by Tim Harrison
In the olden days, every community had its “character,” a person known for miles around due to some characteristic that brought them to the forefront of notoriety. In the Poplar Corner region of DeSoto County, that character was a man known to all as “Old Hughey.” At various times in his life he was a farmer, soldier, one-time thief, writer, and out spoken champion of the soldiers of the “Lost Cause.” And while DeSoto County could proudly point to the exploits of citizens such as Nathan Bedford Forrest and James R. Chalmers, none wrote more about the war than “Old Hughey.”
Samuel A. Hughey was born “near Hot Springs,” Arkansas, in February 1845, the second child of Jacob Hughey (b. about 1818 in NC; d. bef. 1880) and Z. Jane Jernigan (b. 14 Sept. 1822 in NC; d. 8 May 1898 in Shelby Co., TN). His parents were married in 1839 in Hardeman Co., TN prior to moving to Mississippi, Arkansas, Illinois and back to Mississippi. Samuel had the following siblings: William Henry, born 1843; Martha J., b. 1849; M. A. (f), b. abt. 1850; M. M. (f) b. abt. 1851; J. F. (m), b. abt. 1853; Judge M., b. abt. 1855; Robert W., b. abt. 1860; and Sallie C., b. abt. 1863. The family lived in Marshall County, but was listed in the 1860 DeSoto County census. Both Samuel and his eldest brother, William, were Confederate veterans. William served in Co. A, 1st Mississippi Infantry and Samuel served in Co. E, 34th Mississippi Infantry, CSA. Both survived the war.
When the war ended, Samuel went to Arkansas and married Amanda (b. January 1854, AR) on October 20, 1870 at DeView (now McCrory), Arkansas. They were living in Shelby County, TN by 1880 and then moved to DeSoto County about 1897. Samuel and Amanda had the following children: Emmett (1872), Brunett (1874), Maud (1876), Aught (1878), Brit (1880), Kittie C. (1884), Vetra L. (1888), and Rubie (1892). The family settled in the Poplar Corner area of DeSoto County, where “Old Hughey” remained until his death in July 1933. Amanda lived on until 1940. Both are buried in New Bethlehem Cemetery.
Samuel A. Hughey gained notoriety in writing a weekly column in the Desoto Times-Promoter newspaper. The column was entitled “Poplar Corner Pickups” and was always signed “Old Hughey.” The column was appearing in the paper by 1898 and continued for more than thirty years. It is through these columns that “Old Hughey” comes to life, as do the other people living in the Poplar Corner area. Through these glimpses of history we learn what life was like for “Old Hughey” in his boyhood, while soldiering, and throughout the rest of his life. His articles were mostly local interest stories. Some even bordered on gossip. However, many were autobiographical. For example, he shared with the “kids” in the area his memories of by-gone days, such as:
I want to tell the kids how far back I can remember. I can well remember things that happened when I was two years old. My brother was four. We were out in the yard playing. The house was built high above the ground. He and I started to go in the house. My brother got to the top step and stopped. When I got to the top step he kicked me down the steps into the yard. I began crying and here came mother to see what the trouble was. She soon found out what brother had done. Mother got a switch and what she did to brother was a plenty. Brother never kicked me down the steps again. What do you know about that?
I well remember the first time I ever went to Sunday School. I told my mother to fix me up a little basket of grub. I told her I might get hungry. She said, all right, and fixed me a lunch to carry with me.
I remember distinctly that on the first day of March, 1860, my father planted corn. I also know what kind of land it was. It was new ground. The reason I remember so well I helped to plow the ground. It was rough, and I thought that I was plowing the meanest mule in the world. The plow would break the roots and some of them would fly back and strike me on the shins and I would holler “woh,” and the mule would keep going. I was plowing with one line. My daddy told me to put two lines on the mule and then I could manage her. So I got another line and I had no more trouble. That corn came up to a good stand and made fine corn. The first of April is plenty soon now to plant corn to insure a good stand. That was 63 years ago the first day of this month. One year before the Civil war began.
When the Civil War began in 1861 “Old Hughey” was a boy of 16. His brother, William, enlisted in 1861. “Old Hughey” enlisted in the “Cold Water Rebels” at Byhalia on March 10, 1862. The company was accepted for service on April 14, 1862 and was to serve for three years or the war. At the time of enlistment, “Old Hughey” was described as five foot six inches in height, with light hair and hazel eyes. The “Cold Water Rebels” became Co. E, 34th Mississippi Infantry and would see some very hard fighting in the war. “Old Hughey” later wrote much of his war experiences, almost always concentrating on the humorous side of army life. His writing gives us a great view of the private soldier’s experiences. His first fight was at Farmington, Tennessee on May 9, 1862 when the Union army was moving toward Corinth from Pittsburg Landing, TN:
We had in our company during the civil war a boy like myself at that time, by the name of George Benson. Poor fellow, he is dead and gone, but not forgotten. While we were camped at Corinth in the spring of 1862 Gen. Bragg’s army was ordered out four miles north of Corinth at [a] place called Farmington to meet the Yankees. The Yankees fell back. We only had a hot skirmish but killed a number of Yankees. In the fight a Yankee major was killed. He had on a fine pair of spurs. We were going forward following the Yankees. George saw those spurs. He stopped, snatched the spurs off and carried them back to camp and wore them around the camp. I have often wondered what he did with them. George was a fine soldier. He lived in Byhalia, Marshall county, where I was reared. I can see George now in my imagination walking around camp with those spurs, rattling them on his feet. George was a member of Co. E, 34th Miss. regiment.
Recalling the movements of the 34th Mississippi and the army of Confederate General Braxton Bragg, “Old Hughey” wanted to set the record straight regarding information written by another old soldier:
First field service was with Van Dorn at Pittsburg Landing. Engaged at Farmington, Tenn., May, 1862—correct; accompanied Bragg to Chattanooga, July, 1862—too fast. First Bragg left Corinth and fell back to Tupelo in May, 1862, and then shipped his army to Chattanooga in July; remained there until the 6th or 9th of August, 1862, then went north and met Gen. Buell at Perryville, Ky., and had a bulldog fight with him...
The Battle of Perryville, Kentucky was fought October 8, 1862. The 34th Mississippi was in the thick of the fight, and was “distinguished in the most desperate fighting of the day, making repeated charges against Parson's Battery.” “Old Hughey” later had much to write about that bloody day:
We want to talk a little this morning on the official report of General Bragg’s army from Chattanooga to Perryville, Ky. I happened to be in that campaign. Bragg’s army was camped in and around Chattanooga when he started his campaign. History says the army crossed the Tennessee river on the 28th of August, 1862. I claim it cross the river on the 8th or 9th of August. That’s all right; we crossed the river, and marched over the Cumberland Mountains by way of Pikeville, Spencer and Sparta, to Kentucky, where he engaged General Buell in the battle of Perryville, history says, with 14,000 men, raw, poorly armed soldiers. General Bragg whipped the socks off General Buell, who had 30,000 fully armed and well-fed soldiers. During this Kentucky campaign from August 28th to October 12, 1862—say from August 9th to October 23rd—somebody is wrong about dates, but that’s all right—Bragg’s army captured, according to history,  pieces of artillery and 15,000 muskets, 330 wagons, 1,750 mules, killed 2,430 yankees, wounded 9,600, and captured 14,500 prisoners. Such is the official history of this command. General Bragg did well with his small army. What was old Buell doing while General Bragg was mopping up? I know a part that he was doing; he was killing and wounding Bragg’s men to beat the band. He killed and wounded about 18 of my company. Our regiment suffered a severe loss. We lost our colonel and lieutenant-colonel, both severely wounded, which left our regiment without a commander. We borrowed a lieutenant-colonel of the 30th Mississippi to take charge of our regiment. His name was Reynolds. He commanded our regiment until the battle of Chickamauga, and he was killed on Saturday morning and Major Pegram took command of the regiment. He was wounded in the evening of the same day. The regiment, the 34th Mississippi, then was commanded by Captain Bowen, senior captain of the regiment, the balance of the day. Old Sherman told the truth, if reports be true. He said “War is hell.” I say if hell is any hotter than some of the battles that were fought in the war between the states, I am as near there as I want to be.
If my memory serves me rightly, Co. E, 34th Mississippi, lost at the Perryville battle, killed and wounded, namely: Sam Funderburk, killed; Buck Broadaway, Henry Woods, Bud Clowd, Jack Hardy, Dave Flow, Frank Sain, Bob Dean and Bob Stewart, wounded.
After Perryville Bragg’s army retreated back to Chattanooga before advancing to Shelbyville, TN. Though ordered to Murphreesboro, TN in late December 1862, it took no part in the battle. During that time the 34th Mississippi became part of Walthall’s Brigade, of which “Old Hughey” was always proud. Regarding the time between October 1862 and September 1863 he later recalled:
Boys, I am going to tell you a little goose story that I got into in 1862 during the war, on the retreat from Knoxville to Chattanooga, some time in November, I think. The distance was about one hundred miles. I belonged to Walthall’s brigade. We were on the road about four days. The army stopped a little before night when not pursued by the enemy. The first thing we did when we stopped to camp for the night was to call the roll, stack arms, and put a guard around the brigade to keep the boys on the inside and then break ranks and get up wood and do your cooking if you had anything to cook. Myself and one or two others had nothing to cook. So we managed to get through the guard line and here we went out in the country. We did not go far until we spiked a flock of geese. Every fellow took out after a goose. I caught my goose and ran into a thicket to hide and kill it. Somebody reported to Walthall that some of his men were on the outside depredating. Walthall sent a sergeant with six men to catch us fellows and bring us to him. They soon found me in the thicket. I had cut the old goose’s throat and she made so much fuss fluttering that it told on me. The guard started in the thicket after me, and I left my goose and ran out the other way and got through the guard and hid until after dark, then went back for my goose. But those guards found my goose and took it themselves. After all my hard work I got nothing. I did not see the other boys any more that night. I marched all next day thinking about my goose. If I had only saved my goose I would have been all right.
Boys, when old Bragg’s army was camped on Duck river at Shelbyville, Tenn., in the winter of 1862 a great many of the boys had what was called the seven-year itch. Old Hughey had it so bad that he felt like he was on fire. So one day Old Hughey thought that a cold bath would do him good. So he ran down [to] the river bank, snatched off his clothes and jumped into the river. There was a snow on the ground. When he struck the water and made a kick or two, back to the bank he came, and nearly froze to death before he could get his clothes on and get back to camp where the boys always had a chunk fire. But I am here to tell you it never cured the itch.
I want to tell the boys about a little fourteen-year-old boy who belonged to Company A, 34th Mississippi regiment. I often think of him and wonder if he is still living. His name, I think, was Tom Wall. Being so small, everybody knew him as Tommie. I remember the army was on a forced march with orders to stay in ranks. It was in the fall of 1863. On that march we passed a fine apple orchard. Those red apples looked so good some of the boys broke ranks and got in to the orchard. While we were filling our haversacks the rear guard swooped down on the boys and captured most of them. Some of us made our escape, but poor little Tommie was captured. They were marched on in the rear [until the regiment] struck camp for the night. All stragglers were lined up to be punished, with little Tommie in the crowd. The punishment was to mark time two hours under guard. Tommie was in the line marking time and eating apples, but later he was so severely wounded that he was disabled for further duty. He was a fine little soldier.
The 34th Mississippi’s next fight was at Chickamauga, Georgia in September 1863. They were again in the thick of the fight and suffered many casualties. As “Old Hughey” later recalled:
57 years ago today about 2 o’clock September 19, 1863, the battle of Chickamauga began. It was on Friday evening. Saturday and Sunday following was who should and who shouldn’t. Both sides charged and recharged and the ground on which the soldiers fought was almost covered in places with dead and wounded. After dark on Sunday evening the Yankees gave way and fell back into Chattanooga in confusion. The Confederates held the battlefield. Snodgrass Hill is where the Yankees made their last stand and there is where Gen. Little was killed. He was a Yankee general. Right there is where old Capt. Cooper, of Cockrum, showed what a man he was. When Gen. Little was killed some of the boys wanted his boots. Capt. Cooper said no; we want to turn him over to the Yankees just like we killed him. He said it would be a disgrace to the south to rob his dead body of even a button from his clothes.
Here is what a yankee colonel by the name of Harker said of the second day’s fight at Chickamauga. If he doesn’t mind, we will catch him in a lie, for I was there, and know what happened on both days. What he calls the first day was on Saturday, September 19, 1863. The second day was Sunday, September 20, 1863. He said early in the morning of the 20th with everything ready and his men anxious for orders to go forward, or words like that, with the success of the previous day, and finish the work well begun. He is speaking now of the first day—Saturday, the 19th. I know all about that day’s fighting. It was an all-day fight. Both sides charged and re-charged until dark, while General Bragg was driving the yankees back in front. Late that evening old General Thomas, a yankee general, was sent around to General Bragg’s right with his corps to try to get in Bragg’s rear. General Walthall’s brigade, all from Mississippi, was ordered to head him off. Walthall, with his brigade, was fighting with Thomas’ corps. Right there Walthall did some fighting, and Thomas was driving Walthall back, the latter being greatly outnumbered. Just as Walthall was giving back old General Pat Cleburn, with his division, came to Walthall’s rescue. He drove Thomas from the field. It was then getting dark. That finished the first day’s fight. We were all lined up and ordered: in place, rest; and slept on our guns. Then a detail was made to go after water. I was on that detail. We had to go back over the battlefield where we had fought all day. Bragg’s army gained about one mile that day. The detail was ordered to carry so many canteens, and hurry back. The boys on the front were almost dying for water. The battlefield we went over was full of wounded men, all mixed up; the blue and the gray. Those poor boys were lying in the woods in the dark. As far as they could hear those canteens rattle, those who were able would call for water. All we could do was to ignore their calls and get back to the front and water the boys sleeping on their guns. Here is where I think Colonel Harker failed to tell one truth. He said everything was ready, and his men were anxious to go back, with the success of the previous day, and finish the work well begun. If I am any judge, General Bragg whipped the yankees the first day, and drove them off the field. The second day they fell back to Chattanooga in a stampede, and were crossing the Tennessee river, thinking Bragg’s men would catch them before they crossed.
From Chickamagua the army moved to Chattanooga, where it took positions on Lookout Moutain and Missionary Ridge. The 34th Mississippi was situated on the former. This was to be “Old Hughey’s” last fight. Later, he would recall a humorous event that occurred prior to the battle:
I want to tell the young folks and school kids a little story about two Rebel boys capturing two Yankee boys during the war between the states. I called it a dirty trick, but they thought everything was fair in war. Those boys belonged to the 34th Mississippi Regiment and so did I, but in a different company. This was in November, 1863. The kids that study history have read of the battle above the clouds. That was on Lookout Mountain. Walthall’s brigade was guarding the mountain at that time, the 24th, 27th, 29th, 30th and 34th all of Mississippi constituted Walthall’s Brigade. Our picket line was down in a valley on a little creek called Chickamauger. The Yankee picket line was on one bank and the Rebs on the other. The limbs were so close together that our boys would swap tobacco for coffee and talk to each other when no officers were about. Now listen, me and my partner were on post and two boys from Co. G. were on post just above us a short distance. They decided they would capture two Yankee pickets. So they got up a trade with the Yankee pickets. One of our boys had an old watch and told the Yankee boys to step over and they would trade watches. They promised the Yankee boys that they would let them go back. They finally got them to lay down their guns and come over. They took those Yankees prisoner, called the officer of the guard and sent them to headquarters. Those Yankees did some pleading, but it did no good. I call that a little dirty.
The Union Army attacked Walthall’s men on Lookout Mountain on November 24, 1863. As later summarized in Dunbar Rowland’s brief sketch of the regiment, “the Thirty-fourth, Col. Samuel Benton commanding, was ordered out, about eight in the morning, to strengthen the picket line at the foot of the mountain on the west side, extending along its base about two miles. At about 10 o'clock the enemy, in four lines closely closed up, drove the left of the picket line, and so rapid were their movements that the center and right of the picket line were cut off and eight colors had passed by the pickets, when nearly all surrendered... The reported casualties of the regiment were 4 wounded and 231 missing, among which, ' doubtless, were a number killed and wounded.” “Old Hughey” was one of those captured that day:
When the boys were captured in the battle above the clouds, I happened to be one of the bunch. We were taken to Nashville, guarded by some Yankees who captured us. We were put in prison there for three or four days and shipped to Rock Island, Illinois. There they changed guards on us and the old guard was sent back to the front. The new guard was new recruits. The old guard was good to the boys, and told us that the further north we went, the meaner we would be treated, which we found to be true. The old guard said the new guards had never smelled gunpowder, and they would think it was brave to mistreat us. After we left Nashville in charge of the new guards, they robbed the boys of everything they had, and that wasn’t much. Some of us had a little Confederate money, some had watches, some had gloves, some had pocket knives, and some had finger rings. Those dirty guards robbed the boys of everything they had before we reached Rock Island.
“Old Hughey would spend the rest of the war at Rock Island Prison, Illinois. It was here that he became a one-time thief, as mentioned at the beginning of this article. “Old Hughey” described it as follows:
Fifty-six years ago I was a prisoner of war, suffering with hunger and cold. I was taken, with hundreds of others, to Rock Island prison Illinois. It was so cold that the Mississippi river froze over hard enough for wagons to cross over on the ice. There I was without a blanket, the yanks had taken my blanket from me, it being a government blanket. I had no where to lie down except on an old bunk with a plank bottom, no clothes but a little gray jacket and a thin shirt to keep my body warm. All the sleep I got was that I got sitting around a crowded stove. Each barracks had 120 men and two stoves to it, that was sixty men to the stove day and night, how could a man sleep much. I suffered, I thought, my share, and it was every man for himself. So I decided I must do something or freeze to death. So after a long time some new prisoners were sent in and I slipped among them and stold some poor old soldiers blanket and went back to my quarters and rolled up in it and went to sleep, what the other fellow did I do not know, I guess he did like I did. Boys, when you go to war you must take care of your self. I think that blanket saved my life.
While “Old Hughey” wrote much of his experiences as a soldier, he also wrote much of the local happenings and people around Poplar Corner. He would typically write his articles on Sunday for publication the following Thursday. Often he would begin his column “Well, boys” and then describe the goings-on in the community. Following are some examples:
Well, boys; this is another cold morning. The old thermometer is standing at 16 above Zero and sleet is on the ground. In spite of all that I feel fine. I had plenty of home-raised pork for breakfast with good fat biscuit, butter, and molasses, besides good coffee and a glass of good, thick buttermilk. Just how long this will last I cannot tell. [December 18, 1919]
After Sunday school broke up Sunday eve I noticed Mr. Ed Lightfoot going South, when his home is North, I guess he went to see Miss Mary Walker, she lives South on-half mile. [February 28, 1902]
Listen, boys, I am going to tell you what I heard. There is a young man living in DeSoto county who called on a young lady some time ago. He had so much to tell her that he stayed too long and the young lady’s mother walked in the Parlor and told him to go home and stay there. When you go do not stay too long or you might be told the same. Another young man went to the same place and the young lady’s father sent him a note, if he came back again he would hammer h-l out of him. Look out boys, and guess who it was. [February 28, 1902]
Oh, hello. News has just reached the Corner that Don Williamson, son of W. H. Williamson, is married. He married Miss Bessie Westbrook, of Memphis, a fine young lady. Hurrah for Don. [April 18, 1912]
A woman in this neighborhood was teaching her little girl to be thankful for what the good Lord had done for her the past year. The little girl said she was thankful for everything except that castor oil she had to take. This was on Thanksgiving day the mother was teaching her little girl. [December 23, 1920]
Mr. J. W. Black went to Memphis a few days ago a-foot. He came back the same day in an automobile. He either bought it or beat some one out of it. I rather think he bought it. [March 8, 1923]
I received a letter from Comrade Julius Joyner a few days ago. He is very feeble, not able to make himself a fire. [February 5, 1925]
Well, boys, I saw in the [Memphis Press] Scimitar of January 17th  a notice of the death of Lieut. J. M. Glenn, of Collierville, Tenn. I want to say that I knew that man in time of war. He was my first lieutenant, and no braver man ever went on any battlefield than he. I can see him in my imagination on the field of battle, on the picket lines in charge of the pickets, on the drilling grounds drilling his company, and in camps running, jumping, and wrestling with the boys when off duty. He commanded Co. E. 34, Mississippi regiment, Walthall’s brigade, on every battlefield. If he wasn’t in command when the company went into battle he never failed to bring the company off the field. The old vets are crossing over every day. A few more years and the last one will cross over the river and rest in the shade, and then they will have a reunion among themselves every day. Won’t that be grand? They will leave a record behind them that will never be broken.
“Old Hughey” “crossed over the river” on July 16, 1933. His death was announced in an article entitled “Taps for Old Hughey”: “Another of the old Confederate soldiers has crossed the Stygian river which separates this life from the hereafter. Sam A. Hughey, of Poplar Corner, died last Sunday about noon at the home where he had lived for so many years. He passed away peacefully and apparently without suffering.” The writer went on to say:
He possessed in large measure the sturdy virtues which distinguished the true citizens of the old and of the new south. He recognized in every man a brother and sought his friendship. He saw something good in all of them, for his humanity was all-embracing. He never turned a deaf ear to the unfortunate and the needy. He loved his county, his state, and his country, and was a good father and a devoted husband, always solicitous for their welfare. He was a true and steadfast friend and a kind and generous neighbor.
We might also say that, because of his writing, we can know and understand the people who lived in DeSoto County during that time period so much better! Even though it has been more than seventy-two years since “Old Hughey” walked among us, I still say a silent thank you for the treasure he left us in his weekly columns.