…Gen. Forrest too
There were extralegal killings going on in the 1860s along the banks of the Pearl River, in the previously quiet towns of Pearlington, Gainesville, Logtown and Napoleon. We have documented accounts in the letters of the Koch family, particularly in writings of the first-born son, Elers. We know he was a member of the group that perpetrated vigilante-type missions, but we do not know whether he himself killed anyone. In fact, we do not know the names of any of those who did.
We know that Elers was uncharacteristically rebellious to his father in defending the actions of the group. However, Elers could no longer pen his poignant letters after the war because he died on his father’s schooner of unknown causes in 1865.
This is an attempt to narrate the happenings of the period and the conditions under which they occurred. Other articles about the Koch family and the Police Court can be found on my web site which may be helpful for a fuller explanation of what happened in our county.
Civil War down the Pearl River
It was during the hard times of the Civil War when the men were either fighting and away, or hiding in the swamps. Women – at least the more fortunate ones – were trying to do the farming and to tend the pigs and cattle. Young boys were hunting possums in trees, making their contribution to the family’s survival.
It was a time which brought together violent, desperate people of different kinds, like Jayhawkers, vigilantes, and a Confederate cavalry general. Their business was in all ways counter to that of the hard-working families trying to build the county.
These were strange, hard times.
Most of the Jayhawkers were uninvited raiders from nearby Jones County. There was good reason it was called “the free state of Jones.” It was bad enough that they came to steal from Hancock citizens what they could not have at home, but even worse was that some Hancock residents with old family names participated in similar practices. These were violent men; some ended violently at the hands of the “citizens committee,” a cleaner word than “vigilantes.” The Confederate cavalry general, depending on one’s point of view, was either famous or infamous, but his activities were no help to good people like Annette Koch and her children.
Gen. Forrest and his riders
The Confederate general was Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was not one to be dealt with lightly. A wealthy slave dealer and the eventual Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, General Forrest was perhaps the most important cavalry leader of the Confederate army. Shelby Foote writes that he was “a natural genius,” “born to be a soldier.” He reports that Forrest had “… thirty horses shot from under him…. and he killed thirty-one men in hand-to-hand combat.”
Just months before his April 1864 visit to the Koch farm called Bogue Homa, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s and his cavalry had slaughtered white and black troops in a massacre known as the Battle of Fort Pillow. Union forces consisted of 295 white soldiers and 262 U.S. Colored Troops. This occurred only forty miles north of Memphis, close enough for the word to have come down toward the mouth of the Pearl and to Fort Pike at the Rigolets.
There were differing reports, each as horrible as the other. One stated that only about twenty Negro soldiers survived out of a force of four hundred. As they threw down their arms and begged for their lives they were told to stand up and then were shot or bayoneted or run through by swords. Black civilians fled but were murdered as they ran.
Regardless of the sources, the reports told of a massacre which had been inflicted.
Forrest himself said: The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for two hundred yards. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed, but few of the officers escaping. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with the southerners.
Forrest’s fierce reputation had come to be known by Annette Koch and others in Hancock County, and also by Col. Alfred G. Hall and his Corps d’Afrique at Fort Pike in Louisiana, at the Rigolets.
The Citizens Committee
It must be considered that the Confederacy was only the nominal occupier of the Pearl River part of Hancock County. There was no military post there, and courts were closed. The usual government bureaus were not functioning. Union troops from Fort Pike were not exactly welcome, but were tolerated as much as those who called themselves rebels.
There was in fact something called the Police Court. We happen to have in the historic society the original ledger book containing minutes of meetings from 1863 to 1866. The earliest minutes relate to the April 1863 term, but it appears that the group had been formed previously. In that term, Joseph Martin was President; board members were Elihu Carver, David Moye, George Holloman, and Alfred Williams. S.J. Randall was Deputy Clerk and J.W. Roberts was Special Deputy Sheriff.
To all analyses it appears to have been an ad hoc committee whose primary purpose initially was the care of roads, but later was added the mission to care for hungry families of absent volunteer soldiers. In a meeting of April 1863, nine “overseers of the roads” were named and eleven “overseers of the poor” were appointed. The duties to maintain roads were fairly strightforward, while the care of the poor was done by handing out chits through warrants allowed to the overseers.
A third group, perhaps more cryptically named, was called “Captains of patrol.” It too consisted of eleven men. Unlike the other committees, their duties were not defined in the minutes of the meetings of the Police Court. Captains named in April 1863 were Henry Weston, S. J. Favre, Luther Russ, D. W. Johnston, W.A. Whitfield, Henry Carre, John Calhoun, Redding Byrd, W. G. Wheat, Christian Thompson, and D. R. Walker.
In the April 1865 term, John V. Toulme became a member of the board. Wm. Poitevent was appointed overseer of the poor for Beat 2. Henry Carre was appointed overseer of the River Road from Napoleon to Gainesville; his “hands” (those who could be called upon to work) included J.V. Favre, two Murphys and others.
By and large, the groups represented the more prominent men of the county.
There is no evidence that these men functioned as judges and juries and executioners when the citizens committee did its work. All we can be certain of is that some citizens of the county functioned as such. No one is named in the Koch letters except George Holloman, indicating he was Captain. It is noteworthy that Holloman, shown as a 30 year-old cooper in the 1850 census, also became President of the Police Court in January 1865.
By inference, it appears that the captains were the same as those referred to in separate letters of Annette Koch and her son Elers in 1864. Specifically, Elers Koch wrote the following to his father about Moody: “…he had stolen a lot of cattle up the country which he owned when he was sentenced to be shot. George Holloman is Captain of our company, he got permission from Col. Hall through Col. Claiborne’s hands, You think them a lot of cowardly….”
Similarly, his mother wrote, “…the citizens, in each beat had to choosea Capt., and be ready…and Father Elers has joined….”
More complete quotes of the above are found in the section called, “Families of the River Communities,” below.
The involvement of Col. Hall of Fort Pike is explicitly stated by Elers. He was the man from whom Holloman sought guidance to cloak the activities of his vigilantes as something quasi official, evidently because there was no one in authority in the no-man’s land this part of Mississippi had become. As Elers stated, they were pretending “to be acting under Federal authority.”
“Permission …through Col. Claiborne’s hands” is suggestive of Claiborne walking both sides of the road. Evidence to this effect had already been recorded by J.F.H. Claiborne himself in a letter to Union commander General Banks in December 1862, not long after New Orleans had fallen. In correspondence, Claiborne told Banks that he was “…confiding in the U.S. military authorities for the protection of my property” and that he had “maintained confidential relations” with Union officers at Fort Pike. Further, he stated that he was “surrounded here by armed men, mostly of desperate character & fortunes, my person in danger and my property liable to be plundered, I have been compelled to be circumspect. But I have neglected no means to further the cause. I have created a strong Union sentiment, which is rapidly developing.”
Much has been written about the dishonesty of Claiborne in other articles posted on this web site.
For the most part, minutes of the meetings of the Police Court report routine matters. More often than not, the business of the court describes small amounts to be doled out from the “relief fund” to needy families of volunteer soldiers away from home. A typical example, taken from the December 1864 meeting, reads: “…ordered by the Board that J. N. Calhoun by allowed one hundred dollars for keeping J.S. Brush two months…and that a warrant….” Often, the needy persons are referred to as a “paupers.”
The November 1863 minutes render an accounting: $18,047 – balance in relief fund; $370 – in county fund; $87 – in probate fund. The relief fund is evidently a relatively large amount of money, but its source was nowhere disclosed.
Contrasted to the usual small amounts given to the needy, unusual amounts were at times authorized, such as $1,000 to J.P. Stewart in March 1864, with no explanation given. In January 1865, the same amount was paid to Joseph Mc C [illegible] “out of the relief fund,” again with no stated reason. In April of that year, Seal was paid $500 “out of relief fund for his services,” and in the same month another $1,000 to Stewart and $500 to S. Favre with no details recorded.
In the November 1864 term, a payment to J.M. Roberts of a lesser amount, $25, is curious, as it was paid for “Extra Services as Sheriff.” In January of the following year, Deputy Sheriff Roberts was paid an additional $75 “for extra services for the year 1863 & 1864. Several times relatively large funds were allocated to different individuals for “stationary.”
Interestingly, no reports of any of the captains or overseers appear in the minutes.
What we know is that George Holloman was the leader of the “citizens committee,” and I believe that they – the captains of the Police Court – were appointed in order to counter the activities of the Jayhawkers and resident bandits. Holloman was a member of the Police Court and served as its president during a period when the committee was active.
Families of the river communities
Along the Pearl River in Hancock County people were starving. Early in the war, JFH Claiborne had written to Gov.
Pettus, “We are now proving our loyalty by starvation – by the tears of our women and the cries of their children for bread.” In a letter to Confederate General Pemberton, Capt. Cavanaugh wrote, “Those families who go over to the enemy go over for subsistence, and they say they are actual starving. I know of cases where they have eaten nothing but corn bread for weeks.”
On July 6, 1864, a letter within the Koch family reported how badly things had become in their area. “The deserters families all still coming to Pearling <sic> all the poorest kind of people and they say there is a great many more to come yet if there is they will have to take the church house to live in…Two poor women here who were sick they are going up the country they have been over in town to see there <sic> sons they came in here to get some corn bread and milk for her sick husband who was on the road and could not walk to the house…they have been striped [sic] of everything they had, it is hard to be traveling in such weather.”
Meanwhile, Annette Koch worked hard to support her small children. Her eldest son Elers had been conscripted and next in line was Emil, who was at his parents’ insistence hiding in Devil’s Swamp. A fox had taken the Chinese Goose; someone had stolen the bee hive. Still, she worked the peas, pumpkins, turnips, and rice. She fixed the fence so hogs didn’t get in. There were also black-eyed peas, potatoes, cabbage, corn. She got corn from Weston.
There was plenty for herself and her small children and maybe some of the neighbors who were not so fortunate as to have their own farm. This changed when Confederate cavalry came by, beginning in 1863 and at least once led by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. She had to feed their troops and their horses as well.
In a letter of September 28, 1864 sent from their farm called Bogue Homa near Pearlington, Annette Koch wrote to her husband of hardships caused by feeding Forrest’s cavalry. Her son Elers Koch reported cavalry “pretty thick” but said he did not anticipate trouble. Still, he complained that the cavalry was eating “all that we have.” The good news was that no more Jay Hawkers had been caught.
An October 3, 1864, letter from Elers stated, “There was 13 of Gen. Forrest’s cavalry here last week the fellow that you sold your Yankee coat to was one of them… I wish they would stay away because it makes the Yankee Hostile to us by being here and we cannot help it, I would set the Yankees on them mighty quick if I have a chance, It would do me good to catch them.” It is at once revealing that Elers sided with the Union forces while at the same time indicating he was confident that his letters would not be intercepted by Confederate sympathizers.
Christian Koch had asked his sons to hide in Devil’s Swamp so as not to be taken by the cavalry. Letters within the Koch family reveal that the Cavalry kept citizens in constant fear by seeking conscripts, exacting money for release, demanding food and lodging, stealing clothing, tobacco, cane, logs, cattle, horses, and behaving disorderly.
At least the Confederate cavalry could claim that they were on the side of those settled east of the Pearl. Jayhawkers made no such excuse. They came down from the Free State of Jones and they stole, they rustled cattle, they took what they wanted.
Even worse, some of the Hancock settlers committed atrocities. They cooperated with the Joneses, who furnished a ready market for stolen cattle, hogs, etc.
In these circumstances, some felt that vigilante actions were in order. One was Elers Koch; as indicated above, his father disagreed strongly. Another who not only agreed but also led the citizens committee was of course George Holloman. Christian Koch, away working his schooner for the Union officers of Fort Pike, had made it known to his son that he disapproved of the group created to counter violence. On September 28, 1864 he wrote to Annette from Nelson’s Mill, “Tell me all about it and whom they have killed. Mead tells me they have killed Charles Moody, if they would kill him, they would kill Elers also.”
On October 3,she reported: “Jourdan Stuart <sic> and Jess Young were shot …over the Bioue…on Stewart <sic> they found letter from Charles Moody that he would steal cattle and deliver them to him at a certain place for 5 dollars a head…Lizzy McArthur is wife…she came down to see about having his body taken up and buried at home but she was persuaded to let it stay for some months first. They are buried just where they fell, on that road that we go by Whites just on the side of that hole we go around in the branch.”
[Editor’s note: In 1850 census there is only one Jourdan Stewart, age 1 at the time; he would have been 15 in 1864. Charles Moody is listed in 1850 as a 16-year old son of Nancy Moody, age 72.
There is no Jourdan or Young in 1870 census. Elizabeth McArthur was age 14 in 1850, living in Beat 5; she is not listed in 1870 census.]
Elers wrote his father on October 3, 1864: They killed Jourdan Steward and Moody that is all that you know the rest was from Jones County….You said you did not want me to join the company that has been got up by the citizens to put down these robbers that pretend to be acting under Federal Authority. They are robbing citizens upon there <sic> own hook, I have joined the company…and think it no more than every good citizen should do, you think that Charles Moody was a harmless man, but he had stolen a lot of cattle up the county which he owned when he was sentenced to be shot. George Holloman is Captain of our company, he got permission from Col. Hall through Col. Claiborne’s hands, You think them a lot of cowardly murderers [illeg] some of them are but if they should have come and robbed you of every thing you had you would want to shoot them to <sic> … one of the robbers confirmed before he was shot that they had made a plan to rob every house between Bobichito and Pearlington in one night.
It may be considered truly remarkable that folks who were Mississippians who had sent their sons to fight for the Confederacy were able to justify their seeking of help and advice from a Union officer. Once again, these were desperate times, and such an act demonstrates how desperate must have been the situation for those families who were defenseless, in a land with no existing authority to take control.
Equally remarkable was the fact that Col. Hall did in fact consider the pleas of Holloman and others and actually gave them a set of rules by which they could apprehend, try, and execute their own. By their own actions, men like Holloman demonstrated that they did not see the Police Court as being an official authority.
Annette Koch’s letter of October 3, 1864 speaks of the tension caused by Citizen’s Committee and spells out the procedures as laid out by Col. Hall: The citizens, in each beat had to choose a Capt., and be ready…and Father Elers has joined them after they had got the Coll. At the Forts approval, They must give the criminal a trial, and must have positive that he is guilty then if the crime is sufficent <sic> for death he is to be shot…I had a scene described to me by an eye witness, of a father and son who was shot close to Mr. Kimballs, how the son told standing by his father that he led in wickedness by his own father and that he had always been bad and he told his poor mother not to grieve for him but now that she would have he whole controle of the other children to try and bring them up right and she was hardly out of hearing when they were both shot dead.
Col. Hall and the 74th United States Regiment of Colored Troops
At the beginning of the war, Fort Pike had been taken by Confederate soldiers, and then was lost to the Union after the occupation of New Orleans in 1862. It was used to train raw soldiers, including some from an African American regiment which had been mustered in New Orleans. Many were former slaves. They were given artillery training, but never was a single shot fired from the cannon of Fort Pike.
Initially organized June 6, 1863, from 2nd Louisiana Native Guard Infantry, the 74th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry was organized April 4, 1864 from 2nd Corps de Afrique Infantry. It was attached to the defenses of New Orleans, Dept. of the Gulf.
The 74th had garrison duty at Ship Island until removed to Fort Pike.
Col. Alfred G. Hall commanded the 74th. A search for biographical information about Hall produces little. It is found that in May of 1862 he served as a lieutenant on the staff of Gen. Phelps. In August, he wrote to Edward Stanton, Secretary of War, requesting that he be named Assistant Adjutant General, with the rank of captain. He signed the letter as 1st Lieutenant, 9th Conn. Vols. At the time he was stationed at Camp Carapet, LA.
In October of 1862 he was made a Lt. Col., commanding three companies of the 2nd Regiment, Louisiana Native Guards. It would seem that there had been a quick promotion; perhaps there was an incentive given to command the black troops.
Some description of Hall is found in a book titled Diary of a Christian Soldier. The author, Rufus Kinsley, was a farmer from Vermont who became an officer in the black regiment. He was critical of Hall, as well as others, saying that Hall was said unpopular at Fort Pike and offered to resign in April of 1863. That offer was refused and instead Hall’s command was expanded by giving him authority over the other seven companies which had been at Ship Island.
Kinsley said that Hall was dishonorably discharged on October 27, 1865, “for breach of arrest, conduct unbecoming of an officer, and neglect of duty.” Unfortunately, this cannot be documented in the 100-plus volumes of War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and the Confederate Armies. The last volume of that history concludes with documents dated June 30, 1865.
Kinsley recorded similar information about Col. Daniels, who preceded Hall, and who was court-martialed for the unauthorized use of 15,000 feet of lumber; also, it stated that the officer who succeeded Hall, Col. Grosvenor, was court-martialed, in this instance for an involvement with a female.
Three out of three makes its own question.
The reason for Hall’s court martial is not stated, but Kinsley states that there was a medical report indicating that Hall was “drunk most of the time” and was suffering from a debilitating system of the liver. However, this comment is not written in such way as to relate to the court martial. Kinsley, after all, is not complimentary to many in his history. He claimed that many of the black officers were “totally incompetent.”
Kinsley stated in one report that when he Joined the 2nd Regiment only seven of the original thirty-one black officers were left.
Scores of officers are said to have resigned in the spring and summer of 1863, causing Kinsley to feel isolated. Some of the resignations were out of prejudice against the colored officers. Kinsley blames Gen. Banks, saying that Banks had “purged” black officers.
By the middle of August 1864, only one was left: Charles Sauvinet of New Orleans, a fair-skinned black who was fluent in French, German, Spanish, and English. He is said to have compiled the longest continuous record of all black officers.
Col. Nathan Daniels also wrote a book. A diary, it was called Thank God My Regiment an African One. He too made mention of Col. Hall, stating that he – Hall – had troubles, and that he was “…left with two line officers, his free black Capt. Pinchback and white 2nd Lieutenant Peabody.” There was a severe morale problem, believed by Daniels to be caused by white replacements not arriving to replace seven blacks, including two captains and five lieutenants. He too cites a time when Hall was drunk for several days, at which time Hall wrote a letter of resignation to headquarters, citing a “great feeling among officers of the regiment against me.”
[Ed. Note: Capt. Pinckney Pinchback, mentioned above, became one of the most powerful black politicians of Reconstruction. He became a state legislator, lieutenant governor, acting governor, and a U.S. Congressman from Louisiana.]
A fair amount of detail can be found about Hall covering the period just before his discharge, the source being The War of the Rebellion, a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies:
Jan. 27, 1865: Letter from Hall to Capt. Speed in New Orleans, stating that an armed launch was on Jourdan River, and that they had come down as far as Bay St. Louis on Saturday. Hall wrote from Fort Pike and signed as Lieutenant Colonel, commanding.
Jan. 31, 1865: Instructions to Hall from Speed to have a detachment of one officer and thirty good men ready to board steamer Fort Gaines to reconnoiter Bay St. Louis and Jourdan River and apprehend guerillas, &c., reported to be molesting inhabitants there. “They will carry 80 rounds of ammunition and four days’ rations.”
March 28-30, 1865: Hall report to Lt. Maloney, acting Asst. Adjt. Gen., narrating that he had started for Bay St. Louis but had to go back to the Rigolets and wait until the next day, when he reached the bay and found that Capt. Monet of Forrest’s cavalry had left the bay the day before. “He was at home on leave of absence, on no official business, although he watched our transports closely. I brought from Bay St. Louis two deserters from the rebel army. If the boat could have reached the bay the first time starting they would have taken this Capt. Monet, but the wind was so high it was impossible to sail in any boat now at this post.” [Ed. Note: No other evidence has been found to connect Capt. Monet with Forrest’s cavalry. It is curious that Hall would know details of Monet’s activities, apparently from direct observation, and yet not report any attempt at apprehension.]
May 14, 1865: Hall reported from Fort Pike to Major Hoffman, Assistant Adjutant General, that “a band of jayhawkers threaten Gainesville. It was their intention to be there tonight. I do up with 50 men.”
May 16, 1865: Hall report from Fort Pike to Lt. Maloney, stating, “The object of the march proposed is either to catch or intimidate a party of men who have been jayhawking Colonel Claiborne and others in this region. The general directed me to make a march through a portion of the country above the fort, naming no specified route when I saw him.”
May 29, 1865: Special orders No. 172 giving leave of absence to Hall for seven days, with permission to visit New Orleans, signed by Gen. William T. Sherman.
August 3, 1865: Application for amnesty and pardon submitted by John Martin of Shieldsborough to Lt. Col. Hall, Comd’g, Fort Pike.
The 74th was mustered out October 11, 1865. Hall was reported court-martialed on October 27, 1865.
In summary, very few months separate August of 1865, when Hall was still very much on duty, from October of the same year. On the one hand, Hall was serving at least through August, and on the other was drummed out by August. One can only speculate, but the reports of his drunkenness could certainly have played a part.
Since its beginning, Fort Pike had never seen live combat action. To be stationed on top of an Indian midden for months on end, so far from New Orleans or any other city must have been indeed dull. Alcoholism was known to be a problem with at least two of the fort’s commanders. Three successive commanders were court-martialed. The juxtaposition of white and black soldiers would have been stressful even in normal times.
Friendship with Union Officers
Whatever the problems of Col. Hall and his men, he and fellow officers were people to whom folks like the Koch family could turn when in need.
Examples abound in the Koch letters:
September 10, 1862: Christian Koch wrote to Annette from New Orleans, about their daughter Lucy, about three years old, who was in danger of losing an eye. Koch reported that he had written to Union Col. Bridgeman, and begged him to send medicine for Lucy and to deliver the letter. It is apparent that the colonel complied, but it is also evident that Koch not only trusted the Union colonel, but also banked on his letter not being intercepted by those of Confederate sympathies. It is also apparent that the colonel complied, but it is also evident that Koch not only trusted the Union colonel, but also banked on his letter not being intercepted by those of Confederate sympathies. His concern for Lucy was innocent enough: “"If Lucy’s eye is [illegible] put out, all the medicine in the world will not restore it….”
November 19, 1864: Christian at the Rigolets and New Orleans wrote to Annette, stating kindness of Col. Hall enables him to have sons on schooners.
[Undated] Annette stated that Old Mike freed at Fort Pike by the colonel.
October 15, 1864: Charlie Netto sent message to Annette promising her to get flour at the mill and urging her to send flour and chickens to the colonel.
[Undated] Letter from Christian at Fort Pike, Sunday evening, to Annette, mentioning he received pass from commanding officer though Colonel Bridgeman in New Orleans.
April 6, 1864: Annette sent letter to Christian by Colonel Bridgeman since Federals reported at Mill.
November 26, 1864: Christian in New Orleans wrote to Annette that Col. Hall sent sons to Christian as soon as they had taken the oath.
December 4, 1864: Annette, at Bogue Homa, wrote to Christian, aboard schooner Experiment. Sheplanned to send a turkey to Colonel Hall at Fort Pike for Christmas.
[Undated] Christian, at Fort Pike, received pass from commanding officer though Colonel Bridgeman in New Orleans.
One more mention by author Kinsley deserves comment. He noted that by April 18, 1864, news of the massacre at Fort Pillow by Forrest had reached him and his fellow soldiers at Fort Pike. It had to be on the minds of all.
Hall knew this and also knew about jayhawkers. He reported on a mission searching for them as well as the Confederate cavalry, presumably those of Gen. Forrest, as this was the period of time when they were reported by the Koch family.
The most detailed information submitted by Hall of his activities is found in a long communication dated September 10, 1864. He had written to Capt. F. Spears, the Assistant Adjutant General, advising that 125 such men were fifteen miles away from Fort Pike, at “Pearl River Island,” probably the area west of West Pearl River. They had “killed one man, a Union man, outright.” [Ed. Note: Possibly a marsh island now called Prevost Island, east and across Lake Pontchartrain from Fort Pike in St. Tammany Parish. It may be the same as referred to as “Pearl Island” by William Bartram, clearly delineated in his logs. It is not be confused with the same name as shown on modern maps, designating an island at the mouth of Pearl River, the same being one called by Iberville Pea Island.]
A few days later, on September 13, 1864, Hall reported to Capt. Speed that between September 9 and 12 he had taken 200 men up West Pearl by means of a steamer, the J.D. Swain, and inquired of local settlers, finding that three horsemen armed with shotguns and pistols had passed through. Unable to gather information about jayhawkers, he was also told by locals that they knew nothing of rebel cavalry. He then split his forces, taking the wrong part of a fork, blaming the problem on “a mistake of the guide.”
Eventually, he went up the main Pearl, hoping to find cavalry at Gainesville, then the county seat of Hancock. En route, he searched the town of Napoleon, which he found nearly empty and showing no signs of the enemy. At Gainesville he learned that five had been there on the previous day, but explained that there was little chance of catching any because they could hear the steamer’s noise and keep their distance. “It was useless to attempt their capture, our approach being known to them hours before, and unless they choose to fight us they could easily avoid us.”
He had apprehended one man at Gainesville, William Marsen, who claimed to be a paroled prisoner. Hall treated him suspiciously because he was employed to drive cattle for the rebel army.
At the end of his report, Hall observed that the inhabitants expressed a desire that he come often with his troops.
One may speculate about how fervently Hall sought the enemy cavalry. He blamed a guide for taking a wrong turn, thus wasting much time. He advanced reasons why the enemy cavalry would run away from the noise of the steamer, assuming that they did not want to fight. It is at best confusing why Hall would guide troops up the West Pearl River, some distance from the towns along the main Pearl where the problems had been reported. Then as now, the vast and mostly unoccupied Honey Island swamp separates the two rivers.
It is not for this writer to conclude that Hall preferred not to engage in combat; after all, at his entire posting at Fort Pike there was no engagement with the enemy. It may also be that because of his apparent addiction to alcohol he was ready to return home after a while. But, perhaps most of all, he feared for his black troops. The memory of Fort Pillow must have been on all of their minds.
At any rate, Brig. Gen. T.W. Sherman was not pleased. He had received his report from Capt. Speed, and noted that Hall “appears to have gone up West Pearl River and landed his force on the main or the west side,” contrary, Sherman wrote, to what Hall had planned in a telegram before embarking. Sherman minced no words: “No wonder that he was unsuccessful, if the enemy was, as he has stated, on Pearl River Island….Of the management of the expedition, as I understand it, I disapprove.”
Much of that which is written above is not new information. I have posted articles previously about several subjects covered, such as the Koch family and their ordeal, the Police Court and the paralysis of county government. It was only in reflection upon some of the events already known that it became apparent that there was a substantial interaction among the parties. This relates particularly to the actions of the Union soldiers at Fort Pike.
It is not a reach to say that settlers on the rebel side depended upon the officers and men of Fort Pike, and that the latter were willing to offer the needed help. This is the surprise that has confronted this writer.
No doubt many of the facts told of the participants, be they Koch, Union officer, jayhawker, or Police Court captain, are ugly. Still, some acceptance of the humanity of at least a few is demanded of an observer.
What I might have added was an account of the relationship of J.F.H. Claiborne with the Union commanders, but this subject has already been fully narrated in articles about Claiborne on this site. Acknowledging his dependency, however, gives further force to the conclusion that Union forced did in fact help those on the other side of the Pearl.
There is one difference between the help of Claiborne vs. that given to the Koches et al: in the case of Claiborne, the United States officers expected and got a quid pro quo.
If only the rest of that horrible, long, bloody conflict which we call a Civil War could have been managed in a way similar to the relationships of Fort Pike to the east bank of the Pearl River….