Prominent Webster Co. Citizens
SOURCE PUBLIC DOMAIN MATERIAL:
Encyclopedia of Mississippi History; Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns,
Events, Institutions and Persona; Planned and Edited by Dunbar Rowland,
LL.D. Director Mississippi Department of Archives and History; Member
American Historical Associations, Vol. II. L-Z 1907
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
BRIDGES, 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. On 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.
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 a 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 JOHNSON"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
rear guard, 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
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
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."