“The Cruel War:” A Child’s Reminiscence of the Civil War

In 1907, the newspaper in Ripley, Mississippi, published a letter written by Cornelius H. Ray, who was then living in Texas but had grown up in Tippah County, Mississippi. This is an interesting letter written by someone who was a child during the Civil War, explaining how the conflict impacted his family:

Ripley, Mississippi, early 1900s
Photo of Ripley, Mississippi from the early 1900s, around the time that Cornelius H. Ray wrote his letter to town newspaper. (Pintrest)


As I write this my mind runs back to the time when a lad in the hills of Tippah County, Miss., being born in January 1859, I can remember some things that occurred during the war of ’61 to ’64. The people call it the civil war, but I don’t. I call it the cruel war, as all others have been. My father was a Southern soldier and fought four years in that war, but I want to say now that while I am full of Southern blood and had all the Southern principles instilled into me that yet, with me the war is over. I could not be the sort of Christian man I ought to be and hold malice against my fellow-man, so I love them all, and any reference that I should make to the things that I remember about the war is not mentioned in malice, but only as matters of interest.

I remember when the first Northern soldiers came into Tippah county that they wore the uniform of the Southern men, and as they came up by Ruckersville, the good old Dr. Rucker lived there and had a shotgun, and they asked him what he had that gun for, and he said: ‘To kill Yankees with,’ so they took him along with them, and up a little further they met my grandfather, Spencer Gibbs, and my father, Mack Ray. They had started to mill horseback and were in their shirt sleeves, and as they saw the soldiers grandfather hallooed: ‘Hurrah for the rebs!’ so they took them in. In the same raid they got Uncle Jess Ray and took them all off to a Northern prison. Uncle Jess died there, as did many others, and the rest of them wished for their coats after being captured that day. Grandfather saw Dr. Rucker and said, ‘Hello, doctor; what are you doing here?’ He answered that he saw that crowd needed a gentleman in it, so he had just come along with them.

[Editor’s Note: Cornelius Ray’s father, Marion “Mack” Ray, his uncle, Jesse “Jess” Ray, and grandfather, Spencer Gibbs, were Confederate soldiers. All three enlisted in the 2nd Mississippi Infantry (Davidson’s) Army of 10,000, in December 1861. The three were discharged when the unit disbanded in early 1862, and they all later enlisted in Company G, 7th Mississippi Cavalry. Their service records do not mention the incident of being captured by the Federals, but it could have happened before they enlisted for the second time. (Compiled Service Records, Accessed on Fold3.Com). The “Dr. Rucker” may be Charles Covington Rucker, a local physician who lived in Tippah County (1860 Tippah County Census, page 471)]

I remember how my poor mother and our grandmother cried as they came back by home with father and grandfather, and how, as they looked up the road after them as they carried them off. But begging did no good; it was war time and a time it was. I don’t know how long it was before they got back home, but a good while, and I have forgotten what became of that corn. I guess they took it also with the men, mules and horses, as all were needed in war.

[Editor’s Note: Cornelius Ray’s mother was Elizabeth “Eliza” Jane Ray. The grandmother he was speaking of may be Sarah Ann Gibbs, the wife of Spencer Gibbs. (Findagrave.com listings for Elizabeth Ray and Sarah Ann Gibbs).

A Railroad Station in Mississippi being burned by Union Cavalry (http://www.burnpit.us/2013/04/griersons-raid-engages-rebels-during-grants-vicksburg-campaign)

Later I remember that grandfather had an old fashioned gin and thresher combined, and that it had a lot of wheat straw around it, and one day a man rode up to the gate and asked for a chunk of fire to light his pipe with. Grandmother took it to him and he rode off to the gin and threw it in the straw, but mother went at once with a bucket of water and put it out, so it stood long after the war was over. My grandfather’s place was ten miles south of Pocahontas, Tenn., on the Ripley and Pocahontas road. Many Tippah County folks knew where it is or was. I remember the battle of Corinth. I remember to have heard the cannon and the roar of battle. I was 25 miles away, but we could hear it plain. This letter is long enough. More by and by.

C.H. Ray

Southern Sentinel (Ripley, Mississippi), September 19, 1907

Cornelius H. Ray was born on January 8, 1859, in Union County South Carolina. His parents and grandparents moved from South Carolina to Tippah County, Mississippi, in the late 1850s. The findagrave.com listing for his grandfather, Spencer Gibbs, notes: “He and his family joined a caravan of several families moving from the Cross Keys area in Union District to Jonesborough in Tippah Co, MS in late October 1859.”  The Ray family moved to Texas in the 1870’s, and eventually settled in the town of Weatherford. Cornelius H. Ray became a Baptist minister in Weatherford, and lived there until his death on March 12, 1941.

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