of William H. Bleything in Cedar Hill Cemetery, Vicksburg, Mississippi (findagrave.com).

the war with signal honor. He participated in the siege of Vicksburg, and the war-time experiences were always a favorite topic with Mr. Bleything…Mr. Bleything, for several years past, has been in charge of a force of workmen engaged in improving the Vicksburg National Military Park. Capt. W.T. Rigby, President of the Commission, says, on behalf of the Commission, that Mr. Bleything was not only very efficient but he was as faithful as it was possible for any man to be, and that he was devoted to and took heartfelt interest in the Park and the work that devolved upon him.

(Vicksburg Evening Post, March 21, 1911)

I really admire William H. Bleything; he fought for a cause he believed in, and after the war was over, he settled among his former enemies and made a good life for himself. He literally helped to build the Vicksburg National Military Park, and guided everyone from governors to the President of the United States through it. The next time I am in Vicksburg, I plan to talk a walk through Cedar Hill Cemetery and put some flowers on the grave of William H. Bleything; he certainly deserves them.

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“Whose Mother’s Son Will Need Help:” A Civil War Veteran Supports the Doughboys of World War 1

November 11, 2018, will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of “The War to End All

Frank W. Buckles
Corporal Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War 1 (Findagrave.com)

Wars,” better known today because of subsequent events as World War 1. A Century may seem like a long time, but it’s really no so long ago; in fact, the last American veteran of World War 1, Frank Buckles, only passed away in 2011.

When the United States entered World War 1 in 1917, the Civil War was only some 50-odd years in the past, and there were still a number of surviving Union and Confederate veterans that took great interest in this new conflict. While doing some research recently I found an article about a rally held in Rankin County to encourage local support for the American Red Cross. One of the highlights of this rally was the reading of a speech by Pleasant B. Berry, a Confederate veteran who knew from his own military service the pressing need that soldiers had for high quality medical care. The speech was reported in The Brandon News, December 27, 1917, and is below:

The following was written by Capt. P.B. Berry of Florence, and read for him by Mrs. D. Taylor at the Red Cross rally in Florence last Sunday afternoon. It aroused much attention

Pleasant B. Berry
Wartime photograph of Pleasant B. Berry (Findagrave.com)

 

and interest and should be published for the benefit of the many in Rankin County who were not present. Capt. Berry is now an old Confederate Veteran and he should be heeded at this time:

“With the experience I have had and what I have been an eye-witness to, I just don’t know how to begin to tell the great need of an organization of the Red Cross, the good it can do in so many different ways on the battle-field, – yes, and on the firing line. Red Cross details are expected to be on the firing line to help take care of the wounded – binding up wounds and administering nourishments, & etc.

Then, in the hospital they can do so much good in caring for the sick. I have been in battle, I have gone over the battle-fields after the battle had been fought, and it makes me shudder until this day, to see so many lying all over the battle-ground, begging for help and begging for water – yes, pleading in so many ways for help. Then we had no Red Cross organization and our poor boys had to lie there and suffer awful pains; and many of them lay there and died for the want of Red Cross nurses.

Confederate dead at Fredericksburg
Dead Mississippians behind the stone wall at Fredericksburg, May 1863 (National Park Service)

Now, it’s in the hands of everybody to do their bit. I cannot help believing that everybody who has any patriotism about them will join and help out the Red Cross organization. None of us know whose son, or husband or friend may be in great need of the Red Cross before this cruel war is over. No telling what is going to come to pass. War is a fearful thing; and I, for one, think its high time we were pushing the Red Cross to the greatest height. Nothing like preparedness, be ready to do something when help is needed. No doubt in my mind but much help will be needed before this war is over, and how in the name of common sense can anybody with any kind [of] patriotism stand idle and not try to help our men on the battlefields in their terrible sufferings.

Now, I beg of all to get busy and do something. These men have gone across the water to

Red Cross Poster 3
Red Cross Poster Encouraging Civilians to Volunteer (Library of Congress)

fight for us and risk their lives and be exposed to all kinds of danger, while we are at home enjoying ourselves. I was a soldier once for four of the longest years I ever experienced, and I know what I am talking about. Then, we had no Red Cross organization because we were not able to have one. Many lives could have been saved if we could have had their assistance. I could go on and tell much more of my experience in battles, and my seeing, the suffering on the battlefields and in hospitals, etc., but I feel that it is no use to say more, only let me beg of you all to do your bit and help take care of the men that have already gone and those that will be sure to follow very soon. No telling whose Mother’s son will need help and need it bad. I fear but few of our people are realizing the seriousness of this terrible world’s war.

Now it occurs to me to ask what can be done to get the people more interested and brought down to more earnest thinking. As for myself I have had very serious thoughts about this war from the first; and no telling when it will end, nor how many more men may be called on to go. So, I think it’s the duty of everybody to join the Red Cross and do their bit.”

Pleasant Berry’s speech struck a cord, with me, as my grandfather, Lynnly C. Adams, was

Lynnly C. Adams
Photo of the author’s grandfather, Fireman 3rd Class Lynnly C. Adams, taken in 1917 (Author’s Collection)

from Rankin County, and served in the United States Navy during World War 1. Lynnly was a victim of the deadly 1918 influenza epidemic that killed millions worldwide, and spent time in a naval hospital at Brest, France. According to a story that was passed down to me by my mother, Lynnly was not expected to live, and the doctors at the hospital had him placed outside the building in a tent with other sailors who were not expected to live. There was one nurse, however, who refused to give up on these men and she took care of my grandfather until he recovered from his illness.

Pleasant Boggan Berry enlisted in the “Rankin Greys,” Company I, 6th Mississippi Infantry, in 1861, and the unit was mustered into service on May 4 of that year. Over the next four years the young soldier took part in numerous major battles, and saw more than his fair share of wounded, sick, and dying men. In the 6th Mississippi’s first major battle at Shiloh, Tennessee, the regiment had over 300 men killed or wounded out of the 425 it had taken into the fight. The casualty rate for the 6th Mississippi at Shiloh was 70% – the highest percentage of any Magnolia State unit for the entire war. The regiment had duly won the nickname it carried until the end of the war: “The Bloody Sixth.” (Going to Meet the Yankees: A History of the ‘Bloody Sixth’ Mississippi Infantry, C.S.A., page 98.)

Veterans such as Pleasant Berry knew firsthand how terrible war was, and they worked very hard in their communities to make sure that the “Doughboys” had access to the best medical care available. The United Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy supported organizations such as the American Red Cross, which provided medical care to United States soldiers both at home and abroad. I found the following description of their activities on the American Red Cross website:

Prior to the First World War, the Red Cross introduced its first aid, water safety, and public

CV Vol. 25, Page 378
The Louisiana Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy established a “War Relief Camp” to aid United States Soldiers. (Confederate Veteran Magazine, Volume 25, page 378.

health nursing programs. With the outbreak of war, the organization experienced phenomenal growth. The number of local chapters jumped from 107 in 1914 to 3,864 in 1918 and membership grew from 17,000 to over 20 million adult and 11 million junior Red Cross members. The public contributed $400 million in funds and material to support Red Cross programs, including those for American and allied forces and civilian refugees. The Red Cross staffed hospitals and ambulance companies and recruited 20,000 registered nurses to serve the military. Additional Red Cross nurses came forward to combat the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918. (http://www.redcross.org/local/florida/south-

Thanks to the advances in medical knowledge and the work of groups such as the Red Cross, World War 1 casualties had a much better chance of surviving than their Civil War

Byhalia Miss. Red Cross 1919 - LOC
African-American Red Cross Volunteers at Byhalia, Mississippi, in 1919. (Library of Congress)

counterparts. In World War 1, there was one death for every 40 soldiers who served; in the Civil War there was one death for every five soldiers. (“American War Dead, by the Numbers” by Paul Waldman – http://prospect.org/article/american-war-dead-numbers)

Because of civilians such as Pleasant Berry who wanted the men fighting in the Great War to have the very best medical care, thousands of soldiers, sailors and marines survived the conflict that might otherwise have died. One of those sailors was my grandfather, who came home to marry my grandmother and have nine children, one of whom was my mother, Lois Anice Adams, born September 1, 1930. We owe these Mississippians who gave of their time and money to support the troops our gratitude, and I am very glad I can highlight their efforts in this blog.

“It Seems We are To Live To See All Our Children Buried:” A Tale of Two Civil War Letters

Working at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History affords me the opportunity to search through many obscure collections for interesting material. I found the following letter in a grouping that was simply labeled, “Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection:”

A Letter to Mrs. Chester Rockwell from her Nephew:

E.V.M. Lee

Comp. A, 12th Miss. Regt.

Camp Near Orange Court House, Va.

Jan. 6th/64

My Dear Aunt Carrie,

I have written to you twice or three times since I was at your house and enjoyed myself

civil_war_map_of_orange
Civil War Map of the town of Orange Court House, Virginia (www.censusfinder.com/mapvirginia.htm)

so well with you and Uncle Rockwell but have never received a letter from you up to this time and I now write you again and hope to hear from you soon.

Aunt, it was a great shock to me when I heard of poor Aunt Hellen and Cousin Sue Lee’s death, for I loved Aunt Hellen like a mother, and Cousin Sue like a sister, but the great giver of all things giveth and taketh away and believing that they were both Christians I willingly give them up believing that they have been transferred from this wicked and troublesome world to that better world on high where peace and happiness reign forever. Aunt, it is a great consolation for us to know we are ready and prepared to go when called upon to depart this life. We all ought to try and be prepared for that great day though I fear there are a great many who are not prepared and I fear never will be and awfull will be the consequences.

Well Aunt, I heard from home some time ago and they were all well and doing very well. They said they had not been visited by the Yankees in some time and I hope and pray that they may never be visited again by the unprincipled wretches for I know it is any thing else than pleasant to have the ruthless invaders around them. Father, mother,

Richmond_Dispatch_Thu__Sep_19__1861_
Emory Lee asked his aunt to send him food via the “Miss. Depot.” The depot was established in 1861 to aid Mississippians in the Army of Northern Virginia (Richmond Dispatch, September 19, 1861)

sisters, and brothers requested me when I wrote to you to remember them to you and Uncle Rockwell. Aunt and Uncle, we are only getting a quarter of a pound of meat now and I nearly starve and if you can send me a couple of sides of bacon and some beans you will oblige me very much indeed and if you do direct to me in care of J.J. Hood, agent of the Miss. Depot and send it by express.

Well, I must close, so give my love to Uncle and the children, also to all my relatives and except a large portion for yourself so good bye untill next time and I remain your affectionate Nephew, Emory V.M. Lee.

Postscript.

Aunt write soon and let me hear from you and you must select me a nice young lady for a sweetheart and write me who she is and oblige your nephew,

Emory Vincent Murphy Lee.

Emory Lee was the son of  James C. and Maria W. Lee, natives of North Carolina that moved to Mississippi in the 1830’s. The Lee family prospered in their new home, and on the 1860 U.S. Census for Utica, Hinds County, James valued his real estate holdings at $5,870, and his personal estate at $16,570. In addition to Emory, James and Maria had sons Henderson, Bailey, and Daniel, and daughters Susan and Mary. (1850 U.S. Census, Hinds County, Mississippi)

It took a good bit of research, but I believe that I have identified the recipient of Emory Lee’s letter – “Dear Aunt Carrie.” I looked for a Chester Rockwell in Mississippi, but didn’t find any likely candidates living in the state before the Civil War. Then I decided to try looking in North Carolina, the birth state of both James and Maria Lee. I very quickly found a match for the limited information that I had: Chester Rockwell, age 59, and his

James C. Lee Grave
Grave of James C. Lee, Emory Lee’s Father (Findagrave.com)

wife Caroline, age 42, living in Columbus, North Carolina, in the 1860 U.S. Census. I also found that Caroline’s maiden name was Yates, and Emory’s father, James C. Lee, is buried in the Daniel Yates Family Cemetery in Utica, Mississippi. (U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560 to 1900, Ancestry.com, and the listing for James C. Lee on Findagrave.com)

Emory Lee enlisted in the “Raymond Fencibles,” Company A, 12th Mississippi Infantry, in April 1861. He showed up as “Present” on all of his company’s muster rolls, except for one 30 day furlough he received on April 12, 1863, and the last muster roll card, which simply reads, “Killed May 24, 1864.” This was the end of Lee’s service record, but fortunately in our “Miscellaneous Manuscripts,” there was a transcript of a second letter, written to Emory’s Aunt by his mother, which gives much more detail about his death:

A Letter to Mrs. Chester Rockwell from her Sister:

Utica (Mississippi) July 22, 1864

Dear Sister,

It becomes my painfull duty to inform you of the death of my son Emory. He was killed on

Fold3_Page_15_Compiled_Service_Records_of_Confederate_Soldiers_Who_Served_in_Organizations_from_the_State_of_Mississippi
Muster Roll Card of Emory Lee Stating he was killed on May 24, 1864 (Fold3.com)

the twenty-fourth of May in Virginia. He was standing picket at night. The ball passed through the main artery of the thigh, and he bled to death. No one saw him fall, no one was near to sooth his dying hours. He crawled over a hundred yards after he was wounded, when found life was extinct. I sometimes think it is impossible for me to bear it. Then again, I think I have not long to live, and I will soon meet him in a brighter and happier world.

He was a good and affectionate boy to me. He was a favorite with all. He thought so much of you all, often spoke of you in his letters. He professed religion before his death. He died a Christian, Oh blessed consolation. We will never meet him here on earth again, but let us live so my Sister that when we are called to die we may meet him in that Spirit Land where death is unknown. I have only two sons left, one is in the army, the other is too small yet. I heard from Betsy Lee a few weeks since, she has but one son in the army. He was captured a short time after he joined and she has never heard from him since. Daniel Yates has three sons in the service, one in Georgia, one in Mississippi, and one in Virginia. He had one killed at Vicksburg – Alex Yates. It seems that we are to live to see all our children buried. Friend after friend departs, star by star declines untill all have passed away. Poor Em wrote me that his Aunt Helen was dead, poor thing, she lost all of her sons but one, and then was called to meet them.

The Yankees made a raid out here last week, they did not get to our house. We have very good crops, but I am afraid they will take them from us as soon as we gather them. I pray that this cruel war may end though my poor child is gone, I feel for the rest. All send love to you and all the relatives. I feel that we will never meet on this earth again, but may we meet in heaven is my prayer. Pray for me, that I may bear the loss of my dear child with fortitude.

Farewell,

Your Sister,

Winnie M. Lee

Reading Mary Lee’s letter touched me, as I could feel her anguish at losing a son in the war. She didn’t even have the consolation that he had died in a major battle defending his home and kinfolk – Emory Lee had died in a minor skirmish, nothing more. Military History of Mississippi only gives one line to the fight saying that the 12th Mississippi “fought on the North Anna May 24.” (Military History of Mississippi 1803 – 1898, page 64).

North Anna River
View of Quarles Mill on the North Anna River, taken by Timothy Sullivan, May 23, 1864 (Library of Congress)

 

I wish I had more information about Emory Lee and his family, but all I had to work with were the two letters listed above; they weren’t even the original letters, just transcripts. There is no telling where the original letters are, or if they even exist; I’m just glad someone went to the trouble to send those copies to the archive; otherwise Emory Lee would be just another statistic of the war, and not the beloved son of Mary Lee, who grieved for her lost son.

The Emory Lee letters are located in the Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, Z/1600.000/S, Box 3, Folder 31, MDAH.