By Jack Gurner
The first shots of the Civil War were fired 150 years ago this week when Confederate forces bombarded Fort Sumter near Charleston, South Carolina.
The Sesquicentennial of this pivotal point in America’s story will be observed all across the county and Yalobusha County definitely has a place in the pages of its history. In late April, a company of Water Valley soldiers marched out to fight a “short” war that became five years of bloody conflict.
A young 2nd Lieutenant, William Painter, compiled a list of the officers and enlisted men of the Water Valley Rifles, Company F, 15th Regiment, Mississippi Volunteers. Although many of the names are just long-forgotten entries on a long list, some have Painter’s personal comments which tell of the hardship and death faced by members of the unit.
The original commander, Captain B. H. Collins, resigned after only a few months in October of 1861 “on account of his health,” Painter wrote. Collins was followed by 2nd Lieut. R. A. Bankhead, who was promoted to command and killed at Fishing Creek, Kentucky, in January of 1862.
Painter wrote that 2nd Sergeant E. S. Trask was wounded in the shoulder by a shell fragment at the battle of Resacca, Georgia, and sent to the hospital where he died of gangrene.
A stray rifle ball killed 4th Corporal James E. Long behind the works at Atlanta in July of 1864. Painter described the wound of Private Charles E. Bankhead as being “slight,” but added that he died of gangrene after being sent to the hospital.
Illness took Private Leo A. Hairston, who died of measles at Corinth, and also Private Henry A. Moore, who died of a malignant fever contracted during the first Vicksburg campaign in 1862.
According to later information that accompanied a photograph of Moore, he was said to have been wounded and sent home. He died August 14, 1863 at Water Valley leaving a widow and five children.
Among those who were injured but didn’t die were Private Benjamin P. Hervey, who was wounded in a skirmish at Peach Tree Creek, Georgia. Bones in both of Hervey’s thighs were fractured. But, he recovered, Painter said, “and lived for many years afterwards.”
Private Richard V. Person was not only wounded but captured at Fishing Creek, Kentucky. He was exchanged in October of 1862 and afterwards became a famous sharpshooter with General Loring’s division.
Not everyone was lost to honorable causes, Painter wrote. Private William Nations was court-martialed in May of 1861 and then drummed out of camp at Corinth for stealing a valise.
Where They Fought
Painter also listed the engagements in which the Water Valley Rifles were involved starting with the Laurel Bridge expedition in October 1861. That was followed by the Wild Cat Pass expedition that same month and a night march to Stregall’s Ferry on the Cumberland River in November.
In January of 1862 the Rifles fought and lost several of their number at Fishing Creek and Mill Spring, Kentucky. Nine months later the unit was in the attack on Corinth by Price, Van Dorn, and Leavell.
The rifles participated in a naval battle at Port Hudson during which the flagship “Mississippi” was destroyed.
In May of 1863 they fought in Mississippi at Baker’s Creek and Champion Hill. During these battles, Confederate General Tillman was killed just to the rear of the company.
The rifles were involved in the Georgia campaign in May of 1864. Painter noted that Tobe Hale was killed at Resacca, Georgia, and that the unit was “always exposed to picket firing and stray balls by which several men of Company F were killed or wounded.”
In June they were involved in a skirmish at Peach Tree Creek during which their regiment captured a Federal regiment. By November of that year they were in Franklin, Tennessee, where Confederate General John Adams was killed. By mid-December they were in Nashville.
Their last fight for the rifles was on March 19, 1865, at Bentonville, North Carolina. Painter wrote, “It was here that Hicks Buford lost his leg.”
On April 26, 1865, General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to General Thearman.
In one of the more poignant entries, Painter wrote of John E. Young, who he described as a boy soldier: “Killed by stray bullet behind the main line at Atlanta in the act of bathing his face.”