Saturday, May 23, 2015

Singleton remembers the role young soldiers played in America's Civil War

George 'Buster' Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Young played part in Civil War” was originally published in the May 12, 1988 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

On Sunday, April 17, I traveled to Selma to watch the re-enactment of the battle that was fought there during the dark days of the Civil War.

I went against my better judgement because I felt that I wouldn’t see anything that I didn’t know about already. Not that I think that I’m smarter than most people, but I have studied in detail the events that took place there on the banks of the mighty Alabama River.

As I sat there watching the re-enactment, I noticed that some of the Rebel soldiers were very young. Two or three of the play soldiers seemed to be not over 12 or 14. I thought to myself that these young men were mighty young to be participating in this re-enactment. Even though it was only acting, it could still get quite dangerous.

Then my mind began to push forth certain instances in many battles when there were young men, no older than those before me, who played heroic roles in turning the tide of battle – many from defeat to victory.

Many of these boys soldiers gave their all on the battlefields of this bloody conflict. Many were buried in unmarked graves; many were buried without anyone knowing their names, not even the soldiers who were burying them.

History records that during one of the major battles of Chattanooga, Tenn., the cold, barefoot, slender body of a Tennessee boy, thought to be about 13 or 14, was found by a Union officer. The young, dead soldier’s haversack was examined for its contents. His entire rations were found to be a handful of black beans and six roasted acorns. The story goes on to say that the Union officer wept at the sight of those pitiful rations.

No one knows for sure who was the youngest soldier in the Civil War, but many joined the cause at the early age of 11.

George S. Lamkin of Winona, Miss. joined Stanford’s Mississippi Battery when he was 11. He was severely wounded during the battle of Shiloh, Tenn. before his 12th birthday.

T.G. Bean of Pickensville, Ala. was probably the war’s youngest recruiter. He organized two companies at the University of Alabama in 1861 when he was 13.

One of Francis Scott Key’s grandsons, Billings Steele, swam the Potomac River in the dead of night to join the rangers of John Singleton Mosby. He was not yet 16.

Records show that M.W. Jewett of Oliver Springs, Tenn. was a private in the 59th Virginia Regiment at the age of 13, serving at Charleston, S.C., in Florida and at the siege of Petersburg, Va.

John Bailey Tyler of D Troop, 1st Maryland Cavalry was 12 when the war started. He fought in this regiment until the end of the war, never once wounded.

The dreaded war closed many schools and colleges throughout the South and sent thousands into war. The average ages of these young soldiers to be was about 17. Their average weight was about 130 pounds.

The University of Virginia had 530 young men enrolled from Southern states; when the war started 515 joined the Confederate service.

There were numerous tales of soldiers being too small to climb into their saddles. Many had to be helped onto their horses before charging forth to do battle. There were several who reached the rank of colonel and general who were not old enough to vote until a year after the war ended.

Many of the records of the Confederate Army were destroyed during and after the war, but there are records today that show that there were 25 enlistees for the South who were 10 or under. These were mostly buglers, drummers or fifers. Some were fighters.

Story after story of the hardships that were endured during the dreadful days of this war was at one time passed down through the families of those involved. But over the years, these have been pushed from the minds of the descendants. We tend to rub out the unpleasant events that don’t relate to the nicer happenings that we have grown accustomed to hearing.

I do not believe that we should live in the past, but we as a nation need to know all there is to know about this dreaded war. I believe that we would be a more respected nation in this world of ours today if we had heeded the lessons and the toughness that was intended for us to abide by. Through these lessons, we would stand firm on many of the issues that we take so lightly today in world affairs.

This does not mean that we should go around with a long, sour face and think of nothing but bad things. But we should know the discipline and be able to say “No” when the word is needed.

But then, if I were right all the time and knew all that there was to know, I might be president, and that would never do, would it? So, for now, I leave you with these words…

It will be the same in a hundred years –
What a fantasy to conjure up smiles and tears!
How oft do I muse, ‘mid the thoughtless and gay,
On the marvelous truth that these words convey!
And can it be so? Must the valiant and free
Hold their tenure of life on this frail decree?
Are the truths they’ve reared and the glories they’ve won
Only fantasies and make-believe confronting the sun?
And must all that’s as joyous and brilliant to view
As a midsummer dream be as perishing too?

Then what meaneth the chase after phantom joys,
And the breaking of human hearts for toys,
And the veteran’s pride in his crafty schemes,
And the passion of youth for its darling dreams,
And the aiming at ends we never can span,
And the deadly aversion of man for man?
To what end is this conflict of hopes and fears?
Will it all be the same in a hundred years?

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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