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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L.E. Lastinger and Captain Knight’s Berrien Minutemen

Lacy Elias Lastinger was the son of William Lastinger who was a prominent citizen of Berrien County (later Lanier) and founder of Lastinger Mill in Milltown, GA (now Lakeland).  During the Civil War L. E. Lastinger was in the 29th Georgia Regiment along with General Levi J. Knight and the man referred to as Levi J. Knight, Jr., both whom were Lastinger’s lifelong associates.

Lacy Elias Lastinger

Lacy Elias Lastinger. Image detail courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com/

 After the war L.E. Lastinger became a sort of historian of the Berrien Minutemen (Companies G & K, 29th GA Regiment).  He served as the adjutant of the Dixie Camp, United Confederate Veterans, Nashville, Georgia.

L. E. Lastinger wrote about the good and the bad of the Berrien Minutemen. He wrote about the part he played in the execution of ‘Old Yaller’ whose death sentence was imposed for the charge of desertion, an account of which was the subject of an earlier post (see Berrien Minute Men and Civil War Stories). Here is Lastinger’s account of the event, published March, 1909 in Watson’s Jeffersonian Magazine.

The Deserter

    In the January number of The Jeffersonian, under the head of “A Victim of Military Discipline,” the author gives an account of the execution of Elbert J. Chapman, who belonged to Co. K, 29th Ga. Regt. Chapman named himself “Old Yaller,” and by this name was generally known.
     His regiment was stationed at “Camp Young,” near Savannah.  Chapman was confined in the guard house, as a punishment for some misbehavior, from which he made his escape.
He went to his home, near Mill Town, in Berrien county.  He claimed he was sick and coud not get well in the guard house and went home to recuperate, intending to return to his command when he got able. This he failed to do.
Our brigade, under command of Col. Wilson, of the 25th Ga. Regt., went West to join the Army of the Mississippi.  When marching through Canton some of the boys saw Chapman and hollered at him, “Hello, ‘Yaller’,” then others commenced calling him, in the same way, when he very indignantly said to them, “You must be a set of darn fools,” but the boys continued, “We know you, ‘Yaller’.” “Yes, we would know your hide in a tan trough.”  “Yaller” was slow to acknowledge his identity – but did so, and good humoredly joined the company, saying, “Yes, boys, this is ‘Old Yaller’.” Then followed a general hand-shaking.  Subsequently “Old Yaller” was court-martialed, and suffered the extreme penalty of death for desertion. The writer assisted Geo. R. McKee, adjutant of the 29th Ga. Regt., in loading the guns – which were given to a squad of twelve men commanded by Lieut. A.P. Perham, of Waycross, who carried out the orders to execute him.  Of this Mr. M. P. Carroll gives a very correct account.
During  Governor Atkinson’s administration 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.

L. E. LASTINGER

In 1929 L .E. Lastinger was the last surviving member of Company K, 29th Georgia Regiment.  He published a pamphlet entitled The Confederate War: A compilation of the Confederate Soldiers going forth from Berrien County, Georgia. When they enlisted — and whether or not they survived the war.  A reprint of this text is on file at the Ray City Community Library, Ray City, Berrien County, Georgia. It is in this publication that he provides a brief account of the Berrien Minutemen, along with entries on General Levi J. Knight and Levi J. Knight, “Junior,”  who both did stints as Captain of Company “G”, 29th Georgia Regiment.

In the next post we examine Lastinger’s account of the Berrien Minutemen and the two Captains Knight.

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