I have often seen it written in histories of the city of Vicksburg, that after the surrender of July 4, 1863, the citizens did not celebrate another 4th of July for 82 years – that it took the end of World War 2 before the people could bring themselves to mark the occasion of the American colonies from Great Britain. As with many popular stories, it does have a grain of truth; celebrations of Independence Day were rather muted for many years. But to say that they were entirely absent for those 82 years is just not true.
To begin with, one must remember that Vicksburg was occupied by Union troops after
the surrender of the city, and remained Federal territory until the end of the war. For the Union soldiers stationed in Vicksburg, July 4, 1864, was not only the birthday of the United States, it also marked the anniversary of one of the greatest victories of the war, the surrender of the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy.”
On July 2, 1864, The Vicksburg Herald, a newspaper run by former Union soldier Ira A. Batterton, wrote of the importance of Independence day:
FOURTH OF JULY – Monday being the 4th day of July, we desire to consecrate it to the noble memories of the glorious men who on that day ushered into existence a mighty nation. Printers regard it as little short of sacrilege to work upon that day, and we shall therefore issue no paper on the 5th. Let us all do honor to the glorious 4th. Let gay banners flaunt in the air, and grateful hearts be lifted up in ardent prayer for the salvation of the Union which has made us great. Printers, too, are fond of doing the honors of the 4th in the manner customary among gentlemen; and those of our patriotic produce merchants who wish to aid us in properly appreciating the day, will please forward their bottles of —– at as early an hour today as convenient, as we are naturally slow about drinking, and unless we start today may fail in taking on sufficient patriotism to run us through the fourth.
(The Vicksburg Herald, July 2, 1864)
The Herald was as good as its word about not publishing an issue on July 5th, so the next day’s paper carried the story about the Independence Day Celebration in Vicksburg:
THE FOURTH OF JULY IN VICKSBURG
The historic importance of the fourth of July to the city of Vicksburg suggest that the day should have been celebrated in grand old style; but we are sorry to say that there were no general arrangements made for the celebration of the first anniversary of the surrender of the city and the 88th of the Independence of the United States. This was a subject of almost universal regret on part of many of our citizens who seemed to have anticipated a grand gala-day. Why there were no preparations for a general celebration, we are not able to state.
Early in the morning the city exhibited some signs of patriotic demonstrations. The streets
were crowded with persons anxiously enquiring the programme of the day. The greater number of business houses in the city displayed the “Stars and Stripes.”
The day began very pleasantly; there was no dust to add to the discomfiture of travelers – a fine shower of rain having fallen on the day previous. The contrast between this day and its anniversary is quite noticeable. The white flag floated over the city, and a victorious army marched through its streets after besieging it for forty-seven days. Well do we remember the grateful relief felt by besieger and besieged upon the capitulation of the city. What a grand sight it was to the Union soldier to see the white flag floating in the breeze along with the “Stars and Stripes,” and when that noble ensign of American liberty was seen waving from the dome of the Court House, the Union soldier, so deep were his emotions, could do or say but little else than point to “that dear old flag” and exclaim “long may it wave.”
Feeling the necessity of some kind of a demonstration to relieve the tedium of the day an impromptu celebration was gotten up by Lieut. E.S. Johnson, Post Quartermaster, who turned out the full force of his department for the occasion. There were six twelve mule teams in the procession, headed by a brass band. [Editor’s Note: Lieutenant E.S. Johnston was quartermaster of the 93rd Illinois Infantry. I found an order that he was “Relieved from duty as post Q.M. at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and will join his regiment without delay. The order was dated June 14, 1864, but must have taken some time to reach Johnston, as he was still on duty in July 1864. (Army & Navy Gazette, Volume 2, Page 14. Published in 1865)
The procession proceeded to the headquarters of Major-General Slocum, where it was halted and speeches made. Captain J. W. Davis, Commissary of Subsistence, was introduced and made a very appropriate and patriotic speech of an hour’s length, during which the Captain was frequently cheered. We regret that we are not able to give a synopsis of his speech. It will be remembered that the Captain is a war democrat of the Logan and McClernand school, and is wholly devoted to the cause of his country.[Editor’s Note: J.W. Davis apparently stayed in Vicksburg after the war, as I found a notice in the local paper that mentioned he was “Late of the U.S. Army and solicitor of the Freedman’s Bureau.” (Vicksburg Journal, March 8, 1866)
Private Gregg of the 124th regiment Illinois infantry, was next introduced and spoke for nearly an hour in regular old-fashioned 4th of July style, drawing forth frequent cheering. Major Barnes, U.S.A., was loudly called for, and responded in a short and telling speech, after which it was announced that the Grant-Pemberton monument would be erected at three o’clock in the afternoon, under the direction of Major McKee, Provost Marshal. The assemblage then dispersed.[Editor’s Note: “Private Gregg” was Private George W. Gregg of Company B, 124th Illinois Infantry. He enlisted in the regiment on September 10, 1862, and was mustered out on August 15, 1865. He was a resident of Batavia, Illinois. (https://civilwar.illinoisgenweb.org/reg_html/124_reg.html)%5D
Owing to the ill health of Major McKee, the erection of the monument was given by him in charge to Major Barnes and Captain Anderson U.S.A., who proceeded to the site, and found that every preparation had been made for the ceremony by Mr. Ed Miner, foreman in the employ of Captain William Finkler, Assistant Quartermaster, and to whom belongs the credit of having originated the scheme under the direction of the Captain.[Editor’s Note:
“Major McKee” was Major George C. McKee of the 11th Illinois Infantry. After the siege ended, McKee remained in the city as Provost Marshal of the District of Vicksburg. On November 1, 1864, he was appointed Brigadier General of Enrolled Militia of the District of Vicksburg. McKee remained in Vicksburg after the war and got involved in politics, and served in the United States House of Representatives from 1869 – 1875. (http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/gcmckee.htm)%5D
Quite a large assemblage having collected, the monument was placed in position at 4:30 o’clock, under the direction of Major Barnes and Captain Anderson, assisted by several other persons among whom the editorial “we” was to be found. The affair passed off splendidly, and every one engaged felt as though he had performed only what duty required, without display or ceremony.
The monument is of white marble, surrounded by an iron fence, the whole presenting a neat but rather imposing appearance. There is a square base upon which stands the main shaft of about eight feet in length, which is surmounted by the ornamental ball. The full height of the monument is about twelve feet. Upon the western face is the inscription:
Site of Interview
Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant, U.S.A.,
July 3rd, 1863
The Daily Herald (Vicksburg, Mississippi,) July 6, 1864
In addition to the impromptu celebration held in Vicksburg, another, better organized commemoration was held at Brierfield, the home of Jefferson Davis, located at Davis Bend, south of Vicksburg. The local newspaper had a very detailed account of the July 4th festivities held there:
Celebration of the Fourth of July,
At the Residence of
Davis’s Bend, Mississippi
THE FREEDMEN”S PARADISE
By invitation of the “Committee of Arrangements” a party of teachers and their escorts and other friends of the Freedmen, embarked on bard the “Diligent” on the morning of the 4th inst. The Diligent left the levee at Vicksburg soon after 7 o’clock a.m., and made a pleasant trip in about three hours, down the river, stopping at the landing at Davis’ Bend, whence the party were conveyed in ambulances, wagons, buggies and other vehicles, to the late residence of JEFFERSON DAVIS, about two miles from said landing.
This is one of the most extraordinary bends of the wonderful Mississippi river, and has received its name from the fact of the settlement on the peninsula formed by the bend, two members of the Davis family, known as “JEFF,” and “JOE.” This peninsula is some twelve miles in length, and at the point where it is attached to the mainland of the State of Mississippi, it is so narrow, that the enterprising planters have dug a canal across, not unlike the celebrated Butler canal of Vicksburg fame, although not near so long. This canal is called the “cut-off,” and in high water the peninsula becomes, in fact, an island. This tract of land is of great fertility, being entirely a deposit of the rich soil washed from the prairies of the great west. On this tract is some six plantations of from 800 to 1200 acres each. Two of the largest and best of these were owned by JEFF and JOE DAVIS, and are known now as the “JEFF. An JOE places.”
The form of this peninsula is such that a few companies of soldiers with one or two stockades can keep out an army of rebels, and the inhabitants, although frequently surrounded by the hordes of Southern murderers and thieves on the opposite banks of the river and canal, dwell in peace and comparative security. In fact this site, from being the home of traitors and oppressors of the poor, has become a sort of earthly paradise for colored refugees. There they flock in large numbers, and like Lazarus of old are permitted, as it were, to “repose in Father Abraham’s bosom.” The rich men of the “Southern Confederacy;” now homeless wanderers, occasionally cry across for the Lazarus whom they have oppressed and despised, but he is not sent unto them, because between the two parties “there is a great gulf fixed; so that they which would pass from hence cannot.” On this Freedmen’s paradise parties for cultivating the soil are organized under the superintendence of missionaries, each party cultivating from ten to 100 acres, with a fair prospect of realizing handsomely. These efforts are aided by the government, rations, teams, &c, being supplied and charged to each party, to be deducted from the proceeds of their crops. Cotton is chiefly cultivated, and some very handsome “stands” appear.
THE “JOE PLACE.”
The “JOE PLACE” is nearest the landing. The fine brick house, however, is nearly demolished, but the cottage used as a sort of law library and office, is remaining uninjured. The negro quarters also remain.
THE “JEFF. PLACE”
The “JEFF. PLACE” is also a very fine plantation. The residence has not been injured, except the door locks and one or two marble mantels broken up, apparently for trophies. The JEFF furniture has been removed, but the rooms are still furnished with furniture brought here.
THE HOUSE THAT JEFF BUILT
The house is in its ground plan, in the form of a cross – but one floor with large rooms and ample verandas. The portico in front is supported with pillars, and these form the only ornamental features of the house, except such as were added for this occasion by the artistic touches of our Northern sisters. Of these were festoons, wreaths, stars and garlands, mysteriously woven in evergreens and flowers. Over the portico entrance outside, were the following inscriptions, the letters being formed by cedar foliage:
“THE HOUSE THAT JEFF. BUILT.”
The latter motto was arched and with the festoons made a very beautiful appearance. Inside were beautiful stars and garlands of flowers and over the exit at the back door the following inscription, surmounted by a star;
It was facetiously remarked by an observer, that the moral was:
“Down with the traitor
And up with the star.”
We understand that to Miss Lee, of Pa., and Miss Jennie Huddleson, of Inda., the party was indebted for those ingenious and appropriate devices. Very likely, for wit and satire, for traitors and a cordial welcome to the loyal and patriotic, are characteristics of these whole-souled missionaries. The reception rooms were also decorated with flowers, and everything around showed that “gentle hands” had laid on “the last touches” of fragrance, grace and beauty. [Editor’s Note: “Miss Lee” is probably Henrietta Lee, who is listed as a teacher of freedmen at Davis Bend in the Book “The Evangelical Repository, and United Presbyterian Review, Old Series XLII, New Series Vol. IV, Page 96.]
These “ladies of the management,” were dressed in neat “patriotic prints;” they needed no addition to their toilets to add to the charming air of comfort which they so appropriately infused. Their smiles of welcome needed no verbal explanation; and the heartiness with which they were engaged in their “labors of love,” and the evidence of their success in all the surroundings, showed that they perfectly understand the science of “making home happy.” Whether they have read Mrs. H.B. Stowe’s “House and Home Papers” in the Atlantic, we know not, but there are many others, besides that literary lady (Mrs. S) who understand “how to keep house; “ by magic touches, to turn the most simple objects into luxuries of ornamentation. We suspect that Mrs. M. Watson and Miss Lizzie Findley had been engaged in these preparations, although appearing more in the character of guests. [Editor’s Note: Lizzie Findley is listed as a teacher of freedmen at Davis Bend in the Book “The Evangelical Repository, and United Presbyterian Review, Old Series XLII, New Series Vol. IV, Page 96. On Page 98 of the same publication it is noted that Lizzie Findley had died “Since the last Meeting of the Assembly.”]
There were some other ladies to whom we had not the honor of an introduction, who doubtless deserve particular mention; but your reporter, as the sequel of his story will show, only received his appointment as a publication committee after all was over, and consequently, if he should omit anybody’s name that deserves mention, this must be his apology. He now declares his desire to be just to all, and especially to those whose devotion and patriotism rendered the fourth of July, 1864, the happiest day of the year.
On the grounds, in front of the residence the gunboat crew, suspended a string of signal colors, on each side of the “starry banner,” presenting an effect amid the dense foliage of the live-oaks, and the grey moss, “altogether beauteous to look upon,” while on the tables under the trees were spread things not only “pleasant to the sight,” but “good for food.” And when we saw these pleasing objects, the “work of their hands,” and the merry, happy faces of the guests and their “escorts” and reflected that the sable sons, by a guard of whom we were surrounded, were “no longer slaves;” that they had with thousands of their brethren been brought out from the House of Bondage, by the “God of Abraham;” that the very house now occupied by missionaries and teachers had but a year ago, been in the service of despotism; built in fact as a temple of slavery by the great chief who preferred to rule in a miserable petty despotism, to serving in a great and magnanimous Republic, we could but think that Heaven looked approvingly upon the scene; that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.”
Rev. Dr. Warren conducted the exercises as President of the occasion, and he did it with that ease,
freedom, and regard for the rights and interests of all, which usually characterize his public and social conduct. He opened the proceedings under a grove of trees in front of the house with an appropriate prayer, and then called upon those appointed to take part.
MR. ROUNDTREE read the “Declaration of Independence” in a clear, emphatic and impressive manner. It was listened to with becoming reverence for the great truths it contains by both the white and colored races. It is quite improbably that these “self-evident” truths were ever expressed before publicly in this locality, and within hearing of every one within the “House that Jeff. Built.” REV. MR. LIVERMORE, of Wis., delivered an appropriate oration. The meeting then adjourned for dinner. A gentle shower at this time rendered the air cool and pleasant, but rendered it necessary to remove the dining tables to the house.
[Editor’s Note: The “Rev. Mr. Livermore” may be Daniel Parker Livermore, a Universalist Minister from Massachusetts. His wife, Mary A. Livermore, was an associate manager of the Chicago Sanitary Commission, and she made a trip to Vicksburg in 1863 to bring supplies to the troops. (Chicago Portraits: New Edition, by June Skinner Sawyers, Page 197.
A sumptuous dinner was served on the veranda at the back of the mansion. There was an abundance of all that could be desired. A blessing asked by REV. MR. ALLEN. This being concluded, the following sentiments were presented and responded to in an impromptu, but appropriate manner by the various speakers:
1. The day we celebrate – The old ship was launched in ’76; the bow anchors cast out last year at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. May the stern anchors be dropped to day at Richmond and Atlanta.
Response by MR. ISRAEL LOMBARD,
[Editor’s Note: There was an Israel Lombard, Junior, from Boston, Massachusetts, that was a supporter of abolition, and he is mentioned several times in the anti-slavery newspaper “The Liberator;” This may very well be the same man. (See The Liberator, January 5, 1855, and May 18, 1860)]
2. The President – Proved honest and wise by four years of unprecedented trial, we shall keep keep him there.
Responded to by DR. WRIGHT,
3. Lieut. Gen. Grant – We can tie to him in a gale.
Responded to by COL. CLARK,
4. The house that Jeff. Built.
Responded to by CAPT. POWELL,
The following song composed for the occasion, was lead by Mr. McConnell:
THE HOUSE THAT JEFF. BUILT.
Air – “Auld Lang Syne,”
How oft within these airy halls
The traitor of the day
Has heard ambition’s trumpet calls,
Or dreamed of war’s array!
Or of an Empire dreamed, whose base
Millions of blacks should be:
Aha! Before this day’s sweet face
Where can his visions be?
Those Empire dreams shall be fulfilled,
But not as rebels thought –
Like water at the cistern spilled,
Their boasts shall come to nought.
From gulf to lake, from sea to sea,
Behold our country grand!
The very home of Liberty –
And guarded by her hand.
We revel in his halls to day:
Next year where will he be?
A dread account he has to pay:
May we be there to see!
And now for country, truth and right –
Our heritage all free,
We’ll live and die, we’ll sing and fight:
THE UNION! Three time three.
5. The Army and Navy: Veterans of three years; The heart of the Nation beats anxiously at the cry, “Onward to Victory:
Response by DR. FOSTER,
6. Our Patriot Dead: Silence their most speaking eulogy.
7. The Union: The storm will but root it more firmly.
Response by REV. A.J. COMPTON,
The Star Spangled Banner – sung by the whole company, led by MR. MCCONNELL.
8. Missionaries to Freedmen – Peace has its heroes.
Response by REV. MR. BUCKLEY, Chaplain 47th U.S.C.I.
9. General Sherman, second in command “All I am I owe to my government, and nothing could tempt me to sacrifice my honor or my allegiance.”
Response by CAPTAIN GILPIN, C.S.
[Editor’s Note: “Captain Gilpin” was Captain James B. Gilpin, who served as Depot Commissary Officer at Vicksburg. (Vicksburg Herald, June 30, 1864)]
10. The Freedmen – Slaves yesterday; to day free: what shall they be tomorrow?
11. Our Revolutionary Fathers: – “Their memory is sweet,
and blossoms in the dust.”
12. Our Mothers at Home: Let us not, while givign praise to the noble sons, forget those who fought for each one of us in the fierce battle of life in by-gone days. Let the memory of their unselfish love make us true and brave in this our country’s darkest hour.
Response by Mrs. FRANCES D. GAGE,
[Editor’s Note: Frances D. Gage worked for the Western Sanitary Commission – I wrote a lengthy blog article about her in 2014 – it can be found here: https://mississippiconfederates.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/three-weeks-in-the-soldiers-home-at-vicksburg/]
13. Our Colored Troops: Deserving of freedom because they fight like men.
Response by LIEUT. WAKEMAN.
Song – “Babylon is fallen.”
14. Sweethearts and Wives; Woman, lovely woman. Nature made you to temper man; we had been brutes without you. Angels are painted fair to look like you. There is in you all that we believe of heaven, amazing brightness, purity and truth, eternal and everlasting love.
Response by REV. MR. ALLEN, Episcopal minister of Aurora, Illinois.
The party, after selecting a few simple trophies, such as fig branches for walking canes, large pond lillies, flowers, wreaths and boquets, returned to the landing, and reembarked for Vicksburg.
On the boat the following business was transacted:
Vote of thanks to COL. THOMAS and staff for getting up the celebration: to the Orator of the day, PARSON LIVERMORE, to the President, REV. DR. WARREN, who made a brief response; and also to CAPTAIN WIGHTMAN and officers of the “Diligent.”
Cheers were given for Abraham Lincoln, and groans for Jeff. Davis. The song, “The House that Jeff Built,” was again sung, and CAPTAIN GILPIN, C.S., appointed a committee to furnish a copy of the same to the New York Tribune and also to JEFF. Davis.
CAPTAIN HENRY S. CLUBB A.Q.M., was appointed a committee to furnish a report of the proceedings of the day to the Vicksburg Daily Herald. The Diligent arrived at Vicksburg at half-past eleven o’clock, p.m. The celebration was regarded as a great success, and expressions of satisfaction and enjoyment were universal.
In the course of my research, I also managed to turn up an account of the 4th of July Celebration at Davis Island written by a member of the crew of the ironclad U.S.S. Mound City, who only identified himself by the initials “B.A.” The unnamed crewman wrote:
And now I wish to give you a little idea of how we spent the glorious 4th in this land of cinnamon seeds and sandy bottoms. The day was ushered in at sunrise by a rousing salute of 21 guns from the Mound City. They were no ear splitting six pounders, but full charged nine inch guns and 100 lbs. rifles fired at regular intervals, their sullen thunder reverberating for miles through the forests on either side the river. A similar salute was fired at meridian and again at sundown.
The arrangement was made to give all the loyal people in the vicinity an opportunity of celebrating the 4th at the residence of Mr. Jefferson Davis, Esq., novel idea! Through the exertions of several “Yankee school marms,” the house was tastefully decorated for the occasion…”
The banquet was spread in the wide verandas and the tables groaned beneath their weight of good things. The cusine had been well attended to and there was no lack of delicacies or substantials. About 10 a.m., the steamer Diligent arrived from Vicksburg with a merry party of ladies and gentlemen to participate with us. It would hardly be proper to dignify the gathering as a celebration, and pic-nic would be better adapted, therefore we will call it a pic-nic on the 4th of July at Jeff. Davis’ house, Briarly place, his residence, his plantation.
Let the northern people for a moment suppose what the practical position of things must be, should enemies be on that day revelling at the house of Abraham Lincoln, at Springfield. The thought should inspire any Union man with hope. I was credibly informed that an invitation was passed through the lines to be forwarded to Old Jeff. to be present on the occasion; but his non-appearance was easily accounted for.
(Fox Lake Gazette, Fox Lake, Wisconsin, July 20, 1864)
The Civil War ended in 1865, and within a few years the occupation troops were gone
from Vicksburg, but some residents did continue to participate in celebrations of the 4th of July. In particular, Vicksburg’s African American residents made sure that Independence Day was remembered. In 1884 a Vicksburg newspaper noted:
‘All the high-toned colored people that reside for miles around’ excurted on on the steamer Cherokee yesterday to Anthony’s Ferry, in celebration of the glorious fourth. A colored picnic on DeSoto Island was also a strong feature of the days celebrations in the Hill City. (The Vicksburg Herald, July 5, 1884)
As time went on, white residents of Vicksburg began to celebrate Independence Day as well. On July 4, 1917, a Vicksburg newspaper carried the bold headline “Glorious Fourth To Be Observed Today,” and wrote that
Many Vicksburgers will participate in the celebration of Independence Day today. A barbecue and picnic at Swett’s Pond will be the chief feature of attraction during the day and tonight, beginning at 8:30 o’clock, an appropriate and patriotic program will be presented at the Carnegie Library…Many of the stores of the city will close during the afternoon hours, in order to allow their clerks to attend the barbecue. Conveyances will operate between the grounds and city throughout the day. (The Vicksburg Herald, July 4, 1918)
In July 1945, with the war in Europe over, and the war against Japan in its final months, the city of Vicksburg held a 4th of July celebration that was claimed at the time to be the first since the Civil War.
While it was not the first celebration of the 4th of July in Vicksburg since the Civil War, it was almost certainly the largest. The day’s festivities included a parade, baseball game, and an air show that included fly-over’s by B-29 Bombers and P-51 fighters. (The Clarion-Ledger, July 1, 1945)
Having found the 1945 July 4th celebration to be very popular, Vicksburg’s city fathers invited United States Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson to be the guest of honor at the 1946 Independence Day festivities. Patterson accepted the offer, and 1,700 soldiers from Camp Polk, Louisiana, were sent to Vicksburg to march in the city’s parade. (The Clarion-Ledger, July 4, 1946).
After two successful celebrations in a row, Vicksburg pulled out all the stops for the 1947 celebration of the 4th of July. Too large to be contained to only one day, the “Carnival of the Confederacy” spanned three days, and was climaxed with a speech by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
A newspaper said of the 1947 celebration:
Vicksburg fell to Grant’s 75,000 men after a 47-day siege during which mule meat became a table luxury for the bedraggled Confederates. But today General Eisenhower was welcomed with welcome arms.
Eisenhower declared that ‘just as Vicksburg was a crucible where differences were fired and joined into a strong and inseparable national unity, so the last war, which ended with an inferno of destruction, can be the start of a world union for peace.’ (The Morning News, Wilmington, Delaware, July 5, 1947)
In 1948 Vicksburg officials invited Harry Truman to be the celebrity speaker on the 4th
of July, but the president declined, and the city had to settle for Senator John Stennis as the guest of honor. The last of the big time celebrations was over, but Vicksburg would continue to acknowledge the 4th of July with less spectacular but very patriotic observances from that day forward. (The Hattiesburg American, June 24, 1948.
On June 25, 1863, the 3rd Louisiana Redan disappeared in a choking cloud of flame, earth, and smoke as 2,200 pounds of black powder were detonated in a mine located beneath the earthwork fort. The blast gouged out a huge crater where the front face of the redan had been, and as the debris settled a Union assault force poured into the breach in the Confederate line, sparking a bloody fight that would last well into the night.
One of the soldiers who took part in the assault on the 3rd Louisiana Redan was John T.
Wiesman, a cannoneer with McAllister’s Battery, also known as Company D, 1st Illinois Light Artillery. In October 1906 Wiesman traveled from his home in Nebraska to Vicksburg for the dedication of the Illinois Monument at the National Military Park. The visit to the battlefield was a moving experience for Wiesman, and after he returned to Nebraska he wrote an article about the trip for his local paper, The Nebraska State Journal, which was published on November 11, 1906.
At the siege of Vicksburg two guns of the battery held positions on the Jackson wagon road near the now famous white house (Shirley house). The other two guns stood in front of the white house on the spot where the Illinois monument has been erected where Capt. Henry A. Rogers and four enlisted men were killed during the siege.
Explosion of a Mine
Sometime after the charge of the 22d of may, which was a failure, General Grant conceived the idea of tunneling under Ft. Hill, called by the confederates the Third Louisiana redoubt. A tunnel was started a short distance from the battery and was run so as to reach directly under the fort. After it was completed, 2,200 pounds of powder was placed in the mine and when all was ready, a fuse leading into the mine was lighted and a terrific explosion resulted, which hurled men and cannons up in the air.
It was a sight never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it. One negro who was tossed up with the earth, came down on our side of the line unharmed. After the explosion, which formed a crater about the size of a half block, the Forty-Fifth Illinois was rushed into the crater to make a lodgment in the confederate line and tried to break through, but the explosion had not accomplished what was expected and the confederates immediately went to work trying to restore their shattered works.
Threw Shells by Hand
After a short time a squad of the battery under command of Lieut. Edgar H. Cooper, afterward promoted to captain, was detailed to enter the crater to throw shells over the enemies breastworks by hand, cutting the fuse at five seconds. While so engaged, David W. Ocker, of our squad, was blown to pieces by the premature discharge of a shell. A.D. Burr of this city and myself were in this squad. As we emerged from the tunnel into the crater, a hand grenade struck Lieutenant Colonel Reese of [the] Thirty-First Illinois which literally disemboweled him.
A Death Crater
We stood for some time on the edge of the crater waiting for orders, seeing sights which were well calculated to freeze the blood in one’s veins. Over on the confederate side of the crater men were grappling with each other, some clubbing with their muskets but at the same time they were gradually rebuilding their works. After awhile, General Logan, Major Stohlbrand, his chief of artillery, led our squad to the confederate side of the crater and we began to throw shells over in the midst of the confederates, who soon returned the compliment by throwing shells by hand into the crater.
It was my duty to hold a lighted taper with which, when the fuse was cut, I lighted the shell when it would be thrown over the breastworks. I lay close to the enemy’s works, that seeming to me to be the safest place. During the fight in the crater the confederates rolled a cottonwood sapling over to our side, striking me square on the back of my neck. Although it was very light, I thought the whole confederacy had fallen on me, Jeff Davis along with the rest of them.
After dark the assault in the crater was abandoned and the army settled down to a regular siege, and when “Johnnie Rebel” had eaten his last steak of mule meat, Vicksburg was surrendered.
Visit to Comrade’s Grave
I went to the national cemetery where over 16,000 of our boys in blue are buried, two-thirds of them in unknown graves and as I stood by the grave of James W. Ditto, an intimate comrade of mine, and thought of him as he looked just before he fell forty-three years ago, a fine, manly, young fellow, scarcely eighteen years old, the idol of the company, my eyes filled with tears. If the recording angel keeps a correct account, the men who were responsible for bringing on the war between the north and the south will be kept very busy explaining matters to Saint Peter when the big book is opened on the day of judgment.
If the old veterans who were at Vicksburg during the siege, should happen to go back there
now, they would be surprised. Vicksburg is not the sleepy city it was then. The government has established a national military park, dotted with fine monuments and markers laid out in beautiful driveways, at a cost of millions of dollars. The city is booming and has taken on a new life. The visitors attending the dedication of the Illinois state monument were royally entertained by the ex-confederate soldiers.
The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska), November 11, 1906
I was intrigued by John Wiesman’s story, and thought I would see what else I could find out about him. My efforts were immediately successful, as I found a letter he wrote to the editor of the National Tribune concerning the battle of the crater at Vicksburg:
The Crater at Fort Hill
Editor National Tribune: I have been very much interested in your history of the Opening of the Mississippi, and take it for granted that you wish to be absolutely correct in your statements. Now, you give a minute description of what took place in the crater at Fort Hill, and only mention what the several infantry commands did. You say that shells were thrown by hand over the rebel breastworks by the tunnel diggers and the infantry. Now, as a matter of fact, not a single shell was thrown by any of them.
Shortly after the explosion, McAllister’s Battery was detailed by sections to throw shells by hand, cutting the fuse at five seconds. Every shell thrown in the crater was thrown by artillery. Serg’t David W. Ocker was killed by a shell thrown from the rebel side, and, by the way he stands today, in the Illinois State Roster, branded as a deserter. How is it possible that this brave boy, who gave up his life for his country in that hellhole, could be marked as a deserter? I cannot imagine, unless it was done by some lunkhead clerk in the Adjutant’s office at the time the roster was printed.
The artillery detail was in charge of Lieut. Edgar H. Cooper, who after the death of Capt. H.A. Rodgers, killed during the siege, was promoted to Captain and afterwards to Major for bravery displayed on the battlefield of Atlanta, July 22, 1864. Major Cooper is still living and resides in Chicago.
As to who threw the shells in the crater it matters little, I suppose, at this late day, but credit should be given where credit is due. After the surrender the 45th Ill., was given the post of honor, being the first to enter Vicksburg. McAllister’s Battery came second, following immediately after the 45th, and was the first artillery to enter the city.
– John T. Wiesman, Co. D, 1st Ill. Art., Lincoln, Neb. (The National Tribune, Washington, D.C.., December 27, 1906.)
I also found a letter, written by Charles Koch, a member of the Illinois Vicksburg Military Park Commission, to William T. Rigby, superintendent of the Vicksburg National Military Park, concerning the part played by Battery D, 1st Illinois Light Artillery, in the fighting at the crater:
June 25th came the day when Fort Hill was blown up. Immediately after the explosion, it having been discovered that the embrasure was not sufficient to permit our troops to march in to Vicksburg, Lt. Cooper was called upon by Gen. Logan and asked to furnish 12 volunteers for the purpose of throwing hand grenade over the works from the aperture made by the explosion into the enemies works. Volunteers failed to respond so Lt. Cooper asked how many would follow him and all responded, so that a choice had to be made of 12 men,…out of the 12 men who entered the crater, viz: E.H. Cooper was unhurt, C.L. Pratt was unhurt; Francis Meek, wounded and died December 1, 1863, at Vicksburg; David Ocker, killed June 25th; Eli Sprague lost a finger; Chauncey I. Cooper flesh wound in left thigh; Vincent Bowers wounded in right leg; John T. Wiesman, flesh wound in the left arm; B.D. Washington wounded in the right wrist; A.D. Burr not hurt; Richard Henderson not hurt; George A. Potter not hurt. (Always in the Middle of the Battle: Edward Kiniry and the 1st Illinois Light Artillery Battery D by David Edward Wall)
After the war, John Wiesman moved about the mid-west before finally settling in Nebraska and becoming a railroad conductor. In addition to visiting Vicksburg, he also attended a reunion at the Shiloh battlefield in 1895. (The Nebraska State Journal, April 10, 1895, and June 1, 1910.) The old veteran passed away in Lincoln, Nebraska, on May 31, 1910, and is buried in Wyuka Cemetery. (findagrave.com listing for John T. Wiesman).
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.
Reminiscences of Iowa Soldier Now a Citizen of Vicksburg
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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,
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.
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.
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
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
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,
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
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.
November 11, 2018, will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of “The War to End All
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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:
Comp. A, 12th Miss. Regt.
Camp Near Orange Court House, Va.
My Dear Aunt Carrie,
I have written to you twice or three times since I was at your house and enjoyed myself
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,
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.
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
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
It becomes my painfull duty to inform you of the death of my son Emory. He was killed on
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.
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).
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.
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.
This is the second installment of the revised and expanded 2017 edition of my regimental history of the 38th Mississippi Infantry. It will cover the regiment’s participation in the battle of Corinth and the siege of Vicksburg. This portion of the history will also detail the 38th’s reorganization after Vicksburg, and the regiment’s change into a mounted infantry unit in 1864. I hope you enjoy this portion of Beneath Torn and Tattered Flags, and please check back for the final installment of the regimental history of the 38th Mississippi, which will be posted very soon!
Redemption at Corinth
I will sum up by saying that we had to fight three days to get out of the trap old Van Dorn got us in.1
– Lt. Col. Preston Brent on the battle of Corinth.
In camp at Baldwyn, the 38th’s soldiers finally had a chance to rest and reflect on
their failure at Iuka. Some came to the conclusion that their one glimpse of battle was enough to last a lifetime and so they quietly slipped away from camp and started home. Desertions were particularly heavy in the Hancock Rebels, with the men tending to leave together in groups. On September 23, eight of the company deserted, and three days later five more ran away from the regiment.2These mass desertions from the Rebels were just the beginning of what became an epidemic of men absconding from the company, most never to return.
For the men who remained with the 38th, the memory of their failure at Iuka must have been painful, but the fortunes of war did not allow them much time to sit and brood. Events were already unfolding in such a way as to put the regiment squarely in the middle of the bloody battle for Corinth, and afford the men the opportunity to redeem the name of the unit.
After his narrow escape at Iuka, Sterling Price realized that his army alone was not powerful enough to defeat the Union forces in northeast Mississippi. To accomplish this goal, Price understood that he needed to unite his army with that of Major General Earl Van Dorn. Price contacted Van Dorn who was already moving his small command of 5,000 men into north Mississippi, and the two generals agreed to unite their troops at Ripley, Mississippi.3
Sterling Price put his army in motion on September 26, and his men completed the dusty
march to Ripley on the morning of September 28. With the junction of the two armies complete, Van Dorn, by virtue of his seniority, became overall commander of the combined force with Price his second in command. Van Dorn’s army consisted of the divisions of Major General Mansfield Lovell, Dabney Maury, and Louis Hebert, who had taken over Henry Little’s command after his death at Iuka. In all, Van Dorn had a force of approximately 22,000 to use against the Union army.4
It didn’t take Van Dorn long to come up with a very ambitious plan for his army. Believing an attack on Vicksburg was imminent, he felt his best option to prevent such an attack was to push the Yankees out of their staging area in West Tennessee. For this strategy to work, the Rebels first had to take the town of Corinth, Mississippi from the Federals. To advance into Tennessee with a powerful Union force intact at Corinth would have invited an attack on the rear of Van Dorn’s army.5
Although the Rebel army at Ripley was only about 26 miles southwest of Corinth, the route worked they had to travel was nearly twice that distance. Starting at Ripley Mississippi, Van Dorn’s hard marching graybacks would march north some 30 miles to Pocahontas Tennessee, just over the state line. From there they would wheel due east and advance approximately 8 miles to Chewalla Tennessee; once there the army would follow the tracks of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad southeast nearly 10 miles until they reached Corinth. The purpose of this convoluted line of march by Van Dorn was to put his men in a position to assault the federal defenses northeast of Corinth.
Map Showing Van Dorn’s Route of March – Ripley to Pocahontas to Chewalla to Corinth.
(Illustration from Battles and Leaders, Volume 2, page 727)
He chose to attack from this direction knowing that the outer line of earthworks defending the city were weakest in this sector.6
While Van Dorn was coming up with plans to assault Corinth, his counterpart Rosecrans was working just as hard on how he would defend the city. The Union general had 23,000 men in and around Corinth, and he kept them busy with improvements to the existing Confederate-built fortifications. To make the defenses even stronger, he ordered his soldiers to build an inner line of earthwork forts along the northern and western approaches to Corinth.7
When completed there were seven forts stretched in an arc around the city, connected to each other by a line of trenches. The names of these strongholds were batteries Robinett, Williams, Phillips, Tanrath, Lothrop, Powell, and Madison.8 Fully manned with ranks of blue infantry and gleaming brass cannon, this inner line of defense would exact a heavy toll from an attacker, a fact the 38th Mississippi was about to learn the hard way.
For the 38th, the battle at Corinth was a defining moment in the history of the regiment. The men were already laboring under the stigma of their failure at Iuka, and a second collapse on the battlefield might have permanently destroyed the soldiers’ confidence in themselves and their regiment.
The Corinth campaign began on September 30, 1862, when Van Dorn’s Rebels began the long march north to Pocahontas, arriving in the town on October 1. The gray column turned east and headed for Chewalla, entering it on the evening of October 2. At 4 a.m. on the morning of October 3, the weary men of the 38th were roused from their bedrolls, and the final leg of the journey from Chewalla to Corinth began. Van Dorn set a very fast pace, pushing his men to reach the town before federal reinforcements could arrive.9 The march was made worse for the Rebels because of the high temperature and the lack of water. James Newton Carlisle, Sr., of the 37th Mississippi Infantry wrote how the scarcity of water made the advance miserable: “Through the driest section of the Cotton States we endured the worst of distresses, thirst. What is comparable to this burning parching fever? Lack of bread is sweet in comparison.”10
As heat exhaustion and thirst took their toll on the 38th, the roadside was soon littered with dropouts from the regiment who were unable to keep up the fast pace that Van Dorn was setting. Not all the men in the regiment who dropped out did so for physical reasons, as Lieutenant Colonel Brent complained in a letter to his wife Frances:
The morning that I left camp to go into the fight, I made a report of the affective strength of my regiment it was three hundred and fourteen all told, but when I arrived at the battle field I found that the number of the regiment was only one hundred and fifty strong. This was owing a great deal to the fatiguing march that we had to make the morning of the battle, and a great deal to the cowardice of some of the men, that never had any fight in them or ever will. I have heard from the most of them and they were on their way home, no doubt they will tell great tale of what they have seen and what they have gone through with; poor cowardly devils they have not done anything but couch themselves up in some hospital or tent and fraim themselves sick. Studying up all the while to devise some plan to get home, but finding it impossible to get a proper furlough, they openly desert both from hospital and regiment, claiming to be badly mistreated, I hope the citizens will treat them with perfect contempt and as far as possible annoy them so that they will have to return to their command.11
The 38th Mississippi was going into the fight at Corinth severely reduced in numbers, but at least those that remained were tough and committed to the cause. If Lieutenant Colonel Brent led them well in the upcoming battle, they would strike a hard blow at the Yankees.
Brent kept his small command moving towards Corinth, and around 9 a.m. on October 3, the regiment halted at a point approximately 1½ miles from the outer line of federal works. Van Dorn then began to deploy his army for the assault, ordering General Lovell to form a line of battle to the right of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, and General Price to form his two divisions between the Memphis & Charleston and Mobile & Ohio Railroads. In positioning his men, Price ordered Maury’s Division to the right, and Hebert’s Division to the left. Hebert arranged his brigade for the attack with Green’s Brigade on the left, Martin’s Brigade in the center, and Gates Brigade on the right, leaving his old brigade, now commanded by Colonel W. Bruce Colbert in reserve.12
To oppose the initial Confederate assault, Rosecrans massed along the outer works four infantry divisions, approximately 15,000 men. The Union soldiers had to spread themselves very thin to cover the outer fortifications, and they were outnumbered by the concentrated Rebel army, but Rosecrans did not intend for his men to hold out for long. He simply wanted his men to force Van Dorn to fully deploy and reveal his plan of attack.13
Initial Confederate deployment for the assault on the outer works at Corinth are shown in the upper left of the map. The Confederate troop dispositions for the second day of the battle are shown at bottom center of the map.
(Illustration from Battles and Leaders, Volume 2, page 744)
By 10:00 a.m., all of the federal skirmishers had been forced back into their earthworks, and the Rebels could begin their attack. At 11:00 Price gave the order to advance, and the 38th Mississippi marched forward with their brigade. They moved towards a gap in the Union line between the 81st Ohio Infantry and 12th Illinois Infantry that was protected by a two gun detachment of the 1st Missouri artillery (U.S.,) and the Union cannoneers made the Rebel charge a costly one as they fired round after round into the Mississippians.14 Major George H. Stone of the 1st Missouri later wrote with pride how his artillerymen met the furious Rebel assault:
Lieutenant Conant’s section, stationed near our center, was literally mowing the rebels down; but with a determination worthy of a better cause the enemy still pressed on and near the intrenchments. The infantry supporting Lieutenant Conant’s section (Eighty-first Ohio and Twelfth Illinois) were driven back, the artillery horses nearly all shot, and the cannoneers compelled to retire, leaving their guns. The defense of this section could not have been better, Captain Welker being there in person and the last one to leave his guns when all hope of saving them was gone.15
Writing to his wife Frances after the battle, Lt. Col. Brent claimed that the honor of capturing the guns of the 1st Missouri, giving her a detailed account of the action:
I stated that I succeeded in getting some hundred and fifty men drawn up in line on Friday, occupying the right of the brigade, a post of great honor. While I was getting my regt. in line of battle and posting the guides, the enemy fired a shell at me which passed within two or three feet of my head and struck a tree about ten feet from the regiment but did no damage. I then ordered the men to face down upon the ground which they did with great promptitude, in this position we remained for some thirty minutes receiving the heaviest cannonade that the mind could imagine; the enemy having gotten the exact position of my regiment began to throw their shells immediately in our ranks a killing some and wounding a great many we were therefore unable to remain in this position any longer so we were ordered to charge to protect ourselves from such a deadly fire – we did so and in a short time we had the enemy driven from their works and their guns in our hands, we did this in a short time, but nevertheless, we lossed a great many men in this charge fore we did not fire a gun until we were within forty paces of their works the reason of this was that they had fallen a great amount of timber in front of their works and we were buisily a climbing over tree tops, but when we cleared the tree tops we made the Yankees pay for it. My regiment in this charge captured two fine pieces of artillery, a Parriott [Parrott] and a rifle brass piece, we also taken several prisoners in this charge; after taking the breastwork and driving the enemy from it our men were so scattered that we were compelled to reform our lines again, which we did in a short time, and then pressed on after the enemy a driving them within Corinth – this ended the first days fight.16
The initial attack very well for the Confederates – the outer defenses had been overrun, and the Yankees forced back to their inner fortifications. It was at this point that the Rebel attack stalled due to a lack of ammunition and sheer exhaustion, and as darkness crept over the bloody field the booming of artillery and crack of musketry slowly faded away.
The 38th Mississippi had done well the first day at Corinth, but their success came at a high price. One of the first to fall was the regiments brigade commander, Colonel Martin. While leading the charge on the outer works he was hit by a shell fragment and mortally wounded. In his report on the battle General Price eulogized Martin saying, “The gallant bearing of this officer upon more than one bloody field had won for him a place in the heart of every Mississippian.”17 In the 38th Major Walter L. Kern was also wounded in the charge, hit in the right hand by a bullet while waving his sword over his head urging his men forward.18
After dark, Martin’s Brigade, now led by Colonel Robert McLain of the 37th Mississippi Infantry, was moved to a position along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, very close to the Union lines. The exhausted soldiers dropped their bedrolls behind the embankment and tried to get some rest, but their sleep was disturbed by the sound of picks and shovels biting into the earth as the Yankees worked through the night to strengthen their earthworks before the next attack.19
Earl Van Dorn still believed he could win a decisive victory, and he drew up plans to continue the attack on October 4. The strategy he devised would put the 38th in the thick of the battle on the second day for it called on Hebert’s Division to lead off the advance to the inner Union works and thus bear the brunt of the early fighting. Hebert was ordered to advance with his division at first light against the Yankee right, and once engaged Maury’s Division would strike the center of the enemy line and Lovell’s Division the left.20
Unfortunately for the Rebel soldiers who had to carry it out, Van Dorn’s plan of attack went awry from the very start. General Hebert was supposed to lead off the attack at daybreak but reported himself sick and was relieved of duty by General Price; command of the division passed to General Martin Green, and in the confusion which followed, precious time was lost.21 When Green took over he found the division on the west side of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad facing east. The general prepared to attack by placing his brigades in the following order from left to right: 2nd Brigade (Colonel Colbert), 4th Brigade (Colonel McLain), 1st Brigade (Colonel Gates), and 3rd Brigade (Colonel Moore).22
Map of the Second Day of the Battle of Corinth (www.civilwartrust.org)
At 10:00 a.m. Green gave the order to attack and the long gray line began a slow wheel, or turn to the south. In this maneuver the division swung just like a gate, with the 3rd Brigade the hinge and the 2nd Brigade the outer edge of the gate, with the other brigades in between. Once they had all completed the turn and were facing south towards Corinth, the Rebels marched straight for the Yankee entrenchments.23
During the wheeling movement, the 38th Mississippi was toward the outside of formation; consequently, the men had to march a longer distance and move much faster than the regiments posted on the inside of the wheel. Thus the regiments belonging to Gates’s and Moore’s Brigades struck the Union line first, overrunning Battery Powell and threatening to cut the Union army in two. Colbert’s and McLain’s Brigades were slowed by the rough terrain they had to pass through, but at 10:30 they finally broke into an open field 400 yards east of Battery Powell. As soon as they were in the open, the Rebels were hit and their advance stopped in its tracks by the massed fire of Brigadier General Napoleon Buford’s Brigade. For nearly 45 minutes the men of the 38th Mississippi loaded and fired their muskets as fast as they could, trading volley after volley with the Yankees to their front. They kept up a withering fire until their brigade commander, Col. McLain, had his leg taken off by a well-aimed shot from a federal cannon. At this point the brigade, under a heavy fire and low on ammunition, began a quick retreat along with Colbert’s Brigade. Gates and Moore’s Brigades fared not better; after taking Battery Powell, they were subjected to a terrible crossfire and unable to advance, they had to retreat and give up the fort.24
Elsewhere on the field, Van Dorn was having the same kind of luck with his other two divisions. Maury’s was boldly repulsed with heavy losses in the attack on Battery Robinett, and General Lovell failed to attack at all.25
Having failed to take Corinth by storm, Van Dorn realized he had no choice but to order a retreat and try to get his army safely away from the city. To escape, the Rebels had to retrace the route they had taken to Corinth. The weary soldiers plodded into Chewalla Tennessee after dark on October 4 and made camp for the night. The next morning the gray column marched west and barely avoided a disaster when they found federal troops blocking their escape route over the Hatchie River Bridge. Luckily Van Dorn found another crossing of the river and the Rebels continued their march to Ripley Mississippi where the campaign ingloriously ended.26
With time to rest and reflect on the campaign, it did not take the soldiers of the 38th long to place the blame for the failure of the Corinth campaign. Lt. Col. Brent probably mirrored the feelings of many of his men when he told his wife in a letter, “I will sum up by saying that we had to fight three days in succession to get out of the trap old Van Dorn got us in.”27
For Brent the end of the campaign meant he had one very unpleasant duty to perform: making out a list of the regiment’s casualties and informing the next of kin. He started the sad news on its way in a letter to his wife:
Tell Mrs. Walker that Cicero Walker is either killed or taken prisoner I cannot say which; he was last seen on Saturday the second day of the fight on top of the enemies breast works in company with Lieut. J. W. Ball, both of whom have not been heard of since, you can tell her that we have sent some of our men back to bury the dead and that they will be hear in a few days, and I can then probably give her some information about him…my old company under the command of J. C. Williams went into the engagement with eighteen or twenty men we had four killed and some four or five wounded. I will have in a short time a list of the killed and wounded of my regiment made out and published for the benefit of the citizens.28
Considering the small number of men the 38th Mississippi took into the fight at Corinth, an examination of their casualty list shows they had fairly high losses. Of 150 men engaged in the battle, nine were killed, twenty-five wounded, two were missing, and thirty-five taken prisoner.29
The battle of Corinth had been a bloody defeat for the Confederacy, but for the rank and file of the 38th Mississippi, it was a moral victory, for the regiment had proved it could fight hard when properly led. This had a pronounced psychological effect on the men, for they knew they had redeemed themselves for their failure at Iuka. A newspaper article saved by the family of Preston Brent expressed the importance that the regiment attached to the battle of Corinth:
It will be remembered that the 38th Miss. Regiment achieved an unenviable notoriety in Iuka. Being a new regiment, and the engagement at Iuka being the first it was placed in, it did not stand the severe crossfire…but in the battle of Corinth it blotted out every stain that may have been attached to it by the Iuka affair, and fought gallantly hand to hand with the oldest veterans in the service. The regiment now stands forth marked for its struggle in the Corinth fight and came out the proudest of the proud.30
The 38th Mississippi went into the battle of Corinth a small regiment, and came out an even smaller regiment, but the survivors were now veterans, toughened by the rigors of war. During the winter of 1862-1863 as the regiment recruited and built up its strength, these men would teach the new recruits the lessons they had learned at such high cost.
1 Preston Brent to Frances Brent, 12 October 1862. Original letter owned by Paul Crawford (Brookhaven, MS).
2 Muster roll, CSR-MS, Record Group 9, rolls 62-65.
27 Preston Brent to Frances Brent, 12 October 1862. The original letter is owned by Paul Crawford of Brookhaven, MS.
28 Lieutenant Jesse W. Ball and Private Silas Cicero Walker were taken prisoner during the attack on October 4. Both were later exchanged and returned to duty with the regiment. Muster roll, CSR-MS, Record Group 9, rolls 62-65; Preston Brent to Frances Brent, 12 October 1862. The original letter belongs to Paul Crawford of Brookhaven, MS.
29 Muster roll, CSR-MS, Record Group 9, rolls 62-65.
30 Undated newspaper clipping from the collection of Paul Crawford of Brookhaven, MS.
[End of Chapter 4]
The Winter of 1862-1863
I don’t expect to get to camp before tomorrow the mud is frozen shoe mouth to half leg deep so you know that we have hard times on this march.1
– Private James Floyd of the Wilkinson Guards, December 5, 1862.
In late October the 38th Mississippi with the rest of the army was ordered to Camp Rogers, located several miles outside Holly Springs, Mississippi. Here the exhausted and foot-sore Rebels finally had an opportunity to rest and recover from nearly two months of active campaigning. The location of the camp was well chosen; Sergeant Willie Tunnard of the 3rd Louisiana Infantry said the camp “…was a pleasant one, on the hills, amid the shadows of large oak-trees. In front of it were wide extended fields, formerly cultivated in cotton, now covered with corn stubble.”2
Once they reached Camp Rogers, the high command immediately set to work rebuilding
the army and making good the losses due to casualties and desertion. Toward this end, Robert McCay, acting major of the 38th since the wounding of Walter Keirn at Corinth, received the following orders on October 24:
Maj. R. C. McCay of the 38th Miss. Regt. is hereby detailed to proceed to the camps of instruction at Brookhaven and Enterprise Miss. to receive such conscripts as may be assigned to the 38th Miss. Regt. by the proper state authority and conduct them at once to this command. He will also assemble and conduct to this command all officers and men now absent without proper authority.3
Gathering conscripts and running down deserters to fill the ranks of the regiment continued all winter long, but in the end the effort only met with marginal success. In a roll of the unit taken in February 1863, the 38th was able to muster only 264 men.4
While the 38th was being rebuilt, the army itself was undergoing a massive reorganization, starting at the top with General Van Dorn. In the wake of his disastrous Corinth campaign the Mississippian was transferred to a cavalry command and replaced by Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton. He was assigned command of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana on October 1, 1862, and he arrived in Jackson on October 14 and began to sort out his new army.5
In the shakeup of the army that followed the change of command, General Hebert was
relieved as head of a division and sent back to lead his old brigade; the division was given to Major General Dabney H. Maury. For the 38th, the death of Colonel Martin led to the breakup of the brigade and the Mississippi regiments were assigned to General Hebert. After the transfer, Hebert’s Brigade consisted of the following units:
Assigning Mississippians and Louisianans to the same brigade was not an instant success as there was considerable friction between the two groups. The 3rd Louisiana and 21st Louisiana were early war regiments comprised of volunteers who enlisted at the very beginning of the conflict. They were proud men and they considered serving beside Mississippi troops, many of whom were conscripts, to be an insult. Sgt. Tunnard of the 3rd Louisiana recounted the following incident that illustrates the feelings in his regiment:
General Hebert came into camp, and was immediately surrounded by the men, who complained bitterly that they were put in a conscript brigade. The general replied: ‘Never mind, my men; never mind. You will soon make good soldiers of them all.’ The compliment thus delicately paid to the efficiency of the regiment did not soothe the irritated and discontented feelings.7
While the animosity of the Louisianans faded over time, it never completely disappeared, and relations with the Mississippians were strained the entire time the two groups served together.
As John C. Pemberton went about the task of reorganizing his department, Ulysses S. Grant was preparing his troops for a drive on Vicksburg. On November 2, 1862 he moved five divisions to Grand Junction, Tennessee, and on November 8 the vanguard of a 31,000 man Yankee force swarmed into Mississippi, marching for the town of Holly Springs.
38th Mississippi Area of Operations, Winter 1862
Pemberton responded to the invasion of Mississippi by ordering his troops south to the strong defenses behind the Tallahatchie River at Abbeville. Union cavalry entered Holly Springs on November 13, and by December 1 Federal troops were crossing the Tallahatchie River.8
The steady advance of the Yankees forced Pemberton to order another withdrawal, this time behind the Yalobusha River at Grenada. Terrible weather conditions made the march a miserable one for the men of the 38th, as they had to journey through a nasty winter storm with a hostile army nipping at their heels. Private James Floyd of the Wilkinson Guards described the hardships in a letter to his wife Mary:
…we left camp alone near Abberville on Monday the 1st day of this month after lying in the breastworks for two days and nights and have been marching every night still it is raining, all night and this morning is sleeting and snowing…we have plenty hard times with poor soldiers [in] such weather as this. I don’t expect to get to camp before some time tonight or tomorrow the mud is frozen shoe mouth to half leg deep all the way so you know that we have hard times on this march.9
The constant exposure to the elements caused a serious downturn in the health of the regiment, and in November and December sixteen men in the 38th died of disease; nine more were so weak that they fell out of the march and were captured by the enemy.10
With the Confederate army safely behind the Yalobusha, Grant decided on a bold gamble to try and take Vicksburg. While his troops pinned the Confederates at Grenada, General Sherman took 30,000 men from Memphis and transported them down the Mississippi River by steamboat to strike directly at Vicksburg. Grant’s plan with awry almost immediately when Confederate raiders under Earl Van Dorn captured and destroyed Grant’s supply base at Holly Springs, Mississippi. With his army deep in enemy territory with no supplies, Grant was forced to withdraw to Memphis, ending his first attempt to take Vicksburg. Sherman fared no better with his end run on the Hill City; his attack at Chickasaw Bayou ended in a bloody defeat on December 29, 1862. In the wake of this setback, Sherman loaded his men back on their transports and slowly steamed north, ending the 1862 campaign against Vicksburg.11
The immediate threat to Vicksburg was gone, and Maury’s Division was transferred to Snyder’s Mill, twelve miles north of the city on the Yazoo River, arriving on New Year’s Day 1863.12
The 38th Mississippi manned a set of fortifications on a bluff overlooking the river with the assignment of protecting a series of log rafts that were anchored at the mouth of the Yazoo to keep Union gunboats from entering the waterway.13
The regiment spent many quiet months at Snyder’s Mill, and the only action the rank and file saw was their own officers fighting among themselves. The problem developed in late December when Lt. Col. Brent applied for promotion to Colonel to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Fleming W. Adams in September. Brent’s moving into the Colonel’s slot started a chain of promotions, with Major Keirn advancing to Lieutenant Colonel,14 Senior Captain McCay to Major, and Daniel Seal to Senior Captain. This series of promotions should have been a routine clerical matter, but Captain Seal threw a gigantic monkey wrench into the proceedings when he protested that the Lieutenant Colonel’s commission was rightfully his. Captain McCay angrily spelled out Seal’s self-serving plan in a seven page statement:
I now approach the immediate cause of this contestation, if from it’s novel character in many incidents it can be dignified with the appellation. On the 24th Septr. Col. F. W. Adams resigned his position, thereby casting the character of heirs apparent upon Lt. Col. Brent, Major W. L. Keirn, and myself as first Senior Captain, of the respective positions of Colonel, Lt. Colonel, and Major. To the promotion of Col. Brent it is understood no objections have been urged, but Captain Seal, Second Senior Captain, has recently discovered, that his pretensions are superior to those of Maj. KeirnLt. Col. and Captain McCay for that of Major and has actually obtained a commission as late as the 3rd day of January 1863 showing that his original commission of 25 March 1862 was erroneous and that his election having taken place on the 8th day of March 1862, his commission should have issued at that time, and consequently that the claims of Maj. Keirn dating 15th March 1862 and of Capt. McCay dating 19th March 1862, must yield as junior commissions.15
Captain Seal’s little scheme to gain the Lieutenant Colonelcy of the regiment aroused the ire of Preston Brent, who quickly fired off a letter in support of Keirn and McCay, stating for the record:
That from the roster of the regiment, it does not appear that Captain Seal ranks either of the two named Captains and nothing has come to my knowledge until very recently to induce me t believe that Captain Seal had other pretensions than those recognized in his position as Second Senior Captain.16
Brent went on to point out that even if Seal’s claim was correct and he did rank Keirn and McCay by date of commission, he had forfeited any right to the promotion by not speaking up when he was first assigned as Second Senior Captain. In a show of solidarity for Keirn and McCay, the regimental adjutant and eight of the regiments company commanders signed Brent’s letter, acknowledging that they agreed with his decision in the matter. Even though the officers of the 38th were firmly against Seal, his claim had to be investigated by the high command, and thus the promotion process slowed to a crawl. Eventually General Hebert was forced to intervene personally in April 1863 when he sent a letter to the Confederate Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office requesting that the promotions for Brent, Keirn, and McCay be validated. The generals letter did the trick, and all three received their promotions, back dated to September 24, 1862, the day Col. Adams resigned.17
Rather than mire himself in a no-win fight for a promotion, Captain Seal should have concerned himself more with commanding his company. The Hancock Rebels had the highest rate of desertion and absenteeism in the entire regiment, and the problem was only getting worse, not better.18 The situation was so severe that transfer out of the company was preferable to some rather than continue under Seal’s leadership. Private Joseph Pendleton said in a letter to his sister “I am getting awful tired of this company. I wish I could get a transfer into another company.”19 The young soldier was as good as his word – he transferred to the Holmes County Volunteers shortly thereafter and served his new company faithfully until the end of the war.20
Other than the promotion squabble, the only real complaints in the regiment were about the quality of the food issued and the boredom of camp life at Snyder’s Mill. Joseph Pendleton wrote to his sister in March 1863:
Oh how I wish I had some butter and eggs and cakes. The officers get plenty of favors and we privates don’t get any at all…Sister you don’t know how much help to my mind if I had some interesting books to read. I am so lonesome here. My little testament is a good friend to me. I would write oftener if I had the paper, it cannot be gotten easily.21
Private Pendleton was not alone in seeking comfort from his bible; in the spring of 1863 Confederate soldiers throughout the south were swept up in a wave of religious revivalism, and many in the 38th Mississippi were eager participants. Pinkney Johnston, the regimental chaplain of the 38th wrote of the religious tumult sweeping through the rank and file saying,
We have had for the past week very interesting prayer meetings. They were well attended
and the very highest interest manifested. Souls are hungry for the ‘bread of life’. Often in these prayer meetings there are from twelve to twenty mourners [someone who has not been saved]. There have already been two or three conversions, and four have joined the church. Sinners are being awakened, mourners comforted, and the Christian established in the faith.22
When not on duty or attending religious services, the men did their best to break up the monotony of camp life, as Erastus Hoskins illustrated in a letter to his wife, explaining to her how the soldiers entertained each other:
Our ‘boys’ amuse themselves in various ways – some tusling some having game chickens fighting &c it is astonishing some times to see them – after lying in the trenches all night – they are as lively as if they had just started out.23
The boredom of camp life was briefly interrupted on March 14 when General Grant sent a small naval force up Steele’s Bayou north of Vicksburg with orders to find a useable route to get behind the Vicksburg defenses. The fleet of five ironclads plus their auxiliary vessels were supported by a division of infantry from General Sherman’s XV Corps.24 In response to this incursion, Pemberton organized a detachment at Vicksburg commanded by Brigadier General Stephen D. Lee to follow the Yankees and harass them from the rear.25
For Lee’s expedition to be successful, men were needed who were familiar with the
swampy wilderness of Steele’s Bayou, and a detachment from the Holmes County Volunteers led by Lieutenant Samuel Gwin was selected to go on this mission.26 In a letter to his wife Erastus Hoskins mentioned the uproar that the Yankee expedition had caused in camp:
I saw a flat boat come down the river loaded with negroes which the owner had [brought] from Deer Creek. He reported 7 gunboats in Deer Creek and about 10,000 infantry and cavalry troops there. I can’t believe there is so many. As most persons not in the army see a few thousand men together magnify the number. Genl. Hebert is busy in having guns planted so as to range up the river in case the gunboats should attempt to come down here. We have not heard from Sam and Edgar Gwin since they left – I believe I mentioned that they called for 30 men from this regiment and one Lieut. to go up the river picketing – they were all taken from John’s Company [John Hoskins, Capt. of Co. A] and Lt. Gwin in command of the 30. The call was for 250 from the brigade – I don’t know what point they were sent.27
Lee’s Rebels made life very hard for the Yankee expedition, felling trees to impede the progress of the boats and constantly sniping at the enemy. The federals were forced to withdraw to avoid the capture of the little fleet, and by March 27 the ships had reentered the Mississippi River.27
Lieutenant Gwin’s detachment from the Holmes County Volunteers did not return after the Yankee threat ended; instead they remained stationed north of Vicksburg, and it turned out that they did not see the rest of the regiment for nearly six months. This stalwart little band went far and saw much in that time, and their adventures will be dealt with later in the narrative.
One other interesting event that took that spring was the replacement of the 38th’s division commander. General Maury was transferred, and Major General John H. Forney replaced him in April 1863.28
The 38th’s peaceful respite at Snyder’s Mill abruptly ended the night of April 30 1863, when the Union navy attempted to enter the Yazoo River. The fleet consisted of three gunboats and eight transports, and while they looked very fearsome, they were simply acting as a diversion so that Grant could land his army below Vicksburg. The gunboats put up a good front, attempting to know out the Rebel artillery on the bluffs, but after a two-day bombardment that caused little damage, the enemy ships withdrew and sailed back downriver. During the heavy cannonade the soldiers hugged the bottom of their entrenchments and the 38th reported no casualties.29 It was a bloodless beginning to the regiment’s bloodiest campaign: the siege of Vicksburg.
1 James Floyd to Mary Floyd, 5 December 1862. The original letter is owned by Mrs. Ada Smith of Crosby, MS.
2 Willie H. Tunnard, History of the Third Regiment Louisiana Infantry (Baton Rouge, LA: By the Author, 1866), 210.
3 Order, W. W. Witherspoon to Robert C. McCay, McCay Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
14 At this time the seriousness of the wound Keirn received at Corinth was not known, and it was believed that he would return to the regiment. In fact, his hand was badly mangled, leaving him unfit for combat. Keirn tendered his resignation as Lt. Col. on July 13, 1864. Resignation, CSR-MS, Record Group 9, roll 64.
15 Robert C. McCay to Louis Hebert, Undated, McCay Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
16 Preston Brent to _____, 22 December 1862, McCay Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
17 Muster roll, CSR-MS, Record Group 9, rolls 62-65.
29Official Records, Series 1, Volume 24, Part 1, 577-578.
[End of Chapter 5]
The Siege of Vicksburg
For two weeks have the enemy been hammering at the gates of Vicksburg and still she refuses to open unto them.1
– Captain William L. Faulk, May 30, 1863
While Sherman distracted Pemberton with his demonstration against Snyder’s Mill, Grant crossed the Mississippi River with an army of 44,000 at Bruinsburg on May 1, 1863. Once on Mississippi soil, Grant moved quickly and decisively, never allowing the Confederates to unite their superior forces against him. In the space of seventeen days the federals fought five major battles, winning them all: Port Gibson on May 1, Raymond on May 12, Jackson on May 14, Champion Hill on May 16, and Big Black River on May 17. The 38th took no part in these battles as Forney’s Division was ordered to remain at Snyder’s Mill to protect Vicksburg.2
After the Confederate defeat at Champion Hill on May 16, orders went out the next day from Pemberton for Forney’s Division to march for Vicksburg and move into the entrenchments. General Hebert received the order at 11:00 a.m. and quickly issued orders for supplies to be gathered and sent to Vicksburg, and to burn anything that could not be moved. At 7:30 p.m. he formed his brigade and the march to the hill city began. The Rebel column journeyed through the night and the weary men of the 38th arrived in Vicksburg at 2:30 a.m. on May 18th.3
Hebert’s Brigade was ordered to the earthworks in the rear of the city, charged with defending the line of entrenchments between the Graveyard Road and Jackson Road.
Hebert’s Brigade held the portion of the Vicksburg trenches from Stockade Fort to the Great Redoubt south of the Jackson Road. At the beginning of the siege the 38th was located several hundred yards south of the Stockade Fort.
(Illustration from Map of the Vicksburg National Military Park, Published by the Park Commission, no date.)
Hebert deployed his brigade in the following order from left to right: the 36th Mississippi held the Stockade Redan, a large earthwork fort guarding the Graveyard Road; next came the 7th Mississippi Battalion, 37th Mississippi, 38th Mississippi, and 43rd Mississippi; the 3rd Louisiana held a redan north of the Jackson Road, and the 21st Louisiana anchored the brigade right flank in the Great Redoubt on the south side of the Jackson Road.4 Because the Graveyard and Jackson Roads were natural avenues of approach to the city, the section of the line held by Hebert’s men was destined to be the scene of some of the most intense fighting of the siege.5
The vanguard of the Union army reached the outskirts of Vicksburg near sunset on May 18, 1863. Despite the fact that Pemberton had nearly 30,000 well entrenched soldiers defending the city, Grant believed the Confederates were so demoralized from their recent defeats they could not withstand a direct assault.6 The general ordered the attack to begin at 2:00 p.m. on May 19, and at the appointed hour the Yankees stepped off towards the Rebel works. The Stockade Redan was a focal point of the Union attack and was the scene of a series of ill-coordinated assaults by the 15th and part of the 17th Corps.7
As the blue wave advanced towards the 38th’s position, the regiment’s skirmish line out in front of the main line of works commanded by Lieutenant Hansford Lanehart began a quick retreat to the safety of the trenches. During the dash to cover, Lanehart was struck by an enemy ball and mortally wounded, becoming the 38th’s first casualty at Vicksburg.8
The Yankee troops closing on the regiment’s position were the 95th Illinois and 17th Wisconsin of Brigadier General Thomas Ransom’s Brigade, and their advance was stopped in it’s tracks by the destructive hail of lead poured into the blue ranks by the 37th and 38th Mississippi.9 Colonel Thomas W. Humphrey of the 95th Illinois wrote in his after action report why their assault failed:
…ordering my command forward, we charged across the first ravine, over an almost
impassable abatis of felled timber, exposed to direct and concentrated fire of musketry and a murderous enfilading fire from the enemy’s batteries of the redan on our right front, and the heavy works on the Jackson road (erroneously called Fort Hill) on our left. Being unsupported, I deemed it rashness to proceed farther, but held my position with colors planted within 100 yards of the enemy’s lines.10
The Union attack fared no better along the other sections of the front, and the federals were unable to break through the Confederate defenses. Losses in the 38th Mississippi from the attack were very light, only one killed and three wounded.11 Captain William L. Faulk recorded in his diary on May 19 “We have fought the enemy very hard today and held our positions well along the line…I thank almighty God for his protection through the past days.”12
Grant was undaunted by the losses his army suffered on the 19th, and he prepared his men for an even larger and better-coordinated assault set for May 22. To help soften up the Stockade Redan before the attack, the federals employed 27 cannon on either side of the Jackson Road to blast the Rebels and wear down their defenses. Because of the storm of iron being thrown at them, the 38th was constantly working to repair the damage done to the parapets by the Union cannoneers. At 10:00 a.m. on the 22nd Grant gave the order to attack and a wave of blue soldiers stepped off towards the Confederate works. At the Stockade Redan, the Union soldiers in the van of the attack were 150 volunteers carrying planks and scaling ladders. Known as the “forlorn hope,” their mission was to bridge the ditch in front of the fort and then scale the parapet. The rebels poured a terrible fire into the Yankees, inflicting very heavy casualties. A few of the survivors reached the ditch in front of the redan and were pinned there until nightfall allowed them to scamper to safety.13
During the initial attack the 38th’s position was not directly assaulted, allowing the Mississippians to deliver a deadly flanking fire into the 23rd Indiana Infantry which was advancing to the regiment’s right against the 3rd Louisiana Redan. The heavy volleys from the 38th slammed into the Hoosiers and forced them to break off their attack and drop to the ground to seek shelter from the fire that was decimating their ranks.14
At 2:15 a second Union assault wave was ordered into the fight at the Stockade Redan. In
the 38th’s front Ransom’s Brigade advanced in four columns, only to be met by a withering fire from the Mississippians. General Ransom later wrote of the attack,
The enemy had in the mean time massed troops behind their works in our front, and poured into my ranks one continuous blaze of musketry, while the artillery on my left threw enfilading shot and shell into my columns with deadly effect.15
The bravery of the federals in the face of such overwhelming fire made quite an impression on the Rebels, and years later Captain James H. Jones was moved to write about the gallantry he witnessed that day at Vicksburg:
When the cannonade ceased the Federals formed three [four] lines of battle, near the woods, and began a steady advance upon our works. Their lines were about one hundred yards apart. They came on as rapidly as the fallen timber would permit, and in perfect order. We waited in silence until the first line had advanced within easy rifle range, when a murderous fire was opened from the breastworks. We had a few pieces of artillery which ploughed their ranks with destructive effect. Still they never faltered, but came bravely on. It was indeed a gallant sight though an awful one. As they came down the hill one could see them plunging headlong to the front, and as they rushed up the slope to our works they invariably fell backwards, as the death shot greeted them. And yet the survivors never wavered. Some of them fell within a few yards of our works. If any of the first line escaped, I did not see them. They came into the very jaws of death and died…Surely no more desperate courage than this could be displayed by mortal men.16
After a mauling that lasted forty-five long minutes, the survivors of Ransom’s Brigade were withdrawn, ending the action on the 38th’s front. A short time later Colonel Brent was ordered to move the regiment by the left flank to reinforce the 36th Mississippi at the Stockade Redan. This movement under fire was not an easy one as Captain Jones related:
I will remember having to pass along a space of perhaps 20 feet where the trenches were not completed and therefore exposed the men to the enemy’s fire. Some few of the company ahead lay on their stomachs and refused to move thus impeding the movement. I made a rear attack with the point of my sword on their most exposed parts and set them in motion again.17
Grant acknowledged that Vicksburg could not be taken by direct assault after the failure of his army to break the Confederate line on May 22, and he decided to besiege the city and starve the Rebel garrison into submission. For the 38th, the war was now a waiting game in the trenches with the threat of death a constant companion. Captain Jones wrote of the long days spent in the trenches:
…it was by no means a dull routine. The thunder of the cannon greeted us by day and by night; the sharp crack of the rifle, the hiss of the minie ball; somebody wounded; somebody dying – all the time.18
Besides having to worry about their own personal safety, the men in the 38th also had to worry about their families, many of whom were living in Union occupied territory. Captain Faulk spoke for the fears of many when he wrote in his diary on May 26:
All worried and tired, but still determined to endure all for what we believe to be our rights, and confident that an over-ruling providence will work all for our good. The enemy may be a superior force, overcome us for a short time, but God will never favor the persecutors of innocent women and children. They have passed by my home and I cried to hear the condition in which I fear they have left my wife and children. God will certainly visit them with a terrible vengeance.19
For most of the 38th, time passed very slowly as they sat in the trenches under a boiling sun, warding against a Yankee attack. Company H however had a more interesting time as they spent their days during the siege acting as the brigade provost marshal. The record of events for the company stated the men were “…in discharge of the dangerous duty of patrolling the small area of the siege, arresting stragglers and conducting them under guard to the different commands in the trenches.”20
Life got more interesting for the regiment on June 2, when the 38th was ordered to take a new section of the entrenchments, just to the right of the 3rd Louisiana Redan on the Jackson Road.21 As the men filed into their new position under cover of darkness, Eleazer Thornhill heard someone mutter, “Boys you will smell hell there,”22 and the prediction proved to be entirely correct. The line of entrenchments the 38th was now responsible for defending was very exposed, and casualties from Union sharpshooters happened with terrible regularity. The Yankees had even erected a tower in their lines to look down into the Confederate trenches and shoot at the exposed Rebels. When the men did return fire, they did so at a distinct disadvantage, as James H. Jones related in his memoirs:
Even in the matter of sharpshooting we were at a great disadvantage, because our works were located above those of our foes. One would think this gave us an advantage, but it was not so. The firing was done through port holes, and ours, being depicted against the sky, revealed the sharpshooters instantly, and exposed them to the fire of their opponents. Those of the Federals on the other hand were invisible and could not be easily located. To use these ports meant instant death, and the men preferred to stand up boldly and fire over the breastworks at the enemy, and risk the chances of a return fire.23
Under cover of the deadly fire by their sharpshooters, Union soldiers dug approach trenches up to the 38th’s earthworks. Sergeant Clarke of the 36th Mississippi said the federals were so close to the 38th’s position, “…dirt from the two ditches blended together.”24
To combat the enemy at such close quarters, the men began to use six and twelve-pound shells as improvised hand grenades, throwing them into the Yankees ditches. Captain Jones described this type of warfare as having “…the appearance of a ball game, only the players never caught the balls, but fled from them.”25
The Yankees pulled something new from their bag of tricks on June 25 when they exploded a mine under the 3rd Louisiana Redan, followed by a wave of blue troops who poured into the resulting breach in the Confederate line. The surprise attack quickly turned into a trap for the federals as they were met by a hail of bullets and were unable to get out of the crater they had charged into. Captain Faulk of the Van Dorn Guards witnessed the explosion and later wrote in a letter, “I was aroused by a tremendous report and jumping up to discover a short distance away to my left that dirt was flying up in the air about one hundred feet high.”26 The 38th’s position was not directly attacked during the assault, freeing the Mississippians to pour a scathing flanking fire into the Yankees. Eleazer Thornhill recalled that during the fight:
John and Wash Polk were right in the hottest of the charge on top of the breastworks, and fired down among the enemy. I looked to see them fall dead, but God shielded them, and they came down unhurt from the place where the bullets flew so thick and fast. It seemed as though it would have been impossible to have escaped unhurt. There is nothing impossible with God. He will have mercy on whom he choose.27
The Yankee attack was smashed, and the 38th, protected by its entrenchments, suffered very low casualties, only one dead and three wounded.28
One other source of heavy casualties in the regiment during the siege came from the Union artillery. The 38th was sandwiched between two major targets for the cannoneers; the 3rd Louisiana Redan on their left, and the Great Redoubt on their right, so there was a blizzard of iron being thrown their way. The Yankees tended to mass their guns during the siege to establish a massive superiority of fire over their Rebel opponents, and nowhere along the lines was this more true than at the 3rd Louisiana Redan. At one point the Federals had over 100 guns firing against the Confederate strongpoint.29 Death in the form of an explosive cloud of iron could claim a victim at any moment, and it made life in the trenches very uncertain for the soldiers. Captain Faulk recorded once such instance in his diary:
June 1. Some artillary firing last night opposite our lines. Heavy on the right about 3 o’clock. Shell bursted in Co. A last night just after dark killing three men and wounding two. Their provisions had just come in and they were sitting around eating their suppers when a shell exploded in their midst, showing how little we know at what moment the summons of death may come and the uncertainty of life.30
As the siege ground on, one of the main concerns for the rank and file in the trenches was getting enough food to eat, as the rations were continually being reduced, and hunger became an ever-present companion. Private Eleazer Thornhill still had a keen memory of how much food the soldiers had to survive on during the siege when he wrote his memoirs many years later:
I will give you a sketch of our suffering for food. It was very scarce with us, although said to have been a good deal surrendered up to General Grant. I don’t know whether it was so or not, but one thing it came scarce to us. We got a small piece of bacon once in a while. At night a small lot of peas and bread, and near one pint of boiled peas was a two day’s ration. Sometimes it would be a bit of poor beef, and towards the last they would fetch poor mules into camp for food. I always threw mine away, I could not eat it at all, and it was what I called 48 days starvation.31
Despite the hardships, the men were still determined to defend Vicksburg to the last, but they realized that when the food supply ran out, surrender would soon follow. Captain Faulk recorded in his diary on June 13, “We are nearly worn out with the ditches, but will hold out as long as provisions last.”32
After suffering through sharpshooters, artillery, and lack of food, the 38th received
another blow to it’s morale on June 30 when Colonel Brent was seriously wounded by a federal sharpshooter. He was up on the front line when he heard someone call his name, and when he instinctively looked up, his head was over the parapet and was instantly struck by a minie ball which passed through both cheeks. In his parole record it was noted that Colonel Brent cleaned the wound himself by taking a silk handkerchief and running it through both cheeks to cauterize the holes.33 Preston Brent survived his terrible wounds, but he was never able to go back to the 38th. Disfigured and in poor health, his body was broken, but the discipline and fighting spirit he instilled in the men remained to carry the regiment through two more dark and bloody years of war.34
Command of the 38th Mississippi passed to Major Robert McCay after Brent was wounded, but he was ill and confined to a hospital in Vicksburg for much of the siege. Ironically the leadership of the regiment passed to Senior Captain Daniel Seal, the man who had tried so desperately the winter before to obtain a staff officer’s commission. Exactly how much commanding Seal did during the siege is open to debate however. In a post-war letter James H. Jones wrote a less than flattering account of Seal’s leadership at Vicksburg:
Seal himself was rarely in the trenches but staid somewhere in the city all the time. I commanded the regiment after Col. Brent was wounded, but Seal claims that he was in command. There was but little commanding to do, but I did that little.35
As June gave way to July with no hope of relief in sight and the food supplies in the garrison running low, Pemberton began negotiations with Grant and surrendered Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. The 38th had an excellent view of the meeting between the two generals as they met about 30 yards in front of the regiment’s position. Once the meeting concluded the men realized that the siege of Vicksburg was over at last.36
The decision to surrender on July 4th was very unpopular with the rank and file, and Captain Faulk spoke for many when he recorded this passage in his diary:
How humiliating it is for us to be compelled to submit to such an enemy, and that too on the 4th of July; be we have done all that men could do – we held them 48  days on very scant rations and we would have continued to hold the place had our rations held out.37
Under the terms of the surrender, the officers of the 38th were allowed to keep their side arms and any horses they personally owned. The most significant term however was that all of the soldiers were to be paroled rather than sent to Northern prison camps.38 With the negotiations complete, the 38th Mississippi Infantry formed ranks at 10:00 a.m. on July 4, and marched out in front of the earthworks they had defended so faithfully. Before the surrender was completed, the regiment was hit with one final tragedy to mark the end of the Vicksburg campaign. While the men were stacking arms, a detail behind them in the trenches was gathering up discarded weapons. One of the muskets accidentally discharged and the ball hit Private Samuel S. Miller of the White Rebels. Eleazer Thornhill vividly remembered the freak accident in his memoirs:
After we were surrendered by Gen. Pemberton to Gen. Grant of the Federal army, orders were issued to gather up all the loose guns that were lying in the ditches, and stack them up. We had marched eight or ten paces beyond our fortifications and were arranging our guns. Miller was touching me on my right and a man on the right of him. His name I have forgotten. The first gun that Lewis Guy threw up on the fortress was an old musket, loaded with buckshot. The hammer in striking the hard clay caused it to explode and six or seven shot entered Miller between the shoulders, making a slight wound in the flesh. Miller turned around and inquired who did it, and never again uttered a word. He began to fall, and I saw the blood beginning to flow from his mouth. We held him and soon life was extinct. I was one of the detail that helped bury him.39
It was a bad ending to a very bloody campaign for the regiment, and the men had paid a dear price for their stubborn defense of the hill city. According to a statement made by Captain Seal after the siege, thirty-five men were killed at Vicksburg, three of them officers; Captain Leander M. Graves of Company F, Lieutenant Hansford Lanehart of Company D, and Captain Walter A. Selph, the regimental commissary officer. Thirty-two enlisted men and five officers were listed among the wounded, including Colonel Brent. When the two men who were missing were added to the toll, the total casualties in the regiment stood at seventy-four men.40
Captain Seal’s estimate of the number of soldiers killed in the regiment is actually low, for it does not include those men who died from their wounds after the siege ended. An examination of the compiled service records for the 38th shows that when these men are added, the regiment’s death toll at Vicksburg was forty-three men.
Shortly after the siege ended a newspaper published a list detailing each Confederate unit that surrendered at Vicksburg and the number of men paroled, and the 38th Mississippi was listed as paroling 249 men. Adding the 43 men who were killed during the siege, plus those still in the hospital and on detached service who were not counted in the newspaper list, the regiment must have numbered nearly 300 souls when the siege began.41
The soldiers of the 38th Mississippi Infantry marched out of Vicksburg when their paroles were completed and as quickly as their starvation-weakened bodies permitted trekked to their homes and families. For a few precious months they were on furlough and free from the war. But all too soon the call of duty brought them back to battle in defense of the south.
1 Typescript copy of the diary of William L. Faulk, 38th Mississippi File, Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg, MS.
39 Eleazer W. Thornhill Memoir. Original is owned by Stanley Francis of Duncanville, TX. A copy is in the collections of the Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg, MS.
40 Undated statement by Daniel Seal, 38th Mississippi File, Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg, MS.
41 Undated newspaper clipping from the J. L. Powers Scrapbook 1864, Catalog number Z742, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
[End of Chapter 6]
I am getting tired of being bound when I cannot go when I please I always wanted to be free.1
– Private Joseph Pendleton
January 4, 1864
While most of the 38th was on parole, spending precious time with their families, there was still a small band of men from Company A in the field fighting the Yankees. The detachment commanded by Lieutenant Gwin that was sent out on the Deer Creek Expedition experienced a considerable amount of combat in the time they were separated from the regiment, unfortunately there is very little documentation relating to this stalwart little band. Most of the information comes from the service records of the men who went on the expedition, and while this is a scanty record, it gives just enough material to piece together a framework of their journey.
No official documentation as to the size of Lieutenant Gwin’s force has been found, but Private Eleazer Thornhill of Company A wrote in a letter to his wife that the party consisted of one officer and thirty enlisted men. After the unit was cut off from the regiment when the siege began, the men were attached to Brigadier General Matthew D.
Ector’s Brigade, specifically to Pound’s Mississippi Sharpshooter Battalion commanded by Captain Merriman Pound.2 While attached to Pound’s Battalion, the detachment fought in the siege of Jackson, July 10-17, 1863, and had two men captured: J. J. McBride and Collen Sawyers. After the Confederate retreat from Jackson, Ector’s Brigade was sent as reinforcements to the Army of Tennessee in Georgia, and fought in the battle of Chickamauga on September 19-20, having three men wounded: Joseph E. Taylor, Henry C. McKinney, and Phillip J. Eubanks. In October the detachment was ordered to return to the 38th, then reorganizing at Enterprise, Mississippi.3
The process of bringing the 38th Mississippi back to life began on September 3, 1863, after a two-month furlough for the men. Major McCay received orders at that time to proceed to the counties in which the companies of the regiment were raised and begin rounding up his men and sending them to an exchange camp at Enterprise, Mississippi.4 Colonel Brent and Lieutenant Colonel Keirn were both unfit for service in the field because of their wounds, so command of the 38th passed to McCay, and with it the unenviable task of rebuilding the regiment after the mauling it took at Vicksburg.
The main obstacle in reorganizing the 38th after Vicksburg was simply getting the men back into the ranks after several months at home with their families. After weighing the pros and cons of returning to fight, many reached the same conclusion as Eleazer Thornhill who wrote: “By this time I had become very tired of war, and, to tell the truth, I did not like it from the very first. I had decided to remain at home just as long as possible.”5
The task of rounding up the wayward soldiers fell to the officers of the regiment, and typical of the orders they were given in regard to this duty was the following instruction to Lieutenant Tom T. Ball of the Price Relief from General Hebert:
…2nd Lieut. T. Ball of Company H 38th Regmt. Miss. Infty. will proceed without delay to the counties of Hinds, Newton & Madison in the state of Mississippi where his company was raised ready his men and bring them to this camp. He will apply to request of any cavalry command in that neighborhood to render him all assistance necessary…he will also provide the commanding officer of the cavalry lists & descriptions of the men.6
Hunting down men and forcing them to return to duty was not an easy job, as many of them had the aid of friends and neighbors to hide from the Confederate authorities. Eleazer Thornhill wrote in his memoir of the lengths he went to on one occasion to escape a roundup by Confederate cavalry:
We kept on down the swamp, stopping every now and then to listen. We could hear our persuers whooping to the dog. It was our intention, if possible, to get Pearl River between us. When we were crossing the road, four or five deserters saw us, and thinking we were cavalry, they put for the swamp. We came up with them and crossed the fence together, and sat down to get a little breath, as we were puffing like horses. We held a consultation and decided that we would not run any more, and that we would use the fence as a breastwork. It was well for the cavalry that they did not get through the swamp and follow us, for if they had come within range, some of them would have felt lead.7
The difficult job of rounding up stray soldiers continued throughout the winter of 1863-1864, and even though the 38th Mississippi was declared exchanged in December, it was several more months before the regiment was ready for combat operations.8 This fact was illustrated in a letter written by Captain John S. Hoskins to his wife in November 1863 in which he informed her that his company was forty-six strong, and this small number comprised nearly half of the regiment.9
As 1864 dawned, the rebuilding process continued in the 38th, but the New Year brought
some surprising news to the regiment. In January the department commander, Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, ordered that the unit be designated the 38th Mississippi Mounted Infantry.10 Serving in this role the regiment would still fight on foot with standard infantry weapons as they always had, but now they would ride to get to the battle. In this capacity they could serve as a mobile strike force to quickly meet any enemy threat.
To meet Polk’s order, the first thing the regiment had to do was acquire enough horses to mount every man in the unit, but this was a difficult task at best because by this stage of the war, horses were very scarce, and civilians had learned to be very savvy at hiding their animals from Confederate impressment agents. This problem was partially alleviated by allowing the men to supply their own horses, and the government paid them for their use. A list of men in the 38th who supplied their own horses contained 139 names, so the effort was rather successful.11
Once the majority of the regiment was mounted, the unit received it’s first mission – the 38th was ordered to split into three detachments, commanded by Major McCay, Captain Jones, and Captain Estelle. McCay was given the task of sweeping the area east of the Pearl River for conscripts and deserters, and Captain Jones was ordered to Woodville with his detachment.12 Captain Estelle remained at Enterprise Mississippi with the third detachment that consisted of the men who had not yet received their horses. 2nd Lieutenant Tom Ball was one of the officers in Estelle’s detachment, and in March 1864 he wrote a report to the Confederate Adjutant General that is very revealing about the condition of the regiment:
My command ‘38th Miss. Infty.’ was captured at Vicksburg July 4, 1863. Not more than 150 of the enlisted men have ever reported at parole camp. All of these except some 20 have been mounted and ordered after absent men of the brigade where they are now I am unable to say. Capt. W. M. Estelle in command of the remainder my 20 men and two or three officers are on duty with the 37th Miss. Infty. at Pollard [Alabama] in this state.13
Chasing conscripts and deserters was a thankless job, but the 38th had its orders, and the men went to work on the task at hand. The mission was very frustrating, however, as the men they were hunting often had the support of the local community in evading capture. The ups and downs of the assignment were illustrated in a report filed by Major McCay in April in which he stated:
…since my return I have caught and placed in jail at Gallatin 7 deserters and two conscripts – (7 of these men are horse thieves)…I find two men here raising companies. One B. J. Foster – authority given by Col. Powers, is this right!! He had over twenty paroled men and is trying to hold them, they belonging to different commands – I arrested him and gave him one week to deliver the men up…I am glad to say, since my return large numbers of the troops are going to their commands, in preference to being caught & hope soon to finish with this county. Capt. I. N. Whitaker had some conscripts – claims to be an independent scout, and a few absentees are with him – this operates much against me, as his men stay but little in camp and all I arrest in his neighborhood claim to belong to him. Please give me instructions in regard to this command.14
The unpleasant duty the regiment had been assigned to finally concluded on April 3, 1864, when Major McCay was ordered to report to Brigadier General Lawrence Ross for new orders. Captain Estelle was directed to bring his detachment and rendezvous with McCay at Jackson, and Captain Jones remained in Southwest Mississippi attached to Colonel John S. Scott’s Brigade for several more weeks before rejoining the regiment.15
The trip to Jackson was very trying for Captain Estelle’s detachment, as the men were lacking proper clothing. In a requisition for the items his men needed, Estelle described the threadbare condition of his men:
I have marched some 100 miles and my men are barefooted and naked. I am now on the march to Jackson Miss. where I cannot get the articles called for. I have no Q.M. [Quartermaster], nor have I had one since I left the regt.16
Estelle requested for his men 20 jackets, 32 pairs of pants, 32 pairs of shoes, 19 shirts, 24 pairs of drawers, 20 hats, 22 pairs of socks, and 1 blanket.17
After Estelle reported to Major McCay at Jackson with his ragged detachment, the 38th received orders placing the regiment in a cavalry brigade commanded by Colonel Hinchie P. Mabry, of Brigadier General Wirt Adams Cavalry Division. Mabry’s Brigade was composed of the following units:
The units comprising Mabry’s new command had all seen hard service in the war and were low on manpower, poorly equipped, and sorely in need of reorganization. Fortunately, the Confederate military authorities chose the right man to whip the brigade into an effective combat force. The Colonel had already made a name for himself as a
disciplinarian and fighter, starting the war as Captain of Company G, 3rd Texas Cavalry, and working his way up to command of the regiment. At the battle of Iuka the fiery Texan had been wounded three times and captured by the federals. Offered a parole by the Yankees, the obstinate Colonel refused because the parole document referred to his country as the “so called” Confederate States of America. Mabry refused to sign the insulting papers and spent several months in a prison camp before being exchanged.19 Such was the spirit of the man tasked with whipping a rag-tag brigade of Mississippians into fighting trim, and he definitely had his work cut out for him. Erastus Hoskins wrote his wife on April 29th, “I don’t think the different commands will be pleased with Col. Mabry commanding brigade he is a little stuck up at being in command, though said to be a good fighter.”20
Mabry’s first assignment after taking command of the brigade was to take his men and operate in Yazoo County to protect the property of local citizens from Yankee raiding expeditions. The Colonel began his assignment in grand style, capturing the tinclad gunboat U.S.S. Petrel above Yazoo City on April 22, 1864. The boat was proceeding up the Yazoo River on a cotton stealing expedition when it blundered into a trap and was attacked by a detachment of Mabry’s brigade commanded by Colonel John Griffith of the 11th & 17th Arkansas.21 Writing to his wife a few days later, Erastus Hoskins described how the Petrel was captured:
Our regiment was placed below the city as Sharp Shooters and as the Boat come up a head of the others our boys opened on her and compelled her to go above the city – They were then held to watch the other two boats below which did not come up. The first boat went some two miles above the city – and an Arkansas regiment got in and placed some two pieces cannon in position and opened on her shooting clear through the boat – with the cannon and the muskets kept up such a heavy fire that the enemy could not close their portholes or use their guns. The boat was soon disabled and surrendered we don’t know how many was killed the most of them got off on the opposite side and went down to the other boats…we captured eight pieces of cannon the boat was well loaded with every thing clothing, provisions, &c…Our regiment being left below to watch the Boats below did not get up to the captured boat so they got nothing that was on her I am told that she had a good supply of white linen shirts – calicos, shoes, boots, &c…22
As Hoskins mentioned in his letter, the heavy fire from the Rebels on the banks of the river made it very difficult for the gun crews on the Petrel to load their cannons, and as a result, the Confederate artillery was able to fire at the ship with impunity. One bolt from the cannoneers sliced through the Petrel’s steam pipe, causing the boiler to explode and forcing the crew to abandon ship.23
Despite the brigade’s early success, Colonel Mabry realized his men needed more training before engaging the enemy in any heavy combat. In a letter to General Stephen D. Lee, Mabry outlined the deficiencies in his brigade, and in so doing paid a compliment to the 38th Mississippi. The Colonel bluntly told Lee;
My command however is not efficient. The part of the 4th Miss. which I have with me is inefficient for want of a good field officer. Col. Harrison’s 5 co’s present are green, awkward and poorly armed. The part of the 38th Miss. which is with me is a very good body of men. Col. Griffith’s has almost whittled out. He has only 51 men for duty this morning. I have put the part of Robert’s Battalion which is with me under Griffith temporarily which gives him about 100 men in all.24
Unfortunately for Mabry, he was not going to get the time he needed to train his men. Union General William T. Sherman was poised to invade Georgia, and he was very concerned about the damage Nathan Bedford Forrest might do to his supply lines. With this in mind, he ordered General James B. McPherson, commander of the Union garrison at Vicksburg, to send an expedition into Confederate-controlled Mississippi to keep the Rebels in the state busy so they could not reinforce Forrest.25
In response to Sherman’s directive, Brigadier General John McArthur marched out of Vicksburg on May 4 on an expedition to Yazoo City, some fifty miles northeast. He took with him a force consisting of five infantry regiments, two batteries of light artillery, one regiment of mounted infantry, one cavalry regiment, and detachments from two others.26
Mabry received word of the Yankee raid on May 5th, and despite the odds against him moved to intercept the enemy force. His advance troops consisting of the 11th & 17th Arkansas and part of Robert’s Battalion met the Federals that day near Mechanicsburg, and a sharp skirmish ensued which lasted from 3 P. M. until darkness put an end to the fighting. On the 6th Mabry fell back before the superior force, skirmishing as he went until he reached Benton, about ten miles east of Yazoo City, where he dug in and prepared to offer the Yankees some serious resistance. Mabry later wrote a detailed account of this skirmish in his after action report, saying that on May 7th,
…skirmishing at Benton began very early between my forces and the enemy’s cavalry. By 9 A. M. the whole of his cavalry had arrived when we had quite a warm contest for about an hour. I fell back to a good position about two miles from Benton on the Lexington road and here prepared to offer there all the resistance possible with my feeble force. Here their cavalry made several charges but were as often repulsed. They brought up two pieces of artillery which opened from a commanding eminence but they were silenced and driven off after a sharp artillery duel in which they suffered considerable loss. Unfortunately in this action two (of my four pieces) were disabled and could not afterwards be used. About 1 O’clock P. M. the whole force of the enemy reached the scene of action. The enemy at once threw out a long line of skirmishers and placed the whole force in position. As soon as his artillery (7 or 8 pieces) compelled me to withdraw mine he began to press me with his entire strength with much vigor. I fell back but kept up a continuous fight for about two miles when the enemy ceased the pursuit.27
Mabry’s Brigade was too weak to confront the combined might of the Federal cavalry and infantry, so the Colonel had to content himself with shadowing the Yankee column and attacking any small groups that strayed too far from the main body. His goal was to minimize the damage the raiders could do to civilian property by not letting them stray too far from their line of march. To accomplish this the 38th Mississippi with Mabry’s Brigade was constantly engaged with the enemy through May 18th, fighting numerous skirmishes, most of them of short duration and relatively bloodless. The regiment suffered only one casualty during this period, Private John E. Gwin of the Holmes County Volunteers was wounded in the skirmish at Benton on May 7.28
In late May or early June, Mabry’s command was reorganized and made into a Mississippi – Louisiana Brigade, consisting of the following units:
The 38th Mississippi continued operations in Yazoo County until early June, when Mabry’s Brigade was transferred to north Mississippi. A large federal force was threatening to invade the area, and the Confederate army in north Mississippi desperately needed reinforcements. There was a big battle brewing, and the 38th was going to play a part in the fighting to come.30
1 Joseph W. Pendleton to Sarah Jennings, 4 January 1864. A copy of this letter is in the collections of the Confederate Research Center, Hillsboro, TX.
2 The information that the detachment was attached to Ector’s Brigade, Pound’s Sharpshooters, comes from notations made on some of the individual service records. That the unit was made part of Ector’s Brigade comes from the service record of Lt. Samuel Gwin – there is a record of wages paid to him from “Camp Ectors Brigade,” endorsed by the Quartermaster of the 10th Texas Cavalry, which was part of that brigade. That Gwin’s men were specifically attached to Pound’s Battalion comes from the service records of Collen Sawyers and Peyton C. Baughn, both of whom have notations in their records that they were attached to “Company C, Mississippi Battalion,” in July 1863. As the only Mississippi unit in Ector’s Brigade was Pound’s Sharpshooter Battalion, this must be the unit. Sources: CSR-MS, Record Group 9, rolls 62-65. For information on Pound’s Battalion, see Rowland, Military History, 353.
11 “List of Officers and Men of 38th Miss. Regt. Who Can Mount Themselves.” R. C. McCay Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History. This list has no date, but must have been compiled in early 1864.
18 Hinchie P. Mabry to J. H. Reagan, 25 April 1864. Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Texas; (Cited hereafter as CSR-TX), 3rd Texas Cavalry, National Archives, Record Group 109, roll 21.
19 Douglas Hale, The Third Texas Cavalry in the Civil War (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 28, 127-129.
In 1998 I self-published my first book, Beneath Torn and Tattered Flags: A History of the 38th Mississippi Infantry, C.S.A. I sold 400 copies of the book in short order, but I never had it reprinted after the initial run. In the years since, I have had many people contact me wanting to purchase a copy of the book; unfortunately I was unable to help them, and I felt really bad about that.
In the years since the book came out, I have found many additional sources on the 38th Mississippi, and I even went so far as to write an updated edition of the book incorporating many of these new finds. I was very proud of this revised and expanded edition of Beneath Torn and Tattered Flags, but I could never seem to come up with the considerable outlay of funds necessary to have the book reprinted.
I finally decided that my book needs an audience, and what better place to share it than my blog? What follows below are the first three chapters of the 2017 Edition of Beneath Torn and Tattered Flags. I plan to release the remaining chapters of the book over the next few weeks. I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Setting The Stage
I worry to because the Lord God does not mean for the people of a Country to war against one another…
– Mary Williams, April 14, 1861, Mother of Private Reuben Williams of the Johnston Avengers.
All too often, the history of the War Between the States is told from a top down point of view, focusing on the famous leaders such as Robert E. Lee or Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson. Obscured in this view are the contributions of the rank and file who fought for the Confederacy. To truly understand our most destructive war, it is necessary to see it through the eyes of the men who fought the battles and shed their blood to protect a way of life that they held dear.
This book tells the story of the men who belonged to one regiment, the 38th Mississippi Infantry, and the war as they experienced it. Among Mississippi Infantry units that served in the war, certain regiments and battles stand out: the 6th Mississippi at Shiloh, the 21st Mississippi at Gettysburg, and the 12th Mississippi at Fort Gregg are some of the names and places that come to mind. The 38th Mississippi never attained the fame of these units, and historians have largely ignored their contributions; one regiment lost among the many that served the Magnolia State during the war.
There are several reasons for the 38th’s obscurity; first unlike most Mississippi regiments, the unit remained within the state for almost its entire term of service. Second, the battles in which the regiment participated, with the exception of the Vicksburg Campaign, were not high profile battles that captured the imagination of the public.
The rank and file of the 38th fought at Iuka, Corinth, Harrisburg, and Sipsey River Bridge – not exactly household names at the time they were fought, today these battles are largely forgotten except by the dedicated Civil War buff. While these battles may not be as celebrated as Shiloh or Gettysburg, the casualties the regiment suffered in these actions were just as real. The men of the 38th Mississippi fought and bled and died at these places, and to them they were the most important engagements of the war, and they wanted their sacrifices to be remembered by future generations. Captain James Henry Jones of the Wilkinson Guards spoke to this need to be remembered when he wrote the following:
A great battle is made up of many varied events, of many component parts; each brigade and each regiment is more or less an independent factor in it, and these must be studied in detail to understand properly what a battle is.
To truly understand the men who joined the 38th Mississippi, it is first necessary to explain how they were shaped by the environment and culture of 19th Century Mississippi.
One of the most important factors that influenced the men was Mississippi’s agricultural economy. Historian William K. Scarborough described the state’s economy as
Cotton, slavery, and the plantation system – these were the dominant elements in Mississippi’s agricultural economy from the time of statehood until the Civil War.
The soil of Mississippi was very rich, particularly in the Delta of the western part of the state, and was excellent for growing cotton. By 1850, Mississippi was the leading cotton producing state in the Union. Cotton was a labor-intensive crop, and a large population of slaves was used to work the fields. By 1860, the slave population in Mississippi outnumbered that whites, with 437,404 slaves to only 353,899 white citizens.
At the top of the economic ladder in Mississippi were the planter class, who owned
thousands of acres of land with hundreds of slaves to work the fields. One such planter in the 38th Mississippi was Dr. Walter Leake Keirn of Holmes County. In the 1860 census, Keirn valued his real estate holdings at $520,000 and his personal estate at $221,600.Such large land holdings required a sizeable labor force, and to work his fields Dr. Keirn had 210 slaves.
Large plantation owners such as Keirn were the exception rather than the rule in Mississippi. Most of the farms in the state were small family-run operations that had few if any slaves. They commonly grew subsistence crops and perhaps some cotton to sell on the market.
A good example of a small farmer who belonged to the 38th Mississippi was James A. Bass of Lawrence County. On the 1860 census he valued his real estate at $700.00, and his personal estate at $800.00. The Bass family worked their land themselves and owned no slaves.
Small farmers like Bass made up the bulk of the men who enlisted in the 38th Mississippi. A precise list of occupations for men in the regiment has not been found, but
one muster roll for the Wilkinson Guards did list occupations, and it indicates how prevalent farmers were in the unit. Of the 123 men listed on the roster for the Guards, 113 of them listed their occupation as farmer. As to other occupations, there was one lawyer, four ditchers, one teacher, one minister, two doctors, and one trader.
A significant influence that affected the men of the 38th in the years leading up to the war was the growth of the radical abolitionist movement in the north. Until 1830, abolitionists used moral suasion to try and convince owners that slavery was evil and should be abandoned. Seeing little profit from this method, after 1830 the more radical abolitionists began using the political arena to campaign against slavery.
As their “peculiar institution” came under direct attack, Southerners began to change their own attitudes towards slavery. Long considered a “necessary evil,” slavery came to be viewed as a “positive good” as owners began to actively defend the institution.
Constant attacks on the institution that made their way of life possible created an extreme sensitivity to the issue of slavery, which is evident in the following letter written by Joseph J. Wade in 1850. Wade was sent to Yale University to attend college, and soon after his arrival he wrote to his mother his impressions of the north:
I arrived at New Haven last Monday and remained there two days. I was very much pleased with the place, but what little I have seen of the people, I do not like them very much. You can’t take up a newspaper to read, but what is putting down slavery, and the Yankees can talk about nothing but slavery.
During the 1850’s the split between north and south over the issue of slavery grew deeper as crisis after crisis threatened to tear the country apart. The debate over slavery in the territory gained in the war with Mexico, the fighting in ‘Bloody Kansas,’ John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry – all combined to push the nation to the brink of civil war.
The event that triggered the secession of the southern states was the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in 1860. A member of the Republican Party that advocated no expansion of slavery in the territories, Lincoln was not even put on the ballot in Mississippi. On January 7, 1861, a secession convention met in Jackson to decide if Mississippi would leave the Union. On January 9, the convention passed the ordinance of secession and Mississippi became the second state to withdraw from the Union.
The announcement of Mississippi’s secession sparked celebrations across the Magnolia State to commemorate the historic event. Martha Gwin of Holmes County described in her memoir the mood in Lexington, Mississippi:
When the tocsin of war was sounded throughout our Southland in 1861, we thought ourselves rich in resources and we knew that we had God on our side, and with hearts never too old to dream, we entered into all kinds of gayeties…Our spirited matrons all decided that we must have a ‘Secessional Ball’ which was enthusiastically received…This hall was swept and garnished for many fair ladies and valiant men who assembled there from all parts of our state. The costumes of richest fabrics with no thought of home spun garments that the sorrows of war would bring.
Not all Mississippians looked on secession with the enthusiasm described by Mrs. Gwin. In a letter written on April 14, 1861, Mary H. Williams of Pike County voiced her concerns about how the war was impacting her family:
My work here is never done and I have refrained from writing because of it and the unsettled conditions here. Miah has been in the fields alone as Reuben and Jackson are no longer here but in the armye. James hasn’t gone as his health is not to good. Reuben and Jackson are just like everybody else, can’t wait to get a gun and a uniform on and parade all over the country side. I wory about James going but he says he must to feel right with himself and his friends. I worry too because the Lord God does not mean for people of a country to war against one another but everybody says we are not the same as the people in the North. Miah worrys to. He says our people in S. Carolina have done wrong to act the way they did in quitting the Union so soon. Miah says we have worked to hard for what we have to fool it away on the say so of some lawyers and doctors who don’t have any negroes anyway…I just don’t know what is right anymore.
Mississippi seceded in January 1861, but the 38th Mississippi was not raised until May 1862, and for most of the men in the regiment, this was their first time to put on a uniform. There are several reasons that most of the men had not enlisted earlier, and one of the chief factors was age. In describing the men of the Van Dorn Guards, Port Gibson resident Frank Foote said they consisted “…mainly of middle-aged men of families,” and this characterization held true for the other nine companies of the regiment as well.
The men who joined the 38th Mississippi were not wild-eyed young schoolboys looking for an adventure in the army – they were men with responsibilities, wives and children to think of, and they could not run off to war until sure that their families were being properly provided for.
Four out of every five Confederate soldiers were between the ages of eighteen and thirty, and by examining the muster rolls of the 38th, it is apparent that the regiment fell to the far end of the spectrum. Data was not available for Company A, the Holmes County Volunteers, as their muster rolls do not include age, but the average ages for the other nine companies were as follows:
Another important consideration keeping many men from enlisting earlier was the simple fact that a number of them were Unionists at heart, and others had no desire to serve in any army, Yankee or Rebel.
On April 16, 1862, the Confederate Congress passed a conscription act just as the companies of the 38th were in the process of formation. Many who had previously been unwilling to serve joined voluntarily to avoid the stigma of being branded a conscript, while others were drafted into the regiment. These men were a constant source of trouble as they would desert the service at every available opportunity, and the 38th’s muster rolls are filled with men listed as deserters or absent without leave.
A good example of a Unionist who was forced into the regiment was Farris A. Fife of Claiborne County. Conscripted into the Claiborne Guards, Fife deserted the unit after the fall of Vicksburg and joined the 17th Wisconsin Infantry. Years later in his pension application to the United States Government, Fife spelled out his reasons for deserting the 38th:
All my family were Unionist in politics, and very much opposed to the war…I went into the Union lines and finally joined a Wisconsin regiment…Quite a number of my boy associates went with me to the army, but all of them are now dead…Outside of my family no one knew that I was a federal soldier; my friends knew that I had left the county and state but did not know I had enlisted. I married and did not care to have my wife and children ostracized.
Whether they joined the regiment willingly or by force, the time was rapidly approaching when the men would leave for the war. Some became heroes; others cowards; the great majority did their duty and labored on in obscurity, and together they were all part of the history of the 38th Mississippi Infantry.
[End of Chapter 1]
1 Mary Williams to her brother, 14 April 1861. A copy of this letter is in the collection of Joe C. Brown of Summit, MS.
2 James H. Jones, “The Rank and File At Vicksburg,” Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society. Volume 7 (1903), 17.
 William K. Scarborough, “Heartland of the Cotton Kingdom,” in A History of Mississippi, ed. Richard A. McLemore, Volume 1 (Hattiesburg, MS: University & College Press, 1973), 310.
5 Carl Moneyhon and Bobby Roberts, Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Mississippi in the Civil War (Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1993), 95, 140.
6 Scarborough, 343.
7 United States Bureau of the Census, Holmes County, Mississippi, 1860, Schedule 1. Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Cited hereafter as MDAH.
8 United States Bureau of the Census, Holmes County, Mississippi, 1860, Schedule 2. MDAH.
9 Scarborough, 350.
10 United States Bureau of the Census, Lawrence County, Mississippi, 1860, Schedule 1. MDAH.
11 Roster of Company D, 38th Mississippi Infantry. Record Group 9, MDAH.
12 James M. McPherson, Ordeal By Fire (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992), 44-45.
13 Ibid., 49-50.
14 Joseph J. Wade joined the 38th Mississippi in 1862 as a surgeon and served with the regiment until the end of the war. Wade Family File, Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg, MS.
15 Richard N. Current, ed., Encyclopedia of the Confederacy, Volume 3. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 1047.
 Newspaper clipping; Lexington (Mississippi) Advertiser; Date unknown; A copy is in the collection of Dan Edwards (Lexington, MS).
18 Mary Williams Letter.
19 Katy M. Headley, Claiborne County, Mississippi: The Promised Land (Port Gibson, MS: Claiborne County Historical Society, 1976), 387.
20 Richard N. Current, ed., Encyclopedia of the Confederacy, Volume 4 . (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 1494-1495.
21 Muster Rolls; Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Mississippi; 38th Cavalry; National Archives, Record Group 109, rolls 62-65. Cited hereafter as CSR-MS.
22 Pension application of Farris A. Fife; United States Pension Rolls. 16 January 1911, National Archives Record Group 109.
When this you see remember me, though many a mile apart we be, when I am where you cannot be, fare away in the battle field.1
– Sgt. James W. Thornhill of the Johnston Avengers
Like most regiments recruited during the Civil War, the history of the 38th Mississippi Infantry is firmly rooted at the county level. The rank and file of the unit were drawn from thirteen counties to fill the ten companies of the regiment.
The initial process of organizing a company for the war was a task usually carried out by a man of wealth and prominence in the community, and this pattern was repeated during the 38th’s formation. When approximately 100 men were recruited, an election was held by the soldiers of the company to choose the officers who would lead them. Quite often the captaincy was won by the man who organized the company, and the other officers were selected from among the most influential men of the community.2
The 38th’s ten companies represented a broad cross section of the magnolia state: companies hailed from such geographically diverse regions as Holmes and Attala Counties in Central Mississippi, from Hancock County on the Gulf Coast, Newton County in the east, and from Claiborne County in the west bordering the Mississippi River.3
As a source of local pride and identity, each company assigned to a new unit would select a distinctive nickname for itself.4 Once the regimental organization was complete, each company was given a letter designation from A through K, omitting the letter J. This was done to avoid confusion, for in the cursive script of the day the letters I and J looked very much alike, and the army wanted to make sure there were no mistakes in written orders.5
The company letter designations were assigned based on the seniority of the individual company commanders. For example, the captain with the earliest date of commission had his company designated A, the next in seniority B, and so on down the line.
These designations were important for they determined where the companies were placed in a line of battle. From right to left the companies were lined up in the following order: A, F, D, I, C, H, E, K, G, B. This formation was used because it allowed the five senior captains to be spread evenly throughout the line of battle.6
When the 38th Mississippi Infantry was organized in May 1862, the individual companies were designated as follows:
The senior company in the regiment was the Holmes County Volunteers, who were organized in Lexington on March 17, 1862, with the election of Walter L. Keirn as Captain, John S. Hoskins as 1st Lieutenant, John Clower as 2nd Lieutenant, and Thomas E. Dyson 3rd Lieutenant.8
It is easy to see why the men of Company A chose Walter Keirn to be their leader. Hailing from one of the most distinguished families in Holmes County, Keirn was the grandson of Walter Leake, Governor of Mississippi from 1822 – 1825.9 His family provided him with an excellent education, sending him to Princeton University where he graduated in 1848. He then enrolled in the Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) School of Medicine, earning his medical degree in 1850.10
In January 1861, Keirn served as a delegate from Holmes County to the Mississippi Secession Convention, siding with the staunch secessionists. He voted against amendments to keep Mississippi in the Union or even delay her departure, and on January 9, 1861, he joined with the majority by voting in favor of the Ordinance of Secession.11
The second company raised for the regiment was the Van Dorn Guards of Claiborne County, organized at Rocky Springs on March 19, 1862, with the election of Robert C. McCay as Captain, John J. Harper as 1st Lieutenant, William L. Faulk as 2nd Lieutenant, and E. T. Harrington as 3rd Lieutenant.12
A native of Claiborne County, Robert Cochran McCay operated a mercantile at Rocky Springs and advertised that he carried “All articles usually kept in a country store.”13 The men in the Van Dorn Guards chose well, for McCay proved to be an excellent leader and his abilities marked him for promotion to a field grade position in the regiment. As Major of the 38th Mississippi, McCay was destined to lead his command through one of the bloodiest days in its history – a desperate, near suicidal assault at Harrisburg, Mississippi on a scorching hot day in July, 1864.14
The third company to be raised was the Hancock Rebels of Hancock County, organized on March 25, 1862, at Hobolochitto, (modern Picayune), Mississippi. Daniel B. Seal was elected Captain of the unit, W. F. Seal the 1st Lieutenant, H. J. Stewart the 2nd Lieutenant, and Hiram Smith the 3rd Lieutenant.15
Daniel Seal was born February 24, 1836, on his father’s plantation in Hancock County. As
he grew older he became interested in the legal profession and decided on a career as a lawyer. In 1861 he was admitted to the bar in Hancock County and began his practice. Not content to rest on his laurels, that same year he ran for a seat in the state legislature and won. When elected Captain of the Hancock Rebels, Seal was still serving in the legislature and continued to do so throughout his term of service with the regiment.16
With his credentials, Seal seemed to have all of the skills necessary to be a good officer, but unfortunately for the regiment, he brought one other skill to the mix – he was a first class troublemaker. His intrigues and schemes in order to win promotion eventually forced almost every officer in the unit to take sides against him.17 If this was not bad enough, Seal’s lack of leadership and discipline led to a complete breakdown of unit morale, and his company had the highest desertion rate of the entire regiment.
The fourth company to enter service was the Wilkinson Guards of Wilkinson County,
organized on April 1, 1862, at Woodville with the election of James H. Jones as Captain, Robert L. F. Bullock 1st Lieutenant, Hansford Lanehart 2nd Lieutenant, and James Scudder 3rd Lieutenant.18
James Henry Jones was born in Autauga County, Alabama, in 1838. His father John E. Jones was a successful lawyer and member of the Alabama State Legislature. Captain Jones attended the University of Mississippi graduating first in the class of 1858. Following in his father’s footsteps, he studied law, and in 1859 was admitted to the bar in Woodville, Mississippi. Shortly thereafter the lure of the west called, and Jones moved to Bastrop, Texas, where he set up a law office.
At the outbreak of the war Jones returned to Mississippi and joined the Confederate army as a private for 60 days service under Brigadier General James L. Alcorn. After his release from service, Jones went back to Wilkinson County and helped to raise the Wilkinson Guards. Enlisting with him were his three younger brothers; John age 18, Robert, age 15, and Elisha, age 14. Of the four Jones brothers who went to war in 1862, only James survived; he lived to see all three of his siblings die on the battlefield.19
A prolific writer in the post-war years, Jones made it his mission in life to make sure the 38th Mississippi’s contributions to the war effort were not forgotten. The articles and letters he wrote about the regiment constitute the largest single source of information on the unit.
The fifth company to be formed was the White Rebels of Lawrence County, organized at Silver Creek on April 24, 1862, with the election of James F. White as Captain, James A. Bass as 1st Lieutenant, Milton Griffith as 2nd Lieutenant, and Sanders E. Parkman as 3rd Lieutenant. After only two months in command of the company, Captain White resigned his commission for unspecified reasons and left the unit. To fill the vacancy, the men held a new election and chose C. L. Gilmer to be their new Captain.20
Following his resignation from the Rebels, White accepted a commission as Captain of Company I, 2nd Mississippi Cavalry from Monroe County.21 Captain White named his new command the Lula White Rebels, a move that caused many future historians to confuse this unit with his old one. An example of the problems caused by the similar names exists in Dunbar Rowland’s Military History of Mississippi 1803-1898, which is considered by many to be the best reference guide ever written about the Mississippi units that served in the Civil War. In his work, Rowland lists the Lula White Rebels as serving in both the 2nd Mississippi Cavalry and the 38th Mississippi Infantry, while leaving the White Rebels out completely.22
The sixth company to be organized was the Johnston Avengers of Copiah County, with
the election of officers taking place on May 3, 1862, in Hazlehurst. Leander M. Graves was picked for Captain, Cornelius McLaurin for 1st Lieutenant, John J. Green for 2nd Lieutenant, and William B. Graves for 3rd Lieutenant.23
Elections for company officers often degenerated into wild affairs, with the candidates vying to see which could offer the men the best bribe for their votes. Leander Graves came up with a particularly effective appeal, promising the company “…his men shall not stay in camps when they get sick if he can help it.”24
The seventh company to enter service was the Wolf Creek Marksmen of Attala County, organized on May 7, 1862, in Multona Springs with the election of Jerry Dishman as Captain, R. J. Hubbert as 1st Lieutenant, Berry M. Black as 2nd Lieutenant, and John F. Anderson as 3rd Lieutenant.25
Like many other novice officers new to military life, Captain Dishman struggled to learn the many duties required by his new position. One of the most difficult tasks facing a new officer was learning the complex series of infantry drills necessary for moving a regiment both on the march and in line of battle. Trying to learn the rudiments of drill while simultaneously teaching it to raw recruits, some of whom did not know their left foot from their right foot, must have been a frustrating experience. Historian James Robertson described the problem as “…the ignorant leading the uneducated.”26
The job turned out to be more than he could handle, and Dishman was forced to admit to an officer’s examination board that he “…acknowledged his incapacity for his position and his ignorance of its duties…”27 The captain resigned his commission after making this frank statement to the board, and took a job in a tannery making shoes for the Confederate army.28
The eighth company, the Price Relief, was organized in Jackson, Hinds County, on April 24, 1862, with the election of William M. Estelle as Captain, George H. Robertson as 1st Lieutenant, Moses H. Curry as 2nd Lieutenant, and John E. Tarpley as 3rd Lieutenant. The Price Relief was somewhat unusual in that the men were recruited from four counties instead of the usual one or two. The majority of the soldiers were recruited from Hinds County, but there were substantial numbers from Scott, Madison and Newton Counties as well.29
There is no explanation in the records for why the Price Relief were recruited from such a large area, but the heavy recruiting efforts in the state may have made it necessary to travel farther a field to fill up the company.
Among the officers of the 38th Mississippi, Captain Estelle was one of the most experienced officers in the regiment in terms of leading soldiers in the field. He gained his experience during the Mexican War serving in the 2nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment from 1846 – 1848. The 22-year-old Estelle began his service as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Panola Boys, Company I of the regiment, and in July, 1847, he was promoted to Captain to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of A. A. Overton.30
The 2nd Mississippi arrived in Mexico after hostilities had ended, and the regiment was relegated to performing guard duty until their return home in the summer of 1848.31 Even though he did not see combat in Mexico, Captain Estelle gained valuable experience in the complex business of leading citizen soldiers in the field. This experience was put to good use in turning the raw recruits in the Price Relief into combat ready soldiers.
The ninth company to be raised was the Columbia Guards, organized in Columbia, Marion County, on March 25, 1862. The company elected Franklin W. Foxworth as its Captain, Alexander E. S. Foxworth 1st Lieutenant, John Applewhite 2nd Lieutenant, and William J. Ball the 3rd Lieutenant.32
Franklin William Foxworth was born on his parent’s farm three miles south of Columbia in 1839, and by 1860 he was working as a plantation overseer in Marion County.33 When the war started he enlisted in Company D, 7th Mississippi Infantry, along with his brothers George and Job. Elected a 2nd Lieutenant by the company, Franklin was forced to resign soon after his promotion because of ill health.34
Once he recovered from his sickness, Franklin joined the Columbia Guards and was elected captain of the company. Soon thereafter he was promoted to major, and the vacancy was filled by his brother Alexander, who remained captain of the Guards until the end of the war.35
Rounding out the regiment as the tenth and final company was the Brent Rifles of Pike County, organized in Holmesville on April 26, 1862. Preston Brent was elected Captain, Henry S. Brumfield the 1st Lieutenant, David C. Walker the 2nd Lieutenant, and James C. Williams the 3rd Lieutenant.36
Born in Copiah County on May 25, 1833, Preston Brent was something of a rarity among the officers of the 38th Mississippi in that he had received his formal education at a military school. He attended the Western Military Institute at Drennon Springs, Kentucky, and upon graduating returned to Mississippi about 1857 and settled in Pike County.37
In October 1859, the South was shaken by John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia. This aborted slave uprising alarmed Southerners who responded by forming militia companies to protect their communities from future uprisings. Preston Brent formed such a unit in Holmesville named the Quitman Guards, and as a reward for his efforts, he was elected captain of the unit. When the war broke out the company responded immediately to President Jefferson Davis’s call for troops to defend Pensacola, Florida. Captain Brent was unable to go however as he could not leave his farm unattended on such short notice, so he was forced to resign from the company.38
Brent proceeded to put his personal affairs in order, and in September 1861, responded to Governor John J. Pettus’ call for 10,000 volunteers to serve under General Albert Sidney Johnston in Kentucky. Elected Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st Regiment, General James L. Alcorn’s Brigade, he spent a long hard winter as part of Johnston’s line of defense in Central Kentucky. The 1st Regiment saw no action during its time in the Bluegrass State, and was eventually sent back to Mississippi where it mustered out of service in February 1862.39
By an act of providence, Brent returned to Pike County just in time to help raise a new
company for the war, one that was destined to bear his name and become part of the 38th Mississippi. This was a fortunate circumstance for the regiment, for Preston Brent proved himself to be an excellent leader and guiding force in unit. Pike County historian Luke Ward Conerly wrote of the traits that made Brent a good officer, saying he was “…cool headed, quiet, unassuming, gallant and brave, an able commander, a hero in the flash and flail and din of battle…”40
When each company of the 38th completed its initial organization, the new soldiers had to say their good-byes and prepare to leave their homes and families. Many years after the war Alfred Faulk reminisced about the farewell celebration the community gave his father William and the rest of the Van Dorn Guards in April 1862: “Everybody celebrated that night at Port Gibson…Merrymaking continued in the streets until dawn.”41 As the men marched off to war they confidently boasted to the townspeople, “We’ll lick the Yankees before breakfast.”42 Eleazer W. Thornhill of the White Rebels remembered when his company left home:
We went from Lawrence Co., to Brookhaven, and there got aboard the cars, and went to Jackson, Miss. When we left, there was a lot of handkerchief and hat shaking. Many a man that left there that morning never came back again. We were cheered repeatedly on our way to Jackson.43
Celebrations such as those held for the Van Dorn Guards and White Rebels were reenacted throughout Mississippi as the other eight companies that comprised the 38th Mississippi marched off to defend their state. Few if any of these men could have realized the trials in store for them over the next three years. Some died in battle; many more died of disease; all faced privation and suffering. The survivors returned to find their homes and communities in ruins after the scourge of war had swept over the land, with Mississippi forever altered by the storm of death and destruction.
The rendezvous point for the individual companies was Jackson, the capitol of Mississippi, a destination that required most to travel by train, a novelty for many of the men in the regiment. Most were from rural areas, and for a number of them this trip was their first time away from home. This excitement must have been lost on John C. Luper of the White Rebels who wrote his wife matter-of-factly about the trip, “Mary we go to Brookhaven on Thurs. night and have to stay there till Sat. night, we landed in Jackson all well.”44
Upon arrival in Jackson the ten companies were placed under the command of Colonel Fleming W. Adams of Harrison County who had been given authority to raise a regiment by the Confederate War Department.45 Information on Colonel Adams’ pre-war life is sparse, but the records that survive indicate he was a man of some wealth and influence in Mississippi.
At the outbreak of the war 31 year old Fleming W. Adams volunteered for service with an infantry company from Handsboro, Harrison County, Mississippi. On May 20, 1861, Adams was elected captain of the company, which the men named in his honor the Adams Rifles. His election must have been a forgone conclusion because even before the vote, Adams was already working to have the company accepted for service by the Confederate Government. On May 17, Adams’ older brother Robert wrote President Jefferson Davis to request that the Adams Rifles be received into Confederate service. He told the president that his brother was “…anxious for an early opportunity of testing the nerves of Black Republicans.”46
The Adams Rifles were accepted into the army and designated Company E, 20th Mississippi Infantry. The regiment was ordered to Western Virginia to serve under Brigadier General John B. Floyd, and in November 1861 they participated in several small skirmishes with the Yankees. In December Floyd’s command, including the 20th, was transferred to Central Kentucky to serve under General Albert Sidney Johnston.47
About the same time the regiment was transferred, Captain Adams began a political lobbying effort designed to win him a promotion to colonel of an infantry regiment. To hasten this end, Adams resigned from the 20th Mississippi and went to Richmond to press his case in person. On January 17, 1862, he drafted a letter to Jefferson Davis, and as this document relates directly to the creation of the 38th Mississippi, it is worth quoting at length:
Some friends in Congress inform me that a bill has just been passed authorizing the President to commission officers to raise Regts. & those friends knew I was just leaving for Miss. to raise a Regt. and that some Companies had already been tendered me, and hence informed me of this bill and advised me to apply to you for the commission of Col. at once. I am confident I can raise a Regt. in a very short time and will be glad to have the commission of Col. I have some Companies offered me as I stated to you a few days since. My friends offer to recommend me to gain favor; but I suppose recommendations will be unnecessary. I am known to you as well as to those willing to endorse me. I will call tomorrow and hope to be able to see you…48
Contrary to what he told the president, Adams did have recommendations made on his behalf, as evidenced by a letter from Walker Brooke to Davis dated February 3, 1862. Brooke was a well-known Vicksburg lawyer who served as a Mississippi delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress.49 In his letter Brooke recommended Adams along with several other Mississippi officers for promotion. He closed by saying These gentlemen are all now in the service and are efficient officers – Capt. Adams has I believe already some four or five companies ready to be mustered in for the war.”50
The campaign of self-promotion paid off for Adams as he was awarded a Colonel’s commission, and more importantly, authorization to raise a regiment of infantry. As his letters indicate, Adams had already made considerable progress in this area as he had already made arrangements for several companies to join his new regiment.
When all ten companies reached Jackson, the first order of business in forming the
regiment was the election of field officers. The voting was done on May 12, and the men confirmed the War Department’s appointment, electing Fleming W. Adams Colonel of the regiment. For the other two command positions in the regiment, Preston Brent of the Brent Rifles was chosen for Lieutenant Colonel, and Franklin Foxworth of the Columbia Guards picked for Major. The rank and file had made sensible choices, electing three men with some prior military experience to lead them, but of the three, only one of them would stand the test of time. Major Foxworth lasted barely a month in his new position, tendering his resignation on June 15 without specifying a reason. To fill the vacancy, the senior captain by date of rank, Walter L. Keirn of the Holmes County Volunteers assumed the duties of major and received his official promotion to that rank in August 1862.51
One of the basic flaws of the election of officers was that unqualified men could be, and were, elected to positions of great responsibility in a regiment. The 38th certainly had its fair share, as Erastus Hoskins of the Holmes County Volunteers was promoted to assistant quartermaster in the regiment, and as such had considerable contact with the company officers; he confided to his wife his observations:
I write this to you – Dear – because I can do so without it going any farther…My dear to take the officers generally of this regiment – I think they are common and green. The Col. – speaks of having some of them cashiered – (none of our boys) if he does he will have Charlie Gilmer appointed Captain in some of their places – I said cashier them – He will not exactly have that done – but have them examined & found incompetent, receive their resignation – and appoint Capt. & Lieut. in their place.52
Examinations were used to find and remove incompetent officers, and there were a number in the 38th who were weeded out by this process. One officer who didn’t measure up was Captain Henry S. Brumfield of the Brent Rifles. Failing his examination, the captain resigned from service by sending in the following letter:
I hereby tender this my resignation of the position I hold as Capt. of Co. K, 38th Regt. of Miss. Vols. I do so for the following reasons. I believe myself entirely unfit for the position, having no knowledge of military tactics & c. I entered the service as a Lieut. and hoped that I would be able to make myself a competent officer, in this I find myself mistaken…I therefore respectfully ask that this my resignation be accepted.53
The examination process could remove the outright incompetents, but what it could not do was remove those officers who simply could not handle the strain of leading men in battle. Combat leadership was especially important for the regimental field and staff officers, who were expected to lead their men by example through the chaos and blood of the battlefield. Colonel Adams and Lieutenant Colonel Brent both had previous military experience, but neither one had been in combat – and it remained to be seen how they would do once the fighting started. Erastus Hoskins wrote his wife about the regiments two top officers, and he made some interesting observations:
Dear – we have what is generally deemed good-clever fellows as field officers. Our Col. – very indolent – He lies about in the tent, smokes his pipe and takes his ease generally. He has the capacity, and knows what to do. He is tolerably profane though with all a very agreeable and easy to get a long with. I like him notwithstanding he is lazy and profane. Our Lt. Col. thus far is a perfect blank – he takes no command, and when on dress parade takes no position in the Regiment. He may do better when there is a chance of a fight. If I was in the Col. place I would stir him up. He seems a very good easy clever fellow, and the companies who are well acquainted with him think a great deal of him.54
Hoskins observations about his commanding officers were not exactly a glowing recommendation, but it would take the true test of combat to determine just what kind of leaders Adams and Brent were.
With the election of officers complete, the regiment was assigned an official title: the 38th Mississippi Volunteer Infantry. Over the course of the next three years the soldiers of the 38th became an extended family, bonded by their shared experiences of living together, fighting together, and in all too many cases, dying together.
During their stay in Jackson the new recruits were initiated into a soldier’s life, and like all men new to the service they wrote about their new experiences to the loved ones back home. Documentation on this early period in the regiment’s history is scarce, but fortunately one soldier’s correspondence does survive, and it gives an interesting insight into how one enlisted soldier felt about army life.
The source of this material was Sergeant James W. Thornhill of the Johnston Avengers who left a pregnant wife and two small children at home when he marched off to war. The sergeant cared very deeply for his family, and he wrote to them constantly to tell them how he was getting along.
One subject that was near and dear to the soldier’s heart was food, and Sgt. Thornhill had a lot to say on the subject:
We are getting along verry well hear so fare. We have plenty to eat we get corn meal and flour and sugar and coffee and molasses and peas and pork and some gets beef but I have been lucky enough not to get any beef yet and I am in hopes I will not get any we get vinegar and soap and salt I think we are fareing verry well although som complain mightly as for my part I think we are doing verry well if we only could get tents…55
This time of plenty as described by Sgt. Thornhill soon became a distant memory as the regiment began active campaigning, and the men learned to survive on a bare-bones diet.
One common theme that appears in letters sent to the soldiers from home are warnings about the evils of military life. Within the army camps existed every vice known to man, and for many new recruits, away from home for the first time, these temptations were well nigh irresistible. Gambling, drinking, and profanity were all very common, and soldiers received constant reminders from home to stay on the straight and narrow.56 J. A. Gillespie wrote to her brother William, a private in the Brent Rifles, to give him this warning:
Oh! William let me entreat you to beware of the sins of the camp. Do not be tempted to join in them remember you have an angel wife in heaven and your hearts desire is to go to her. Be a true Christian and perhaps you may influence others to do right.57
For men away from home for the first time, Jackson was an exciting place, and many in the 38th spent their free time exploring. Sgt. Thornhill was one of these men, and he eagerly wrote to his wife Jane about what he had seen:
I expected when I come to Jackson that I should see everything that would entice a man to spend money but was mistaken for I can’t even get apiece of bread in the bakers shops but that makes no diference as long as we can get plenty in camps. I have been to penitenuary but could not get in and also to the factory there you can see as many as twenty or thirty girls at work at one time some weaving and some warping some doing one thing and another and some of them the prettiest girls you ever saw. I have been all over town for we have not been drilling any scarsly although I have been at liberty I have not stoaled over town as much as some of the boys.58
Once the novelty of camp life wore off, many soldiers suffered from bouts of homesickness, and Sgt. Thornhill was no exception. On May 19 he wrote these moving words to Jane:
…but if I chance to never to return home remember that my heart is with you although I am fare away my heart is at home with them that is near and dear to me as my own life…the tears do flow in my eys as I am writing these lines to think of my loving wife and prattling little children who are left behind to suffer I know not what but do not greave but God helping them and me we will meet again shortly.59
Sadly, Sgt. Thornhill never saw his beloved wife and children again. Less than two months after writing this letter he was dead of the measles, having never fought in a single battle. The day after he poured out his heart-felt sentiments to his wife, the 38th Mississippi received orders to report to Corinth, a mere eight days after being mustered into service. The men were green recruits, but the grave military situation in North Mississippi precluded the luxury of an extended training period. The soldiers of the 38th had to learn the art of war from the front lines, and the lessons they learned were paid for in blood.60
1 James W. Thornhill to Jane Thornhill, 18 May 1862. Original letter is owned by Mrs. Norma Fortenberry (Osyka, MS).
2 Bell I. Wiley, The Life of Johnny Reb (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 19-20.
3 Muster roll, CSR-MS, Record Group 9, rolls 62-65.
7 Muster roll, CSR-MS, Record Group 9, roll 62. Note: The nickname of the White Rebels does not appear in the Compiled Service Records; see War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; (Washington, D. C., 1880-1902), Series 4, Volume 2, 934.
13 Dunbar Rowland, Mississippi, Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form (3 Volumes) (Atlanta GA: Southern Historical Publishing Association, 1907), Volume 3, 569; Merchants Invoice, Robert C. McCay, 1 January 1859. The original is owned by George Slaton of Wilmington, NC.
26 James I. Robertson Jr., Soldiers Blue & Gray (New York: Warner Books, 1991), 49.
27 Minutes, Officers Examination Board, 8 July 1862, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Alabama; 37th Infantry, Service Record of Moses B. Green, National Archives, Record Group 109, roll 369.
28 Confederate Pension Application, Mrs. Bettie Dishman; May, 1914; Texas State Library and Archives Commission; (Austin, TX).
29 Muster roll, CSR-MS, Record Group 9, rolls 62-65.
30 Muster roll; Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the Mexican War in Organizations From Mississippi; 2nd Infantry; National Archives, Record Group 58, Roll 4.
33History of Marion County Mississippi; (Marion County Historical Society, 1976), 83. See also United States Bureau of the Census. Marion County, Mississippi, 1860. Roll 586, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
34 Muster roll, CSR-MS, Record Group 9, 7th Infantry; roll 161. Also see the Job Foxworth Diary, 12 February 1862, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
46 Robert L. Adams to Jefferson Davis, 17 May 1861, Letters Received By The Confederate Secretary of War, 1861-1865 (Cited hereafter as Secretary of War), National Archives, Record Group 109, roll 2, #804-1861.
My prayer is that God will soon end this unholy war for it seems that the country will be ruined and oh! the desolate firesides that it has caused.1
Mrs. J. A. Gillespie to her brother William,
July 25, 1862.
On May 20, 1862, the 38th Mississippi was ordered to fall in and the long gray column of men was marched to the railroad depot where they boarded the trains that took them to the seat of war. The men traveled north on the Mississippi Central Railroad, and upon arrival in Grenada the regiment was sent to a camp of instruction for several days of much needed training before being sent on the Corinth.2
After leaving Grenada, the regiment traveled on to Corinth, but the exact route taken is not known, but it must have been a long, exhausting, and dusty trip. There was no direct railway linking Grenada with Corinth, and the existing route that crossed into Tennessee before turning south and continuing on to Corinth was already cut by the Union army. With this in mind, the most likely route taken by the 38th was to continue north by rail on the Mississippi Central to a point near Oxford, Mississippi. There they would have to leave the trains and march overland due east until they struck the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. From that point they could travel directly to Corinth by rail.
The long and exhausting trip to Corinth gave the men plenty of time to think about the serious threat to the army they were about to join. After the battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862, the rebels under the command of General P. G. T. Beauregard retreated back to Corinth and quickly set to work improving the defenses protecting the city. The Confederates had plenty of incentive to work hard because the victorious Union army under the command of Major General Henry W. Halleck had begun a slow and methodical advance towards the rapidly entrenching Rebels. Halleck’s massive blue-clad army, 110,000 men strong, inched towards Corinth, taking nearly a month to reach their objective, arriving on the outskirts of the city on May 25. To oppose this force Beauregard had only 66,000 men, including the half-trained reinforcements such as the 38th Mississippi that were being rushed to his aid.3
The exact day the 38th arrived in Corinth is not known, but it was probably on or before May 27. That was the day the regiment was issued weapons and it seems likely this occurred after the reached Corinth. The 38th was issued 405 percussion muskets and 405 sets of accouterments for them – cartridge boxes, cap boxes, bayonet scabbards, and waist belts.4 The firearms given to the men were .69 smoothbore muskets, a weapon that was obsolete even before the war began. Guns such as these had a maximum range of 100 yards and an effective range of 50 yards, so anyone armed with such a weapon had to be in close contact with the enemy to have any hope of hitting him. In the decade prior to the Civil War, great advances had been made in firearms technology, most notably the development of a rifle that was practical for military use. The rifle made use of a grooved barrel to impart spin on an elongated bullet, greatly increasing its accuracy and range. In the hands of a trained marksman, an individual target could be hit from as far away as 600 yards. The South had few rifles at the beginning of the war, and was in fact hard pressed to provide all of its soldiers with smoothbore weapons. The men of the 38th would be at a distinct disadvantage if they came up against rifle equipped Federals, but until they were issued better weapons or acquired them on the battlefield, the “pumpkin slingers” would have to do.5
The men soon had a chance to test their weapons as the 38th was ordered to the front lines shortly after their arrival at Corinth. On May 28th, one day after receiving their muskets, the regiment suffered its first combat casualties. Privates William P. Cotton and Ed Ellis of Company A were both wounded while on picket duty out in front of the main entrenchments.6
Realizing he was hopelessly outnumbered, General Beauregard ordered his army to abandon Corinth on May 29, 1862. Retreating to the southwest, the Rebels marched along the Mobile and Ohio Railroad 52 miles to Tupelo, arriving on June 9. The soldiers were quickly put to work building a series of earthworks around the city to strengthen its defenses.7
Retreating to Tupelo exposed the men of the 38th to their first real hardships of the war, and for most it was a rude awakening. On June 10, 1862, Sgt. Thornhill wrote home describing conditions in the regiment:
…my dear companion a soldiers life is a hard life I will assure you we have tight times hear we get tolerable plenty of flour but not greese only what little we can get out of what little bacon we get and that is mighty little and you know that it is sorry living we get a little molasses sometimes no coffee nor no rice a little fresh beef and that is sorry eating we have been retreating now for two weeks but I think we will stop for a while.8
During the retreat the suffering of the soldiers in the 38th was compounded by the large-scale outbreak of disease that swept through the ranks of the regiment. Most Confederate soldiers, the 38th included, came from rural backgrounds and had never been exposed to the diseases that were common to city-born troops. Consequently, when exposed to large groups for the first time in their lives, they fell sick in alarming numbers.9
In the 38th Mississippi, the casualties from disease were staggering: during the course of the war 218 men in the regiment died of disease, more than twice the number that were killed in combat. 190 of these men died during the regiments first nine months of service, after their initial exposure to these new diseases. As the war went on the number of deaths due to disease tapered off as the survivors built up immunity; after nine months service, the regiment lost only 28 more men to disease for the remainder of the war.10
The Wilkinson Guards had the dubious distinction of losing more men to disease than any other company in the regiment. An examination of one muster roll for the company reveals just how fast an epidemic could devastate a unit. For the period from April 9, 1862 – June 20, 1862, 32 of the 128 men in the Guards died of disease.11 The other companies in the regiment were hard-hit as well; Sgt. Thornhill graphically described the effects that disease had on the Johnston Avengers:
…this leaves me in tolerable health although I am not well I have something similar to the mumps my jaws has been swelled and sore for several days but they are better now I do not think I have got the mumps. J. J. Erwin and W. L. Owens are gone to hospital Isham has the measles this morning they are broak out right smart. J. C. Erwin is sick and Elisha Breland is sick he has the measles…12
This was the last letter Sgt. Thornhill ever wrote to his family. On July 3, 1862, he died at an army hospital in Columbus, Mississippi, a victim of the disease he described so well in his letter.13
In the wake of this epidemic, the 38th Mississippi was left a shell of a regiment, in desperate need of more men to fill the depleted ranks. In late June 1862, Colonel Adams received orders sending the unit to Columbus, Mississippi to recruit new men and build the 38th back up to fighting strength, but the contagion continued to plague the regiment. On June 28th Erastus Hoskins, now the regimental quartermaster, wrote his wife with grim news about the effects of disease on the unit:
The health of the regiment has not improved any since we got here. We send some to the hospital every day. One company left home with a hundred and twenty men and has lost nineteen – they all died in hospitals. Another company left home with one hundred twenty five and have lost twenty seven and I expect will lose another tonight…When a soldier dies in camp I have to get the coffin and the company bury him. Some few have died in all the companies except in Captain Keirn’s.14
Due to the continuing sickness in the regiment, the effort to build up the strength of the 38th was largely ineffective. Of the 963 men who started out from Jackson in May, only 322 remained to take part in the unit’s first fight at Iuka in September.15
The 38th remained in the Columbus area on recruiting duty until early August 1862 when
they were ordered to Saltillo to rejoin the army. On returning, the regiment was finally assigned to a permanent command: Colonel John D. Martin’s Brigade, Brigadier General Henry Little’s Division, Major General Sterling Price’s Army of the West.16
To fully understand the 38th’s position in the chain of command, a brief overview of how Confederate armies were organized is in order. At the very bottom of the chain was the regiment, the basic building block of an army. On paper a regiment was 1000 men strong, but as in the 38th’s case, disease and combat could reduce a unit to one quarter of that number. A Colonel commanded a regiment, and his job exposed him to a high degree of personal danger. Regimental officers were expected to lead by example and inspire the men under them with a conspicuous display of personal bravery. This leadership by example often worked wonders for unit morale, but it also led to very high casualties in the officer’s ranks.17
The next step up in the chain of command was the brigade, consisting of two or more regiments under the leadership of a colonel or brigadier general or colonel. Confederate brigades were generally named after their commander, and to instill a sense of unity, regiments from the same state were grouped together whenever possible.18 The 38th was assigned to Martin’s Brigade, which consisted of the following units:
Leadership at the brigade level during the Civil war was very demanding job for the commanding officer. His duties required not only personal bravery but also good management skills to keep control of the individual regiments in his brigade and have them fighting as a cohesive unit in the chaos of battle.20
The 38th was fortunate to have Colonel John D. Martin as their brigade commander, a veteran who had already proven his leadership ability on the field of battle. Martin began his military service as the commanding officer of the 25th Mississippi Infantry, later designated the 2nd Confederate Infantry. Martin led the 2nd at the bloody battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862. He showed his ability for higher command when late on the afternoon of the 6th he took over leadership of the brigade after the wounding of Brigadier General John S. Bowen. Martin led the brigade very credibly throughout the remainder of the battle, marking himself for promotion to a more responsible position.21 A soldier in the 36th Mississippi Infantry said of him, “Col. Martin is a young man who, from appearances, has the vim necessary for a bold and dashing leader, and I believe isa favorite with the troops under his command.”22
The next level in the chain of command was the division, led by a brigadier general or
major general. A division was made up of two or more brigades, and in combat it was the job of the division commander to remain close to his troops so that he could manage them effectively, but not get so close that he was sucked into the battle and lost control of the units under his command.23 Once again the 38th was fortunate to be placed under a very experienced division commander, Brigadier General Henry Little. A 22-year veteran of the United States Army, Little resigned his commission in 1861 to fight for the Confederacy. He first drew attention to himself for the way he handled his brigade at the battle of Elkhorn Tavern, Arkansas, and shortly thereafter he was promoted to lead a division.24 General Little commanded the 1st Division, composed of the following brigades:
At the top of the chain of command was the army, commanded by a general, lieutenant general, or major general.26 The Army of the West, commanded by Major General Sterling Price, consisted of two divisions of infantry:
1st Division – Brigadier General Henry Little
2nd Division – Brigadier General Dabney Maury
Rounding out the army was Brigadier General Frank C. Armstrong’s brigade of cavalry, and eleven batteries of artillery – nine attached directly to infantry brigades, and two serving as the reserve artillery.27 All told, Price had under his command approximately 17,000 men in the Army of the West.
The head of the army, Sterling Price, was a well-known figure in his home state of
Missouri, having served as its governor from 1853-1857. Although he initially opposed secession, Price took command of the pro-Confederate state militia because of his disgust at the methods used by unionists to keep the state from joining the Confederacy. Price cared very much for the men he commanded, and they in turn were very fond of him and gave him the affectionate nickname “Old Pap.” Price led his Missourians into battle at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington, in Missouri, and Elkhorn Tavern in Arkansas, where his men earned a well-deserved reputation as extremely tough soldiers. In early May 1862, Price accepted a commission in the Confederate Army as Major General.28
On March 29, 1862, Price was ordered to move his army east of the Mississippi River and Join P. G. T. Beauregard’s army defending Corinth. The Army of the West participated in the retreat from Corinth on May 29, and soon after their arrival at Tupelo Beauregard was relieved of command and replaced by General Braxton Bragg.29 The new commander began transferring the bulk of his troops to Chattanooga on July 21, a move that culminated in a Rebel invasion of Kentucky. With the bulk of the army transferred out of state, only two organized Confederate forces were left to defend Mississippi: Price’s Army of the West, stationed in the northeast part of the state, and Major General Earl Van Dorn’s army garrisoned at Vicksburg. To aid his movement into Kentucky, Bragg charged Price with keeping pressure on the federal troops in the vicinity of Corinth under the command of Major General William S. Rosecrans. By maintaining a threat to Corinth, it was hoped that the Union general would not send reinforcements to the Federal army opposing Bragg in Kentucky.30
By late August 1862, Bragg had his army marching through Tennessee in route to Kentucky, and three Union divisions were detached from Rosecrans and sent to the aid of Major General Don Carlos Buell. In early September Price began receiving reports indicating Rosecrans was preparing to move his entire force to join Buell. With very clear orders from Bragg to prevent such reinforcements from taking place, Price put the Army of the West into motion on September 11, 1862, with his destination Iuka, Mississippi in the northeast corner of the state.31
Martin’s Brigade was positioned at the head of the army and spent much of the march on picket duty well out in front of the main Rebel column, watchful for any sign of the Yankees. As they advanced the men could plainly see how the war had ravaged the countryside. Sergeant George P. Clarke of the 36th Mississippi Infantry described the desolation caused by the conflict:
Plantations were overgrown with briars and weeds, and the plows were rusting in the weedy furrows. Those who had once followed them had already fallen in the heat of battle…an all pervading gloom brooded over the landscape and hill, and ghostly chimneys, surrounded by skeleton fences, proclaimed the fact that war is no child’s play.32
After three days of hard marching, the Rebels entered Iuka on the morning of September 14, only to find that Rosecrans had abandoned the town and retreated back to Corinth.33 Price had his men camp in the fields surrounding Iuka, and the 38th, along with the rest of the army, ate well from the abandoned commissary stores left behind by the federals in their hasty retreat.34
While Price was planning his next move, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, Union commander of the District of West Tennessee was formulating a trap to destroy the Rebels at Iuka. Grant’s strategy called for Major General Edward O. C. Ord to take his 8,000 men at Corinth and march on Iuka from the northwest. At the same time, a second column of 9,000 men commanded by General Rosecrans was to march on Iuka from the southwest, cutting Price’s line of retreat. If the two Yankee columns hit Price at the same time, his army would be destroyed or forced to surrender.35
By September 19, Grant’s trap seemed well on its way to a successful conclusion. Rebel scouts sent back reports of the Union force approaching from the north, and Price deployed his army to meet this threat. However, the column under Rosecrans approaching from the south along the Jacinto road was undetected by Price’s men as the Yankees moved into a blocking position across the Rebels line of retreat. Price finally received word of this movement at 2:30 p. m. on the 19th, and realizing the threat it posed, immediately ordered General Hebert’s Brigade into motion to meet this new danger. Hebert made contact with the vanguard of the federal column one mile south of Iuka on the Jacinto road and took up a blocking position, forming his line of battle across the road.36
Grant planned to trap Sterling Price’s Army at Iuka with a pincer movement: Ord’s troops marching from the northwest and Rosecrans force from the southwest. If the two federal columns could converge on Price at the same time, the Rebel general would be in a very difficult position.
Price realized one lone brigade couldn’t stop the powerful federal column without assistance, so he ordered General Little to take Martin’s Brigade and reinforce Hebert. He was very concerned about the danger Rosecrans posed to his rear and he decided to accompany Little and personally monitor the situation on the Jacinto road.37
As Martin marched his men at the double-quick down the Jacinto road towards the sounds of battle, the soldiers of the 38th Mississippi had to face their own inner fears as they prepared to face their baptism of fire. None of the men recorded their thoughts on the subject, but they were probably very similar to those expressed by Sgt. Clarke of the 36th Mississippi:
Every one felt that peculiar sensation that comes just on the eve of battle, and which only a soldier knows. It has been described as something like the lump that gets into a young fellows throat when his about to ‘pop the question.’38
As General Little approached the front with Martin’s Brigade he found Hebert’s men engaged in a furious assault to capture the 11th Ohio Battery at the center of the Union line.39 After a quick examination of the situation, Little determined his first priority was to secure Hebert’s flanks, ordering Colonel Martin to take the 36th Mississippi and 37th Alabama and move them to support the left of the Rebel line. Little took personal command of the 37th Mississippi and 38th Mississippi and moved them to protect Hebert’s right flank. He placed the 38th with its left astride the Jacinto road, and the 37th to the right of her sister regiment. After placing the two regiments into line of battle, Little ordered the gray ranks to advance after warning Colonel Adams and Colonel Robert McLain of the 37th not to fire as Hebert’s men were in front of them.40
As Adams and McLain marched towards the Union line, General Little remained behind to consult with General Price. As the two talked on horseback, a stray bullet whistled under Price’s arm and struck Little in the head, killing him instantly. In the confusion that followed, the advance of the 38th and 37th was forgotten and for all intents and purposes the Mississippians were on their own.41
In his report of the battle, Colonel Adams stated that once given the order to attack, he marched the 38th forward, keeping the regiments left flank aligned on the Jacinto road. As they neared the Union line the regiment had to climb a gentle rise, and as they reached the top, Adams heard someone on his left in the road give the command to halt. Assuming the order came from General Little, the Colonel halted the regiment in place. This order came at the worst possible moment, for the 38th had crested the hill and was now in full view of the nearby Union line of battle. The exposed Rebels made an excellent target, and the cannoneers of the 12th Wisconsin Light Artillery very quickly sighted in on the regiment and sent their explosive shells screaming into the 38th’s line. The air was filled with hot metal as the projectiles exploded around the men, and Colonel Adams ordered the regiment to lie down to avoid the storm of shrapnel.42
Adams’ next actions are very confused, and a close examination of the records left by the participants is necessary to understand what transpired on the battlefield that day. In his report of the action Colonel Adams stated:
The regiment halted and remained under a heavy fire for some time on the hill, when a command was given by some one on the left to fall back. I asked who the command came from, but was unable to ascertain. The regiment fell back some 50 or 60 yards with but little confusion, and were rapidly formed in line again. We moved forward again under order to join with General [John] Whitfield’s command, but about this time the firing ceased in our front, and it becoming dark, I halted and remained in that position until some time in the night.43
Lieutenant Colonel Brent also submitted a report on the battle, and his account of the 38th’s retreat from the hill differs in one important aspect from that of Colonel Adams. Brent stated when ordered to fall back, “…a portion of the regiment fell back in confusion, the remainder in good order.”44 Brent’s statement does not differ widely from that given by Adams, but it does indicate that the retreat of the 38th was more disorganized than the Colonel was willing to admit. There are no further wartime sources relating to the 38th’s part in the battle of Iuka, but there is post-war evidence available that indicates that both of these reports were falsified to cover up a shocking case of cowardice on the part of Colonel Adams. Captain James H. Jones of Company D made this damning accusation in his history of the Wilkinson Guards. Jones wrote, “Participated in the battle of Iuka, and was one of two companies that stood after the flight of their Colonel from the fire of a masked battery.”45 One man’s charge of cowardice may be suspect, but Corporal Isiah Rush of the Van Dorn Guards confirmed Jones’s claim. Rush applied for a Confederate soldiers pension in Texas in 1925, and on his application he wrote, “Adams, on account of cowardice at the battle of Iuka, resigned and Brent was elected Colonel.”46
Colonel Adams’s actions at Iuka begin to make sense when placed into context by the accusations of Jones and Rush. The decision to halt the 38th on top of a hill in full view of the enemy’s artillery based on a command given by an unidentified individual is not the action of someone eager to come to blows with the Yankees. Even worse, Adams’ account of the regiment’s retreat appears to be an outright lie to cover up for the fact that his actions led to a stampede to the rear by most of the regiment.
If the regiment did break in the face of the enemy, and the available evidence indicates that it did (Jones and Rush wrote their accounts years apart, in different states, and neither published their writing) the blame must be placed at the feet of Colonel Adams. The 38th Mississippi was a green unit fighting it its first battle, and the soldiers of the regiment looked to Colonel Adams for guidance and support. When Adams lost his courage in the face of the enemy, it was only natural that it had a devastating effect on the morale of the men, and as a result many of them broke for the rear at the first opportunity.
Had Colonel Adams displayed a little more fortitude, the 38th might have played a significant part in the battle. Historian Peter Cozzens asserts that Adams
…withdrew his Mississippians sixty yards at precisely the moment when their continued presence might have hastened the capture of the 11th Ohio Battery and provided the crucial reserves needed to carry the assault over the ridge…47
The 38th’s rapid departure from the field also caused problems for their sister regiment, the 37th Mississippi. As that unit advanced, it was rocked by musket fire smashing into its right flank. As the regiment wheeled to the right to deal with this threat, the 37th was hit again, this time on its exposed left flank where the 38th was supposed to be. The enraged men of the 37th concluded
The Thirty-Eighth Mississippi had disappeared from their left at the same time McLain’s men took their first volley from that direction, leading them to conclude that their fellow Mississippians had run.48
As night settled over the battlefield, the fighting slowly sputtered to a halt, and the darkness was filled with the groans and cries of hundreds of wounded men. The 38th’s casualty list reflects the short time the unit spent under fire: the regiment took 322 men into the battle, and of that number only 4 were killed and 4 wounded. Among the dead was 2nd Lieutenant Jonathan M. Price of the White Rebels, who had the dubious distinction of being the first officer of the regiment killed in action. The 38th also had 31 men missing, which is not surprising considering the nature of their chaotic flight from the front lines.49 Once the officers had completed the task of reforming the regiment, the 38th rejoined Martin’s Brigade and was posted on the front line to the left of Colonel Elijah Gates’ Brigade where they spent a fitful night in close proximity to the Union picket line.50
The Yankees and Rebels had fought each other to a draw on the first day of battle, and General Price intended to continue the contest the next day. But during the night Price’s senior officers convinced him to withdraw because his army was in danger of being crushed between two Union forces. Price had been very lucky on the 19th, for General Ord north of Iuka had not been able to hear the sounds of battle, and believing Rosecrans was still some distance from the town, refused to attack. Price received another lucky break from General Rosecrans, who left the Fulton road leading south out of Iuka open and unguarded. During the night Price marched his army down this path heading towards Bay Springs.51
As the 38th marched silently out of Iuka in the early morning hours of September 20, it did so without its colonel. Claiming a knee injury in the fight, Adams relinquished command of the regiment to Lieutenant Colonel Brent. On September 24, Adams sent in his resignation and requested a leave of absence until it was approved. The colonel quietly faded away and was never seen again by the regiment. With Adams gone, it was now in the hands of Preston Brent to build the 38th into a hard fighting regiment.52
The Rebel retreat ended at Baldwyn, Mississippi, but the bad luck that had plagued the 38th during the campaign did not end with Colonel Adams departure. Sgt. Clarke of the 36th Mississippi observed one tragic incident involving the regiment and wrote about it in his memoir:
I am now going to relate one of the saddest and most heart rending incidents that came under my observation during the whole war. There were two brothers in our Brigade – members I think, of the 38th Mississippi Regiment. They had not been at home since their enlistment the winter before. The day after our arrival at Baldwyn, their mother and sister arrived at the camp on a visit to them, bringing clothing and a box of delicacies from home. The two brothers had been on picket or guard duty, and came up just as the two ladies arrived at the camp. Their guns were loaded, and as they met the ladies one of them brought his gun to the ground with such force that by some means it fired, sending the whole load through the head of his brother, killing him instantly before he had time to return the salutations of his relatives. Speak of heart rending cries and lamentations, but in all my life I never heard that which followed this accident exceeded.53
These brothers mentioned by Sgt. Clarke were J. G. and S. L. Leonard, members of the Van Dorn Guards from Claiborne County. In his service record, J. G. Leonard is listed as “…accidentally killed on the retreat from Iuka, September 23, 1862.” His brother S. L. Leonard later deserted from the regiment and never returned.54 It was a bad ending to a bad campaign for the 38th that left the regiment with a tarnished reputation. But the fortunes of war gave them the chance to redeem themselves a few weeks later at the crossroads of Corinth, Mississippi.
1 J. A. Gillespie to William Allen, 25 July 1862. Original letters are in the William Allen Collection, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University.
2 James H. Jones, History of Company D. Original manuscript is in the J. F. H. Claiborne Papers, University of North Carolina Library, (Chapel Hill, NC); Roster of Company D, 38th Mississippi Infantry, Record Group 9, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
In honor of Christmas 2017, I thought I would take a look back at five Christmases in Mississippi; those of 1861 – 1865 to see how they were reported in the newspapers of the time. This first article comes from the Natchez Daily Courier, December 25, 1861, when the war was still a novelty:
“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;”
Who wrote the above lines? We should like to know, for since we can recollect, at Christmas Eve, they always float through our brain like far-off strains of sweetest melody,
and as old Time silvers our once brown hair, our happy boyhood’s Christmas Eve, with its joyous, innocent sports, rendered more pleasant by the presence of a loved father and mother, brothers and sisters, comes back to us in thoughts too gladsome to think upon. “No more; never, no more.”
This morning our little folk will be up with the dawn; soft beds and downy pillows will have no attractions for them, while little, barefooted feet will patter over the cold floor to the chimney corner, to see what the Patron Saint of Christmas gifts has bequeathed them. How their bright eyes will glisten, as with almost suppressed breath they proceed slowly and carefully to empty their stockings of their precious contents. Santa Claus’s heart will be filled with deep, quiet joy, and vow that each succeeding Eve shall rival the last.
Men and women – you who have to stem Life’s stern realities; who battle for your Country’s cause with the sword and needle, on the battlefield and in the hospital, on the lonely sentinel rounds and about the dying soldier’s couch, in the tent and in the house – to all, Men, Women and Children, we wish you, with many, many happy returns, a “Merry Christmas.”
By the Christmas of 1862, the war was no longer young, and many Mississippians had given their lives on battlefields across the south. On December 25, 1862, the Natchez Daily Courier published this article:
“The peculiar situation of our country, forbids us realizing the usual pleasures and festivities of a Christmas Day, in all their bearings. Fathers and sons are absent in the tented field; many a family mourns the loss of some loved one, struck down by the invader;
while others are suffering from the crushing and vindictive acts of the inhuman foe. Under such circumstances, it cannot be expected that homes will look natural, or the inmates gathered about the hearth-stone appear altogether gay. Yet to such of us who may be permitted to greet each other on this occasion of Christmas, we cannot refrain from wishing a happy season. Let us remember those who are absent, and invoke the God of all mankind, that they may be returned to us before another Christmas, with the blessings of Peace to our glorious Confederacy.
Christmas has been celebrated from time immemorial by the believers in Christ, and many times have the Roundheads of the ancient puritanical stock attempted its suppression. Some of these same Roundhead descendants, at the North, are now the prime movers for the destruction of the South; and should they succeed, it would not astonish us at all to hear of their making, as in ancient days, one grand attempt to destroy the time-honored institution of Christmas. The old Roundheads decided that it was impious to eat cake and drink ale on Christmas; why should the latter-day, Abolition Roundheads hesitate to set aside Christmas day altogether as a season of Christian rejoicing and festivity?
But we hope the Butlers, the Banks, and all other Cromwellian Roundheads of New England, will be banished [from] the South before another Christmas Holyday.”
Far from being banished, by the time Christmas 1863 rolled around, much of Mississippi had been invaded and occupied by the Union army. One of the towns that fell to the Yankees was Natchez, but the Union soldiers stationed there found the Confederates in the region still had some fight left in them that December of 1863. On December 30, 1863, the Chicago Tribune reported:
NATCHEZ, MISS., DEC. 16, 1863
“For some time nothing has appeared in the Tribune to let people at home know that there is such a place as Natchez, and to remind them that the secesh have not yet left us in undisturbed possession of the most beautiful of the Mississippi cities and its rich plantations. We had even been congratulating ourselves that our time would be served out here until this ‘cruel war is over,’ and we could march with shouts of joy to our old homes, when suddenly Wirt Adams, the same who sought after Col. Ben Grierson so earnestly and took such good care to keep out of his way when Grierson found him, appeared on a creek three miles from here. Gen. Gersham had fortunately just arrived, and marching out with infantry and artillery, he sent his cavalry under Col. Farrar to get in their rear. The colonel, although an infantry officer, handles cavalry better than any other in the corps.
By cutting across through plantations, over roads where the enemy never thought of looking for him or for any other man, he succeeded in getting entirely around them, and reached a position, where, could the rest of the forces have been brought up in time, we must have forced the rebels back on the troops around Natchez. But Adams had artillery and Col. Farrar had only cavalry, so was shelled out of his position and the chivalry slipped through our fingers. They are still hovering around here and are the same party who on Friday last, fired on the steamer ‘Brazil,’ between Waterproof and Rodney, killing two ladies. Fine chivalry, are they not?
Christmas 1864 found many Mississippi cities still occupied, and both sides hoping for an end to the bloody conflict. On December 20, 1864, The Vicksburg Herald noted:
“CHRISTMAS –Before another issue of our paper shall reach our readers, Christmas will
have come and gone. May it prove to each an all a happy Christmas – carrying joy and gladness to every heart, and run as a sweet fore-token of the happy day when ‘peace on earth and good will to man’ shall be the burden of every prayer and the aspiration of every heart in our broad land.
May it be the last Christmas which shall visit us as a people belligerent, and a nation discordant and dissevered. May the next Christmas dawn upon us a united people, with war’s ugly scars all healed, war’s rude emblems cast aside, and the old ship of State sailing proudly on in her grand and glorious career, more bright and more beloved for the fires through which she has passed.
May he, who overrules all things, see fit in his mercy and tender kindness to put it in the hearts of those who are now seeking the destruction of the freest and best government heaven ever gave to unworthy men, to desist from their wickedness, and come back like prodigal children to the parents bosom they have so sorely wounded by their unholy and unnatural warfare.”
Christmas 1865 saw peace return to a weary land, and white Mississippians attempting to come to terms with their loss. The following article is from The Weekly Standard in Port Gibson, December 23, 1865:
“To-morrow night, ‘the eve before Christmas,’ they merry little kingdom of juvenillity will retire gaily and gladly to sweet slumbers and pleasant dreams of well filled stockings, fll of barking dogs, and crying dolls, and chirping birds, and all the delicious little nic-nacs that look so bright and beautiful to the sparkling, dancing eyes of childhood. Noise and toy’s and glad little hearts filled with holiday joys, will give signs of a merry time with thousands of precious little rebels who for four years past have been indulging Christmas festivities in a ‘gone up’ ‘so-called’ country, on pea-nuts and molasses candy.
Old Kris-Kringle will find many little lips, the lips of new born rebels, to kiss as he passes from one cosy little bed to another, that he never kissed before, and many of the stockings will have grown out of his knowledge, for he too deserted rebeldom when secession took from him his Chimney-Corner domain. It is gratifying to know that at least one class of people can feed, and feast, and fatten, and breathe the free pure air of this blessed Sunny land without test oaths or pardons, and we hope the little ones will be allowed full swing – let them be ‘gay and happy,’ and fill them to the tip of the nose with sweet meats, for many have been without for many years, and many never saw such things. They belong to a region of bliss, of blissful ignorance of the trials and troubles that inhabit older hearts – they know but one Constitution and one creed, that which begins ‘now I lay me down to sleep.’
While the period of the festive season returns to us to find a sad heart, so far from marring the general joy with our own sorrows, we offer to each and all the friendly grasp, and the salutations and smiles of festive greetings. We tender to the old and the young, the grave and the gay, the compliments of the season, and a thousand good wishes that they may have many returns of happy holy-days, and that those who surround each home and hearth, may be ‘as merry as a marriage bell.’ Christmas Gift!
To all the readers of my blog – I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!