Civil War history through the life and death of an ancestor
}Poindexter Patteson Smith II
P. P. Smith, II, son of the Rev. P. P. Smith (nowhere have I seen any of the 3 sign a Jr., or II or III or Sr), died in the Civil War. But now we have new facts to correct what was printed in the book, The Smith Family of Buckingham County, by Nancy Moulton, in the 1990’s. No one has challenged her data until now. In this book, she states that Poindexter the second died in 1865 in Jackson County, Tennessee.
First, being a descendent of P P # 2, I wanted to know his story. I looked it up. There were no Civil War battles in Jackson County in the north central part of Tennessee. There was a battle in Jackson in Madison County in west Tennessee. But the big battle was in 1862, leaving many dead. So I traveled to Jackson, Tennessee, to see the memorial there and the unmarked graves of those who fought at Old Salem Cemetery. It’s not far from the huge Kellogg’s plant and the Casey Jones Home and Railroad Museum. But, alas, this was not the battle scene which took P P Smith’s life.
Finally, I learned that the Library of Congress has data copied from Confederate files. It took some research, but I finally found limited documentation on Poindexter. He was indeed a private in the volunteer company, called Goochland Light Artillery, sometimes Captain Tally’s Company, and sometimes Captain Guy’s Company, and sometimes 1st Lt Guerrant’s Co. He enlisted June 6, 1861, info that I had seen in other places, particularly enlistment rolls from the National Parks Service, which maintains Civil War history.
Poindexter was enlisted by J H Guy (Capt John Guy). His signature was clearly and neatly made: Poindexter P Smith. At the top of the card, however, it says T P Smith, probably written by someone who heard it incorrectly. On another page, I read that he was captured at Ft Donelson on Feb 15, 186-, and the last digit is missing. On the “Roll of Prisoners of War” at Camp Douglas, Ill, on August 8, 1862, he is listed.
Another paper shows that he was sent to Vicksburg to be exchanged on September 6, 1862 from Camp Douglas in Chicago, “when captured Feb 16, 1862”. On a line alone is the word “sick” surrounded by asterisks. (handwritten:*sick*) On a payroll muster, he is listed as absent and “sick”.
One more page notes “Roll of Prisoners has endorsement: ‘Rec’d the annexed list of Prisoners of War, seven hundred and twenty-six in number. –N.G. WATTS, Major CSA and Agent for Exchange of Prisoners. On board steamer Jno. H. Done, near Vicksburg, Miss, Sept 30, 1862.”
Another page indicates he died November 8, 1862.
His widow Emily S Smith filed for his pay on June 26, 1863. She appeared before the Justice of the Peace in Goochland to verify that she was his widow and to make the claim in person on May 19, 1864. I didn’t see any proof that she actually received it, but it was unlikely that she did not. The auditor of the Confederate Army reported Jan. 9, 1864 and “returned” the claim Jan. 14, 1864 for $52.20. He listed pay at $12 per month, prorated from last payment until his death, plus $25 for six months clothing allowance, totaling $52.20. This audit can be found in Confederate Arch. Chap 10, File No 22.
The Rest of the Story
Investigating Civil War history, I found that the Goochland Light Artillery did travel to Tennessee to fight. They were involved in a very important event of the war, at Fort Douglas on the Cumberland River.
This 3 ½ day battle was the first to give U. S. Grant a grand reputation. It also opened the heart of the South for the Union army.
The South had a strong hold there, but the North arrived on the 14th with 5 gunboats, 3 of them ironclad. The media of the time called it, exchanging “iron valentines”. They also attacked by land on the southwest side on the 13th, blocking escape in that direction. On the 14th, however, the South held its own, and was doing well into the next day, the 15th. Grant’s troops were being replenished on a daily basis and supplies as well. The Confederates were retreating towards Nashville towards reinforcements, and doing so successfully. Yankee troops had grudgingly retreated.
Then in late morning, something went wrong. Historians now say it was confusion amongst the Southern commanders. The Confederates were ordered back to their position, which gave the Yankees a chance to swoop in and regain lost ground, and get the upper hand. Two commanders escaped upstream, taking 2000 men to Nashville, and another small group escaped. The rest were left, trapped in, with no possible means of getting new supplies or ammo. Brig. Gen. Simon Buckner was left in charge of Fort Douglas.
The morning of Feb. 16, when all looked hopeless, Gen. Buckner asked for terms. Grant’s famous reply came: “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.” Buckner reluctantly surrendered. This is the moment that Grant became known as “Unconditional Surrender Grant” (U. S. Grant) and was promoted to Major General.
Many historical writers conclude these men were “given up” by their commanders. About 7000 soldiers were taken prisoner to Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois, by the Illinois Central RR, which runs alongside Lake Michigan. P. P. Smith was one of those soldiers. What he and many others encountered there was ugly, cruel, and inhumane.
Camp Douglas began as a training camp for Union soldiers. The land came from the estate of Stephen A Douglas (that’s right, the Douglas who ran against Lincoln for president and lost). When it was originally built, in 1861, the camp buildings were mostly one story. Rain was heavy, so there were huge gutters in the wide streets to allow drainage from storms. After it became a prison, the buildings, even the quite long barracks, were raised up on 4 foot stilts. At first, this helped escape the flooding that had been common on the very low lying land, but it also prevented escape. Prisoners are known for digging underneath buildings, so the stilts served a dual purpose. The entire camp was dismantled in 1865 after the war, and the land was sold to the private sector. It is now part of downtown Chicago.
It started its second life as a prison camp, and almost immediately was overwhelmed. It was known as the North’s “Andersonville” for its inhumane conditions, but many historians claim it was worse. There was inadequate water supply, little or no sanitation, inadequate sleeping quarters or shelter. The soldiers were crowded, underfed, dirty, sick, had no room for exercise, no clean drinking water, and a severe shortage of toilets. Many were sick and died. A TV documentary about Camp Douglas called it “80 Acres of Hell”. In its 4 ½ years, about 6,000 Confederate soldiers died from disease, starvation, and bitter cold winters. The number could be higher due to sloppy recordkeeping. 1500 more were unaccounted for. Torture was common and appalling. Others, like P P Smith were too sick and weak when they left to recover.
Nobody was ever held accountable for the life or treatment at Camp Douglas. The only Union general ever to be promoted without going to combat was an overseer at Camp Douglas. The camp has what is considered the largest mass grave in the western hemisphere (see the book To Die in Chicago).
Both sides, North and South, were unprepared for the handling of prisoners. Not all officers were as barbaric and heartless as the commanders at Fort Douglas. The Dix-Hill Cartel was arranged so that both sides could be relieved of the burden of guarding and caring for prisoners. The exchanges were made primarily just to be rid of the burden of guarding them. Neither gained anything strategically. Dix and Cartel were trying to exercise compassion and business at the same time. Grant did not agree with them and halted all exchanges the following year. He did not like the idea of freed prisoners being allowed to return to their troops.
This particular exchange isn’t documented very well; at least documentation is difficult to find. The means of transportation isn’t listed anywhere. Richmond was an agreed exchange post, so there is no explanation on why Vicksburg was chosen. Camp Douglas was not only in the North away from the fighting, Illinois was considered “the West”.
From Poindexter’s particulars, we see that 726 men were aboard the steamship Jno H Done from Camp Douglas awaiting parole. Elsewhere I found notations from the Agent Watts for larger numbers of other regiments on board Jno. H Done, waiting official parole. Apparently the steamer was used as a temporary housing unit to avoid escapes.
On the 26th the exchange was made by both sides. The regiments remained in Jackson, MS, and elsewhere outside Vicksburg, reorganizing through October, most moving out the end of that month or in November. Apparently, Poindexter was unable to be moved and died there, possibly alone. His burial place is unknown other than Jackson, MS. There is one large cemetery park in downtown Jackson, with over 100 unknown Confederate soldiers. But most of these are believed to be from the battle that took place in Jackson six months later.
If I could find more, I would like to know what happened after the Exchange. Was there an infirmary in Jackson? Was he with his own unit when he died? Where was he buried? If the Confederate army kept track of his death and pay, why aren't there more details? How was his family notified? There must be records somewhere in army files.