Thursday, May 31, 2012

John Henry Rogers of Madison

John Henry Rogers was born in 1845 in North Carolina. His father, Absolom Rogers, was a plantation owner and a slaveholder. In 1852, he moved with his parents to Mississippi, to a plantation near Madison Station. Rogers attended the local schools (perhaps at the Roudenbush Academy, which was located nearby), where he studied, among other subjects, Latin, Greek and a bit of military science. Because of this "experience," Rogers was picked as a drillmaster for a company of home guards in 1861, composed mostly of much older men. The next year, at age sixteen, he joined the Confederate army with his older brother William, enlisting as a private in the Semmes Rifles, a company raised in Canton and organized as Co. H, 9th Mississippi Infantry.

During his service in the 9th Mississippi, John Rogers fought with his regiment at Munfordville, Kentucky, where he was wounded, and at Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Resaca, and in the battles for Atlanta. He was wounded again at Jonesboro in September, 1864, and then recovered to fight at Franklin and Nashville. Because of his bravery at Franklin, he was promoted to First Lieutenant in April 1865 and commanded Co. F until the army surrendered at Greensboro, North Carolina, on April 26. He was still just nineteen years old. In reflecting on the record of his company in 1903, Rogers wrote that it was doubtful "if there is another county in the State or in the South that can claim as large a list of men in proportion to its population who did their duty as patriots and among whom there were so few deserters." After an exhaustive accounting of each man in the company, Rogers concluded that of the 103 soldiers in the company, fifty-one were killed or wounded in battle during the war. Only eight men were still living in 1903. The image above is of several soldiers in the 9th Mississippi from the early days of the war in Pensacola.

Following the surrender, Rogers walked from North Carolina to his family’s home in Madison County, Mississippi, a distance of nearly 1,000 miles. Back home, he began studying to enter college. In 1867, he was admitted as a junior to the newly reopened University of Mississippi, where he graduated in 1868. At the time, the university had relaxed some of their admission standards for returning Confederate veterans and even offered a "refresher" course to help prepare them for college. While the university received some criticism for this policy, it did allow some veterans to start anew in life and provided a large incoming class for a university in need of students. While attending the university, Rogers also studied law, and was admitted to the bar in Canton in 1868. In Canton, Rogers was a school teacher for a year before moving to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he began his law practice.

In Fort Smith, Rogers joined a law firm, where he became a partner, and then established his own firm in 1874. Three years later, the Twelfth Judicial Circuit was created, and Rogers was elected circuit judge, where he served for two terms. In 1882, he resigned to run for Congress and was elected and served in the House of Representatives until 1891. A Democrat, Rogers (left) regularly opposed any legislation favoring black voter rights. He also served on the Judiciary Committee and was instrumental in writing legislation to reform criminal procedure in Arkansas.

In March 1891, Rogers retired from Congress and resumed his law practice in Fort Smith. In 1892, he was the chairman of the state's delegation to the Democratic National Convention, where he supported Grover Cleveland of New York for president. Unlike Rogers, Cleveland was not a veteran of the Civil War, as he chose to hire (legally) a Polish immigrant for $150 to serve in the Union Army as his substitute. After being elected President, Cleveland appointed Rogers as a federal judge in Fort Smith in 1896, where he served until his death.

In addition to his duties as a judge, Rogers' military service and political influence made him a popular speaker on the Confederate veterans' circuit. In 1903, he was the keynote speaker at the Thirteenth National United Confederate Veterans reunion in New Orleans. Entitled "The South Vindicated," his speech was a big hit with the veterans present, and was reprinted in its entirety in the Confederate Veteran magazine (taking up more than six full pages). According to the Veteran, the speech was given under less than ideal conditions as "delegates were weary from a prolonged morning session, and they were slow in assembling. He began with a band of music and a frolicking crowd outside the auditorium, which seriously threatened conditions for satisfactory hearing." Somehow, despite the cacophony around him and the length of his speech, he delivered an apparently memorable address both in defense of the Confederacy and in support of the reunited nation. "The South Vindicated" would later be printed in pamphlet form. In addition to speeches and meetings, lots of other activities were available to the veterans in New Orleans (some, no doubt, involving alcohol). On May 22, 1903, a grand parade was held. The photo above shows the line of veterans on St. Charles Avenue. The parade stretched for six miles and took more than two hours to pass. 

On April 5, 1911, Rogers traveled to Little Rock to hear cases for another judge. Just before going to Little Rock, he caught a cold while on a hunting trip. The cold persisted and worsened, although he continued to hear the cases. On April 17, however, he failed to appear in court and was found dead in his hotel room, the victim of an apparent heart attack. He was survived by his wife and four children, and is buried in Oak Cemetery in Fort Smith. During his life, just as he had walked a great distance to get home after the war ended, Rogers had come a long way for a private from Madison County.

Photo sources: 
(1) Rogers:
(2) 9th Mississippi: 
(3) Rogers: hhtp://
(4) Reunion: 
(5) Rogers grave:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Booneville's "Black Christmas"

On December 22, 1950, an explosion at the Booneville, Mississippi, Armory killed seven Mississippi National Guardsmen and seriously injured three others. The explosion apparently occurred when high octane fluid (possibly gasoline) being used to clean weapons was ignited by a nearby gas heater. The accident happened as the men were preparing for deployment to Korea in January 1951. Known as “Black Christmas,” the disaster was covered by newspapers across the nation, including the New York Times, and is considered to be the first domestic casualties of the Korean War.

The men were all members of Co. B, 198th Tank Battalion. On that day (a Friday), Booneville was filled with people hurriedly shopping for Christmas, while others were at the nearby gymnasium watching a basketball game (in 1950, the Booneville High School boys team was crowned the 1A-2A state champions). At the armory, Guardsmen were busy with vehicle maintenance, cleaning carbines, and routine paperwork in advance of deployment overseas. The explosion occurred in the washroom around 8:00 p.m. In an interview with the Commercial Appeal, Captain Fred Houston said “the whole room seemed to go up in flames.” Smith Goddard of Booneville was another soldier on duty that day. According to Goddard, one of the men came out of the armory and said “Those boys are burning up back there.” As he ran and looked into a window, he could see the fire burning out of control but was helpless to rescue anyone. “I have never felt any worse in my life,” he said. “I was only four or five feet away but could not do anything to help them.” Goddard would later serve as a pallbearer for two of his fallen comrades.

Killed instantly in the conflagration were two Booneville men: Sgt. Charles Owen Fugitt, 21, and Cpl. William Howard Duncan, 31. Four others died the next morning and the seventh soldier lived only until the night of the 23rd, long enough to plan his own funeral. In addition to Fugitt and Duncan, the other men who died as a result of the explosion were Hugh Thomas Weatherbee, 18, of Rienzi, Freddie E. Fulghum, 18, also of Booneville; and three men from the little town of Thrasher - Billy W. Mooney, 18, James Ray Robinson, 19, and Lawrence Sidney Burks, 30. Four other Guardsmen were injured, three of them with serious burns.

At least one of the men killed that night had been married just a short time. Annie Maurine Hill was thirty-four years old when she married William Duncan (above right) in 1949. A graduate of Wheeler High School, Mrs. Duncan (right) attended Blue Mountain College and became a teacher at the Hopewell School in the Meadow Creek Community. She became a widow when the explosion killed her husband, and she never remarried, as he was “the love of her life.” Mrs. Duncan passed away last year at age 95.

Despite the disaster, the unit still had to deploy, and on January 16, 1951, the surviving members of Co. B, 198th Tank Battalion boarded a train for Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and from there went to Korea, where they served for two years. There was little time to mourn the company’s loss. They have not been forgotten, however. To honor the soldiers’ memory, a monument was erected on December 22, 2006, fifty-six years after “Black Christmas.” Initiated by Coach William (Bill) Ward of Booneville, who was also on duty that day at the armory, the granite monument bears the symbol of the “Dixie Division” and the Mississippi National Guard. In attendance for the dedication of the monument was (above, L-R) former House Speaker Billy McCoy, former Adjutant General Harold Cross, Cecil Weatherbee, brother of Hugh Weatherbee (left), and the former commander of the 155th Brigade Combat Team, Brig. Gen. Augustus Collins. The monument is located at the site of the armory.

Photo sources: 
Unit photo:, originally published courtesy of Zandra Weatherbee Huddleston
New York Times:
Duncan and Weatherbee: (September-December 2006)
Maurine Duncan:
Monument: (September-December 2006)