Robert O. Rouse (1842-1908)
In 1903, Confederate veteran Robert O. Rouse, of Ray’s Mill, GA, wrote to Pension Commissioner J. W. Lindsey, for help with his Confederate Pension application. In the Civil War, Rouse fought with the 50th Georgia Regiment, Company I, the Berrien Light Infantry. Rouse was horribly wounded in combat, captured by federal forces and held as a prisoner of war at Rock Island, MD. Despite his service and sacrifice, his pension application was denied by Georgia authorities.
Rays Mill, Berrien County, GA
March 24, 1903
Hon J W Lindsy
will you plese let me now all about my pension. I weant of in war and stade till hit stopt in Macon Ga at Lee SoRender. i was shot and not abel to work. plese help me in need i have lade on fros ind land til my life is short or me excuse bad riten.
Rays Mill Ga
Robert O. Rouse, a son of Alfred Rouse and Elizabeth J. “Betty” Dixon, was born in Duplin County, NC and came to Berrien County, GA at a young age. His grave marker at Empire Cemetery, near Ray City, gives his birth date as November 1, 1842, but his 1903 application for a Confederate Pension states he was born March 2, 1843.
Robert’s father, Alfred Rouse, died about 1848 or 1849; the estate of Alfred Rouse was probated in Duplin County, NC in 1849. Nine-year-old Robert was enumerated on August 8, 1850 in his widowed mother’s household in the south district of Duplin County, NC. His siblings were enumerated as David W. Rouse (age 10), Mary S. Rouse (8), Bryan J. Rouse (7), Sarah J. Rouse (6), and Barbara C. Rouse (6).
In the 1850s, Robert O. Rouse came with some of his Dixon relatives to settle a few miles east of present day Ray City GA. According to Wiregrass historian Folks Huxford , about that time a number of families “moved to what was then Lowndes County…from their home community in Duplin County, N. C. Among these families were those of William J. Lamb, James Carroll, Jesse Carroll, William Godfrey, Andrew J. Liles, William Best, James W. Dixon and others. These all settled in or around the village then called Alapaha but now named Lakeland, Lanier County.” In 1850, James Dobson moved his family and slaves from Duplin County, NC to Lowndes (now Berrien) County, GA, settling on land lot 333 of the 10th District, just west of Ten Mile Creek in what is now Lanier County; Peter McGowan and Richard McGowan are believed to be two of the slaves Dobson brought from North Carolina. William Hill Boyett, John Bostick, Treasy Boyett Bostick and Mary C. Bostick came from Duplin to Berrien in the mid-century, and A few years later, Jessie Bostick also removed from Duplin County to the area. James M. and Martha Gordon Sloan made their way From Duplin, NC to Berrien in 1874, via Mississippi and Echols County, GA.
The census of 1860 places Robert Rouse, enumerated as “Robert Rose,” in Berrien County in the household of James W. Dixon. James Rouse was also residing in the Dixon household. James W. Dixon was a farmer and a neighbor of George A. Peeples, William J. Hill, James Patten and General Levi J. Knight.
When the Civil War broke out Robert Rouse joined a local militia unit, the Berrien Light Infantry, enlisting on April 1, 1862. He was officially mustered into Company I, 50th Georgia Volunteer Infantry on August 23, 1862 at Calhoun, GA. William H. Boyett, James I. G. Connell, William Evander Connell, J.W.T. Crum were other Berrien County men who mustered in to Company I, 50th GA Regiment on August 22-23.
Rouse and the other men were was sent to join the 50th Regiment which by then had been deployed to Richmond, VA. Among the men from the Ray City area serving with this unit were Green Bullard, Fisher J. Gaskins, Lemuel Elam Gaskins, Joseph Gaskins, John Jasper Cook and John Martin Griner.
Muster roles show Robert Rouse was present with his unit in Virginia by August 31, 1862. As the last weeks of summer slipped into fall the 50th Georgia Regiment fought through some of the bloodiest battles of the war. At Fox’s Gap, South Mountain, MD on September 14, 1862 the 50th Georgia Regiment suffered a casualty rate of 86 percent. William Guthrie was one of six men of Company I (Berrien Light Infantry) killed that day. Another was mortally wounded and 4 more suffered non-fatal wounds. Lemuel Gaskins was wounded, captured and sent to Fort Delaware, MD as a POW. As terrible as the Confederate losses were at South Mountain, they were just a “bloody prelude” to the Battle of Antietam fought three days later September 17, 1862 at Sharpsburg,MD. Almost every surviving soldier in the 50th Regiment was wounded. On October 2, 1862 Rouse was sent to Winchester Hospital where thousands of Confederate wounded had been taken. Virtually the entire town of Winchester, VA was a hospital, with wounded laid up in every home.
Muster Rolls for January and February 1863 show Robert Rouse was absent “at hospital.” On April 16, 1863 he was admitted to the General Hospital at Stanton, VA with pneumonia. In July, Rouse was at the 1st Division General Hospital, Camp Winder, Richmond VA.
By November 1863 Robert Rouse was recovered and was back fighting with the 50th Regiment in Tennessee when Confederate forces under the command of Major General James Longstreet attempted to dislodge the Union occupation of Knoxville. On the approach to Knoxville Rouse’s unit saw relatively little action. But in the final days of November, the 50th Georgia participated in a disastrous assault on Fort Sanders, a part of the Union’s ring of earthwork defenses around Knoxville. A week into the siege of Knoxville, the Confederates determined Fort Sanders was the most vulnerable point of attack. In reality, Union engineers had employed supreme effort and ingenuity in fortifying Fort Sanders.
The Confederate assault on Fort Sanders, conducted on November 29, 1863, was poorly planned and executed. Longstreet discounted the difficulties of the physical obstacles his infantrymen would face. He had witnessed, through field glasses, a Union soldier walking across a 12 foot wide defensive ditch that surrounded the bastioned earthworks Fort Sanders and, not realizing that the man had crossed on a plank, believed that the ditch was very shallow. Longstreet also believed that the steep walls of the earthworks could be negotiated by digging footholds, rather than requiring scaling ladders.
The Confederates moved to within 120-150 yards of the salient during the night of freezing rain and snow and waited for the order to attack. Their attack on the dawn of November 29th has been described as “cruel and gruesome by 19th century standards.” The advancing Confederate troops were initially confronted by telegraph wire that had been strung between tree stumps at knee height, possibly the first use of such wire entanglements in the Civil War, and many men were shot as they tried to disentangle themselves. When they reached the ditch, they found the vertical wall to be almost insurmountable, frozen and slippery. Union soldiers rained murderous fire into the masses of men, including musketry, canister, and artillery shells thrown as hand grenades. Unable to dig footholds, men climbed upon each other’s shoulders to attempt to reach the top. A succession of color bearers were shot down as they planted their flags on the fort.
For one brief moment the flag of the 50th Georgia Regiment flew atop Fort Sanders’ bastion, planted by Sergeant James S. Bailey, of Company B, before he was captured. Also among the captured was Private John Woods Smith, Company G, who would later become a resident of Ray’s Mill, GA.
In James W. Parrish’s documentary on the history of 50th Georgia Regiment, he wrote,
” Although the Southerners fought gallantly, devastating enemy fire forced them to retreat. The ditch trapped many soldiers who were killed, wounded or captured.”
“After only twenty minutes, Longstreet mercifully called off the assault.”
“As the Rebel offensive collapsed, the retreat proved as deadly as the attack. Enemy musketry and canister raked the men as they ran back across the open field toward the cover of the wooded ravine. Lieutenant [William F. “Billie”] Pendleton reported on his narrow escape: ‘We jumped up and dashed down the hill, then cannon opened up on us. I was caught up in the telegraph wire and forward down the hill.’ ” (Pendleton was eighteen years old).
“The Confederates suffered 813 casualties, including 129 killed, 458 wounded, and 226 captured. Federal losses in the fort were only 13. The attack had been an unmitigated disaster.”
In the bloodbath at Fort Sanders, Robert Rouse was horribly wounded in the face. Both cheek bones were broken and his vision was impaired. Captured by Union forces on January 5, 1864, he was sent to a hospital. He was held at Nashville, TN until January 17, then sent to a military prison at Louisville, KY. On January 23, 1864 he was transferred to Rock Island Prison, Illinois.
Construction of the Rock Island Prison Barracks began in August 1863, with the first 488 confederate POWs arriving on December 3, 1863 before construction was completed. Within weeks the prison population swelled to over 5000 confederate soldiers.
“The prison, rectangular in shape, covered approximately twelve acres of land. Eighty four wooden-framed barracks, 22 x 100 feet in size, arranged in six rows of fourteen barracks each, comprised the containment area. Each barracks had a kitchen, with a stove and a forty gallon kettle for cooking, located at the west end of the building. Captain Reynolds built enough bunks in each barracks to accommodate 120 prisoners. A main avenue running east to west divided the camp and led to the two main gates. The barracks were enclosed by a twelve foot high rough board fence. A guard platform built four feet from the top of the stockade fence, on the exterior side, had a sentry box every 100 feet. Trenches maintained inside the fence served as a warning line. Sentries were ordered to fire at prisoners venturing beyond this point. The “dead line” supposedly deterred prisoners from tunneling under the stockade. In addition, the closeness of bedrock to the surface prevented tunneling near the southern side of the stockade”
The first few weeks of the camp’s operation were particularly hellish. It was bitterly cold weather, the southern soldiers were ill clothed, there was a shortage of blankets, and disease was rampant. Some men died from the cold, others from small pox.
By the time of Rouse’s arrival at Rock Island Barracks in January, 1864, 329 prisoners and 4 guards had died of small pox. The prison had no hospital and inadequate medical supplies or equipment. Prisoners with contagious diseases were housed among the general prison population. The prison grounds were a mudpit, as the site was situated on low ground near a marsh causing water to drain into the compound rather than out. Conditions were unsanitary with no provision for the disposal of garbage or wash water, which were dumped on the ground near the barracks. The water supply was inadequate and prisoners disposed of privy waste in the river that flowed through the camp. Cornbread fed to the prisoners was rancid and made men sick.
In Rouse’s first month at Rock Island, small pox killed another 350 confederates and 10 guards. On March 4, 1864 420 more small pox cases were reported and 644 were sick with undiagnosed diseases. Although conditions at Rock Island significantly improved over time, 1,964 prisoners and 171 guards died there by the War’s end. Robert Rouse survived Rock Island Barracks and was released March 27, 1865.
Headquarters Department of Richmond
Richmond, Va. March 27th 1865
In obedience to instructions from the Secretary of War, the following named men (paroled prisoners) are granted leaves of indulgence for 30 days (unless sooner exchanged ) at the expiration of which time, those belonging to commands serving north of the Southern boundary line of North Carolina, and in East Tennessee, will report immediately to them, if exchanged; other wise they will report to Camp of Paroled Prisoners, Richmond, Va. All other paroled prisoners, except those whose commands are serving within the limits above mentioned, will also report, at expiration of their furloughs, to Camp of Paroled Prisoners, Richmond, Va.
Priv. R. Rouse Co. I 50 Ga Inf
Quartermaster will furnish Transportation
By order of Lt. General R. S. Ewell
After release from Rock Island Barracks, Robert Rouse was sent to Boulware and Cox’s Wharves, James River, VA for exchange. Bouleware’s Wharf was described as “the Graveyard” by Colonel Robert Ould, Confederate Agent of Exchange in Richmond, in a letter to Ulysses S. Grant dated December 27, 1864.
Boulware’s Wharf was located on the James River, about 10 miles below Richmond, where Osborne Turnpike intersects Kingsland Road. Cox’s Wharf was located just down river. By the time of Rouse’s parole, the James River up to and including Cox’s Wharf was under the control of federal forces. Boulware’s Wharf was under the eye of Fort Brady held by Federal troops at Cox’s Wharf, and also in the shadow of the Confederate Fort Hoke located about two miles up stream. Under a flag of truce Bouleware’s Wharf for a time became the point where Confederate prisoners were exchanged for Union POWs.
The Confederate POWs would be brought by steamboat to Aiken’s Landing, at the point where the Varina Road reaches the James River.
According to the testimony of Colonel Ould, “It is simply impossible, owing to the relative positions of the military lines, to the conditions of the roads, and the deficiency of transportation, to convey in vehicles even the sick (returning Confederates) from Varina (Aiken’s Landing) to Richmond, a distance by way of Boulware’s of some fourteen miles. The Federal steam-boats which bring our prisoners stop at Varina. This point is some four miles from our lines, and the prisoners are either marched or transported to Boulware’s Wharf, which is nearly on the dividing line of the opposing armies, and about four miles distant from Varina.”
With the war ended, Robert Rouse was furloughed. On April 10, 1865 his furlough was extended for 30 days at Macon, GA. Rouse returned to Berrien County, GA to the 1144 Georgia Militia District, the Ray’s Mill District. County tax records confirm his presence there in 1867.
On December 9, 1869 Robert O. Rouse married Nancy Kisiah Parrish in Berrien County, GA.
Kisiah’s father, Matthew A. Parrish, had also enlisted with Company I, 50th GA Regiment during the Civil War, but had been detailed as a carpenter to help construct Guyton Hospital at Whitesville, GA three months before Rouse joined the unit. It appears that her father was furloughed home and died in Berrien County in October 1862.
Robert and Kiziah Rouse took up married life in the farm house of Robert’s uncle, William Dixon. Robert assisted his uncle with farm labor and Kisiah kept house.
From Ray’s Mill, the William Dixon place was out the road now known as the Sam I. Watson Highway, on the northeast bank of Ten Mile Creek (formerly known as Alapacoochee Creek).
About 1875 William Dixon and the Rouses moved across Ten Mile Creek to Lot 333 which had been acquired by Dixon. The 1880 census shows Robert Rouse enumerated next door to his uncle, William Dixon. It appears Robert had his own domicile, but still on his uncle’s property. By this time, Robert’s household included his wife and their children: Sally, age 7; Alfred, age 5; James, age 4; and William, age 2. They were neighbors of Rhoda and George Washington Knight, and John C. Sirmans.
In 1883 a fifth child, Josie Rouse, was born to Robert and Nancy Kisiah Rouse.
On Sunday, October 19, 1884 tragedy struck the family, with the death of little James Rouse. The boy was laid to rest at Empire Cemetery.
Robert and Nancy Kisiah Rouse were enumerated in the Census of 1900 still on the farm on Ten Mile Creek near Empire Church, which they had acquired from Robert’s uncle William Dixon. In their household were sons William Rouse and Josie Rouse, who helped work the farm. Also boarding with the family was Will Dias, who was employed as a teamster. Their son, Alfred L. Rouse, and his wife, Mary Jones Rouse, were living in an adjacent home; boarding with them was uncle William Dixon, now retired. Daughter Sarah J. “Sallie” Rouse had married D. Edwin Griner and the couple owned a nearby farm. Still residing next door to the Rouses were George Washington Knight and Rhoda Futch Knight.
From 1900 to 1903, Robert Rouse, now in his 60’s, tried in vain to qualify for a Invalid Soldier Pension from the State of Georgia.
Rouse’s pension application was supported by a letter from Alexander W. Patterson, Ordinary of Berrien County, GA.
Office of Ordinary
A. W. Patterson, Ordinary
Nashville,GA., Berrien County
This is to certify that R O Rouse is still in life and entitled to any benefits that may be due him as an Invalid Confederate Soldier.
Given under my hand and Seal of the County Ordinary, This 22” day July 1902
A W Patterson
Rouse was examined by Dr. L. A. Carter and Dr. W. B. Goodman who attested, “We find applicant almost blind. We believe it was caused by a wound in the face, the missile entered on the left side behind the molar and came out in front of the right molar. Said wound is so near the eyes that it caused iritis which left the eyes permanently injured.”
Three witnesses confirmed Robert O. Rouse’s service with the 50th GA Regiment, that he was wounded in action and permanently disabled; John Page Bennett, John Woods Smith, and Timothy W. Stallings. John Page Bennett, a private in Company G, 50th GA Regiment was wounded by a shell fragment in the Battle of Fredricksburg and permanently lost the use of his left arm. He received a disability discharge on April 27, 1863. John Woods Smith, a corporal in 50th GA Regiment, Company G, the Clinch Volunteers was captured November 29th, 1863 at the battle of Fort Sanders, the same battle where Robert Rouse was shot in the face. After the War, John Woods Smith married Mary Jane Whitehurst and moved to the Rays Mill District of Berrien County; In 1900 he was living in Rays Mill, GA. Timothy W. Stallings was a private in Company K, 50th GA Regiment; in 1900 he was living in Nashville, GA.
Rouse’s pension application was denied. In June 1901, the Office of the Commissioner of Pensions, State of Georgia, noted, “The statements and proofs submitted does not show blindness, and that his condition was result of service. Physician must state in what way injury could have injured the eyes. It is probably that present condition of eyes is result of old age and not of the wound or service.” In 1902 the further notation was added by J. W. Lindsey, Commissioner of Pensions, “No pension allowed from partial blinding. Disapprove file.”
Robert O. Rouse died March 22, 1908. He was buried at Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.