Brigadier-General James Ronald Chalmers
J. R. CHALMERS, son of the Hon. Judge Joseph W. Chalmers (who was in the United States Senate under Polk’s administration), was born in Halifax County, Virginia, on the 11th of January, 1831. He is the oldest and only survivor of seven children—four sons and three daughters. In 1834 or 1835 he removed with his father to Jackson, Tennessee, and thence to Holly Springs, Marshall County, Mississippi, in 1839, where he was sent to school and prepared for college, which he entered at Columbia, South Carolina, in September, 1848, where he graduated in December, 1851, taking the second honor in a class of about fifteen. Returning to Holly Springs, he at once entered upon the study of law in the office of Barton & Chalmers, the firm being composed of his father and the great and gifted Roger Barton. In 1852 he was a delegate to the Democratic Convention which nominated Franklin Pierce for President. The next year he began to practice law at Holly Springs, and in 1857 he was elected District Attorney of the Seventh Judicial District, over several worthy and popular competitors. He was soon recognized as one of the ablest prosecuting attorneys in the State, and greatly increased and strengthened his popularity. He was a delegate from DeSoto County to the Mississippi State Convention, which passed the ordinance of secession, in January, 1861, and chairman of the military committee in that body.
The subject of this sketch was elected Colonel of the Ninth Mississippi Regiment of infantry, which was the first that entered the Confederate service from that State. His first engagement was a successful attack upon Fort Pickens, on Santa Rosa Island, south of Pensacola, Florida.
Chalmers was appointed Brigadier-General on the 13th of February, 1862, and was in command of the forces that drove Sherman and his gunboats back from Eastport, Mississippi, on March 12th, and thus saved Bear Creek bridge from destruction, and the Memphis and Charleston Railroad from falling into the hands of the enemy. At the battle of Shiloh he commanded the extreme right brigade, and made the last charge on Sunday that was made by the Confederates on that eventful day. Balls passed through his clothing, and his horse was shot from under him on Monday. When the Confederate army fell back to Tupelo, Bragg assigned Chalmers to a cavalry command for a short time, but having been recalled to take charge of his infantry brigade, he went with Bragg on his Kentucky campaign. The former made an unsuccessful attack upon Mumfordsville, and was complimented by the latter for what he did. At the battle of Murfreesboro General Chalmers was severely wounded, and before he had fully recovered from the effect of his wound he was assigned by Bragg to the command of the cavalry in Northwest Mississippi, at the special request of the Governor of that State—Pettus.
General Chalmers now went to work in his new field and organized the “squads” and companies into regiments, which afterward, under his command, formed a prominent part in that terrible column that enabled Forrest to perform his wondrous feats and made his name immortal, causing him to go down the ages as the “Wizard of the Saddle.” General Chalmers commanded the first division of Forrest’s Cavalry from January, 1864, to the close of the war, as fully set forth in the preceding pages of this work, to which I refer the reader for the balance of the military career of this gallant and noble officer. He accepted the terms of surrender in good faith, and returned to his home in North Mississippi, where he again began the practice of his profession—the law.
In 1872 he was on the electoral ticket in Mississippi for Horace Greeley; in 1872 he was elected to the State Senate; in 1876 he was elected to Congress, from what is known as the “Shoe-string District,” and again in 1878, without opposition. In 1880 he was returned as elected, but was unseated in a contest by John R. Lynch, the Republican candidate. General Chalmers then removed from Vicksburg to Sardis, Mississippi, and in 1882 became an independent Democratic candidate for Congress against V. H. Manning, the regular Democratic nominee, and after a close, exciting canvass was elected, but by some sort of manipulation or legerdemain at Jackson by the Governor and Secretary of State, he was refused his certificate of election, though he was finally seated by a Democratic House, after a most exciting contest between Manning and himself. In 1884 and 1886 he was again a candidate against the Hon. J. B. Morgan, the regular Democratic nominee, and while there is but little doubt in the minds of his friends that he was elected both times, yet the certificate of election was given to his opponent.
As a speaker, General Chalmers is fluent, bold, pointed, and fearless. In his style he draws occasionally upon a cultivated and exuberant fancy, but indulges more frequently in pointed and racy anecdote. As a friend, he is sincere, true, and devoted; as an enemy, fearless and inflexible; but at all times just and generous, as ready to atone for a wrong, when he is convinced that he has committed one, as he is, upon the other hand, steadfast and immovable when satisfied that he is right.
I take the following from a letter recently received from Colonel C. R. Barteau:
“I meet General Chalmers frequently, and he inquires about your book. As I know him better, I love and appreciate the man. His talent is of a high order, his character spotless, and his moral courage beyond all question.”
The general is now (1887) engaged in the practice of law in the city of Memphis, Tennessee, in connection with his former comrade-in-arms and almost lifetime friend, Colonel Thomas W. Harris. They are recognized as among the leaders and most efficient of the Southern bar.
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