The June 6, 1941 edition of the Plaindealer included a lengthy article detailing the Civil War service of a Choctaw County veteran, J. A. Holmes. Mr. Holmes was one of the County’s last surviving soldiers from the Civil War. The entire 1941 article follows.
J. A. HOLMES WRITES INTERESTINGLY OF HIS RIDES WITH GENERAL FORREST DURING THE WAR OF NORTH AND SOUTH
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer of the following account of his ride with General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his Cavalry during the War Between the States is Mr. J. A. Holms, 95 year old resident of Choctaw and Montgomery counties. It was our privilege a few days ago to meet this scholarly gentleman, and to enjoy a few minutes chat with him. Though nearing the century mark in years, Mr. Holmes is remarkably well preserved, portly of stature and bearing and a wonderful conversationalist. He is indeed a gentleman of the old school. And now, his interesting article (written by request of his children):
I left home on the 7th day of May, 1864. Went to Northeast Mississippi and joined Gen. N. B. Forrest’s cavalry. Not there very long until we started east. We boys thought we had started to Johnson’s army in Georgia. Perhaps we had, but I think a threatened raid on Mississippi stopped us at Mountain Valley, Ala. We were ordered back to Mississippi. Left there about dusk and rode all night and got to Columbus, Miss., early in the morning.
I came home for a four day’s furlough and went back to the command and was with them in North Mississippi and West Tennessee until fall. Not much doing during that time.
In the fall we went over on the Tennessee river where there was a fort on the opposite side of the river. When General Forrest got his batteries ready he had all of them to open on the fort at one time. We destroyed the fort and captured several boats.
After that was over we went up the river to Florence, Ala., and joined Gen. Hood’s army. Crossed the river and went in the Tennessee campaign with Hood. I don’t remember much that happened until we got to or near Franklin. I remember that I said when I went out that I was going to shoot at the first Yankee that I saw with a gun. They were falling back and as we were following them I saw a Yank sitting on his horse out in a field. I rode out in the edge of that field and shot at that man. As they would say, “He got further on the limb.”
I hurried back and took my place with the boys. About that time the bugle sounded for a charge. The boys raised the yell and started the charge, but we were in a timber lot and it was so rough we could not make any headway on our horses so we dismounted and took it on foot.
We drove them back some distance and came to a lane. We got over the first fence and went to the second. There was a gap laid down so a wagon could pass. A Mr. Miles stepped up in that gap and I stepped up by his side. We were in plain view of the enemy. Had not been there long until he was shot just above one eye. He fell back in the road dead, of course, before he hit the ground. I looked around and the others were all down behind the fence shooting through the crack, just where we ought to have been.
I saw three Yanks off to themselves. I don’t think I ever tried to kill a squirrel harder than I tried to kill one of those men, but I failed. Miles did not belong to our company but cut off somehow and got with us. His company soon heard that he was killed and his captain and one or two men came and I got up and helped them lay him up in the fence corner.
About that time we were ordered forward. I don’t remember much that happened after that until we got to Franklin. I don’t remember what time we got there, but we entertained the Yanks until the infantry got there. I remember seeing three Yanks walking along and I shot at them and the smoke of my gun covered one of them so I could not see him. I said to the boys that I got one of them. The boys could see and said I did not get one of them.
By that time the smoke had cleared away and I could see all of them. When the infantry came up we were ordered back and saw them start in the battle. The Yanks had been lieing down so we did not see the main line. When the infantry started the Yanks got up and fell back to their works. We were far from any more of the battle but lay there and heard the roar of the cannon and small arms – a night never to be forgotten.
As we lay there after the battle was over I could hear the wounded Yanks begging them not to leave them. We were ordered in on the battlefield just before day. It was a sad sight. Soon after daylight we were ordered to follow the Yanks. After we were formed they sent to our regiment for volunteers to stay and help take care of the wounded and bury the dead. Brother John stayed. I went on with the command. We followed them on to Nashville and formed a thin line around the city (on this side) and lay there two weeks.
During that time the Yanks got all the reinforcement they wanted and on a set day came out and drove us back with superior numbers. I was horse holder in that battle. As our boys were driven back they came and got their horses. I had brother John’s horse and Miller Rose’s mule. After we had fallen back across a large field (Miller had not gotten his mule), I told the boys that I was going back to hunt Miller.
I went back and found him and when I got him on his mule the guns began to pop and I looked and the Yanks were right close to us. There were several of us there. We rode off in good order. As we went back, I saw two men with a dead man on his horse. They had him lying across his horse, one on either side. Soon however, they lost their hold on him and he fell off on his head on that hard paved road.
They had planted a cannon on the pike and the boys were falling in around the cannon. I was one of the last to get there. As I rode up there was a man just in front of the cannon waving his hands for us to get out of the way so he could shoot. I pulled out of the road and got about opposite the cannon when it was fired. My pony ran some distance before I could stop her. I returned to the fray. When I got back the Yanks had fallen back and were out of sight. I forgot to mention it. As I rode up to the mouth of that cannon I saw brother John sitting on his horse a few feet from that cannon.
The Yanks had fallen back and they sent our regiment back after them. We followed some distance and not finding them we formed a streak of fight as the boys would say and counted off from the head of the regiment and every tenth man rode out to go forward to find them. Lieutenant Brigforth took charge and ordered us forward. We went some distance and stopped and we were ordered to fire a volley in the woods just in front of us. When I tried to shoot the cap busted and the gun failed to shoot. I put on another cap and fired. While this was going on I could hear the bullets whiz by my head. About this time we were ordered back and we obeyed promptly.
The retreat then began in earnest. We fell back and about 4:30 on the 16th Gen. Chalmers got an order from Gen. Hood to hold the Granny White pike at all hazards. They sent our brigade out there to hold it. We came to a long slope in the lane and left our horses there and marched up to the top of that slope and I looked down the slope on the other side and saw the Yanks coming. It was getting a little dark.
I could not tell by their uniform who they were. I thought they were our men. I made this remark: “Boys if they were Yankees we could give it to them.” Just at that time Col. Outlaw said “don’t shoot, boys, until I tell you. Get behind these rail piles.” I knew then that business was going to pick up and sure enough it did. We opened on them and drove them back. By this time it was dark and we could see only the flash of their guns.
The 7th Alabama was on our left and the Yanks that were in front of us fell back and left part of their command at a safe distance from us, and took the rest and made a flank movement and went around and attacked the 7th Alabama and they, the Yanks, came right in behind us. It was dark and we could see only the flash of their guns. I was still shooting at those in our front. The bullets began to come in at our backs and I got up and got around on the other side of the rail pile next to the ones that I was shooting at.
In a short time I looked around and there was but three of us there. I went down to where we left our horses and all was gone. By this time the firing has ceased. Just before this I got over the fence to have that between me and the Yanks. As I got over the fence I could hear the bullets hitting the fence. I was alone and started back the way we had come.
By this time everything was quiet. I went on in the dark alone for some distance. I finally fell in with two other men – one a lieutenant from our regiment. We followed the pike and some time in the night we came to a command of infantry on the march. We did not know whether they were our men or not. The lieutenant told us to conceal ourselves and he would go and see who they were.
We got out of the road and it was not long until he came back and said they were our men. It was Hood’s Army in full retreat. I fell in with them and not long after I heard a man say all cavalry turn out to the right. I switched off and found my regiment company that night.
We did not hold the pike, but history says that that battle checked the Yanks and Hood had a chance to get his men across the river. I have just examined the history and it says that that battle saved Hood’s Army from capture or destruction. It made me feel good to think I took an active part in the battle that gave Hood a chance to get across the river.
I forgot to tell of a little incident that occurred the day before the fight on the pike. We were dismounted and lay in a lane for some time and the Yanks came and planted two cannons near us and about the time they got ready to open on us our horses were brought up. As we mounted they opened on us. We rode off in good order. They over shot us.
Went some distance and formed a line and we were in range of another battery. They opened on us and the first shell missed the end of the regiment a short distance. The second one exploded just in front of us and wounded a man. The third one came right close to me and killed Rus Bond’s horse. The horse fell on one of Rus’ legs and hurt him so he could not walk. We got him up behind brother John and he carried him off. There was one man between me and Rus. We went on then and had the fight on the pike that night.
After that night our regiment didn’t do much fighting. We soon reached the river and I think we crossed the river about midnight Christmas night. I soon got a chance to go home and rest up some and get some more clothes. I went back and went into the reorganization of the army. Our regiment (the 5th) was so depleted they did away with it, consolidated the company and put us in other regiments. We were put in the Second Mississippi Cavalry.
Went to Alabama and met Wilson’s Cavalry. They were making for Selma. We fell back and on Sunday, 2nd day of April, we got to Selma. For some cause Forrest did not get many of his men in Selma. We rode out to the edge of town in the edge of some woods and dismounted and began to fall down on the ground to try to get some sleep. Had not been there long until couriers came with orders for us to go to the works.
We went and dismounted and sent the horses back to the rear. We lay there some time and when the Yanks got ready they brought on the attack. They charged just a little to our left with five or six lines of battle. I think they had guns that shot six or seven times. We had muzzle loaders. We stopped them once, but they rallied and came on and went over the works a little to our left. As we fell back they carried our horses back and they took a road that led down to a large slough that they could not cross.
Some of them got out but brother John was one of them and he got caught with both of our mules. I got Birt Martin’s horse and rode him out. It was dark then and I think we rode all night. We got badly scattered. I don’t remember much about Monday and Monday night. On Tuesday we got with Forrest at Plantersville. He was about ready to leave when we got there. We fell in with him and had not gone far when we met the Yanks.
It was a charge both ways. It did not last but a few minutes until the Yanks gave way and ran to beat the band. I did not fire a gun. In fact, there were but few guns fired. There was where I heard my last gun fired in defense of the Confederacy. I fired my last one at Selma.
We went on then some distance and stopped to rest awhile. Did not stay there very long until we went on and came to a large field and I saw Gen. Forrest stop at the edge of that field and take his glasses and look in that field to see if there were any Yanks in sight. That was the last time I ever saw him. That was Tuesday, the 4th of April.
I have lost dates after that. We went to Decatur I guess the next day, Wednesday, the 5th. They sent some of us out in the country to see if we could find stock to remount ourselves. Failing, they sent some of us home to remount ourselves. I took a boat and went down the river to a landing opposite Meridian. Took a train on a little branch road and went to Meridian and on to Jackson and on to Vaiden. While at Jackson two of us went into a little eating place and offered $200 to let us go behind the counter and eat all we wanted. He refused.
When I got to Vaiden, Big Black was over the bottoms. There was a man running an old fashioned ferry boat across the river. I waded into that boat and crossed the river. Went to Mr. Martin’s near Bethel Church and got a mount and went home. I guess I was on the road home when Lee surrendered. Wish I knew.
[Signed] J. A. Holmes, Company B, 5th Mississippi Cavalry and Company G, 2nd Mississippi Cavalry