|In Search of
. . . History
Virgil Robinson of Booneville has compiled all of the information he can find concerning Booneville and the Civil War. He hopes to see historical markers placed commemorating the Capture of Booneville (at the old Train Depot) and the Battle of Booneville (on Osborne Creek Road).
By Angela Storey
Virgil Robinson has devoted much time to learning about something that happened in Booneville 136 years ago -- the Civil War.
He said some people may be unaware there was both a "Capture of Booneville" on May 30, 1862, and a "Battle of Booneville" on July 1, 1862. (It was thanks to the Battle of Booneville that Colonel Phillip Sheridan was promoted to brigadier general).
"Nothing I’ve learned is new. It happened 136 years ago and has been in existence all this time," he said. It has surprised him how much information he has uncovered.
Robinson, a drafting teacher at the Prentiss County Vocational Technical School for the last 27 years, first became interested in Booneville’s place in the Civil War about 20 years ago.
That was when his cousin, Vance Mitchell of Summerville, S.C., who was born in Rienzi, mentioned seeing a magazine article about the "Battle of Booneville."
"The 'Battle of Booneville’ has been in the back of my mind ever since," the Booneville resident said.
Although Robinson asked a few people about Civil War activity in the area, he really did no serious research on the subject. Then about two years ago he found a reference on an American History CD-Rom about General Phillip H. Sheridan being headquartered at Booneville.
"This started my research in earnest," Robinson said.
"With access to the Internet, I found a wealth of information about the Civil War. When the Internet came along I was like a hog in heaven. It is unbelievable how much information is available," he said.
One of the articles he uncovered was a magazine article entitled "Fire and Maneuver at the Battle of Booneville" by William B. Hankee that appeared in the March 1973 edition of Military Review.
This turned out to be the very magazine article his cousin had mentioned some 20 years ago.
Through the Internet, Robinson located Hankee who lives in Harrisburg, Pa. The two talked and corresponded and Hankee told Robinson about an extensive study the Army conducted a few years back to explain the relationship between fire and maneuver and how their employment influenced success or failure in battle.
Sixteen historic battles were selected for analysis. In a letter to Robinson, Hankee wrote, "The study took more than a year to complete and included both small and large unit actions from the American Revolution, Civil War, World War I, World War II and Korea.
"The Battle of Booneville was one of the 16 selected case studies," Hankee wrote.
Hankee mentioned to Robinson he and his wife travel quite a bit and it would be nice to see some signs showing the way to the "Booneville Battlefield." "People shouldn’t be allowed to forget what happened there on July 1, 1862," Hankee wrote.
Robinson continued research on the Internet and found an unpublished diary of a member of the Second Michigan Cavalry, Henry Mortimer Hempstead, which contained information about his being in the Booneville area during the Civil War.
The diary was in possession of the Marshall Historical Society of Marshall, Mich. Through E-mail contacts, Robinson met Chris Czopek, Camp Historian for the Colegrove-Woodruff Camp 22 of the Sons of the Union Veterans of Calhoun County, Mich., who provided information from the diary about Booneville.
Czopek and Robinson had the opportunity to meet in Booneville in October when Czopek participated in a Civil War reenactment in Corinth.
Czopek presented Robinson with a copy of Hempstead’s diary which is available to the public at the George E. Allen Library.
Robinson has devoted countless hours to researching Booneville and the Civil War. In addition to the Internet, he has the official records of the Civil War on CD-ROM which have helped in his research.
He has compiled the information he has found in a book entitled Booneville Mississippi in the Civil War. In addition to all the information he has been able to compile about Booneville in the Civil War, Robinson has also included information about finding Civil War records.
Robinson has presented a copy of his book to the George E. Allen Library in Booneville. Since the book is a reference book, it cannot be checked out but the public is welcome to look at it in the library.
"The Battle of Booneville was an extremely important battle in the course of the Civil War," Robinson said.
The Battle of Booneville occurred July 1, 1862. From what Robinson has gleaned from his research, the battle took place on the Osborne Creek Road, in front of the old Tays house. (This is also referred to as the Blackland Road in Civil War accounts).
"By June 1862, the Confederate army had withdrawn from Corinth and had garrisoned Baldwyn and Tupelo," he said. "The Union army had control of Rienzi and Corinth. Booneville was a buffer between the two great armies.
"Late in June, Colonel Phillip H. Sheridan, in command of the Second Michigan Cavalry and the Second Iowa Calvary, was ordered to garrison Booneville. On July 1, 1862, General James R. Chalmers, in command of several cavalry units, attacked the Union garrison about 8:30 in the morning," he said.
From the information he has found, it is apparent the "Battle of Booneville" was a full fledged battle in every sense of the word, he said.
From official war records, Robinson found the following dispatch from Colonel Sheridan at Booneville on July 1, 1862: "I was attacked this morning by from eight to ten regiments of cavalry, under command of General Chalmers, and have driven them back. They attacked my advanced guard about two miles southwest of Booneville, on the Blackland Road. I immediately supported it by one battalion of my own regiment, and then sent additional supports.
"I then directed Captain Alger, with two companies of the Second Iowa and two companies of my own regiment, to charge them in the rear -- this was handsomely done -- and at the same time Major Coon, of the Second Iowa, with his battalion, to make a dash in front and on their left. This haltered the enemy very much and enabled me to hold them during the whole day. About 3:30 p.m. they commenced retreating.
"I regret that I am not able to follow them up. I sent for Mizner’s cavalry to Rienzi; also for artillery support from General Asboth. They have not arrived. I have just written to General Asboth that I will not need infantry support. The enemy will not again attack me today and probably have retreated finally. My command behaved handsomely. I regret the loss of some officers and men; I do not as yet know how many. The enemy have been badly injured. This force came from Tupelo and Saltillo. I learn this, as well as their strength, from prisoners taken."
Robinson also notes Booneville resident R.J. (Piggy) Bonds said when the Lovers Lane Road, which is off of Osborne Creek Road, was moved in the early 1950s, the remains of two Confederate soldiers were moved to the Booneville Cemetery. There are eight markers for unknown Confederate soldiers in one section of the cemetery (south of the flag pole on the west side of the old part of the cemetery). A monument placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy is centered on six of the graves, which means the other two graves could have been added after the UDC monument was placed.
Robinson is still trying to track down the year the UDC placed their monument in the cemetery.
From what he has read from Union reports concerning the Battle of Booneville, Union casualties were around 42. Confederate casualties were not known but were estimated at approximately 100, he said. "There are no Confederate reports on the Battle of Booneville that I can find," he said.
The "Capture of Booneville" occurred May 30, 1862, at the Depot (which is on East Church Street in downtown Booneville).
From the information he has found, in late May 1862 the Confederate army occupied Corinth. After the Battle of Shiloh, the Union army pursued the Rebel army until they reached the northern edge of Corinth. A fierce battle had been fought at Farmington resulting in a Union victory. It was from here a Union raiding party set out on May 27, 1862, to disrupt the supply line to Corinth, he said.
"This Union raiding party, under the command of Col. Washington L. Elliott of the Second Iowa Cavalry, was unaware the Confederate army, under the command of General G.T. Beauregard, was planning to withdraw from Corinth along the M&O Railroad that ran through Booneville," he said.
Col. Elliott reached Booneville in the early morning on May 30, the same day the Confederate army was evacuating Corinth.
The Union cavalry raiding party, under the command of Col. Elliott, attacked Booneville at daylight. Some 2,000 sick and wounded Confederate soldiers were captured and paroled. The depot and a large train filled with military supplies and equipment were destroyed, according to information Robinson has found. The official Union account said 26 cars and a locomotive were destroyed while the Confederate account said six cars and an engine were destroyed.
A Confederate report said three live prisoners were burned during the Capture of Booneville, he said, adding the Union report denied that.
As a bit of Civil War trivia, the Personal Memoirs of P.H. Sheridan state the personal baggage of Confederate General Leonidas Polk was found on the train in Booneville and burned.
The History of the 2nd Iowa states after the Capture of Booneville, Col. Washington Elliott was promoted to general.
And Col. Phillip Sheridan, who is described by historians as "a cavalryman who inspired soldiers by his dashing leadership, courage and personal magnetism," was promoted to brigadier general after the Battle of Booneville. One reference stated, "While commanding the 2nd Regiment, Michigan Volunteer Cavalry, he defeated a numerically superior Confederate force at Booneville."
At some point, possibly even after the war, the officers of the Third Division, 20th Army Corps, presented Sheridan with a pair of Navy Colt revolvers, Robinson said. Three Civil War battles are inscribed on the pistol grips. The inscription reads: Boonville (an 'e’ was omitted), Chaplin Hills (Perryville, Ky.) and Stones River (Murfreesborough, Tenn.) Booneville was the first battle inscribed. The Smithsonian Institute has the pair of pistols, he said.
Also during his research, Robinson found reference to the fact a Confederate flag was captured during the "Capture of Booneville" and sent to the Iowa state capitol. The flag is described as a "flag of the state of Texas, 6x10 feet, gray field with red border all around, trimmed with fringe; magnolia tree worked in colored silks in center of field; large lone star worked in tinsel in place of Union. Captured at Booneville, Miss., May 30, 1862, by James Kennedy and turned over to Sgt. G.W. Budd, Co. G, 2nd Iowa Calvary."
However, from an expert concerning Civil War flags, Robinson was told the flag sounded like a variant of the Mississippi state flag and therefore was a Mississippi unit not a Texas unit flag. The magnolia tree was definitely a feature of the Mississippi state flag of the period.
As a Civil War timeline, the fighting at Shiloh, Tenn., took place April 6-7, 1862. The Capture of Booneville was May 30, 1862 and the Battle of Booneville was July 1, 1862. The Battle of Corinth was Oct. 3-4, 1862. The Battle at Brice’s Crossroads occurred June 10, 1864. (General Nathan Bedford Forest is reputed to have spent the night in the Cunningham House in Booneville the night before the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads, planning strategy).
Concerning Booneville’s past in the Civil War, "We lost them all (the fighting). It’s history. We can’t brag about whipping the Yankees. But we had history that happened here," Robinson said.
And he wants that history to be remembered.
Robinson hopes historical markers will be placed on Osborne Creek Road to mark the Battle of Booneville and at the Depot in recognition of the Capture of Booneville.
He has requested approval for such markers from the Mississippi State Archives and Historical Preservation Committee which is the first step toward that goal. He hopes the Booneville Area Chamber of Commerce (whose new home is the old Depot) will help pursue the project so future generations will be aware of Booneville’s place in the Civil War.
Mortimer Hempstead kept a diary during the Civil War and the Union soldier
wrote about the Battle of Booneville. The unpublished diary is in the possession
of the Marshall Historical Society in Marshall, Mich. Chris Czopek (below,
right), who is associated with the historical groups in Marshall, Mich.,
was in Booneville, Miss., recently and presented local Civil War researcher
Virgil Robinson (below, left) a copy of the diary which is available to
the public at the George E. Allen Library.
Hempstead Returns to Booneville
By Angela Storey
Henry Mortimer Hempstead has returned to Booneville ... in a sense.
At least the diary Hempstead kept during the Civil War (and the Battle of Booneville) has returned. And it is thanks to Chris Czopek.
Czopek, camp historian for the Sons of Union Veterans Camp 22 Marshall, Mich., has been instrumental in Booneville resident Virgil Robinson’s research about Booneville during the Civil War.
"Chris has really been helpful in my research. He has gone the extra mile," Robinson said.
Robinson and Czopek became acquainted through the Internet after Robinson learned about an unpublished Civil War diary manuscript owned by the Marshall Historical Society in Marshall, Mich.
Czopek had the opportunity to visit Booneville in October -- his first trip to Mississippi and the City of Hospitality. He is a reenactor with the 3rd Battery 1st Michigan Light Artillery and was participating in a Civil War reenactment in Corinth. (The original unit fought in Corinth during the Civil War and is mentioned often in the Hempstead diary).
It is also of interest that Czopek’s speciality is identifying unknown Civil War soldiers.
While visiting Robinson in Booneville, Czopek presented him with a copy of Hempstead’s Civil War diary which is now available to the public at the George E. Allen Library in Booneville.
"The diary is rich in little details," Czopek said. The diary’s writer, Henry Mortimer Hempstead, was Quartermaster Sergeant of Company M, 2nd Michigan Calvary, when he was in Booneville. He later became a lieutenant and he survived the war.
It is unusual how the Marshall Historical Society came into possession of Hempstead’s diary, Czopek said.
"A person from Marshall, Mich., was visiting down South. A stranger came up and asked, 'Are you from Marshall, Mich.?’ When he replied, 'Yes,’ the stranger said, 'Well, I guess you should have this’ and handed him the typewritten manuscript of the diary," Czopek said.
The person receiving the manuscript then returned to Michigan and gave it to the Marshall Historical Society. He walked away as if in a hurry to get somewhere and they did not get his name, Czopek said.
Hempstead’s diary is titled "A Union Soldier’s Diary of his Civil War Service with the Second Michigan Cavalry."
With permission for reprinting from the Marshall Historical Society, here is an excerpt from Hempstead’s diary concerning the Battle of Booneville:
"On the morning of the first of July 1862 at daylight our pickets a couple of miles in advance were attacked by the Rebel cavalry in force.
"Reveille had sounded and we were out attending roll call when a messenger from the pickets dashed in bringing in the report of the attack. Boots and saddles rang through the camps and both Regts. were soon in line and proceeding to the point of attack. Were soon judiciously posted.
"The fighting was desultory but at times quite close and sharp. The Enemy consisting of 8 Regts. of cavalry under General Chalmers made repeated efforts to break our lines at different points, sometimes forcing our men back, but always being obliged to recoil with heavy loss, the revolving rifles of the Michigan and the Sharp’s carbines of the 2nd Iowa doing fearful execution along their ranks.
"Col. Sheridan was at all points of danger and by judicious management met their overwhelming force by a firm front at all points. Later in the day four Companies (Lt. H. of our Regiment) who still retained their sabers were sent by a circuitous route to attack the enemy in the rear. They charges among their wagons, ambulances and wounded, gaining some advantage at first but were finally repulsed with some loss, but the movement seemed to have a discouraging effect upon the enemy who drew off about three o’clock p.m. leaving us masters of the field.
"Our loss was about 35 killed and wounded, theirs was reported at over 100. Chalmers himself being wounded.
"This fight placed a star upon Phil Sheridan’s shoulder, his commission as Brig. General dating from this day."
Henry Mortimer Hempstead
Reprinted by permission.