Our Grandfather’s Grandfather – Confederate Casualty

[Notes: This is an adapted version of my October ProGen (online study group) homework – a formal research report for a client. In this case, I’m my own client, writing a report to the Williams file. I omitted the middle chunk of the assignment, th…

[Notes:  This is an adapted version of my October ProGen (online study group) homework – a formal research report for a client.  In this case, I’m my own client, writing a report to the Williams file.  I omitted the middle chunk of the assignment, the detailed findings – the lists of sources searched, but I left in the footnotes. In fact, I may change this blog’s tagline to “It’s about the footnotes.”  One more caveat:  this research, analysis, and report took way more than ten hours!]

Williams Report #1

31 October 2010

For:  Research File

Subject: Participation of ancestor Jesse G. Williams in the Civil War

Authorization:  Ten hours for research, analysis, and report

Summary of Findings: 

Jessee [Jesse] G. Williams, age 23, was living in Spring Hill, Hempstead County, Arkansas in 1860, with his wife, Christian, age 23, and two young children; the couple married in that county in 1857. [1] Their household was adjacent to a household consisting of Jesse’s brother, James M. Williams, age 27, Sarah A. E. Williams, and two children.  An 1873 obituary for Christian Williams describes her as the widow of Jesse Williams, who was “last seen by his comrades…engaged in a terrible conflict with the enemy while in Missouri with Gen. Price.” [2]   

Two newly discovered sources provide key clues. The first, an account passed down by Jesse D. Williams, son of Jesse G., states that Jesse served with his brother, a lieutenant, and includes details of a chaotic battle scene that could have only been originally provided by an eyewitness.[3]  The second new source, the Bible Records of brother James M. Williams, possibly that eyewitness, places Jesse’s death in Kansas, not Missouri, on October 25, 1864.[4]

Examination of Confederate compiled military service records confirms that Jesse G. and James M. Williams both served in the 1st Regiment, Arkansas Cavalry (Monroe’s). [5]  James enlisted as a 2nd corporal and was promoted to 2nd lieutenant on 1 January 1864. Monroe’s regiment, part of Fagan’s Division, participated in Major Sterling Price’s Missouri Expedition (alternatively called Price’s Raid), including the Battle of Little Blue River, in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. [6]  However, the Battle of Little Blue (also known as Westport) took place on October 21, not October 25.  [7]

It is more likely that Jesse G. Williams was killed in the Battle of Mine Creek, also part of Price’s Missouri Raid, during the brief span of time that the action took place in Kansas just beyond the border. That battle did occur on October 25th, 1864, when Price was in retreat from Union forces, and Fagan’s troops were protecting the rear of a supply wagon train. [8]

Dora’s account and the Jesse D. account both probably had as their genesis the account brought home by James.  He was in good position, relative to the events, to know the specific date and place of death, thus his Bible record reference to Kansas is significant.  That detail and the description of the last sight of Jesse D. both point toward Mine Creek as the fatal engagement.

The Battle of Mine Creek was one of the largest cavalry battles of the Civil War.  Cavalry forces typically dismounted their horses in battle, but in this case, the Union soldiers were so close, the Confederates held their mounts.[9]  The confederate line buckled; the resulting scene has been described as chaotic, marked by panic and disorder. [10]  That is consistent with details from Jesse D.’s account, which described the last sight of Jesse as trying to mount a riderless horse after his own horse was shot out from under him; “it was every man for himself.” The Union soldiers wielded vastly superior weapons, and their smaller force overcame the larger Confederate one. [11]

Over 1,000 Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured.[12] The dead were buried nearby in unmarked graves, while prisoners of war were taken to two locations in Illinois.[13]  As the Jesse D. account put it, Jesse G. was killed near the end of the war, and, in fact, the failed raid ended the Civil War in the west. [14]  However, the wording of the family tradition “last seen”, “lost in battle”, leaves open the slim possibility that Jesse G. was captured, rather than killed.  Digitized holdings of NARA confederate prisoner of war records on Ancestry.com were checked; none of the approximately thirty index entries for Jesse Williams appear to be this Jesse.

The Kansas State Historical Society (KSHS) and the Mine Creek Battlefield Foundation work collaboratively to operate and preserve the battlefield and support its interpretation for visitors.  The foundation’s website offers a timeline of Price’s Raid, a drawing of the battlefield, and a downloadable Interpretive Walking Trail Guide, while the KSHS site offers information about visiting the site.[15]  The History Channel did a program on Mine Creek titled “The Lost Battle of the Civil War.” DVDs can be purchased at Amazon.com.

Recommendations for Additional Research:

1) There are numerous published sources on Major Sterling Price’s Missouri Raid/Expedition; only a few were examined. Several had extensive bibliographies listing other secondary materials, as well as unpublished manuscripts at various repositories, mostly in the Midwest.  A search could be mounted for specific references to Jesse G. Williams or James M. Williams by building a bibliography of original sources and contacting repositories for finding aids and indexes. That kind of effort could extend indefinitely, and, in the case of unique textual materials, involve travel or hiring local researchers. (Time estimate: uncertain.)  

2) At the very least, three more published sources should be checked for additional citations to original sources and more information about burial and prisoners of war.  These three articles, all of which were cited repeatedly in consulted materials, are available at McKeldin Library at the University of Maryland, College Park. (Time estimate: 3 hours.)

Langsdorf, Edgar. “Price’s Raid and the Battle of Mine Creek.” Kansas Historical Quarterly 30 (Autumn 1964): 281-306. Illus.

Lindberg, Kip. “Chaos Itself: The Battle of Mine Creek.” North & South 1:6 (August 1998): 74-85.

Plummer, Mark A. “The Battle of Mine Creek in the Great Price Raid.” Military Review 55 (September 1975): 69-75.

3) The book October 25th and the Battle of Mine Creek, by Lumir F. Buresh (Kansas City, MO: Lowell Press, 1977), credited by the Mine Creek Foundation in its work to preserve the battlefield, is held by the Library of Congress. It is also available for purchase at the Mine Creek Foundation website for $18.  There were also other lower-cost, interesting items available for purchase at the website. (Time estimate – 5 hours for a specially scheduled trip to LOC; 2 hours if scheduled with other research.)

4) Military records should be explored further as well.

a) James M. Williams service record at NARA should be retrieved, so that copies of service records from each repository for both Williams soldiers are on hand.  It’s unlikely that anything new will be uncovered but it will take just a few minutes to do it. 

b) The descriptive pamphlet for Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, 1861-1865 (NARA M598) refers specifically to registers of prisoners of war held at Camp Douglas and Rock Island, the two prisons named in the Mine Creek Interpretive Walking Tour Guide.  This is another very quick task.

(Time estimate for both – 2 hours.)


[1]  1860 U. S. Census, Hempstead County, Arkansas, pop. sched., Spring Hill Post Office, p. 802-803 (stamped), household 788 and 789, James M. Williams and Jessee G. Williams; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 June 2010); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 42. “Arkansas Marriages, 1837-1944,” database, Familysearch.com (http://pilot.familysearch.org) : accessed 12 September 2010), entry for Jesse G. Williams and Christian E. Williams; citing FHL microfilm 1005876.

[2] “Obituaries – Mrs. Christian C. Williams,” [July 1873]; Lagrone Williams Family File #541; Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, Washington, Arkansas.

[3] Williams-Manning-Johnson Family Traditions, Julia Mae (Ellison) Jenkins, compiler (MSS notes, circa 1945-1970; privately held by Tom D. Ellison, [address for private use,] Sierra Blanca, Texas; death of Jesse G. Williams (d. 1864), reported by Jesse D. Williams, Julia Mae’s grandfather, and Jesse G.’s son, circa 1948.
Transcription of pertinent section:

“Jesse D. [born] 1836 Died [1865]. Grandfather was only 2 so he does not remember his father at all.  Great-Grandfather came home once during the War to bring a friend home to recover from wounds.  Stayed a while then went back to War & got killed.  He was my Great-Grandfather.  He and his bro. Lt.____ fought in the Civil War.  He was last seen in Price’s Raid in MO.  His horse had been shot from under him.  It was every man for himself and he was trying to catch a horse which had had the rider shot off.  Killed during last part of War.”  [Informal notes kept by Jenkins in a brown spiral notebook (her name and address appear on a sticker on the front of the notebook); they appear to be the result of several interviews of her maternal grandfather, Jesse D. Williams, born in 1863 and the son of Jesse G. Williams.  Jesse D. lived with Julia Mae’s [Ellison] family for several years before his death in 1949. This source also refers to Price’s Raid in Missouri, its common name.  The portion of the raid that took place just over the Kansas-Missouri border was indeed short and probably not well-known, but timed exactly to the stated month and day of death.  The year of death is clearly an error.  More significant is the information about Jesse’s brother, a lieutenant, and details that convey a chaotic scene, when many soldiers were killed, or wounded and left behind.  It has the feel of an eyewitness account which would have had to been originally provided by a fellow soldier, possibly Jesse’s brother, Lt. James M. Williams.]

[4] “James M. Williams  Family Bible Records; Lagrone Williams Family File #541; Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, Washington, Arkansas. [The collection contains only photocopies of the records pages, so no information is available about the Bible publication date; Lagrone was the grandson of James M. Williams.  Handwriting does vary from page to page.]

[5] Compiled Military Service Record of Jesse G. Williams; M317 Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas, 1st (Monroe’s) Cavalry Li-Y, Roll #5; War Department Collection of Confederate Records, Record Group 109; National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.  Compiled Military Service Record for James M. Williams; Arkansas Military Service Records, Roll 116, Record # 19619;  Arkansas History Commission and State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas.

[6] Stewart, Sfikas, Compendium of the Confederate Armies: Florida and Arkansas (New York: Facts on File, 1992), section 40. National Park Service Heritage Preservation Services, Civil War Battle Summaries by Campaign (http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/abpp/battles/bycampgn.htm : accessed 22 October 2010), “Trans-Missippi Theater, Price’s Missouri Expedition, September-October 1864.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Albert Castel, General Sterling Price and the Civil War of the West (Baton Route: Louisiana State Press, 1968), 238-239.

[9]  Ibid, 240.

[10] Ibid, 241.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Mine Creek Battlefield Foundation, Mine Creek Battlefield Interpretive Walking Trail (www.minecreek.org/trail_guide/Trailguide%20web.pdf : accessed 23 October 2010), unpaginated, Stop 11.

[13] Ibid, Stop 10.

[14] Castel, General Sterling Price, 247.

[15] Mine Creek Battlefield Foundation, Mine Creek Battlefield ( http://www.minecreek.org/index.html : accessed 23 October 2010); Kansas State Historical Society, Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site (http://www.kshs.org/places/minecreek/index.htm : accessed 23 October 2010).

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