southern unionism

Landrums in Gray & Blue: Conflicting Loyalties in Piney Woods Mississippi (part 2)

This is the second of Ed Payne’s three-part series on the Landrum family of Civil War Mississippi. To read Part 1: “The Gray,” click here. —vb

Part 2: The Blue

 

By Ed Payne

On 25 March 1864, twenty-eight men from south Mississippi entered Fort Pike and signed papers agreeing to serve for three years as Union soldiers in the 1st New Orleans Infantry.  It would be the largest single day’s enrollment of Piney Woods men whose opposition to Confederate authority had grown over the course of the war.

Fort Pike was one of a series of coast fortifications constructed by the Federal government after the War of 1812.  Completed in 1826, the fort guarded the strait that connects Lake Pontchartrain with the Gulf of Mexico.   After Union forces captured New Orleans and portions of southern Louisiana in the spring of 1862, the fort became a garrison and training center.

Fort Pike, Louisiana, as it appears today

Confederate military operations targeting the deserters and conscription evaders in Jones and surrounding counties began in early March of 1864.  The commander of the first campaign, CSA Col. Henry Maury, noted with satisfaction the results:

“They have scattered in every direction . . . but most for Honey Island and the Coast.” 

Honey Island is a section of the Pearl River basin, about thirty miles east of Fort Pike.  The next step—a major one—would be to establish contact with the Federals and accept an offer to enlist.

Prior to March 25, only eighteen refugees from Mississippi had enrolled and they came in singularly or in twos or threes.  But between 25 March and 31 July 1864, an additional 184 joined the ranks of the 1st New Orleans.  Each man signed or affixed his mark to a document specifying that his service would be limited to the defense of New Orleans which essentially removed any concerns about having to face fellow Mississippians in combat.

The names of four Landrum men appear on the rolls for that day:  Thomas S. Landrum, who gave his age as 43; William P. Landrum, age 28; Henry Landrum, age 18; and John Landrum, age 19.  As related in Part 1, Thomas and William Pinkney Landrum were brothers and had enlisted together in the Confederate 2nd Battalion AL Light Artillery in February 1862.  They deserted in October following the Battle of Iuka.  Henry was the eldest son of Thomas while John was a first cousin (son of Jesse Marion Landrum).  Only Thomas could sign his name; the other three made their marks on the enlistment form.

The arrival of over two dozen men on a single day suggests they came as an organized group.  The military and pension records offer no hard evidence that Thomas Landrum served as their leader.  But the fact remains that 24 of the 28 men who enlisted that day were assigned to the same company—Company D—and that Thomas was simultaneously appointed their Sergeant.  A review of the timing of events in the Piney Woods is also suggestive.  CSA Captain A.F. Ramsey wrote his letter complaining about the activities of deserters led by “one Landrum of Jones County” on 8 March 1864, unaware that Col. Maury and his troops had arrived in the area a few days earlier.  Maury’s superior reported that his force consisted of 200 cavalrymen, a battalion of sharpshooters, and horse-drawn artillery.

Over a seven day period, the troops led by Maury captured and hung three deserters, then accepted the surrender of a dozen more.  This occurred two weeks prior to the group enlistment at Fort Pike.  Those members of the Newt Knight Band who joined the 1st New Orleans did so later—from April 30 to May 28—after a subsequent campaign led by CSA Col. Robert Lowry.  This lends credence to Rudy Leverett’s hypothesis in Legend of the Free State of Jones (pg 90-94) that Maury’s brief campaign may have skirmished with deserters other than those led by Newt Knight.  (Note 1)

Thomas Landrum’s enlistment in U.S. Army, 1st Regiment, New Orleans Volunteers

 

Once in uniform, Thomas apparently sought permission to bring in more refugees from Honey Island.  He and his son Henry received multiple leave authorizations from May through September of 1864.  Military officials probably welcomed the south Mississippians as a new source of manpower and saw Thomas as someone who could convince others to enlist.  But at the same time there existed a pressing need for noncommissioned officers to maintain records and train the influx of new recruits.  Thomas reverted to the rank of private in May.  His former position seems to have been filled by a young Irish emigrant who possessed clerical skills well beyond Thomas’s rudimentary literacy.

The impact of the two Confederate offensives against the deserters in the Piney Woods, combined with solicitation for troops at Fort Pike, resulted in May 1864 being the peak month for enrollment of Mississippians.  Seventy-seven men joined the 1st New Orleans that month, with another 40 in June-July but only three thereafter.  Other than the authorized leaves, military records are silent on what role Thomas played in mustering these Mississippians into the ranks of the 1st New Orleans.  Thomas merely stated, years later in an affidavit for a disability pension, that he contracted both sunstroke and diarrhea while transporting refugees across Lake Pontchartrain to New Orleans in the summer of 1864.

At Fort Pike and New Orleans, Piney Woods soldiers encountered a world far removed from anything in their past.  They made up only 15% of the troops in the 1st New Orleans, while at least 25% of their fellow soldiers were immigrants from countries such as Ireland, England, France, Germany, and Switzerland.  Fort Pike also served as the training base for members of the 74th U.S. Colored Troops, many of whom were newly emancipated slaves.  If the Mississippians did not previously know that the elimination of slavery had become a primary objective of the war, they soon learned otherwise.

Descriptions of conditions in the masonry fort range from Spartan to hellish: hot and humid in the summer, dank and chilly in the winter.  Living quarters were crowded and sanitation poor.  Many of the Piney Woods recruits proved highly susceptible to diseases.  While only 4.5% of non-Mississippians in the regiment died of disease, illness took the lives of 27.3% of the Mississippians—slightly more than 1 in 4.  The most common causes of death were small pox and chronic diarrhea.

A small pox victim

The high incidence of small pox among the Mississippians was due to lack of prior exposure in the rural settings of their previous homes. Those who survived exposure to the disease in cities and towns developed immunity.  The use of cow pox as a vaccination was proven effective in the 1790s, but over half a century later there was still no means for large scale inoculation.  Also, the lack of understanding about the mechanics of disease transmission resulted in soldiers contracting amoebic dysentery from polluted water sources.  This produced the chronic diarrhea that killed many and, for others, remained a lifelong malady.

The children of Jesse Marion Landrum suffered an especially heavy toll.  Jesse had three daughters married to men who joined the 1st New Orleans:  Delphane Dorcus Landrum (James W. Lee), Cynthia Ann Landrum (John Tucker), and Elizabeth Landrum (Thomas Holliman).  Not only did Jesse Marion Landrum’s son, John, die during Union service, so did the husbands of these three daughters.

But soldiers were not the only victims of disease.   Some of the refugees brought their families with them to New Orleans and they, too, fell ill in the urban setting.  According to a later deposition, Thomas settled his family in a house on Canal Street.  He had married Sarah Ann Crosby around 1841 and she bore him nine children.  Within months of her arrival, Sarah contracted small pox and died in October of 1864.  Within a year, three of their children also died:  Alexander, Linson, and Rebecca.

Linson B. Landrum, a brother of Thomas, was conscripted in October of 1863 (see Part 1).  By this point Confederate recordkeeping had become erratic, and no further records are found for Linson until May of 1864, when he appears on the rolls of the 8th AL Infantry.  A notation states that on 1 November 1864 he was transferred to the 48th MS Infantry (the unit into which he had been originally conscripted) which was stationed in the trenches outside Petersburg, Virginia.

On 24 December 1864 Linson crossed over to the Union lines and requested to take the oath of allegiance.  Unlike those Southern soldiers who avowed loyalty after being taken prisoner, Linson was accepted as a legitimate defector.  He declared his allegiance on 27 December.  Linson then requested that he be allowed to serve with his brothers in Louisiana.  Request granted, he arrived in New Orleans in February of 1865.   Two months later, on 19 April 1865, Linson died of fever.  He left a widow, Elizabeth Pitts Landrum, and eight children.

Soldiers in the 1st New Orleans Infantry did not engage in combat, but the high death toll among the Mississippians deserves comment.  A remark I have heard more than once from descendants is that these men only joined for the bounty money being offered rather than because of any true Unionist convictions.  But a $25 bounty (with an additional $75 paid upon discharge) seems meager measured against a 1-in-4 chance of dying.  Nor can it be said that the enlistees were unaware of these odds.  Nearly 80% of the Piney Woods soldiers’ deaths occurred between July 1864 and January 1865, yet until the end of the war, the percentage of Mississippians who deserted was only 8.3% compared to 20.2% for other enlistees.  This indicates that the Mississippians who enlisted in the 1st New Orleans Infantry did so based on a strong set of convictions.

 

Coming Next: Ed Payne, “Part 3: Aftermath”

 NOTES:

1. While Newt Knight’s band may have eluded much of Maury’s operation, there is evidence of at least one contact.  A list of engagements fought by the Knight Company, presumed to have been written by Newt himself, includes “Battel of Big Creek Church February the 1 Jones Co 1864 a ginst Cornel Marre of Momile Ala and his artiley.”  The list may have been composed some time after the war, which would explain the error in the date (five weeks before Maury’s arrival in Jones County).   Thanks to Vikki Bynum for providing me a copy of this document.

1 reply »

  1. I had also heard that family member joined up for the bounty money. It doesn’t make sense that so many died, but given the diseases and environment, it does add up. Very good summation.

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