Monday, August 29, 2016

Antietam soldier: 'God's mercy ... saved me from instant death'

Lieutenant Francis Mobley of the 50th Georgia.
 (Courtesy Berrien County Historical Photos Collection)
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Fifty-one soldiers in his regiment were killed at the Battle of South Mountain, but 50th Georgia Lieutenant Francis Lawton Mobley of Company I luckily escaped with only a slight wound to the side of his head. Fired on from their front, left and rear, the Georgians were caught in a "slaughter pen," Mobley wrote, as the Confederates were routed on Daniel Wise's hardscrabble farm on the Maryland mountain.

Three days later, on Sept. 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam, fate would not be so kind to the married father of an infant son.

Defending a ford on Antietam Creek nearly a mile downstream from the Rohrbach Bridge, the 50th Georgia, its ranks crippled by that recent fight at Fox's Gap, had "scarcely 100 muskets." After General Ambrose Burnside's IX Corps finally pushed a thinly held Confederate line from the bluffs above the stone-arch bridge at about 1 p.m., the 50th Georgia scrambled toward the village of Sharpsburg, Md., with the rest of General Robert Toombs' scrappy, vastly outnumbered brigade. Sometime late that afternoon, as 8,500 soldiers in the IX Corps pressed toward town, a bullet tore into Mobley's right breast, just below the nipple.

"...it was God's mercy that saved me from instant death," Mobley wrote to his wife, Rhoda, in rural Nashville, Ga., "as there is not one in a thousand that could live after receiving such a wound."

On Sept. 17, 1862, Francis Mobley's 50th Georgia defended this ground near Snavely Ford,
about a mile from  Burnside Bridge, before it was forced to retreat toward Sharpsburg.
               The 50th Georgia  helped defend this ground near Sharpsburg. Mobley may
          have been wounded here.  (Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.)

In the months leading up to Antietam, frequent correspondence from Mobley to his wife of nearly six years revealed a range of his emotions -- anxiety, fear, love, agony, hope. When he left Georgia for a camp in North Carolina in the spring of 1862, he begged his 25-year-old wife -- "Rodey" was his nickname for her -- for her understanding. He dreaded being away from his family. "We are compeled by the law to obey the order," wrote Mobley, a religious man, "and God I hope is with us in our cause and if God is for us, who can be against us?"

Francis worried about his son, Marcus, who suffered from a bout with the mumps. He urged Rhoda, who was barely literate, to reply to his letters and was mortified when he went to the post office and found no correspondence from her. He expected the war to soon end so he could return home to southern Georgia, where he owned a small farm. Showing a sense of humor, Mobley even mentioned his grooming.

"Through the purswasion of sum friends," wrote the 26-year-old officer, who also was spelling-challenged,  "I have had my hare shampooed and I know if you could see me you could not help admiring my beauty."

The letters were like thousands of other written by soldiers in both armies, who, like Francis Mobley, were hundreds of miles from family and home.

April 2, 1862, Camp Davis, near Guyton, Ga.: "May God in his Infinite murcy preserve our lives and restore me again to your busom. Do not think that I will not come home for I will if I live. If I am at the extreme of the Confederacy when I can get a chance I will send the last dollar of my wages or see you."

April 9, Camp Davis: "My body is a long way from you though my heart is always with you. I want to see you and Marcus very bad. I want you [to] kiss him for me and receive my heartiest wishes for your self. Be in good cheer and write to me lively."

April 18: “The best way for you to become satisfied is for you to consider that my being absent is a necessity and that I can not avoid it and there fore reconcile your self to your lot. Let it be what it may. Consider that if I am killed or die in the Sirvis and you never see me again that I died in a good cause and am worthy of my ancestors and consider that I have not disagreed your family nor decerted you in time of grate danger.”

Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center

“Frances you don’t know how ... I hate for you to be so fur from me."

-- Rhoda Mobley to her husband, Francis, in a letter dated Sept. 15, 1862


May 6, Camp Brown, Savannah, Ga.: "I enjoy health though I do not enjoy the quietness of mind that I could wish for while my mind is pleasently engaged on the duties of the defense of my country. My peace is molested on the account of the neglect of my domestic business and more especially the neglect of my family. The most heart rendering case that I have to content with is leaving you alone. I can reflect on our parting and see tears that I left in your eyes and it is heart breaking to me ..."

May 20: Fort Brown, Savannah, Ga.: "You must recall that I am distant from you now and the probability is that I will be further before I am nearer and I want you to manage things the best you can. Rais your offspring in the way he should. Go teach him to do what is right and abstain from what is wrong. Teach him to love liberty and hate oppression. Teach him to ... appreciate the liberty that I in all probability may die to obtain for him..."

June 3:  "I think you would be the prettyest thing that I ever saw if I could see you. You must take good care of your self and do not think that I have been in them bad Houses for I would never do such a thing. I was officer of the day yeasterday and I had the pleasure of running two of them women off from the hospital."

In the last letter Mobley wrote before Antietam, he described the aftermath of the Second Battle of Manassas ("there was grate loss on the Yankee side) and again wrote of longing for Rhoda: "I am at the least ... 1,200 miles from home. You must not be uneasy about me for I will come as soon as I can and would if it was twelve hundred times twelve hundred. I would walk it to come."

He signed it: "Your loving husband until death."

Six days later, on Sept. 15, a letter finally arrived from "Rodey:"

"I would rit before but I did not no whear to direct a letter but I have wated so long that I thought I would reskhit. I am sorry to hear that you had to take that fifty milds march by your self  and git so lonsum. Frances you don’t know how ... I hate for you to be so fur from me."

Francis Mobley's wife, Rhoda, in a post-war image with her second husband, William Griner.
He served as a private in the 50th Georgia. (Courtesy Berrien County Historical Photos Collection)
After Antietam, the 50th Georgia crossed the Potomac River, retreating into Virginia with the rest of Lee's army. Some of the regiment's wounded, including Mobley, were sent on to Winchester, Va., 35 miles from Sharpsburg. While he lay in a makeshift hospital, a doctor dictated a letter on Sept. 25 to Rhoda from Francis, who was too injured to write it himself.

"...though I am feeble yet," he noted, "I feel like I am getting much better every day. I am in good comfortable quarters in Winchester and have Mr. Jno T. Weakly to nurse me. He gives me any thing I can ever desire. You must not be uneasy about me as I will have everything done for me that is necessary. I have no doubt I will get a furlough to go home as soon as I can travel ..."

The optimism was unfounded. Francis' condition worsened, probably not unexpected given few survived such a terrible wound.

Lieutenant Francis Mobley's marker in
the Stonewall Confederate Cemetery
in Winchester, Va. (Find A Grave)
On the morning of Oct. 9, a doctor told Mobley to prepare to die. Struggling to communicate, he seemed unaffected by the grim news. That night, his voice was "weak and faint," according to his friend, Daniel P. Luke, a 2nd lieutenant in the 50th Georgia. Mobley asked Luke to write three letters for him -- one to his father in law, another to his father and one to "Rodey." He expressed his hope that Marcus be "raised up in the right manner and to live and fear the Lord" and well-educated.

A minister frequently visited Mobley, who kept a Bible by his side. "He suffered at times very much," noted a Winchester woman named Mary T. Magill, who tended to Francis every day, "but was at all times patient and gentle." She was with him that night when he died.

Eight days later, Magill wrote a condolence letter to Francis' dear "Rodey." Before he died, Mobley asked Magill to tell his wife about "his condition of mind and body." The bullet that killed him was sent to Rhoda, a dying request by Francis.

"Let it seem as a voice from the Dead when I tell you that he bade me to tell you that he was not only resigned to the will of his Heavenly Father but happy in the prospect of glorious immortality," Magill told Rhoda Mobley. "I have every reason to believe that he died trusting in his precious Savior and his greatest dearest wish was that his precious wife and child might meet him in Heaven."



Shortly after the Civil War ended, Rhoda married a 50th Georgia veteran, William Griner. She died in 1933 at age 98, outliving William and Marcus. Francis Mobley was buried in Winchester, probably near the makeshift hospital where he died. His remains lie in Winchester today in the Stonewall Confederate Cemetery among more than 3,000 other Southern soldiers.

CONDOLENCE LETTER FROM LT. DANIEL LUKE TO RHODA MOBLEY

Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center
Camp near Bruceville
Oct. 14, 1862

Mrs. F.L. Mobley

Heighly Esteemed friend. It was with deep regret that I now enter on the painful duty of writing you this letter, though it is at the dying request of your brave and noble hearted husband. When I arrived to my company to my sorrow and grief I learned that he was mortally wounded lying at Winchester and wanted to see me and I got a short leave of absense and Walked Eight mile as feeble as I was and when I found him I saw that he was subject to die at any moment, though he was perfectly cool and resigned to his fate. The physician had informed him that morning that he must die but it did not seem to affect him. I set over him all night and talked with him as much as he could bare to talk for his voice ...


Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center
... was very weak and faint. He told me how he wanted his business fixed. He requested me that when I knew he was dead that I would write three letters for him -- one to you and one to his father in law and one to his father and to say to you all that it was his dying request that his child should be raised up in the right manner and to live and fear the Lord and at all Hazards have it well educated and that his father in law and father should assist you in so doing. He requested me to send you the ball that killed him which I have done by Mr. Sutton. All his clothing and I now send you by F. Gaskins his sachel with his vests, Sash and some little paper in his vest pocket. He told me he threw away his sword on the battle ground. His pistol I sold to Lt. Gaskins and sent you the note by Mr. Sutton ...

Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center
... which I hope will all arrive safe to you.

My Dear friend I can say to you that you have been bereaved of a noble hearted and as brave a Husband as ever steped on the soil of Maryland according to his age and practice. I wished to God that he could have lived to have fought many Battles unhurt and returned to you again.

So I will come to a close for want of time.

Your most humble 
and obt Svt
D.P. Luke

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