Monday, May 13, 2024

Circling the Wagons at Chancellorsville

    Thanks to the Westerns that many of us watched growing up, we are familiar with the idea of “circling the wagons.” In an effort to provide some security overnight, the wagons were formed in a circle, creating an ad hoc fort to ward off attacks. But did such an event occur during the war? According to an officer in the 12th Alabama, yes it did.

   Forming a defensive formation was not an alien concept. The concept of the infantry square or hollow square went back two millennia and were used by Roman legions. In forming this large box, there would not be an exposed rear for enemy cavalry to slash through. If the fire coming from the soldiers in the square was staggered, then it might present a continuous wall of fire. Plus, the wall of bayonets might deter a rush of mounted men through the formations. Infantry squares had their zenith of popularity during the Napoleonic Wars and were used at battles like Quatre Bras and Waterloo.

   It was a tactic taught to new regiments being formed in the 1860s, both Gray and Blue, but was seldom used. Those handful of times include the Battle of Rowlett’s Station and the battle of Valverde, both in Texas; and the first day at Gettysburg and at Chickamauga.[1]

   Those early training camps were probably where Robert E. Park learned of the formation. Born in Troop County, Georgia, in 1843, Park was a student at the East Alabama Male College (now Auburn University) when he received word that the last twelve-month company being accepted by the Secretary of War was being formed. Park joined that company, the “Macon Confederates,” and was sent to Richmond where the company, joined by other Alabama companies, became the 12th Alabama Infantry. He was mustered in as a private. When the regiment was reorganized for three years or the war in the spring of 1862, Park was elected second lieutenant of Company F. The 12th Alabama was in Robert Rodes’ Brigade, and was active in the campaigns at Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Seven Days, Boonsboro, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville Gettysburg, the Overland Campaign, the Valley Campaign, and ended the war at Appomattox.[2]

   In January 1863, Park, now a first lieutenant, was assigned to duty as acting quartermaster of the 12th Alabama. Park was instructed to “report to the wagon yard, take charge of the wagons with the horses and mules, teamsters, and such baggage as I might find.” The role of the “wagon corps” on a regimental level is not one that gets much press, and his descriptions of his duty are fairly significant for the study of history.[3]

   During the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, Park was with his regimental wagons at Hamilton’s Crossing when he was told by a member of JEB Stuart’s command that Federal cavalry was approaching (see this post on Stoneman). At this time, they were in O’Neal’s Brigade, Rodes’ Division. The division quartermaster placed Park in command of the division’s wagons, “composed of quartermasters, wagon masters, cooks and stragglers.” Maybe Park’s prior combat experience led to the division quartermaster’s faith in Park’s abilities. Park then armed the band, “about ninety men,” from the ordnance wagon, “and gave them directions how to meet the cavalry when they approached. I had the wagons parked in a square, with the horses and men within the square, and the guns were stacked and ready for use, one man being on guard to each wagon and on the lookout.” To defend themselves against Federal cavalry, Park “circled the wagons.”[4]

   “Fortunately, the cavalry did not attack us,” Park wrote, “as it was very probable my entire crowd . . . would have fled without delay, upon hearing the first gun.” Are there other examples of the wagons forming a square on the approach of a possible cavalry attack? That would be great to know. Following the battle of Chancellorsville, Park transferred back to his company. He was captured at Boonsboro, wounded in the hip at Gettysburg, wounded in the leg at Winchester and captured. Park survived the war and returned to Georgia, becoming the state treasurer. He passed in May 1909 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery, Bibb County.[5]

   Park’s accounts of his war-time service originally appeared in the Southern Historical Society Papers. They were published in 1906. In 2022, they were reissued by Scuppernong Press and are available at

   You can check out additional articles on wagon trains here and here .


[1] Nofi, “Form Square! North & South, Vol. 14, No. 1, pg 7-11 (2012).

[2] Park, Sketch of the Twelfth Alabama Infantry, 1.

[3] Park, Sketch of the Twelfth Alabama Infantry, 36.

[4] Park, Sketch of the Twelfth Alabama Infantry, 38.

[5] The Newnan Herald, May 14, 1909.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

William F. Randolph and the wounding of Stonewall Jackson

   Born in Virginia in 1831, William F. Randolph had ties to some of the best families in Virginia.  It probably came as a surprise when the well-traveled Randolph enlisted as a private in the 6th Virginia Cavalry in May 1862. He was soon appointed as a courier to the staff of Richard S. Ewell. It is not clear if the idea was Randolph’s or Ewell’s, but later that year, Randolph was leading a group known as Ewell’s Body Guard. This group would become the nucleus for the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry. Unofficially, the 39th Battalion was known as Lee’s Body Guard. The members of the four companies of this battalion were often distributed to various generals to serve as couriers and guides.

   Based upon a post-war account, Randolph was with Jackson’s command during the Chancellorsville campaign. It was Randolph who helped scout the Federal lines on May 1. (It is unclear if this is a different scout than the one undertaken by JEB Stuart.) After the flank march and primary Confederate attack had run out of steam, Jackson, desirous to continue the attack, started deploying the rest of the Light Division, still stacked on the Orange Plank Road. Lane’s brigade was first in line, and deployed on either side of the road, with one regiment moving forward as skirmishers.

   Jackson, Randolph, and a few others passed by Lane’s brigade heading toward the Federal lines. It was dark, and the party, according to Randolph, was walking their horses toward the front when firing broke out nearby.

   “Jackson turned to me and said: ‘Order those men to stop that fire, and tell the officers not to allow another shot fired without orders.’”

   “I rode up and down the line and gave the order to both men and officers, telling them also they were endangering the lives of General Jackson and his escort. But it was in vain; those immediately in front would cease as I gave the order, but the firing would break out above and below me, and instead of ceasing, the shots increasing in frequency. I rode back to Jackson and said: ‘General, it is impossible to stop these men; they seem to be in a kind of panic. I think we had best pass through their lines and get into the woods behind them.’ ‘Very well said,’ was the reply. So making a half wheel to the left . . . our little company commenced the movement to pass through the line, and thus put ourselves beyond the range of the fire. A few more seconds would have placed us in safety . . . but as we turned, looking up and down as far as my eye could reach, I saw that long line of bayonets rise and concentrate upon us. I felt what was coming, and driving spurs into my horse’s flanks . . . he rose high in the air and as we passed over the line the thunder crash from hundreds of rifles burst in full in our very faces. I looked back as my horse made the leap, and everything had gone down like leaves before the blast of a hurricane . . . My own horse was wounded in several places, my clothing and saddle were perforated with bullets, yet I escaped without a wound.”

   “As soon as I could control my horse, rendered frantic by his wounds, I rode among our men who were falling back into the woods and from behind the trees were still continuing that reckless and insane fire, and urged them to form their line and come back to the road, telling them that they had fired not upon the enemy, but upon General Jackson and his escort.”

   “Then sick at heart I dashed back to the road, and there was where the saddest tragedy of the war was revealed in its fullest horror.”

   “I saw the General’s horse . . . standing close to the edge of the road . . . Jumping from my horse I hastened to the spot and saw the General himself lying in the edge of the woods. He seemed to be dead and I wished all the bullets had passed through my own body rather than such a happening as this. I threw myself on the ground by his side and raised his head and shoulders on my arm. He groaned heavily.”

   “’Are you much hurt, General?’ I asked as soon as I could find a voice and utterance.”

   “’Wild fire, that sir, wild fire,’ he replied in his usual way.”

   “This was all he said. I found that the left arm was shattered by a bullet just below the elbow, and his right hand lacerated through the palm. Not a living soul was in sight then, but in a few moments A.P. Hill rode up, and then Lieutenant Smith, one of his aides. General Hill ordered me to mount my horse and bring an ambulance quickly.”[1]

   Randolph’s account, published decades later, contains some differing accounts of events. James I. Robertson, in his biography of Jackson, places Capt. Richard E. Wilbourne and Pvt. William T. Wynn with Jackson. They were the ones who removed Jackson from his horse, and Wynn went to find a surgeon. While Robertson mentioned Randolph as one of the party, only Wilbourne and Wynn are there to take Jackson off of his horse.[2] Likewise, Dabney in his biography of Jackson never mentioned Randolph’s role.[3]

   Randolph was captured at Gettysburg and spent the rest of the war at Johnson’s Island. Was he simply mis-remembering the events of the night of May 2, 1863? It is possible. But there is probably some truth in his story.

   If you would like more information on the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, check out my book, Lee’s Body Guards.

[1] Randolph, “With Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville.” Southern Churchman, April 11, 1931, 24-26.

[2] Robertson, Stonewall Jackson, 726, 729-30.

[3] Dabney, Life and Campaigns of Lieut. Gen. T.J. (Stonewall) Jackson, 686-687.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Roderick D. Davidson and the Confederate Air Force

   Disclaimer: yes, there was an organization called the Confederate Air Force, founded in Texas in 1961. They later changed their name to the Commemorative Air Force. This post has nothing to do with them, but instead covers R.D. Davidson’s plan to build a heavier-than-air craft in 1864. 

Possible 1840s illustration of the Artisavis. 

   The idea of slipping “the surly bonds of Earth and” dancing “the skies on laughter-silvered wings” has been a dream of many for centuries. The conversation could go all the way back to the Greeks and Icarus, who flew too close to the sun. When two French brothers developed a hot-air balloon and flew in it in 1783, the overactive mind of more than a few inventors and dreamers turned toward not only balloons, but heavier-than-air craft that could greatly enhance transportation, and war.[1]

   Roderick D. Davison had a plan. He was going to build an “Artisavis” or “Bird of Air.” The “Artisavis” was, as described by one Confederate soldier, “an artificial bird to go by steam through the air that can carry a man to guide it and a number of shells which can drop on the Yankees as he passes over them which will soon kill and scare them all away.”[2] By late 1863, the Federals knew of his plan. The Army and Navy Gazette, as reprinted in a Kentucky newspapers, described the operation even further. A fleet of a thousand of these machines would be stationed five miles from the enemy’s lines. They were launched, each carrying “a fifty-pound explosive shell, to be dropped from a safe elevation upon the enemy! The Birds are then to return for the purpose of re-loading.”[3] Davison, who worked in the Quartermaster General’s Office in Richmond, believed he could drop 150,000 shells in the course of twelve hours with his fleet of 1,000 “Artisavis.”[4]

   This was not Davidson’s first idea regarding flight. In 1840, he had published Disclosure of the Discovery and Invention, and a Description of the Plan of Construction and Mode of Operation of the Aerostat: Or, A New Mode of Aerostation. The contraption that Davidson proposed was a “Flapping-wing machine” that was patterned after the American eagle.[5]

   Davidson’s new proposal needed funding, and he approached the Confederate government. After being turned down, Davidson went to the officers and men of the Army of Northern Virginia. He began giving lectures and raising funds. An estimated $2,000 was needed to build the first “Artisavis.” By March-April 1865, he had raised $1,500.[6] One newspaper reported that the “Artisavis” was designed “to fly after the yankees and fire off something that is expected to demolish them in a most frightful manner.”[7] A non-flying prototype was constructed in a lumberyard in Petersburg, at the corner of 7th and Main. A strong wind one night wrecked the model.[8]

   Some believed in Davidson’s invention. One soldier in Benning’s brigade wrote that “I was very anxious to see that man stampede the Yankee army.” Another Confederate wrote that there was an “intense excitement and joyous hopes pervading the army that the flying byrd would exterminate every Yankee in front of Petersburg.” Others were not so impressed. A member of DuBose’s brigade, after the brigade had contributed $127 to the project, considered the sum “pretty liberal patronage for a humbug.”[9]

   What became of Davidson? That is a great question. Sources cannot even agree on his first name. Some have Roderick, while others have Richard.[10] He possibly was born in Virginia in 1806 and died in the same place in an almshouse in December 1885 of Bright’s Disease.[11] Whatever became of him, it was certainly a humbling end compared to his lofty aspirations.

[1] “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee.

[2] Power, Lee’s Miserables, 265.

[3] The Courier-Journal, January 27, 1864.

[4] The Macon Telegraph, February 6, 1864.

[5] Pizor, “The Great Steam Duck,” Technology and Culture, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 86-89.

[6] Powell, Lee’s Miserables, 265.

[7] The Daily Confederate, March 22, 1865.

[8] Hess, In the Trenches of Petersburg, 242.

[9] Hess, In the Trenches of Petersburg, 242.

[10] Hacker,  Astride Two Worlds.

[11] Virginia, U.S. Death Registers, 1853-1911.

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Fate of the Confederate Governors

   As the war ground to a close, orders went out for the arrest of various political figures, including both sitting governors and former governors.

Alabama had three men who served as governors. Andrew B. Moore served from 1857 to 1861. The Alabama constitution did not allow Moore to run for a third term, although he remained active in the war effort. Moore was replaced by John G. Shorter, who served one term, and was replaced by Thomas H. Watts, then serving as Confederate Attorney General. Watts served as governor until the end of the war. US Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ordered Moore to be arrested on May 16, 1865. He was imprisoned at Fort Pulaski in Savannah until being released in August 1865. Shorter apparently avoided arrest, while Watts was arrested on May 1, 1865, and sent to Macon, but appears to have been released by mid-June 1865.

Arkansas had three men in the governor’s chair during the war years. Henry M. Rector served from November 16, 1860, until he resigned after losing an election on November 4, 1862; President of the Senate Thomas Fletcher served from November 4, 1862, until November 15, 1862, when Harris Flanagin was elected. Flanagin served until May 26, 1865, often as governor in exile. None of these men appear to have served jail or prison time after the end of the war.

Florida had two war-time governors. Madison S. Perry and John Milton. Perry could only serve two-terms, and following his second term, became colonel of the 7th Florida Infantry. His health was poor, and he returned to Florida, dying at home in March 1865. John Milton, realizing that the war was over, took his own life on April 1, 1865.

Georgia had one war-time governor: Joseph E. Brown. He was in office from November 6, 1857 to June 17, 1865, when he resigned. Brown was arrested on May 23, 1865 and imprisoned at the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. He was released after meeting with President Andrew Johnson. (The Atlanta Constitution, August 7, 1910)

Kentucky, as a border state, is complicated. George W. Johnson was the first Confederate governor. He was serving as an aide-de-camp on Breckinridge’s staff at Shiloh when his horse was shot from under him. Johnson continued on foot, attaching himself to the 4th Kentucky Infantry (CS). Johnson was mortally wounded in the afternoon of April 7, 1862, dying two days later. Richard Hawes was selected by the state council as Johnson’s replacement, often making his headquarters with the Army of Tennessee. Hawes returned home after the end of the war.

Louisiana had two Confederate governors: Thomas O. Moore and Henry Watkins Allen. Moore could only serve two terms. He returned to his home near Alexandria, but after Federal troops burned his plantation, he fled to Mexico, and then Cuba. He eventually returned to Louisiana. Hawes also lost his home to fire, and with Moore, also went to Mexico. Allen, who was colonel of the 4th Louisiana infantry, was wounded at Shiloh and Baton Rouge and died of his unhealed wounds in Mexico City on April 22, 1866.

Mississippi had John Pettus and Charles Clark. At war’s end, Pettus, wanted for questioning regarding the Lincoln assassination, went into hiding. He died of pneumonia in Lonoke County, Arkansas, on January 28, 1867. Clark was arrested and imprisoned at Fort Pulaski and was held until he took and signed the Oath of Allegiance in September 1865.

Missouri’s Claiborne F. Jackson took office on January 3, 1861, and after June 1861, was basically a governor in exile. Jackson was deposed by the General Assembly in July 1861, followed various Confederate military forces around on campaign, and died in Little Rock, Arkansas, December 7, 1862. Lieutenant Governor Thomas C. Reynolds assumed the role of governor, but really did not have a large role in political affairs. At the end of the war, he also went to Mexico, but returned to St. Louis.

North Carolina had three war-time governors. John W. Ellis led the state out of the Union in May 1861, only to die in July 1861. He was replaced by Speaker of the North Carolina Senate Henry T. Clark. Clark did not pursue election and stepped down at the end of the term in September 1862. Zebulon Baird Vance, colonel of the 26th North Carolina, was elected as governor twice during the war years. At the end of the war, he attempted to surrender and was told to go home. In Statesville, he was arrested on his birthday, May 13, 1865, and imprisoned in Old Capital Prison. Vance was released after receiving his parole on July 6, 1865.

South Carolina had three men in the role of governor: Francis W. Pickens, Milledge L. Bonham, and Andrew G. Magrath. Pickens and Bonham were limited in the number of terms they could serve. Pickens retired to his plantation, and Bonham was reappointed a Confederate general and served in the Army of Tennessee. Magrath was arrested and imprisoned at Fort Pulaski, not being released until December 1865.

Tennessee had only one Confederate governor: Isham G. Harris. After the fall of Nashville, Harris served on the staffs of several Confederate generals, including Joseph E. Johnston, Braxton Bragg, and Albert S. Johnston. The US Congress issued a $5,000 reward for the capture of Harris at the end of the war. He fled to Mexico, then England, only returning to Tennessee once the bounty was removed.

Texas had Sam Houston, who was removed in March 1861; Edward Clark, the lieutenant governor, who lost the election in November 1861; Francis Lubbock who did not run for reelection and stepped aside in November 1863; and Pendleton Murrah.  Houston died in 1863. Clark served as colonel of the 14th Texas Infantry but fled to Mexico at the end of the war. Lubbock was commissioned lieutenant colonel on the staff of Maj. Gen. John B. Marguder, and then aide-de-camp for Jefferson Davis. Lubbock was captured with Davis in Georgia and imprisoned at Fort Delaware for eight months.

Virginia had two governors. John Letcher and William Smith. Letcher’s arrest order was issued by U.S. Grant, and he was taken into custody on May 20, 1865, and imprisoned at Old Capital Prison. He was released forty-seven days later. Likewise, Smith turned himself in on June 8, 1865, and was paroled.

More information on these governors can be found in Years, editor, The Confederate Governors. For information on biographies on each governor, check out this link.  

Monday, March 25, 2024

Breckinridge, Lee, Johnston, and the end of the War.

   When the surrender of the two principal Confederate armies is discussed, those conversations focus on two sets of interactions: Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant at Appomattox and Joseph E. Johnston and William T. Sherman at the Bennett Place. Hovering around the periphery of those discussions is John C. Breckinridge. In the final days, he counselled both Lee and Johnston.

   John C. Breckinridge kind of slips through the cracks of history. While there are scores of biographies on Lee and Johnston, there are only three on Breckinridge. Born in Kentucky, he graduated from Transylvania University, practiced law, and served as an officer in the 3rd Kentucky Volunteers during the war with Mexico. Breckinridge served two terms as a Kentucky legislator, two terms in the U.S. House, as Vice President of the United States under President James Buchanan, and was serving in the U.S. Senate after his term as Vice President expired. Described as not being a “proponent of secession or of extreme state rights views,” he did run against the Lincoln-Hamlin ticket as a Democrat in 1860.[1]

   Breckinridge might just be the most widely-traveled of Confederate generals. Commissioned as brigadier general in November 1861, he saw service in Kentucky, fought at Shiloh, was promoted to major general in April 1862, was in Vicksburg, Baton Rouge, Port Hudson, and at Murfreesboro. In 1863, he led a division at Jackson, Chickamauga, and a corps at Chattanooga. Breckinridge then moved east, leading the Confederate forces at New Market in May 1864, Cold Harbor, and then back to the Shenandoah Valley to defend it against attacks by Federals, eventually leading a corps under Early’s command during the march on Washington, D.C. In January 1865, Breckinridge became the sixth and last Confederate Secretary of War.

Breckinridge, Lee, and Johnston. (LOC)

   Following the breakthrough of Confederate lines below Petersburg on the morning of April 2, 1865, Richmond was abandoned. Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Cabinet boarded the last train out of Richmond that night, leaving the city a blaze. Breckinridge was not with the group. He rode out of the city early on the morning of April 3. Breckinridge took command of a wagon train moving toward Amelia Court House, having at least one brush with Federal cavalry. In Farmville on the night of April 6 or morning of April 7, Breckinridge found Lee and discussed events, with Lee wishing Breckinridge to deliver a message to President Davis.[2]

   While it is not known what all they discussed, Breckinridge does write Davis on April 8. Amelia Court House was occupied by the Federals on April 5; some 800 Federals had been captured near Rice’s Station on April 6; serious Confederate losses had been sustained-- “High Bridge and other points.” It was Lee’s plan to try and get to North Carolina, Breckinridge wrote. He then outlines the disposition of a few other Confederate commands, like Lomax and Echols. “The straggling has been great, and the situation is not favorable,” Breckinridge concluded. Was surrender something that the two had discussed?[3]

   Breckinridge rode toward the south, escaping Federal troops encircling Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee surrendered on April 9 at Appomattox Court House. On April 11, the day after Davis moved south to North Carolina, Breckinridge arrived in Danville. He set out the following day and reached Davis, meeting with the president at the home of John Wood. It was Breckinridge that brought the official word of Lee’s surrender. That night, Breckinridge met with Joseph E. Johnston.[4]

   According to Johnston, it was his opinion, along with that of P.G.T. Beauregard, that the “Southern Confederacy was overthrown.” Johnston told Breckinridge this and believed that it was Davis’s responsibility to exercise this “power . . . without more delay.” Breckinridge promised to give Johnston the floor to express this view. Johnston was given the opportunity and told the president “that under such circumstances it would be the greatest of human crimes for us to attempt to continue the war.” Davis asked for the views of his cabinet, with Breckinridge, Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Navy, and John H. Reagan, Postmaster General, concurring. Only Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin held out hope. Davis agreed to allow Johnston to begin talks with Sherman.[5]

   Davis, with the Confederate cabinet, including Breckinridge, set out from Greensboro, heading to Charlotte, on April 15. Breckinridge was with Davis, and, on the following day, learned that Johnston and Sherman had opened talks. Johnston and Sherman began meeting at the Bennett Farm near Durham, and Johnston wanted Breckinridge to help with the negotiations. It was Johnston’s plan (and Davis’s) that the civil departments be surrendered as well. Not reaching a conclusion at the end of the first day, Johnston requested that Breckinridge join him. Breckinridge arrived, along with Reagan, and joined Johnston in drafting a surrender proposal. When Johnston returned to the Bennett Farm, Breckinridge was also there, and it was Johnston’s idea that Breckinridge join the negotiations. Sherman demurred. Breckinridge was one of those civil officials. Johnston reminded Sherman that Breckinridge was also a major general in the Confederate army, and Breckinridge joined in the debate. Eventually, terms were reached on April 18 and sent to various presidents.[6]

   While standing in the yard of the Bennett farm, waiting for copies of the documents to be made, Sherman took Breckinridge aide. Sherman told Breckinridge that “he had better get away, as the feeling of our people, who had as such announced Mr. Lincoln,  of Illinois, duly and properly elected the President of the United States, and yet that he afterward openly rebelled and taken up arms against the Government. He answered me that he surely would give us no more trouble, and intimated that he would speedily leave the country forever.”[7] Of course, Breckinridge would leave the country, heading to Cuba first, then Great Britian and Canada, before a tour through Europe. Upon being assured that he was covered under President Andrew Johnson’s Amnesty Proclamation of December 1868, Breckinridge returned to Kentucky. He died in Kentucky in 1875.

   Breckinridge’s council with Joseph E. Johnston is well documented. While what Breckinridge and Lee discussed in Farmville on April 7 is seemingly lost to history, the pair had met frequently after Breckinridge assumed the office of Secretary of War, including a three-day stint after Breckinridge failed to get the Confederate senate to pass a resolution demanding Davis open negotiations with Lincoln. Historian William C. Davis, in an essay on the roles of Breckinridge, Lee, and John A. Campbell, believes that, at that Farmville meeting,  Breckinridge and Lee possibly outlined what Lee could do if he was cornered and forced to surrender.[8]  


[1] Davis, The Confederate General, 1:127.

[2] Knight, From Arlington to Appomattox, 494; Davis, Breckinridge, 507.

[3] OR, Vol. 46, pt. 3, 1389.

[4] Davis, Breckinridge, 509.

[5] Johnston, Narrative of Military Operations, 397-99.

[6] Johnston, Narrative of Military Operations, 400-405.

[7] Sherman, Personal memoirs, 2:353-54.

[8] Davis, “Lee, Breckinridge, and Campbell,” in Janney, Petersburg to Appomattox, 155.

Monday, March 04, 2024

The United Confederate Veteran reunions in Memphis

   Following the war, veterans organizations sprang up all over the nation. Memphis seemed slow to join the various groups. Prominent in the 1870s was the Mexican War Veterans Association, with Gideon Pillow as its commander. It appears that the original fraternal group in Memphis was known as the “Confederate Veterans Historical Association.” This later becomes the Confederate Veteran Historical Association Camp No. 28 after the United Confederate Veteran was formed in July 1889. Its counterpart in Memphis was the William J. Smith Post 1896, Grand Army of the Republic.[1]  

   Both organizations held national reunions for their membership in different locations across the United States. Quite possibly the closest that a GAR reunion was held to Memphis was the National Encampment in St. Louis in September 1887. Three times, the United Confederate Veterans held national reunions in Memphis: 1901, 1909, and 1924.

Program from the 1901 reunion. 
(TN Virtual Archives) 
   The 11th Annual Reunion of the United Confederate Veterans was held May 28-30, 1901, drawing 20,000 participants. The Rev. J. William Jones opened the day with a prayer, followed by an address from the governor, the mayor and a US Senator, then John B. Gordon, General-in-chief of the United Confederate Veterans. The commands of Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan were recognized. Joseph Wheeler spoke, followed by Fitzhugh Lee and General Bates.  That was all the first day. Alexander P. Stewart spoke the following day, and business was conducted, such as a fundraiser approved for a monument to Southern women, a decision on the location of the next reunion, a meeting of Confederate surgeons, a grand ball, and a flower parade. There were of course extras through the three days. Capt. George H. Mitchell, superintendent of the Memphis National Cemetery, encouraged the Confederate veterans to come and pay their respects. There was even a meeting of Confederate and Union veterans in the lobby of the Peabody hotel.[2]  

   The 19th Annual Reunion of the United Confederate Veterans was held June 8-10, 1909. The reunion was held jointly with the Confederate Southern Memorial Association. The crowds, estimated at 90,000 visitors (railroad officials believed the number of visitors at 175,000), found the route of the parade of veterans “a mass of brilliant bunting and fluttering flags . . . It was noticeable that the star-spangled banner was given almost equal place in many instances with the banner that was furled but never conquered.” Many local citizens sported badges that read “I live here; ask me.” The Bijou Theater was used as the convention hall where the meetings of delegates took place. The governor was on hand to welcome the veterans and their guest, followed by the singing of “Dixie,” and a “Rebel yell.” Clement A. Evans spoke, as did Lewis Guion, pleading for a park at Vicksburg, with a Confederate monument. There was a memorial service in honor of Jefferson Davis, the introduction of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s great-grandson, a reunion of the Immortal 600, and a grand ball. As at many of the reunions, there was a casualty or two. Jack Duhig, a member of the Sterling Price Camp, Dallas, Texas, died in a local hospital, probably from a heat stroke.[3]

Veterans at the 1924 reunion.

   The 34th Annual reunion of the United Confederate Veterans was held June 3-5, 1924. Reunion headquarters was at the Claridge Hotel, and thousands were reported in attendance. The event started with a memorial service at Elmwood Cemetery, with the Confederate graves being marked with flags and addresses on several topics, including Jefferson Davis. It was Davis’s birthdate. On June 4, the reunion officially began. The mayor of Memphis spoke (but the governor only sent his regards), then Commander-in- Chief W.B. Haldeman. “The grim reaper is rapidly depleting the ranks of the Confederate veterans,” Haldeman told the crowd, estimated at 5,000. Haldeman was re-elected as commander, and annual dues were increased. Most of the veterans were now driven in cars along the parade route. The only Confederate general present seems to have been Felix Robertson. There were also twenty “old ex-slaves who had served . . . during the war.” The Memphis D.A.R. sponsored an opening luncheon, the Kiwanis Club sponsored the floral parade, the R.O.T.C. and the Boy Scouts provided programing and helped the old veterans around the city, while there were several balls, one sponsored by the Ladies’ Confederate Memorial Association and another by the Memphis United Daughters of the Confederacy. Several veterans were reported in the hospital, “suffering from natural afflictions and the infirmities of age.” One newspaper editor was happy to have the veterans in Memphis, but also found the reunion “tinged. . . with sadness. It is more and more evident that the day is not far distant when there will be the grand final reunion in a city not made with hands, the reunion in which every man who fought on either side in the sixties will have a part.”[4]  

[1] Public Ledger, April 25, 1890; The Memphis Commercial, January 21, 1894.

[2] Confederate Veteran, 9:248-250; The Commercial Appeal, May 5, 1901, May 28, 1901.

[3] Confederate Veteran, 17:197, 314-16; The Commercial Appeal, June 11, 1909.

[4] Confederate Veteran, 32: 251-54; The Commercial Appeal, June 4, 1924, June 7, 1923.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Burying Memphis’s Confederates

Confederate Monument,
Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis

   Any great influx of men brought about numerous cases of disease, some of which led to death. Memphis was no different. Thousands of soldiers poured into the city, and as already discussed here, hospitals were opened to deal with not only with those wounded on the battlefield, but those who were sick. Despite medical care, numerous men died. To provide care for those who passed, the Southern Mothers Society, which operated one of the hospitals, acquired the Fowler section of Elmwood Cemetery. Elmwood Cemetery was established in 1852. This section of the cemetery was donated by Elmwood Cemetery “for the purpose of burying, free of charge, all soldiers who die honorably in defense of our liberties.” By September 1861, the ground had been enlarged and a spot for a monument already laid out.[1] 

   The first soldier to be buried in this section appears to have been Thomas Gallagher, who “died of wounds received accidently” on May 12, 1861. Gallagher was a member of Company H, 154th Senior Tennessee Infantry.[2] Early on, these funerals were full of military honors. J.W. Kirwan, a private in the 25th Mississippi Infantry, died of consumption in January 1862. A hearse and a company of new recruits escorted Kirwan’s body from his former house in Memphis to the cemetery. “The body was followed by a long procession of mourning friends who took a melancholy satisfaction in paying the last tribute of respect to an esteemed gentleman and devoted soldier.”[3] Burials undoubtedly continued through the course of the war, although information regarding burial of Confederates in the Confederate section of Elmwood Cemetery by the Federals seems to be lacking.

   In April 1866, there was a call for the upkeep by the ladies of Memphis of the Confederate section of Elmwood Cemetery. Sam W. Gulick stated that he would “Most willingly offer my services gratis, to letter all the names on the above boards to be placed in Elmwood Cemetery.” The ladies of the Southern Soldiers’ Home agreed to take on the responsibility, and there was a call for a “commemoration service” on April 26.[4] The memorial service came off with great fanfare, so much so that in April 1867, the local U.S. Army post commander prohibited “any processions, speeches or other public demonstrations, speeches or other public demonstrations in honor of the rebellion or men who fell in its service…” Local citizens were permitted “the simple act of mourning for deceased relatives in the customary manner.”[5]

   Slowly, the Confederate dead from other fields were brought to Elmwood Cemetery. Captain John W. Harris, killed in the North Georgia campaign of 1864, was reinterred in May 1866; W.A. Willis was likewise disinterred from a North Georgia battlefield and reinterred in Elmwood Cemetery in June 1866; Willie Pope, killed at the battle of Tishomingo Creek, was reinterred in July 1866; Brig. Gen Preston Smith, killed at Chickamauga in September 1863, and Col. Jeffrey E. Forrest, killed at the battle of Okolona in February 1864, were reinterred in May 1868.[6]

   The last Confederate soldier buried in the Confederate Soldiers Rest section was John F. Gunter, who died April 1, 1940. There are 945 numbered headstones in the Confederate section, and many other soldiers are buried through the cemetery. The Confederate Monument in the Confederate section was dedicated on June 5, 1878, and a marker about the cemetery was erected in 2006. 

   Among the more notable Confederate burials are Generals James Patton Anderson, Colton Greene, Preston Smith, Alfred J. Vaughan, Jr., Gideon Pillow, and William Henry Carroll. War-time governor Isham G. Harris is also buried at Elmwood, as is Confederate Congressman William G. Swan. Confederate senator Landon Carter Haynes was originally buried here, but was later moved to Jackson, Tennessee. War-time Federal soldiers buried at Elmwood were later moved (in 1868) to the Memphis National Cemetery, while two Federal generals, William J. Smith and Milton T. Williamson, are still buried at Elmwood. Elmwood was also the original burial location for Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife Mary. As an aside, famed author Shelby Foote is also buried in Memphis.

[1] Memphis Daily Appeal, September 25, 1861.

[2] Thomas Gallagher, CMSR, ROG109, NA.

[3] Memphis Daily Appeal, January 31, 1862.

[4] The Memphis Daily Appeal, April 18, 1866; April 24, 1866.

[5] Memphis Daily Post, April 25, 1867.

[6] Public Ledger, May 10, 1866, July 19, 1866, May 1, 1866; Memphis Daily Post, June 16, 1866.