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 denouement, 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.

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.