Narrative History

PART I: April - May 1862

In the spring of 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis puts forth a requisition to the state of Alabama to recruit and train 12,000 more troops. Men of stature - lawyers, doctors, politicians - and others with the power of persuasion, immediately begin to crisscross the region raising their own companies of men. As the raw recruits gather, regiments are organized by forming these independent companies into larger units. Auburn, Alabama, is one of the places where large groups of these men begin to assemble.

April 12, 1862 - The first death among the men who will become the Alabama 37th Regiment of Volunteer Infantry appears to be 40-year-old raw recruit H. Parker of the "Davis Guards" (soon to become Company F). He dies of "brain fever" at Greenville, Alabama, having had enlisted only one month earlier on March 12 in Pike County. Sadly, his death marks the first of scores more from disease that will soon follow. Ironically, the second death appears to be a man with the same last name.

Sixty-year-old John D. "Uncle John" Parker, 1st Corporal of "Moses B. Greene’s Company of Volunteers" (later Co. A) appears to be the next to fall, literally. He dies on April 18, 1862 at Auburn after enlisting there on March 22. While marching, he stumbles and turns his ankle, then remarkably, he develops a fever and dies during the night. Perhaps it is more likely a physical condition relevant to his age - possibly a heart attack or stroke - that actually causes him to fall and then sprain his ankle rather than the reverse causing his death, as several of the men assume at the time.

April 28, 1862 - Typical of many families, John Malcolm Culpepper (photo at left), a farmer from near Wadley in Randolph County, enlists in "L. P. Hamner’s Company of Volunteers" (which will become Co. B) at Camp Johnson then located outside Daviston, Alabama, alongside two of his brothers - Francis Marion and William Araspes Culpepper. Two cousins: Robert Jefferson Culpepper and William Washington Culpepper, both also enlist and see service in Company B.

Measles is already present in Camp Johnson by the time the Culpeppers arrive. Their family knows full well about this dreaded camp disease as their youngest brother, Private Lewis W. Culpepper of the 15th Alabama Regiment died from it in December 1861. The presence of disease has kept the newly formed Regiment from moving off today toward Corinth, Miss., as planned. A delay of three days (until, May 1, 1862 is ordered) allowing the Regiment some time to recover.

May 1, 1862 - Numbering 1,257 men, (at least on paper) the Regiment is ordered to board train cars at Auburn bound for Montgomery, Ala. Only 722 men are well enough to travel. The wrath of disease is being felt in the ranks of the newly acquainted men. Those who make the journey arrive in Montgomery at 5 p.m. the same day. The Regiment pitches their tents and remains at Montgomery through the weekend.

Sunday, May 4, 1862 - Lieutenant Thomas Jefferson Carlisle (Co. D) writes in his diary:
"... Rev Frank Calloway, an aged minister, well and favorably known in Chambers county, preached to the regiment in a grove near the camp. His gray head, faltering tongue and sage advice on that occasion, made an impression on the hearts of many soldiers ..." 
- Lt. Thomas Jefferson Carlisle

The men who are assembled to hear him speak can not possibly realize how much, and just how soon, they will need the old preacher's words of comfort.

May 5, 1862 - Orders come to strike tents and prepare to march. The men pack their personal belongings and load the heavy burdens on their backs or carry bulky parcels in their hands. They begin marching at 10 a.m. to the landing at Montgomery where they start to board the Selma boat ultimately bound for Corinth, Miss., by way of Mobile. That is when tragedy strikes.

Private William Arthur Gilmer (Co. I) slips from the gangway and falls into the swirling dark water below. His heavy clothes and pack drag him to the bottom never to be seen by his comrades again. The diarist Carlisle notes the sad scene:
"... A large crowd of soldiers and citizens stood upon the bank in breathless silence and saw him go down so quickly that no aid could be tendered him."
Gilmer has just returned from completing a 12-month stint in the 7th Alabama Infantry and has been home for only a few days before re-enlisting in Company I of the 37th Alabama Volunteers.

Private Sylvanus L. Burney (Co. G) recalled Gilmer's drowning:
"... As we went aboard the boat walking near the edge there was a large hawser rope hanging from the upper deck. We suppose [Gilmer] thought this a stationary post for he leaned against it and overboard he went. The water was some 30 feet deep and running swiftly so that he was drawn under the boat and never rose at all. The boat soon left. ..."
The large crowd had gathered in anticipation of sending the Regiment off with rousing cheers of "Huzzah!" Yet, no cheers break the weight of the silence bearing down on the men who have just witnessed the first of the very public deaths they will see repeated again and again in their ranks. The method may differ, but the result is the same. As Carlisle writes glumly:
"... The boat soon moved off from the shore, but not a huzzah came from the soldiers as she glided down the stream of the proud old Alabama, a thing very unusual when troops are going to the scene of action."
The boat with its nearly silent occupants reached Selma, Ala., by dusk, but remains there only shortly before making steam for its large paddle wheels and propels them on toward Mobile. The men jostle with one another for sleeping space on the cramped boat before settling down for a restless night.

May 13, 1862 - The ALABAMA 37th REGIMENT OF VOLUNTEER INFANTRY, C.S.A. which before war’s end will see more than 2,000 men fill its ranks, is officially mustered into Confederate service.

These men will spend the remainder of the month of May traveling to the western seat of war.

Company = (100 soldiers, officers and noncommissioned officers) led by a Captain°
Regiment = (10 Companies totaling 1,000 men) led by a Colonel
Brigade = (5 Regiments totaling 5,000 men) led by a Brigadier General
Division = (3-5 Brigades totaling 15,000 to 25,000 men) led by a Major General
Corps = (3 Divisions totaling 45,000 to 75,000 men) led by a Lieutenant General
Army = (3 Corps totaling 135,000 to 225,000 men plus Cavalry) led by a General

*The actual figures of the units were in reality much less than the ideal figures stated, reflecting the inability of an Army to keep its units up to full strength due to battle loss, disease, desertion, and expiration of soldiers' individual terms of enlistment.

°The rank of the ideal leadership shown also varied sharply and, in reality, men of lesser rank than that indicated above often commanded some units.

Known Deaths in the 37th Alabama during April and May 1862:
- Private H. Parker (Co F) of "brain fever" at Greenville, AL - April 12
- Private John D. Parker (Co A) after collapsing during drill at Auburn - April 18
- Private W. M. Gillstrap (Co E) presumably died of disease on or before May 4 in Alabama
- Private William Arthur Gilmer (Co A) of accidental drowning - May 5
- Private R. Thomas (Co F) of dysentery at Auburn - May 6

Known Discharges Issued in April/May 1862:
- Private U. Beaman (Co A) "Rejected by Examining Surgeons"
- Private John W. Creel (Co H) "Rejected by Examining Surgeons"
- Private Henry Echols (Co I) - Discharged May 1862
- Private J.W. Lawrence (Co A) - Dismissed May 15 for "mobility" (or presumably for the lack thereof)

Elsewhere in May 1862 - At Corinth, Miss. - Events are becoming difficult in northern Mississippi for Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. Federal forces under Major General Henry Halleck are building and threaten to force his army from the vital rail center of Corinth, Miss., where Beauregard retired following the early-April "Battle of Shiloh" just across the Tennessee state line.

May 6, 1862 - At Auburn, Ala. - Private R. Thomas (Co. F) dies of dysentery, commonly called "flux." He is but 23 years old.

May 25, 1862 - Back at Corinth, Miss. - After moving 5 miles in 3 weeks, Halleck is in position to lay siege to the town. His preliminary bombardment begins, and Union forces maneuver for position.

May 29-30, 1862 - Overnight, Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard evacuates Corinth, withdrawing to the banks of the Tupelo River. The Federals consolidate their position at the northern Mississippi railhead without further opposition.

NEXT: History - Part II


37th Alabama Regiment of Volunteer Infantry CSA
2300 Cottondale Lane Little Rock, AR 72202

© Copyright 2007 C.C. (Chip) Culpepper


History - Part II
History - Part III
History - Part IV
History - Part V
History - Part VI
History - Part VII
History - Part VIII
History - Part IX