An Illinois Rebel At Gettysburg, Part 2

My last post contained Part 1 of the diary of Charles E. Hutchinson, which covered the period from June 15, 1863, to July 10, 1863. This posting will cover the balance of Hutchinson’s diary, and also includes letters written by the sergeant during the campaign that were published in the April 11 & 13, 1896, issues of the Vicksburg Evening Post.


July 11 – Moved about 8 o’clock on the road leading to the Potomac – nine miles distant –

Major General Lafayette McLaws – Library of Congress

McLawes’ division fought the enemy yesterday – with what success I do not know. Moved up to within one mile of the enemy and commenced throwing up rifle pits. Finished them, and orders came for us to move to the right and rear, marched out and found pits made of logs and leaves. We went to work to make them right, worked until 11 o’clock at night. Picket firing all day on the right.

[Note: Major General Lafayette McLaws was a division commander in the 1st Corps, Army of Northern Virginia]

July 12 -Opened still and cloudy, Sixteenth [Mississippi Infantry] went foraging and made a big haul; am sorry to see it – it will not make friends for us, I think it entirely wrong. My family have been robbed, but I cannot bring myself to do the same. Picket firing along the lines in front. Have heard today of the fall of Vicksburg; is hard to believe it, and I trust it may not be true. If true, it is a sad blow to the South. It will surely prolong the war. In the meantime what will become of our wives and little children? It makes me sick at heart to think of the suffering they will have to endure. I fear my little ones will be hungry many times before the war ends. God hasten the end. If Vicksburg has fallen I fear there has been foul play. Gen. Pemberton has done his duty nobly; the blame must attach to some one else. Heavy firing on our left. We had a nice rain today.

Vicksburg woman praying during the siege of the city – Illustration by Adalbert Volck – Library of Congress

July 13 – Tolerably quiet all along the lines today. Occasional picket firing. Has been cloudy all day with a little rain.

July 14 – Last night at dark we had orders to pack up and fall back. We marched all night

Brigadier General James J. Pettigrew – North Carolina Museum of History

over the worst roads in Maryland. Raining all night, mud knee deep. Crossed the Potomac about 10 o’clock today on a pontoon at “Falling Water.” I fear the enemy have taken some of our men, as they were at our heels when we crossed. We are now camped near the river to rest and get rations. Yankee cavalry charged one of our brigades today and we killed and captured all but eight or ten (didn’t make much) – Gen. Pettigrew was killed in the charge. He was a fine general.

[Note: Brigadier General James Johnston Pettigrew commanded a brigade in Major General Henry Heth’s division, of the 3rd Corps, Army of Northern Virginia]

July 15 – Started out pretty early today, passed through Martinsburg, eight miles from the Potomac. Very fine marching, being on the Pike. Passed through Bunker Hill and camped one mile beyond, having marched eighteen miles. Had a nice lot of dewberries that some of the boys brought in. Have today heard that Vicksburg has certainly fallen. It is a sad blow to us, I am disheartened. God only knows what will become of my wife and little children, the enemy have taken everything from them I suppose.

July 16 – We will stay here today to rest. I went out and gathered a fine lot of berries today. Have heard today Port Hudson had fallen. “It never rains but it pours,” all our reverses come at once, expect now to hear of the fall of Mobile next. Some cannonading in our rear today.

July 17 – Still in camp. It rained very nearly all day. Wrote to Calvin Young today.

[Note: Private Calvin Young served in Company H, 48th Mississippi Infantry. He was wounded at the Battle of Sharpsburg on September 17, 1862. Young was permanently disabled by the wound and detailed to the commissary department in Alabama]

July 18 – All quiet in camp. List of clothing made out for company today.

July 19 – Still in camp, all quiet, had preaching in our brigade today, and was honored by the presence of ladies, Lee, Longstreet, Anderson, Hill, and Posey. Drew a pair of shoes today.

July 20 – Still in camp. Beautiful weather. Something is the matter with the commissary; short of rations. Have orders this evening to be ready to move at daylight tomorrow morning. Tried some boiled wheat today, it was very good.

July 21 – Commenced march about 12 0’clock. Very good roads marched about 14 miles today. Passed through Winchester and camped on the road leading to Staunton, 2 miles from Winchester. Dick Weeman and Joe Hamett (doubtfully) came in today. The day has been beautiful.

[Note: 4th Sergeant Richard E. Weeman was wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863. In April 1864 he transferred to the Confederate Navy. Joseph H. Hammett was a private in the 48th Mississippi. Both men served in Company H of the regiment]

Wartime illustration of Front Royal, Virginia

July 22 – This is my birthday. I am 31 years old, and what profit have I been to myself or country? I have gained some experience and will turn it to profit if I live. I believe I am a better man than I was two years ago. We left our camp, turned off to the left and struck the pike for Fort Royal. I don’t feel very well today. Crossed the Shenandoah on pontoons and camped half a mile from Fort [Front] Royal. Marched 18 miles.

July 23 – Left camp early, marching very fast. Heard that Longstreet had a “brush” with the Yankees in the Pass. Camped early in our old camp near Flint Hill. I gathered a nice lot of dewberries today, the finest I ever saw. Marched 12 miles today.

July 24 – Left camp early. Passed through Flint Hill. Some of our division had a skirmish in the mountains today. We drove the Yankees across Hazel River. Very warm. Crossed Hazel River and camped.

July 25 – Left early and marched very fast. Camped about 10 o’clock near Culpeper in our old camp.

July 26 – There has been preaching in camp today. Had a nice rain last night. Had brigade inspection today. Briggs came to us today.

[Note: Private Eugene Briggs of Company H, 48th Mississippi, was listed as sick in Richmond on the muster roll for April 30 – July 31, 1863. He was wounded on August 24, 1864, and later returned to the regiment and served until the surrender in 1865]

July 27 – Still in camp. Had some rain today.

July 28 – Orders issued today, having “Roll Call” four times a day. Hear that Wright’s Brigade lost heavily in the mountains. Had one of the hardest rains I think I ever saw. I got quite wet. Cannot hear from home.

July 29 – Have orders to get ready for picket duty at 8 o’clock. The duty will not be very arduous, for there are no Yankees within 10 miles of us. Today has been cloudy and damp. Hear rumors of compromise and of intervention. Well, when it comes, I am ready for it.

July 30 – Had a very pleasant night on picket. I slept well. Expect our company will stay here some time. For the first time since I have been in the camp I went to a house and got my supper. We had a fair meal for these hard times. Our “chat” with the young ladies was very pleasant. Had some rain today.

July 31 – Still on picket, but will be relieved this evening. Today has been very pleasant, and without rain for the first time in several days. Myself and Jeff Laughlin were sent to guard a house 3 1/2 miles from camp. It is the first good thing we have had, and I hope we will keep it for some time.

[Note: Jefferson D. Laughlin was a private in Company H, 48th Mississippi]

August 1 – Very warm. No air stirring. Have heard that our brigade has marching orders, and that Longstreet’s corps has left. Cavalry are falling back from Hazel River, and I hear cannonading. Expect we will have to leave our good position as guards. We were relieved as I feared. We have had a very hard march to overtake the regiment. The Yankee cavalry had drawn over to within two miles of Culpeper. When our division formed in line and advanced the Yankees “got further.” We ran them about four miles, when night came on and we had to stop. Don’t know what loss we have sustained. The nineteenth [Mississippi Infantry] lost some. This has been a very hot day.

Wartime photo of Culpeper, Virginia

August 2 – We lay in the woods all day waiting for the enemy, but they took “second thought” and went back. Yesterday and today have been very warm. Have not heard from home yet.

August 3 – Started about 10 o’clock. Day very hot. Rested frequently, but the men could not stand it, and many gave out. Rested until near night and started again. Camped after dark. Marched ten miles.

August 4 – We were awakened at 3:30 o’clock to start. Got off at daylight and soon crossed Robinson’s river. Three miles further we crossed the Rapidan at Barnett’s Ford. Rested several times during our march, and camped after marching seven miles, near Orange Court House. The day has been very fine for us.

Wartime photograph of a ford on the Rapidan River

August 5 – Have written home today by “Flag of Truce.” We have a very pretty camp ground. No rumors. All quiet.

August 6 – All quiet in camp.

August 7 – Read a letter from C.M. Kain. No rumors in camp for a wonder. Had rain today.

August 8 – All quiet in camp. Rollison and Blackburn came in camp yesterday. Answered Kain’s letter, but did not get it ready in time. Camp taking a general wash today. Rain again today, green corn “jubilee” has commenced. Had a fine _____ today.

[Note: Private William M. Rollinson served in Company H, 48th Mississippi. He was listed as sick on the muster roll from April 30 – July 31, 1863. He was captured on May 12, 1864, and spent the remainder of the war at Fort Delaware prisoner of war camp. Private Jeff L. Blackburn also served in Company H. He was listed as sick in Culpeper, Virginia, on the muster roll from April 30 – July 31, 1863. He died of Typhoid fever on October 28, 1864]

August 9 – Had preaching in camp. Make a breakfast on green corn today. Sent my letter to Kain with description roll and ten dollars from Captain Folks. Weather fine.

[Note: Captain Thomas M. Folkes was the regimental quartermaster of the 48th Mississippi Infantry]

August 10 – All quiet, nor rumors. Commenced drilling today.

August 11 – Went to Orange Courthouse. It is a miserable place of about one thousand people. Every thing very high. We were paid off today.

August 12 – All quiet in camp. Uriah Clarke of Vicksburg, and of our company paid us a visit today.

[Note: Private Uriah Clark of Company H, 48th Mississippi, had his right hand mangled by a shell fragment at the 2nd Battle of Manassas on August 30, 1862. Afterwards he was detailed to the quartermaster’s department in Vicksburg. He was returned to the regiment in December 1864 and served until the surrender.]

August 13 – On picket today. All quiet. Our posts are three miles from camp on the Rapidan.

August 14 – All quiet today. I went across the Rapidan and bought some corn and potatoes. Our relief did not arrive until 10 o’clock at night. Went back to camp on the 15th.

August 15 – All quiet in camp. “Grapevine” dispatches today. Read a letter from Kain.

August 16 – Had preaching today at 10 o’clock by our regular pastor and at 3 o’clock by Rev. Mr. Lacy. He is a splendid speaker and a good man. I wish we could hear him often. All quiet today. I have almost given up all hopes of hearing from home.

August 17 – Nothing of importance to note. We have company and battalion drill every day.

August 18 – All quiet in camp. An order granting furloughs to two men out of one hundred has been issued. There is no chance for me.

August 19 – Nothing new in camp. Jim Crump was the lucky man for the furlough. He will take letters for me.

[Note: 2nd Sergeant James M. Crump served in Company H, 48th Mississippi. He was killed in action on May 12, 1864.]

August 20 – The weather is very fine. We are having preaching in camp every night and “Mass” was said this morning at Gen. Posey’s quarters. I have heard that twenty men from the 9th Alabama regiment deserted last night. No other rumors in camp.

August 21 – This a day of feasting and prayer, and it has been observed generally in camp. Had services in camp today, weather is fine. No rumors.

August 22 – All quiet. Weather beautiful.

August 23 – Had preaching in camp, several were baptized.

August 24 – Had “Division Review” today by Gen. A.P. Hill. Had some rain in the evening.

August 26 – Our furloughed men left today. I sent two letters, one by Crump, and one by Dan Herring. Cloudy weather, some rain. M.L. Stevenson came out today.

[Note: “Dan Herring” was probably David Herren of Company F, 48th Mississippi, from Cayuga, Mississippi. He was wounded in action on May 12, 1864. Private M.L. Stevenson of Company H was listed as sick in the hospital at Danville, Virginia, on the muster roll for April 30 – July 31, 1863. He was killed in action on May 6, 1864]

August 28 – Lieut. Catchings went home today. I sent a letter by him. Preaching in camp, every day and night.

[Note: Lieutenant William W. Catchings served in Company H, 48th Mississippi]

August 29 – Some rain. Finished “Rolls” today.

September 13 – Had orders to get ready to move. Left at 9 o’clock and went down to Rapidan bridge. The Yankees had driven Stewart five miles this side of Culpeper.

September 14 – Skirmishing all day in sight. Yankees advanced several times but were driven back by Stewart. We emptied some of their saddles. We had none killed.

September 15 – Slight skirmishing today. Went on picket.

September 16 – All of our regiment were out, but Company H. We were throwing up redoubts.

September 17 – We were relieved last night, and recrossed the river. All quiet.

September 23 – Have orders to cook rations, and go on picket. Were relieved on the 24th.

September 25 – We were awakened two hours before day. Enemy had tried to surprise our pickets. Were driven back, but succeeded in burning a house which caused an alarm. Two Yanks captured.

October 31 – I received a letter from home today, the first since last April.


The October 31, 1863, entry was the last that Hutchinson recorded in his diary, but the version published in the Post also included copies of some letters written by him during the war. Several of these letters were written during the Gettysburg campaign and are worth quoting at some length. The first was dated August 22, 1863, from Orange Court House, Virginia, to his wife Eleanor:

“I am taking all the chances to get a letter to you. Another of my regiment is going as near as Cayuga, and it is probable you may get this one I send by him. I have written often by mail and have sent two letters by ‘Flag of Truce,’ the first directed to J.S. Acuff, and the other to T.H. Jett at Vicksburg (both this month) and will continue to write you. If you can get your answer to Dave Herring at Cayuga, I will get it. I am almost crazy to hear from you and our children, God bless them. I wrote also by James Crump of my company. I am in good health and have been through all the marches, and have been in all the fights – without a scratch. Charlie Kain (poor fellow) lost his arm at Gettysburg, but is getting well and has gone to Alabama to see his brother. Dave Gibson and Wiley, slightly wounded, and now with the company. McRaven was wounded in the ankle, it was a terrible fight. All quiet here now, but there will be an awful fight within the next two months, which will end the war, I think. I have not heard from you since the battle of Chancellorsville, I then received two letters. Orders granting furloughs to two men out of one hundred have been issued. It does not look much like a fight, but each side are concentrating their forces for one terrible battle. If we are victorious and I live, I will see you soon. Speak to our children of me, so they will not forget me. State to all enquiring that all our boys from lower end of Warren [County] are well and in good spirits. I suppose you have heard that Tom Clarke was killed (shot in bowels.) I am very uneasy on your account. That God may bless and bring you safely through all your troubles is my constant prayer. The best of our lives are passing swiftly from us, but I hope there are blessings in store for us yet, let us trust in Him who doeth all things for the best.”

On September 22, 1863, Sergeant Hutchinson wrote another letter to his wife from Rapidan Station, and told her:

“We were moved ten days ago from our camp at Orange Court House down on Rapidan River to check the enemy who were driving Stewart and have been here ever since. Skirmishing almost every day and throwing up works. I don’t think we will have a fight here. I have just heard that Bragg has whipped Rosencrans, that is good news. I suppose you have heard particulars of Gettysburg fight; it was a terrible affair. You have had a hard time I know; and you are drawing rations from the enemy. I feel for you deeply, if I could get to you I would try for a furlough. I hear a great many are taking the oath. ‘Sink or swim’ with the cause – I am in it. It is very hard to be away from you and the children, but it must be borne.”

Sergeant Hutchinson was true to his word – he served the Confederacy faithfully and was promoted to first sergeant of the Vicksburg Volunteers. In early 1865 he took sick and was granted a medical furlough to return to Mississippi to recuperate. On February 8, 1865, Hutchinson was admitted to Way Hospital in Meridian. By the time he had recovered from his illness, the war was almost over. With the collapse of the Confederacy imminent, Hutchinson was unable to rejoin the 48th Mississippi in Virginia. He was therefore assigned to a detachment of men such as himself who were cut off from their commands and attached to Brigadier General Matthew Ector’s brigade for the defense of Mobile, Alabama. Sergeant Hutchinson was with this command when the department commander, Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, surrendered.

With the war over, Hutchinson went home to his beloved wife and children. He died on

The Memorial Stone for Charles E. Hutchinson at Redbone Methodist Church Cemetery in Warren County, Mississippi

October 29, 1887, of cancer at the age of 55. He was initially buried in an unmarked grave at the Redbone Church Cemetery in southern Warren County. On October 14, 1999, the author and Gordon Cotton placed a memorial marker in Redbone Cemetery honoring the life of Charles E. Hutchinson.


Gallant Sons of Mississippi: The 21st Mississippi Infantry at the Battle of Savage Station, Virginia

As the sun dipped low in the Virginia sky and the shadows lengthened over the Savage Station battlefield, the 21st Mississippi Infantry quickened their pace and raced the dying light, desperate to make contact with their enemies in blue before darkness ended the killing that day.

The Mississippians were spoiling for a fight – the regiment had been organized in the summer of 1861, and during their year of service the men had yet to be engaged in combat against the Union army.[1]

Any thoughts the men might have had that darkness was about to rob them of another chance to see the elephant abruptly ended as a regiment of blue-clad soldiers emerged from a pine thicket and “formed a line as accurately as though done with a tape line.”[2]

Although lacking combat experience, the 21st was well trained, and an expertly directed volley lit the twilight and sent a wave of lead missiles slamming into the Yankee   line.  The Federals responded in kind, filling the air with “…a terrible shower of shell & musket shots” that ripped through the ranks of the 21st with destructive effect.[3]

Darkness quickly ended the engagement, but the brief outburst of violence left it’s mark on the 21st Mississippi – in the action at Savage Station, July 29, 1862, the regiment had fifteen men killed and sixteen wounded.[4]

The Battle of Savage Station - Library of Congress

The losses at Savage Station, as bad as they were, turned out to be a bloody foreshadowing of things to come. For the 21st Mississippi, the future held for them, just two days hence, the bloodiest battle of the entire war; Malvern Hill.

The individual companies that comprised the 21st Mississippi Infantry were organized in the spring of 1861, and they traveled individually to Richmond after tendering their services to Jefferson Davis.  They were formed into a regiment by mid-September, and in the unit election the men chose Captain Benjamin G. Humphreys of Company I to be their Colonel.[5]

Although a pre-war Whig and opponent of secession, Humphreys cast his lot with

Benjamin Grubb Humphreys - Library of Congress

hisnative state saying, “All I held dear on earth family, friends and property welded me to that soil by the strongest cement of nature.[6]  Very popular with his men, Humphreys only military experience was a one year stint at the United States Military Academy.  Admitted in 1825, he was expelled the next year for participating in a Christmas Eve cadet riot.[7]

Soon after the completion of their regimental organization, the 21st Mississippi was ordered to join a brigade consisting of the 13th, 17th and 18th Mississippi Infantry regiments, commanded by Brigadier General Richard Griffith.[8]  The brigade of Mississippians was ordered to Leesburg, Virginia, on November 19, 1861, and the 21st Mississippi remained there with the brigade until March 1862.  Colonel Humphreys said that the regiment’s time at Leesburg was spent “…in the drudgery of building forts, rifle pits, and picketing the Potomac with the Fed. Army in sight.”[9]

"A Camp in the Woods Near Leesburg" - Library of Congress

The boredom of garrison life ended abruptly when Major General George B. McClellan launched the Peninsular Campaign to capture Richmond.  Griffith’s Brigade was ordered south to help defend the beleaguered city, and the 21st Mississippi was set on the course that would take them to Malvern Hill.[10]

The Union operation to take Richmond began on March 17, 1862, when McClellan began

Fort Monroe, Virginia - Library of Congress

to ferry his troops to the Virginia peninsula between the York and James Rivers at Fort Monroe.[11]  In anticipation of a Yankee advance General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, began pulling his troops stationed in advanced positions near Washington back towards Richmond.[12]  The 21st Mississippi, with their brigade evacuated Leesburg on March 9, and began a retreat south to the Rapidan River.[13]

The Union army began their advance from Fort Monroe on April 4, and three days later General Griffith was ordered to take his Mississippians to the peninsula to man

Brigadier General Richard Griffith commanded the brigade to which the 21st Mississippi belonged. He was killed during the Battle of Savage Station. - Library of Congress

fortifications near Yorktown.[14]  By the time the regiment reached Yorktown, they found the Yankee advance stalled in front of the Rebel fortifications along the Warwick River.[15]

The standoff along the Warwick lasted nearly a month, and during the long delay the 21st spent much of their time on picket duty, trading shots with the Yankees.  Private James Downs of Company D told his parents of one incident in which the regiment’s skirmishers made contact with their blue-clad counterparts:

…and then we had some fun, it was look out rebel for yankee and yankee look out for rebel and it was everybody’s business to protect himself with a tree in order to evade the balls of the enemy.[16]

Routine skirmish duty at Yorktown continued until the night of May 3, 1862, when General Johnston ordered his army of 56,600 men to evacuate and retire to the outskirts of Richmond.  McClellan finally had his heavy artillery emplaced and ready to blast the Confederate fortifications, making the Warwick River line untenable.[17]

The Union pursuit was sluggish, taking fifteen days to reach the Chickahominy River near the entrenched Rebel army.  McClellans command, numbering some 105,000 men, was substantially larger than the Confederate army defending Richmond, but in making his dispositions he placed two corps of his army on the south side of the Chickahominy, isolated and vulnerable to attack.  Johnston took advantage of this opportunity and attacked the exposed Union position at Seven Pines on May 31.[18]

The Battle of Seven Pines - Library of Congress

Once again the 21st Mississippi was fated to miss the action, arriving on the battlefield just as darkness put an end to the fighting.[19]  Private James T. Downs of Company D later wrote his mother a tongue in cheek letter asking her:

I wonder if you don’t pray that I may never get into a fight?  For I have been through every stage of a battle except a regular engagement – perhaps my time may come yet though when I can strike for my country.[20]

It was just as well that the 21st missed the battle, for Johnston’s plan went awry and in the end all the Confederates had to show for the battle was a heavy butcher’s bill – over 5,000 casualties, including General Johnston himself, who was seriously wounded.  The only positive result of the battle was that General Robert E. Lee was chosen as Johnston’s replacement.[21]

Reinforcements soon swelled Lee’s ranks to 92,400 – the largest force he commanded for the entire war, and the aggressive general planned to use his men to strike McClellan and seize the initiative in the campaign.[22]  McClellan actually beat him to the punch attacking at Oak Grove on June 25, 1862, starting the Seven Days Battles for Richmond.  Unruffled by this development, Lee fired back, hitting the Union army at Mechanicsville on June 26 and Gaines’s Mill on June 27-28.[23]

While Lee had most of his army attacking north of the Chickahominy River, Major

Major General John B. Magruder - Library of Congress

General John B. Magruder’s Division, of which the 21st Mississippi was a part, were south of the river, responsible for holding in place the 60,000 federal troops opposite them.  To keep them occupied, Magruder had with his division and other attached troops 25,000 men.[24]  While combat raged to the north, the 21st spent a relatively quiet time occupying an advanced picket line on the Nine Mile road, only 500 yards from the federals.[25]

Although Lee failed to inflict a mortal blow at Mechanicsville or Gaines’s Mill, McClellan decided on the night of June 27th his army had had enough and ordered a retreat to his new base on the James River.[26]  From their picket posts on the Nine Mile road, the 21st could clearly hear the sounds of an army in retreat; Colonel Humphreys later described the commotion saying,

The great noise, bustle, and apparent confusion within their lines on the evening during the night of the 28th June satisfied me that they were ‘skiddaddling’.  I reported the fact to Genl. Magruder between 8 & 9 Oclk.[27]

On June 29th when he was sure of McClellan’s direction of march, Lee ordered his army to begin the pursuit.  Magruder was ordered to advance to the east and maintain pressure on the enemy rear, these orders leading to the 21st’s baptism of fire at Savage Station.[28]

Compared to most of the actions the regiment was engaged in over the next three years, Savage Station could hardly be rated more that a sharp skirmish, but the fight there did have one important result: early in the day their brigade commander Richard Griffith, was hit by a stray shell fragment and killed.  The brigade’s senior colonel, William

Colonel William Barksdale took command of Griffith's Brigade after the general's death at Savage Station. - Library of Congress

Barksdale – a man of whom much would be heard before his own untimely death at Gettysburg, replaced him.  The 21st lost not only their brigade commander that day, but their Colonel as well, although in a less dramatic fashion.  Stricken with the flux, Benjamin Humphreys relinquished command to Lieutenant Colonel William L. Brandon.[29]

A large plantation owner with over 300 slaves, Brandon had no military experience prior to the war.  In the twilight years of his life at 62 years old, with three grown sons serving in the regiment beside him, his military skill was an unknown, but at least he looked the part of a soldier, standing 6’2 and weighing 200 pounds.[30]

McClellan’s army was in full flight for the James River, spread thin along the route of retreat.  Lee recognized any excellent opportunity to destroy the Yankees in detail and planned to concentrate 44,800 men and attack the crossroads of Glendale.  If successful, the Union line of retreat would be cut and the army ripe for destruction.  Under Lee’s plan, Magruder’s men were to serve as reserves for the battle, so the 21st would sit out another battle.[31]

Lee sent his gray columns forward to attack Glendale on June 30, 1862, but he was unable to get all of his troops into the battle.  His men were repulsed with heavy casualties, and the Army of the Potomac’s line of retreat was secure.[32]

The Battle of Glendale - Library of Congress

The 21st Mississippi marched to Glendale after dark, and slept on their arms amidst the dead and dying.  In line of battle before daylight, they advanced to find the enemy gone, but the respite was only temporary – the Mississippians had a date with destiny a few miles up the road at Malvern Hill where many a young and promising life would be extinguished in the blink of an eye.

[1] Rowland, Dunbar.  Military History of Mississippi 1803 – 1898 (Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Company, 1978), 108-113.  Hereafter cited as Military History.

[2] Brandon, William L.  “Military Reminiscences of William L. Brandon.”  J. F. H. Claiborne Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.

[3] Humphreys, Benjamin G.  Letter to Richard T. Archer, 29 July 1862.  Catalog # Mss 1 Ar 247 a219, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, VA.

[4] Compiled Service Records Of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State Of Mississippi;  21st Infantry;  Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Record Group 9, Microfilm Rolls 293-301.

[5] Rowland, Military History, 108-112.

[6] Rainwater, Percy Lee.  ed.  “The Autobiography of Benjamin Grubb Humphreys.”  Mississippi Valley Historical Review.  Volume 20  (September 1934): 244-245.

[7] Warner, Ezra J.  Generals in Gray.  (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1959), 145.

[8] Rowland, Military History.  112.

[9] Humphreys, Benjamin Grubb.  “Account of the Sunflower Guards.”  J. F. H. Claiborne Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Esposito, Vincent J., ed., The West Point Atlas of American Wars Volume 1 1689-1900 (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1959), 39.  Cited hereafter as West Point Atlas.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Rowland, Military History, 112.

[14] Esposito, West Point Atlas, 39; Rowland, Military History, 112.

[15] Sears, Stephen W.  To the Gates of Richmond (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1992), 36.

[16] Downs, James T.  Letter to Sarah Downs, 22 April 1862.  Located in the James Tickell Downs and Family Papers, Z 2099.000, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, MS.

[17] Sears, Stephen W.  To The Gates of Richmond  (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1992), 59-60.

[18] West Point Atlas, 43.

[19] Humphreys, Benjamin Grubb.  “Account of the Sunflower Guards.”  J. F. H. Claiborne Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.

[20] Downs, James T.  Letter to mother, 9 June 1862.  Located in the James Tickell Downs and Family Papers, Z 2099.000, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, MS.  Cited hereafter as Downs Family Papers.

[21] Sears, To the Gates of Richmond, 138-139; 145.

[22] Ibid, 151-156.

[23] Boatner, Mark Mayo III.  The Civil War Dictionary (David McKay Company, 1959), 321 & 540-541.

[24] Ibid, 541.

[25] Humphreys, Benjamin G.  Letter to Richard T. Archer, 29 July 1862.  Catalog # Mss 1 Ar 247 a219, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, VA.

[26] West Point Atlas, 46.

[27] Humphreys, Benjamin G.  Letter to Richard T. Archer, 29 July 1862.  Catalog # Mss 1 Ar 247 a219, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, VA.

[28] West Point Atlas, 46.

[29] Humphreys, Benjamin Grubb.  “Account of the Sunflower Guards.”  J. F. H. Claiborne Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.

[30] Humphreys, Benjamin Grubb.  “Account of the Sunflower Guards.”  J. F. H. Claiborne Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.  Brandon, Robert L.  Letter to Mr. Perry, 2 June 1896.  Catalog # Z 1600, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, MS.

[31] Sears, To the Gates of Richmond, 278-279.

[32] Boatner, Civil War Dictionary, 914-916.

Reminiscences of the Battle of Spotsylvania

Some of the bloodiest fighting of the entire Civil War took place on May 12, 1864, at the Mule Shoe Salient in Spotsylvania, Virginia. Among the defenders of the Mule Shoe was Brigadier Nathaniel Harris’ brigade consisting of the 12th Mississippi Infantry, 16th Mississippi Infantry, 19th Mississippi Infantry, and 48th Mississippi Infantry. The carnage that took place in this one small piece of the battlefield was almost beyond belief: the fighting was hand to hand for nearly 20 hours, and hundreds of Mississippians were either killed or wounded.

While doing some research recently I found an article entitled, “Reminiscences of the Battle of Spottsylvania,” originally published by the Natchez Democrat, and picked up and republished by the Memphis Daily Avalanche on August 19, 1866. The author of the article is unknown, but he was probably a member of the 16th Mississippi Infantry, as that regiment had two companies from Natchez: Company D, the “Adams Light Guard No. 2,” and Company I, the “Adams Light Guard No. 1.” The author also specifically mentions casualties from the 16th in the article, so I am pretty confident he was a member of the regiment. Coming so soon after the war, the article is one man’s account of one of the bloodiest encounters of the war:

Reminiscences of the Battle of Spottsylvania

The 12th of May dawned like the day of Waterloo; the dark, wet clouds hung low and heavy upon the earth and seemed to struggle to prevent the advent of that day of blood and carnage. For seven days the fierce strife of battle had raged furious and incessant, and from the Rapidan to the Court House of Spottsylvania, the dead lay in heaps upon the gory field. The rain storm that occurred the night of the 11th, somewhat allayed the tumult of battle. It was during this storm, when naught could be heard but the rushing winds and descending rain, that the Federal General Hancock moved his corps silently to within a few rods of the Confederate entrenchments, at a silent angle on the left of the Court House. Here this corps rested on their arms until the first ray of light should give the signal for a desperate assault.

This sketch of the Spotsylvania Battlefield was made by Edwin Forbes on May 10, 1864. Library of Congress

No sooner does the first gleam of day light in the East the murky sky, than the Federals rise to their feet and advance upon the Confederate works. It is, but a short distance, and they are soon reached. The struggle is short; the Confederates, without previous intimation of the dangerous proximity of the foe, are taken partially by surprise, and, contending against overwhelming numbers, are soon overpowered. General Johnston, with his division and several batteries of artillery are captured, hundreds fall bravely fighting, and the works are lost. Now the Confederate line is severed at its centre, and the enemy is advancing steadily through the breach.

In the meantime the battle has become general from right to left, and the very earth trembles with the shock of artillery and small arms. Grant concentrates at this salient all his available force in the attempt to widen the breach and make complete the temporary but important advantage. The annals of war furnish perhaps no instance where the peril of an army was more imminent than is now that of the struggling Army of Northern Virginia; the fate of a nation rests upon it and trembles in the balance of probabilities. Reduced in numbers; exhausted with the constant vigilance of nights, this army would seem to be battling with the courage of desperation, even against destiny.

The great chieftain, mounted upon his iron gray battle steed, rapidly surveys the critical position of affairs. Riding impassively through shot and shell, with couriers and aides all around him on every side. his practiced eye penetrates the smoke of battle, while his

General Nathaniel Harris commanded the brigade of Mississippians who fought at the Mule Shoe Salient. Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg, Mississippi.

warrior mind plans the master stroke of war which is to pluck the laurel wreath of victory from the very jaws of defeat. Dispatching orders in various directions, he rides to the front of Harris’ brigade of Mississippians, (which is awaiting orders, having just arrived in double quick, from a remote part of the line,) and himself directs it to ‘fall in.’

Mahone’s Virginians are put in motion, and General Lee leads Harris’ Mississippians towards the deadly breach – the place of havoc. The dangers are thickening fast around the warrior chief, and his devoted troops murmur fervent prayers for his safety. Now a twelve pound solid shot comes shrieking through the air, and strikes the ground between the forefeet of the General’s horse, causing him to rear and plunge; the General still rides unmoved, but his followers, no longer willing that he should advance to be stricken down, now loudly remonstrate, saying, ‘go back, General, we will do our duty!’

Brigadier General Harris rides up and implores, then commands him to go back. Colonel Venable, of his staff, riding in front and seizing him, holds him in check, exclaiming, ‘General Lee, you must go back; your presence in this danger demoralizes the men.’ Then, says General Lee, turning to the moving column, ‘I will remain if you will drive the enemy from the works.’ ‘We will,’ was the deafening response. ‘Go on, brave men, God bless you,’ says the General, and the troops move forward with an all-conquering enthusiasm and sullen determination, which knows no defeat. They move to victory, though their path the while is strewed thickly with the bravest sons of Mississippi and South Carolina. In this charge were slain the gallant Colonel S.E. Baker and Lieutenant Colonel Feltus, of the 16th Mississippi regiment, and a large number of other Mississippians.

The works are taken and occupied as far as the small force can stretch its front. There is still a breach, but it is narrow, and so well defended on either side, that to attempt its

Remains of the tree that was cut down by rifle fire at Spotsylvania. National Park Service

passage, is to die. At the left extremity of this breach, where the battle raged with continued violence, was situated the famous Spottsylvania tree, twenty-two inches in diameter, which was cut down by Minnie bullets alone, during this battle. There are now a number of returned soldiers in Natchez who enjoy the proud distinction of having defended this point, where the dead, at the close of the engagement, were piled above the surface of the ditch.

Division after division of the enemy is pushed forward to widen the breach and retrieve the lost advantage, and is hurled back decimated and scattered, from the harvest of death. Companies and battalions are swept away, and trampled to the earth to rise no more. The Confederates are immovable in the midst of death. The battle continues with but slight intermission until the Confederates, having fulfilled the promise to their chieftain, and held the disputed point for nineteen hours, retire at daylight of the morning of the 13th, leaving the foe in possession of a vast Golgotha.

Thus closed the most destructive battle of the Confederate War for Independence.

The 16th Mississippi fought very bravely at the Mule Shoe, and had the casualties to show  for it – between May 6-12, the regiment had suffered 36 killed, 84 wounded, and 31 missing. The majority of those casualties took place during the fighting on May 12. The fighting took an especially heavy toll on the leadership of the regiment: Colonel Samuel E. Baker and Lieutenant Colonel Abram M. Feltus were both killed.

These wooden headboards mark the graves of the men from the 16th Mississippi Infantry who were killed at Spotsylvania. National Park Service.

Never Was A More Gallant Charge Made: The 38th Mississippi Mounted Infantry at the Battle of Harrisburg, Mississippi

The 38th Mississippi Infantry is a regiment that has long been near and dear to my heart. I had two g-g-g uncles who served in the regiment, and the first book I ever wrote was a history of the unit entitled Beneath Torn and Tattered Flags. The book has been out of print for many years now, but I still get calls from people all the time wanting to buy it. I actually have written a revised and expanded edition of the book, but I have not found the time to try and get it published yet. I know I need to get the ball rolling and find a publisher, and toward that end I thought i would publish an excerpt from the book dealing with the Battle of Harrisburg, Mississippi. I’m hoping that if I hear from enough readers after publishing this article that it will spur me on to go ahead and get the book reprinted.

Harrisburg is one of the lesser known battles in which the 38th took part, which is a shame, as it was a very bloody fight that cost Mississippi dearly. Mabry’s Mississippi Brigade, of which the regiment was a part, suffered extremely high casualties in this battle. This Mississippi battleground was consecrated with Mississippi blood, and the men from the Magnolia state who fought there have earned the right to be remembered.

Prior to the Battle of Harrisburg, the 38th Mississippi had been designated a mounted infantry unit and attached to the cavalry brigade commanded by Colonel Hinchie P. Mabry, a fiery Texan who had commanded the 3rd Texas Cavalry earlier in the war. Mabry’s brigade was engaged in operations against the Yankees around Yazoo City up until early June, 1864, when they were transferred to north Mississippi to help deal with the coming Union invasion of that region.


On receipt of the orders transferring his brigade, Colonel Hinchie P. 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 member 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, Mabry’s Brigade remained at Okolona until the end of June, when they were ordered to Saltillo, Mississippi.4

General Nathan Bedford Forrest - Library of Congress

Forrest’s victory at Brice’s Cross Roads had a very strong impact on Union strategy and led to the 38th’s first fight in their new command.  At the time of the Union defeat at Brice’s Cross Roads, 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 Robert C. McCay, commander of the 38th Mississippi,  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 towards 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 towards 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 Troops.  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 towards 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 that 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

Map of the Harrisburg Battlefield - Mabry's Brigade was located on the extreme left of the Confederate line, north of the Pontotoc Road - Library of Congress


To 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 towards 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 on through the hailstorm of lead.22  Major McCay was at the forefront of the regiment urging his men to go forward 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 in 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

Captain John Jasper Green was the only company commander of the 38th Mississippi to survive the battle unharmed - CONFEDERATE VETERAN MAGAZINE

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.

2 Jordan and Pryor, 484-485.

3 Erastus Hoskins Letters, 8 July 1864.

4 Jordan and Pryor, 484-498.

5 Edwin C. Bearss, Forrest at Brice’s Cross Roads (Dayton, OH: Morningside Bookshop, 1994), 146.

6 Official Records, Series 1, Volume 39, Part 2, 123.

7 Bearss, Forrest, 153-154, 164.

8 Official Records, Series 1, Volume 39, Part 1, 329.

9 Robert McCay to Elizabeth McCay, 8 July 1864.  A copy of this letter is in the collection of Charles Sullivan of Perkinston, MS.

10 Jordan and Pryor, 499.

11 Ibid., 499-500.

12 Official Records, Series 1, Volume 39, Part 1, 330, 349.

13 Bearss, Forrest, 175.

14 F. H. Holloway, “Incidental To The Battle Of Harrisburg,”  Confederate Veteran, November 1910, 526.

15 Official Records, Series 1, Volume 39, Part 1, 349.

16 Stephen D. Lee, “The Battle of Tupelo, or Harrisburg, July 14, 1864,”  Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society 6 (1902), 45.

17 Bearss, Forrest, 197.

18 Ibid., 202.

19 Lee, 45.

20 Bearss, Forrest, 202-203.

21 Ibid., 203-205.

22 Official Records, Series 1, Volume 39, Part 1, 349.

23 Hinchie P. Mabry to Elizabeth McCay 20 July 1864.  The original letter is located in the McCay Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, MS.

24 Official Records, Series 1, Volume 39, Part 1, 349.

25 Ibid.

26 James H. Jones, “Extracts From A Letter,”  Lexington (Mississippi) Advertiser, 6 December 1901.

27 Bearss, Forrest, 207-208.

28 Official Records, Series 1, Volume 39, Part 1, 350.

29 Bearss, Forrest, 211, 221, 229.

30 Rowland, Military History, 333-334.

31 Erastus Hoskins Letters, 19 July 1864.

32 Hinchie P. Mabry to Elizabeth McCay, 20 July 1864.  Original letter in the McCay Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

How Old Smith Escaped – A Story of the 16th Mississippi Infantry’s Drummer.

While doing a little research the other day, I found the following story, and as it was very  interesting I decided to share it on the blog. It’s from the Macon Telegraph (Macon, GA), April 23, 1863:


‘Old Smith,’ an old German drummer in the 16th Mississippi Regiment, was notorious for

The Regimental Flag of the 16th Mississippi Infantry - In the flag's upper quadrant is the handwritten inscription, "Through God we shall do valiantly, for He is that shall tread down our enemies."

straggling on the march whether advancing or retreating, he was always in the rear. In General Jackson’s great retreat from the valley of the Shenandoah, after whipping Banks old Smith got some miles behind, and while sitting on the roadside, solitary and alone, resting and eating his beef and biscuit he observed a full regiment of Yankee cavalry approaching. He jumped out into the woods and as the Yankees came near he thundered away on his drum beating the long roll with a terrible vim. (The long roll is the signal of an enemy at hand, and to form the line of battle.) His trick was successful; for the Yankees supposing, of course that there was an infantry regiment lying in the thicket, faced about and skedaddled in the regular Bull Run style. Old Smith, replacing his drum on his shoulder, came out into the road again with his beef and biscuit in one hand and drum sticks in the other, resumed his march with his usual equanimity.

It’s a great story – I can just see in my mind’s eye old Smith the drummer, beating furiously on his drum and laughing as he watched the Yankees advance to the rear – but the question comes to mind, is it just a story that was hatched by some reporter looking to entertain his readers, or was this an actual event? I decided to see if I could find out.

Illustration of Civil War Drummers beating reveille in camp - HARPER'S WEEKLY

The first thing I needed to do was determine if there was a drummer named Smith who served in the 16th Mississippi Infantry. My task was made infinitely more difficult because all I had was a last name, and to make things worse the name was Smith, only the most common name in the Confederacy. I started my task by going to the National Park Service’s Soldiers and Sailors system, and pulled up the roster for the 16th Mississippi, and found that there were 34 men named Smith that served in the regiment. One by one, I clicked on the names to find out if any of them was listed as a musician. Finally on Smith #33, I got a hit – William H. Smith was listed as being in the regimental band.

Armed with a complete name, I went to the Fold3 website, and pulled up the service A card from the Service Record of William H. Smithrecord of William H. Smith. The newspaper article gave me two pieces of information that I wanted to check against the service record – first it said he was old, and second it said he was German. After looking through a few of the cards in his file, I found a descriptive list that stated William H. Smith was 38 years old, which did make him an old man in that day and age. I also found that his place of birth was listed as Germany, so I was two for two. The card went on to say that Smith was captured in September 1862 by the 8th Illinois Cavalry at “Monocacy,” which was referring to the Monocacy River in Maryland – at that time the 16th was in the area as they took part in General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North, which culminated in the Battle of Sharpsburg on September 17, 1862.

So what does all of this information mean? Well, I did not find a smoking gun that proved beyond the shadow of a doubt the story is real – and I would have been very surprised if I had. But what I did find was that every solid fact about the story that I could check did turn out to be true. There was a man named Smith in the 16th Mississippi; he was 38 years old, which could be considered old at that time; his unit did serve under Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, and our man was with the unit at that time; and he was listed as being a member of the regimental band. So the best that I can say is that the story is very likely true, and something like what was reported in the Macon Telegraph did happen. But true or not, it sure is a good story.

Seven of My Regiment Lie There: A Letter About the Battle of Resaca, Georgia

I am greatly indebted to Riley Smith, who sent me this reminiscence about the Battle of Resaca, Georgia, written by John C. Portis, who served in Company B, 8th Mississippi Infantry. As Portis was a very good writer, I will let his letter speak for itself:

Union, Newton County, Mississippi, June 17, 1896

Dear Madam: I send herewith $1.00 [in] stamps to be used in your society on soldiers cemetery at Resaca. I have no brother or other near or even distant relative sleeping on that glorious field that I know of but seven of my regiment lie there. I will append the names that I remember. My good right arm lies about a mile south of Resaca, Ga., just north of a church at the root of a large oak or chestnut tree. It was put in a board box and buried by a comrade. Hence you see I feel an interest in the wild hills of Resaca.

I was a private in Company B, Eighth Mississippi Volunteer Inf., and was wounded in right shoulder and throat about dark in a charge on the enemy’s works, May 14, 1864, on the side of a hill just west of the village on the north side of the river. I was carried back to the bluff below the bridge, where about three or four hundred poor fellows were lying torn, bleeding, and some dying. After a time I crossed the bridge, and faint and sick, I was trying to make my way to Cheatham’s Division Hospital, which was in the church. A man came into the road with an ox wagon loaded in part with beds which appeared to be very white. Some one called him Motes and asked him about his family, and he said they had gone on to Calhoun.

The Battle of Resaca - Library of Congress

Mr. Motes insisted that I should ride, and said his wife would not care if all her beds were dyed with rebel blood. He carried me to the old church. I would like to know what became of Mr. Motes; I could not see his face. The night was dark. Sunday morning, May 15, about eight o’clock, my right arm was amputated at the shoulder joint. Thirty-two years have passed since then, and strange it may may seem that a boy soldier, that few thought could live, is writing this reminiscence of those two days of carnage.

Never shall I forget the morning of that fateful 14th of May, when at early dawn the signal guns told us in tones of thunder that both armies were ready for the work of death. Bright rose the sun, tipping mountain peak with blooming rays of silver and bathing valley and woodland in a flood of golden light, a scene never to be witnessed again by hundreds of the boys who wore the blue and the gray. In the streets of Resaca that day I saw enacted a deed of heroism which challenged the admiration of all who witnessed it. A wagon occupied by several ladies was passing along north of the river and just west of the railroad, when a Yankee battery opened fire on it and, until it had passed over the bridge, poured a storm of shells around it. A young woman stood erect in the wagon waving her hat, which was dressed with red or had a red ribbon or plume on it, seemingly to defy the cowards who would make war on defenseless women.

I felt then, and I do to-day, for that woman a man could freely die. Many a rebel boy felt as I did that day. I was taken from the church to a bush-arbor on the west side of the railroad, where I expected to die. A middle-aged woman dressed in black came with nourishment and (God bless her) fed me, and during that awful day ministered to the wants of the wounded and dying. If I remember correctly she came often to me with food and drink. Who she was I may never know, but she was a noble woman.

Will you, kind lady, bear with me while I relate just another incident of that sunday? Perched upon the top of a lofty tree near the church was a mocking bird warbling his sweet notes of joy and gladness ever now and then darting out to catch a minie ball as it went singing by but my comrade told me my little bird sang on until dark. I first called attention to that sweet songster which it seemed was trying to cheer me in that dark hour of my young manhood.

I am now nearly sixty years old, my head is almost white. I have a noble son who was then a babe, now a prominent teacher. I have two sweet daughters, and five little grandchildren who never tire of hearing grandfather tell of the time when death seemed so near, and they shed tears with me while looking in my empty sleeve. I tell them my good arm is sleeping in Georgia and that sometime, in the morning of the resurrection, God will restore my arm but they cannot understand and become indignant at the Yankees.

This picture of John C. Portis was used with his obituary in the January 1910 edition of CONFEDERATE VETERAN MAGAZINE.

I fear I have worried you and if you do not wish to keep this among the papers of the society you can destroy it. I felt that I would like to write this, and, that maybe someone would see if the tree is standing and perhaps find my lost arm a place in the soldier’s cemetery. If not it can rest on until God shall bid it rise and meet its long severed companion where wars dread alarm will be heard no more. May God bless the noble women of the sweet sunny South in all their work of love and devotion to the memory of the heroes who fell battling for the ‘lost cause.’

I hope that I may live to contribute more to aid you in your loyal task. Again, God bless you dear ladies, is the prayer of Private John C. Portis, Co. B, 8th Miss. Reg. Vols. Infantry U.S.A. J.E. Jackson’s Brigade, Walker’s Division.

The lady to whom Portis wrote, Mrs. Elizabeth Simmons, was president of the Ladies Memorial Association of Resaca, which had been founded in 1866 to establish a cemetery for the many Confederate dead buried around the city. Simmons spearheaded a number of improvements to the graveyard, and was so committed to the cemetery that she asked to be buried there when she died. When she passed away in 1907 her request was honored, and she remains the only female buried in the Resaca Confederate Cemetery.

The grave of Elizabeth Simmons in the Resaca Confederate Cemetery

Simmons was truly grateful for the letter that Portis wrote, for he revealed the names of a number of men in the 8th Mississippi that were buried at Resaca. Mrs. Simmons wrote him the following letter in reply:

Calhoun, Ga., July 1, 1896

J.C. Portis, Union, Miss.

Dear Sir: Your kind and encouraging letter received. I return thanks for the association. Your letter gave us some information that we greatly desired – probably never would have gotten otherwise in regard to a group of graves eleven in number. We knew they were in the 8th Miss., that was all. You gave us Major Watkins’ name, getting his correctly brought out the other ten, which were almost entirely obliterated, we had begun to fear that this group of graves would have to be marked ‘unknown.’ Thank you for the light, it is greatly appreciated. Rest assured I have given the resting place of your comrades special attention. They were  buried in a beautiful shady place, a large crab apple tree has grown up in the center of the group.

Entrance to the Confederate Cemetery at Resaca

The improvements on the cemetery are not being completed as fast as we desire for the want of funds, we are placing a small marble head stone at each grave and want to enclose the grounds with a neat substantial iron fence, the work is being done now [and] will be very substantial. Again thanking you, I am, Respectfully, Mrs. E. J. Simmons, Pres’t Memorial Association

After he recovered from his terrible wound, Portis was discharged from the army and returned to his home in Union, Mississippi. He became a Methodist minister after the war, and was a much beloved figure in his community. When he died in 1909 his obituary said of him, “He was public-spirited in all that made for his country’s good, and was a power for great moral and civil uplift in his community…He was beloved by his war comrades, and for them he always cherished a fraternal love. His mind was stored with memories of the thrilling events of the four years of the war, and he was ever ready to entertain with reminiscences. He nobly fought the battle of life, and now his armor has been laid by while he rests ‘under the shade of the trees.”

John C. Portis died on October 31, 1909, and is buried in the Memorial Park Cemetery at Union, Mississippi.

Grave of John C. Portis