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Friday, October 23, 2009

What's New About a Clipping From 1863?

I've had this drawing of "the Rebel General Wheeler" since I was boy. I found it in an old steamer trunk that had been in my grandmother's house for decades. And before that, who knows? I never thought it was from an actual Civil War newspaper, but always supposed it was from the 1870s or 1880s at the latest, perhaps from Harper's Weekly.

I know exactly where it came from. The fun part is to come up with a reasonable explanation of how it came into "our" possession. The starting point is the old trunk. Inside that trunk were many things of genealogical value. One was an old cabinet photo of Marcellus Pointer, taken when he was 19. Inside the cabinet, concealed behind a cushion of burgundy colored velvet, was a different clipping from a Civil War newspaper. I call this clipping the "Exploits" because it told of several wartime incidents of which Pointer was the hero, thus allowing me to identify the boy in the picture. There were also many clippings of Pointer's obits, telling me that he died in New York City in 1909, in a condition of near wretched poverty.

Because I never knew what paper the clipping inside the cabinet photo came from, I was only able to say two things about it: 1) it was from a Southern newspaper from late 1863 or early 1864, and 2) the original article had been copied from the Macon Confederate. Unfortunately, that paper is hard to find online, but might be available from some paysite. At any rate, while trying to find the source of the "Exploits" clipping, I unexpectedly came across the exact picture of Wheeler that I've scanned and posted here. It was in Frank Leslie's  for November 14, 1863, and thereby hangs the tale.

On November 14, 1863, Wheeler and Pointer rode ahead of Dibrell's 8th/13th Tennessee Cavalry regiment near Maryville, Tennessee. Union troopers from the 11th Kentucky Cavalry (US) were tearing up railroad tracks, unaware that they were about to be attacked. Dibrell's regiment charged them full force, Wheeler and Pointer leading the way. They took 151 prisoners that day, but also had a narrow escape. The 11th Kentucky had comrades in the area, and those troops were concealed by the nature of the terrain. Riding straight into this body of troops, Pointer and Wheeler had to shoot their way through what turned out to be a whole regiment of Union cavalry.

First, it's highly unlikely that Leslie's for that particular day had already arrived in Maryville since this skirmish took place early that morning. Thus Pointer must have taken it from some other source. Modern readers are generally unaware that Civil War newspapers printed all sorts of military information that would be helpful to the other side, therefore captured enemy newspapers were a prized intelligence coup. Wherever Lieutenant Pointer got his copy of Leslie's, it was most likely from the Knoxville area, a few days later. I imagine him cutting out the Wheeler sketch as a keepsake.

In late December, a little over a month later, he was so badly wounded that he had to be sent home to Holly Springs, Mississippi. He probably gave the clipping to 17 year-old Alice Wynne, who then kept it in a trunk with all her other Civil War mementos. Those later came into my grandmother's possession, and ultimately mine.

I can say with certainly that the clipping of Wheeler's picture came from Leslie's because the story on the back of it is identical to what was carried in Leslie's on the corresponding page. I still don't know where the other clipping came from, but this is pretty exciting. I now own two clippings from the Civil War. You can see the one that was in the old photo cabinet by checking the biography of Marcellus Pointer posted here. And there is a sample illustration in the post below this, taken from Harper's Weekly.

With any luck, I'll find the newspaper that the Macon Confederate copied, and that will give me some idea of what the phrase "from yesterday's telegrams" meant. There is a very narrow window here, because that clipping mentions the fight at Maryville, meaning it has to have been written later than November 14, 1863. And since it fails to mention Pointer's wounding on December 28, 1863, I have to believe that the article was written between these two dates. As for the Wheeler picture, there are other ways it could have gotten to Holly Springs in the middle of the Civil War, but I think my scenario fits all the known facts.

NB: I now believe the "yesterday's telegrams" alluded to in the Macon Confederate article have to be associated with the December 28, 1863, fiasco. That was when Pointer, along with Generals Kelly and Wheeler had to shoot their way out or be overwhelmed by superior numbers in a raid that went bad. One of the accounts I've turned up makes it clear that Marcellus was wounded in that fight. They all agree that he took a pistol shot from one of his captors--a shot that went through his overcoat. One of them says he was wounded by that shot, (Dodson's 1899 book on Wheeler's campaigns). Both clippings were found in the same trunk, and if Pointer was sent home to recuperate, it's easy to presume he would have brought them with him. That means the "Exploits" clipping should not be dated later than early January 1864.

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