With the Jasper Greys at Gaines Mill

    The 16th Mississippi Infantry mustered into service in June 1861, having been raised from several counties in southeastern Mississippi. Sent to Virginia, the regiment served with Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley campaign and then, along with the rest of Jackson's army, was sent to the environs of Richmond to assist Robert E. Lee in driving away George McClellan's Army of the Potomac. 

    The following letter was written by a member of the Jasper Greys (Co. F of the 16th Mississippi Infantry) to the editors of the Eastern Clarion newspaper of Paulding, Mississippi in the immediate aftermath of the Seven Days' battles. The author, only identified as "M.," felt confident that Lee's victory over McClellan would turn the tide of war in favor of the Confederacy, going so far to predict that the victory ensured European intervention and thus independence. His missive appeared on the first page of the August 1, 1862 issue. 

Private Silas Andrew Shirley, Co. H (Smith Defenders), 16th Mississippi Infantry. Shirley was killed in action May 12, 1864 at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse and is buried at Spotsylvania Confederate Cemetery (Library of Congress)

Camp of 16th Mississippi Regiment

Near Charles City Courthouse, 27 miles from Richmond, Virginia

July 6, 1862


Friend Carter,

          I have thought for some time of writing you an account of matters and things here, but the constant excitement and the continued succession of battles which are even now not over have prevented me. I now sit down to write you a letter but do not know that I may not be prevented by a battle from finishing it. The portion of the army to which we are attached, embracing the divisions of Ewell and Stonewall Jackson, after going through the fatigue of marching between 400-500 miles in the space of two months, were ordered to join the main army at Richmond, and in doing this our regiment passed through Gordonsville exactly two months from the time we left it to go to the valley. From Gordonsville, which is 76 miles from Richmond, we took the cars for Louisa Courthouse and from there to Beaver Dam, which last place is distant from Richmond about 35 miles.

          From this place, the regiment and all the army that had been in the Shenandoah Valley marched to a place called Ashland 15 miles from Richmond. It left this last place on Thursday the 26th of June, Jackson directing his march on the north of the Chickahominy River so as to get on the rear of the right of the army of General McClellan, which was posted on both sides of the river. McClellan’s left was on the south side of the Chickahominy and within four or five miles of Richmond while the right occupied the area north of that river and varying in distance from six to twelve miles from Richmond. Both wings were strongly fortified. The right was beginning to cut off all communication with Richmond from the north and had already interrupted the railroad to Gordonsville. This part of their army was in communication with the Pamunkey and York rivers, while the left was supplied through the James.

Period map depicting the Battle of Gaines Mill. The 16th Mississippi as part of Richard Ewell's division participated in an attack on the Federal center around 7 p.m.

          The first effort of our forces was to drive them from north of the Chickahominy River, and this was affected in the fight of Friday the 27th of June [Gaines’ Mill]. This was a most bloody and desperate fight and resulted in a complete victory to the Confederate arms. The enemy was driven across the river in great confusion, large numbers of guns and artillery were captured with many stores of every kind. But the loss of life was heavy on both sides. The Yankee loss was the greatest, but ours was considerable. Their artillery was well served, and the scene of the battlefield for the next several days was awful beyond description- men and horses were lying dead in heaps. But I will not dwell on the horrors of the scene; the grand schemes of McClellan, for the present at least, are completely frustrated, and his great effort since that time has been to save his army by a retreat to his gunboats.  There have been heavy battles since, but these have been made by McClellan in order to cover his retreat. It is to be regretted on our side that from the nature of the ground and the long extent of McClellan’s line, no general engagement in open field could take place. Such an engagement, there can be no room to doubt, would have resulted in a completed Waterloo to the boasted young Napoleon.

          The fight of Friday was, however, on a grander scale than any that has ever taken place before on this continent, approaching the great conflicts of European nations. About 50,000 men on each side were engaged and the fight was as desperate as any recorded in the annals of war. The superiority in number and use of the Yankee artillery was manifest, while their positions behind breastworks and abatis gave them greatly the advantage of us also in the use of musketry. If firing alone had been depended on, McClellan would today be in Richmond. But the fight was decided by the bayonet. The Yankees were not, so far as I have learned, driven from a single point except by bayonet charges, and when it came to this, there was no use in talking- they skedaddled every time- couldn’t stand it.

The casualty list of the 16th Mississippi totaled 15 killed and 49 wounded as reported by Lieutenant Colonel J.J. Shannon. This list appeared on the front page of the July 5, 1862 Richmond Dispatch

          For an account of the part borne by the 16th Regiment, I enclose you a copy of a communication published in the Richmond Dispatch. Your readers will recognize the initial of the writer and they may rely on its correctness. The regiment by its conduct in the two engagements in which it has figured has won a reputation for valor second to none in the service, and which must be gratifying to the pride of all Mississippians.

But alas! The libation to glory and to victory must ever be the blood of the brave and true. Our loss has been severe. Our ranks thinned by long marches and fatiguing service in the Valley counted only about 400 muskets on the day of battle. Our of this number we lost nearly 100 in killed and wounded. I regret to say that the Jasper Greys lost more than their portion in killed. Six of our brave boys were among the slain, to wit: Thomas J. Overstreet, Uriah M. Mounger, W.W. Bruce, Clement James, George W. Keeton, and William Davis. Captain Walton received two severe and painful wounds, one in the face, the other in the shoulder, and Richard Ervin was shot through the calf of the leg. Several others were struck with spent balls or stunned by concussions, but none of them sufficiently injured to be reported on the list of wounded. Overstreet and Bruce were shot through the head, Keeton and James through the body below the chest on the right side by a fragment of shell, and Davis was shot through the groin with a musket ball. The two last lived several days, and vain hopes were entertained of their recovery. I feel assured that every attention was given them possible under the circumstances, and heart-rending as will be the melancholy news to their surviving friends, they have the consolation to know that they have died the death of brave men fighting for their country- the noblest death that a man can die.

Battle of Gaines' Mill marker

I say brave men and the term no more than describes our lamented comrades. During the whole of the terrific engagement, no men could have appeared more insensible to danger or borne themselves with more steady fortitude and courage. Their names and deeds, if forgotten by others, will ever be remembered by those who shared with them the perils of that memorable day. Our neighbors of Smith County, Captain Hardy’s company, the “Defenders,” bore themselves with conspicuous gallantry and I am glad to say they were more fortunate than we. Few of the number were wounded and it is though they will all recover. The names are Sergeant Summer, Privates Z.M. Russell, D.O. Summer, and P. Vansant.

It is too early to speculate upon the effects of this victory upon the future of the war, and the general results of the great struggle in which we are engaged. At the present writing, we are unable to tell the exact extent of McClellan’s disaster or of our triumph. But it may safely be assumed that the “on to Richmond” is indefinitely postponed. In fact, I doubt whether it will again be attempted. The news will fall like a peal of thunder in a clear sky upon the Northern ear. Not a doubt was entertained amongst them of the speedy occupation of Richmond by their armies. The public has been so assured with such repeated emphasis and from such sources of authority and intelligence that it will now be impossible with the arts of duplicity and lying possessed by their newspapers and public men to conceal the fact that they have sustained a humiliating defeat; that the grand object of the campaign is further off than before, and that the work of subjugating the South had to be begun de novo. What will be the effect? Will it cause our enemies to listen to reason, and abandon their insane attempts at our conquest, or will it stimulate them to frenzy and induce them to put forth more gigantic efforts than ever for the achievement of their diabolical purposes? You will find these questions in all their bearings discussed to your hand by the best pens in the country, so I will not bore you further than to say that, in my humble opinion, in the first place it assures us of speedy foreign intervention, and in the next (intervention or non-intervention), it assures our ultimate independence, no matter whether the North be filled with despondency or fired to desperation.

Colonel Carnot Posey
16th Mississippi

I should not neglect to state that in the recent battle the conduct of our officers was all that could have been expected of Mississippians, and so, also, with few exceptions, of the men. Colonel Carnot Posey was wounded in the Battle of Cross Keys, and Lieutenant Colonel Shannon had been compelled to fall out sick, and be left behind on the march from the Valley, a circumstance greatly regretted by himself and friends for we know had he been with us, he would have been fully “up to time.” Major Baker and Captain Brown of the Summit Rifles (Pike Co.) and Adjutant Ruth of Co. G led the regiment in gallant style. The latter was killed while rushing forward in advance of the column. The officers of the Greys acted nobly as men ever did on a field of battle. Walton was shot down while charging and cheering his men. Wilson and Terrel both were everywhere urging on the files and encouraging them by voice and example. Duke, to his infinite chagrin and regret, had been detailed in the morning to guard a hospital. We know what his conduct would have been for the army contains no braver man or true spirit.

Reverend G.J. Boheim, who had been with the regiment in the capacity of a volunteer chaplain to the members of his own church for near three months, died suddenly on the 25th of June. His health had been failing for some time and his friends urged him to go home. He was lying in the room with Colonel Shannon conversing when the attention of the latter was arrested by a strange stoppage in his speech, and turning to Boheim, found him dead. Verily a good man has gone to his reward. His remains were sent to the Catholic bishop at Richmond.

The weather here for the last few weeks has been excessively hot, which with marching, watching, and fighting, gives our boys a taste of the stern realities of soldier life. Determined as we all are to stay and see this fight out to the bitter end, there is still not one of us but will hail with joy the day that spans again our Southern sky with the bow of peace, and restores us once more to the embraces of friends and the sweet pleasures of home.




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