John W. Hagan Encounters the Georgia Melish

The Civil War letters of John William Hagan document in part the actions of the Berrien Minute Men, a Confederate infantry raised in Berrien County, GA by Ray City settler, General Levi J. Knight. In his letter of July 7, 1864, Hagan writes about the retreat of the Confederate States Army towards Atlanta.  On July 5, the CSA made a brief stand at “Johnston’s River Line,” a defensive line  on the north side of the Chattahoochee River which included earth and log works known as  “shoupades,” after Confederate engineer Brig. General Francis A. Shoup.

About the time the Berrien Minute Men were taking up positions on the River Line the regular Confederate States Army troops were reinforced by Georgia Militia state troops  which Hagan’s letter optimistically describes as “10,000 effective men.”  

Gustavus Woodson Smith,  major general of the Georgia state militia,  considered his troops creditable but unseasoned.

Albany Patriot
July 14, 1864

JOE BROWN’S PETS UNDER FIRE

          The Atlanta Appeal is permitted to make the following extract from a letter from Gen. G. W. Smith to a gentleman in this city. Gen. Smith is not given to adjectives and adverbs, and means always what he says.
         “The enemy ran up square against my State troops yesterday about 5 p. m. The cavalry were forced back and passed through our lines and the yankees cam on us right strong. Some misapprehension of orders caused a little confusion for a few moments only upon the left of our line, and perhaps twenty men left the trenches, but were back in a few minutes. The militia behaved very creditably; they stood their ground and stopped the advance of the enemy. We had only six men wounded and two missing, the dirt they had thrown up saving them from much loss, and enabled them to hold their ground against superior forces. They have rendered a good service to the army and the country, and have found out that every ball fired by the enemy didn’t kill a man. The militia will do. I watched them closely, and consider them all right – not yet veterans – but they will fight.

After the Battle of Atlanta, the Georgia Militia was praised in the press.

Augusta Chronicle & Sentinel
July 31, 1864

Our gallant militia officers have fairly won their spurs…They have been styled “Gov. Brown’s pets,” but are now, also, the pets of the army and the people. They have done infinite credit to their patron; and neither he nor they will ever be ashamed of the sobriquet. He has given them a rough handling, for pets, but it has been all the more glorious and advantageous for them. He has been unusually careful of their military education, and they have not failed to profit by their training in the school to which he sent them.

But others would be less complimentary of the state troops.

W. G. Lewis, an Arkansas soldier with the regular Confederate States Army,  encountered the volunteer soldiers of the Georgia militia near a pontoon bridge the Confederates had built across the Chattahoochee at Paces Ferry.  The skirmish at Paces Ferry, fought July 5, 1864,  after which the Confederate forces retreated across the river and attempted to cut loose the pontoon bridge.

The disdain of  regular CSA troops for the state militia, or “Melish” in the soldiers’ derisive vernacular,  is apparent in Lewis’ reflections, published in the Sunny South newspaper January 21, 1899:

        Many stories have been written for this page about the old veteran soldiers, and I hope many more will find their way to these columns ere the old soldiers are numbered with the things of the past.
        There is a time in every individual’s life when we love to live in the past. “Days that are gone seem the brightest” was said by some poet long ago, and this adage, it seems to me, is applicable to nearly every phase of life. From the most exalted to the lowest walks of life, we all love to think of the days that have long since passed away. The old soldier has arrived at that period when he loves to look back and live over again those turbulent scenes he was once an actor in. Then let us tell our stories while we may, for there will come a time when this page will be devoted to another class of literature than that of stories from the old soldiers, for there will soon be none left to write them.
        Some of these stories have been pathetic, some humorous, while others told of heroic deeds of this or that command or individual soldier.  I do not remember of ever seeing anything on this page about the Georgia militia. They took part in the campaign around Atlanta, and I thought a brief sketch of the militia as I saw them upon one occasion, together with a humorous incident which befell them shortly afterwards, might be interesting to those who love to read this page. Although the main features of this sketch or matter-of-fact story that I here present to the reader are humorous, and I might say ludicrous when viewed from a military standpoint, it will be borne in mind that it is not the intention of the writer to cast an odium upon the fair state which these men represented or any of her soldiers, for the incident here related is nothing more than what would happen to any body of untrained soldiers.
        The historian as well as the old veteran who fought side by side with the Georgians knows their courage as soldiers cannot be questioned.
        But war with all its grim realities has its humorous as well as its dark side sometimes; and there is not a company or regiment of soldiers who participated in the civil war but at some time or other has not seen the “funny side.” The Georgia militia was no exception to this rule: though what was fun for our boys in this instance was “death to the frogs,” as the old saying goes.
        So with this explanation I hope that if kind providence has spared even one or more of these good old men who form the of this sketch, and if he should read these lines that he will forgive the writer and join in a laugh over the inevitable which happened so long ago.
         But a sad thought intrudes upon my memory here, when I reflect that in all probability there is not one of them left to tell the story, for most of them were then past the meridian of life.
          It was on one beautiful evening, the 4th of July ’64 if I remember correctly, late in the afternoon, when Johnston’s rear guard reached the pontoon bridge which crossed the Chattahoochee river, on his retreat to Atlanta. This rear guard was composed of the brigade of cavalry to which I was attached.
         A desultory artillery fire was being kept up o us from a distant battery, so far away, though, that their shots were spent by the time the reached us, and would come rumbling over the bluff where we were waiting our turn to cross the river. They could be plainly seen before they struck the ground, ricochetting in the air, and giving the boys time in one instance to get out of the way. They had the exact range of our bridge, though, and had their shots been shells, might have done considerable damage; but they were solid shot and did but little execution. An amusing incident happened while we waited at the bridge. A darky seeing one of these spent balls come turning end over end, and lighting near where he stood, ran over and picked it up, when he dropped it quicker than you would a red-hot poker and ran like a good fellow. “What’s the matter?” asked some one. “That thing’s hotter than h—” shouted the darky as the boys roared with laughter. There was only one casualty from these balls in our brigade. A trooper in the First Mississippi cavalry had one of these cannon balls to strike his hand as he held his carbine, cutting his hand off and killing his horse.
        This is distressing somewhat, but we will come to the militia now pretty soon. As we crossed the pontoon and ascended the eastern bank the sun was casting his farewell rays for the day just over the tree tops that stood on the western bluff.
         Away to our left across an open field, I saw a body of soldiers marching in columns of fours.  As our respective lines of march converged, we were soon in speaking distance and near enough to see who they were. A glance at their clean, new looking uniforms, their superfluous trappings and plethoric haversacks, their snow-white beards in many instances, told us without an introduction, that this was the veritable Georgia militia, of which we had so often heard.
        No sooner were we in speaking distance than such another tirade of jests and gibes that they were greeted with from our boys I had seldom ever heard before, and their very odd appearance amused them very much. It is proper to state here that several of the southern states had given nicknames to their soldiers, which they went by till the end of the war. The North Carolinians, for instance, were called the “Tarheels,” the Floridians “Sand Diggers,” Alabamians “Yellow Hammers,” while the Georgians were called “Goober Grabbers.” Hence the reader will understand what our boys meant by their mock earnestness concerning the Georgians’ peanut crop.
        So the militia were greeted with such gibes as these: “Here’s your Georgia goober grabbers!” “Here’s your melish!” and “Lay down melish, I am going to bust a cap,” and “I say, old man, how is your peanut crop this year?” One tall, lank old fellow, who carried a pack that looked more like the pack that belongs to a pack mule, was accosted by one of our boys thus: “I say, my friend, what state are you moving to?” “Why do you ask?” said the unsuspecting Georgian. “I see you have all your household goods. What did you do with the furniture?”
      In this way we exchanged jokes as long as we were in sight of each other, the Georgian taking it all in the very best of humor, and giving our boys back as good as they sent.
        Away back in my rear as far as I could see down that long line of cavalry, the boys were still having their fun with the militia, and every now and then a shout of laughter would go up, telling that some one had been the butt of a joke.
        These men were as robust and fine looking a body of men as I ever saw. The commander in particular was as fine a military looking man as I ever saw. He was tall and handsome, with a fine gray uniform: he was the finest looking officer I had seen during the war.  He did not seem to be an old man, and I am sorry that I can’t remember his name at present.
        We soon passed out of sight of the militia, and I had almost ceased to think anything more about them in the many shifting scenes of soldier life for the next week or so,  when the next time I saw them—well,  I didn’t see them. I only saw where they had been a few minutes before.
General Johnston, the good old economical general. I called him, because when an article is scarce, then it’s time to be economical, this was General Johnston. He knew that Confederate soldiers were scarce. He, therefore, never rushed his men over breastworks continually to have them shot down, but instead husbanded his troops, and never fought unless he had the advantage. Well, as I was going to say, this wise old general, after we had crossed the Chattahoochee, knew we needed a rest, after our arduous campaign around Kennesaw, in all that rain and mud, and we were completely worn out.  So, to give us rest and at the same time season the militia who had never been under fire, he placed them on picket duty instead of the regular soldiers. That, of course, helped us considerably. The militia was camped on or near the river, while the main army rested some distance back from the river. One day while the army, I might with propriety say, “lay peacefully dreaming” (even if it was day time), a terrific cannonading opened from the opposite side of the river. We were somewhat surprised at this and some one said they thought the Federals were going to force a passage of the river nearly in our front, but the enemy had no such idea. Pretty soon a detachment of cavalry from our brigade was galloping to the front, to see what was up. When we arrived on the scene of action, that which which met our sight caused us to laugh, even in the midst of danger. It was the militia camp, but not a sign of militia could be seen. Their camps had been hurriedly deserted, while their baggage, rations and everything else lay in profusion about the camp. There were turkeys and chickens tied to trees, old country hams hung conveniently from overhanging limbs, butter and eggs in the camp, and even pickles, preserves and all the delicacies of home life. They left blankets, and their quilts that their good old dames bad supplied them in some cases with, and some of the boys said they found a feather bed in the camp, but I did not see this. Well, you should have seen the boys loot that camp in less time than I can tell it. Did the officers control them? Well, I guess not. There, amid an occasional bursting of a shell, they set about feasting, as they had not for many a day. The Federals had silently masked their batteries on the opposite bank of the river and without the least warning, had suddenly poured in upon them a shower of shells which was so sudden and unexpected that the militia, at once sought safety in flight. It has always been a puzzle to me whether the Yankees had been informed by some deserter of the location of the militia camp, and who they were or whether they had looked through their field glasses and saw how sumptuously they fared, and had envied them to that extent that they concluded to shell them out for spite. Be that as it may, this was one time when to the victor belonged the spoils was reversed, for while the Federals had the satisfaction of routing the militia, our boys had the pleasure of appropriating the spoils to themselves. The shells soon ceased, while our boys took the place of the militia and order was again restored.
         A short time after this incident I was very much amused at a story I heard one of our infantry tell on a militiaman. This soldier went out to relieve him from picket duty, when he found the old gentleman sitting at the foot of a tree, his gun across his lap, smoking his pipe, despite the strict army regulations prohibiting smoking while on duty. As the old man straightened up the soldier noticed he had no cartridge box. “Where is your cartridge box, my friend?” observed the soldier. “Oh,” said the militiaman, “the pesky thing chafes me and I threw it away. I carry my cartridges here,” and the old man went down in the coat tail pockets of his long, civilians’ coat that struck him about the heels, and produced a handful of cartridges. “This is where I carry them,” said he, with an air of indifference.
Months went by and the militiaman was transferred to some distant part of the line in the siege of Atlanta, where no doubt he served his country with honor, as there was plenty of fighting all along the line, and I never heard anything more from him until after the fall of Atlanta, when Governor Brown issued a proclamation disbanding the Georgia militia in order that they might go home and cut their crop of sorghum cane. No doubt some of the old soldiers who were in the Georgia campaign remember how the soldiers joked and commented upon this. All the southern papers had something to say about it, and one of the papers in commenting wound up with a verse of doggerel poetry, which ran something like this:

“Three cheers for Governor Brown
And his sweet proclamation.
Likewise the “Georgia Militia,”
With their cane knives raised on high:
For they will drive away starvation.
In the sweet by and by.
When they cut the Georgia sugar cane,”
They will suck sorghum till they die.”

W. G. LEWIS
Co. K. Ballentine’s Reg. Cav., C. S. A. Hope. Ark.

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Berrien Minute Men and the Shoupades

During the summer of 1864, the Berrien Minute Men and the 29th Georgia volunteer Regiment participated in the last defense of Atlanta following the retreat from Kennesaw Mountain. On July 4, 1864 they were in the line of battle at Marietta, GA. After withdrawing in the middle of the night ,  the campfires of the Berrien Minute Men were made on July 5 at a new defensive line on the the Chattahoochee River.

The actions of the Berrien Minute Men, a Confederate infantry raised in Berrien County, GA by Ray City settler, General Levi J. Knight, are documented in part in the Civil War letters of John William Hagan.  In a lettter to his wife, Hagan wrote about the Confederate retreat to the Chattahoochee and his confidence in the defensive works of General Joseph E. Johnston’s River Line.   These earthwork fortifications along the north bank of the Chattahoochee, some of the most elaborate field fortifications of the Civil War, were constructed under the direction of Artillery Commander, Brig. General Francis A. Shoup.

 

Battle Field near Chattahoochee River Ga
July 7th 1864

My Dear Amanda
I this morning write you a short letter in answer to yours jest receved dated July 2nd. This leaves E. W. and myself in fair health. I have nothing of enterest to write you. We are now in line of battle near the river I recon we are about 13 miles from Atlanta. I wrote to James on the morning of the 4th & at 1 or 2 Oclock on the night of the 4th we retreated to this place. Here we have got splendid works & can make a splended fight, if the yanks will only attack us in our works I do not know wheather Gen Johnston intends to make this a perminint stand. Our lines runs to the river on the left & across the river on the right. I do not know how long the line is but it is tolerabley lenghtty. I am told that we will have some reinforcements in a few days & according to the yankee accounts we can handle them much better than we could have handled them at Dalton. The yankees acknowledge a loss of 45 thousand in kiled wounded missing & sickened & sent away since the left Dalton & by puting our loss at high figurs our loss in evry way will not exceed ten thousand, so you see they are weaker 45,000 & we are weaker only 10,000, & since we reached this place we have got the malistia of Ga which is 10,000 effective men & Ala is ordered to send her malitia forward at once which will add to our strength 8 or 10 thousand more. So I think we will be able to handle them very well &c. We are glad to know you are going to send us something to eat not that we are suffering but we want something besides cornbread & bacon. You must send us a bottle or two of syrup & be careful to pack the box well & stop the bottles well also. You must not send us any cloths. Jest send us a box of something to eat by D. P. McDowell if you get this in time to do so. You must make us some rich cakes & if you have any honey we would like to have a little bottle of it. Cousin D. P. McDowell to bring the box through as soon as posable so that the tricks will not spoil. You must have the box well bound & nailed up well. You must excuse this short letter & write us a long one. Nothing more E.W. sends his love to all. I am as ever yours affectsionately

J. W. H.

Remnants of the Confederate earthworks at the Chattahoochee River Line  still exist today and can be viewed at Shoupade Park.  “Shoupade” was a term coined by Gustavus Woodson Smith,  Major General of the Georgia state militia, who remarked that the design would make Shoup famous.

 

Shoupade

Shoupade

According to the Civil War Trust,

On the night of July 4-5, the Confederates marched back to a line that once again had already been prepared. Two weeks earlier, when the army was at Kennesaw, work had begun under the direction of Joseph E. Johnston’s chief of artillery, Brig. Gen. Francis A. Shoup. According to Shoup, Johnston had told him “it was but a question of time, and that a short time” before the army would retreat across the Chattahoochee River. Chagrined, Shoup asked whether he might supervise construction of fortifications on the north bank of the river at the railroad bridge. Johnston, eager for anything that would delay his inevitable retreat across the Chattahoochee, agreed. Thereupon Shoup directed the army’s engineers and hundreds of slaves in tree-cutting, digging, building log-and-earth infantry forts. There were some three dozen of these “Shoupades” (Gen. G.W. Smith’s term), which were connected by log palisades for more infantry and studded with artillery redans, all arced in an almost six-mile line around where the Western & Atlantic Railroad bridge crossed the river near Peachtree Creek. During the night of July 4-5, Johnston’s troops marched into these defenses.

Each shoupade was a log-and-earth fort shaped like an arrowhead pointed at the enemy. The outside walls were almost vertical, built with logs laid horizontally up to a height of sixteen feet. Dirt ten to twelve feet thick was packed in between the outer and inner log walls. Inside was a banquette, or firing platform, for infantry. Each fort was intended to be manned by 80 riflemen. The 36 shoupades were built 60 to 175 yards apart. Between them was constructed earthen redans for artillery, two guns in each. Log stockades eight feet high connected shoupades and redans. The key defensive element, to Shoup, was that shoupades and redans were placed so that troops in each position could pour enfilading fire toward the next, all the way down the line.

 

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John W. Hagan Married for Third Time

John W. Hagan (1836-1918) lived in the Cat Creek community near Rays Mill (now Ray City), GA.  He served during the Indian Wars in 1857 with Captain E.T. Kendrick’s Company of Florida Mounted Volunteers. In the Civil War, he served  with the Berrien Minute Men and wrote a number of  Confederate letters from Civil War battlefields to his first wife, Amanda Armstrong Roberts (1843-1872).  Following her death, Hagan was married in 1874 to Mary Smith, daughter of Owen Smith; she was the widow of Aaron L. Giddens and daughter-in-law of Isbin Giddens and Kiziah Knight.  Third, Hagan married Mrs. Martha Lawson Hodge, widow of Thomas B. Hodge and Lewis M. Ayers.

John W. Hagan was a prominent citizen, who served as chairman of the Lowndes County board of commissioners, representative in the Georgia legislature, leader in the Populist party, board of directors of the Alliance Warehouse Company, and was one of the incorporators of the Valdosta and Fort Valley Railroad Company along with William Roberts, James W. Roberts, W.B. Folks, Henry B. Holliday (father of Doc Holliday), Joseph Ousley, and W. G. McAdoo, and others in 1873, although it is not clear that there was ever any material construction of this line.

John W. Hagan married for a third time in 1909.

John W. Hagan married for a third time in 1909.

Valdosta Times
January 23, 1909

Hodge-Hagan Marriage

Don Quixote, or some other observant person, remarked on one occasion that “Love like Death is no respector of person, age or clime. It enters the palace of the rich as well as the poor. It goes forth to conquer in the morning, at noonday and in the decline.  It strikes in spring, summer and autumn – the buoyant youth, those of maturer age, and even those who have passed the summer of life.”
    There is some truth in this statement is proven by a matrimonial event in Valdosta yesterday afternoon at the home of Mrs. Martha D. Hodge, the widow of the late Thomas B. Hodge.  The contracting parties were Hon. John W. Hagan and Mrs. Hodge.  The ceremony was performed by Rev. M. A. Morgan and was witnessed by quite a number of the relatives and a few intimate friends of the contracting parties.
     Much interest was attached to the marriage because of the prominence of the contracting parties as well as because of the fact that both of them had passed the meridian of life, though both are still young.  The groom is about seventy-three and the bride eleven years his junior.
     The marriage came as a surprise to many of the friends of the couple as nothing had been said about it to their friends.  It was rumored on the streets yesterday morning, but a rumor was all there was to it.  The relatives were notified a short while before it occurred and were invited to be present.
     The groom is chairman of the board of county commissioners, an ex-legislator and has been prominent in the county for many years.  The Bride was the widow of the late Tom Hodge and previous to her marriage to Mr. Hodge was the widow of the late L. M. Ayers, of Hahira.  Both parties are well fixed in this world’s goods, and the bride has property valued at from fifty to seventy-five thousand dollars.
     They have many friends who hope that their last days may be their best and that happiness will attend them on their journey down the evening of life.

The Tifton Gazette also announced the marriage, with some embellishments:

1909 John W. Hagan married Mrs. Martha A. Hodges

1909 John W. Hagan married Mrs. Martha A. Hodges

Tifton Gazette
January 29, 1909

John W. Hagan and Mrs. T. B. Hodge were united in marriage at Valdosta last week by Rev. M. A. Morgan. No announcement had been made of the approaching nuptials, and the news came as a surprise to their friends. The groom is 74 years of age and the bride about the same. It is the third venture of the groom and the fourth of the bride. Both are prominent. The groom is chairman of the county commissioners of Lowndes county, and an ex-legislator. He was the leader of the populist party there twelve years ago. Both are well-to-do, the bride have $75,000 worth of property in Valdosta.

1909 marriage license for John W. Hagan and Mrs. Martha D. Hodges, Lowndes County, GA

1909 marriage license for John W. Hagan and Mrs. Martha D. Hodges, Lowndes County, GA

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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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Confederate Letters of John William Hagan

In 1954, the Confederate letters of John W. Hagan were published by  Bell Irvin Wiley.  Hagan lived in the Cat Creek community near Rays Mill (now Ray City), GA.  In the Civil War, Hagan enlisted in  the “Berrien Minute Men,” a Confederate army unit organized by  Levi J. Knight, original settler at the site of Ray City.  Hagan served in the 29th GA infantry in Company  D, (later reorganized as Company K, the Berrien Minutemen),  and was elected 3rd Sergeant.  By 1864, he was serving as 1st Sergeant, and at times was in command of the Company.

Confederate Letters of John W. Hagan

Confederate Letters of John W. Hagan

John W. Hagan wrote regularly from field camps and battle lines to his wife and family back in Berrien County. His letters were typically addressed to Amanda Hagan, his wife, or  Rueben Roberts, his father-in-law.  He frequently mentions relatives, colleagues in the Berrien Minute Men, and other Wiregrass Georgia residents including James Roberts, Ezekiel Roberts, Stephen Roberts, Sherard Roberts, Kiziah Roberts, Bryant J. Roberts, John J. Roberts, George Roberts, James Roberts, Levi J. Knight, Jonathan D. Knight, William Washington Knight, William Sirmans, John Herndon, Wiley E. Baxter, Barzilla Knight, John M. Griffin, Thomas Griffin, Asa Newsome, William Roberts, Benjamin S. Garrett, J. L. Robert, Elias Thomas, Harriet Newell Wilson, Ellen Groover Clifford,  John Moore, Nancy Moore, Isbin B. Giddens, William J. Beatty,  James L. O’Neil, William Giddens, Burrell H. Howell, Moses H. Giddens, James Turner, Edward Maloy, U.D. Knight, Henry Harrison Knight, Edwin Griffin, Wiley E. Baxter, William Cameron, Jonas Tomlinson, Thomas Clifford, Jasper Roberts, John C. Clements, Thomas W. Ballard, James W. Mathis, James D. Pounds, James Giddens, Elias Lastinger, James Fender, Aaron Mattox,  Moses F. Giddens, and  William Anderson.

John W. Hagan witnessed  and described the death of Major John C. Lamb, who commanded the 29th Georgia Regiment until he was killed during the retreat from Vicksburg, MS in 1863.  Hagan also wrote about the execution of “Old Yaller” Elbert J. Chapman, who was shot for desertion even though he had left the 29th Georgia Regiment to serve with another unit.

John W. Hagan was captured during the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864 along with John Hearndon, Jonathan D. Knight, James D. Pounds, among others, and was sent to Camp Chase, OH for the remainder of the war .

The 43 letters he wrote home between 1861 and 1865 were published by Bell Irvin Wiley, and subsequently appeared in the Georgia Historical Quarterly.  The content of these letters may now be viewed online through JSTOR archives of the journal articles.

cover-georgia-historical-quarterlyTHE CONFEDERATE LETTERS OF JOHN W. HAGAN. Part I

Bell Irvin Wiley
The Georgia Historical Quarterly Vol. 38, No. 2  (June, 1954), pp. 170-200
Published by: Georgia Historical Society
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40577510

cover-georgia-historical-quarterlyTHE CONFEDERATE LETTERS OF JOHN W. HAGAN: Part II

Bell Irvin Wiley
The Georgia Historical Quarterly Vol. 38, No. 3  (September, 1954), pp. 268-290
Published by: Georgia Historical Society
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40577711
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