Tuesday, March 2, 2010

William Elisha Bowen - Civil War Soldier

signature of Wm E Bowen

William Elisha Bowen was born about 1834 in South Carolina and moved to Pontotoc County with his parents, James Dulaney Bowen and Elizabeth Bowen, around 1850. William Elisha married Harriet Amandaville Reid in 1859, and a copy of their marriage license was posted earlier on this blog. Census records indicate that Elisha and Harriet moved to Itawamba County after 1870 although family legend is that they were living near Kirkville before the Civil War broke out. There are stories of Harriet riding by horseback to visit her husband in the war camps near Shiloh. It could be that the family did live for a time at Kirkville, moved back to Pontotoc by 1870, then moved one last time to the Mud Creek community of Itawamba County.

William Elisha Bowen died on August 12, 1878 according to probate records at the Itawamba County courthouse, and he was buried at Mt. Vernon Cemetery. A confederate marker placed at his grave indicates he served in Company C of Johnston's Miss. Infantry; also, the notes of his great-grandson Marquis Owens show that Elisha enlisted on October 31, 1861 in Company C, 1st Regiment, Mississippi Volunteers and was discharged April 15, 1862 at Poplar Springs. However, other records, including those found on microfilm at the National Archives, indicate that Elisha served in Company "G" in the 31st Mississippi Infantry, enlisting April 25, 1862 at either Saltillo, Miss. or Pontotoc County, Miss. (muster rolls variously indicate both places) under Colonel J. A. Orr.

Which is correct? Actually, they both could be. The 1861 enlistment was early in the war, following the South's easy victory at Manassas when everyone thought the war would be quickly won. Those early enlistments were on a volunteer basis, but as the war continued, states used a conscription draft to fulfill their militia quotas. I suspect that Elisha served one term and then re-enlisted. Too, companies and regiments were forevermore being organized and re-organized throughout the war. It can be confusing when trying to determine exactly where and when your ancestor served. I think the 31st Miss. Infantry was part of the 1st Miss. Regiment, at least at some point.

The National Park Service's website provides that the 31st Regiment, Miss. Infantry was organized in March 1862 with Company G being organized in Pontotoc County. In Military History of Mississippi, famed historian Dunbar Rowland wrote, "While this regiment was being mustered in at Saltillo, the men could hear the roar of the cannon at the battle of Shiloh." The regiment was ordered to Corinth in an attempt to hold that city from advancing Union troops following the Confederate loss at Shiloh. After Corinth fell, Elisha and his regiment retreated toward Tupelo where Mr. Rowland wrote that the regiment "was on guard at Twenty Mile Creek until the sick and wounded had been carried past, after which they followed the army to Tupelo." Twenty Mile Creek is near Kirkville, and it is reasonable to think that Harriet Reid Bowen could have ridden a horse to visit her husband in a camp there.

Mr. Rowland's account of the 31st Miss. Regiment indicates that the regiment moved south out of North Mississippi and spent some time in Baton Rouge before returning to Holly Springs to get ready for the Second Battle of Corinth. After an unsuccessful attempt to take Corinth, Confederate troops retreated back to Holly Springs, then fled south to Oxford and Water Valley. The 31st Regiment was ordered into the Mississippi Delta to foil Gen. U.S. Grant's attempts to bring a gunboat to Vicksburg down the Yazoo and Tallahatchie Rivers and through the flooded Delta swampland. At Fort Pemberton, near Greenwood, Confederate troops were successful in repulsing Grant's attempt to reach Vicksburg via the Mississippi Delta. As we all know, however, Grant ultimately did reach and capture Vicksburg, which fell on July 4, 1863. Following the fall of Vicksburg, Union forces took Jackson and were victorious at battles at Champions Hill and Big Black River.

Based on William Elisha Bowen's muster roll records, he was present during all of these battles, collectively known as the Central Mississippi Campaign. There was very little action after the surrender of Vicksburg and Jackson, however, and both sides spent some time reorganizing and exchanging prisoners. The March and April 1864 muster roll indicates that Elisha was absent, "left sick near Old Town, Miss." on the march to Demopolis, Alabama on February 15th, 1864. Further, the muster roll shows that Elisha lost his "mess kit, cartridge box, pouch, waist belt, shoulder strap, 37 cartridges and 41 caps." "Old Town" is the name of a former Chickasaw Indian village in present-day Lee County, perhaps this is where Elisha was "left sick."

This is the last service record I have for William Elisha Bowen, and it is supposed that he was discharged due to illness. However, if he did rejoin his regiment, he saw further action in and around Atlanta and Nashville, then into the Carolinas before war's end. There is evidence to support Elisha's return to his regiment as his grave marker indicates service under "Johnston," likely General Joseph Johnston who commanded the Army of Tennessee, which included the 31st Miss. Regiment by the summer of 1864.

Below is one of the muster rolls for William Elisha Bowen, this one dated May and June, 1863. Note that under the remarks sections, Elisha was appointed Sergeant in November 1862 but was reduced "to rank" of private on February 10, 1863. Note that Saltillo is given as the place of enlistment for Elisha, but I have other muster rolls that give Pontotoc County as his enlistment place. Following the muster roll is a receipt for payment to W. E. Bowen in July, 1863 which includes Elisha's signature. If anyone is interested in copies of the military records I have obtained from microfilm at the National Archives, I'll be glad to share.

Elisha Bowen owned a grist mill at Mud Creek, said to have been built by Mr. Mack Shaw and used by the first settlers of the area. After Elisha's death, the mill was bought by Tom Senter, and then later was owned by Tom Graham. Many baptizings took place near the mill, including those by members of Mt. Vernon Church where the Bowen family worshiped. Today, the location of the mill is under the Tenn-Tom Waterway.

Elisha's daughter, Angeline Amandaville, known as Amanda, was the mother of Fisher Johnson, my husband's great-grandfather.

The Confederate States
To W. E. Bowen, private in Company G, 31st Miss. Regiment
Monthly pay from the 1st day of Nov 1861 to the 25th day of April 1862, being 5 months and 23 days, at $11 per month, $63.80. Commutation for clothing from Nov 1st 1861 to April 25, 1862, $5.00, Total $68.80

I certify that I have endorsed this payment on the descriptive roll of Capt. G. W. L. Fortune Commanding Co. (C) 1st miss. Regiment.
B. F. Fitzpatrick, Capt. & A.Q.M. 31st Miss. Regiment

Received at camp near Morton, Miss. July 28, 1863 of Capt. B. F. Fitzpatrick, A.Q.M., Sixty-eight and 80/100 dollars in full of the above account.
Signed W. E. Bowen
Witness: John McCullough

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