Riot at Grand Junction

by Robert M. Webb on August 11, 2012 · 0 comments

In 1861, Grand Junction, Tennessee (my home town) was of great importance to the Confederacy and a target for the Union. Although a small place, it was the intersection of two railroads making it a transportation hub for troops, supplies, etc. The Confederacy placed a supply depot there. When the fighting started in Virginia during the summer of 1861, troop trains from points South and west all came through on their way east.

On August 2, a train carrying the 14th Louisiana Infantry stopped for wood and water. The 14th Louisiana was part of the “Polish Brigade” out of New Orleans and was commanded by Col. Valery Soulakowski. They had previously stopped in Holly Springs, Mississippi and while there, some of the men obtained a barrel of whiskey, referred to by one person as “Bust Head”(having grown up in the area, I believe I sampled some of that “Bust Head” when I was in high school). Being well liquored up by the time they reached Grand Junction, the men proceeded to tear up the depot/hotel and the moved on to another location spreading more destruction. Five men died before it was over and one company was disbanded in the aftermath. The following article from the Memphis Daily Appeal tells of the event:

Camp Pope Publishing

“Memphis Daily Appeal, August 2, 1861 – Grand Junction Insurrection

 The riot at Grand Junction on Friday [August 2] was a serious affair, and might have been still more disastrous but for the firmness and bravery of the commander of the brigade, Col. Soulakowski, who, we are informed, shot down some of the men who refused to submit to his authority. We learn that when at Holly Springs [Mississippi], the men, by some means got access to a barrel of whisky. They knocked out the head and drank immoderately. The worst consequences followed. The men, who were traveling in box cars, indulged in the worst extravagances-even it is stated going so far as to throw their bayonets at each other. One man was thrown from the platform and killed by the train passing over him, cutting off an arm and a leg. On leaving the cars at Grand Junction, open mutiny broke out, and the men turned against each other with perfect ferocity, entirely disregarding the authority of their officers, until the determined conduct of Col. Soulakowski compelled a return to military rule. . . ” One citizen of Grand Junction wrote the following eye-witness account: “About 12 o’clock yesterday [August 2d] there arrived here from Camp Pulaski a regiment of Louisiana volunteers commanded by C. L. Soulakowski, on their way to Virginia. About six o’clock in the evening, after imbibing pretty freely of “bust head, “ a row was commenced between the Frank Guards and some of the other companies which resulted in a general fight of about one hour’s duration, during which Maj. York and the Colonel, aided by some of the other officers, used every peaceable means to quell the riot but all to no avail. It seemed to be growing general when some of the men took shelter in the Percey Hotel, the doors of which were immediately assailed with the butts of muskets, axes, and whatever could else could be found to answer the purpose of a battering ram. They soon succeeded in smashing in all the doors, blinds and sash, when they rushed in like a mob of infuriated devils, and commenced an indiscriminate destruction of the hotel furniture and everything they; could lay their hand on. Drawers were torn open, the contents were destroyed, the furniture was broken and pitched out, the dining table was thrown over, and all the table furniture broken, the chairs smashed to pieces, and such a general wreck you have never witnessed in a civilized community. About this time the efforts of the officers of the day and the guard proving unavailing to quell the mob, the officers, led by the colonel, commenced firing on them, which resulted in the death of two on the spot and the mortally wounding of some five or six others, and some six more dangerously wounded. Besides a number of others that left on the trains last night, that were slightly wounded The majority of the wounded were from pistol shots, some were bayonet wounds and broken heads from the clubbed muskets-the men not having any ammunition. The hotel looks. . . like a hospital after a hard fought battle. The dead and wounded are strewn all over the second floor and the groans of the suffering are terrible. After destroying the furniture and breaking all that they could about the house, two unsuccessful attempts were made to fire it. Great credit is due Col Soulakowski and Maj. York, and the officers and men of the Armstrong Guards, for quelling the riot and saving the town from destruction. . . I have just been informed by the surgeon, Dr. Henly, that there are three or four that will die during the day.”

 


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