THE JASPER GRAYS
This material is based on the memoirs of R. J. Lightsey as told
to his daughter, Ada Christine Lightsey, and published by her in 1899.
THE VETERAN'S STORY
During long Winter evenings, the old farmer Veteran, whose retentive memory
dwells on the events of the past, has told his children the incidents and
stories of his soldier life in the army of Northern Virginia. At last the
thought occurred to me: Why not get him to begin at the day his company,
"The Jasper Grays", left their homes in the rugged hills of old
Jasper County, Miss., to go out to battle for the Southern cause, and tell
the events of the four year's conflict in rotation; till he came back home
a weary, foot-sore soldier, after the surrender of Lee's army at Appomattox?
In thought he carries us with him the through fertile valleys where war
raged wild and fierce, o'er winding mountain passes and in toilsome marches
along the Potomac, James and Rappahannock.
In imagination, we view with rapture the grandeur of the scenery in the
fair Virginia clime.
Awe fills our souls while he tells of the soldier life of Southern men when
the snow and sleet had mantled valley, plain and mountain. He tells of the
sentinel who stood at his post of duty for many lonely hours, keeping vigil
while a weary army slumbered. Through the four year's strife, amid cannon
boom and rattle of musketry, that stifled the moan of wounded and dying,
the Veteran has taken us in story, showing the heroic endurance of the men
in Gray and telling the greatness of the two unrivaled warriors, Lee and
The Veteran's Daughter,
ADA CHRISTINE LIGHTSEY
"In Mississippi, good old State,
We left our homes afar,
And went to old Virginia
To battle in the war."
In 1861, when the call for volunteers came, the loyal sons in and near the
picturesque old town of Paulding, Jasper County, Miss., immediately responded.
The old county was an enthusiastic advocate of "States Rights"
and proudly sent her sons to battle for the "Stars and Bars". We
were willing and eager to go. the editor and proprietor, Markham and
Shannon, of the Eastern Clarion and their employees laid down journalistic
work and enlisted with us. The "Jasper Grays were given a dinner at
DeSoto, a town in Clarke County on the Mobile & Ohio railroad, May 21st,
where a large crowd gathered to tell the soldier boys good-bye. Fathers,
mothers, brothers, sisters, sweethearts and wives, they were all there.
That evening we took the train for Corinth, Miss. When our company got to
Corinth, we were sent to the jail house for lodging. Our Captain, J. J.
Shannon was indignant and said: "We have started off to battle and
it will commence right here if we are not removed from this place."
This speech had the desired effect, and we were given lodging in a church.
We stayed three months at Corinth, being drilled as State Troops. While
here, old Father Boneim, who had left his ivy-crowned church and the people
he loved, joined us. Some of the boys in the company were of his faith,
but he was a good friend of the Protestant boys and cheered us in our life
and toil and hardships. In days of sickness, it was his gentle hand that
administered to our physical wants. In hours of sorrow and homesickness,
it was his comforting words that bade us be of good cheer. But he never
tried to win us from our faith. The privations of camp life proved too sever
for him and after the close of the first year with earthly duties done,
his heroic soul was wafted to a realm of peace,
When the call for troops came from Virginia we were enrolled in the Confederacy
as Company F, helping to form the 16th Mississippi Regiment, and sent on
to the Virginia army.
The battle was raging, the conflict was mighty and we, along with thousands
of others, were to be the actors in the greatest drama the world has ever
known. After leaving Corinth, the first town we passed was Iuka, Miss.,
then entered Alabama and went by that picturesque town. Huntsville nestled
in a beautiful valley, encircled by blue, misty mountains. The little city
looked so peaceful and dreamy that while admiring its beauty, I most forgot
that strife was at fever heat in our Southland. Chattanooga and Knoxville
were interesting cities in Tennessee, through which we passed. Somewhere
between Bristol, Tenn., and Lynchburg, Va., we went through a long tunnel.
As the cars sped on in the darkness by thoughts were many and varied.
At Lynchburg, among one of the fairest cities of the "Old Dominion",
we stayed several days awaiting transportation. Our camp was southeast of
the city, behind a large hill, near a sparkling spring. From Lynchburg to
Manassas, we passed places that afterward were made historic by the great
We reached Manassas Junction just after the first battle and stayed there
doing camp duty, being drilled, etc., until the Spring of , when Joseph
E. Johnston evacuated Manassas and his command fell back to the Rappahannock
River, where it halted. Ewell's division was place on the Rappahannock to
guard Kelly's Ford, nothing taking place.
The Federal army marched down on the opposite side of the river to Fredericksburg.
It was transported to Yorktown, and Johnston transported his army there
to meet the Federals. Ewell's division was left on the Rappahannock and
remained there till May, 1862, having no skirmishes. From there we were
ordered to Gordonsville and camped there three days, having no picket duties.
Our march had been a weary one. The muddy roads over which we passed made
us tired and stupid. On the march we discarded all our belongings and canteens.
A good friend was the old canteen to the soldier boys.
A Southern poet, Mongomery M. Folson, so beautifully says"
A shapeless relic battered, bruised.
Grimed with the rust of years.
Stained with heroic blood, suffused with
woman's tenderest tears.
Its pristine lustre long grown dim around
the campfires' smoke.
Remindful in its dented rim of many a sabre stroke
What tales of tumult might unfold could it but find
When o'er the blood-besodden world the cloud of
What days when nations stood appalled by many a
Are to the thoughtful mind recalled by that cast off canteen!
Ewell's division was ordered from Gordonsville to the Valley of Virginia;
on the march the Blue Ridge Mountains were crossed. Over them the winding
road was a gradual ascent and a gradual descent. On the summit of the heights
a spring gushed forth, sending a little steam down the rugged mountain-side.
When we crossed over into the Luray Valley, Spring was awakening in her
floral beauty. It is only the poet who can describe the scenery of a Virginia
valley. The soldier, in his eagerness to press on in warfare and conquer
the fore, looked on those valleys with admiration.
We were sent to re-enforce Jackson and camped three or four days in the
Luray. This was in May, 1862.
Early one morning orders came for us to move. We were put on a big turn-pike
road and halted. Gen. Jackson came galloping down the line, cheered by the
Rebel Yell. After he passed, we took up a line of march. Taylor's Louisiana
brigade being in front. Then came Trimble's and Ewell's brigade and Stuart's
brigade of Marylanders. Nearing Front Royal, we left the big road, taking
a country road, making a short cut.
Not long after leaving the big road, orders were given to load our guns.
Still, a Federal had not been seen. Wheat's battalion, of Taylor's brigade,
was thrown out as skirmishers with the first Maryland regiment. They advanced
upon the enemy's picked line at Front Royal, surprised them, run them in,
captured the town and drove the enemy across the Shenandoah River. One branch
of the river was forded, the other bridged. The Yankees tried to burn the
bridge, but were stopped by our cavalry. The cavalry coming on behind Wheat's
battalion, captured the command.
Crossing the river, three miles from Front Royal, we came to the beautiful
little Cedarville, Trimble's and Stuart's brigades, weary and worn, stopped
for the night, having orders to sleep on our arms.
The next morning about day-break, the line advanced towards Winchester.
Going through a large wheat, the heavy dew of a May morning thoroughly drenched
us. When about a mile and a half of the march was made, the 21st North Carolina
regiment commenced finding the Federals and drove their pickets back to their
line of battle, which was posted behind a stone fence. The 21st North Carolina
dashed up to the line and was checked by a volley from the Yanks, but was
reinforced by the 21st Georgia. The 16th Mississippi went to the
right and just as we got in position, the 15th Alabama, which was still
on the right, and the 21st Georgia and 21st North Carolina routed the enemy
and the whole army set up the Rebel Yell and took after them.
In the 16th Mississippi regiment, there was on Indian. The first time that
he heard a cannon fire he was badly frightened and started back the other
way. When another big gun was fired, he came back and said that there was
as much danger in the rear as there was at the front, so he decided to stay
and make a good soldier during the four years.
From Winchester we pursued the enemy to Charleston. When we entered this
town, where old John Brown, the insurrectionist was hanged, the boys commenced
"Down at Harper's Ferry Section,
They raised an insurrection.
Old Brown thought the negroes would sustain him,
But along came Governor Wise
And took him by surprise
And sent him the happy land of Canaan
Old Brown's dead and the last word he said
Was don't keep me long her remaining.
They took him up a slope
And dropped him on a rope
And sent him to the happy land of Canaan"
After passing through the town, we were halted and received orders to retreat.
On may 30, 1862, our whole army was retreating upon Strasburg. Gen. Ewell's
division arrived in time to check Fremont, until Jackson came up with the
balance of the army. We had marched all night in mud and rain, but did not
care for that, just so we beat the Yankees there. When Jackson rode up next
morning he received a tremendous cheering. The boys said: "More rations
now; we see old Stonewall's here." On the evening of June 1st, our
retreat up the valley was resumed, with Fremont in lively pursuit of us.
We left the Valley Pike Road at Harrisonburg and went to Cross Keys. There
was a Frenchman commanding a regiment of Federal cavalry, who was very anxious
to meet our gallant Gen. Ashby. He met him, was captured, dismounted and
sent to the rear. As he passed by, splashing through the mud, our boys said:
"Mister, where did you come from?" "Where did you get them
boots?" He was the worst chagrined man that was ever seen. On Sunday
morning, June 8th, Fremont advanced to attack us at Cross Keys. Trimble's
brigade was posed on the right flank of the army. We were assaulted by Blenker's
German division. We gave them one volley and charged the enemy, capturing
a number of prisoners. They were eager to see the great "Shackson",
as they called him. Martin Turner, the first man in out company to get wounded,
received a flesh wound in his leg at this battle. His legs were small and
the boys had been telling him that there was no danger of him ever being
shot in the legs. On of the boys said it must been a fine bead drawn out
that hit him.
On the 9th of June, Jackson fought the battle of Port Republic. We then
retired to Brown's Gap and camped for several days, resting and recruiting
after all of our long and toilsome marches. Our men were cheerful and full
of live. They were continually telling the old citizens, with their "stove-pipe"
hats on, to "Come down out of that bee gum, Mister, we know you is
thar, for we see your legs sticking out~"
"No matter how weary the marches,
Or toilsome and rugged the way,
In camp, jokes always were passing,
Which made the boys cheerful and gay."
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