Reward Offered for Confederate Deserters

The first commercial activity at Ray City arose during the Civil War when Levi J. Knight and his son-in-law Thomas M. Ray constructed  a millpond and grist mill on Beaverdam Creek in Berrien County, GA. Captain Levi J. Knight, an old Indian fighter, raised the first company of Confederate soldiers to go forth from Berrien County, the Berrien Minute Men.

After enlisting at Nashville, GA in 1861 the Berrien Minute Men mustered in near Savannah, GA as a company of the 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment.  Following this organization, Captain Knight resigned and the company came under the command of John C. Lamb.   In the first months after mustering in, the regiment trained and served picket duty on the Georgia coast.  They were stationed at a number of camps  on the coastal islands and marshes, first at Sapelo Battery, off the coast of Darien, GA, then in Chatham County, GA at Camp Tatnall, Camp Causton’s Bluff, Camp Debtford, Camp Mackey, and Camp Young.

At times the conditions in the Confederate camps of Chatham county were nearly intolerable. The weather was cold in the winter and hot and muggy in the summer.  Men were apt to become irritable. One soldier of the 29th Georgia Regiment killed another over a game of marbles. Some men were bored with picket duty. Some were frustrated and longed for action. Others just longed to go home to their farms and families. At Camp Young the harsh realities of Army life in the field would test the commitment of volunteer soldiers in the 29th Georgia Regiment.

The likely location of Camp Young was on Wylly Island about eight miles southeast of Savannah , on a tract of 110 acres which had been acquired  by Judge  Levi Sheftall D’Lyon at some time prior to 1860.  Judge D’Lyon was a prominent citizen and city court judge of Savannah. He was also the father of Isaac Mordecai DeLyon and Leonorean DeLyon, who edited and published the South Georgia Watchman newspaper at Troupville, GA and later at Valdosta, GA.  Lenorean DeLyon is credited with giving Valdosta its name.    Judge D’Lyon himself was an enigma. He took great interest in supporting the Chatham Dispensary, “a free medical clinic and pharmacy for the poor.” He devoted much of his professional legal career to assisting free African-Americans in acquiring their own property, but he also profited from the business of buying and selling slaves.  In 1859 he called for a “vigilance committee for the better preservation of Southern Rights.” In 1861 he was acting as guardian for 48 “free persons of color” in Savannah, while at the same time working to establish a district court system in the new Confederate States of America.  In his will D’Lyon directed that five of his slaves be freed, but another 21 were sold in 1863 to liquidate his estate.

Wylly Island is a river island formed by a bifurcation of the Herb River.  According to a Civil War map of the defenses of Savannah,  Wylly Island was between Thunderbolt Battery, a Confederate artillery emplacement on St. Augustine Creek, and  Battery Daniels at Parkersburg on the Skidaway River.  Battery Daniels had several supporting batteries on the Herb River and Grimball’s Creek.

There is no remaining trace of these Confederate locations or of Camp Young. Some descriptions of Camp Young are found in the Civil War letters of William Washington Knight, son of Levi J. Knight.

At first, the Berrien Minute Men found fresh food was in short supply at Camp Young. Soldiers supplemented their camp diet either with food purchased in Savannah with their own money, or had food sent from home. William W. Knight’s  letter of January 4, 1863 written from Camp Young and addressed to his wife, Mary,  mentioned that fellow soldier J. P. Ponder had delivered a box of potatoes sent by her father. Knight wrote of being deployed without rations and of spoiled provisions – “blue beef that will stick to your hands equal to adhesive plaster.”  He asked her to send more potatoes, and pork if the weather was cold enough. Knight remarked on the high prices being gotten in Savannah for peanuts, corn, and bacon, and the shortage of bread. He also requested Mary send his mattress bed cover, iron shoe heels, “vial oil”, and carpet bag.

Deadly infectious diseases of all kinds were rampant in the crowded Confederate camps. The river delta land was low lying and prone to malaria. On February 28, 1862 Knight wrote, “We have a good many sick now with cold or pneumonia. Nineteen of our company on the sick list  this morning…” In early March, Knight himself was incapacitated by fever.

By mid-March soldiers’ letters home indicated that the supply of food at Camp Young was much improved.  But by the end of March Knight wrote of worsening weather conditions; “It is the worst time we have had this winter. The wind and rain from the North East. There is very little timber in that direct. It has all been cut down in front of the Batteries for over a mile.”

At Camp Young, the 29th Georgia Regiment  became part of a Brigade which also included the 25th and 30th Georgia Regiments, First Battalion Georgia Sharpshooters, and 4th Louisiana Battalion. In a Brief History of the Thirtieth Georgia Regiment, August Pitt Adamson, 1st Sergeant, Company E wrote about Camp Young:

Camp life at Savannah was far from being dull and was not at all monotonous.  Many little incident of a humorous nature occurred.  Sports of various kinds were engaged in, which were shared by both officers and men. Occasionally some of the boys would “run the blockade,” as it was called, and go to Savannah without leave, thus running the risk of being put upon double duty, or digging stumps, which were the usual punishments inflicted. One man of Company E [30th Regiment] could so well imitate the signature of the commanding officer, that he frequently gave himself and others leave to go to the city.  In such cases they always returned in time for drill, and but few knew of it. On one occasion at night, soon after we went to Savannah, a false alarm was given, the men were hastily aroused and called into line with their old flintlock guns; much confusion followed; some could not find their companies, some ran over stumps and against each other, and two or three of Company B fell into and old well, which was, however, very shallow, but they yelled loudly for help.  It was soon found to be a false alarm, gotten up by some of the officers to try the men and have some fun. We were provided good tents and, for the most part comfortably cared for, with plenty to eat, but some of the boys wanted a change of diet, and, discovering a flock of goats belonging to Judge De Lyon, a wealthy old gentleman who had a farm near the camps, the result was nearly all the goats disappeared, leaving the owner quite angry.  The boys would say the goats tried to run over them, and they had to act in self-defense.

While at Camp Young, William Knight reported the Berrien Minute Men  spent a great deal of the time in drill. They drilled in Company formation and as a Battalion and Brigade. When they weren’t drilling or on dress parade, they attended “Regimental School.” When they could get leave they went into Savannah to get personal provisions or to be entertained. When they couldn’t get leave some went absent without leave;  John W. Hagan wrote from Camp Young on March 19,  “I cannot get a pass to visit Savannah, and when I go I have to run the blockade and risk getting caught, but I will manage to slip the block.”

This is not to say the Berrien Minute Men and the 29th GA Regiment were idle.  Like the 30th Georgia Regiment and other units in their Brigade, they probably were engaged in the construction of fortifications, mounting artillery, and placing obstructions in the river channels.  They were certainly conducting picket duty, patrolling the islands below Savannah on the lookout for Federal scouts who might be probing the line of Confederate defenses around the city.  They made brief excursions by train into Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina to strengthen coastal defenses where Union forces threatened to attack.

The 29th Regiment remained at Camp Young through April; by May 12, 1863 they had rolled out to Jackson, MS in preparation for the Battle of Vicksburg. But before that departure, while stationed at Camp Young, twenty men of the 29th Georgia deserted the regiment. From the weeks and months the Special Order 15 was advertised, one can judge these were not men who just sneaked off to Savannah,  but were long gone.  Four of the deserters were from Company K, the Berrien Minute Men, including Elbert J. Chapman, Albert Douglas, Benjamin S. Garrett, and J. P. Ponder.

A reward of $30 was offered for each man  apprehended, $600 for the bunch.

Reward offered for capture of deserters from the 29th Georgia Regiment, Confederate States Army, including four deserters from the Berrien Minute Men, Company K. Advertised in the Savannah Republican newspaper.

Reward offered for capture of deserters from the 29th Georgia Regiment, Confederate States Army, including four deserters from the Berrien Minute Men, Company K. Advertised in the Savannah Republican newspaper.

$600 REWARD.
Headq’rs 29th Reg’t GA. Vols.,
Camp Young, near Savannah, March 12, 1863.
SPECIAL ORDERS,
No. 15.
Deserted from this Regiment at Camp near Savannah, the following named enlisted men:

      Private FREEMAN BRIDGES, Co. B, is 22 years of age, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches high, has dark complexion, black eyes and dark hair.   Enlisted in Franklin county, Ga.
      Private DAVID CLAY, Co. C, 28 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high, has dark complexion, dark eyes, dark hair.  Enlisted in Thomas County, Ga.
Private JOSEPH W. SINGLETARY, Co. C., 38 years of age, 5 feet 10 inches high, sallow complexion, blue eyes, dark  hair. Enlisted at Thomas county, Ga.
Private PATRICK FITZGERALD, Co. E, 46 years of age, 5 feet 11 inches high, fair complexion, blue eyes and light hair.  Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.
Private EDWARD ROTCHFORD, Co. E, 45 years of age, 5 feet 9 inches high, fair complexion, blue eyes and light hair. Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.
Private JOHN MULLER, Co. E, 26 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high, dark hair, dark complexion and dark eyes. Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.
Private DAVID WILLIAMS, Co, E, 40 years of age, 5 feet high, brown eyes, light brown hair, and reddish complexion. Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.

     Private S. A. HALL, Co. F. 20 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high, dark complexion, blue eyes, and light hair.  Enlisted at Thomasville, Ga.
     Private WM. HARVEY, Co. F, 45 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high, light complexion, blue eyes, gray hair. Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.
     SYRE CHRISTIAN, Co. F, 40 years of age, 5 feet 10 inches high, light complexion, blue eyes, light hair.  Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.
     JAMES M. TOHEL, Co. F, 85 years of age 5 feet 9 inches high, dark complexion, blue eyes, dark hair. Enlisted at Savannah, Ga.
     Private C. R. OLIVER, Co. H, 29 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high, light complexion, blue eyes, dark hair.  Enlisted at Stockton, Ga.
      Private J. R. JACOBS, Co. H. 22 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high, dark complexion, dark eyes, dark hair.  Enlisted at Stockton, Ga.
      Private F. F. F. GRIFFIN, Co. I, 40 years of age, 5 feet 10 1/2 inches high, dark complexion, black eyes, and dark hair.  Enlisted in Thomas County, Ga.
     Private N. P. GANDY, Co. I, 30 years of age, 5 feet 6 1/2 inches high, dark complexion, blue eyes, and light hair.  Enlisted in Thomas County, Ga.
     Private WM. BARWICK, Co. I, 38 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high, light complexion, grey eyes.  Enlisted in Thomas County.
     Private ELBERT J. CHAPMAN, Co. K, 31 years of age, 5 feet 7 inches high, dark complexion, blue eyes, sandy hair.  Enlisted in Berrien county.
     Private ALBERT DOUGLAS, Co. K, 32 years of age, 6 feet high, fair complexion, grey eyes, auburn hair.  Enlisted in Berrien county.
     Private BENJAMIN S. GARRETT, Co. K, 25 years of age, 5 feet 10 inches high, fair complexion, blue eyes, black hair.  Enlisted in Berrien county.
     Private J. P. PONDER, Co. K, 31 years of age, 5 feet 7 inches high, sallow complexion, blue eyes, and sandy hair.  Enlisted at Savannah.

A reward of thirty dollars is offered for the apprehension of either of the above named men, delivered at these headquarters or confined in a safe jail.
By order of W. J. Young,
Col.Comd’g 29th Reg’t Ga. Vols.
Geo. P. McRee, AdjL

After deserting from the 29th Georgia Regiment:

  • Elbert J. Chapman fled to the west where he joined another unit and fought with determination. He was later charged with desertion from the 29th Georgia Regiment, court-martialed and executed by firing squad.  After the war, a pension for his indigent wife was denied.
  • Benjamin S. Garrett was later shot for being a spy.
  • Albert Douglas left the Berrien Minute Men “absent without leave” in December 1862 and was marked “deserted.”  There is no record that he ever returned to his unit.  In fact, there is no further record of him at all. He was not enumerated in the household of his wife and child in 1870, and in subsequent census records she is identified as a widow. There is no record she ever applied for a Confederate Widow’s Pension.  Although there is no record of his death or burial, it is presumed that Albert Douglas died while absent without leave.
  • J. P. Ponder left little historical record, other than the military muster rolls which document his enlistment and desertion. Even his name is confused, alternately given as Ponder or Powder  Both variations are listed in his Confederate military service records. The letters of William W. Knight indicate Ponder traveled back to Berrien county and returned to Camp Young in February 1863, and that Ponder was back in Berrien in March. In any case, it does not appear the man ever returned to the 29th Georgia Regiment.

Other Berrien County soldiers, such as N. M. McNabb who served with Company D, 12th Georgia Regiment, would be pressed into service to hunt fugitive deserters. According to a sworn statement by Mr. McNabb, “late in the year, perhaps September 1864, the Georgia Militia were  at Griffin, Ga Ordered by the Governor to stack arms and return home until further orders, which we did. After getting home, the Enrolling Officers here at home pressed us in to aid them in hunting Deserters.”

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John W. Hagan Witnessed “Unholy War” and the Execution of Elbert J. Chapman

John W. Hagan

John W. Hagan of Berrien County, GA

John W. Hagan of Berrien County, GA

John William Hagan, born October 10, 1836 in Jefferson County, FL, was a son of John Fletcher Hagan and Elizabeth Dayton. He came to Berrien County, GA around 1858 when he married Amanda Armstrong Roberts. She was the 15 year-old daughter of Reubin Roberts (1807-1874)  and Elizabeth A. Clements (1815-1862), and a niece of Bryant J. Roberts (see Bryan J. Roberts ~ Lowndes Pioneer  and Bryan J. Robert’s Account of the Last Indian Fight in Berrien County).

With the outbreak of the Civil War John W. Hagan enlisted for service in the Confederate States Army, mustering into the 29th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company D, the Berrien Minute Men, in the fall of 1861.  Hagan had prior military experience, having served in 1856-1858 as a private in the Florida Mounted Volunteers, in Captain Edward T. Kendrick’s Company, in actions against the Seminole Indians.  Perhaps because of his education and prior experience , albeit limited,  he was elected on October 1, 1861 to serve as 3rd Sergeant of Company D (Company K after reorganization) of the 29th GA Regiment.

Initially, the 29th Regiment was engaged at advanced batteries providing coastal  defense for Savannah, GA.  In the spring of 1863, the regiment was sent to Charleston, NC, but was quickly dispatched from there to Mississippi in a futile attempt to shore up the defenses of Vicksburg against the advances of federal forces under Ulysses S. Grant.

John W. Hagan wrote regularly from field camps and battle lines to his wife and family back in Berrien County. His letters frequently contain mention his relatives and colleagues in the Berrien Minute Men, including Bryant J. RobertsLevi J. Knight, Jonathan D. Knight, William Washington Knight, Henry Harrison KnightJames Fender  and many others.   In all there are 43 confederate letters of John W. Hagan.

In his letter of July 23, 1863 Hagan,  after two years  of war, was obviously disgusted with the looting and destruction the Confederate Army visited upon its own citizens. Writing to his wife, he stated ” I beleave our troops are doing as much harm in this country as the yankees would do with the exception of burning houses.”

While Hagan was with the 29th Regiment in Mississippi deserter Elbert J. Chapman, a private known to the company as “Old Yaller“, was captured and returned to his unit. Chapman, while absent without leave from the Berrien Minute Men, was still acting the part of a soldier fighting with a Texas Cavalry unit.

John W. Hagan in a letter to his wife dated  May 29, 1863 posted from “Camp near Deaconsville, Miss”    included the following:

“Amanda, I have some news to write you. One of our deserters was arrested yesterdy & brought to camp. E. J. Chapman was taken at Canton City. He was a member of a cavelry company in Canton & arrested & brought to camp by one of the Sharp Shooters. He says he has bin in service in this State 5 months, but we do not know what to beleave about him. He also says B. S. Garrett was taken up in this state & shot as a Yankee spye.  If  such is the case I am satisfide with his death but I am sorry he did not get his deserts from the proper hands.  I do not know what will be done with Chapman.  We are going to carry him to Canton City to day or tomorrow, turn him over to the military authority to be  dealt with according to the nature of his offence.”  -May 29, 1863

A month later Hagan, obviously weary of the death and destruction of war, wrote of the court martial and execution of Chapman.

Camp near Forrest City , Miss     July 23rd, 1863

My Dear Wife, I this evening seat myself in this benighted reagen [region] to write you a short letter which leaves Thomas & myself in fine health &ct. I have no news to write cience [since] our retreat from Jackson.  We fought the Yankees 8 days but was forced to retreat for want of  more force.  When we first arrived in Jackson after retreating from Big Black [river] I was confident we could stand our ground & give the Federals a decent whiping. But the longer we stayed and fought them the more reinforcements they got & if we had have stayed & fought a few days longer I fear we would have suffered, for our lines was so long we did not have men to fill the entrenchments & support our batteries.  So we retreated in good order & we had a trying time when we made the retreat. Our Regt was left on the field to hold the enemy in check while the other portion of our Brigade made there escape. The projic [project] was not made known to but few of the men and offercers of the Regt & when we went to leave the field it was suppose by the most of the men that we was only changing our position & they did not know we was retreating until we was all out of danger.  The retreat was well conducted & we lost no men or property on the retreat. We are now stationed near the rail road & expect in a few days to be shiped to some place.  Some think we will go to Tennessee & some think we will go to Charleston or Savannah, but I have but little hope of going to either Savannah or Charleston.  But I beleave we will go to Tennessee or to Mobile.  The fact is, this army is too small to do anything in this country & I think will it will be divided & some sent to Savannah & Charleston & some to Mobile & the rest will be sent to Gen Bragg in Tennessee.  Gen Johnston has given up command to Gen Hardee & has gone on to assist Gen Bragg. We are now waiting for transportation & as soon as transportation can be furnished we will leave for some place we cannot say whear to.  We have had some hard fighting cience [since] we have bin out hear, but our Regt has suffered the least of any Regt in our Brigade or divission. We only lost 9 in killed & wounded while other Regts lost 3 times that number.  I would give you a ful account of the fight & the causilties but I wrote a letter to James & Ezekiel & give them a list of the killed & wounded & requested them to send the letter to you. I did not know then but we would march on to some other place whear I would not have an opportunity of writing to you.

I also give them a tolerable fair account of the fight.

Amanda, I never new [knew] how mean and army could do in a country.  I beleave our troops are doing as much harm in this country as the yankees would do with the exception of burning houses.  But our men steal all the fruit, kill all the hogs & burn all the fence and eat all the mutton corn they can camp in reach of.  Our army have destroyed as much as 200 acres of corn in one night. We carry a head of us all the cattle we find & at night they are turned into some of the finest fields of corn I ever saw & in fact wheare this army goes the people is ruined.  I am disgusted with such conduct & feel that we will never be successful while our troups are so ungrateful.  I dread to see our State invaded but I hope this war will cease soon, but I havent grounds to build my hopes upon. But I & every Southern Soldier should be like the rebbel blume which plumed more & shinned briter the more it was trampled on, & I beleave this siantific war fear [scientific warfare] will have to ceace,  & we will have to fight like Washington did, but I hope our people will never be reduced to distress  & poverty as the people of that day was, but if nothing else will give us our liberties I am willing for the time to come. I am truely tyerd of this unholy war.  Amanda, you must use your own pleasure about fattening the hogs, but I think you had better fatten all the hogs that you think you can make weight 100 lbs by keeping them up until January or Febuary for pork will bring a good price, & in case our portion of the State is invaded that much will be saved, & if our troops should pass through there & are as distructive of as army is, we would have nothing, & if such a thing should happen I want you to turn every thing in to money & leave for some other place. But I hope such a thing will never happen, but if Charlston should fall Savannah is shure to fall, & then our country will be over run by troops. This country is now in a glumy state, but the dark part of the night is allways jest before day, so we may be nearer peace than we think.

We had a hard cien [scene] to witness on the 22nd.  E. J. Chapman was shot to death by sentance of a cort martial.  It was a hard thing to witness, but I beleav he was a fit subject for an example, for he confessed being guilty of everything that was mean. & if you write you must direct to Forrest City & I will write again soon. I do not have any eyedia [idea] of having an opportunity of goine [going] home until the war is ended but if times gets no better than at at present I shal not want to leave the field. But if times gets esy you know I would be proud to see you & my little boy.  I have so far ben verry lucky & I hope I shal continue so. Tom [Roberts] sends his love to you all & says you must not look for him nor be uneasey about him for he isn’t far the way. I must close I must close as I have to write on my knee.

I remain as ever yours affectsionately

John W. Hagan

Of course, the execution of E. J. Chapman, CSA for desertion was hardly an isolated event. So many soldiers deserted, the Confederate States Army eventually developed an amnesty policy in an attempt to return them to duty. But before that, many deserters were executed. On March 2, 1863 John W. Gaskins of the Berrien Light Infantry, Company I, 50th Georgia Regiment wrote home to his family that three men in the Regiment had been shot for desertion. Two of his company mates from Berrien County, Absolom B. Dixon and Irvin Hendley, had served on the firing squad that shot Private Isaac Morgan, Company B, 50th Georgia Regiment.

About the post war period, historian Bell I. Wiley reported,

After release from military service Hagan returned to Berrien County where he lived until 1881.  He then moved to Lowndes County where he acquired a large tract of land and was a successful farmer.  He changed his residence to Valdosta in 1896 and entered the livestock business in partnership with Jessie Carter.

Hagan became engaged in politics and was a local leader of the Populist Party

He represented Lowndes County in the Georgia House of Representatives for two terms (1886-87, 1890-91) and beginning in 1904 was for four terms a member of the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners, during two of which he served as chairman. He died in Valdosta on May 17, 1918 at eighty-one and was buried at Union Church Cemetery (then called Burnt Church) near Lakeland, Georgia.

Children of John William Hagan and Amanda Armstrong Roberts:

  1. Susan E. Hagan, born March 30, 1860, Lowndes County, GA; died August 25, 1860, Lowndes County, GA
  2. Reubin Columbus Hagan, born May 21, 1861, Lowndes County, GA; married Laura Roberts
  3. Georgia Hagan, born March 17, 1866, Berrien County, GA; married  James John Bradford, November 14, 1888
  4. Emma Tallulah Hagan, born June 08, 1867, Berrien County, GA; married J. A. Smith
  5. Fannie Ellen Hagan, born October 27, 1868, Berrien County, GA; married James Baskin
  6. Ida Ann Hagan, born August 16, 1870, Berrien County, GA; married John T. Smith
  7. Amanda Josephine Hagan, born March 05, 1872, Berrien County, GA; married Frank Arnold

Child of John William Hagan and Mary “Pollie” Smith Giddens (widow of Aaron Giddens):

  1. Texas Hagan, born June 19, 1875

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Old Yaller’s Widow Was Denied Pension

In 1891 Mary A. Chapman, widow of “Old Yaller” Elbert J. Chapman , was destitute and applied for a Conderate Widow’s Pension from the State of Georgia. The pension was denied on the grounds that Chapman was a deserter.

Born Mary Ann Boyd in Lowndes County in the year 1836, she was a daughter of Aden Boyd and Nancy Sykes.  Her parents were neighbors of Dred Newbern and Jonathan Sirmans. County deed records show that on February 22, 1839, Aden Boyd purchased land from Levi J. Knight. This land was a part of lot 356, 10th district of what was then Lowndes but now Berrien County. Her parents were Primitive Baptists, and her father donated the land for Empire Church, which was originally known as Boyd’s Meeting House.

Mary Ann Boyd married Elbert J. Chapman in June of 1859.

Mary A. Chapman’s application for a Confederate Widow’s Pension was based on his service in Levi J. Knight’s Berrien Minute Men, but across the cover of the application was scrawled in large letters and underlined for emphasis – “Refused.” Further notations included, “husband shot for desertion.”

The application included an Affidavit made by the Widow Chapman.

According to Mary Chapman’s sworn statement, E. J. Chapman enlisted in the Berrien Minute Men in mid-September, 1861. “Some time during the war he was killed by his own men for deserting one company and going to another company of our own Army, and to the best of applicants knowledge, he was killed in North Ga in the year 1863.

This statement was corroborated by Harris Gaskins, Jesse Hodges, and Joseph S. Morris.

The three witnesses stated, “He was on or about the 15th day of Oct. 1863 killed by his own men for leaving his own company & joining the Artillery in the Western Army.  he was brought back from Jackson Mississippi and shot by Court Martial in Northern Georgia  witnesses state further, that E. J. Chapman was in a cavalry co in Mississippi when he was brought back, court martialed and killed.”

Later newspaper accounts of Old Yaller, Elbert J. Chapman, added the following:

“During the  administration of Governor Atkinson  Hon. F. M. Shaw, who was a member of the Legislature, saw in person the Governor and our Pension Commissioner, Mr. Lindsey, in regard to Mrs. Chapman drawing a pension, which had been rejected because her husband was a deserter. The fact that he only quit one command and went to another, that he had, in fact, deserted neither his flag nor his country, but was serving both faithfully and well when found in Canton, did not change the conclusion reached by the Pension Commissioner, and Mr. Shaw’s efforts to secure her a pension were in vain. She was an invalid and living in poverty.”

NOTE: The F.M. Shaw referred to above is usually known as F.M. Shaw, Jr.  to distinguish him from the Francis Marion Shaw who lived at Ray City.  F.M. Shaw, Jr. was from the Adel community:

“Francis Marion Shaw, Jr. owned large tracts of land east of Adel, much of which was later deeded to his children. He served in various civic positions, including that of Chairman of the Berrien County Board of Education, County Commissioner for several terms, and state Representative, the latter an office to which he was elected in 1894.”

How Old Yellow Was Killed

In 1909, Rufus Augustus Means, who served  in the 29th Georgia Volunteer Infantry along with Elbert J. “Old Yaller” Chapman, related the circumstances of Chapman’s death.     Elbert J. Chapman’s widow, Mary Ann “Patsy” Chapman, later lived in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Ray’s Mill District.

Rufus Augustus Means was one of the men detailed to shoot Elbert J. Chapman.

Rufus Augustus Means was one of the men detailed to shoot Elbert J. Chapman for desertion during the Civil War.

Rufus Augustus Means was a private in Company B, under the command of J.J. Owens, and Chapman was mustered in Company D, the Berrien Minute Men. But Means spoke of “Old Yaller” in a familiar manner, referring to Chapman’s family as “Patsy and the children in Milltown.”

Account of the death of Elbert J. Chapman published in The Jeffersonian, Volume 6, Issue 9, 12 August 1909 (Page 3), from the Thomas E. Watson Papers #755, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Account of the death of Elbert J. Chapman published in The Jeffersonian, Volume 6, Issue 9, 12 August 1909 (Page 3), from the Thomas E. Watson Papers #755, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

HOW  “OLD YELLOW” WAS KILLED.

     Dear Sir: – As to the shooting of E. J. Chapman, of the 29th Georgia regiment, in Mississippi, I have seen two or three statements of the shooting.  I will give you my statement of it.  The 29th was stationed at Savannah, Ga., and when in the tent he was taken with a  notion to visit Patsy and the children at Milltown, Berrien County, Ga., and from there he went to Mississippi and joined Adams’ cavalry, and when the brigade went to Mississippi our quartermaster, J. D. Cameron, caught Chapman at Canton, Miss., and we marched from there in the direction of Vicksburg, and at Vernon, Miss., they court-martialed Chapman, and they held up the sentence until after the seige of Jackson.  We stayed some time and then we marched from there to Morton Station, the the Mississippi Southern, and when we stopped there the sentence was read out at dress parade.  In the evening they did not have time to execute him, and had to put it off until the next day.  The Judge Advocate of the Court was Major J. C. Lamb, of the 29th regiment.  J. C. Lamb was the first captain of the company that Chapman belonged to.  Major Lamb got the upper half of his head  shot off at Jackson and so he got killed before Chapman was shot. I will never forget that killing, as I was one of the men that was detailed to shoot him, and also three others out of my company.  He went by the name of “Old Yellow.”  My company was from Franklin County, Ga.  J. J. Owen was our first captain.
    This is a correct account of the shooting of “Old Yellow,” as he was called.

RUFUS A. MEANS
29th Ga. Regiment, Co. B.
Leesburg, Texas.

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More on the story of Old Yaller

More on the execution of “Old Yaller”, Elbert J. Chapman, a private of the Berrien Minute Men whose widow resided in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Rays Mill District.

“A VICTIM OF MILITARY DISCIPLINE.”

(Ed. Note: In the January number of this magazine was published a letter written by Captain Phil Carroll, of Augusta, Ga., giving an account of how a Confederate soldier who had transferred himself from Savannah, where there was no fighting, to the Western army, where he could fight and where he did fight, was shot as a deserter by his Confederate companions-in-arms.

Considering this one of the most barbarous deeds ever committed in the name of military discipline, the incident was woven into the war-story, “Bethany.”

The publication of Capt. Carroll’s letter attracted the attention of Capt. R. T. Redding, who wrote to Maj. Cumming about it.

The Major replied, corroborating Capt. Carroll, and hands us a copy of the letter, which we are glad to publish.)

Joseph B. Cumming, 1886.  Cumming served as Adjutant General of Walkers Division, and was present when the order for the execution of Elbert J. Chapman was issued.

Joseph B. Cumming, 1886. Cumming served as Adjutant General of Walkers Division, and was present when the order for the execution of Elbert J. Chapman was issued.

January 15, 1909.

Hon. Thos. E. Watson, Thomson, Ga.

My Dear Mr. Watson: At the request of Capt. R. J. Redding, of Griffin, I send you herewith, for such use, or no use, as you choose, copy of a letter which I wrote to him a few days ago.

Very truly yours,

JOS. B. CUMMING.

January 7th, 1909.
 Capt. R. J. Redding, Griffin. Ga.

My Dear Sir: I have your letter of January 6. I have not seen the article written by Mr. M. P. Carroll to which you refer. Mr. Carroll, however, probably refers to the execution at Morton, Miss., of a deserter, not from the 46th Georgia Regiment, but from one of the Georgia Regiments of Wilson’s brigade, either the 25th or the 29th or 30th Georgia, The facts, as I remember them very distinctly, were these:

“While Walker’s Division was in bivouac at Vernon shortly before the second battle of Jackson, a Confederate Cavalry Regiment came marching by. Col. Wilson, in command of Wilson’s Brigade, was an onlooker as it passed. He recognized in the ranks of the Cavalry a deserter from his Regiment while the latter was stationed at Savannah. He made reclamation for the man on the Colonel of the Cavalry Regiment, and the man was surrendered to him. He was tried by courtmartial for desertion, his desertion having consisted in his leaving Wilson’s Infantry Regiment, then stationed on the coast of Georgia, and joining a Cavalry Regiment at the front—a “desertion” of a soldier from inactive service in the rear to fighting at the front.

There was delay in promulgating the finding of the courtmartial, produced by the active operations in the neighborhood of Big Black, and at Jackson after the fall of Vicksburg. In the meanwhile the man was kept under guard. Neither he nor any one else except the members of the court knew that he had been condemned to be shot.

Colonel Claudius C. Wilson gathered a petition from the 29th Georgia Regiment requesting that Elbert J. Chapman's life be spared.

Colonel Claudius C. Wilson gathered a petition from the 29th Georgia Regiment requesting that Elbert J. Chapman’s life be spared.

The last day of our march from Jackson to Morton, there was a terrible rain and thunder storm, so violent that the troops, particularly as night came on. became very much scattered, and under these circumstances the guard lost their prisoner. After, however, the troops had bivouacked for the night in came the prisoner and surrendered to the Lieutenant in command of the guard, remarking, “Lieutenant, you thought you had lost me.” The next day the sentence of the courtmartial was promulgated and the order sent down to the headquarters of Walker’s Division for the execution of the sentence. I was then Adjutant General of the Division and under instructions from General Walker immediately sent a copy of the order to Col. Wilson, commanding the Brigade, with instructions to make a detail from Schaaf’s battalion for the execution of the man the next morning. Col. Wilson was horrified at this denoument, and at once got up a petition signed by himself and the officers of the man’s Regiment addressed to General Johnston, asking at least commutation of the sentence. This petition was brought up to General Walker’s headquarters where it happened that General Johnston was visiting at the time. I received the petition and handed it to Major J. B. Eustis (afterwards U. S. Senator from Louisiana), one of General Johnston’s staff, and asked him to hand it at once to General Johnston. He said, “I will do so, but there is no use; General Johnston will not change the order.” He did hand it to General Johnston during the visit, but he refused to consider it, and the petition was handed back to me. I prevailed upon Major Eustis to offer it again to General Johnston after he had mounted his horse, and I can see now the rather impatient way in which General Johnston waved Major Eustis aside.

The next day the man was shot.

My admiration for General Johnston was and remains very great. I never think of this incident without great pain and deep regret as the one shadow on the picture, which I image to myself of that great man.

At the close of the war I was on General Johnston’s staff, and was fully cognizant of, and participant in, an incident which showed, after all, how in the midst of great cares he could remember a poor private soldier and save him from the execution, to which he had been sentenced, but which had become uncalled for, as the war was manifestly about to end and the necessity for stern discipline was over.

Very truly yours,

JOS. B. CUMMING.

Elbert J. Chapman Was A Victim of Military Discipline

Elbert J. Chapman, “Old Yaller”

The story of Elbert J. Chapman has been told many times and as many times forgotten.  Accounts published in 1887 editions of the Atlanta Constitution have been the subject of previous posts (see General Levi J. Knight’s Berrien Minute Men, and L.E. Lastinger and Captain Knight’s Berrien Minutemen)

In January, 1909 another version of the execution of old Yaller was published in Watson’s Jeffersonian Magazine under the title “A victim of military discipline“.

Cover, Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine

Cover, Watson’s Jeffersonian Magazine

Watson’s Jeffersonian Magazine was the monthly publication of Thomas E. Watson whose political influence was sought by many a Georgia politician, including the subject of the previous post, Jon P. Knight (see Jon P Knight Sought Nomination to the Bench).  Of Watson’s Jeffersonian Publishing Company, the New Georgia Encyclopedia says the following:

Incorporated in 1910 by the Georgia lawyer, author, and statesman Thomas E. Watson, the Jeffersonian Publishing Company was the official mouthpiece of Georgia’s firebrand Populist. The company  Tom Watson’s Magazine  printed most of Watson’s literary works—pamphlets, monographs, biographies, and histories—but it was known primarily for Watson’s newspaper, The Weekly Jeffersonian, and his monthly literary magazine, Watson’s Jeffersonian Magazine.  Initially given to trenchant muckraking editorials written in the Populist Party spirit, both magazine and newspaper eventually included Watson’s fierce attacks against the Catholic Church hierarchy and the domestic and foreign policies of U.S. president Woodrow Wilson. Watson’s publications survived an organized Catholic boycott and a federal prosecution for mailing obscene literature, and would not be silenced until finally suppressed by the Wilson administration under the Espionage Act of 1917. Despite controversy and opposition, Watson’s weekly and monthly publications commanded a loyal political force, and no Georgia governor between 1906 and 1922 was elected without Watson’s support.

While the Jeffersonian’s January 1909 account of Old Yaller  does not give his name, and incorrectly gives his unit as the 46th Georgia Regiment, it is clear from the details that this is the story of Berrien County’s Elbert J. Chapman.

Although E. J. Chapman never lived in the immediate vicinity of Ray’s Mill, GA his short life was inextricably interwoven with the settlers and events of the area. After his death, his widow was enumerated in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the district centered on Ray City, GA.

Elbert J. Chapman was born about 1832; the details of his birth and parentage are not known at this time. About June of 1859 Chapman married Mary E. Boyd, a daughter of Aden Boyd and Nancy Sykes.

On October 1, 1861 Chapman enlisted in Company D, 29th Georgia Regiment.

His service records provide the following information:

Chapman, Elbert J. private October 1, 1861.
On furlough December 31, 1861.

Absent without leave December 31, 1862
Delivered to headquarters of regiment as
a deserter May 30,1863.
No later record.

Here transcribed, is M. P. Carroll’s account of the execution of Elbert J. Chapman, as published in Watson’s Jeffersonian Magazine:

Watson’s Jeffersonian Magazine
January 1909, Vol. 3, No. 1, Pg 79
A Victim of Military Discipline.

Dear Mr. Watson:

I am requested to write out the details of the execution of a Confederate soldier at Morton, Mississippi, In July, 1863. I will endeavor to do so to the best of my recollection; and I think that what I shall write will be substantially correct, because the incident is frescoed upon my memory.

During the siege of Vicksburg, General Joseph E. Johnson was placed in command of the Army in Mississippi which was being organized outside to relieve General Pemberton. General W. H. T. Walker commanded a division in said Army. His command consisted of the brigades of Qulst, Wilson, McNair, Ector and Gregg. I was on the staff of General Gregg. We were for some time at Yazoo City preparing to move on the rear of General Grant, who was then closely besieging Vicksburg. When we got ready and our large supply train prepared (which we expected to take into Vicksburg), we marched from Yazoo City towards the Big Black Creek and encamped some days at a little hamlet called Vernon, a few miles West of Canton. While in camp there, one day a regiment of cavalry passed along the road, by the side of which the 46th Georgia Regiment was encamped. This regiment was commanded by Colonel Peyton Colquitt, who was afterwards killed at Chickamauga. Some one recognized a man in the cavalry who formerly belonged to the 46th Georgia. The soldier had deserted from the latter regiment whilst it was on the Georgia coast, and joined this regiment of cavalry. He was arrested—charges preferred against him for desertion. He was tried by a court martial which was sitting at Vernon.

The man was convicted, but no publication was then made of the results of the trial, but the findings were regularly forwarded to General Johnson’s headquarters, and then we broke camp and moved down to the Big Black for the purpose of crossing to attack General Grant. Indeed, we reached the point to cross on the night  of July 3rd, and the engineer corps was preparing to throw the pontoons across, when news came that Vicksburg had surrendered. Then we commenced our retrograde movement towards Jackson—passing through Clinton, Mississippi, en route. Sherman was sent in pursuit and we reached Jackson one day ahead of him and went into the works which had been prepared for the defense of Jackson.

Sherman immediately extended his besieging lines with both flanks resting on Pearl River, forming a semicircle, leaving the Eastern side the city open for our retreat. I think we remained there one week before retreating. General Johnson found it impossible to keep Sherman from -crossing the river and getting in his rear and, therefore, evacuated the works and took up his line of march one night towards Meridian. After we were some distance on the road beyond Brandon, a terrific rain-storm came on, with heavy thunder and lightning. The rain was so heavy and the night so dark the troops scarcely march, encountering here and there wagons and artillery stuck in the mud.

We reached Morton about daylight and went into camp. The sun rose in all its brightness and intensity of July heat. The troops were drying off and preparing their camp for cooking, etc., when this convicted soldier struggled up to the provost guard and said to the Major in command: “Well, Major, I got lost last night but am up as soon as I could find you.” The officer turned over to the guard and said: “I am sorry you came up for orders have been issued that you must be shot today at one o’clock p. m.

General William H. T. Walker made a plea for the life of Elbert J. Chapman, but followed the orders of his superior officer, General Joseph E. Johnson.

General William H. T. Walker made a plea for the life of Elbert J. Chapman, but followed the orders of his superior officer, General Joseph E. Johnson.

When General Walker learned of this incident, his sympathies were aroused and he and Major Cumming mounted their horses and rode to General Johnson’s headquarters. General Walker dismounted, recited the facts to his superior officer and interceded for the poor fellow. The only reply was: “General Walker, my orders must be obeyed.” The latter saluted and replied, “General, they shall be,” and mounted his horse. With tears in his eyes he instructed Major Cumming to have Major Schauff (I do not know that I spell this name correctly) make a detail for the execution and carry it out at 1 o’clock promptly.

He then ordered the division out to witness the execution. The brigade formed three sides of a square in a large old field flanked by second growth of pines; the grave had been dug in the center of it, his coffin resting on the further side from the firing squad. The condemned man asked not to be blindfolded; his hands were tied behind his back, he knelt on his coffin, and in the presence of the whole division, including his old 46th Georgia Regiment and his comrades therein, and was shot to death, placed in his box, or coffin, and was buried right there in that old field.

The saddest part of it was that the testimony showed he had been so good and gallant soldier in his adopted regiment, and he stated the only reason he left the 46th Georgia was that he got tired of inaction down on the coast and wanted to be where he could do some fighting. He also stated that he had a wife and child at home in Georgia.

I wish I knew his name and Company, but I do not. Major Cumming may.

I think these facts are substantially correct, and hope they will be of some service to you.

M. P. CARROLL.

A Friend of Old Yaller

Old Yaller

A previous post transcribed an article  from the March 22, 1887 edition of the Atlanta Weekly Constitution concerning General Levi J. Knight’s Berrien Minute Men and the execution of Elbert J. Chapman during the Civil War.  Here is an earlier Constitution clipping on the same topic, published January 4, 1887:

1887 recollection of "Old Yaller," Elbert J. Chapman.

1887 recollection of “Old Yaller,” Elbert J. Chapman.

The Atlanta Weekly Constitution
January 4, 1887

“Old Yaller”

Sometime ago THE WEEKLY CONSTITUTION published an article about the execution of a deserter who was known among the soldiers as “Yaller Jacket.” A member of the 26th Georgia, who claims to be familiar with the facts, says the soldier was known as “Old Yaller,” instead of “Yaller Jacket.” Yaller was a member of the 29th Georgia, and his real name is given as Chapman. When Yaller overstayed his time and was put in the guard tent for a term of days he decided his sentence was too severe, and he accordingly “lit out.” The member of the 26th Georgia who claims that his is the true story says Yaller went to Mississippi and joined a cavalry company where later on in the war he was found, a deserter, it is true, but still fighting for the confederacy. Yaller was put under arrest a second time, but instead of trying to escape, would stick to the guard all through the skirmishing, retreating and marching. One night in a severe rain all the guards were lost, but next morning old Yaller turned up smiling. The member of the 26th, who writes to set history straight, says:

“We continued the march to Brandon and Norton station, some ten or twelve miles east, and here took up camp again.  Here it was made known that “Yaller” had received a death sentence and was to be shot.  Near this place, out in an old field, the army was marched out to witness his execution.  These are the facts, according to the best of my recollection of twenty-three years ago.  “Yaller” was a member of the 29th Georgia, and not of the 30th.”
If “Old Yaller,” or “Yaller” or “Yaller Jacket” has any friends living I would be glad to hear more about him.  It will be noticed that while he was late in getting back from his trip home and skipped out from the guard tent while under a light sentence, he still stuck to the army and never deserted the guards when the finding of the court-martial hung over him.

About three weeks later, a response appeared in the Constitution:

1887 clipping about a friend of Old Yaller.

1887 clipping about a friend of Old Yaller.

The Atlanta Weekly Constitution
January 25, 1887 pg 3

A Friend of Old Yaller

Mr. Moses Williams of Thomasville, Ga., says that old “Yaller” of “Yaller Jacket,”  the soldier who was shot for desertion, lived near him before the war.  Mr. Williams says of “Old Yaller:” “He was a good man, but was poor.  He fought right on for the confederacy and was a good soldier, too.  There were twelve men to shoot him.  I hope he is at rest.

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Related Posts:

 

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