De Aragon, The Chronicle of a Confedere Surgeon – Part 9

by Robert M. Webb on May 26, 2012 · 2 comments

Author’s Note:

This is part 9 in the series on Major Ramon T. de Aragon. After the Battle of Chickamauga, De Aragon’s brigade returned to Mississippi  and was placed in the division of Major General Samuel Gibbs French. It was to remain in this division till the end of the war.

When reading excerpts of letters written by De Aragon, please keep in mind that English was not his native language.

The Meridian Campaign

 

On October 20, 1863 Major General Samuel French was ordered by Benjamin S. Ewell, General Joseph E. Johnston’s Assistant Adjutant – General, to proceed to Brandon, Mississippi and take command of a new division made up of the brigades of Brigadier Generals Evander McNair, Matthew D. Ector, and Francis M. Cockrell. The dauntless Missourians of Cockrell’s Brigade had long been exiled from their home state and like the Orphan Brigade of Kentucky fought on in the hope that someday they could return to free their homes from Yankee occupation. They had been among the defenders at Vicksburg and had just been exchanged to return to active duty.

Major General French was a native of New Jersey. He graduated West Point in 1843 and served as an artillery officer during the Mexican War. French married a Mississippi girl and left the army in 1856 to manage his wife’s planation. When his adopted state became part of the Confederacy he was chosen Chief of Ordinance for the state of Mississippi but was quickly promoted to Brigadier General and then to Major General. After spending some time in the Virginia theater of the war he was sent to command a division in Joe Johnston’s force attempting to relieve Vicksburg during the summer of 1863. After Johnston’s retreat from Jackson, Mississippi French was taken ill. While on medical leave his three brigades were reassigned and it was on his return to duty that he was given this new command.

The last six months of 1863 through April 1864 was a time that gave us the most information about the activities of Ramon De Aragon. Letters written to his wife Virginia in Summerfield, Alabama have survived and from the time he was promoted to Surgeon, a paper trail came into being made up of morning reports of the sick and wounded, orders for medical supplies, and sundry correspondence relating to his duties as a medical officer.

While in camp near Brandon on October 26, Major De Aragon wrote a letter to his wife in which he related that although all was quiet and that there was no indication of any immediate activity, he expected a forward move at any time.  He had now been at war for over two long years and in the following portion of this letter, the effects of his long separation from home and family are apparent:

 

“ I am bothered out of my wits on account of furloughs and discharges. I never saw the like before, every man wants a furlough. I do not blame them much …

     You know how my heart longs to see you, how truly and devotedly I love you and with what patience and forbearance I bear our separation. You have unmanned me, my own beloved, I am no longer the same man I used to be. I long to stay with you and my mind is continually in the stretch devising means to accomplish that end; yet I have not reached any, have come to no conclusions. I could resign but I know that my resignation will not be accepted. I could ask for a transfer but also the transfer will not be granted. What can I do but just keep on as before?

     You are aware that there is no sacrifice I would not do for you, that since we have been married I have faithfully and devotedly loved, cherished, and petted [sic]  you not only as my wife and own Virginia but as my existence, my heart, my all. That all my aspirations, my hopes, my ambition have been concentrated in you and that I never was more happy than when in your company. We have had and still have clouds in our horizon; yet, our own sky, or rather our own heaven of love has been as pure as the morning summer breeze without a single cloud.”

 

 

December, 1863 found the division back in the vicinity of Meridian, Mississippi. The ranking surgeon of the brigade, Major Hamilton Griffin, was transferred and Major De Aragon, by seniority, became Senior Brigade Surgeon of Ector’s Brigade. This appointment carried the same rank and he remained on the rolls of the 9th Texas Infantry. He now, however, had the additional responsibility of overseeing all the regimental surgeons in the brigade. His duties in the 9th Texas fell to his new Assistant Surgeon, Captain William Scaife of Georgia, who was assigned to the regiment on October 21.

In a message dated December 9, 1863, Brigadier General Evander McNair made a deposition to one Colonel E. J. Harvie, Inspector General, in response to statements made by a Provost Marshall at Meridian. It seems there was a confrontation with an officer, accompanied by twelve to fifteen men, who ordered a group made up of four hundred of McNair’s and Ector’s troops to board a train. A fight ensued and there was an arrest. When McNair arrived on the scene he asked the officer to remove his guard but was refused. He then “ordered” the guard removed and was again rebuffed. In McNair’s report he stated:

 

     “I then (after he disregarded my request to remove the guard and refused to obey my orders) denounced him. The language used I do not recollect. I did call him and the guard conscripts, believing at the time that they were … I directed the colonel in command of the troops to put them on board the cars, which was done promptly. I went myself, found the transportation agent, asked him to have the train moved immediately, assigning the reason; he did as I requested. I think he told me it was an hour before the regular time of leaving. If this is insubordination, then I am guilty. One other statement I will make in regard to the men’s cheering. They did cheer, but from other motives than those alleged by him; those that cheered were in and about the cars and could not hear what I was saying …

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

E. McNair,

Brigadier – General.”

 

The following is a list of the 9th Texas’ officers in January, 1864:

 

Field Officers

•          Colonel – William Hugh Young

•          Lt. Colonel – Miles A. Dillard

•          Major – James H. McReynolds

•          Surgeon – Major R. T. De Aragon

•          Assistant Surgeon – Captain William L. Scaife

•          Adjutant – Captain Thomas M. Scott

•          Quartermaster – Captain Thomas J. Skidmore

•          Chaplain – J. W. McKenzie

 

 

 

In early December, Major De Aragon was ordered to make a trip to procure medicines and other supplies for the division. This was a trip he made on a monthly basis beginning in October after arriving in Mississippi from North Georgia. He was compensated $156.20 in December for three such trips. Below is the text of one such order:

 

“Headquarters French’s Command

        Chf Surgeon’s Office

Meridian, Miss. Dec. 2, 1863

 

Special Orders

 

     Senior Surgeon R. T. De Aragon will proceed without delay to Demopolis, Ala. With requisition for regular monthly supply of medicine and hospital supplies for this Division for the month of December, 1863 and will return with same as early as possible. He will procure transportation for whatever boXEs, vials or bottles he may have necessary for taking the same medicines to Demopolis, Alabama and back to this command.

 

Signed, W. B. Harrison

Chf. Surg. Division.

Approved

By command

Maj. Genl. S. G. French

(Signed) Chas. D. Myers

A. A. G.

 

Official

L. A. Lhingleun (sic)

Maj. And A. Inspt. Genl.”

 

In December, 1863, Captain Scaife was granted a leave of absence for the purpose of going to Mobile, Alabama with the regimental surgical instruments to have them cleaned, repaired, and sharpened. He returned to the brigade encampment in January and wrote the following letter to Major De Aragon:

 

Camp Pope Publishing

“Camp near Meridian, Miss.

January 18, 1864

Surgeon R. T. De Aragon

Senior Surgeon, Ector’s Brigade

 

Sir:

 

     In obedience to orders I proceeded to Mobile with the instruments of the brigade to wit:

 

(1) One amputating case for the 29th N.C. Regt.

(1) One amputating case for the 9th Texas Regt.

(1) One pocket case for the 14th Texas Regt.

(1) One pocket case for the 32nd Texas Regt.

 

Said instruments to be repaired at the above named place. After the instruments were repaired I found myself without the necessary funds to pay for them; the cost of which being One Hundred and Twenty Five 00/100 Dollars (125.00). Therefore I left them there subject to your orders and returned to my command.

 

Respectfully

Your Humble Servant

 

William L. Scaife

Assistant Surgeon

9th Texas Infantry

 

Major De Aragon did not himself authorize payment, but passed Scaife’s letter on to Brigadier General Matthew D. Ector with this explanation:

 

“Medical Headquarters

         Ector’s Brigade

Near Meridian, Miss.

          Jan. 19, 1864

Respectfully referred to Brigadier General Ector for action on the within petition. The instruments required the repair and the Brigade was devoid of necessary field instruments which is important more so, when such instruments are very scarce.

 

R. T. De Aragon

Brigade Surgeon

 

Ector also chose not to make a decision and forwarded the letter to Major General Samuel G. French:

 

“Headquarters, Ector’s Brigade

         Jan. 19, 1864

 

This matter is respectfully referred to Division Command in that it was necessary that the instruments be repaired, cleaned and sharpened. The Quartermaster is willing to pay the charges if he can safely do so. On the Brigade Surgeon making a Special Requisition for the amount, I will order it paid by the Brigade Quartermaster if it can legitimately be done in this way.

 

Matthew D. Ector

Brigadier General”

 

Seemingly in an effort to prove that the Confederacy had its share of bureaucratic posturing and red tape, French sent the following response:

 

“Headquarters, French’s division

      Jan. 21, 1864

 

It will be necessary hereafter that all orders directing Surgeons, Assistant Surgeons, or any other person going on a mission of this kind be issued from Division Headquarters.

 

In regard to the payment of this bill, it is referred to Chief Surgeon William B. Harrison as to the appropriation out of which instruments are made.

Samuel G. French

Major General, Commanding”

 

In Chief Surgeon Harrison was finally found the officer willing to make the decision to authorize payment of the bill and rescue the brigade’s surgical kits, although not without invoking the name of General Joseph E. Johnston, himself:

 

“Headquarters, French’s Division

      January 21, 1864

 

Assistant Surgeon W. L. Scaife some time in December last, applied for a leave of absence for ten days for the purpose of going to Mobile, Alabama to have the surgical instruments of General M. D. Ector’s Brigade, belonging to the government, sharpened, cleaned and repaired. The application came up through the proper channels and was approved by General Johnston, himself. That is all I know about the matter. If my approval of this application for the leave is all Assistant Surgeon Scaife had on which to proceed to Mobile, the same paper was approved by General Johnston and shows that the orders to have the instruments repaired emanated from General Johnston and not from me. As to how the bill is to be paid, I am aware of no other procedure than that of making a Special Requisition on Form 2 M. D. for the money.

 

William B. Harrison

Chief Surgeon

French’s Division”

 

The appropriate paperwork and was completed the following document provides the evidence that the affair was at long last brought to a conclusion:

 

“Form No 7.

Account for medicines purchased by a Surgeon or an officer of the Quartermaster Department.

 

     The Confederate States

To R. T. De Aragon Dr.

 

     To amount due for sharpening instruments of this Brigade as per enclosed order

$125.00

 

     I certify that the articles above charges for this Brigade are agreeable to the foregoing requisition and that the charges are reasonable and just.

R. T. De Aragon

Sr. Surgeon Ector’s Brigade

 

Received at Meridian, Miss. Jany 28, 1864 of Major W. B. Ector A.M. One Hundred and Twenty five 00/100 Dollars in full of the above account.

R. T. De Aragon

Brig. Surg.”

 

The same day that Leonidas Polk had been banished to Mississippi from Bragg’s army, Federal General Rosecrans was removed from command at Chattanooga and replaced by Ulysses S. Grant. Grant brought with him William Tecumseh Sherman and in November, 1863 with other reinforcements, drove a dispirited Army of Tennessee from their positions on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.

Sherman later returned to Vicksburg and on February 3, 1864 he moved out with two infantry corps on a “raid-in-force” – destination Meridian where Polk had his headquarters. Meridian was the rail and communications hub of Mississippi and also supported the endless guerilla raids into West Tennessee that were causing the Yankees so much grief. Sherman planned to take the XVI and XVII Corps to a point near Meridian where he would meet Brigadier General Sooy Smith and his force of seven thousand Federal Cavalry. Together, they would take Meridian and push thirty-five miles east to Demopolis, Alabama and possibly to the munitions center at Selma.

Polk had a force of thirteen thousand which included Major General French’s Division at Brandon numbering three thousand, Major General William W. Loring’s Division at Canton with six thousand, and two divisions of cavalry under the command of Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest and Stephen Dill Lee. Cockrell’s Brigade had been on detached duty at Mobile and was recalled to its place with the division.

French’s Division was ordered to Jackson, Mississippi to support S. D. Lee’s cavalry as Sherman once again approached the town. They arrived late afternoon on February 4. The Rebels considered making a stand at Clinton, but with only five thousand men decided to execute a fighting withdrawal through Jackson and make a stand somewhere west of Meridian. They fell back to Morton where they were joined by Loring’s Division, but still were able to do no more than harass the Yankees as they advanced. The town of Jackson was burned for the third time.

The Yankees destroyed the railroad as they pushed for Meridian. Leonidas Polk had originally determined that Mobile, Alabama was Sherman’s destination. With Sherman on his doorstep he ordered the sick and wounded evacuated east of the Tombigbee River and pulled his forces out of town, moving south and east to Demopolis, Alabama.

Yankee troops spent the next five days burning and looting Meridian but Sherman was not able to advance into Alabama as he had hoped. On February 22, Nathan Bedford Forrest, outnumbered by a considerable margin, came crashing down on Sooy Smith’s cavalry at the town of Okolona, Mississippi and sent them running for Memphis. Without Smith’s support, Sherman felt himself unable to hold Meridian and returned to Vicksburg. His force traveled by a different route than they had come, burning and plundering as they went – a rehearsal of sorts of what was to come the following year in the state of Georgia. The Confederates had pulled out of Mississippi and Polk established his headquarters at Demopolis where the troops of French’s Division arrived on February 18. Rebel troops then reclaimed each town as the Yankees withdrew. They had the railroads operational again by May. While at Demopolis, French’s Division was reduced in size as McNair’s Brigade was detached to aid in the defense of Mobile. The men of Ector’s and Cockrell’s Brigades settled in to the regularities of camp life. Major De Aragon wrote home on March 3 in which he stated:

 

 “Don’t know how long we will be here. Signs are it will be at least a month unless General Polk takes a notion to go as far as Meridian.”

 

In late march there was a “Grand Review” and Major De Aragon described this and other matters in a later correspondence:

 

Dear                                                                                                      “Demopolis, Ala.

         March 21, 1864

Mrs. E. V. De Aragon

Summerfield,

My beloved wife. I wrote to you last Friday and again do so today. It has been raining here ever since yesterday morning and is as cold as it can be; yet I have managed to keep warm by digging a hole in the ground inside of my tent and filling it with coals. I went to church yesterday and heard a whole sermon and afterwards got as wet as a rat whilst coming home.

     Our Grand Review was a great affair everything went off very smooth without the least disorder or drunkness the whole ground was covered with ladies, good many of them came from Selma.

It is reported here that we will leave this place shortly and that our direction will be Meridian. I hope so as I want to come after requisitions every month and by that means see you as usual …”

 

A Lieutenant Colonel Walter A. Roher of the 20th Mississippi Infantry was also at Demopolis and in a letter to his cousin Susan made several complimentary remarks concerning the officers and men of French’s Division. Of the men of Ector’s Brigade, he wrote:

 

“…composed of wild Texas and Arkansas boys, they are good in a fight but are wild and reckless and troublesome, hard to manage.

     General Ector is a fine man, about 35 or 40 years of age, short and heavy, dark hair and eyes.”

 

French’s Division was ordered to Lauderdale Springs, Mississippi. They arrived on April 5 after what Major De Aragon referred to as “five days easy march” which, by his account, the troops seem to have enjoyed. French was absent for a time and Brigadier General Cockrell was in temporarily in command of the division. While in camp near the town, there were contests between the men of Ector’s and Cockrell’s Brigades. An ardent camaraderie had developed between these men – the Texans called each Missourian “Jake” and the men of Missouri addressed all Texans as “Chub.” One man of Cockrell’s Brigade called them “The Gallant Texans.”On April 9, Major De Aragon told his wife in a letter that he was going the following week to the nearby town of Livingston, Alabama for the purpose of vaccinating some children.

On April 26, Leonidas Polk ordered French’s Division to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His instructions to French were for him to sweep the area and “arrest all tories, conscripts, and deserters.”While at Tuscaloosa, the division was joined by Brigadier General Claudius Sears and his brigade of twenty-five hundred Mississippians.

 


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica Turner June 20, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Hi! Robert. My name is Jessica and I am doing some family research for my soon to be husband. His grandmother is Fairy Webb whos father is Saxton Webb whos mother is Fidel De’aragon who’s father is R.T De’aragon. Is there anyway you could contact me so that I might be able to get more family information from you? Please let me know.
Thank you!!

Reply

Robert M. Webb June 20, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Hi Jessica, good to hear from you. I’ll send you an email.

Robert

Reply

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