Editor’s Note: The first article in this series was first published at Mississippians in the Confederate Army by “championhilz”. The author, Private Frank H. Foote of the 48th Mississippi, was a prolific author of reminiscences of his time in Harris’ Mississippi Brigade in the postwar years. After a quick inquiry, it turns out “championhilz” is Jeff Giambrone, he works at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and he was more than happy to help me gain access to not only the original version of the first article, but the entire set. I thank him greatly for his kind assistance. I’m happy to present this history of Harris’ Mississippi Brigade in its entirety here at The Siege of Petersburg Online.
FOR THE CLARION:
LAST DAYS OF HARRIS’ BRIGADE.
The Surrender—Homeward Bound!
[SOPO Editor’s Note: This last of five articles written by Frank H. Foote of the 48th Mississippi covers the last few days of the Appomattox Campaign including the surrender at Appomattox, and Foote’s long and winding road home, via New York City and New Orleans!]
After the sun was well up its reflections revealed to us long columns of mounted infantry. We had heard of the disaster near Farmville to Gen. Ewell’s corps1, his capture and losses. Still it did not dishearten us. We were solid, intact and hopeful, and with an abiding faith that that Gen. Lee would reach a place of safety, and where rations would reach us. We knew if rations arrived, we would receive our share, so we marched and tramped the weary way. Not once did we anticipate the conclusion that was reached the next day, the 9th [April 9, 1865]. The animus of Harris’ [Mississippi] Brigade, indeed of Mahone’s entire division, on the day of the surrender, was, as it was a month prior thereto, or ever, in its most triumphant career. On this day a rear-guard action ensued and ended as usual in the enemy’s repulse.2
This was the last shot of Harris’ Brigade, and the last of the command who was killed, fell in this action; prisoners were taken, but no subsistence. Our prisoners were in as sad a plight as we, for they had marched ahead of—rations and forage. We had nothing to give them, and in one bond, of suffering, we were united. Our brigade had fought on April 2, 4, 6 and 8 , and each action redounded to their credit. As rear-guards and not two hundred strong, they had added new laurels to a coronet that will never fade. Nothing could make an impression on their ranks, and though weakened and weary, a consciousness of duty well done buoyed them up for the increasing sterner duties.
With the first streaks of dawn, April 9th , was born a day fraught with events that even to this day have hardly resolved or settled themselves into definite shape. The North and South do not yet understand each other, and if the whole matter could have been settled by the soldiers of active service of either side, a hearty hand-clasp and shake would have ended the matter of disagreement of the two sections, and a far better feeling established, that would have redounded more to the credit of the now united country, than all the attempted enforcements of the reconstruction laws. A nation’s dying throes were here witnessed. A cause dear to thousands of hearts forever lost. While thousands of beings hitherto held in bondage were set free to go whithersoever they pleased, do as they wished, and subject no longer to wish, will nor command of a master. Truly an end unseen; but now after a lapse of nearly one score years, who would wish it otherwise?
Without the least thought to prepare us for the end so nigh, we marched laboriously along and crossed the rear of [Second Corps commander John B.] Gordon just after his fight, and formed on his right. The fury of battle had cut great swaths in the undergrowth, round shot, shells, broken guns, great splotches of blood, some corpses, deserted limber-chests, and worn-out animals bestrewed the path. As we crossed to take position a Confederate battle flag was picked up by the road-side. It was furled. Was it ominous? It seemed so. The remnant of the 12th Mississippi regiment took it in charge, and it was torn to pieces at the surrender. As we formed in line, we naturally looked around for the foe, and soon glimpsed the boys in blue in every copse and woodland, while the hill-tops were crowned with artillery. We lay down after stacking arms, expecting to be torn to pieces with cannon. Once we sprang to arms as the Federals moved from one position to another and advanced their skirmishers somewhat. That skirmish line alone was far stronger than our feeble line; but that we would fight was no question. For some time we strained our visions to ascertain why the Federals did not attack. The sounds of battle to our left had died away, and the stern aspects of war had settled quietly down.
A rambling soldier came to us and spread the rumor that the army was cut off, and had surrendered. He was not believed and berated soundly for being the bearer of evil tidings. He was ordered under arrest, and the men calmed down. The second time the report came down the line, a hundred throats denied the charge. Officers and men were wroth with passion, and sharp epithets were hurled upon the news bearers. The safety of the tale-bearer was placed in jeopardy, and the private soldiers had to be restrained by their officers. In obedience to an order from [division commander] Gen. [William] Mahone, [brigade commander] Gen. [Nathaniel H.] Harris rode over to his headquarters, as he rode off, he, speaking to the officer, said, “I’ll be d—-d if I do.” When he returned, a look was sufficient. Alas! we read that the tidings were too true. In response to an inquiry, he said, “It is true, but Frank, don’t tell the men.” His face bore the traces of anxiety and care. Thought was changing with thought in rapid succession, and his mind was in a turmoil of contending emotions. But the fact leaked out directly, and the clamor of the men was at its height. The import of the news we would not understand. Rash enterprises were broached. An active officer of vim and daring that would have braved the restrictions of disciplines, could have raised a band of turbulent spirits, who would have forced a way through the enemy’s line to the mountains, and there continued the struggle as best they could. Rash utterances were frequent, but finally a feeling of hopelessness came stealing over many. The influence was felt, it became contagious; reaction set in and the inevitable was accepted. Why the army had surrendered was a mystery to us. Our spirits were unbroken; true, we were weary, and somewhat despondent, but the ultimatum came unawares, and we could not understand.
Reflection is a balm to the mind; it calmed the hardy, turbulent spirits, and then thoughts of home in far-off Mississippi came quietly and soothingly, and the fate of war was accepted with the determination to act in good faith with what would befall us. That our surrender would collapse the whole cause, would enforce the surrender of Johnson, Hood, Maury, and Kirby Smith, was never thought of. It was not considered; the idea if broached was considered preposterous, and wrenched from the mind as unclean. In little knots the men discussed the result, and by midday every thing was quiet. As the Federal commands came up in successive position their cheers of three times three, would break out. It was one grand jubilee of joy and glory to them; one of sorrow and gloom, of defeat to us. In this frame of mind, some contented, some dissatisfied, we rested quietly by our little fires, destitute of any food to appease the appetite.
Night came and passed, and with it came hopes of the morrow, for a requisition had been made for rations on the Federal commissariat. It came, consisting of four hard tacks apiece. No meat. It was the best that could be done. A drove of beeves in charge of a Federal detail passed. “Earnestly” we begged and pleaded for one to appease our hunger, not allayed by the hard tack. They finally consented, and said, “We do not know how many are in this drove—if one was missing nothing would be said about it.” Taking the hint, we cut one out the herd, and in a few minutes had it killed, skinned and divided. Mahone’s old brigade came in for a share with us, and we looked upon them always as friends and comrades. By the aid of the broken stocks of our rifles we cooked and ate the meat and thanked God for his blessing.
On the 10th and 11th of April  many Federal soldiers came into camp, and we chatted over the war together. Amongst them were some Ohioans of Gibbon’s corps, who took Fort Gregg.3 One of them, an officer of rank, asked “why we fought that d—-d old fort so hard for?” We laughed and told him “twas a way of ours.” They expressed much surprise as to the defense and object. Take it all together, we got along very well together, and detail parties from both armies worked side by side in unloading rations that came by way of the railroad. When we surrendered we numbered but a few over two hundred. Wagoners, details, clerks and the detail left at Dutch Gap had swelled the numbers.4 Our guns were broken. The colors torn to pieces and the bits preserved as souvenirs and mementoes. Before me lies a piece of the battle-flag of the forty-eighth [Mississippi] regiment. It has a bullet-hole through it, received at Fort Gregg. What associations this bit recalls!—what events the mind flashes back to since its baptism at Chancellorsville! Once a proud banner that waved over half a hundred fields, now a mere remnant, but it is fraught with interest, and treasured most carefully.
On the 11th of April  Mahone’s division of about seven hundred men surrendered. Gen. Mahone turned the command over to Gen. Harris, by whom it was surrendered. Drawn up in line, on the highway to Appomattox Station, they stacked arms in token of submission. Receiving a salute of present arms from a Federal command, and amid the roll of drums, they sorrowfully filed away to camp to be paroled. As the division retraced its steps to camp, it was caused to form a hollow square at Gen. Mahone’s head-quarters. He and staff approached. The General then made a brief and touching farewell address; spoke of the renown the command had established; and enjoined upon all to become as good citizens as they had been soldiers. His address was received for a while in solemn silence; the thoughts of the men then gazing upon each other for the last time, were reverting to the past; and as the glories of many fields broke upon the mind, they gave vent to a great shout, which caused no little excitement in a Federal command near us. They heard that old familiar yell for the last time, and even with us, disarmed and prisoners, it caused the same thrill to vibrate in their persons as when upon a contested field. Gen. Mahone approached our brigade with his headquarter flag—the Virginia State, of blue, with white centre, and the well known coat of arms, “Sic semper tyrannus,” [sic, (pun definitely intended), tyrannis] and said, “Mississippians, I bid you a sad farewell, and confide it to your care and trust this flag.” As he said this he tossed it into our ranks. Whence a hundred eager hands rendered it into fragments as mementoes of the last days of that glorious division, excelled by none in all of the Army of Northern Virginia. Alabamians, Georgians, Virginians, Floridians and Mississippians then bade each a good-bye, and Mahone’s Division was a thing of the past. Its struggles, triumphs and privations so nobly borne, are a part of history.5
Gen. Mahone had, by sheer pluck and indomitable will, placed himself high in command; enjoying the command of a fine division, he used it well, and though he struck many bold knocks with it, it was never broken nor defeated outright. From his care it was ready to do his bidding. We believed in his dash and aggressive nature, and believed he should have been placed in an independent command where his skill would have rendered more efficient services to the cause. Of Gen. Mahone we quote: “Mahone was a singular illustration of the fact that the Confederate service, while well calculated to develop the natural native aptitudes of its generals, did not afford all of them full scope for the exercise of the genius thus educed. But kept within narrow limits many high-spirits which felt themselves capable of larger responsibilities, or wider fields than the cramped resources of the South admitted of their undertaking. He was a man of high personal courage and magnetic presence. A stern disciplinarian, he was greatly respected by his men, who, in the hour of battle never fought so well as when under his immediate command. His frequent selection for the conduct of most delicate and difficult movements proved the high esteem in which he was held by Gen. Lee. He was an officer in whom it may be said, were blended the strategic qualities of Soult, and the ardent gallantry of Vandarme.6 Closely watching his front at all times, he never failed to strike the enemy whenever an opportunity offered, and his blows were always felt.” Again: “It is a significant fact, with regard to the various movements conducted by Gen. Mahone, which reflected such lustre on himself, and the Confederate arms, that at no time was he placed under the command of any division commander. So great was the confidence reposed by Gen. Lee in his skill and energy, that in all cases he reported to the corps commander, or directly to the commander-in-chief.”
On the 12th of April , we received our paroles, printed on letter paper, and bearing these words: (I use my own name.)
APPOMATTOX COURT HOUSE, VA.,
April 10th, 1865.
The bearer, Private F[rank]. H. Foote, of Co. F., 48th Regiment of Miss. Infantry, a paroled prisoner of the Army of Northern Virginia, has permission to go to his home, and there remain undisturbed.
Signed, P. Rogers
Capt. Comd’g 48th Miss. Reg’t.
After the receipt of these passes we were at a loss as what to do. Home was distant twelve hundred miles. The country was barren of supplies; no transportation could be had. A few of us decided to return home via the North. We intended to make our way somehow to Cairo, Ill., thence down the Mississippi river. Our company chest, or fund of money, was called into requisition, and we found that each of us, (eleven left), would have fifty dollars in good money of Louisiana banks. It was given out, and nine of us took the route north. Bidding our comrades adieu, we parted company. At the station we found Federal troops unloading a train of rations. We tried every way to get a share, but failed. At last a soldier told us to “look out—he would fix it.” As he came down the platform, he overbalanced himself, and the box of biscuits fell to the ground broken. It didn’t take long to confiscate those crackers. Another kind-hearted soldier said, “one of you stand by the door on the other side, and I will put you out a piece of meat.” We did so, and soon were in possession of a bacon shoulder; it was concealed, and carried to a spring of water near by, where with some coffee provided by the Federal soldiers, who came down and joined us in the dinner, we ate, drank and were happy.
Thanking our kind friends, we set out on our long journey. That night, before we set out, the 15th [of April 1865], I think, the news of the assassination of Mr. Lincoln was received in camp. It threw a deep gloom over the Federal camp, and for a little while danger was apprehended from the excited Federals. But this soon blew off. Not a word was said that I knew of, of the justness of the act that plunged a nation into grief and took the life of a good man. Not a Confederate soldier cheered the deed, nor gave vent to any expression of joy over the event. On the contrary, it was generally condemned. Of course we knew nothing of the character of President Lincoln. But the act that deprived him of his life was not upheld by the soldiers of Lee’s army.
Our first night out we camped with a lot of Federal bummers, wagoners and cattle drivers. A fight was imminent at one time between us. It was the only affront or insult we had received since the surrender. The ruffians and bummers flung the insult. Near Farmville we slept in a tobacco barn; it was half full of tobacco in the leaf. About a dozen soldiers were already in the building when we arrived. As it was raining hard we spread our blankets on the tobacco and tried to sleep; we began to feel sick and nauseated and began to sneeze. So many persons trampling on the tobacco had caused a dust to arise from it, which made us sick. At Burkeville we got a mount on the cars of the U. S. Military Road, which dropped us at City Point. We passed the Federal lines, and saw the Ordnance and Pioneer corps taking up torpedoes from around the heavy forts. At City Point we secured transportation by water to Washington City, where we arrived about nine o’clock, on the 17th of April . We reported some thirty odd, to the Provost Marshal, who inquired our business. He showed considerable trepidation of manner, and hastily sent us to the military barracks, where a good meal was given us. He explained afterwards that he feared an attack by a mob on us. He told us of the narrow escape of Gen. Payne of the C. S. A., who had to seek the protection of a gunboat from a mob.
The excited condition of the people was somewhat natural, as it was the day of President Lincoln’s funeral. The streets were draped in mourning, and the people had a sad look about them, and were in tears. We were sent under an escort over to Alexandria, and put in a large building near the river. From this building we saw a portion of Sherman’s army pass going to the grand review at Washington. Some jeered at us and flung vile epithets; the real soldier passed in silence. Daily our accommodations were narrowed as prisoners were brought in. Almost every command was represented. Some of Mosby’s partisans were there. An officer of his was stopped by a contemptible little Sergeant, of the name of Belknap. I never saw such an expression of mortification on a man’s face as there. He was powerless and had to submit. This same Sergeant attempted to stop a little creole for some offense’ instantly with drawn and clasped knife he sprang for his insulter, and but for the prompt interference of others, he would have killed him there. This Sergeant had more mean, petty ways about him, than any one I ever saw; and many vowed his heart’s blood. The Major Commandant of the post, Foster, was a narrow minded bigot, and subjected us to every annoyance possible. He forced us to cut our brass buttons off, and would take possession of them, if he could. He bullied us, and tried to force us to take the oath. We finally threw ourselves upon the dignity of our paroles, and that quieted him for awhile. For some reason he carried some of us to the county jail, which was full to overflowing with Federal deserters and bounty jumpers. Four of us occupied a cell six by six for twenty-four hours. The place was reeking with vermin. A bounty jumper from New York was there, condemned to death. He did not seem to mind it, and said his mother was well provided for, as he had made seven thousand dollars out of the business.
From this den we were sent to the I. O. O. F building, and remained there a week, when we were sent to New York. We addressed a letter to Gen. Grant, then in Washington City, asking him why we were detained as prisoners, in violation of our paroles, and further asked transportation home. The letter was duly forwarded, and in consequence, we obtained our release, and transportation furnished to New Orleans. We fell into line most willingly, and marched to the steamboat landing most cheerfully. The streets were crowded with ladies, who rejoiced with us at our release. In shaking hands with one of them, I was pleased to find left in my hand a dollar greenback. Several other hand shakes did not result so favorably. Another kind lady bought several baskets of fruit and cake, and had it distributed to us. A drunken Federal sided up to a mess-mate of mine and attempted to snatch a Phi-Beta pin from his shirt front, claiming it as his brother’s, and taken from him at Manassas. Luckily it had the proper owner’s name on it, and the officer who quelled the trouble was a member of the same society. The soldier was taken in charge, and we were not troubled any more.
We arrived next morning at 5 o’clock in New York City by rail, reported to the provost marshal at Castle Garden Barracks, and took a good wash of heads, hands and feet, and then enjoyed a substantial meal with the U. S. soldiers. The steamer McClellan was to leave at 12 m[eridian, i.e. noon]. Our captain, Carberry, from New York, who had us in charge, told us we were free until that time, and cautioned us against getting lost in the streets. The Christian Association, through its agents, gave each of us a testament, as an expression of good will. We got our money changed, and indulged in eating and drinking, having our hair cut, and the pests removed therefrom. We also laid in a supply of liquor for us at sea, as an antidote for seasickness. At 11 o’clock we fell into line, marched somewhere through the city, whose inhabitants gazed at us in wonder. At 12 m[eridian]. The ship fired her gun and slowly steamed out from the wharf. A French man-of-war in the harbor was crowded with sailors, who gave us three cheers as Lee’s soldiers. On board were quite a number of Confederate deserters to be sent to New Orleans. They gave us some trouble, whereupon Capt. Carberry made a speech to them, and told them plainly that he would shoot them like dogs, and that he had no respect for any man who deserted his colors. Many of us were sea-sick, and did not care whether the ship went to the bottom or not. Capt. Carberry’s uniform kindness won our esteem and regard. We presented him with a testimonial of resolutions of our appreciation of his kindness. He accepted it with more pleasure, he said, than he did his commission, and would always endeavor, as he had heretofore, to so live, as to merit the esteem of every-one. This appreciation of a Federal officer, by a gang of prisoners, who fought against him, was pleasant to both parties; and is cited to show that the rough usages of war had not entirely blunted the sensibilities of gentlemen.
Arrived at New Orleans, we were turned over to the Provost Marshal, who stored us in a cotton shed; then inspected our paroles, and offered transportation at some convenient opportunity. We declined the latter, as we were with friends, and struck out, with the permission of the officer, to see them. On passing out we were gruffly hailed by a darkey sentinel to “luff dem clothes off,” meaning our jackets. We cut our buttons off, and threw the garments into a far corner, where if they did not crawl off it is a wonder. Then in woolen shirts that had campaigned from Virginia to Pennsylvania and back again; with coarse, heavy pants, patched with numerous pieces of divers colors; coarse woolen socks, and shoes of rough material, two sizes above a fit; and head topped off with an apology for a hat, we strutted down and up the streets until we found some acquaintances. From one, a borrowed coat of immaculate white adorned the person of the writer; this answered until a genuine Samaritan came to our relief, and then, arrayed in genuine store-clothes, after luxurious baths, we were once more transferred to the civil walks of life.
Thus passed away with us the last vestige of army life; and four years of weary war were passing away as a dream. By steamer we reached our home, after an absence of three years and nine months; had fought in thirty-two actions, and left the bones of nearly one-half the company in consecrated soil. Out of one hundred and eight who marched away to a seeming frolic at the government expense, eighty only came back together. Forty-two maimed ones told of the tumult of war and its chances. We were welcomed right royally by all, mingled with tears of sorrow for those who had gone down in the fierce blasts of battle, or wasted a precious life in the hospital wards. Thus we gradually sank into peaceful pursuits, and as particles of a once grand army that was hardly rivaled, the Army of Northern Virginia dissolved into seeming nothingness, and the dream of “F. Uno Duo” also dissolved with the cause, while, “Alas!
The warrior’s banner has taken its flight
To greet the warrior’s soul.”
FRANK H. FOOTE,
Late Co. F, 48th Miss. Reg’t., A. N. Va.7
Harris’ Mississippi Brigade Series from the 1884 The Clarion (Jackson, MS):
- NP: September 10, 1884 The Clarion (Jackson, MS): The Death Grapple at Petersburg: Last Days of Harris’ Mississippi Brigade, Part 1
- NP: September 17, 1884 The Clarion (Jackson, MS): The Death Grapple at Petersburg: Last Days of Harris’ Mississippi Brigade, Part 2
- NP: September 24, 1884 The Clarion (Jackson, MS): The Death Grapple at Petersburg: Last Days of Harris’ Mississippi Brigade, Part 3
- NP: October 1, 1884 The Clarion (Jackson, MS): The Death Grapple at Petersburg: Last Days of Harris’ Mississippi Brigade, Part 4
- NP: October 8, 1884 The Clarion (Jackson, MS): The Surrender-Homeward Bound!: Last Days of Harris’ Mississippi Brigade, Part 5
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The Battle of Sailor’s Creek was fought on April 6, 1865, and resulted in a disaster to the Confederate rear guard. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This last fight is known as the Battle of Appomattox Court House. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Portions of Harris’ Mississippi Brigade had manned Fort Gregg and other portions manned Fort Whitworth during a rear guard action on April 2, 1865 during the Third Battle of Petersburg. They faced the soldiers of John Gibbon’s XXIV Corps, Army of the James during the engagement. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: When Harris’ Brigade was called to defend Petersburg on April 2, 1865, they had just come from a position at Howlett’s Bluff, overlooking Dutch Gap on the James River. A detachment of men had been left in this position and became separated from Harris’ main force during the retreat, joining them in time. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: During the Siege of Petersburg and on to Appomattox, Mahone’s Division, Third Corps was made up of five brigades: Harris’ Mississippians, Weisiger’s Virginians, Sanders’ Alabamians, Wright’s old Georgia Brigade, and a brigade of Floridians which contained all of the Florida troops in the Army of Northern Virginia. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The most popular military conflicts to study by Civil War era soldiers were the Napoleonic Wars. The French especially were glorified. To be compared to Napoleon’s lieutenants was a desirable thing indeed. ↩
- “The Death Grapple at Petersburg! Last Days of Harris’ Mississippi Brigade.” The Clarion (Jackson, MS). October 8, 1884, p. 1 col. 3-5 ↩