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Reminiscences of a Mississippian In Peace and War by Frank Alexander Montgomery

Reminiscences of a Mississippian In Peace and War
Frank Alexander Montgomery

Chapter V. 

Excitement — Elections before the war — Formation of companies — Bolivar troop — Secession of the state — Mississippi a nation — Army and custom houses — General Charles Clark— Anecdote. 

I am not writing a history of the state, or of the war, though perhaps it may be a little of both, at least as far as I was personally concerned in events that occurred in the state, or in the army, of which, to some extent, I was a part. Hence, I have passed rapidly by many matters of interest in the history of the state to the time when I became a resident of Bolivar county, even touching lightly on the exciting campaign of 1 851, in which the issue even then was secession or union, though secession was not openly advocated or avowed, except by a few extremists. I was deeply interested in this, though too young to take a very active part, for I had not long become of age. I was then a unionist, and voted for General Clark, who was the union candidate for the convention which had been called, and afterwards for Mr. Foote, who, though a Democrat, was the union candidate for governor, and was supported generally by the Whigs. But the time had now come when I was to take an active part in public matters, and in an election held in the fall of 1855 I was elected a member of the board of police (now supervisors) and its president, which office I held till the secession of the state, when other and more exciting duties devolved upon me. I recollect in this election less than ninety votes were cast, and it was the full vote of the county. Less than fifteen years afterwards, nearly or quite four thousand votes were cast in the county, a surprising change and a sad and humiliating one to the proud men who now looked on in utter helplessness, while their emancipated slaves crowded them from the polls. Elections before the war were simple affairs to what they have since become in Mississippi. In the election of county officers, politics was unknown; Whigs and Democrats ran as they pleased, and were voted for without regard to their politics. The same was true of judges, who were then elective. Only in the election of state officers, members of the legislature, congress and in presidential elections was the line drawn. The river counties of the state, and most, if not all, of the large slave-holding counties, were Whigs; the others, Democrats. In general elections, the Whig counties would be first heard from, and the Whigs be often sanguine of success; but wait, the Democrats would say, till you hear from Tishomingo; and, sure enough, the Whigs would nearly always be beaten. 

As soon as the result of the presidential election of 1860 was known, Governor Pettus called the legislature together, and that body at once called a convention. Excitement ran high, and General Clark, now an open and avowed secessionist, was a candidate for the convention, his opponent being Mr. Miles H. McGenhee. There was only one question in the canvas, whether there should be separate state action or whether the State of Mississippi should await the action of other southern states, for all were agreed that the time for decisive action had come. On this issue, General Clark, who was for separate action, was defeated, but the convention, when it met, was overwhelmingly his way, and every school boy now knows the result. 

All over the state military companies were formed, and in Bolivar a splendid cavalry company, called the Bolivar troop, was organized, General Clark being the captain, and I the 1st lieutenant. Our captain alone knew anything about drilling the company, for he had served in the Mexican war as colonel of the Second Mississippi regiment. He was away a great deal, and the work devolved on me. I applied myself with zeal to my new duties, bought books on military tactics, and was soon able to put up a pretty good drill. Later, when the state had seceded, the company was reorganized as a part of the army of Mississippi, and I was elected and commissioned its captain. It is a fact overlooked, or, at least, not noticed, as far as I have seen, that Mississippi enjoyed for a time the honor and distinction of being an independent nation. She dissolved her connection with the union on the 9th of January, 1861, and formed no new ties till she entered the Southern Confederacy by the act of a convention of delegates from the state and other southern states at Montgomery, Alabama, in February, 1861. 

She had her own army, commanded for a short time by Major-General Jefferson Davis, with four brigadier-generals, Earl Van Dorn, Charles Clark, J. L. Alcorn and C. H. Mott. She also established a custom house at Commerce on the river below Memphis; perhaps in other places which I do not recall. All of these great men are gone, Mott being killed early in the war. The life of Mr. Davis is known 'of all men; of Generals Van Dorn and Alcorn, I will speak in other places, but will here give a brief sketch of the life and services of that distinguished citizen, Charles Clark. 

Elsewhere I have said he was a great man, and so he was held by all who knew him. Of an indomitable will, with a courage which never quailed, with an intellectual capacity of the highest order, trained and polished, but always subservient to his will, and with a devotion to his state which was absolutely unselfish, no truer patriot ever lived and no more gallant soldier ever drew his sword. He was born iu Cincinnati, Ohio, of, as I have said elsewhere, an ancestry which came from Maryland, and came to the State of Mississippi when a very young man, teaching school at first, but reading law at the same time. As soon as he received his license, he opened an office in Fayette, and rose at once to the front ranks of his profession, the contemporary and equal of the great lawyers of that day. He served in the legislature both from Jefferson county and afterwards from Bolivar. 

He was colonel of the Second Mississippi regiment in Mexico, and though the regiment was never in action, he returned with the reputation of being a thorough soldier. He was early appointed by Mr. Davis a brigadier-general in the Confederate army, and commanded a division in the battle of Shiloh, where he was wounded in the shoulder, carrying the bullet with him to the grave. He also commanded a division at the battle of Baton Rouge. In this battle he received the wound which confined him to his bed for many months, and from which he never recovered. He has often told me that both he and General Breckenridge, who commanded in the battle, disapproved of the attack at Baton Rouge, believing the place untenable, if the assault were successful, but it was ordered and a soldier must obey. General Clark was left on the field too desperately wounded to be moved. He was carried into the city by the federals, and at his request was placed on a boat and sent to New Orleans, where he could have the services of his old friend, Dr. Stone, an eminent surgeon of that day. His wife was permitted to go to him, and under their joint care in a few months he was exchanged and able to return to Mississippi, though it was long before he was able to walk even on crutches; indeed, as long as he lived he had to use one at least. At the election of 1863, he was elected governor, and this trying position he held till forced by federal bayonets to yield. He was literally ejected from his office by force, refusing to give it up on demand, for he said he had received it from the people of the state and to them alone would he surrender it. General T. J. Wharton, not long since gone to his reward, then the attorney-general of the state, has often described to me the scene when the federals marched into the office, and the old hero, tall and commanding even on his crutches, stood in the door and denounced the outrage, as one worthy a painter's highest skill. He was taken to Fort Pulaski and there confined with other distinguished southerners, but was finally permitted to return home. He resumed the practice of his profession, and continued in the quiet pursuits of private life till the summer of 1S75, when he took an active part in the redemption of the state from the blighting effects of carpet bag rule. The people of the state had almost lost hope, but gathering courage from despair, a tax-payers' convention was called and held in Jackson the summer of that year, and General Clark, a delegate from Bolivar, was elected chairman. This was the entering wedge; the people then rose in their might and white supremacy was restored forever in the state by the election of that year. General Clark was then appointed chancellor of his district, and held this office till his death about two years later. It was my privilege to be with him in his last hours, for it is a privilege to see a brave and good man die. He could not speak when I arrived at his house, but his clear, bright eyes showed the conscious soul within, and as he turned them on me, I would have given worlds if he could then have spoken. He sleeps his last sleep on a high mound, built by some ancient and long forgotten race, but as long as the history of the state is read, his name and fame wall live. 

Two or three years after the war had ended he had occasion to visit Natchez and was accompanied by his son-in-law, Major W. E. Montgomery. They took passage on a Cincinnati boat. Among the passengers happened to be a gentleman who had been a federal officer, and in the battle of Baton Rouge. This gentleman and General Clark soon became known to each other, and were talking about that battle when some northern man on the boat who had been imbibing too freely interrupted them by contradicting a statement the General made in a very insulting manner, saying, "old man, that ain’t true." The General then could walk with one crutch and a cane, a heavy lignum vitae, and he rose suddenly to his feet and before the fellow could get out of reach brought the cane down on his head with such force as to shiver it, and for a while render him senseless. There was great excitement for a time, but it was generally agreed that the punishment was well deserved, and the rest of the trip was pursued in peace. I have this account from Major Montgomery who saw it. Some years later there was a sequel to it. In the summer of 1876, Gen. Clark paid a visit to a daughter then living in California, and on return changed cars, I believe, at Omaha. After he had got his seat and made himself comfortable on the sleeper, the conductor told him he must change his seat, which he refused to do. The conductor got angry and insulting, and said he would make him do it, and went off to get the help. The negro porter on the car who had been looking on, now came up and asked him if he were not Governor Clark of Mississippi. The General was a good deal surprised, but told him he was, whereupon the porter told him that he was a porter on the steamboat, when he knocked the man down and remembered him. The porter then went off in search of the conductor and told him what he knew, and he was not further disturbed but was kindly treated, especially by the porter who could not do too much for him. I asked the General when he told me the incident, what he would have done if the conductor had tried to put his threat into execution, and he said he would have made the best fight he could with his crutches; he had them both on this trip, and no cane, and of course carried no arms. He certainly would have made the fight if it had cost him his life. 

Frank A. Montgomery, Reminiscences of a Mississippian In Peace and War (Cincinnati: The Robert Clarke Company Press, 1901), 38-43.


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