Mollie L. Campbell Nash


Minutemen of Attala Private Nimrod Newton Nash’s wife Mollie L. Campbell whom he married in 1855. She was the principal recipient of most of his good letters which lend so much verisimilitude to The Bloody Thirteenth and an understanding of the Civil War from the Confederate side.

Mollie L. Campbell Nash was the daughter of a Methodist minister and the sister of one of the Minutemen’s last commanders, Charles H.B. Campbell. He went on permanent wounded furlough in November 1863 when he lost an eye at the Battle of Fort Sanders in Knoxville, TN. Newt had been killed at Gettysburg back in July.

This photograph, apparently taken in the late 1850s, was provided by Newt’s descendant Weldon Nash of Dallas, TX.

Posted in Battles: Fort Sanders, Battles: Gettysburg, Nimrod Newton Nash, The Minute Men of Attala | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: Captured At Saylor’s Creek

One hundred and fifty years ago this morning, on a cloudy Thursday, the Army of Northern Virginia fought its last battle.

It was little more than a skirmish, actually, though it extinguished Humphreys’ Mississippi Brigade and most of the 13th Regiment. Then, it was forgotten by almost everyone, in favor of Lee’s famous surrender at Appomattox three days later. Historians ever after generally dismissed Saylor’s Creek with a few sentences, and most of them continue to do so.

It was worth a lot more than that to the survivors.

It began when all but a handful of the few score remaining soldiers of the 13th Regiment, among thousands more from the rest of Lee’s army, were pinned on a hillside across a marshy stream by Union cavalry commanded by Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

They had gotten into the box in a roundabout way, through a series of delays brought on by their half-starved condition and much straggling and its consequent disorganization.

The 13th, and the rest of Kershaw’s division was still nominally a part of Longstreet’s Corps, but Longstreet had taken Field’s division to Petersburg and retreated with it west from there. Farther north, Kershaw’s division of  three greatly-diminished Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina brigades, had retreated through Richmond and joined up with Ewell’s Corps, mainly reservists, artillerymen-turned-infantry, and sailors and marines from the scuttled James River fleet. They had all trudged west together through a steady rain. Both the north and south wings of the army of about 35,000 soldiers converged on Amelia Courthouse on Wednesday, April 5.

It was less marching than a kind of semi-organized straggling. Historian Joseph T. Glatthaar: “Their physical deterioration from poor conditioning prevented thousands from keeping up…Thousands dropped out of the retreat march, some falling into Yankee hands and others working their way toward home.”

“We stopped at Amelia all the morning,” recalled artillery commander Porter Alexander, “reorganizing commands & waiting for the rear to close up.”

A planned prepositioning of rations, much anticipated by men retreating on empty stomachs,  was nowhere to be found. The troops spent most of the rest of the day hunting for food for themselves and forage for their horses and mules but without much success in a country stripped bare after four years of invasion and war.

Kershaw’s division was at the rear of the retreat. When they approached the Appomattox River, which was in flood stage from spring rains, no pontoon bridges were available and, Glatthaar reports, they “had to trudge southward and plank the Richmond & Danville Railroad bridge to cross.”

All the delays gave Union Cavalry General Phillip Sheridan plenty of time to get jis troopers ahead of Lee’s retreating army and flank and funnel all of it eastward.

“The march was resumed soon after dark and kept up all night,” wrote13th 21st Mississippi Regiment memoirist J.S. McNeilly in 1913. “But delayed by transportation trains, artillery, and the attempts of the Federal cavalry to break in on them, daylight found the command only a few miles from Amelia Courthouse.

“The morning of the fateful 6th of April found the retreating troops in pretty bad shape—tired, sleepy, and oh! so hungry! In such condition the straggling was bad, and would have been worse but for the proximity of the Union cavalry and the apprehension of Northern prisons.”

The dawn skies were cloudy and threatening more rain, when they reached marshy Saylor’s Creek. There was an extended halt which lasted for several hours.

Historian Robert K. Krick: “Federal cavalry were in front with the road blocked.”

Before they could decide how to proceed, Glattner summarized, “a combination of Union infantry, artillery and cavalry enveloped both Confederate flanks and utterly crushed them. [Generals] Anderson, Pickett and Bushrod Johnson escaped. Ewell stayed behind trying to rally his whipped men, and fell into Union hands.”

But as McNeilly remembered it for the Mississippi Historical Society, the crushing came after the cornered troops put up a stiff fight, killing and wounding scores of Yankees. He said a defense line was thrown out on the south side of the creek, across the Deatonsville Road.

Kershaw stationed the Mississippi Brigade “now of less than four hundred men, commanded by Lieut. Col. Fitzgerald , on some high ground north of the creek, to check the enemy’s advance as long as possible.

“This rear guard was assailed immediately and vigorously in front and on both flanks….When the brigade was forced back, Col. Fitzgerald took another position, where, with a few men, he held back the advance until surrounded and captured, that the brigade might withdraw across the creek without disorder or disaster.”

Which could have been pretty hard, such a withdrawal, because as he goes on to say, the marshy creek was then waist deep and had steep banks.

“The conflict was so close that a Federal officer rushing to the front to seize the colors of the 21st Mississippi, fell as he was shot, at the feet of the slayer.”

Another Union officer on horseback was more successful, until his horse was killed and the flag recovered. “…[T]he colors were recovered by color bearer Trescott,” McNeilly wrote,“and burned by him that night, as were the colors of the 13th.”

There were other versions of what happened to the 13th Regiment’s last of several battle flags, in addition to McNeilly’s assertion that it was destroyed. One is that of Corporal Charles Derille Eastland of the Winston Guards. He offered his story of what happened to the flag in a letter to Confederate Veteran magazine long after the war.

‘If the Federal soldier who captured the flag of the 13th Mississippi Regiment April 6, 1865, in the battle of Harper’s Farm or Sailor’s Creek will write to me,” Eastland wrote, “I shall be glad to tell him who shot him through the right shoulder as he ran off with the flag.”

A third version is that the banner was taken from its staff, folded and secreted under the shirt of a 13th Regiment soldier at Saylor’s Creek and survived the war with him. That one makes the most sense, because a tattered 13th Regiment battle flag was preserved at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson. Independent historian Jess McLean photographed it for the cover of his history of the regiment. And a portion of the photograph forms the top of the home page of this blog.

According to McNeilly the deadly capture-the-flag business soon ended and “Maj. Costan, of Gen. Kershaw’s staff, rode up and called for the firing to cease, as all were surrounded and had been surrendered.”

McNeilly goes on to say that the 13th’s Captain Hugh D. Cameron, originally a private in the Alamutcha Infantry, who was “the only one of the four regimental commanders unwounded, commanded the brigade when it was finally rounded up.” He  said Lieut. Col. Fitzgerald was severely wounded, which apparently was why Cameron had assumed command. They both survived the war.

Among the captured soldiers of the 13th Regiment, for whom McLean was able to find records, were Captain Slyvanus Jackson Quinn of the Secessionists, the regimental brass band’s original drum major; Privates William Henry Hailey and Wilson West of the Kemper Legion; Private Charles Wesley Kendall of the Spartan Band; and 2nd Lieutenant Marcet R. Watkins of the Newton Rifles. But there must have been a few score others for whom records no longer exist.

Glatthaar concludes: “The Saylor’s Creek disaster marked the beginning of the very end for Lee’s army. Not only did it lose 8,000 men and large numbers of guns and wagons, but the battle was emblematic of the collapse of the army’s fighting prowess.”

McNeilly admitted as much: “…the sole ray of light that relieved the gloom of being prisoners of war, was that we were also ‘prisoners of hope’—the hope of a square meal. But that hope was dissolved in disappointment and a rainy night.”


Posted in Captured at Saylor's Creek | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Nimrod Newton Nash

Newton Nash

Newt Nash was a rifleman in the 13th Mississippi whose letters home to his wife Mollie go a long way to illuminating the Civil War from the Confederate viewpoint.

Copies of the letters, transcribed by Newt’s descendants, were given to me by Weldon Nash of Dallas, an old Aggie who faithfully reads from some of them every year on July 2, the Battle of Gettysburg’s famous second day. It was the day Newt was killed in the regiment’s charge on the Union lines. Weldon also sent me this copy of Newt’s photograph, apparently taken in the late 1850s.

I’m sure Weldon will be pleased to see Newt here which I hope will stimulate interest in his eloquent letters, most of them quoted verbatim in my history of the regiment—-cheap at 99 cents in digital format.

Posted in Correspondence, Nimrod Newton Nash, The Minute Men of Attala | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

“The ration is complained of as being scant”

Feb. 27, 1865, is the last extant inspector’s report for the 13th Regiment and its brigade by the Army of Northern Virginia.

“The command is very well supplied with clothing. The arms and accoutrements are kept in excellent order. The ration is complained of as being scant. Soap is very much required. I would recommend an issue of soap at least once each month.

“There are no deficiencies of moment reported and hence no necessity for endorsements by heads of staff departments. Transportation in tolerably good order, heavy details in this department keep the stock down. This cannot be avoided. The wants of the command are attended to promptly.

“Owing to serious interruption in mail communications, certificates for extensions of furloughs have not been received. No officers are absent without leave, except such as have not been able to return since breaking of communications. Several officers await retirement. Papers have in all cases of this kind been already forwarded.

“Commanding officers use every means in their power to cause the return of absentees without leave. Details for picket, fatigue and guard call for about 200 men each day, thus it is difficult to exercise the men in drill, yet so necessary at this time.

“The ‘consolidation’ question is engrossing the attention of the command at present. The sooner this subject is disposed of, the better, at least for this brigade. If the exchange of prisoners is continued, we may possibly receive an accession of about 250 arms-bearing men. [The brigade was elsewhere reported having only 502 men effective for the field.]

“This command is encamped between the Darbytown and New Market Road, about 6 1/2 miles from Richmond.”

Via Blue & Gray Marching.

Posted in Humpreys Mississippi Brigade | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Delta Diary

download (1)

This short, independently-published 2008 book has nothing of the 13th Regiment in it but is nevertheless a fine explication of what was going on at home in Mississippi during the war.

Diarist Amanda Worthington was much younger than the high society South Carolina matron Mary Chesnut, the most prominent Southern writer of the war. Mary’s famous diaries captured the chaos of a slave-owning society at war, exploring the making, marking and breaking of the Confederacy from its Richmond seat of power.

The teenage Confederate belle Amanda, though less educated or worldly, nevertheless had Mary’s eye for detail and ear for social nuance in her smaller and less influential Delta planter society. Amanda is as forthright, as critical of people she doesn’t like as Mary is, and as frank about herself: “…anybody I can’t freeze must be tolerably hard to take a hint…to anyone I don’t like I can be icily cold.”

“Mr. Rodin…sang several songs for us which were torturing to our auditory nerves, as he hasn’t a particle of voice.”

“Miss Pettit…is so ugly, uninteresting, talks through her nose & I know she is common. There now, I feel relieved!”

I love her details of what they ate and wore, and their illnesses and remedies (turpentine for a sore throat, ouch!). They had to be (and were) fearful of what a headache, a fever or a sore throat might lead to–with few reliable remedies available.

It’s a wonder to me that Amanda and her sister, Mary, were always expected to dress and come to the parlor to entertain guests, including by playing the piano and singing. Even men and women they didn’t know seemed to wander in at all hours expecting to be fed and sung to.

Pity editor Troy Woods doesn’t give us at least a summary of what happened to her the rest of her life. Fortunately, there’s Google, and more material to be found, of her marriage and mothering and death. Wood’s editing also is confusing in spots. He doesn’t use brackets and so it’s hard to tell if the parentheses are his or hers. But that’s a minor matter in such a good book.

Read it, if you care to know more about part of the region that produced the 13th Mississippi’s ranks. You won’t be sorry.

Posted in Mississippi | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Girls & Guns

Only months before the surrender at Appomattox, it’s doubtful anything like the following was still occurring. Indeed, there is no record of it. But it’s worth remembering the zeal of some young Southern patriots at its peak in the war’s early days. Then even women were rumored to be organizing fighting units. Mississippi apparently was no exception.

Savannah [GA] Republican, July 19, 1861,
“The Mississippi Women.—In the Choctaw county, Miss., a company of ladies has been organized for some time under the name of ‘Home Guards,’ numbering over one hundred.  The Vicksburg Sun tells us what they have done as follows:

“They have been constantly exercising on horseback and on foot with pistol, shot gun and rifle, and have attained such perfection that we doubt if there is a better drilled company in the country.  Each one is almost a Boone with her rifle, and an Amazon in her equestrian skill.

“We have heard that one lady, (our informant, Gen. T. C. McMackin, could not give us her name,) in shooting at a cross mark, one hundred yards distant, with a rifle, struck the centre five times and broke it three times out of eight shots fired in succession.  She had a rest.  If any State can beat this, we should like to see it done.”

But one such report turned out to be a joke.

Natchez Daily Courier, April 1, 1862,
“Women in for the War. We find the following dispatch in the New Orleans True Delta of last Saturday evening.  We publish it for the information of our readers:

“Natchez, March 29.  The girls, one hundred and three rank and file, each in herself a Joan of Arc or a Maid of Saragossa, have completed their military organization, and are in for the war.  They will leave here by steamer for New Orleans on Monday morning.  Give them a warm embrace.  Hurra for Mississippi!

Natchez Daily Courier, April 9, 1862,
“All Fool’s Day.  A large number of persons took a stroll yesterday afternoon on the steamboat landing, with the fond hope of witnessing the arrival of the young female Mississippi volunteers.   But they saw nothing of the kind, though there were at that time on the levee many a Miss Volunteer of another sort.

“It was soon whispered in the crowd that they had been badly sold it being All Fool’s Day, and then one by one they all retired, very much excited against the newspapers, and more particularly the [New Orleans] True Delta, which published on Sunday, with a flaming heading, a telegram from Natchez, “from a respectable party,” in which it was announced the girls would leave that place for this city on Monday.  The female company turns out to be a military canard.–N. O. Bee, April 2.”

Via University of Texas at Tyler & Poore Boys In Gray

Posted in Mississippi | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A letter home, Jan. 25, 1865

In early 1865, the last winter of the war, the remnant of the 13th regiment was in trenches, defending Richmond, between the New Market and Darbytown roads east of the capital city.

These were days of little military activity but much privation for the remnant of the Army of Northern Virginia: there was little food or clothing as winter snows and rains pelted the troops in their makeshift shelters. Water stood several inches deep in the wet trenches. Rats and mice plagued the men.

Pettus Guards 3rd Sergeant Wilborn P. Smith wrote home on Jan. 25, commenting on a letter received from someone else at home: “…I wrote you by Wallace [1st Lieutenant William Wallace McElroy]…I expect you have been expecting me home. When Wallace left, we had a furlough started up and he felt certain that we would get them, but it failed.

“I would like to get home again very much. I suppose now we will not have one until another long year rolls around, if the war is not ended sooner…”

Posted in The Pettus Guards | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hollywood will try again soon


I can’t think of many Hollywood movies of the Civil War which have been either accurate or particularly meaningful. What historian Gary Gallagher called “the feminist anti-war movie” Cold Mountain may have been the worst of recent vintage. Or maybe I’m just hard to please.

Well, Los Angeles is going to take another shot (so to speak) with a new flicker about (perhaps) how the Civil War divided not only contemporary families but the entire State of Mississippi, as signified by defiant, Union-loving Jones County, which is north of Hattiesburg in southeastern Mississippi. and Variety Magazine have announced that the long anticipated movie ‘Free State of Jones’ is the works—just eight years after Universal Studios bought the rights to my book from the University of North Carolina Press,” writes historian Victoria Bynum.

“This being the movies, I won’t likely see the [renegade leader] Newt Knight that I ‘know,’ but I do hope that I like the one that I see,” she concluded.

I wouldn’t bet on it. But you never know. If they can just avoid hiring too many over-fed, porky reenactors, that would help.

Via Poore Boys In Gray.

Posted in Mississippi, Reenactors | Tagged , , | 3 Comments