Monday, February 14, 2011

Family ties 5: Your Civil War Stories

The Picket is sharing readers' accounts of their ancestors who served or were affected by the Civil War. We encourage you to get involved by e-mailing us at John R. Bryan of Conway, Ark., provided this account of his fourth great-grandfather, who fought in a Mississippi unit.

Howell Best Shelton came from a family with roots deep in American history. His grandfather was a private in the American forces fighting for independence from England, and Howell’s father was a corporal in the Georgia militia and was awarded a land grant for his service during the War of 1812. Born on June 29, 1816, in Georgia, Howell was the eldest child of Thomas Jr. and Mary Tarver Shelton. When Howell Shelton was grown, he moved to Chesterville, Mississippi -- a town his father helped found -- and bought a farm outside the town, located near Tupelo.

According to the 1860 Federal census, Howell Best Shelton’s family numbered at 8 children plus his wife, Salina; a year later, his ninth and final child, a son, would be born. This same census valued his total assets at $1,300, including a house, farm, and personal affects. No slaves are mentioned as property in this or previous censuses.

When the states began to secede from the Union following Abraham Lincoln’s election as president, Shelton patiently watched and waited. Finally, at age 46, Howell Shelton enlisted as a private in the newly-formed G-Company, 31st Mississippi Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. J. A. Orr and mustered in at Pontotoc County, Mississippi. His term of enlistment was listed as “3 years or War.” During the months that followed, Company Muster Rolls show him to be present for duty through training and campaign during the months of March through September, then absent due to sick furlough that expired on December 29, 1862.

January through March, 1863 show him again present for duty when the 31st MS, part of Featherston’s Brigade, Loring’s Division, was encamped in the swamps north of Vicksburg, near Fort Pemberton. On April 22, when the army was preparing to move out to the defenses surrounding Vicksburg, Pvt. Shelton was left behind at Camp Loring, sick yet again with what appears to be a lingering illness of devastating proportions for the middle-aged Shelton. On May 14, 1863 he was transferred to the field hospital at Edward’s Station, near the Big Black River Bridge.

Sometime in the aftermath following the battles of Champion Hill and Big Black River Bridge, the sick, and possibly wounded, Pvt. Howell B. Shelton was captured by the advancing Federal forces and sent to Federally-occupied Memphis, Tennessee on May 25. He was then promptly loaded onto trains of the Illinois Central Railroad along with several thousand fellow prisoners-of-war and shipped to Camp Morton, Indiana (photo, above).

On June 9, 1863, Shelton was among the first of two large groups of Confederate POWs to arrive at Fort Delaware. Here he remained for nearly a month; a chronically ill Confederate soldier, confined on Pea Patch Island off the Delaware shore. Finally, on July 3, 1863, the word came; he would be paroled, along with 1,696 other POWs and 1 civilian prisoner, and shipped by boat to Virginia to be reclaimed by the Confederate government. On July 6, two days after the fall of Vicksburg who Shelton fought to defend, the Fort Delaware detainees arrived in City Point, Va., where they were received by their comrades-in-arms.

At some point later this same day, Pvt. Howell Best Shelton, loving husband, father of 9, defender of thousands, took his last breath. His final resting place remains unknown. He is my 4th great-grandfather by his youngest child, George Best Shelton, who was barely 2 years old at the time of his father’s death.

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