This is the story of my great-grandfather, John M. McGinnis, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War.
My grandfather, Walker K. McGinnis, was the last of nine children born to John M. and Carrie McGinnis
I have spent many hours and some considerable money in researching my great-grandfather's life, especially during his service to the Confederacy. I have tried to convey what he must have felt based on the information I found. I have added areas of trivia and notes on interesting things that I discovered to keep the document interesting to a casual reader who may not really want to hear specifically about my great grandfather's activities.
John M. McGinnis and his family lived just North of Memphis, Tenn., in Dyersburg, Tenn.
John M. McGinnis' father, John S. McGinnis, died in February 1856.
John M. McGinnis' mother, Martha McGinnis, died in November 1860.
John M. McGinnis was 22 years old in 1860.
Luckily, John had learned the family trade of carpentry (primarily cabinetmaking) from his father and used this trade to help support the family of six brothers and sisters.
On April 13, 1861, an article appearing in the Memphis Daily Appeal indicated that on April 12, 1861, in Charleston, Fort Sumter was fired upon, changing the South's and John's life forever.
Many young men feared that if they didn't join right away, the war would be over and they wouldn't have had the chance to 'whup' up on them Yankees, and I am quite sure John was in tune with the excitement of the times. There were numerous other reasons floating around at the time that I am sure also influenced his and his peers' strong feelings (i.e. everybody was doing it, patriotic feelings, influence from sweethearts and families, not wanting to seem a coward, and in many cases even a sense of honor was at stake).
The answer to John's excitement would come with another article in the Memphis Daily Appeal calling for the forming of a Tennessee State Militia Guard unit for the men from the West Tennessee counties of Hardemen, Obion, Dyer, Gibbon, Lauderdale, Tipton and Shelby.
While this action primarily was to allow the newly formed Confederate government to know the amount of military forces available in West Tennessee, to John it must have been the solution to his search and thirst for excitement that was not and had not been available for a long time. A Mr. Otho F. Strahl, a lawyer from Dyersburg who would later become a brigadier general in the Civil War, gave John his chance.
In late April, he called for the formation of the "Dyer Guards" State Militia to be formed from the volunteers of Dyer County to defend the great state of Tennessee. This was in answer to the call from the state to form individual units from the counties mentioned above. John joined up.
Once formed, the Dyer Guards elected Mr. Strahl as captain of this unit. On May 15, the unit was to report to Germantown, Tenn., just outside Memphis, where they would form up with units from the other counties to form an infantry regiment unit. There were 10 guard militia units formed and their numbers totaled 963 men and they became the 4th Tennessee Infantry Regiment.
John's particular unit consisted of 104 volunteer's from Dyer County and was nicknamed Strahl's infantry. They became the Dyer Guards of Company K.
(Of the 104 volunteers that formed the Dyer Guards of the 4th Tennessee Infantry regiment, Company K, only seven members of the original volunteers were left four years later at their surrender at Greensboro, N.C. in 1865.)
On May 18, the 4th Tennessee infantry regiment was officially "mustered" into military service for the state of Tennessee while still in Germantown. John began drawing a whopping $12 a month.
Then, on May 20, the 4th Tennessee infantry regiment was ordered to strike camp and head for the wharves in Memphis to embark on a steamboat to a military installation somewhere in western Tennessee on the Mississippi River.
They must have presented a grand parade marching through the city streets of Memphis as they, each in their own right, headed for their destinies. Once at the city's wharf, they loaded onto the steamer Ingomer and headed for the newly developed military site called Fort Wright near Randolph, Tenn. It was 65 miles north of Memphis on the Mississippi River. It consisted of mostly embankments, trenches and earth mounds made on a high bluff for the control of the Mississippi River's steamboat traffic.
When they arrived at Fort Wright, numerous other regiments from other counties from Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, etc., joined with the 4th Tennessee Infantry regiment. This group then became known as the "River Brigade." To John's disappointment, they didn't fight Yankees but spent day after day digging more trenches, earthworks and embankments. The monotony of digging was broken up only by the occasional requirement to drill as military units and then go back to digging.
This must have been a real blow to John's pride. He had joined to fight Yankees and had spent more time with a shovel in his hands than a rifle. This must have been a rude awakening that joining up didn't produce the desired results he had anticipated. John's thoughts must have paralleled the same thoughts as another solider named Louis Leon, Company C, 1st North Carolina Regiment (taken from his diary):
"The day after we got here our company was sent out with spades and shovels to make breastworks and to think of the indignity! We were expected to do the digging! Why, of course, I never thought that this was work for soldiers to do, but we had to do it. Gee! What hands I had after a few days' work. I know I never had a pick or a shovel in my hand to work with in my life."
The Yankees would have to wait a little longer to meet John. It must have swelled John's strong feelings for the South when he heard that on June 8, 1861, Tennessee seceded from the Union to join the Confederate forces.
(Tennessee was the last state to secede from the Union and join the Confederate states, but was the first state to rejoin the Union after the war. Of further interest is the fact that Tennessee furnished more soldiers for the Confederacy than any of the other Southern states except for Virginia. On the other hand, Tennessee also furnished more men to the Union than all the other Southern states put together.)
On July 18, Fort Wright was renamed Fort Pillow. On Aug. 16, his regiment was officially mustered into the service of the Confederate states; he was no longer in the Tennessee State Militia.
On 17 August, Gen. Polk (then Confederate commander of the Northern Alabama, Mississippi, Northeast Arkansas, and Western Tennessee area) ordered the brigade (of which the 4th Tennessee infantry was a part) to report to Island No. 10 located in the Mississippi River between Missouri and Tennessee. They were supposed to help in the construction of the fortifications there, thus preventing the Yankees from using the Mississippi River,
When they arrived at New Madrid by boat for this purpose, Gen. Pillow (commander of the Provisional Army of Tennessee) decided to use them for his own purposes despite General Polk's written orders to the contrary.
Gen. Pillow wanted to drive the Yankees from Missouri, enter Illinois, and then take Cairo on the return to Tennessee. So, Gen. Pillow sent the brigade through Missouri toward Sikeston.
Ultimately, they spent the next two weeks marching through Southeast Missouri. I bet John was quite happy that he wasn't engaged in building more fortifications and it seemed they would actually get a chance to fight Yankees.
On Aug. 22, John probably saw his first real live Yankees. After a brief skirmish, Capt. Neely's Cavalry (assigned to the brigade) brought in 19 prisoners captured from a Federal unit called old Abe's Dutch Cavalry that was in the area. It is reported the prisoners were "… a dirty ragged set of fellows."
John's unit marched into New Madrid on Sept. 3 and boarded a steamer named HRW Hill and went up the river to Hickman, Ky., arriving after dark. There, they pitched their tents on the banks of the Mississippi River. It is here that John probably saw his first Yankee gunboat. One of Abraham's gunboats came into sight, exchanged a few shots with the light artillery and then turned toward Cairo.
Then, on Sept. 5, John's unit was loaded onto railway cars and was sent to Columbus, Ky.
On Sept. 10, a report came that a Missouri brigade was engaged with the Yankees about six miles above them. John's regiment was immediately ordered to the scene but arrived too late. The Yankees were gone. Expecting another advance from the enemy, they rested on their arms all that night on the battlefield.
The next day, Sept. 1, John's unit boarded the steamer Admiral and returned to Columbus.
Also, on or about this date, John was discharged from the infantry due to a medical problem. As best can be determined, he suffered from acute rheumatism. John returned to his home in Dyersburg and again took up the trade of carpentry.
When he arrived back at his home, his older brother James joined the 2nd Tennessee Infantry Regiment and left to fight in the war. I would assume that James was supporting the family while John was away at war.
While he was home, I cannot help but wonder what John must have thought when he heard news of his old unit (the 4th Tennessee Infantry Regiment) engaged in a terrible battle not too far away, at the battlefield of Shiloh, Tenn.
It must have been quite saddening to sit at home safe and wonder what his friends and neighbors were going through. I am sure it wasn't long before he heard how terrible it was from the returning wounded and dismembered comrades of Dyer County's 4th Tennessee Regiment, Company K. How bad he must have felt.
Not much is found about John's activities during the period after returning home to Dyersburg. One can only guess that there probably wasn't much of a demand for carpenters or money available while most of the men were away fighting the war.
Also, the peer pressure from those families that lost loved ones and friends in battles or had someone away fighting must have been hard to bear on a daily basis.
Anyway, John was probably eager to join up again and about year later (August 1862) he would get his chance. I have listed below some of the reasons that I feel John may have been ready or "required" to rejoin and why he would be considering joining the Confederate cavalry:
1.) Both parents dead, family farm was lost.
2.) Not much of a high demand for his talents as a carpenter, as money was very short.
3.) His older brother James was away fighting in the 2nd Tennessee Infantry Regiment.
4.) Jefferson Davis had created the draft, or conscription as it was called, and it had been in effect since April 1862 to get the men capable of carrying weapons into the Confederate service and John would have been a good candidate.
5.) There was a saying circulating that you "didn't see cavalry dead on the battlefield," meaning not many cavalry were killed, especially compared to infantry mortality statistics.
6.) Also, it was not uncommon for men discharged early in the war to re-enlist, particularly in cavalry commands.
7.) The following areas had fallen to the Federals which meant they were 'very' near to his home:
--Union City, Tenn., captured March 30, 1862
--Fort Pillow evacuated to the Federals
--June 6, 1862, Memphis had fallen to the Federals
--June 6, 1862, fighting actions near Dyersburg, Tenn., at Wood Springs
--Aug. 7, 1862, Skirmishes and actions around Dyersburg, Tenn.
--Aug. 18, 1862, Randolph, Tenn., burned to ground
8.) There was probably considerable social pressure, especially in this rural area, for someone his age (24 years old that month) to continue to do his part for the South's war effort.
9.) Lastly, and probably pretty important to John, you didn't hear about any cavalry soldiers having to dig any earthworks.
Sometime in April 1862, Jackson's 7th Tennessee Calvary was created. It was created by the additions of other companies to the 6th Tennessee Cavalry Battalion. During the summer and early winter of 1862, some of Jackson's 7th Tennessee Cavalry were in the West Tennessee area primarily to harass the Federals, enforce the conscript law and pick up deserters.
On Aug. 8, 1862, there was a skirmish at Wood Springs (near Dyersburg) involving Falkner's Company of the 7th cavalry. They were routed by the Federals and Falkner's men were scattered.
While the 7th cavalry was enforcing the conscript law in the Dyer county area, John was probably found to be of sufficient capability to fight. So, it appears as though he may have been conscripted.
This conclusion may or may not be accurate. John could have just as easily volunteered to join Jackson's Cavalry. In any event, he and others were either taken, directed, or requested to rendezvous at a spot eight miles South of Ripley, Tenn., in Lauderdale County as part of Jackson's 7th Tennessee Cavalry.
John was back in the war but the experience would be short-lived.
There are communications dated August 1862 between Gen. Grant and Gen. Rosecrans indicating that Grant had heard there was a rendezvous of conscripts and guerrillas outside of Ripley and he wanted Rosecrans to " … if possible to cut off and capture a large number of them."
Rosecrans sent a cavalry unit to the area and caught 17 "conscripts" as the communiqué indicated.
In the communication to Gen. Grant informing him of their capture, Rosecrans stated he had captured the "guerrilla party" and was forwarding them to Grant with a "free pass to Alton." That's Alton prison in Alton, Ill.
John was one of the unlucky ones to have gotten a " … free pass to the Alton, IL prison."
Now, Alton prison wasn't a nice place, but then most prisons were not especially nice. John was lucky in one respect in that he didn't have to wait very long to be exchanged.
In September 1862, John was placed on a steamer and sent to Vicksburg for the exchange. This was the site designated as the Western area exchange center for this purpose. In another respect, he was lucky that he didn't have to stay there much longer.
Less than a month later, on Oct. 15, 1862, a private named Henry Farmer from Poindexter's Missouri Regiment was placed into Alton prison with smallpox. It is a matter of records that about six to 10 Confederate soldiers died daily from this disease until there were over 1,400 dead. This epidemic would last well into the spring of 1863.
The prisoners that were released from the military prison camps were usually exchanged, paroled, or required to take and sign a parole oath indicating they would not bear arms nor give any aid to the military forces from which they were captured. This question of an allegiance oath, which was usually taken to keep from going to or staying in prison, was the custom to give the soldiers that chance and it was being observed by both sides until around December 1862.
One may ask: Why would a released prisoner of war return to the ranks of his outfit after swearing to the type of oath above? The answer (as best as I could ascertain) was, according to the rebel army, "… since the released prisoners of the North didn't honor their oath, why should they?"
The Federal government, on the other hand, was inclined to refuse the validity of these paroles for released Union soldiers and, in the case of officers, would often order them to disregard the parole or else leave the Army by resignation or dismissal.
Of further interest is that, in most all cases of released Confederate soldiers, they would voluntarily return to their units. Whereas, in the case of the released Union soldiers, they (for a large part) did not want to return to their units or the war.
Of course, with the conscript act enforced by both sides especially toward the end of the war, most soldiers would have most likely had to return to the services of their countries anyway. This was probably more so for the Southern men since, by the end of 1864, the South was mandating that anyone big enough or able to carry a weapon would be conscripted into service. Many a young boy and old men were used to defend the South toward the end of the war.
Once released, John made his way back to his hometown of Dyersburg.
Upon return, John joined Webb's Calvary, a local unit of Lt. Col. Dawson's area guerilla warfare soldiers that later became known as Dawson's Battalion of Tennessee Partisan Rangers. Lt. Col. Dawson and Webb were both from Dyer County, which must have influenced John's decision to join.
The Dawson's Partisan Rangers were operating in the West Tennessee area. The Confederate government preferred these Rangers be armed and tendered for the war in the usual way. They wanted them to conform to the rules of war of "civilized nations." The officers must be commissioned by the government and the companies paid for by the state. They were not to be outlaws and pirates.
Some of the more notable Rangers were Bloody Bill Anderson, Quantrill and John S. Mosby. The act was repealed in 1864 and the units were then inducted into regular military units. Some Ranger units continued to operate until the end of the war.
It is said that this partisan effort had stumbled onto one of the secrets of modern warfare through their intuition and vigorous support of a resistance movement within occupied territory.
Sometime in January 1863, Webb's Calvary of the Dawson's Rangers from Dyer County was reorganized into the newly formed 15th Tennessee (Stewart's) Cavalry, into Company C under Capt. John Webb. This company also became known as Webb's Cavalry.
John was now in the 15th Tennessee Cavalry. This unit was formed at Dyersburg. It was organized behind Federal lines in West Tennessee and the nucleus of the regiment was Dawson's Partisan Rangers. Lt. Col. Dawson became a field officer of this unit and they still operated primarily as they did while partisan Rangers.
The primary objective of this company, as ordered by Col. R. F. Looney (Commanding Partisan Rangers in West Tennessee), was to enforce the conscript law primarily in West Tennessee.
By this time, most of the West Tennessee area was controlled by the Federals and as such, made moving around and enforcing the conscript law quite dangerous as an assignment.
There was an incident reported called the "skirmish at Dyersburg" on Feb. 4, 1863, where Dawson's guerrilla band was holding a bridge on the Forked Deer River near Dyersburg. The Federals attacked them from both sides of the bridge and they quickly scattered. The Federals reported two killed, four wounded, and after giving chase captured another 30 prisoners.
Finally, on Feb. 9, the Federals captured Lt. Col. Dawson and many of his men. John was obviously with this group and managed to escape at that time. But six days later (Feb. 15) John was also captured (again). I suspect he was separated from the unit when they scattered and he managed to hide out until his capture.
Anyway, it was another "free pass to Alton" for John.
On Apr. 1, 1863, John would be released from Alton prison through an exchange of prisoners with the Federals. Upon exchange and release at Vicksburg, John again made his way back to Dyer County.
This was no easy task since the Federals were controlling most of this area by then. He went back into the 15th Tennessee Calvary unit under Col. Dawson. In a letter dated June 15, 1863, to Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck, it is reported that Dawson's units of the 15th Tennessee Cavalry, in the Western Tennessee area, were finally broke up by the Federals.
Later, in November 1864, Lt. Col Dawson would be killed.
About this time, Gen. Forrest arrived in Northern Mississippi with orders to reorganize the troops in the Western area.
One of his first steps to accomplish this was to break up or consolidate the numerous small cavalry commands serving there. It seems the addition of some four new companies to the 15th (Stewarts) Tennessee Calvary was made in violation of War Department regulations. Accordingly, this unit was the one ordered broken up.
So, on July 18, 1863, John went into another Tennessee Cavalry unit under Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. From this point on, John would get his fill of fighting Yankees.
It is likely that John wore at least two pistols as many Rebel troopers in those days gave up the saber in favor of carrying one or more pistols and usually carried a rifle rather than the shorter carbine that was available.
John was placed into the 9th (later 19th) Tennessee Cavalry, Regiment, Company K, as a 5th sergeant under Capt. R.M. Sharp.
This was a pretty high rank for an enlisted man and he now drew $17 a month.
The 9th Tennessee Cavalry regiment was placed under Col. J.B. Biffle who was attached directly to Gen. Forrest's staff.
How proud John must have been. He was riding for one of the most famous and respected generals of the Confederate service. This unit was involved in a lot of action, although most were not as significant as the major battles that shaped the outcome of the Civil war.
It is also interesting to note here that during the many battles/skirmishes John's unit was involved in and around Franklin, Tenn., (in 1863 and 1864), that John's future wife (Carrie Doughty) was born and being raised there in the Franklin area. She would have been about 14 or 15 years old at that time. It is highly likely that they may have met during this period.
(They would wed six years later, after the war, in 1870.)
In April 1865, after hearing of Lee's surrender, Gen. Forrest told a friend "… that he had a tough time deciding if he should continue the fight in Mexico or give up."
Later, when the Mississippi Gov. Charles Clark and Isham Harris (exiled governor of Tennessee) approached him to discuss joining "un-surrendered" Confederates in Texas, Forrest interrupted, "Men you may all do as you ... please, but I'm a-going home. ... To make men fight under such circumstances would be nothing but murder. Any man who is in favor of a further prosecution of this war is a fit subject for a lunatic asylum."
On May 4, 1865, while in camp at Gen. Forrest's headquarters at Citronelle, Ala., the 9th Tennessee Cavalry regiment would surrender.
A message sent from Major Gen. E.R.S. Canby to Maj. Gen. C.C. Washburn confirmed the surrender. His was the last group of men to surrender east of the Mississippi River.
Gen. Forrest made a farewell speech that was quite memorable. On May 3, just prior to the surrender and parole, Biffle's Regiment reported 22 officers, 281 men present; 257 effectives; aggregate present and absent 508. John was still a 5th Sergeant, but was now in Company G.
The conditions for the surrender were based on the same conditions that were presented by General Grant and accepted by General Lee on April 9, 1865 at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
On May 10, they would be escorted to Gainesville, Ala., where John would surrender and take the oath of allegiance and start his journey back home to Dyersburg.
I have considerably more about this man and his (my) family at the following web page: