Sunday, February 17, 2019

One Family's Sacrifice Exemplifies The True Cost of the Civil War

When studying or discussing the American Civil War we often focus on statistics and those statistics usually include a numerical listing of the casualties: those killed, wounded, captured or found missing  after any skirmish or major engagement.  What we many times fail to communicate or consider is what all those casualties signified, someone's loved one, a family member, a father, son, brother, uncle, nephew or cousin.  Real men with real hopes, ambitions and desires.

One family from Mississippi via Alabama and Louisiana lost five boys in the war, four brothers and a cousin of the brothers.  Due to family circumstances and the death of the parents of the brothers, when they were all less than fifteen years old, all the boys were raised by the family of the cousin, that is, they grew up together in the same household near Aberdeen in Monroe County, Mississippi.

Although raised together, at least for a time, the young men fought on different sides during the war.  One served with distinction in the Union cavalry and the other four, one of whom proudly carried the colors for his regiment, fought for the Confederacy.  Three were killed in or went missing in battle, in Virginia, the fourth died as a prisoner of war at Point Lookout, Maryland and the fifth took his own life within years of returning home to Mississippi after the war.  One of the soldiers is buried in the cemetery at the United States Military Academy at West Point another is buried at the Confederate Cemetery at Point Lookout.  The location of the remains of the other three is unknown.  Here is their story in a little more detail.

The brothers, including the eldest Benjamin Franklin and the three youngest, Francis Marion, Christopher Columbus and Augustus Romalus are four of the six sons of Benjamin E. And Matilda Davis.  They were born in Perry County, Alabama between 1831 and 1840.  In the fall of 1840 the boys, their parents and their other brothers William Owen and Thomas Jefferson, moved to Union Parish, Louisiana where their father opened a store northeast of Farmerville.  Their mother died in 1843 and their father passed away on or about June 26, 1846.  The orphaned brothers moved to Monroe County, Mississippi where William Taylor became their guardian.  Taylor, a successful planter, was the husband of Matilda Holladay's older sister Agnes Portatier. The cousin of the Davis brothers, James H. Taylor was the son of William and Agnes.

Benjamin Franklin Davis was a career army officer.  After graduating from West Point July 1, 1854 as a brevet 2nd lieutenant he was assigned to the 5th U. S. Infantry in Texas.   In March 1855 he transferred to the 1st U. S. Dragoons and served with them in New Mexico Territory and California until November 1861 when he headed east with the 1st U. S. Cavalry.  Captain Davis lead a squadron of cavalry at the Battle of Williamsburg that routed the enemy and helped save a Union artillery battery.  In June 1862 Davis was promoted to Colonel and assumed command of the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry.  He trained them to be an elite fighting force and helped lead the 8th New York and portions of five other cavalry regiments in a daring escape from Harpers Ferry, Virginia into Maryland and Pennsylvania on the night of September 14, 1862. After the Battle of Antietam Colonel B. F. Davis was assigned to brigade command.  He was commanding a brigade of cavalry under Brigadier General John Buford when he was shot from the saddle and mortally wounded by Lt. Robert Owen Allen of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, early in the morning, on June 9, 1863, near where Beverly Ford crosses the Rappahannock River during the Battle of Brandy Station.  Colonel Davis's body was taken to West Point and interred in the cemetery on the grounds of the United States Military Academy.

Augustus Romalus Davis, a lawyer in Monroe County, Mississippi in 1860 and the youngest of the 6 Davis boys was the first to enter the Confederate Army.  He was 20 years old when he enrolled as a private in the Van Dorn Reserves in February 1861 at Aberdeen, Mississippi.  The Van Dorn Reserves would become Company I, 11th Regiment Mississippi Infantry.  Davis was ordered into the Confederate Service on April 26, 1861. The regiment formed in Corinth, Mississippi , a major railroad hub, on May 4, 1861 and soon headed to the theatre of war in Virginia.  He was with the regiment when they mustered into Confederate service May 13,1862 at Lynchburg. A. R. Davis would serve as a private in Company I  from his enlistment date until April 21, 1864 when he was promoted to ensign.  His compiled service records note he was absent from the regiment sick at Strasburg in September and October 1861.  He received a $50.00 bounty in February 1862 when he reenlisted and was given a 2 month furlough. November and December 1862 found him absent from the regiment  recovering from wounds.  He was killed in action on August 18, 1864 at the Battle of Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg, Virginia in the waning months of the war.

Francis Marion Davis, known as Marion by his friends and family, was about 13 years old when his eldest brother left Mississippi for West Point. They might have met twice more before the civil war, once when Benjamin Davis had a summer furlough from the military academy between his 3rd and 2nd class year and again when Benjamin came home after graduation and before heading to Texas in December 1854.

 In 1850 Marion was living with his guardian William Taylor's family.  Marion was still  in Monroe County, Mississippi when he enlisted as a private in Company I, 11th Regiment Mississippi Infantry in November 1861.  By this time the 11th Mississippi and Marion's younger brother Augustus  were already in Virginia.   Marion would serve with the regiment throughout the winter, spring and early summer of 1862.  He also would receive a $50.00 bounty and a furlough in February 1862 after re-enlisting. In late June and early July 1862, when the 7 Days Battles were occurring around Richmond,  Virginia the 11th Mississippi was brigaded with the 2nd Mississippi as part of Evander Laws Brigade of William H C. Whiting's Division.  Marion Davis would appear on the list of missing in action from the 11th following the Battle of Gaines Mill, June 27, 1862.

Christopher Columbus Davis was probably born in early 1839 as he was sandwiched between Marion and Augustus.  He would have gone to Mississippi with his 5 brothers after his fathers death.  The 1850 Census shows him living with his cousin Sarah E. Clopton and her husband Dr. John H. Clopton.  William Taylor appear to have been his guardian.

Christopher would enlist as a private in Company D (William Beck's Company), 2nd Regiment Mississippi Infantry on April 27, 1861 for twelve months.  At the time of his enlistment Christopher was listed as a 21 year old farmer from Pine Grove, Tippah County, Mississippi.  He stood 5 feet 8 1/2 inches tall, with blue eyes, black hair and a dark  complexion.  One wonders if he resembled his older brother Benjamin who stood 5 feet 9 or 10 inches tall and weighted about 130 pounds in 1849 when he was 18 years old.

The 2nd Mississippi was mustered into Confederate service May 10, 1861 at Lynchburg, VA. Christopher was present with his company throughout 1861.  On February 9,  1862 he received  a $50.00 bounty for re-enlisting for 2 years.  C. C. Davis was listed on the Roll of Honor for action at 2nd Manassas August 28-30 where he was the regimental color bearer.  Private Davis was present at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 and would have been engaged when John Bell Hood's Division made a successful counter-attack against the Union 1st Corps between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m.  Christopher was wounded in the right arm during Hood's counterattack and left on the field.  He was captured, sent to Fort Delaware as a POW and later exchanged in December 1862, after which he rejoined his regiment.

On February 16, 1863 Private Christopher C. Davis was promoted to 4th Sergeant.  He was with the 2nd Mississippi at Gettysburg although he did not participate in the fighting on July 1st because he was sick.  Sergeant Davis would be wounded in both legs while carrying the colors during Pickett's Charge.  He would be captured July 5, 1863 and taken to a hospital  either in or near Gettysburg.  On July 19, 1863 Christopher was transferred to A hospital in Chester, Pennsylvania.   On October 4, 1864 C.C. Davis arrived at Hammond General Hospital at Point lookout, Maryland as a POW.

On January 26, 1864 Christopher C. Davis "galvanized" when he became a sergeant in the 1st U. S. Volunteers.  He officially mustered into Federal service on May 1, 1864 at Norfolk, Virginia.  He deserted August 2, 1864 and entered Confederate lines at Suffolk, Virginia.  In September 1864 Davis was promoted to ensign to rank from August 25, 1864.

Christopher Davis survived the Civil War and returned to Mississippi after the Confederate troops surrendered only to take his own life by suicide several years after returning home.  In a letter written by D. J. Hill, who was a member of the 2nd Mississippi, to Rufus R. Dawes, of the 6th Wisconsin, on September 12, 1893, Hill noted C.C. Davis may have taken his life due to "the grief over the loss of his four bothers during the war, coupled with the defeat of the Confederacy." (See Note at bottom of page)

James H. Taylor was born March 9, 1839 in Monroe County, Mississippi, the son of William and Agnes Taylor.  He spent his teenage years growing up with four of the Davis brothers who were his cousins.  On June 25, 1861 James Taylor would join for duty and enroll as a private in the Hamilton Guards which became Company B, 20th Regiment Mississippi Infantry.  By October 1861 he would be a 4th Sergeant.

The 20th Mississippi  originally served with John B. Floyd's Brigade in Western Virginia after mustering into Confederate service before being transferred to Tennessee in early 1862. In February  the regiment was sent to reinforce Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River.

 James H. Taylor was captured at Fort Donelson on February 16, 1862 and sent to Camp Douglas in Chicago as a POW.  Sergeant Taylor was exchanged in September 1862 near Vicksburg, Mississippi and rejoined his regiment which remained in the western theatre.  Taylor was captured a second time, at Brownsville (Edward's Station) on May 16, 1863  during the Vicksburg Campaign.   He was sent to Fort Delaware as a POW in June and later transferred to Point Lookout, Maryland on September 20, 1863.  Taylor died at Point Lookout on August 22, 1864.  He was buried in the Confederate Cemetery at the prison.

Maybe it is a blessing the Davis brothers parents proceeded them in death so they did not have to experience the loss of four of their six sons because of the fratricidal conflict that was the Civil War.  One must also wonder how difficult it must have been for William and Agnes Taylor when they realized that 5 boys they had helped raise were casualties of this great American conflict.  It must not have been easy to put their shattered lives back together.

Most of the information in this post related to the military careers of the Davis brothers and their cousin who served with the Confederacy is derived from their Compiled Service Records.

Note:  The Hill letter to Rufus Dawes, who met C. C. Davis on the field of Gettysburg on or about July 5, 1863 is in the Special Collections at McCain Library at the University of Southern Mississippi (Dawes (Rufus R.) Letters, Collection M30).