Etymology

The Phillips' Legion, a Georgia regiment organized in 1861, contained six infantry companies (A-F) and four cavalry companies. During the spring of 1862, three new infantry companies (L, M and O), were recruited in Cobb and Bartow counties and added to the Infantry Battalion. These nine companies served as a unit throughout the remainder of the war. As in most Confederate "Legions," the cavalry battalions were separated early in the war (in this case, July 1862).

The regiment fought in western Virginia in the Army of the Kanawha under Gen. John B. Floyd. On Dec. 16, 1861, the unit was ordered to South Carolina, where the three late companies joined it. In July 1862 the Battalion returned to Virginia and the ANV as part of Drayton's Georgia-South Carolina brigade. It was reassigned to Cobb's brigade in November 1862 and continued with the ANV until late summer 1863 when it was moved to Georgia along with two divisions of Longstreet's Corps, serving in the Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga and later in the Department of East Tennessee during the Knoxville campaign.

Returning to Virginia in April of 1864, the unit again served in the ANV until Appomattox, except for a four-month stint in the Shenandoah Valley in the late summer and autumn of 1864.

Unlike many Confederate units, full rosters survive for parts of this regiment. Furthermore, work has been done on these companies, by me and others, including cross-referencing the official CSA paperwork against other sources, such as United States records of surrenders and POW camps, military pension applications, hospital records, cemeteries, and contemporary newspapers.

Here's what emerges from two of the better-attested companies: Company L ("Blackwell Rifles") and Company M ("Denmead Volunteers"), both from Cobb County.

There's nothing remarkable about these 232 soldiers and officers, except that their paperwork has been better preserved and better examined than that of most of the other hundreds of thousands of rebel soldiers.

The war had been on for almost a year when this unit began recruiting, and, as in the North, many of the men who enlisted had already seen service. At least one had been wounded at First Manassas and discharged. That's probably worth noting because of the general impression created by some people that every Confederate took every opportunity he could find to escape from duty or military service.

Along the same lines, it's interesting to note that some 42 of the men in these two companies were captured by the North at some time during the war, spent times in Northern prison camps, and were then parolled, exchanged, or, in a few cases, escaped. These captures were spread out through the war: many came after Antietam and Gettysburg, many in the Knoxville campaign. The imprisonment often lasted for months; several privates captured at Gettysburg or in Tennessee in the summer of 1863 spent more than a year and a half at Rock Island or Fort Delaware, and one of them finished the war there.

There was ample opportunity for these men to take the oath to the U.S. government and escape the CSA service that they supposedly dreaded. But they did not avail themselves of that.

Of the 232, six were killed in action, and seven were mortally wounded. Another 41 were wounded and lived. At least six men were wounded in more than one battle. Pvt. George D. Rice of Marietta was wounded in the left foot and captured at Knoxville (Nov. 29, 1863), escaped and returned across the lines same day, was wounded again in action July 1, 1864 (location not stated); and died of his wounds July 3, 1864.

Another 22 died of disease in camp or in Southern hospitals. Nine more died of disease in Northern prison camps or immediately after release therefrom. Another three died in service of causes not known or not recorded

Twenty were discharged for wounds or disability. Five were sent home for being over-aged, and four discharged as underaged. (Sgt. James B. Young of Marietta was wounded at Antietam seven days after the special order had been issued discharging him for being only 16 years old.)

One thing that emerges from studying the records of these two units is the confused state of the accounting, even in a well-documented outfit like the Phillips' Legion. This is hardly surprising, for an army losing a vast war, but it nonetheless confirms the fact that anything like "exact" or "official" numbers in the Civil War need to be taken with a big gulp of salt.

For instance:

A card in the record of Pvt. J.P. Dobbs Sr. of Co. M. shows him dying Nov. 13, 1862 at Winder Hospital from typhoid. But this is probably a misplaced entry for another soldier in the same company, James P. Dobbs, who died Nov. 14, 1862, in Farmville, Va., of typhoid pneumonia. J.P. Dobbs Sr. is not on rolls after July 1, 1862. He died Nov. 6, 1864, and is buried in Marietta City Cemetery. So it is likely that he was discharged in 1862.

Or consider the case of Private Bryan, who was captured at Knoxville in 1863 and imprisoned at Camp Chase, Ohio. Almost a year later he takes the loyalty oath to the U.S. government. But then in March 1865 he turns up back in the uniform of his old regiment, in a Richmond hospital.

Cases like Bryan's are interesting. The Confederacy, we are told, trails like chains of sins a long list of men marked officially as "AWOL," "no further record," or "deserter." Those are the ones that feed into those vast rolling figures laid out by some anti-Confederates, representing the "vast majority" of the South -- sometimes amounting to more than the entire white male Southern population -- who supposedly "voted with their feet" against the bid for freedom or the need to protect "homes and firesides."

And in the case of these two companies, the record shows 75 men who "abandoned the cause" of the South. Yes, almost one third, from these two companies, feed into those massive round figures of Southern "desertion" and "lack of commitment." At least 17 of them turn up in federal records as having taken the oath of allegiance to the Union.

But take a look at the full records, not just the statistics. It's something that generators of vast, round-number indictments rarely bother to do.

The numbers in these two units confirm Mark A. Weitz's findings that Southern desertion rates spiked in units after their families ended up behind Yankee lines. So far from abandoning the "homes and firesides," these men likely were putting it first in their ethical calculations.

The home district of these men was overrun by the Yankees at the beginning of July 1864. Taking July 2 (the day the county seat, Marietta, was occupied) as a watershed, only 16 of the 75 recorded desertions or AWOLs took place before that date.

Most of them take place right after the occupation. Another spike, amounting to 23 desertions or AWOLs, dates from the final weeks of the war, in 1865, and there is evidence that many of these men either were on furlough or were victims of an understandable breakdown in records-keeping. A sergeant named Edwards is shown as AWOL as of Oct. 1, 1864, but federal records show the same man surrendered with a big chunk of the regiment at Sailors Creek on April 6, 1865, near the end of the war.

Either way, they had served through three years, in many cases being wounded and captured; if they gave up, it was when the cause was undeniably lost.

Clearly, there were some deserters in the ranks, of the kind anti-Confederates hail as the true heroes of the South. Pvt. William J. Wooten, for instance, who went AWOL May 1862 ("forged a discharge and deserted"), was captured and confined in Atlanta in December 1862, was back with the unit in March 1863, and skipped out again from a military hospital in June 1864.

But at least three men were missing from the muster rolls because they were on detached duty in Atlanta, working at their trade of shoe-making, which was desperately important to the war effort. They were there until the city fell, but they are listed in the regiment as "AWOL."

The army lost track of men in many ways. One private whose record ends in August 1864 had been detailed as a brigade commissary clerk and then served on the staff of Gen. Wofford. Yet he goes down in the list of "deserters" in the anti-Confederate juggernaut.

Pvt. John V. Coker's last entry in the service record is from a Richmond hospital on March 3, 1863. After that, he joined the AWOL list. The Coker family bible, however, shows that he died in April 1863.

Several vanish after being wounded in battle. They, too are numbered among those who "escaped from the CSA tyranny." Pvt. Henry C. Briant was wounded in the right arm at Cedar Creek on Oct. 19, 1864, according to a Virginia newspaper (it was at least his second wound), but his army record simply ends with the roll call before the battle.

Pvt. Thomas J. Meek, wounded and captured at Knoxville, was paroled and admitted to Jackson Hospital, Richmond, Sept. 22, 1864. His record ends with his furlough four days later, and he joins the ranks of the "deserters;" but in fact the 1906 Roster Commission roll notes that the wound left him permanently disabled.

Pvt. James H. Sauls, meanwhile, officially became a "desertion statistic" in 1862. That was after he had been wounded at Antietam, with loss of a leg. I guess he "voted with his foot."

At least three men marked as "deserters" in the Tennessee campaign turned up as POWs in Yankee hands, and were imprisoned until the end of the war. Joel C. Stancell is shown on the rolls as having deserted Dec. 4, 1863, near Knoxville, Tenn.; but federal records show him captured in action in Tennessee on Dec. 18, 1863. He was imprisoned at Rock Island, and showed no affection for his new friends, since he busted out of there Sept. 26, 1864 (entry states: "escaped by placing a board against and scaling fence").

At least seven of the 75 cited above were caught at home, on furloughs, mostly after suffering battle wounds, when Sherman rolled over Cobb County. Pvt. Alexander H. Baswell, for instance, had been wounded in the hip at Chancellorsville, wounded in left foot at Cold Harbor, and furloughed home, where he was captured by the bluecoats and held till the end of the war. But the official Confederate records only show that he was AWOL after the August 1864 roll.

Pvt. William M. Barber was wounded in the hand at Spotsylvania. Barber went to a hospital after his mangled finger became infected. After listening to the screams of soldiers inside who were having limbs amputated he decided to handle the problem himself by shooting off the remains of his infected finger with his rifle to cauterize the wound. He was furloughed home and captured in Macon, Ga., on April 20, 1865.

Another private, furloughed home to Cobb County after suffering a hip wound in 1863, was captured by the bluecoats on Aug. 18, 1864. A third was home recuperating from a wound that cost him the index finger of his right hand when he was captured in August 1864.

And what would you make of Pvt. Toliver Y. Hughes, who was marked as a "deserter" from the Phillips' Legion while home on sick leave in September 1862; but who in fact joined up there with an artillery battery, with which he served faithfully right up to the surrender at Appomattox? Is he one deserter? Or two volunteers?

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