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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Aura of Profound Inner Peace

Philip Wade Pointer, Jr.

Pointer Home in Lawrence County, Ala.

Photo taken around 1864. I would date it to April of that year, when Tom was home on leave. His youthful appearance and his jacket lapels suggest such an early date. Above Tom is a photo of the Samuel C. Pointer home in Lawrence County, Alabama. Samuel C. was Tom's pro-Union uncle.

Tom Pointer was born in Lawrence County, Alabama, in 1839. His father, Philip Wade Pointer, was married to his cousin Emily Legrand Pointer. That particular Philip Pointer and Dr. David Pointer, father of Marcellus Pointer, were brothers, sons of Samuel Pointer II of Halifax, Virginia. Philip died in May 1860, leaving his son, Philip, Jr., in charge of his estate. There is some evidence that Tom and Phil's father opposed secession, and we can say for certain that Philip Sr.'s brother-in-law, Hansford Speaks, was pro-Union. Speaks managed the estate of his wife's father, Samuel C. Pointer, also pro-Union, who had moved to Alabama after the first Indian land there was ceded to the United States. Speaks was born in Alabama around 1814, leading me to believe he was part Indian. The name Speaks is a verb in English, showing up on records as the last name of other Alabamians known to be Indian.

Tom Pointer enlisted as a sergeant in Company I, 16th Alabama Infantry, in Courtland, during August 1861. The regiment fought at Fishing Creek, Shiloh, Perryville and Murfreesboro. It was posted to Huntsville, Alabama, some time after the Battle of Murfreesboro, opening up the possibility that the Lt. Pointer mentioned by Ellen Virginia Saunders during October 1863 was Tom. If so, I believe she would have said he was local and taken the trouble to distinguish him from Marcellus Pointer of Wheeler's staff. On the other hand, if she had no sense that she was writing for the larger audience of "History," she may not have appreciated the need.

Lieutenant Pointer was tried by court-martial after the Battle of Murfreesboro, while Bragg's army was stationed at Tullahoma, Tennessee. The charge consisted of two specifications; 1) that he went AWOL from his regiment at about noon on December 31, 1862, the first day of the battle, and, 2) that he refused to go back up the line until after that day's fighting ended at dark. The second specification even added that the regimental adjutant struck Tom with the flat of his sword to shame him into going back to take his place with his company. That officer was later severely wounded in the same engagement.

The after action report of the 16th Ala. at Murfreesboro states that the regiment took part in the first assault on the Union lines that morning and that it was pulled out of the line at 11am to replenish its exhausted supply of ammunition. Soon, the order came down to join the renewed attack. The regiment pushed  through wooded terrain that consisted mostly of heavy cedar "glades," and outcroppings of boulders. It would have been about this time that Tom went to the rear, or perhaps he was already at the rear with the ammunition train. The skirmishing in those cedar clumps was deadly, allowing the Union soldiers to fight from good cover. Still the Confederates of S.A.M. Wood's brigade pushed the Federals back another two miles in this part of the line before running out of ammunition again.

The 16th Alabama's Colonel Wood named the men whom he felt had done an outstanding job that day, including 1st Sgt. Cherry, who had taken over I Company because it was without officers during the fight. This is the red flag that calls for explanation, but in this case, we are not given any. The most likely answer is that they had all been wounded or killed. Tom was a 2nd lieutenant, and if he was the only absentee from the fight, he would have been in serious trouble.

To bolster the case that something other than cowardice in the face of the enemy was at the root of this court martial, we have the court's interesting verdict. Tom was found not guilty of the second, seemingly more serious specification, but guilty of the first. This has to mean that either the second specification could not be proved or that the facts had been misrepresented to the court. Tom was sentenced to 30 days suspension of rank and pay, and to be reprimanded in front of the regiment at dress parade, a formation we would call a public assembly. The court added the remark that the sentence was light due to "palliating circumstances." Since only the abstracts have survived, and not the testimony itself, we can only speculate as to what those circumstances might have been.

The Pointer family records indicate that one of Tom's sisters died a couple of days after this incident. Did he receive a letter from home informing him that she was deathly ill and not expected to recover? It's a tempting conclusion, but probably not the true explanation. Company I's lack of officers at the time when 1st Sgt. Cherry took over the company is the issue for me. Colonel Wood could have explained that the officers were all down, killed or wounded, except for one, cowering in the rear. For whatever reason, he did not explain. He only mentioned the names of those who had done outstanding service, but apparently had no complaints that he thought should be committed to writing. 

Here are some new facts brought out by additional research into the records of Company I. Every officer except two was too sick to be on duty during the Battle of Murfreesboro. Some had resigned prior to the battle, others, including its captain, just after the battle. Apparently only Tom, and Lt. R. W. McGregor were fit for duty that day. McGregor's records do not explicitly state that he did not fight in the battle, so perhaps he did. Then, in the spring, he was tried by court martial at the same time as Tom. He was charged with allowing a prisoner to escape due to negligence. The prisoner was a private in E Company who had been charged with desertion. Lt. McGregor was captain-of-the guard when the man escaped in February. The lieutenant was found not guilty on both specifications of the charge and sent back to the regiment. He then seems to have acted as the company commander, for all requisitions for food, forage, clothing and equipment bear his signature and are included with his records.  

In April 1864, Tom received a 26 day leave, followed by orders to maintain his present position when he returned. If he did apply for a transfer or try to resign, there is no record of it, unless that record is in a separate file. We know that he should have been with the regiment at Chickamauga, and that he did fight in the Atlanta Campaign. Then, when John Bell Hood relieved J.E. Johnston in August, many officers of the Army of Tennessee did resign in protest. Tom sent in his resignation in September, but Hood disallowed it.

Tom was placed in command of Company I when its captain was killed at Franklin on November 30, 1864. Ellen Virginia Saunders' father, Col. James Saunders, wrote a history of Alabama that contains this detail, which was not in Tom's records. Col. Saunders was from Courtland and would have known Tom's family. He served with Forrest, was wounded severely in that general's attack on Murfreesboro in 1862, then sent home to recover. His daughter mentions all this, and says he was taken prisoner along with her brother in 1864. The brother died in prison, but her father was exchanged. I mention this to show that Saunders had only hearsay to go by when he wrote his uneven and seemingly incomplete history of the 16th Alabama, which he included in his larger genealogical work. At any rate, Tom does not seem to have been promoted to captain. There was probably too little time for that, given that the disastrous Battle of Nashville took place less than a month after Franklin.

Hood furloughed many of his officers and men for the winter, once he reached Mississippi as he retreated from Nashville. There is no record that Tom got such a leave, but he did go home. We know that because he was taken prisoner on December 30, 1864, in Lawrence County, probably by the 10th Ind. Cavalry. That regiment reported taking prisoners in the same vicinity, including a lieutenant. Their records state this happened on Dec. 31, and they were raiding in the area at the time. Some sparse information provided this writer by a researcher with excellent credentials suggests that Tom was involved in skirmishing in the area, which could easily have resulted in his capture.

Some days later a squad of cavalry took some horses and a mule from the Pointer farm, while Hansford Speaks and Tom's younger brothers John Henry and Clem looked on. Speaks later testified to the Southern Claims Commission that the horse was his and that he was the overseer of the Philip Pointer estate. Speaks was pro-Union, as earlier stated here, but his testimony was inconsistent as to who owned the horse, as well as how many were taken that day, whether mules or horses.

The commission was in no mood to be generous, since it had good evidence that both Tom and his brother Philip were in the Rebel army. There is no official record of Philip Pointer, Jr.'s service, but one researcher emailed me that he believed that Phil served as a private in Roddy's Cavalry. [I've since learned that Phil did indeed join Roddy's 4th Ala Cavalry in Sept 1862. His widow had to endure a great deal of red tape and legal hassles to get her pension approved after his death.] The Pointer claims were only partially paid, and only then because there were under age children in the family. Underage children were not held accountable for the "treason" of their elders, and so could be pro-rated for their shares of any property taken or destroyed by Union troops acting under the orders of an officer. The estate began its suit in 1871, and in 1877 settled for around 120 dollars out of an original claim of over 1600.

This photo merge is of Tom's mother-in-law, Susan Watkins Foster, and one of her children, taken about 1859. I added the caption to the CDV image, and the color portrait was sent to me as a confirmation that I had correctly guessed the identity of the woman holding the child.

Tom Pointer was sent to Fort Delaware, where he spent the last six moths of the war. His prison records list him as a 1st lieut., while his Confederate records show no promotions beyond 2nd lieut. He was released on oath to the US on June 17, 1865. The next day, he cashed a check for 20 dollars, presumably for transportation home. If he was a reluctant warrior, all Tom had to do was take the oath to the US as soon as he got to Fort Delaware. Yet there seems to be no indication that he was anything but a loyal Confederate during his incarceration. I find it very hard to believe that a man who would walk away from a battle like the one at Murfreesboro would have the stomach for Franklin or Nashville. Obviously there is a missing back story that I would very much like to uncover.

In November 1874 Tom married 19 year-old Elizabeth "Bettie" Foster. The albums I inherited contain several photos of Tom and John Henry Pointer, and there is even a group shot of six people that can be dated to the winter of 1874. In that one, probably taken about the time of his wedding, you can make out Tom and his bride. Unfortunately, the photo is very grainy, and quite small. A photo of Bettie in her old age does exist, and it's easy to see the resemblance. Tom died in 1888 in Decatur, Alabama, and is buried in Courtland. His youngest daughter lived until 1971, and photos of her family survive.

Every photo of Tom that I own shows him smiling through a twinkle in his eyes, as if he was radiating the aura of some profound inner peace. Whatever happened at Murfreesboro must have been an anomaly, if looking into the eyes of a man in old photos can reveal something of his soul. It may simply be that Tom Pointer was more at home and at peace with himself and his God than the rest of the world was during that terrible conflict. If I meet up with him in the hereafter, I hope to shake his hand and . . . listen.

Below is Tom's youngest daughter, taken around the turn of the century. Her name was Susan Watkins Pointer Malone.

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