|THE ALABAMA 37TH REGIMENT OF VOLUNTEER INFANTRY,
CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA:
A NARRATIVE HISTORY & CHRONOLOGY
PART II: June - August 1862
June 3, 1862 - Some time between midnight and daybreak, the men of the 37th Alabama arrive at Mobile, but remain on board their transport boat until sunrise. At dawn, they march to a nearby warehouse where they wait until 3 p.m. when they finally board a train bound for Corinth, Miss.
By 7:00 p.m., the weight in the cars, along with the steep grade of the track, forces the train’s conductor to stop the engine. He uncouples several cars and pulls them a few miles up the line and then returns for the rest. By the time he finishes his jockeying, he is so far behind schedule that he must relinquish his train’s right to the tracks.
The 37th Alabama is literally sidetracked at Citronelle, Ala., for the next 15 hours until their conductor regains his rights to the tracks and can start moving again.
June 4, 1862 - By 11 a.m., the train is rolling once again. It continues until the conductor stops for the night, this time for fear that Federal scouts are in the area and that his train will be in serious danger running through the darkness.
Stopping for the night at Macon, Miss. with rumors of Federal troops in the area doesn’t sit well with the men of the Regiment as they are completely unarmed and unable to defend themselves, or the valuable (and attractive target) train upon which they are riding.
June 5, 1862 at Macon, Mississippi - 8:00 a.m. - The men of the Regiment are relieved when their train begins once more to move.
Colonel James F. Dowdell (pictured at left) telegraphs his commanding officer General Braxton Bragg from Enterprise, Miss., informing him that his regiment is on its way to join him near Corinth, Miss. Bragg replies by ordering the Regiment to proceed instead to Columbus, Miss., and once there to report to Brigadier General D.W. Adams and await further instructions.
When the men are forced from the main rail line at Artesia, Miss., they must "strike the grit" and carry their own heavy loads to a branch rail that leads to Columbus. Their little engine’s earlier struggle is made more understandable by the diarist, Carlisle as he writes, "... Each soldier in the regiment had enough baggage to load down a California pack mule...." Veteran soldiers the regiment encounters along the way taunt the green recruits of the 37th because of their heavy packs that are filled with amenities of home including washboards, soap gourds and dish rags that the more seasoned and pack-savvy soldiers have simply learned to live without.
June 8, 1862 - The men arrive at Columbus after dark. Deeply fatigued, they find sleeping quarters anywhere they can among the cannon and boxes of shells at the rail depot. During the night another train, this one loaded with sick and wounded soldiers, arrives at the depot. The next morning, the men of the 37th Alabama are shocked when they awake to find themselves surrounded by the pitiful spectacle of these dead and dying men covering more than an acre of ground.
Columbus itself is Medical Headquarters in the East Louisiana and Mississippi Department of the Confederate Army. Thousands upon thousands of sick and wounded soldiers are transferred to its makeshift hospitals from throughout the region. One report states that on average 20 to 30 soldiers are dying here every day. Diseases like measles, mumps, dysentery, tuberculosis and even small pox decimate unit after unit.
At the train depot, wagons finally arrive to take the dead and sick away, then those very same wagons return to carry the tents and bedrolls of the 37th Alabama.
Later in the day the Regiment establishes camp near "Bluett’s Bridge" (although this is almost certainly a phonetic misuse of the prominent Columbus, Miss., Blewett family's name) that sits astride Luxapalila Creek (called [sic] "Luxebelile" by Carlisle), outside Columbus, Miss. (The site of the old bridge, as seen at bottom right in this 1864-period map of Columbus, is at or near an active railroad bridge just to the south of where modern Pickensville Road crosses Luxapalila Creek).
The camp is appropriately dubbed Camp Bluett. Here, the unit will fare no better than any other group of men living in close proximity to this much disease. In fact, the deaths have only begun.
Known Deaths in the 37th Alabama from Disease during June 1862:
- Private Lemuel P. Smith (Co I) from unknown cause at Mobile - June 2
- Private E. Sperlin (Co F) from "brain fever" at Auburn - June 4
- Private Robert E. Hart (Co G) from unnamed disease at Auburn - June 5
- Private Stephen P. Hargrove (Co D) from unnamed disease at Columbus, MS - June 10
- Private Thomas H. Beasley (Co F) from "measles" at his home in Pike County, AL - June 10
- Private Sanders W. Talbot (Co I) from "measles" at Auburn Sick Camp - June 17
- Private Peyton G. Moncrief (Co G) from unnamed disease at Columbus - June 19
- Private Benjamin A. Asque (Co H) unnamed disease; buried at Columbus - June 20
- Private Thomas Muncrief (Co G) unnamed disease; buried at Columbus -June 20
- Private Hamilton S. Floyd (Co G) from "measles" at home - June 23
- Private William R. Childs (Co G) from "measles" at Columbus - June 25
- Private William B. Hutcherson (Co K) from unnamed disease at home - June 27
- Private Wiley Dorman (Co I) from "pneumonia" at Columbus - June 30
June 19, 1862 - Lieutenant Thomas J. Carlisle, the diarist, who after the war serves as the editor of the Weekly Enterprise of Enterprise, Alabama, writes:
"We arrived at this place (Columbus) with about seven hundred men able for duty and now, we have about two hundred on dress parade this evening, the balance of the regiment being sick ..." June 20, 1862 - Despite the sickness in the camps, rumors circulate quickly among the men. Through unofficial channels, misinformed and hopeful "news" reaches the unit that the French navy has engaged the Union navy at Mobile and the English fleet is just off New Orleans ready to join the battle for Southern Independence. But, rumors are quickly recognized as such by the wise philosophers of the group. Carlisle describes meeting up with one such sage of Company B. He writes in his diary:
"After hearing a long, exciting telegram read ... which stated the Confederates had routed the Feds, killing, wounding and capturing thousands of men, etc ... Our boys were making the very air musical with their huzzahs over the good news; whilst the solider of Company B, sat in silence and appeared indisposed to join in the enthusiasm, when one of the other boys turned to him and said, ’John, what do you think about that news? Well.’ said he, ’I’ll tell you how I am. I have come to the conclusion that I believe nothing I hear, but little I see, and I’ll be damned if I believe half I say myself about this confounded war.’ He had it down about right." June 22, 1862 - Two men from Company I who were left behind at an Auburn Sick Camp catch up to the unit. Privates Joseph Jarrell and James Moorman are greeted by old friends. They bring with them the sad news of the death of the popular Sanders W. Talbot (Co. I) only a few days earlier.
June 29, 1862 - The month of June is extremely hot and dry. In fact, no notable rain has fallen at Columbus since May 29th. Finally, around 3:00 a.m., a brief shower cools the air and settles the dust, which provides a bit of temporary relief to all the sick men still suffering in the camps and hospitals surrounding Columbus.
July 6, 1862 - A great excitement courses through Camp Bluett. A sentinel from Company K, posted on the bridge is wounded by a gunshot. The sound reverberates throughout camp. In the immediate excitement, the sentinel and his partner inform Colonel Dowdell that someone hidden in the nearby brush had shot him in the arm. A thorough search reveals no one. The Regiment, which has yet to be issued any rifles, is understandably on pins and needles fearing a Union attack.
The regimental surgeon, Dr. John Wimblish Oslin, treats the young sentinel’s wound and in doing so pries loose the truth of the matter. It turns out that the wounded soldier, a mere boy who was assigned to guard duty along with another young man, was in fact playing with the pistol he’d been issued. It accidentally discharged and the wound is in that sense "self-inflicted." Fearing severe punishment, the boys had quickly concocted the mysterious "Yankee in the bushes" cover story. The doctor informs the Colonel of the circumstances. No disciplinary action is taken against the boys, and the officers try to conceal the entire matter. Carlisle writes:
"Our Col and other officers ... tried to keep this (accidental shooting) ... from being circulated, should it get out on us, and then the old soldiers would give us a name we would have to carry through the war." Dr. Oslin, aside from now being the camp’s leading detective, has his work cut out for himself with the diseases plaguing the men. In his letter dated July 6, 1862 from Columbus, Miss., Sergeant Thomas Jefferson Strickland (Co B) (photo at right)
writes to his wife:
"... We have lost eight of our regiment and still thare is a probability of more dying soon. We have had the best luck of any company in the regiment. We have not lost any since we arrived at this place while some of them have lost four soldiers and two negros we have two or three very sick in our company. ... Thare is a kind of Pneumonia here that is a most terable disease. But whare thare is so many men together some of them are sure to die with some disease or another ..." Beyond sickness, Dr. Oslin also has his hands full with the camp’s cast of characters. Described as "strictly a temperance man," he is not averse to occasionally prescribing "a wee bit of the critter" (whiskey) to the men during sick calls outside his medical tent.
However, he also has the habit of making "medicinal" whiskey to keep the complaints honest. He instructs his orderly, Willie Callahan, to mix in two pounds of asafetida per barrel of whiskey. The resulting brutally bitter concoction draws tears from even the most stout-hearted men, who look as though they’ve "chewed up forty green persimmons" after downing a dose of the good doctor’s special recipe whiskey. But, the doctor’s line of real patients and malingerers never seems to be reduced. Camp-wide diseases cause tremendous casualties on both sides all during the war.
July 25, 1862 - The "luck" of Company B that Sergeant Strickland had written home about runs out. Private Francis Marion Culpepper dies at Columbus, Mississippi. His death is noted by a fellow member of his company, Private Benjamin Milam, in a letter back home to his sweetheart, a "Miss Francis," below.
"Kind Miss, I now take the opportunity on seating myself to drop you a few lines to let you know how I am getting along. I am well at this time an hoping these lines come to find you all well ... I will tell you something of the helth of the company. This company s got 75 on the sick list but we hav not lost but one an that was F.M Culpper. He dide July the 25th ..."
Known Deaths from Disease during July 1862:
- Private William H. Murphy (Co F) of "measles" at home in China Grove, Alabama while on sick furlough - July
- Private Henry G. Thompson (Co G) of "measles" at Auburn - July 5
- Private Jefferson Tidwell (Co K) of unnamed disease at home in Pike Co, Ala. on sick furlough between July 4 and July 30
- Second Lieutenant Henry M. Merrell (Co C) of unnamed disease at Columbus - July 7
- Private William Farmer (Co H) of "fever" at Columbus - July 10
- Captain James C. Lewis, (Asst Quartermaster) of "Typhoid" at Columbus - July 10
- Private James Jarrell (Co I) of "pneumonia" at Columbus - July 16
- Private Samuel D.P. Glover (Co H) of "Typhoid" at Columbus - July 17
- Private Jeremiah Waters (Co C) of unnamed disease at Columbus, on or before July 17
- Private John A. Sweeney (Co D) of unnamed disease at Columbus, on or before July 19
- Private Robert Brown (Co E) of unnamed disease at Columbus, on or before July 20
- Private W.D. Clark (Co C) of unnamed disease at Columbus - July 20
- Private James Osteen (Co F) of "brain fever" at Columbus - July 20
- Private Martin T. Hill (Co G) of unnamed disease at Columbus - July 22
- Private Henry E. Corbitt (Co H) of "pneumonia" at Columbus - July 22
- Corporal Ferny Granger (Co E) of unnamed disease at Columbus, on or about July 22
- Private Francis Marion Culpepper (Co B) of "measles" at Columbus - July 25
- Private John H. Vann (Co A) of unnamed disease at Columbus - July 26
- Private George W. Duncan (Co B) of unnamed disease - July 28
- Private Angus Cameron (Co C) of "fever" at Saltillo (near Columbus) - July 29
- Private Marcas D.L. Moore (Co B) of unnamed disease - July 31
August 1862 - Still at Columbus, Miss., the 37th Alabama has spent most of its time on guard duty around the camps and the city since arriving in late May.
August 22, 1862 - Sickness still looms large. Diarist Lieutenant T. J. Carlisle describes himself on as having a "high fever and no appetite," yet he is dispatched with three other men to Tupelo, Miss., to acquire ordnance for the unit. The men, James T. Brooks, John P.K. Spence and Dave McMurry, (all of Co. D) prepare enough food for a four-day round trip.
August 23, 1862 - While waiting at the depot at Tupelo, Carlilse, Spence and Brooks wander through a graveyard there. Carlisle captures the scene:
" ... A vast number of soldiers were there, mostly Tennesseeans, occasionally two in the same grave. We walked reverently among the rough and lonely mounds of the heroic dead. No marble shafts mark the last resting place of these soldier boys. But there is a solitary grandeur rising from the soldiers’ graves, which far exceed the towering monuments reared by pomp and gold. While there is honor in being buried upon the battle field or in the soldiers’ cemetery, yet every soldier prefers having his last resting place in the graveyard at home, where dear ones may resort and spread flowers of never fading love and affection ... " At least 16 more men from the 37th Alabama die from disease during August and many are likely buried in the manner described.
Known Deaths from Disease during August 1862:
- Private J.M. Lee (Co C) of unnamed disease at Columbus MS - Aug 4
- Private Patrick Henry Drake (Co A) of unnamed disease at Columbus - Aug 5
- Private Franklin Carpenter (Co K) of unnamed disease at Columbus - before Aug 7
- Private Calvin Rhodes (Co A) of "fever" at Columbus - August 7
- Private Edmond Jackson Williamson (Co G) of "consumption" (tuberculosis) on Aug 9,
most likely in the hospital at nearby Saltillo, MS
- Private Thomas R. Monk, Jr. (Co A) of "fever" at Columbus - Aug 9
- Private B.F. Hill (Co F) of "brain fever" at Columbus - Aug 12
- Private Ephriam Herrington (Co A) of "fever" at Columbus - Aug 12
- Third Sergeant R.M. Hooks (Co F) of "brain fever" at Yandel Hospital in Columbus - Aug 12
- Private Samuel N. Conner (Co G) of "congestion of brain" at Columbus - Aug 14
- Private B. Seagraves (Co F) of "pneumonia" at Columbus - Aug 17
- Private John A. Tucker (Co I) of "pneumonia" at Columbus - Aug 18
- Private G.H. Clower (Co K) of unnamed disease before Aug 18
- Private Elias Duncan (Co A) of "fever" at Saltillo, MS - Aug 19
- Private John R. Glover (Co H) of "Typhoid" at Columbus - Aug 20
- Private M.G. Hudson (Co C) of unnamed disease in Yandel Hospital at Columbus - Aug 26
August 24, 1862 - Two unidentified members of Captain Hamner’s Company B reportedly return to camp after having been captured three days earlier by Federals while they were standing guard duty.
NEXT: History - Part III
37th Alabama Regiment of Volunteer Infantry CSA
2300 Cottondale Lane Little Rock, AR 72202
© Copyright 2007 C.C. (Chip) Culpepper