Friday, December 18, 2020

Condolences to 'Stumpy': A Mississippian's death at Franklin

Sergeant Mat Dunn of the 33rd Mississippi was killed at the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864. His wife, whom he affectionally called "Stumpy," is at right in a post-war photo.
(Photos courtesy Dunn family descendants.)

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The casualty lists from the Battle of Franklin tell us nearly 10,000 soldiers were killed, wounded and missing. But we can only guess the number of hearts broken in Northern and Southern families because of the carnage in Tennessee on Nov. 30, 1864. The family of 33rd Mississippi Sergeant Mathew Andrew Dunn was among those who were shattered.

Four months before his death at Franklin, Mathew aimed to prepare his wife Virginia -- he affectionately called her "Stumpy" -- for awful possibilities. "Oh my love," he wrote from Atlanta,  "if I could only See you and our dear little ones again what a pleasure it would be. But God only knows whether I will have that privilege or not. I want you to try and raise them up right. Train them while they are young.

"And if I am not Spared to See you I hope we will meet in a happier world. ... if I am killed I hope that I am prepared to go."

Markers for unknown Mississippians in McGavock Confederate Cemetery in Franklin, Tenn. Perhaps 33rd Mississippi Sergeant Mathew A. Dunn rests beneath one of them.

On Jan. 11, 1865, Major C.P. Neilson provided details of  Dunn's death in Tennessee to "Stumpy," who lived in the hamlet of Liberty, Miss. After emerging through dense woods, Winfield S. Featherston's brigade advanced toward Union breastworks. Ordered to charge, the 33rd Mississippi and six other regiments in the brigade fought their way near Federal lines, Neilson wrote, with hand-to-hand fighting briefly breaking out. But "... we were compelled to give way," the major recalled, "and fell back some two or three hundred yards and there remained until next morning."

Wounded four times, Dunn was believed to have been killed instantly. Later that night, Neilson discovered the 30-year-old father of two children lying on his back. "He appeared," the major wrote, "to be peacefully sleeping with a smile." Neilson informed Mrs. Dunn of her husband injuries -- he was struck by a bullet "directly in the front, just below the breast bone" and also suffered wounds in the right side, right cheek and left hand.

Dunn fought in Winfield Featherston's
 brigade at Franklin.
Neilson found Dunn's Bible on his chest, and planned to present the testament to "Stumpy" when he returned to Mississippi during the winter. Because he had duties elsewhere on the battlefield, Neilson left Dunn's body where he lay, but said the sergeant was decently buried later by friends and comrades. The soldier's knapsack and blanket had been stolen, Neilson noted, by "inhuman robbers of the dead." Another soldier in the 33rd Mississippi preserved a lock of Dunn's hair for his widow.

"It would certainly be a consolation to you to have received some last message from your loving one," added the officer, "but the unexpected mess of the battle and the circumstances of his death precluded the possibility of such a thing."

Concluded Neilson:
"You have two strong sources of consolation Mrs. Dunn. That your husband died as he had lived, a true Christian, and his death was such as becomes the true soldier on the battle field with his face to the foe and followed by love and regrets of all his comrades. Your loss is great and deeply so. I sympathize with you but you 'mourn not as one without hope.' '' 
Nearly three months after the battle, 33rd Mississippi Private John Cain Wilkinson, Dunn's messmate, also wrote his widow. Virginia's husband was among nine soldiers in Company K of the 33rd Mississippi, the Amite County Defenders, to die of wounds suffered at Franklin. The condolence letter -- dated Feb. 15, 1865, and presented in its entirety below -- is remarkable for its eloquence.

"I am incompetent to write a eulogy upon such a character," wrote the 40-year-old Wilkinson, who became a pastor at the Plymouth Primitive Baptist Church in Liberty after the war. To the contrary, the Mississippian's powerful words resonate through time.

McGavock Cemetery, where nearly 1,300 Confederate dead from the Battle of Franklin are buried.
Hamburg, Edgefield District, S.C.
February 15, 1865

Mrs. M.A. Dunn

My Dear Friend, I seat myself with a heart filled with sorrow to pen you a few lines to let you know that I do truly mourn and sympathize with you on account of you great irreparable loss.

Post-war image of
John C. Wilkinson
(Courtesy Pat Ezell)
On the 22nd____, I received the sad and heartrending intelligence that Mr. M. A. Dunn and L.L. Anderson of my mess and seven others of our Co. were killed at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee on the 30th of November 1864.

Mr. Dunn and I were only slightly acquainted when our Co. organized, but before leaving our beloved homes, we agreed to be members of the same family in Camp and drew our first rations together and continued so until I was wounded in May last.

And to me, he proved to be a true friend under all circumstances, in sickness, in health, in trials, and under all the hardships we had to undergo, he was always a patient and cheerful friend.

I am incompetent to write a eulogy upon such a character, and will only say to you that M. A. Dunn was free from the influence of the many vices and evils so common in Camp which entice so many from the path of rectitude.

But he did by a well ordered walk and godly conversation make manifest to his comrades that he was a devoted Christian, true gentleman and patriotic soldier.

Being kind and obliging, he enjoyed the good will and confidence of all who had the pleasure of being acquainted with him.

Mississippi section of McGavock Confederate Cemetery in Franklin, Tenn.
Sergeant Mathew A. Dunn may be buried here beneath a marker
designated  "Unknown." He originally was buried on the battlefield.
By this sad bereavement our Co. lost one of its first members, Amite County a good citizen, Ebenezar a worthy member, and you and your dear little ones, a kind and dearly beloved husband and father.

Dear Friend, though I join you in shedding a tear of grief, let us not mourn as those who are without hope, for we feel assured that our loss is his Eternal gain, that his freed spirit is now singing praises to our Blessed Savior in the Paradis above where all is joy and peace.

Oh, that we could truly adopt the language of Paul under this heavy affliction - "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Then, how consoling would be the language of our Saviour, "Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe in God believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there you may be also. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. For because I live, ye shall live also." Then, my afflicted Sister, be admonished by the poorest of the poor to look to the fountain whence cometh all our help and strength; Jesus alone can comfort you in all your trails.

"For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, his ears are open unto their prayers." We have the promise of the comforter, and Paul says, "Likewise, the spirit also helpeth our infirmities for we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered."

And to give us full assurance, our Blessed savior informs us that He maketh intercession for the Saints, that according to the will of God.

Close-up of the Mississippi monument at McGavock Confederate Cemetery.
And so, there remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God, and we have so many sweet and precious promises. Let us therefore come boldly into the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in each time of need.

I know that the ties of nature are such that you cannot refrain from weeping and though your dear husband cannot return to you, yet you have hope that you may go where he is, and join him in singing a song of deliverance.

And may God on tender mercy remember you and your dear Little Ones. May He lead, rule, guide, and direct you safely through this life, giving you that sweet consolation which He alone can give. And finally, through the merits of his dear Son, crown you His (with your dear husband) in his kingdom above where "God will wipe away all tears from your eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither shall there be any more pain, but where all is Joy and Peace is the desire of one who wished you well.

Sign on entrance gate to McGavock Confederate Cemetery.
You have no doubt seen a list of the killed, wounded and missing at the Battle of Franklin, Tenn. on the 30th November 1864. And many more must have fallen at the Battle of Nashville on the 15th of December from which I have no news from my company.

When I left Camp I left six messmates whom I loved, four of them, J.P. and C.C. Lea, L.L Anderson, and M. A. Dunn have poured out their life's blood in defense of their country. R.S. Capell is severely wounded and my dear son, W.H.W. reported captured. Truly, we have cause to mourn but I desire not to mourner.

Not wishing to weary you with my imperfection, I close; when at the throne of grace, remember me and mine and believe me to be your friend in deep affliction.

John C. Wilkinson

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- 33rd Mississippi Infantry web site, "To Live and Die in Dixie. We Are a Band of Brothers," accessed Aug. 18, 2018.
-- Pat Ezell genealogical research on John Cain Wilkinson.
-- The Ohio State University, eHistory, accessed Aug. 18, 2018.

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