Edward Cary Walthall
Submitted by Ginny English, MSGenWeb Coordinator of Perry County
WALTHALL, EDWARD CARY was born at Richmond, VA, April 4, 1831, and when ten years of age accompanied his father, Blarrett White Walthall to Holly Springs, which became the new home of the family. Here he received his literary education, mainly in the noted classical school, St. Thomas Hall. He read law with his brother in law, George R. Freeman, of Pontotoc, for one year, and continued the study while deputy clerk of the court at Holly Springs, until admitted to the bar in 1852, when he removed to Coffeeville, and formed a law partnership with Judge Cheves.
Four years later he was elected district attorney, an office he retained until the war. His first oration was delivered, within this period, at a reunion of the St. Thomas debating society at Holly Springs. He was married in 1856 to Sophia Bridgies, who died in the same year, and in 1859 to Mary Lecky Jones, of Mecklenburg County, VA. Among the volunteer companies organized in 1860-61 was the Yalobusha Rifles, of which F. M. Aldridge was elected captain and Walthall first lieutenant. They rendezvoused at Union City, and were assigned to the 15th infantry, Col. W. S. Statham. June 13, about ten days after the organization of the regiment, Lt. Col. J. W. Hemphill resigned, and Lt. Walthall was elected to the vacancy.
The first service of the regiment was at Cumberland Gap, when they advanced into Kentucky under Gen. Zollicoffer, in the winter of 1861-62. There was a disastrous encounter with George H. Thomas at Fishing Creek, and a terrible experience of rout and misery. But the steadfast heroism of Walthall and his regiment shone out all the more brilliantly with such a setting, and he became at once famous throughout the Confederacy. At the organization of the 29th regiment, at Corinth, Walthall was elected colonel, April 11, 1862. In this capacity he served under Beauregard at Corinth and in the retreat to Tupelo, and, in Chalmers' brigade, accompanied Bragg in the movement to Chattanooga, and the advance into Kentucky, where Chalmers' brigade made the famous assault at Munfordville.
In November Bragg recommended him for promotion, and he was commissioned brigadier general, to date from June 30. At the organization of the Army of Tennessee (q.v.) he was given command of a Mississippi brigade. Sickness kept him out of the battle of Murfreesboro, and his next great field was Chickamauga. Here, part of the army had the good fortune to strike Federal regiments on the line of march, and without great difficulty achieved a victory. But it was Walthall's duty to attack a line partly protected by log breastworks, and here, again, he met George H. Thomas. His brigade lost 32 percent in killed and wounded, but he seized and held the main road to Chattanooga.
In mid-November, with a brigade worn down to 1,500, he was ordered to hold Lookout Mountain, the point of greatest danger on Bragg's line investing Chattanooga, the Confederates being menaced by another Federal army brought from Vicksburg and Virginia. Assailed by Hooker's force of 10,000 men, Walthall fought the famous "battle above the clouds.” Says a Northern writer, "Situated as he was, Walthall and his Mississippians made one of the bravest defenses that occurred anywhere at any time during the war. It was sublimely heroic under fearfully exasperating circumstances." The greatest part of his brigade was cut off and captured. With the remnant he made gallant fight on Missionary Ridge, next day.
When confusion and disorder reigned, Walthall, though painfully wounded, kept the field, held the enemy in check, and when the army was safe across the Chickamauga was lifted from his saddle unable to walk. at the opening of the Great Atlanta campaign he was given another important duty, the holding of Resaca, essential to the safety of Johnston's army. Polk's army did not arrive in time to make this possible, but Walthall held his ground two days under the attacks of McPherson. He was promoted to major-general, and given command of Cantey's division of Polk's Army of Mississippi.
He was an important factor in the repulse of Sherman at Kenesaw mountain, in the assaults at Peachtree Creek and Ezra Church, and the defense of Atlanta. When Hood advanced into Tennessee, Walthall had two horses shot under him in the bloody assault at Franklin. After the first day's fight at Nashville, where Thomas attacked Hood, he was given command of French's division as well as his own, and on the retreat he commanded the flower of the army, eight brigades forming the infantry rearguard, to cooperate with Forrest's cavalry.
After great suffering he finally reached the vicinity of Tupelo with a remnant of his command numbering less than one of its brigades eight months before. At Bentonville, N.C., in April, 1865, commanding a division of Georgians and Tennesseans, he gave his last battle orders, cheering to a last charge brave men who knew there was no hope of victory, only a chance to die. At this time his reputation as a soldier was secure. He and Nathan Bedford Forest and John B. Gordon were the most famous volunteer leaders of the South.
A distinguished Mississippian once said in the presence of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston that he regarded Walthall as the greatest man he ever knew; to which Johnston replied, "If the Confederate war had lasted two years longer General Walthall would have risen to the command of all the Confederate armies." (Mayes' Lamar, P. 120.) His advancement was rapid, but not as phenomenal as it might have been, had not his modesty and generous consideration of others intervened. On the death of Bishop Polk he might have gained command of the Army of Mississippi, but he recommended his senior in age and experience, A. P. Stewart.
Returning to Coffeeville in 1865 he resumed his law practice, as a partner of Col. Lamar. In 1871 he removed to Grenada. He was a leader in the civil struggle for good government, and took a prominent place in the councils of the Democratic party, being chairman of the State delegation in the national conventions of 1868, 1876, 1880 and 1884. Lamar wrote to him in 1868: "Do you know that but for you I could not keep up? I would have given up long ago, and never made an effort." When Lamar resigned from the United States senate to become secretary of the interior, Walthall was appointed to the vacancy, and took up Lamar's mantle as the great leader of manly reconciliation.
At his death, Senator Spooner, of Wisconsin, said of him: "I utter a conviction, born of a consciousness of the influence which his candor and breadth and frankness and the earnest hope, often expressed by Senator Walthall, for renewed friendship and fraternity between the sections of our country, had upon my own thought and feeling, when I say that to him and to his presence, more than to any other, is due, in my judgment, the obliteration here of sectional animosity, and the restoration of that amity and confidence so essential to the prosperity and the strength of the Republic." His service in the senate began in December, 1885, and continued until his death, a period of more than twelve years.
Senator Spooner noted that he soon, in an unostentatious way and without effort, became a leader of peculiar power and influence on the Democratic side. It was the tribute unconsciously and naturally paid to him by appreciative colleagues because of the nobility of his character and the wisdom of his judgments. He was an able and erudite lawyer. He possessed in a wonderful degree the elements which would have made him a great judge. He was essentially reflective, with fine power not only of analysis but of generalization, and of rare judgments.
He was usually discriminating and with profound and nice ethical sense; a safe man to consult with the utmost confidence when any one had any doubts upon a question of honor or propriety of conduct. He seldom participated in a debate, although able to cope with any antagonist; but I remember that his first speech, to which the senate listened intently, won universal commendation, although upon a sectional subject, by the temperate spirit which pervaded it." In closing Senator Spooner said he would not for the world pronounce a eulogy, yet he had said nothing of any fault. "I knew him long and well, but I did not know him long enough or well enough to discover any fault or weakness in his character."
Senator Gray said, "If to be chivalrous is to be high-minded, magnanimous, courageous, unselfish, gentle and true, preferring death to dishonor, then Walthall was the embodiment of chivalry. He never lowered his standard, never compromised his convictions of duty; and all this rigidity of moral principle was covered with the mantle of his affectionate and kindly personality which drew men to him and made him his friends. He was a gentleman in the best acceptation of the word, and I have sometimes thought that the best way to define the word was to point to him as the embodiment of all that it meant."
In his last illness he came to the senate, despite the remonstrance of his friends, to pay a tribute to the memory of his great colleague, Senator George, whom he followed in death, two weeks later, on the evening of April 21, 198. He was buried at Holly Springs, beneath a multitude of flowers that came from almost every town and village in Mississippi. His intimate friend, Senator Berry, said that as he stood there, "the thought came to me that no man could have been intimately associated with General Walthall without being a better man, that no man could have know him well without having a higher and better opinion of human nature, and that in the mysterious and unknown life beyond the grave the Great Ruler of us all would do most for him there who had done most for his fellow men here." When Lamar was yet living, he said: "Of all the splendid men that Mississippi has ever presented to the nation, General Walthall is the one beyond all competition in moral purity, strength of mind, heroism of soul, and commanding influence upon men."
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