Berrien Minute Men and Civil War Stories

Found the following account by Alexander Paris Perham concerning General Levi J. Knight’s Berrien Minute Men and the execution of Elbert J. Chapman in the March 22, 1887 edition of the Atlanta Constitution:

THE STORY OF OLD YALLER

As Told by an Officer in Command of the Zhooting Jquad. [sic]
    One of the first of the Constitution’s War Stories was an account of the execution of “Yaller Jacket” or “Old Yaller” for desertion.  Below is an account written by Captain A.P. Perham of the Quitman Free Press. Captain Perham commanded the squad that executed Old Yaller. He says:
Chapman was the man’s proper name, but we called him “Old Yaller” on account of the peculiar color of his hair, beard, and complexion. This nickname was given very soon after he enlisted, and he was known by no other, except on the roll of his company. I think he came from the northeastern portion of Berrien County. At any rate he belonged to the “Berrien Minute Men,” the company that General Levi J. Knight carried into service.
During the second year of the war, the Twenty-ninth and Thirtieth Georgia Regiment were ordered from Savannah to Jacksonville to repel the enemy, whom it was thought were trying to effect a landing at that point.  Returning a few weeks later  “Yaller” stepped off the train at the station on the Savannah, Florida, and Western railroad nearest his home — probably Naylor, and went to see his family.
He was reported “absent without leave,” and when he returned to his command at Savannah, he was placed in the guard tent and charges were preferred against him. It was from the guard tent that he deserted and went home the second time.
After staying home a short while he joined a cavalry command and went west.  It is said that he was in several engagements and fought bravely, and this fact was made known to the court martial that tried him.
A few months before the fall of Vicksburg the troops from Savannah were ordered to the west, and soon after reaching Mississippi, a man by the name of Bill Warren who belonged to Company I, twenty-ninth Georgia regiment discovered “Yaller” in a cavalry company and reported the fact to Colonel Young. “Yaller” was arrested and soon after tried by court martial; I think at Canton. There was probably not a day nor night, from the time of his trial until he was executed, that he could not have easily escaped.
During the retreat from Yazoo to Jackson he made great complaint that he could not keep his guard together, and on the retreat from Jackson he procured a cow bell, and it is a fact, that with this he often collected the scattered, retreating and tired men, who should have been taking care of him.
At Morton the army rested somewhat demoralized, discouraged

 [text obscured]

forehead. Life’s pathway has not aways been strewn with flowers for me, nor yet have thorns continually beset me. My experience has probably been similar in a general way to that of most others, but I do not believe that there are many who have passed through what I did on that memorable day. The army understood the situation and knew the evidence and circumstances surrounding the whole case. We were all aware that Chapman had not deserted the “cause” and was simply being shot that discipline might be enforced. His execution could not, under these circumstances,  have the desired effect. It was a military mistake instead of a “military necessity.”
The condemned man stated to the writer that he left the guard tent at Savannah because he thought injustice was being done him, but that thought of deserting to the enemy never entered his mind. Chapman had a wife and several children in Berrien county. Perhaps some of our old war friends, the Knights or the Lastingers can tell us what became of them.
During the sad and solemn march from the camp to the place of execution the condemned man assured the guard and the officer in command the he had nothing but the kindest feelings for us, and appreciated the fact that we were doing our duty. “Old Yaller” was a stranger to fear and met his death and terrible preparations  for his execution in the coolest and most perfectly indifferent manner possible. There was no blanching of the cheek, no trembling of the knees, no excitement of any kind visible about the man. He possessed a certain kind of manhood that enabled him to meet the grim monster without a tremor and apparently without a fear. At the time of Chapman’s execution I was second lieutenant of company F twenty-ninth Georgia regiment, and have given the facts as I remember them.

A. P. Perham

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2 Comments

  1. August 1, 2010 at 2:46 am

    […] imposed as for the charge of desertion, an account of which was the subject of an earlier post (see Berrien Minute Men and Civil War Stories). Here is Lastinger’s account of the event, published March, 1909 in Watson’s […]

  2. August 16, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    A letter of William W. Knight of the 29th Georgia Volunteers dated June 03, 1863 gives an account of Elbert J. Chapman.


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