Wednesday, January 8, 2014 12:00 AM
Just days after Joseph Davis' brigade's Christmas celebration of December 24, 1863, one attended by two officers from Neshoba County, Company D of the 11th Mississippi Infantry: Captain John Randolph Prince and Second Lieutenant William A Whatley. First Lieutenant John Isaac Miller Kelly was in the General Hospital at Charlottesville, Virginia, recovering from a gunshot wound, while Junior Second Lieutenant H. Tyler Hester languished in a Federal prison facility for Confederate officers on Johnson's Island, in Lake Erie, just north of Sandusky, Ohio. At Orange Court House, Virginia, after completing their winter quarters, the soldiers of the 11th Mississippi constructed a theatre. Thomas Witherspoon, the chaplain of Joe Davis' brigade, then called for volunteers and supervised the building of a chapel. Over fifty men from the brigade volunteered, and completed within a short period of time, a spacious building, thirty by forty feet with dual fireplaces. Throughout the winter, Surgeon LeGrand Wilson of the 42nd Mississippi frequently visited the religious facility and later wrote: "I visited that chapel at different hours of the day, and I never found it empty. Someone always praying, and toward the close of the day, at the twilight hour, on raising the curtain and entering the sanctuary, you would find from ten to twenty silent worshippers, knelling in different parts of the chapel, in silent prayer, not a word nor a whisper, and only now and then a sob. Truly God was in that place, and it was the very gate of Heaven to our souls." Each Sunday, Chaplain Witherspoon held regular services both in the morning and evening, and a special prayer-meeting each Wednesday night.
The month of January was remarkably mild and the men of Davis' brigade drilled one hour each day, both for practice and exercise. With little to do after this required activity, the boys found ways to amuse themselves and to counteract nostalgia, with the "bane of military activity." The most frequent activities were the various games - cards, checkers, dominoes and chess. The men of the 11th Mississippi referred to Second Lieutenant William Anthony of Company A, as the "first class chess player in the Army of Northern Virginia." One Mississippian wrote that, "Other amusements were devised by the men but none enjoyed or far reaching in value than the Glee Club, or Minstrel Club, organized by members of the brigade band." Professor Braswell Tomlinson, a private soldier of Company E, the Prairie Guards from Crawfordsville, Mississippi, directed the theatrical troupe. The members of the band also played a variety of stringed instruments, such as the bass viola, bones*, violins, tambourines and banjoes. The theater group performed almost daily, and the minstrels dramatized "Meade's Fizzle," which they "rendered" in fine style much to the delights and enjoyment of the boys. When the band played "Old Folks at Home," "I'm Going Back to Dixie," or "Sweet Evalina," a cheer would follow that "would cause your hair to straighten out." Doctor Wilson noted that, "this band was worth to the brigade as a 'health promoter' [more] than the two Surgeons... with well filled chests of Medicine."
Not all the Mississippians shared a positive view of the "theatrical troop," however, as one Noxubee County soldier they were "pretty sissy." That soldier did enjoy one particular skit though: "What is the First Duty of a Surgeon?
Under the names of drugs and medicines... purchase a full supply of good liquor.
What is the Second Duty? To cause all private sellers to be searched, and all the good whiskey found there to be confiscated, lest the soldiers should find them and the whole Army become drunk. What is the Third Duty? To see that the Surgeon and his Assistant's drink up all of said liquor." Toward the end of January, the temperatures plunged and snow accumulated in depth.
During one of these mornings, shouts of laughter roused Doctor Wilson from his slumber. He hastily dressed and stuck his head outside the curtain of his cabin to see what was going on. In less than a second, a snowball about the size of a "pumpkin" struck him squarely in the face and caused the doctor to make a "rapid retreat." In a few minutes, the fully dressed Wilson was "hurrying out to take a hand in the fun."
The localized snowball fight quickly escalated into a full-scale, all-out snow assault, as the men fought regiment against regiment, brigade against brigade, and even divisions arrayed against each other. In some of the fights, regular officers commanded their units, with their colors flying, as in true battle. Some said that commanding General Robert E. Lee witnessed the "strange and terrible" contest from astride Traveller.
Wilson later wrote, "I have no doubt the old hero smiled at the thought of his brave soldiers having for once, a cool and bloodless battle."
*Flat sticks used as clappers by end men in minstrel shows for keeping time to music.
Civil War Veterans
Walsh, Thomas Benton - Fourth Sergeant; enlisted April 13, 1861, at Neshoba Springs, Mississippi, in the Neshoba Rifles; age twenty-two; student; served as fourth sergeant with the Neshoba Rifles; appointed fourth sergeant of Company D, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, at organization, April 21, 1861; Muster Roll, May-June 1861: "Absent, sick at Winchester;" Muster Rolls, July 1861 to April 1862: "Present;" later enlisted at Neshoba Springs, as a private in Company E of the 35th Mississippi Infantry Regiment; captured at Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 4, 1863; released, July 9, 1863; promoted to junior second lieutenant, December 8, 1863; captured near Nashville, Tennessee, December 15, 1864; imprisoned at Johnson's Island, near Sandusky, Ohio; released at Johnson's Island, June 17, 1865.
World War II Veterans
Stribling, Wallington - Private to Private First Class; enlisted on February 17, 1942, at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in the United States Army; age twenty-two; farmer; nick-named "Son;" served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations; served also in the European Theatre of Operations as a duty soldier with the 3262nd Quartermaster Service Company, July 1942 to November 1945; participated in the campaigns in Tunisia, Northern Africa, Rome-Arno, Italy, Southern France, Rhineland and Central Europe; awarded European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal and the World War II Victory Medal; discharged at Camp Shelby, November 20, 1945, demobilization; described as five feet eight inches tall, weighing 168 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes.
Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum
Steven H. Stubbs, Curator
303 Water Avenue South Philadelphia, Mississippi 39350 (601) 656-1284
10 a.m. - 3 p.m.;
Monday thru Friday