The odd case of the Confederates who came in from the cold

prisoners

It’s not unheard of for the soldiers of defeated nations to continue fighting on, sometimes for years or even decades.

Usually, as in the case of Japanese troops who held out in the Pacific following World War II, such men are isolated and completely cut off from the rest of the world. They’re either unaware the war is over, or unwilling to accept the conflict’s conclusion.

Sometimes, however, reports of such incidents raise red flags.

Consider a story that first appeared in the Petersburg (Va.) Index on Aug. 15, 1866, and was reprinted in other publications, including the Chicago Tribune, in the following days.

Under the headline “The Last of the Rebel Army,” and the subhead, “Four Rebel Soldiers Surrender – They Have Just Found Out the War is Over,” the Index detailed a report that four Confederate soldiers had just turned themselves in to Federal authorities on Aug. 14, 1866, nearly 1-1/2 years after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox and nearly 15 months after the last Confederate army had capitulated.

According to the report, Anthony Monkas, Thomas Wells and James Brinberter, all of Co. E, 52nd Georgia Infantry Regiment, and Allan Tewksbury of the 43rd Louisiana Infantry Regiment, all members of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered after holding out along the Appomattox River since the first half of 1865.

According to the story, Tewksbury told Federal authorities that following the Confederate evacuation of Petersburg in the spring of 1865 he and his contingent stopped on the Appomattox, about seven miles above the city, to rest.

Realizing they were cut off, they made a vow to hold their ground and “never go home or give up until the Confederacy was completely annihilated,” according to the article in the Chicago Tribune.

They fashioned an abode on the banks of the river and lived off fish and game, and roasted ears of corn taken from nearby fields, along with the occasional pig they captured.

In the summer of 1866, “… hearing from an old negro man that the Confederacy was undoubtedly ‘gone up,’ they concluded to quit their barbarian life and surrender,” according to the report.

The quartet marched into Petersburg, stacked their weapons in front of Federal headquarters and “sent in word that they were the remnant of the Army of Northern Virginia, and that they wished to surrender upon the conditions accorded to Lee and the main body.” The officer in charge assented to their request.

Top part of Chicago Tribune story that appeared on Aug. 20, 1866, about four purported Confederates turning themselves in more nearly 18 months after the end of the war.

Top part of Chicago Tribune story that appeared on Aug. 20, 1866, about four purported Confederates turning themselves in nearly 18 months after the end of the War Between the States.

The story concluded by noting that the “four roamed about town for a short time, had new suits of clothing given to them, and, after being made about half drunk, embarked on the Southern train for their homes.”

Interesting story, right? The problem is that it almost certainly never happened.

A search of the National Archives shows no listing for any of the four men, nor any names that are similar in the 52nd Georgia. Further, Tewksbury’s purported regiment, the 43rd Louisiana, never existed. Louisiana infantry regiments during the Civil War topped out with the 31st Louisiana.

So, what gives?

One explanation is that the four men were deserters who had been hiding out for more than a year and had concocted a story in order to avoid the ignominy of being branded as apostates. They simply made up names and proclaimed themselves devoted Confederates who had finally decided to lay down their arms.

Given that there was almost no way for Federal authorities to check their identities – and there was no longer any Confederate authorities to verify who they said they were – it would have been a reasonably safe, though elaborate, scheme to cover up a gross dereliction of duty.

Another plausible explanation is that the entire affair was simply made up by a reporter from the Petersburg Index. If one is familiar with Mark Twain’s exploits during his early days as a journalist, one realizes that 19th century reporters often didn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Consider that while the initial story of Tewksbury and comrades coming in from the cold appeared in papers from Lawrence, Kan., to Raleigh, NC, there is no further mention of any member of the quartet again at any point in history, at least according to a search of the Internet.

All of which leads to the conclusion that the episode never happened.

One imagines that had the four men actually existed and spent an extra 17 months on duty for the Confederacy along the banks of the Appomattox River after the war had ended, they would have been lauded as heroes throughout the South and the subject of stories as the years passed.

Certainly their efforts would have been remembered at their deaths.

Given that there is no mention of the four after August 1866, it’s seems almost certain that Tewksbury, Monkas, Wells and Brinberter were nothing more than the figment of an inventive reporter’s imagination.

(Top: Edwin E. Forbes’ sketch of Confederate prisoners captured at Woodstock, Va., in 1862.)

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5 thoughts on “The odd case of the Confederates who came in from the cold

  1. The only modern writing endeavor where you can just make up “facts” and get away with it seems to be when writing up scientific research. Grab that grant money and skedaddle!
    😉
    Hey: Isn’t that last a Civil War era term?

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