My grandson and I were recently conducting research on our family’s role in the Civil War. As it turns out, our ancestors fought on the side of their home state: Mississippi. They were early pioneers of Mississippi having entered America through Charleston in the 1600’s and then moved gradually westward. My sister’s genealogical research revealed that our ancestors joined the 22nd Mississippi Regiment and other units from the state and fought at Shiloh, Corinth, and Vicksburg.
During the Battle of Shiloh, they fought on the Right Wing of the Confederate Army coming under the personal command of Lt. Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston until he was killed before their very eyes becoming the highest ranking officer of either side killed in action. One of my ancestors was killed at Shiloh with his general. He is buried in a trench with the other Confederate casualties of the Right Wing. After the war, the War Department purchased the land and created a national military historical park to honor the great battle there. Confederate veteran’s groups then marked the known trenches holding the Confederate dead. No individual graves were created for Confederate losses. Why? The Confederate Army left the field in defeat and the federal troops did not know who the dead soldiers in gray were. The Confederates managed to retrieve General Johnston’s body and he is buried in the state cemetery in Austin because he was the last commanding general of the Republic of Texas.
When the Confederates retreated south, the US Army engaged them later in the year at Corinth. The fight at Corinth was over a railroad that connected the Mississippi River to the eastern Confederacy. The North, again, defeated the Confederate troops, but there was no wholesale purchase of the battlefields in and around Corinth. There is an interpretive center in the town operated by the National Park Service under the administration of the Shiloh site some twenty miles away.
My grandson, Lincoln, and I asked the NPS Ranger for information on the 22nd Miss Regiment and Corinth. He had all the information memorized and shared the story with us. The regiment fought north of town where a dirt road and the railroad crossed. There was a fierce battle over a two day period. Our ancestor fell on the first day. Lincoln and I drove the short distance to the battlefield that the ranger marked with an “X.” The railroad is still an active rail line today. The road is now a paved roadway running NW out of Corinth to Tennessee a short distance away. It was easy to find. The battle known as the Second Battle of Corinth (October 3&4, 1862) produced a combined 6500 casualties. It was no small affair.
Lincoln and I drove the short distance to the battlefield marked by the ranger’s “X.” When we arrived, we expected to see a historical marker denoting the site. There was none. I surmised that the little Mississippi roadway was too narrow to accommodate anything on the side of the road. We scanned the battlefield itself for any sign of the battle, but nothing was there. Prior to leaving the interpretive center, we asked the the ranger where the Confederate casualties were buried. He told us that they were buried in mass graves where they fell. As we looked at the field where they fell in their own home state all we could see was the cow pasture that was probably always there since Anglos settled the area in the early 1800’s. There was absolutely no sign or indication a great battle took place in that field and that one side’s casualties were buried in a mass grave.
Lincoln was visibly shaken as he is only ten years old. He said, “Papa, the cows poop on the graves of the men.”
I said, “Yes, that’s what happens when you lose.”
I want our grandchildren to understand there are no trophies for 2nd Place in wars. The fate Mississippi and the other Confederate states brought upon themselves was horrible. The visionary governor of Texas, Sam Houston, refused to secede and warned his constituents that the first shot fired would mark the death knell of slavery and the destruction of the South.
He had traveled in the North as a U.S. Senator and Congressman. He saw first hand that the wealth and power of the North was not imagined in the leveraging of human beings who could run away. He saw real wealth in industry and technology. The vastly superior population of the North led to filling the ranks of their army with no end of personnel resources.
The saddest day of Houston’s life was the day that according to the Texas Constitution he had to convene a convention called by delegates elected from each county. The Texas Secession Convention was modeled after early such conventions in other states. The delegates did give written cause for seceding from the Union – slavery. They saw themselves as patriots and wanted no misunderstanding about such a shocking episode. Slavery was the written cause of secession in every Southern state save one – Louisiana. Louisiana seceded due to slavery, but was the only state in the Confederacy that didn’t write it down.
The Texas delegates put their work up for a popular election and Texans (white males only) voted to leave the Union. Sam Houston refused to “reject that compact known as the United States Constitution.” He was removed from office and Frank Lubbock took his place. Houston died before his wayward daughter was brought back to the fold, but not before he released his own enslaved servants.
The destruction of the South and the forfeiture of wealth devastated southern households of which 80% owned no slaves. It still serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when a vocal minority wrests power from the majority by controlling the narrative as the entitled Planter Class did in the South. Northern citizens were repeatedly incensed when this minority exercised disproportionate power in the halls of Congress with compromises that were only good for one side. One must always be cautious when awakening a sleeping giant.
Photos: Lincoln and I at Burial Trench of the Right Wing of the Confederate Army at Shiloh Battlefield; Lincoln and I at Corinth NPS Interpretive Center; Final Resting Place of Mississippi Infantry at Corinth.