Mayst purest pleasures ever be thine,
A [something] holy, pure, chaste, divine,
Richest of all treasures I’d wish thee given,
Youth, beauty, happiness – a home in Heaven.
So then-Captain, later Colonel, Kennon McElroy , of the 13th’s Lauderdale Zouaves, wrote in an elaborate, decorative hand to “Miss Mary” on Dec. 27, 1861. It was two years and almost a month before his death leading the regiment in its attack on Fort Sanders at Knoxville, Tennessee.
Miss Mary was the pretty, 20-year-old Mary Elizabeth Johnston of Leesburg, Virginia. In the winter of 1861, the regiment was camped on the Fairgrounds near her home on Loudon Street. McElroy, a 21-year-old University of Mississippi graduate and a farmer of Lauderdale Springs, Mississippi, must have been a romantic figure in his elaborate Zouave uniform of billowing, red pantaloons, embroidered blue jacket and low, white turban hat cocked on the back of his head.
Miss Mary may have mourned him when he died at just age 23. She outlived him by 47 years. But McElroy apparently was only one of her Mississippi suitors. She also inspired at least two other men of the regiment to write her poems. She kept all three poems in a “remembrance” album passed down to her descendants. The album may have been a gift to her from then-Captain McElroy who may have known her before the war.