“The Brave Man who Carried the Regimental Colors:” John J. Cherry of Bolton, Mississippi

Today is Memorial Day, set aside in observance of those men who have given their lives in defense of our country. In this posting I will tell you about a soldier from my hometown who gave his life in defense of his country: John J. Cherry of Bolton, Mississippi.

John J. Cherry enlisted in the Confederate army in the fall of 1861 as 2nd Sergeant of the “Downing Rifles,” Company C, 3rd Mississippi Infantry. He must have been a good soldier, for in April 1864, Colonel Thomas A. Mellon, commander of the 3rd Mississippi, recommended Cherry for a new position created by the Confederate Congress; that of Ensign. This was a rank unique to the Confederate army, and was intended to be held by a man who had displayed his courage on the battlefield. Ensign was an officer’s rank, although the post did not have any command responsibilities – the job was to carry the regiment’s colors in battle, a post of great honor and even greater danger.

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Photo of John J. Cherry, probably taken about the time he joined the army in the fall of 1861. (https://battleoffranklin.wordpress.com/category/mississippi/)

In recommending Cherry for the position of Ensign, Colonel Mellon wrote a letter of recommendation to General Samuel Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General of the Confederate army. He said the young sergeant was

in every particular fully qualified for the position, having always been a good and faithful soldier, and has displayed on several occasions, gallant and meritorious conduct.” (Service Record of John J. Cherry, 3rd Mississippi Infantry, accessed on Fold3.com)

Cherry showed that Colonel Mellon’s faith in him was justified at the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, November 30, 1864. The Confederate army under General John J. Hood attacked a strongly entrenched Federal force at Franklin, and it was the fate of the 3rd Mississippi to be ordered to attack one of the strongest parts of the Union line. The regiment suffered terribly in this attack: 13 men killed, 40 wounded, and 20 missing. (Military History of Mississippi, page 153). Among the casualties was Ensign John J. Cherry, shot in the arm and captured during the fighting. He was mentioned in the official report of his brigade commander, General Winfield Scott Featherston, who wrote, “The color bearers of the Third and Twenty-Second planted their colors on the enemy’s works and were wounded and captured with their colors.” (Military History of Mississippi, page 152)

Battle of Franklin 2
“On the Rim of the Volcano: Battle of Franklin, Tennessee,” by Keith Rocco, 1992.

John J. Cherry was taken to a hospital in Nashville by the Federals, where he succumbed to his wounds on January 18, 1865. The cause of death was listed as a fracture of the right humerus caused by a gunshot. Ensign Cherry is buried in Olivet Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee.

Record of Death and Interment for John J. Cherry (Service Record of John J. Cherry, accessed on Fold3.com)

In looking for more information about the life of John J. Cherry, I found an interesting article written by Sallie B. Morgan of Clinton, Mississippi, in 1887. Her article was about the flag of the 3rd Mississippi Infantry which was in the collections of the state historical museum, having recently been returned to the state by the veterans of the 9th Connecticut Infantry, who had captured it in 1862. Miss Morgan went to great lengths to point out this this was not the flag carried by John Cherry at the battle of Franklin:

Speaking of history and its errors, and they are many, reminds one of a flag in the Capitol at Jackson, which is calculated to mislead the future historian of Mississippi. It purports to be the regimental colors of the Third Mississippi, and has words to that effect on the ground of white, on which the Ninth Connecticut puts the remains of the flag when they returned it to the Third Mississippi at New Orleans in 1885. They stated they captured it at Pass Christian during the war. All that is left is a large magnolia, the gilt fringe and some shredings of the flag, held together by a new staff and new ground. 

Now that the regiment appreciates the thoughtful kindness of the Ninth Connecticut in returning the relic, I do not doubt; but as a matter of history, injustice will be done a brave Confederate, John Cherry of Bolton, who fell with the colors at Franklin, Tenn., more than two years after this flag was carried away…It will be but justice to the brave man who carried the regimental colors for so long, and who plunged over the parapets at Franklin, still holding them in his dying grasp. 

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Flag of the 3rd Mississippi Infantry captured at Pass Christian in 1862. 

Morgan went on to point out why it was so important that Southerners remember those that fought for them in the war:

Each day something occurs which impressed upon us the necessity of keeping the history of our country before the young people of the land. It should not be left to legendary and traditionary lore. Each generation changes some of the traditions, adds or subtracts legends, until facts become fiction. Though on the main and most important events we have are undisputed and incontestible history in ‘The Rise and Fall of the Confederate States of America,’ yet there are many little memories of our country and soldiers in those dark and trying hours, well worth preserving. Each soldier can bring his offering, each family can add its mite. In a few years all the relics of the Confederacy will have passed away unless we take some means of preserving them. A museum at Jackson would be noble monument to our Confederate dead. (The Clarion, Jackson, Mississippi, May 18, 1887)

I am happy to report that the memory of Ensign Cherry and his comrades in the 3rd Mississippi Infantry have been kept alive by my good friend Grady Howell. He wrote an excellent history of the regiment, “To Live and Die in Dixie,” and if you have never read it, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy. I am also very glad to say that the state of Mississippi does have a history museum in Jackson, and the story of Mississippi’s role in the Civil War is very well told in that facility. If you have not been there yet, you are missing out, as their are many interesting stories of Mississippians told in that building.

“Disturbing the Slumbering Hornet’s Nest:” The Attack on the Stockade Redan at Vicksburg

On May 22, 1863, the Stockade Redan was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the entire Vicksburg campaign. Sergeant George Powell Clark, a member of the “Harper Reserves,” Company C, 36th Mississippi Infantry, was at the redan that day, and years later he wrote a detailed account of what he witnessed:

There was a continual sharp shooting, skirmishing, and artillery firing kept up until about 10 a.m. on the 22nd of May, at which time we could plainly see that another attack would be made on our works. For the space of perhaps a half hour there was complete silence all along both lines. Not a shot was heard, not a man was seen in our front during the short space and the experienced soldier knew that it was the calm that precedes the storm.

Soon blue columns were seen advancing four lines deep in front of Fort Hill. We knew from all the indications that this was going to be a desperate assault, and we nerved ourselves for the shock. One peculiar feature of this advance was that a large number of men came in front bearing rails on their shoulders. This will be explained in its proper place. As on the 19th they halted just behind the hill for a short rest, before disturbing the slumbering hornet’s nest that lay behind our frowning line of earthworks.

Everything was as still as death, except the wild tumultuous beating of thousands of hearts, as with mingled feelings of dread and awe, we await the shock of the coming conflict with fingers on the triggers of our muskets, ready to send the hurtling messengers of death into the devoted band. We had not long to wait, for soon we heard an officer, with the voice of Stentor giving the word ‘forward.’ Their scurried ranks came pouring over the hill and rushed right on our works. A withering fire of musketry, grape, canister and shells greeted them as they came in sight, and men fell like grass before the reaper, lying on the ground thick as the ‘autumnal leaves that strew the brooks in Vallombrosa.’

Here, now, the eyewitness could have seen war in all its awful sublimity and grandeur. Many years have elapsed since that stormy day; for these lines are penned on the 18th day of May, 1897, liking only four days on being 34 years since the one of which I am writing, but all those scenes come before my imagination as if it had only been yesterday.

But to return, what of the men bearing the rail? As I have said they were in front and of course received the first shock from the tempest of shot and shell that was hurled into their ranks. It seemed that the pitiless storm swept away half of their ranks at the first fire. But others would gather up and bear them on, only to share the same fate. Their battle flags were often seen to go down, but in a moment was soon seen fluttering in the breeze, as other hands bore them on toward the flaming crest of the hill in their front. Their lines wavered not, though hundreds fell in front of Fort Hill, and the rail bearers reached the ditch in front of the fort, bridged it, crossed over to the fort and planted their colors on our breastworks in several places.

Vicksburg Assault
Union soldiers assaulting the Vicksburg Defenses

Then began a fierce struggle for the possession of the fort. A regiment of Missourians was in reserve just in rear of the position occupied by our regiment, and when the stars and stripes were planted upon our works and the fierce struggle going on, their officers could not hold them back, but they came rushing without orders to our assistance. The Federals seeing this reinforcement coming to our aid, wavered and were completely repulsed. Their dead and wounded covered the ground over which they had so gallantly moved to the attack.

(Reminiscence and Anecdotes of the War for Southern Independence by George Powell Clarke, pages 101 – 102)

The violence done at the Stockade Redan forever marked that land as a place of death and destruction. For decades after the battle the citizens of Vicksburg were finding lead and iron reminders of the May 22nd assault on the fort. I found the following article about this very subject in a 1904 Vicksburg newspaper:



Yesterday morning while the forces under Mr. W.A. Claver were at work, grading the portion of the cemetery, or as known to the old soldiers, the grave yard road, they unearthed a quantity of siege relics. They were found at the north side of the cross road facing the stockade redan, and somewhat to the east of Confederate avenue, and Capt. Rigby has no doubt that they are Union relics.

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View of the Stockade Redan taken in the late 19th or early 20th Century. (Series 573, Vicksburg National Military Park Photographs, Mississippi Department of Archives and History)

Among the other things found in the bank were one 12 pounder shrapnel, one 12 pounder solid shot, one conical shell 20 pounder solid shot, one old spade minus handle, a cartridge box plate, several pieces of cast iron pipe, a set of cartridge box tins, a quantity of minie balls, and what appeared to be a quantity of human bones.

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Scene from the Vicksburg National Military Park, late 19th or early 20th Century – note the man kneeling has several artillery projectiles at his feet. (Series 573, Vicksburg National Military Park Photographs, Mississippi Department of Archives and History)

Just at about that point Capt. Rigby states that the two contending lines were nearer together than almost any other point, and the casualties were the heaviest. There were mines and counter mines and no doubt the relics found yesterday were covered during an explosion.

Captain William T. Rigby served in Company B, 24th Iowa Infantry during the siege of Vicksburg. After the war he served as a commissioner and later chairman of the Vicksburg National Military Park (National Park Service)

It is probable when the forces begin the work of restoring the batteries and mounting guns many more of the like will be found.

The Vicksburg Herald, May 28, 1904

Today marks the 155th anniversary of the assault on the Stockade Redan, but the deeds of valor by the soldiers both blue and gray are still remembered so many years later. It is only fitting that we do this, as these brave men earned the right to be remembered.