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1865

January & February

According to a soldier in Hill's Corps, "With slender rations of corn bread and rancid bacon, with scanty clothes, worn out shoes (some were shoeless) and an inadequate supply of fuel, the outlook for the winter was gloomy in the trenches. Trenches became wet, filthy, and squalid. Life was a combination of monotony and misery, with occasional intrusions of terror from artillery and mortar fire."

On January 20, Colonel Lucius Q.C. Lamar, the co-founder and former commander of the 19th Miss, visited and spoke. "Standing upon a stump, with the foot-sore and ragged veterans of Lee's army crowded about him, he spoke from the heart. Bullets whizzed dangerously near, even splintering the stump upon which he stood, until finally the fire grew so heavy that he was forced to desist. Years after the close of the war, General Harris wrote that never would he 'forget that scene; the ernest faces and torn and tattered uniforms of officers and men as shown by the flickering torchlights, the rattle of the musketry on the skirmish line, the heavy detonation of the enemy's constant artillery fire, the eloquent and burning words of the speaker, and the wild cheers of the auditors, stirred to the inner-most depths of their hearts by his patriotic words'."

On January 28, Harris' Brigade moved down the Boydton Plank Road toward Weldon, "suffering from exposure and the intensely cold weather," and then returned to their winter quarters. On February 6, Harris' Brigade marched to Armstrong's Mill (Dabney's Mills) on Hatchers Run to help General Gordon who was being pushed back beyond the Boydton Plank Road. In line of battle on Gordon's left, they forced the Union forces back to their trenches, a distance of a mile and a half. According to a member of the 3rd Georgia Regiment, "Then came that grandest body of men that I ever saw (taking the whole war through)--Harris' Mississippi brigade. As they came up some fellow said, 'Yonder comes old Missip boys.' We raised the old rebel yell and away Billy went and we after them for near two miles, and if night had not closed down on us I don't know when we would have stopped." During the night of the 6th, they entrenched their position. On the morning of February 7, the Union forces pressed Harris' skirmishers resulting in the loss of Colonel Thomas B. Manlove, 48th Miss, who was wounded and taken prisoner. Later relieved, they returned to their winter quarters near Petersburg, "after seven days of severe and trying service -- the weather intensely cold."

On February 23, Mr. Watson of Mississippi presented a preamble and resolutions adopted by Harris' Brigade to the Senate of the 2nd Confederate Congress meeting in Richmond. At the same time, Mr. Barksdale of Mississippi presented the same resolutions to the Confederate House of Representatives. In these resolutions, the men of Harris' Brigade declared "their purpose to continue the war of independence with unabated zeal," and urged "Congress to pass a law to employ negroes as soldiers."

On February 28, General Harris reported 40 officers and 501 men present for duty.

March & April

On March 5, Mahone's Division was transferred to Bermuda Hundrends. Harris' Brigade was posted next to the James River on the Swift Run line. In early March, Harris' Brigade moved to Richmond. General Harris was put in command of the forces, including his own brigade, holding the inner line of defenses to meet General Sheridan's raid. When that peril was turned aside, they returned to the Swift Run line. On March 16, Harris' Brigade manned the works near the Howlett's house on the James River near Dutch Gap Canal.

On April 1, Mahone's Division was defending the five­mile Howlett line north of the Appomattox River. A warning order came at midnight, and about an hour later Harris' Brigade was ordered to march to Petersburg. "The Mississippians began 'to move quietly to the rear, [leaving] . . . everything but canteens and cartridge boxes.' But not every one was pleased with the assignment. 'As we had a hand in every fracas in front and rear of Petersburg from Richmond to Meherrin River on the line in North Carolina, we set off grumbling and wondering, 'Why in ----- can't Mahone get some other troops to do some fighting?' one soldier later recalled."

On Sunday April 2, Colonel Venable told General Lee, who was conferring with General Longstreet, that Union skirmishers had driven him from General Harris' quarters (their old winter quarters) which was less than a mile from Edge Hill, and a mile and a half in the rear of the main line.

After arriving in Petersburg, General Harris formed his brigade in a line at right angles to the Boydton Plank Road, near the Newman house. He concealed both flanks in the rolling ground and exposing the center to convey an impression of a continuous line of battle. This maneuver was so effective that the Union commander stopped to form two lines for his advance. General Harris was ordered not to allow himself to be cut off and to defend Forts Gregg and Whitworth* until Longstreet arrived to form the inner defense line. General Harris ordered the 12th and 16th Miss (some 200 men) into Fort Gregg under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James H. Duncan. He accompanied the 19th and 48th Miss (also some 200 men) into Fort Whitworth. Fort Gregg was a square earthwork with a ditch 14 feet wide and six feet deep most of the way around it. Where the ditch was not complete was an unfinished line of breastworks leading to Fort Whitworth that was little more than a fortified artillery battery. On orders from General Lee, General Wilcox told the troops in Fort Gregg, "Men, the salvation of the Army is in your keep. Don't surrender this fort. If you can hold out for two hours, Longstreet will be up."

[*In contemporary accounts, these forts were sometimes referred to as Battery Gregg and Battery Whitworth. Whitworth was also referred to as Fort Baldwin, Alexander, Anderson, or Blakely.]

At 1:00 p.m., 13 Union regiments attacked Fort Gregg in five waves. Harris' Brigade, "men who had previously been rallied and employed in counterattacks that had delayed the enemy's advance were put into Fort Gregg and were told to hold it to the last extremity. They made a Homeric defense using their few field guns as long as they could." Captain A. K. Jones of the 16th Miss later recalled, "Before the last assault was made, the battle flags of the enemy made almost a solid line of bunting around the fort. The noise outside was fearful, frightful and indescribable, the curses and groaning of frenzied men could be heard over and above the din of our musketry. Savage men, ravenous beasts!" Private Frank Foote of the 48th Miss recalled, "Each defender had two or more rifles at hand and while the rear rank loaded them, the front rank handled them with most deadly execution." After the two artillery pieces in Fort Gregg were disabled, the gunners used matches to light the fuses of the remaining shells and rolled them over the parapet. Union General Foster recalled, "The fighting on both sides at this point was the most desperate I ever witnessed, being a hand-to-hand struggle for twenty-five minutes after my troops had reached the parapet." The four artillery pieces in Fort Whitworth provided supporting fire to the defenders in Fort Gregg until these guns were ordered withdrawn despite General Harris' bitter protest. As additional Union forces began to advanced on Fort Whitworth, "Gen. Harris mounted the parapet and waved the flag [of the 48th Mississippi] over our heads, and shouted 'Give 'em hell, boys.'" General Lee ordered Fort Whitworth abandoned as undefensible following the fall of Fort Gregg, and General Harris and his men hastily retreated under considerable fire. However, this was not until after 3:00 p.m., which gave General Lee his two hours. The Union forces had 714 casualties during the attack while the Confederates had 57 killed, 129 wounded, and 30 prisoners, "who were worn and grimy but unhurt." The 19th Miss loss 47 killed, wounded, and missing out of 150. According to Francis Lawley, an English observer, "In those nine memorable April days there was no episode more glorious to the Confederate arms than the heroic self-immolation of the Mississippians in Fort Gregg to gain time for their comrades."

What was left of Harris' Brigade formed into the new line of defense established by General Longstreet to protect the evacuation of Richmond and Petersburg. Late that night, they crossed the Appomattox River on the Battersea Pontoon Bridge, as did General Lee, and began the march westward, which continued throughout the night, the next day, and late into the following night. On April 4, they crossed the Appomattox River over Goode's Bridge. Expecting rations at Amelia Courthouse, they found only Union cavalry. After driving the Union forces away and taking some prisoners, their weary march went on through the night of the 4th and the day and night of April 5. On April 6, Harris' Brigade rejoined General Mahone and the rest of their division on the hills overlooking Sayler's Creek. Here they went into line of battle to check the close pursuit of the Union forces. That night was "hideous with the glare of burning trains and the deafening noise of exploding ammunition that could no longer be taken with the army."

On April 7, they crossed the High Bridge, a Southern Railroad crossing over the Appomattox River. Near the Cumberland Church north of Farmville, they received their first rations since leaving Petersburg. Around 2:00 p.m., the lead elements of Union General Humphery's II Corps found Mahone's Division entrenched on the high ground around this church. After two unsuccessful assaults of this position, the Union forces retired for the evening. On April 9, the 19th Miss marched into line of battle and received the news of the surrender. From April 9 to 12, the 19th Miss camped beside the road between Vera and Appomattox Courthouse. While camped here, they received a part of the 25,000 rations supplied to the Confederate Army by General Grant and were delivered their parole passes.

On April 9, the following incident, which is most likely an exaggeration or compilation of several similar events, reportedly took place. "When Harris' Mississippi brigade, of Mahone's division, were informed of the surrender, and were ordered to cease firing, most of the officers and men refused to obey, declaring that they would never surrender. Mahone went and expostulated with them, but they would not listen to him. Finally, Lee came and made a personal appeal. For some time, even his authority was disregarded. Many of the officers and men gathered around him and implored him not to put upon them such disgrace. With tears they begged him to trust himself to their care, swearing that they could and would carry him safely, and telling him that once in the mountains he could raise another army."

Private William Meek Furr's name appears on a List of Prisoners of War belonging to the Army of Northern Virginia; "who have been this day surrendered by General Robert E. Lee, CSA, commanding said Army, to Lt Gen U.S. Grant, commanding Armies of the United States." William Meek Furr's cousin, Junius Cicero Furr, son of Tobias Furr and Rachel Morgan, was also on this list. The 19th Miss surrendered six officers and 129 men.

On April 12, Mahone's Division, under command of General Harris, marched to a point near Appomattox Courthouse and stacked their arms with Harris' Brigade stacking about 150 muskets. The muster roll of the surrender for Harris' Brigade showed 33 officers and 339 enlisted men. According to a member of the 16th Miss, "When we surrendered, our division commander, Billy Mahone, formed a square of his division, getting in the center of the square and delivering his eloquent and pathetic farewell address, paying a glowing tribute to his faithful men. The soldiers were paroled as fast as possible and turned loose to get home the best way they could. We had known nothing but war for four years, but the home journey was the tug of war. No transportation, no rations, no money, ragged and heart-sick, with miles and miles between us and our homes away down south in Dixie."

Following his parole at Appomattox Courthouse, William Meek Furr returned to Toccopola, Mississippi. On December 28, he married Mary Haseltine Pickens. Together they raised 11 children (five boys and six girls). One of these children was Esta "S" Furr who grew up to be a dentist. He had a son, Marion Hansel Furr, who had a son, William Frazier Furr, the author of this humble history. William Meek Furr was a leading merchant in Toccopola and a director of the Merchants & Farmers Bank. He died on December 23, 1906 and is buried at Old Lebanon Cemetery in Toccopola.


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