Ole Miss collection offers war documents

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – The casual Civil War buff may not think immediately about Oxford or the University of Mississippi in that great conflict.
But the facts speak differently, and a new book, as well as the university library’s special collection provide insights.
The university’s on-site collection, “This Fiery Trial,” offers a modest yet interesting look at documents heralding the coming schism, as well as during and after the Civil War.
“Trial” will be on display through mid-September in the Williams Library just behind the Lyceum, which was used as a medical facility for the wounded retreating from Shiloh in the spring of 1862.
Letters, diaries and ledgers offer personal glimpses into the war.
Perhaps one of the most poignant is the July 3, 1863, letter from Jeremiah Gage, who joined up with the fabled “University Greys,” a unit organized by Ole Miss students. The letter is written to his mother as he lay dying at Gettysburg, and his blood stains are still discernible upon its penciled words.
“This is the last you may ever hear from me,” he writes. “I have time to tell you that I died like a man. Bear my loss as best you can.”
Another soldier writes from Verona, July 16, 1864, about fighting around Tupelo:
He says he is “unhappy with General Lee,” meaning Confederate Gen. Stephen D. Lee, and calls him a “humbug,” wishing for leadership from the charismatic Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who had routed the Yankees at Brice’s Crossroads near Baldwyn less than a month before.
“I do believe if Gen. Forrest had command, he would have whipped those Yankees well – but as it was, I think we lost in the afternoon a great many good and great soldiers. It was as poorly planned and badly executed as any since the war began,” he says.
The exhibit features some 15 stations on topics from Secession, through battles, military camp life and slavery to women, the university, Reconstruction, music and commemorations of “The Lost Cause.”
Among them, an April 6, 1861, letter to Holly Springs soldier William Nelson from his mother, begging him “not to engage in gambling or drinking” in his encampment.
Even more extensive are the digital collections online, providing a vast array of correspondence and other documents related to life on and off the battlefield.
Yet The University of Mississippi Civil War Archive provides only a sampling of the Archives & Special Collections extensive Civil War primary source holdings. Pulling from various physical collections, these materials document troop movements, social conditions, battles, the home front and an extensive variety of topics.
Because this collection is not comprehensive of the University of Mississippi’s Civil War holdings, researchers interested in further research on this topic should view the Civil War subject guide, advises the online site http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/archives.
After the war, the exhibit recalls the late 1880s when Confederal veterans organizations began to appear, and townswomen publicly mourned the Confederate dead with “Decoration Days,” usually in the spring when they decorated the graves with flowers and later included ceremonies and speeches.
The exhibit also notes than from 1985 until 1997, 52 Confederate monuments were erected in Mississippi communities.
As for the book, “Oxford in the Civil War – Battle for a Vanquished Land,” historian Stephen Enzweiler tells the intriguing story of one of Mississippi’s most prominent towns and power centers in the early 1800s, then takes readers through the lives of Oxonians caught in the grips of the Civil War.
Prominent among them are L.Q.C. Lamar, a politician who organized a regiment then later returned to Congress, served a president’s administration and was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court; the “University Greys”; and Jacob Thompson, former secretary of the interior who resigned and returned to Oxford to serve the Confederate cause.
Oxford’s elite were wealthy from the riches of their earth before the war broke out. Although Union Gen. Andrew “Whiskey” Smith burned much of the town to the ground, Oxford survived.
And Enzweiler tells the stories of its resilient people, both slaveholders and slaves.

Contact Patsy Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com.