America, how should we remember this soldier?

Elijah Morrison had a small farm in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, outside the rural community of Talking Rock, Georgia.

It was beautiful country. Good soil, clean water, and the woods were heavy with game. It was the type of place a man would fight to stay, not leave to fight.

But by the winter of 1862 the war had drained most of the young men from the county and calls for more volunteers came daily.

“To Arms! To Arms!” read the recruiting posters. “Rally Young Men! To War!”

Elijah was hesitant. At 36, he was older than most who initially joined, and he was bound to the land, a poor farmer who worked it alone, and food was becoming scarce. He would have to leave his wife, Esther, to run the farm alone with their three children – 12-year old Julia, 11-year old Emma, and his son, 7-year old Montgomery.

Politicians said the war would be over by then, anyway. But it was now nearing its 20th month and the newspapers told of horrific battles in places like Shiloh, Manassas, and Sharpsburg. The death toll kept rising and the call to arms kept sounding. Many of his friends had already answered, and the Union Army kept marching closer, ever closer, to Georgia.

So finally, on his 37th birthday – December 1, 1862 – Elijah bid a sad farewell to Esther and his children and walked off to enlist in the 36th Regiment, Georgia Infantry.

If it’s any consolation (and it’s not), Elijah’s was a short war.

With little training and few supplies, his regiment marched across Tennessee and joined the ranks of the Army of Mississippi. Within three-months of leaving home, Elijah found himself part of the force defending Vicksburg, a fortress-like city that commanded the last Confederate-held portion of the Mississippi River.

Elijah’s first taste of war came on May 16 at the hands of Major General Ulysses S. Grant, who sent the Army of Mississippi fleeing behind the city’s many fortifications.

The Siege of Vicksburg had begun, and it was a poor thing. Already low on stocks and weakened, those trapped inside the city were quickly down to eating mules, dogs, cats, and even rats. Clean water was rare, and medicine nonexistent.

In the middle of all this, Elijah managed to have a letter smuggled to Esther.

He told her how slow the army’s march had been, how distant the soldiers felt from their generals, and about when to plant crops and who in town would give a good price for the coming harvest.

“Such eating we get here isn’t fit for a dog,” he also wrote. “I don’t like this place at all.”

He wouldn’t be staying much longer.

The siege ended when Confederate forces surrendered on July 4th, but relief didn’t come quickly enough to Elijah. Sickness, starvation, and dehydration had left him near death. He and others like him were ferried down river to New Orleans and then on to the many makeshift hospitals dotting the coastline from Louisiana to Florida.

Elijah was let off at Point Clear, along the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, and carried inside the hospital that had once been the Grand Hotel.

Sometime later, Esther received a letter from a hospital volunteer named Mrs. E.A. Scott of Mobile.

“The boat came loaded with sick and wounded which brought your husband to this place,” she wrote. “He was almost dead when they brought him here.”

She then detailed Elijah’s final days, writing, “he assured me that he was ready to live or die as the Lord’s will might, but his only regret was leaving his family.”

Elijah died on July 23, 1863, just under eight months after enlisting. Trenches were hastily dug in nearby Point Clear Cemetery, and his body was placed in a mass grave with approximately 300 other soldiers from the Vicksburg campaign.

“There was so many sick and so few to do anything that marking graves was neglected,” Mrs. Scott wrote.

Esther grieved and kept the letter close for her entire life. She remained in Talking Rock and lived to be 88-years old, but never remarried. Julia and Montgomery stayed in Georgia while Emma moved to Haskell County, Texas. All were married and had children.

Elijah’s descendants are now spread across the country, from Florida to California, and have become businessmen, teachers, doctors, pastors, farmers, and attorneys, even politicians. One of his grandsons served in the U.S. Navy during World War I, and two of his great-grandsons served in World War II, one receiving two Bronze Stars.

His descendants have helped build, and defend, our nation.

Elijah Morrison would lie under unmarked earth for 136-years until members of a nearby camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans used ground-penetrating radar to successfully map the precise location of the mass graves in Point Clear.

My story about their efforts ran in a January 1999 edition of the Mobile Register and was republished across the South. It found its way into the newspaper serving Adairsville, Ga., just 30-miles from Talking Rock. There, Elijah’s great-great grandson, James Burrell, read the article and knew this must be the same “Point Clear” that the nurse mentioned in the letter, now a treasured family heirloom.

Records were checked and verified, and a stone marker supplied by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was finally set above Elijah’s final resting place.

Elijah Morrison was a farmer. He was a husband. He was a father. And, for a brief time, he was a soldier. He went when he was called, did his duty as best he could, and then died a miserable, lonely death, leaving behind a widow and three orphans to struggle through Reconstruction alone.

Children and grandchildren who never knew where their loved ones were buried eventually erected memorials across the South, like the one outside of the Madison County Courthouse in Huntsville that protestors recently demanded be removed, and the one at a downtown park in Birmingham that the mayor just had covered with plywood. You may have seen the one in Durham, N.C., hauled down and smashed to pieces earlier this month.

Is this how Americans remember dead soldiers?

These aren’t statues of Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee. They’re memorials to simple soldiers and sailors, many of whom lie in unmarked graves, and by now we should be able to separate them, as men, from the cause for which they fought.

Say what you want about the politicians and generals who led him, but Elijah Morrison and those like him deserve to be remembered and honored.

Anything less and we forget who we are, and dishonor ourselves.

6 thoughts on “America, how should we remember this soldier?

  1. Dr. R. Scott Reynolds

    I enjoyed your article on Al.com about Elijah Morrison and totally agree with it. Your last name caught my eye as I know all the Bryars in Alabama come from Baldwin and surrounding counties. I am an orthodontist in Scottsboro and a direct descendent of Green Berry Bryars who along with 2 of his sons died at the hands of the Hadley family in 1871 ( If I remember correctly) near Perdido in northern Baldwin Co. in the famous “Feud.” Just wanted to give you a pat on the back from a distant relative for your work.

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  2. LtCol (ret) Ed Kennedy

    Many of the Confederate soldier monuments were paid for by collecting pennies and nickels for years. The South was devastated by the Union Army in actions that we now teach our soldiers are war crimes. The Southern people erected these monuments to remember soldiers who were family, not for political or social statements alleged by the naacp. The naacp and black lives matter have made this into an issue solely as retribution. Beginning in 1900 and going through 1958, Congress passed four separate acts to honor Confederates soldiers in a manner equivalent to U.S. soldiers. The Veterans Administration still provides military headstones to Confederate dead as part of President McKinley’s attempt to begin reconciliation after the Spanish American War. Four former Confederate generals served as U.S. generals in that war. Reconciliation worked for years until the naacp and other radicals in black lives matter decided to make a non-issue, an issue. Attacking monuments dedicated to soldiers has now extended to attacking any monument with the specious argument that they are all “racist”. Catholic monuments, Joan of Arc, Christopher Columbus, a Vietnam monument in Texas and others not associated with the Confederacy are now being destroyed, defaced and removed around the country. This substantiates that nation-wide surveys demonstrating a total lack of history knowledge insures that we now have uneducated people using emotions instead of facts, to make decisions. Mr. Al Arnold, a friend of mine from Jackson, Mississippi came to speak last year at the Civil War Round Table in Huntsville about his ancestor who was a Confederate soldier. Al is extremely proud of his ancestor and recently wrote a book about it: “Robert E. Lee’s Orderly” (sold online). Al is a black gentleman. Having taught graduate level courses on the War Between the States, I find the lack of knowledge on this subject astounding. This is at the graduate level where I still teach. Lest there be any misunderstanding, people who have degrees may be uneducated. I actually work with people who think that being pro-Confederate monument and flags makes one a “racist”. Their knowledge of history is an inch deep. There are a lot of opinions. Everyone has opinions. Men like Al Arnold have done the research to make informed opinions. I know of a number of other black folks with Confederate ancestors they are proud of. Tyrone Williams is a retired black law enforcement officer who I sponsored to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Our ancestors fought together as Confederates and now we are dedicated to preserving their monuments. Every time a monument to Confederate soldiers is torn-down or defaced, it is not only an insult to my family, it is an insult to theirs. I have studied recruiting posters from the war for years. I have yet to find one that encouraged Union soldiers to join to “free slaves”. In fact, what they do say on many, is join to “Preserve the Union”. The Southern posters don’t say join to “Preserve Slavery” but to “Defend Hearth and Home”. Nationally recognized professor, historian, and noted author, Dr. James McPherson, read more than 25,000 letters and over 100 soldier diaries from both sides of the War for Southern Independence. McPherson is very much an anti-Confederate / Southerner. He’s a northerner with a northern bias. He wrote a book about the reasons soldiers in the war fought based on the soldiers’ first-hand accounts. This is recorded in his book: “What They Fought For, 1861-1865.” His conclusion is that Confederate soldiers “fought for liberty and independence from what they regarded as a tyrannical government.” Note that he says NOTHING about maintaining slavery. This is important since anti-Confederate historians normally cite that reason for Confederates fighting. When someone like McPherson cites his findings based on extensive study of “primary source material” —- what soldiers actually said, it should be significant to the determination of the real reasons that animated the Confederate soldiers. The monuments their families (my family) erected, was to honor their sacrifices. Period. Think of this, the Union Army was segregated. It remained segregated officially until Sons of Confederate Veterans member, President Harry Truman, integrated them in 1948. Segregation is racism. The U.S. flag and monuments to Union soldiers stood for segregation and racism using the same logic the naacp and black lives matter uses to destroy Confederate flags and monuments. Yep, for 83 years after the War Between the States the U.S. flag flew over officially segregated military forces. That makes it a racist symbol according to the naacp and black lives matter. Pretty ignorant logic? You get my point.

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  3. Sharon Whisonant

    Very sad when some in our country with strong opinions of their own disrespect others who died for what they believed in. Our “leaders” have lost the vision of our forefathers and the true meaning of free speech to allow such violent and destructive protests. The One True and Living God is our only answer.

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  4. Brenda Kisney

    This story brought tears to my eyes! The war was about more than Generals Lee or Grant. Thousands died fighting for what they believed in. As a country, we have gone too far in trying to be politically correct, So far, that like you suggest, we are forgetting the ones that were ‘just’ soldiers.
    I always enjoy your writing. Keep up the good work, and ROLL TIDE!

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  5. Jeff Young

    Pepper, thank you so much for sharing your very clear and wonderfully written account for this generation about souls whose lives and memories are treasured by their descendants. I have read that around 6% of southerners were slave owners and that mostly the war between the states was about defending the rights of the southern states guaranteed by our U. S. Constitution.
    The Morrill Tariff was a big reason as well. Elijah was certainly one of the 94% of our southerners who were just trying to work their farms, raise their families, and worship God in their churches and synagogues. Thank you again Pepper for this great article regarding a very serious issue in our nation for our time in history. Your literary work is always carefully researched, very well written, very informative, and a pleasure to read. Please keep us on your email list as we look forward to reading your next literary masterpiece! God bless you and your dear bride and precious children!
    Your friend and brother,
    Jeff Young
    Proverbs 17:17
    Hebrews 6:10

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  6. John Eidsmoe

    Mr. Bryars, Thank you for your eloquent and moving response to the mindless fanaticism that is sweeping the country today.

    Reply

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