Wednesday, March 20, 2013

John Alexander, Civil War Veteran

My paternal great great grandfather John Alexander  enlisted at the end of the Civil War in February, 1865 at New Orleans, Louisiana.  I am trying to find out what happened at that particular time that allowed him to do so. Up until then he was a slave. 

John was first mustered into Company G 77th Infantry USCT in March, 1865 and then Company K 10th Heavy Artillery USCT, October, 1865. He served until he was mustered out in February, 1867,  his troop being the last to be mustered out in the Civil War. 

He applied for an invalid pension in 1890. According to his Civil War pension applications, he was run over by a wagon while he was unloading vessels on Ship Island, Mississippi. The injury to his hip and ankle caused him to limp for the rest of his life. 

I wanted to know more about his life during the war so I did a little research on Ship Island. Ship Island was a stretch of land twelve miles off the coast Mississippi in the Gulf of Mexico. The Island has since been halved because of  Hurricane Katrina.

My initial information comes from James Hollandsworth Jr. and the Mississippi History Now website

At the beginning of the War, Ship Island was considered a desirable piece of geography because of its proximity to Texas, Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans.  The Confederates evacuated it in 1861 and the Union held it to the end of the war. When New Orleans fell in 1862 to the Union, the garrison on Ship Island was reduced to one regiment of infantry, the 13th Maine. In December, 1862, eight companies of this regiment were transferred to other forts, leaving just two companies. On January 12, 1863, seven companies from a new regiment of Colored Troops, the 2nd Louisiana Native Guards, joined them. Unfortunately, this mixture of black and white troops was an explosive one, and within a week racial tension broke out into disputes between the men from Maine and the black soldiers from Louisiana. The two companies of white soldiers were withdrawn and the 2nd Louisiana Native Guards remained as the primary garrison for Ship Island until the end of the war.

Sunday April, 14, 2013,  the 150th anniversary of the 2nd Regiment, Louisiana Native Guards' successful assault on a confederate naval base at Pascagoula, Mississippi will be commemorated on Ship Island. 

The island once “considered the most healthy place on the Coast & would be a good place to establish a general hospital,” changed after the white troops left. An officer with the Sanitary Commission wrote an unfavorable report of the health conditions on the island and ended it with a remarkably understated conclusion.

“The wretched condition of Ship Island, a barren, desolate sand-spit, left free for the most part to alligators and such reptiles as abound in the swamps and lagoons of that region; the painful and variable climate; the sufferings of the men from diarrhea, influenza, and rheumatism; the badness of the food, which was of salt meat (no fresh meat being issued); the badness of the water, and the wretched system of cooking, made the presence of the Sanitary Commission not undesirable.”

Ship Island was used as a prison and detention center almost from the beginning. The first civilian detainees there from New Orleans were sent there in June 1862. Ship Island was also a prison for Union soldiers convicted of serious crimes. Confederate prisoners, more than 1,200 Confederate captives from New Orleans, arrived October 1864, The number of Confederates on Ship Island peaked in April 1865 when 3,000 prisoners taken with the capture of Mobile arrived. This would have been during the time that John was there. By May, all of the prisoners of war were sent to Vicksburg, Mississippi to be exchanged for Union soldiers. By June 8, 1865, there were no prisoners — Confederate, Union, or civilian — left on the island. 

I’m not sure how long John stayed on the Island. He was transferred to the 10th Heavy Artillery in October, based in New Orleans, until he was mustered out.  

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