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Chapter III

"A Quiet Winter"

On 11 August the regiment was marched to Newton Station. They camped there until 7 Sept. 1863. On 7 Sept. 1863 they marched to Enterprise, Mississippi, and camped about 3 miles from town. On 1 Oct. 63 the regiment marched to Meridian and went into camp in order to participate in Mississippi's political races then being held, and to witness an execution of soldiers who had deserted and been caught. This harsh treatment was designed to discipline the army. The three men were all from the 3rd Mississippi Infantry Regiment. The execution did have an effect on the men. Pvt. Matthew A. Dunn from Amite County wrote to his wife Stumpy:
"On yesterday our brigade was ordered out to witness a scene I hope my eyes will never behold again- but it is to be the case next Friday. This is seeing men shot for desertion. I saw 3 shot yesterday-They were Seated on their cofins with their arms binded and blind-folded- The executioners were placed about 15 paces in front- Two were shot dead- The third one never fell- One of the non-com-officers had him to kill. He walked up very deliberately and shot him through. This was a horrible sight and a painful duty to perform, but the affair was well conducted."

On 17 Oct. 63 the regiment took the cars to Brandon and then began a march to Canton. This was done in response to a Yankee threat to the railroad at Canton. The regiment marched in the Brandon, Canton, Calhoun area until 22 Oct. 63 when they went into winter camp at Canton. Pvt. Dunn wrote Stumpy that the Yankee threat had ended when the Yankees learned that the 33rd Mississippi was after them.

Winter quarters at Canton was a very quiet time for the men of Featherston's Brigade. John Saucier of the 3rd Mississippi Infantry wrote to his Sallie that, "I would like to write you a long and interesting letter but really I must say like the guilty prisoner I have nothing to say. We are all quiet as if we are exiles on a desolate island. We hear nothing from any of our armies, of importance for some time and as for this Department, I believe the enemy have forgotten all about it."

Pvt. Dunn wrote Stumpy on 7 Nov. 1863 from Bear Creek Camp: "As this is a beautiful Saturday evening and I am on duty and but little to do I will spend a portion of it writing to you." Pvt. Van Kees only made one diary entry in November 1863 in which he said he was paid $88.00. (The "Bear Creek Camp" Pvt. Dunn referred to has been located but is today occupied by large water treatment ponds operated by the City of Canton. The site is just east of Bear Creek where Mississippi Highway 16 crosses the creek.)

The fall had not been totally without interest for the men of the 33rd Mississippi. There had been an election for state officials on 5 Oct. 1863 and the regiment's commanding officer, Col. David W. Hurst of Liberty, Mississippi, was running for a position in the 2nd Judicial District as Judge of the High Court of Errors and Appeals. The initial vote had Col. Hurst losing to E. J. Goode by 102 votes but two counties (Claiborn and Harrison) were late getting their ballots to the Mississippi Secretary of State. When Secretary of State C. A. Brougher added in the two late counties Col. Hurst had inched ahead and won the judgeship by 7 votes. His election was certified on 21 Nov. 1863. On 5 Jan. 1864 he resigned his commission to return home and take up his new position.

Pvt. Van Kees made an entry for Dec., 1863, remarking that he was camped near Canton and the weather was nice. In Jan., 1864, his only entry said that he was paid $22.00. He did not note the departure of Col. Hurst. On 16 Dec. 1863 Gen. Joe Johnston had been transferred to Dalton, Georgia, to assume command of the Army of Tennessee. Gen. Leonidas Polk, the former Episcopal bishop of Louisiana, was given command of the Dept. of Ala., Miss., and east Louisiana. With Col. Hurst's resignation Maj. Jabez L. Drake of Leake County was promoted to Colonel and command of the 33rd Mississippi Infantry Regiment. Although the men of the 33rd Mississippi were idle during this time the higher-ups of the Union army were making plans that would result in the regiment doing much marching and retreating.

Gen. W. T. Sherman was to be the nemesis of the regiment (and for that matter, much of the South) until the end of the war. Sherman had had his family visiting him in Vicksburg in the summer of 1863. During that visit Sherman's son caught typhoid fever and died on 3 Oct. 1863 in Memphis, Tennessee, where the family had stopped to seek medical care. They were on the way home to Ohio when young Willie Sherman showed his first signs of illness. Sherman was devastated by the death of his son and blamed himself for having consented to the family coming to Mississippi at that time. Sherman described Mississippi as a "sickly rigion." Did the death of his favorite son from an illness he acquired in Mississippi make Gen. Sherman more harsh in his treatment of the state? We will never really know but the upcoming Meridian Campaign showed a change in Sherman's tactics in dealing with his enemies.

The Meridian Campaign

Gen. Sherman's plan was to send several feints against Confederate positions at Mobile, Alabama, Rome, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. He would lead the Federal XVI and XVII Corps eastward toward Meridian. He planned to meet there with a Federal Cavalry force of 7000 men under Gen. W. B. Sooy Smith who would come south from Memphis. Gen. Smith was ordered by Gen. Sherman to destroy the Confederate Cavalry in north Mississippi who were led by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest during his trip from Memphis to Meridian. Meridian was chosen as the target because of its importance as a railroad junction. After meeting at Meridian the generals would decide about going on to attack Mobile, Alabama.
On 3 Feb. 1864 the Yankees moved out from Vicksburg and headed east. The Confederate commander, Gen. Polk, was in Mobile on an inspection trip. When he was told of the movement he sent orders to Gen. Loring to assume command and to detain the enemy from getting into Jackson. It was not to be. Pvt. Van Kees noted on 5 Feb. 1864, "We left Canton, Miss., about daylight started to Jackson, Miss., and before we got there found the enemy was going to get thar before we could and we turned and went to the Pearl River and got there about sunset and camped and about 1 o clock that night we started and crossed the river and marched all nite and all the next day until about 4 p.m. and camped."

The regiment had reached the outskirts of Morton, Mississippi, on the Wire Road. On 8 Feb. 64 they marched westward and formed a line of battle. Only a few shots were fired by the skirmishers and that night the army was in retreat toward Hillsborough, Miss. The area just west of Morton formed a very good defensive position for the Confederates. There is a high ridge which overlooks the Wire Road which was being used by the advancing Yankees. There were defensive positions that had been established on the crest of the ridge but the Confederate generals were concerned that they did not have enough strength to defend the area and they ordered the retreat. There was only one dissenting vote at the Council of War that was held at Morton. Gen. Francis M. Cockrell of the hard-fighting Missouri Brigade wanted to stay at Morton and fight the Yankees. There was no more fighting for the 33rd Mississippi during the Meridian Campaign.

There was hard marching in miserable conditions from Morton to Hillsborough, Hillsborough to Decatur, and Decatur to Meridian. From Meridian they took the Lauderdale Springs Road to the Alabama line and marched on to Livingston, Alabama. They would not be back in Mississippi again for about a year. During that year away there would be frightful fighting for the men of the regiment but at this time they were just marching and trying to avoid the Yankees under Sherman. On 16 Feb. 1864 the regiment crossed the Tombigbee River at Moscow Ferry. They then marched to Demopolis, Alabama, and went into camp. Gen. Sherman had easily accomplished his purpose. His only disappointment was that instead of destroying Gen. Forrest during the campaign just the opposite had happened. Gen. W. B. Sooy Smith had fought Forrest from West Point. Mississippi, to Ivey's Hill (at present day Troy, Mississippi) and Forrest had routed the Yankees. He forced Smith to retreat to Memphis. In the meantime Gen. Sherman spent mid-Feb., 1864, in Meridian and Enterprise, Mississippi, in the business of destroying railroads and almost any buildings and property that would burn. When he finished he stated that Meridian no longer existed. He could have said the same thing about almost any town he passed through during the campaign. In Hillsborough, Mississipi, there was only one building that was not burned. It was a house that had been converted to use as a hospital and when the Yankees left town there were wounded soldiers still in the house. (The house still stands at this is written and blood stains are still visible in the floorboards of the house.)

On 31 March 1864 Pvt. Dunn wrote to his wife Stumpy back in Amite County that he was in Demopolis, Alabama, and had "no news of great importance." The time had been uneventful for the men of the 33rd Mississippi. In late Feb. the 1st Mississippi Infantry and the 43rd Mississippi Infantry had been assigned to Featherston's Brigade to increase its strength. As usual, camp rumors were rampant about where the regiment was to go next. Most men naturally wanted to return to Mississippi, but one thoughtful officer in the brigade stoically wrote, "I know I can face the enemy with as much nerve in one state as in another."

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History of the 33rd Mississippi Infantry is copyrighted by S. W. Bondurant