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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Francis Marion Parrish ca. 1834 - June 17, 1865

Historian/author Wayne Parrish received the 2016 Jefferson Davis Historical Gold Medal from the United Daughters of the Confederacy for this article as an outstanding contribution in furthering the study and preservation of Confederate history through historical research, writing, public speaking, and other points of special achievement.

Francis Marion Parrish ca. 1834 - June 17, 1865

Copyright ©2011. All rights reserved by the author

My gg-grandfather, Francis Marion Parrish, was the oldest son of Sherman Parrish and Nancy Horton. He was born about 1834, while the family was still in Coweta County, Georgia, and moved to Louina in Randolph County, Alabama, when he was in his early teens. The name Francis Marion was a very common name in the early 1800's and appears in several lines of my family. The original Francis Marion was known as “The Swamp Fox”, and was a hero of the Revolutionary War. His guerilla style tactics against the British and Tory sympathizers in the Savannah River Valley of South Carolina became legendary. Many settlers of the Carolinas and Georgia named their sons for him. When I was very young there was a Disney produced TV series about the "Swamp Fox."

In about 1855 or 1856, Francis Marion Parrish married Almeda C. Lemons, also of Randolph County, born on January 15, 1836. She was the daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Lemons. It is possible that her family name may have once been LeMons, but this is uncertain. Francis Marion patented eighty acres of land a couple of miles east of his fathers place and began farming. The patent is dated January 1, 1859. Francis Marion's homestead was located in Randolph County, Alabama Section 15, Township 21, Range 11, between the communities of Friendship and Harmon Crossroads. B. F. patented land in the section to south at the same time.

In 1860, Francis Marion and Almeda were living in the Louina area. He showed his age in the 1860 census as 26, and Almeda as 23. Their son James Andrew (Uncle Andy) was two, and Thomas Jefferson was one month old. The value of their real estate was $800, and the value of personal property was set at $900.

Their third son, William Marion, was born September 3, 1862. On February 1, 1863, Francis Marion became the third of Sherman and Nancy's sons to go to war. With William Marion just three months old, Francis Marion left Almeda and the boys, and traveled to Clark County, Alabama, where he enlisted in the 21st Alabama Infantry Regiment. I am not sure why he chose to go to the Clark County area to enlist. His brothers had previously enlisted in the 14th Infantry Regiment, but by the time he enlisted, I suppose that it was long gone, headed toward the Army of Northern Virginia. Perhaps there were other young men in the community who were going to the 21st Infantry.

Choctaw Bluff lies in south Alabama, on the west bank of the Alabama River, several miles above the confluence with the Mobile. On a modern day road map, a line drawn from Eliska to Carlton (small communities in Clarke) just about passes through Choctaw Bluff on a horseshoe bend in the river. At or very near Choctaw Bluff was a second camp used by the 21st Infantry, that was referred to as Fort Stonewall. The 21st Infantry Regiment had been at Shiloh, where it had 200 killed, and many wounded, and also at Farmington, but with light losses. At the time of Francis Marion's enlistment, the 21st Infantry Regiment's primary responsibility was the defense of Mobile Bay and the city of Mobile including the Alabama docks. From sketchy information in the unit history of the 21st, and from the more detailed correspondence in the Official Records, companies rotated in and out of the three forts that secured the defenses of Mobile Bay, Fort Powell and Fort Gaines on the West Side and Fort Morgan on the east. A quick reaction response force or reserve was stationed near the port, to provide reinforcement to whichever fort should require assistance. There was probably a forward command and control element, which I believe was either at Fort Morgan or at Point Clear. The unit trains, the rear command post, and units waiting their rotation remained at Choctaw Bluff. The forces at Choctaw Bluff also provided a deployable blocking force or reinforcement along the strategic route from Meridian to Montgomery, because Grant was threatening with his march across Mississippi, until he turned back on Vicksburg.

Image courtesy of the author
Francis Marion's enlistment record says that he was a farmer, that he was 23 years old, six feet two inches tall, had black hair, and black eyes. It states that his birthplace was Troup County, GA, rather than Coweta County, so I am not sure of the location. It also shows that he was enlisted by Colonel Anderson, witnessed by Captain Cotheran, and that Francis Marion received a fifty dollar enlistment bounty on May 26, 1863. The voucher (number 38) is recorded on the back of the enlistment form for Francis Marion and five fellow soldiers. A handwritten certification by Matt. Rice, the Regimental Surgeon, states, "I have carefully examined the above named men, and each are able to do the duty of a soldier." The certificate is approved by Captain Cotheran.

Francis was assigned to A Company, 21st Infantry Regiment. The record of the Company Muster Roll for the period of December 31, 1862 to April 30, 1863, confirms his enlistment by Colonel Anderson on February 1, 1863, that he was transferred from Company C to Company A on March 31, 1863, that he was present for duty, and that he had drawn no pay as of April 30, 1863. It gives the location of the enlistment as Choctaw Bluff and the enlistment term for the duration of the war.

The A Company Muster Roll for May and June, 1863 shows Francis Marion present for duty, and the company's location appears to still be at Choctaw Bluff. It says that he was last paid on April 30, 1863, by Captain McVey. The next entry in his record is a Muster Roll for the period of September and October, 1863. Francis Marion is shown as present for duty, and was last paid on August 31, by Captain McVey.

Throughout 1863, the regiment operated in and around the Mobile area. In early May, the unit records show that Company A, along with several other companies were moved to Selma for a short period, probably in response to Grant's threat from the west, but they returned to Mobile near the end of the month, and on June 8, they rotated back to Choctaw Bluff. The three forts at the entrance to Mobile Bay provided a mixed bag of heavy and medium guns, secured by infantry, to challenge the combined arms operations of the Union Navy and Army that was sure to come. Mobile had a very high priority for the Union, and the rebel forces defending there knew it. New Orleans had already fallen, and Mobile was the most important port left in the deep South. By midsummer of 1864, Admiral Farragut and General Granger in New Orleans were already laying their plans for the investment of Mobile.

While the official records are scant, and I have no personal papers belonging or referring to Francis Marion, a good idea of the duty of the soldiers at Fort Morgan is available. Thomas Benton Alexander was a sergeant in the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery Regiment, and his battery was at Fort Morgan. Throughout the war, he kept a diary, and the most detailed entries in the diary are from his time at Fort Morgan and then at Elmira Prison. The diary is in the rare books collection of the library at Notre Dame University, and is available online. From his entries, I had a glimpse of the routine at Fort Morgan, and the outlying batteries on Mobile Point. He writes of the arrival of blockade runners, and periodic shelling as the blockading vessels pulled within range of the fort. He also recounts the soldiers going on pass to the city of Mobile for a weekend when they were not on duty, of detail to mess duty, and guard duty on the fort ramparts. Francis Marion's days in the infantry regiment were probably not very different, with duty on the outer perimeter, the ramparts themselves, and the daily routines of the garrison.

By the first of August, 1864, Admiral Farragut had gathered his fleet in the Gulf of Mexico, arrayed from the horizon off the entrance to Mobile Bay back toward New Orleans. General Granger, US Army, and his forces were on board Farragut's vessels and Major General R. S. Canby, US Army, commanding the Military West of the Mississippi, had ordered them to take Mobile. On the evening of August 3, 1864, Federal forces under General Granger landed on the western end of Dauphine Island, and immediately "invested Fort Gaines", according to General Canby's report to the Chief of Staff. By midnight of August 4, he had landed his artillery, and positioned it within range of Fort Gaines, well covered by infantry fire, so that when Farragut's fleet made their run into Mobile Bay, he could suppress the artillery on Fort Gaines from behind.

Admiral Farragut ordered his fleet tied together in pairs, in most cases with a steam powered vessel with propellers lashed to a sidewheel paddle vessel. This pairing prevented any fouling of propulsion systems, and if a vessel were hit, it would not be dead in the water, blocking the channel for additional ships. On the morning of August 5, 1864, Francis Marion and his fellow members of the 21st Infantry, watched as the fleet approached Fort Morgan. With the guns of Fort Gaines effectively silenced by Granger's artillery from behind, the fleet weaved into the shipping channel, firing heavy broadsides at Fort Morgan as they made the final turn into the entrance of the Bay. The pairs of vessels made their runs in turn, and once inside Mobile Bay, dispersed to support the remainder of the fleet with suppressive fire on Fort Morgan. Farragut had a good plan, and executed it well, in coordination with Granger's Army forces, and Fort Morgan was only able to sink two Federal Vessels.

In a report to General Maury, dated August 8, BG Page, commanding the outer defenses, said that on the afternoon of August 5, LTC Williams, after a bombardment from Monitor gunboats from the rear of his fort, telegraphed that "My rear is not defensible. I must evacuate to-night, or surrender within 48 hours." General Page replied, "When no longer tenable, save your garrison. Hold on as long as you can." That night Williams abandoned the fort, reporting that he had destroyed the guns and other materiel before leaving. General Page's August 8 report continues, "During the night a fire and explosion occurred there (Fort Powell) and my conjecture was that he had evacuated, which was confirmed by the occupation of it by the enemy the next morning."

Despite General Page's assumption, based on LTC Williams' reports, on August 8, General Granger, in command of the land forces of the Union operation, wrote to headquarters that Fort Powell had been evacuated and that all eighteen guns were serviceable and ready for immediate usemby his forces.

With the fall of Fort Powell, Granger's Union forces continued to trench and move their heavy guns to bear on Fort Gaines. On August 4th, General Page took a small boat across from Fort Morgan to Fort Gaines, spoke to the troops, and was assured by the commander of a "protracted and determined resistance." On the morning of August 5, Colonel Charles D. Anderson, commanding Fort Gaines, telegraphed General Page, "The enemy are planting batteries in the sand hills within easy range. If the fleet opens on me from the other direction I can not cover more than half my men, but will do the best I can. My situation is critical." Page replied with instructions, "Do your best and keep the men in good cheer." Later in the day, Page received one more dispatch from Anderson, "We will emulate our glorious old admiral, and do our very best." On August 6th, Colonel Anderson reported that the enemy was placing mortar batteries within range in the sand hills, and that his own heavy guns were all disabled but one. This was later suspected of being false. After the days shelling from gunboats in the Bay from the north side ended, General Page sent two members of his staff across to confer with Colonel Anderson. They reported back that the guns had been repaired (whether they had really been disabled is questionable) and that Anderson was intent on holding

On the morning of August 7, General Page was astonished to be told by staff that a boat with a flag of truce had proceeded from Fort Gaines to the enemy fleet in Mobile Bay. He telegraphed Colonel Anderson at once, asking what the flag of truce was for, but received no response. Page ordered a gun fired to get Fort Gaines attention, and again signaled Anderson to "Hold on to your fort!" At sundown, the garrison at Fort Morgan saw a flag of truce return to Fort Gaines, remain for a while, and return to the fleet. General Page crossed the narrow inlet by boat, and learned that Colonel Anderson was on board the enemy flagship negotiating surrender, and that he had ordered his signals section not to reply to the general's signals earlier. General Page was furious! He told Colonel Anderson's Adjutant, Major Johnston, that when Anderson returned, to inform him that all terms of surrender were annulled, that Colonel Anderson was relieved and should report immediately to Fort Morgan, and that Major John would assume command. The next morning, with Colonel Anderson not having reported, and the Confederate flag still flying at Fort Gaines, General Page telegraphed to Major Johnston, "Colonel Anderson is relieved of command. You assume it, and stop negotiating with the enemy!" But at 930 a. m., the flag was lowered - Fort Gaines was lost. General Page assured his commander that he would defend Fort Morgan as long as was humanly possible. General Page’s report of the Fort Gaines surrender was forwarded all the way to Jefferson Davis, who personally noted on the letter that the Commander of Gaines should be court-martialed when he was returned.

During the short siege of Fort Gaines, Francis Marion Parrish and his fellow soldiers at Fort Morgan continued their duties. The artillery units fired daily on the Union fleet that were within range, and the infantry continued to improve their positions, man the exterior trench works, and the walls of the fort. Since Fort Morgan sits at the western extreme of Mobile Point, it was correctly assumed that Union forces would land to the east. A set of trench works had been constructed from the fort to the east, and these were improved and manned during this period. Meanwhile, General Granger occupied Fort Powell and Fort Gaines with small garrisons and prepared to assault Fort Morgan. A stream of reinforcements from New Orleans continued to bolster his forces. Despite Colonel Anderson's claim of disabled guns, Granger's forces found all the guns at Fort Gaines, and a considerable stock of supplies intact and serviceable.

After the fall of Fort Gaines, Granger did not waste any time. On the morning of August 9, 1864, he landed troops at Navy Cove, about three miles east of the fort, and they began preparing for the assault on Fort Morgan. Fort Morgan exchanged fire during this period with about a dozen gunboats and wooden warships, and periodically fired harassment and interdiction at the incoming land force, as their external security began slowly pulling back to the fort itself. On the morning of August 9, as soon as the forces had landed, a boat with a flag of truce was dispatched with a message to General Page, co-signed by Admiral Farragut and General Granger.

The slow approach to Fort Morgan continued from that point. The Union forces landed by day, moving their heavy artillery ever closer, and extending their trench system at night. Francis Marion and his fellow soldiers could hear the digging at night. The guns of the fort dueled with gunboats and the ground forces at the same time. On August 21, 1864, Granger was ready for his final push. His artillery and the gunboats pummeled the fort for twenty-six hours, shell after shell landing inside the fort. The barracks caught fire along with several other buildings, and fighting the fires while still under fire was difficult. With his powder finally all expended or wet from fire fighting, General Page set his soldiers about the work of destroying everything that could be of value to the enemy. All the guns were spiked, and the carriages sawed in pieces; all the weapons were broken and burned, even his own sword. Satisfied that he was leaving nothing that the enemy could use, he lowered the flag on August 23, 1864, and surrendered the Fort at 2 o'clock in the afternoon.

Francis Marion Parrish was now a Prisoner of War, one of 600 surrendered at Fort Morgan. The Union forces began shipping prisoners from Fort Morgan to New Orleans immediately. The exact date that Francis Marion was transferred to New Orleans is not known, but Sergeant Alexander's diary entry for August 23, says that he was put on the ironclad Bienville on the afternoon after the surrender and moved to New Orleans. In New Orleans, processing and recording of the POWs continued, and they were billeted in warehouses in the vicinity of the port. The prisoners from Fort Gaines would be exchanged or paroled, but the stubborn defenders of Fort Morgan would not be afforded that courtesy.I have my own theory about the absolute order that Fort Morgan's defenders would not be paroled. I think that the Union Commanders, especially Admiral Farragut and perhaps others, were taking their revenge on Brigadier General Page. Before the war, Richard Lucien Page was a full Captain in the U. S. Navy. He had served with Farragut, and had been a friend to him. When the war began, he left the Navy, and worked for a time for the Governor of Virginia, as State Secretary of the Navy, until the Confederate government was organized, then he took a flag rank in the Confederate Army. His refusal to surrender Fort Morgan, his efforts to destroy everything there in the last hours that could possible be of value to the Yankees, and his court martial of Colonel Anderson and LTC Williams for surrendering Fort Gaines and Fort Powell did not set well with his former service mates. The crowning blow though, was the fact that he even had his own ceremonial sword chopped up, along with the destruction of the guns. When Admiral Farragut's representatives demanded a formal handing over of his personal weapon at the surrender, he refused, and told them that they could go look for the pieces if they wished. At New Orleans, the Yankees convened a Court of Enquiry to determine whether General Page had violated the Laws of War, but the Court determined that he had not acted improperly, that none of his publicly owned equipment was destroyed after he had struck his colors, and that he had upheld his code of conduct in his command. There is an interesting historical note about three of the principals in the battle of Mobile. Admiral Farragut, in overall command of Union Forces, Admiral Buchanan of the Confederate Navy, who lost a leg on board the Tennessee during Farragut's run into the Bay, and General Page were all U.S. Navy officers, serving together before the war. Farragut was a southerner (from New Orleans), who stayed with the Union, Buchanan was a Pennsylvania Yankee, who joined the Confederacy, and Page was a Virginian, who chose the Confederacy.As his POW records in the Archives of Confederate Service Records show, Francis Marion was shipped to New York on September 27, 1864. The transfer to New York was by sea, and according to Sergeant Alexander's diary entries, the passage to New York took about ten days. In New York, Francis Marion and his fellow prisoners would be debarked from the vessel onto Governor's Island. Fort Columbus on Governor's Island was used as a holding area for the prisoners until they were ferried over to New Jersey, and then moved by rail to Elmira, Chemung County, New York. The train trip was an all night run from the Jersey shore to Elmira. Francis Marion arrived at Elmira on October 8, 1864. The POW record says that Francis Marion "desires" to take the oath of allegiance to the United States, however this seems to be a common form used for all soldiers arriving at Elmira, and there are no indications in Francis Marion's record that the oath was ever actually executed. In many records there are such cards with the date of the oath clearly entered. Francis Marion's card does show that he "desires to go to his home in Randolph County, Alabama." Unlike most of the other cards in his record, this one is marked with his full name, confirms his capture on the date of Fort Morgan's surrender, and gives the arrival date at Elmira.Early in the war, the location at Elmira had been a training camp for New York units, originally known as Camp Rathbun, designated Camp Number 3. It was selected as a prison location, and the first prisoners arrived in June of 1864. During its twelve months as a prisoner of war camp, Elmira would house 12,000 Confederate POW's, of whom 2,963 died, and are buried in Elmira, in what has since been designated Woodlawn National Cemetery.When prisoners first arrived, they were housed in tents until the barracks were ready, then they were moved into wooden barracks. The prisoners were arriving faster than construction progressed though, and it would the first week in January, 1865, before all the prisoners were inside. Bunks were three high, and each barracks had two pot bellied stoves for heat. The first snow fell in mid-November. From my own experience in moving to West Point, NY, a hundred years later, the winter was a hard experience for Francis Marion and the other southern soldiers, especially considering they were acclimated to Mobile. According to Sergeant Alexander's diary, December was terribly cold, with snow or rain nearly every day. The prisoners were fed meat and bread for breakfast, and a soup or stew for dinner. Sergeant Alexander described the food as generally good, and enough to live on, but really wished for three meals a day.

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On December 20, 1864, a shipment of clothing arrived from Baltimore. The clothing included new pants and shirts, but more importantly, new shoes and socks, long underwear, overcoats, and gloves for all the prisoners. Christmas Day was sunny and clear, according to Alexander's diary, and very dull for the prisoners, but they were all happy to be in new warm clothes. There was no special meal though, just meat and bread for breakfast, stew for dinner, and no supper.

Prison life was bad, certainly, but there is no evidence of any abuse at Elmira, either in the records of the prison, or in Alexander's diary. God knows the New York winter was punishment enough. Early in the history of the prison, some enterprising resident of Elmira built a tower near the prison, and charged people to go up and view the prisoners through telescopes and binoculars. The camp commander sent his troops to tear down the tower. There was a hospital barracks, with doctors and nurses, but they were overwhelmed very quickly by the number of prisoners. Many of the prisoners were probably already in bad shape when they arrived, so one out of every four died. The most common causes of death were listed as Typhoid Fever, Chronic Diarrhea, and Pneumonia. The two meals a day ration did not help, but the local commander was constrained by directives all the way down from Secretary Stanton himself. Stanton felt that the rebels should be punished and the short ration order was one of the ways he could do that.

Beginning in February, the men were offered the opportunity to execute an Oath of Allegiance to the United States in exchange for parole and transportation to the South. Those who signed or took the oath were provided a food ration, money, and transportation vouchers, and moved in groups of about 500 to City Point, Virginia, a Union supply point, and released. By this time, much of the south was under Union control, including the rail networks, so the former prisoners could use the transportation vouchers to get nearer their homes. Even though the card above says that Francis Marion was prepared to take the oath, it is obvious that he never did. When the war ended in April of 1865, the remaining prisoners were paroled in groups, and provided the same transportation, money, and rations vouchers as those who had taken the oath.

In June of 1865, the prison was closed. The remaining 140 prisoners, who were not able to travel, were assigned to the military regional hospital in Elmira, for continued treatment until they were able to travel. Seventeen men, including Francis Marion Parrish, died in the regional hospital. His records show that Francis Marion died of pneumonia on June 17, 1865. His grave registration form shows T. M. rather than F. M., so his tombstone is also incorrect. However, there is no doubt that grave number 2915, Woodlawn National Cemetery, Elmira, is the grave of Francis Marion Parrish.

I have one additional note to close my story of Francis Marion's military service. John Jones was born into slavery at a Plantation near Leesburg, Virginia. As a young man, he ran away, making his way north, eventually settling in Elmira, New York. Mr. Jones married in Elmira, became a successful businessman, and ran a busy "depot" on the Underground Railroad, assisting runaway slaves in finding homes in New York, or helping them get to Canada. When the prisoner of war camp was opened at Elmira, John Jones was serving as the sexton of Woodlawn Cemetery. This former slave took it upon himself to coordinate with the camp commander and managed the interment of the deceased prisoners. Each wooden coffin was marked with the soldier's name, rank, military unit, and date of death. A small bottle with a piece of paper with the same information was place in each coffin. Wagons moved the coffins to Woodlawn where Mr. Jones' employees buried each soldier, and erected a wooden cross with the same information carved on it. He kept meticulous records of each death and interment, and numbered each grave. John Jones even buried the son of his former owner in Virginia, and wrote to the family, telling them that he had buried their son, and that he would bring him home after the war - and he did. In 1908, the wooden crosses were replaced with permanent veterans headstones. Thanks to the former slave, John Jones, I was able to identify the final resting place of my great-great-grandfather, Francis Marion Parrish. The final records, his death record, and his burial location are shown here.

After Francis Marion’s death, Almeda and her three sons lived with Sherman and Nancy Parrish, returning to their place when the boys were old enough to help farm. In the 1880 census, Andy is listed as 12, Tom as 20, and Marion as 18. A fourth “son”, J. S., is ten years old. Although he is listed as a son, we believe that he is a nephew, perhaps orphaned like her own boys, that Almeda took as her own. She never remarried according to her pension records as Francis Marion’s widow, the last record of which was 1896. The clerk had taken one pension book home with him the night the Randolph County Courthouse burned, but Almeda’s pension claim survived in that document, which led to her identification as Francis Marion’s wife. Almeda died on September 1, 1897, and is buried at Rock Springs Christian Congregational Church, near the old Cornhouse community, and the home that she and Francis Marion made.

1. U. S. Federal Census, 1840, Georgia, Coweta County, Roll 39, page 344, online from
2. U. S. Federal Census, 1850, Alabama, Randolph County, Beat 7, Roll M432_14, page 331, online from
3. U. S. Federal Census, 1860, Alabama, Randolph County, Southern Division, Roll M653_22, Page 752, online from
4. U. S. Federal Census, 1870, Alabama, Randolph County, Louina, Roll M593_37, Page 595, online from
5. U. S. Federal Census, 1880, Alabama, Randolph County, Louina, Roll T9_30, page 336.2000, online from
6. Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Alabama, National Archives, 21st Infantry Regiment, online from
7. "The Federal Confederate Prisoner of War Camp at Elmira", George Farr, Historian, Town of Elmira, Chemung County, New York, online at Tri-County Genealogy and History Sites,
8. Thomas Benton Alexander Diary, 1861-1865, Notre Dame University Library, Rare Books, Civil War Journals and Diaries, online at
9. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and
Confederate Armies
, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., Volume XXXIX, 1892, Chapter LI - Operations in Kentucky, Southwest Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and North Georgia (the Atlanta Campaign excepted), May 1-November 13, 1864, Part 1, pages 402ff.
10. Military Organizations Raised in Alabama During the Civil War, 21st Infantry Regiment, Alabama Department of Archives and History, online at
11. Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Major George B. Davis, U. S. Army, et al, Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1891- 1895, Plate LXIII, Map 1 and Map 6.

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