Colonel Harry Maury, CSA

by Fred Ray on June 10, 2006 · 1 comment

Since reading Eric Wittenberg’s account of Grumble Jones, part of his project to rescue forgotten cavalrymen from oblivion, I decided to do the same for an even more obscure horse soldier, Colonel Harry Maury, CSA, who ended the war as commander of Fifteenth Confederate Cavalry.

Henry Maury was one of those outsized, swashbucking, insanely brave 19th Century figures who actually lived the life that Errol Flynn only acted. “Harry Maury,” wrote a Mobile newspaper, “was in every essential ‘a character.’ Nature stamped him a genius, and as Nature seldom bestows her gifts pure and unalloyed, she gave him this one with all the eccentricities and drawbacks that belong to it.”

Born in Fredericksburg, VA, in 1829, the young Henry Maury developed a severe case of wanderlust early on, going off to sea in his teen years and traveling around the world. Some accounts say he participated as a sailor in the Vera Cruz campaign in the Mexican War, but in any case he was in command of his own schooner plying the coastal trade along the Gulf by age 20, when he located in Mobile, Alabama. Switching professions, he entered the bar as a lawyer in 1852, practiced for a few years, then ran successfully for Marshal of the City of Mobile in 1855. There, “his administrative ability, promptness, and inflexible determination, secured a state of order and security of life and property, never before or since attained in Mobile.” He was related both to Maj. Gen. Dabney Maury and Mathew Fontaine Maury, “The Pathfinder of the Seas.”

This job was, apparently, too routine for Maury, who resigned in 1857 to participate in William Walker’s second filibustering expedition to Central America, which was organized in Mobile. Maury’s part was to transport 200 or so volunteers to Honduras. Apprehended by a Federal Marshall in Mobile Bay, Maury plied the man with “hospitality,” induced him to sleep on the vessel, then slipped off during the night. Later, he transferred the lawman to another US-bound ship. Maury’s ship wrecked before reaching its destination, without loss of life, but with his usual charm he talked his way out of the situation in British Honduras so well that the British governor lost his job.

Returning to Mobile, Maury fell out with fellow filibuster and cashiered French officer Captain Henri de Riviere. This led to a duel in Pascacoula, MS, which attracted a large crowd of spectators wishing to “see Harry shoot the Frenchman.” Harry performed as expected, putting a bullet into Riviere’s mouth (who nevertheless survived to inherit great wealth).

As might be expected, Maury signed up immediately when war broke out in 1861. Enlisting as a private, he was soon elected colonel of the Second Alabama Infantry. Stationed at Fort Morgan, near Mobile, Maury trained his men both as infantry and gunners. The Second was eventually ordered to Fort Pillow, but the men did not re-enlist when their term of service expired after a year, so Maury stood for and won an election to Lieutenant Colonel of the Thirty-second Alabama Infantry. As such he led his regiment at Murfreesboro, where he was wounded. Rejoining them, he suffered an even worse wound at Jackson, Mississippi. In typical fashion he finished a story he was telling after being wounded.

Maury ended up in Mobile, where his cousin Major General Dabney Maury was in command, and assumed command of the newly formed Fifteenth Confederate Cavalry in the fall of 1863. Colonel Maury led the Fifteenth until the end of the war and seems to have done a good job of handling the regiment in both the small-unit skirmishing in which it was constantly engaged and in it larger engagements such as the one at Tunica Bend, where he captured a number of prisoners and wagons in a sudden attack.

Meanwhile, “while his soul was loyal in faith and honor to his fellows, he was only an enemy to himself.” Put in command of three regiments by General (Dabney) Maury and ordered to advance on Pascagoula, Harry Maury did nothing, which led to his court martial. When the judge advocate brought forward three witnesses that he was drunk, Maury produced six of equal character who said he wasn’t. He was acquitted.

When General Maury sent him to Mississippi to break up “dens of deserters and skulkers,” however, Harry Maury “dealt with the traitors very roughly,” hanging several and arresting many more. After the war the survivors pursued legal actions against him and attempted to have him arrested until General Maury persuaded the Union commander, General E. R. S. Canby, to stop them.

After the war Harry Maury returned to Mobile where, “his health much impaired by his wounds,” he ran a retail store. He continued to be renowned in polite society for his wit and bonhomie. Maury died quite suddenly in February 1869 at age forty of a “hemorrhage of the lungs,” the result of his Mufreesboro wound.

Soldier, sailor, cavalryman, filibuster, lawyer, marshal and racounteur, Harry Maury had done more in his forty years than most men do in a lifetime. “His faults,” read his obituary, “were but the richness of native virtues running to weed in the rank garden of social temptation”.

Rest in peace, Colonel Maury. We shall never see your like again.


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