Thursday, April 19, 2007
The history of an unreconstructed Confederate soldier
By Terry Baker
The youngest of eight children, Marcellus Pointer was born on April 20,1841, in Caswell County, North Carolina, across the Virginia state line from Halifax County, where his parents were originally from. Dr. David Pointer married Obedience Torian there in 1824, and within a few years they left not only Virginia, but went on to Marshall County, Mississippi, around 1843.
Dr. Pointer practiced medicine, but was also a planter, owning perhaps 50 slaves in 1860.
A picture of Marcellus, taken in February, 1860, shows him as clean-shaven, hair over his ears, and seemingly supremely self-confident. When Mississippi seceded from the Union, he joined what later became known as Old Company B of the 9th Mississippi Infantry on March 27, 1861. His one year enlistment ran out just before the Battle of Shiloh, where the 9th was a part of Chalmers’ Brigade. Pointer’s widow, Willie Mayer Pointer, filed a pension claim in Bowie County, Texas in 1909, the year he died. In it she states that he was not home ten days before joining Joseph Wheeler’s staff.
The biggest problem one encounters when trying to place Pointer at Shiloh is the lack of any official roster that carries his name later than March 31, 1862. If Willie is to be believed, he should have joined Wheeler in time to be at Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862). The problem is that she said he joined the 12th Ala. Cavalry, a unit that was not created until the summer of 1864. His role until then was that of volunteer aide-de-camp, with the rank of lieutenant. At Shiloh, Wheeler commanded the 19th Ala. Infantry, with the rank of colonel. Colonel Wheeler would have been permitted to have a staff, making it possible for Marcellus to have been one of them.
The Memphis Avalanche ran the names of some of the casualties at Shiloh, names that were of local interest, and the Richmond Daily copied it. Among the wounded appears the name M. Pointer of Holly Springs. Marcellus had an older brother named Monroe, who was a corporal in Co. L, the Maynard Rifles, of the 154th Tenn. Inf. This company was organized on March 8, 1862, in Shelby County, Tenn., where Monroe lived at the time. The 154th was at Shiloh, and Monroe was discharged for disability in Nov., 1862. That could mean he was the M. Pointer who was wounded at Shiloh, but Marcellus would more likely have been listed under his first initial, as it appears later in other war records. He was also living in Holly Springs when he enlisted, whereas Monroe, who is always known by his full name in the records, had been in Shelby County since about 1858.
The first mention of Lieutenant Pointer in the Official Records of the War comes in a report written by Wheeler about a rear guard action that took place after the Battle of Perryville.
Wheeler writes that Lieutenant Pointer of his staff was severely wounded in that action on the 19th of October, 1862. Pointer is lucky not to have been taken prisoner, for Bragg left his most seriously wounded behind at Perryville, including Howard Falconer of Holly Springs. (Falconer would be exchanged, and unsuccessfully attempt to gain permission to form a partisan ranger company behind the lines. His election to the Miss. state legislature in 1864 finally secured his discharge.)
Marcellus Pointer’s military records from the National Archives are not very helpful in many respects. They mention neither of the two times he is known to have been wounded, but at least Wheeler makes note of both in his reports. As to the question of Pointer’s rank, again the records in his file seem murky, and even contradictory. On the 29th of January, 1863, Wheeler applied to have Pointer promoted to the official rank of 1st lieutenant, ADC, saying he had been already serving on his staff for some months. He mentions that Pointer was of the 10th Miss., and that may be a slip of the pen. One could be a volunteer aide without any official pay grade, but the promotion to 1st lieutenant came through on April 30, and was back-dated to January 29. The question of the wound at Shiloh may be settled by Wheeler’s statement that his aide had already been wounded once. That certainly refers to Wild Cat, Kentucky.
Lieutenant Pointer is mentioned several times in the Official Records, usually in the capacity of delivering dispatches or verbal instructions from Wheeler to his subordinates. He is at Shelbyville in June, 1863, doing just that. Later that year, when Wheeler was operating with Longstreet near Knoxville, Pointer is said by Wheeler to have gone ahead of Dibrell’s regiment in a charge against the 11th Ky. Cav. Inside the cabinet of the 1860 photo of Pointer was a small clipping from a unknown newspaper which had copied the Macon Confederate. The skirmish mentioned by Wheeler is elaborated somewhat, and apparently the young lieutenant dashed all by himself into the enemy pickets and chased them to their camp, wheeled to the left, and made his way back to the staff. This action took place at Maryville, Tennessee, in November, 1863.
Another incident recorded in the clipping relates of a time “just before the battle of Chicamauga.” Wheeler says something about it in his report of what the official reports call “Wheeler and Roddey’s raid.” The raid into Middle Tennessee was after Chickamauga, but the incident is most likely the same. Pointer charged a Yankee color guard, who fled, refusing to heed the order to surrender. Wheeler’s young aide shot once, breaking the man’s arm, but still he fled. The second shot hit him in the body, knocking him off his horse. Pointer “wrenched the flag from the dying grasp...”, etc. Wheeler’s version is identical, only briefer than that in the clipping.
Colonel Saunders, the Alabama genealogist, had a daughter who kept a diary in which she mentions two Confederate officers named Pointer. The Saunders home was in Courtland, Lawrence County, and the 14 year-old diarist was named Ellen Virginia. Wheeler’s staff stayed at her father’s home in October, 1863. On the 11th, “Major Pointer gave me a five-shooter.” And on the 17th, speaking of a concert in Courtland the night before, “Sister Prue went with Captain Wade, and I with Lieutenant Pointer.” My reading of this is that it was Marcellus Pointer, by then at least a captain, who gave Miss Saunders the pistol, while Lieutenant Thomas S. Pointer escorted her to the concert. The latter was a lieutenant in the 16th Ala. Inf., a native of Courtland, and first cousin of Marcellus. (Why the girl thought Marcellus was a major is dealt with in a later paragraph.)
The end of December, 1863, witnessed what may have been the most hair-raising, narrow escape of Marcellus Pointer’s entire Civil War career. Wheeler, with about 1200 men, attacked a large train of supply wagons near the Hiawassee River bridge at Charleston, Tennessee. The enemy was ready for the raiders, and had prepared something of an ambush. Wheeler and his staff found themselves trapped between two lines of enemy soldiers. Dodson’s 1899 work, The Campaigns of Wheeler and His Cavalry, says that Wheeler managed to escape, but Pointer was forced to surrender. One of Pointer’s obituaries paraphrases a letter from Wheeler to Dr. Pointer, in which the general says the doctor’s son saved his life that day. Dodson says only that Pointer shot one of his two guards with a concealed pistol, once they had relaxed their vigilance. He rode away as fast as his horse could carry him, a bullet hole in his overcoat. One rather speculative way to read it is to suppose that Pointer prevented Wheeler’s capture by his actions that day.
What rank the young lieutenant held from late 1863 into the summer of 1864 is a knotty problem, not helped by his records or the official reports, where he is almost always Lieutenant Pointer. One brief reference in his records from the National Archives gives him the rank of major of [some] battalion of cavalry. This might be the 51st Ala., which was up-graded to a full regiment in the summer of 1864.
As previously mentioned, Ellen V. Saunders may have had Marcellus in mind when she wrote that Major Pointer had given her a five-shooter in October,1863. Wheeler goes by strict protocol in his reports, never referring to him as other than Lieutenant Pointer, until his promotion to lieutenant colonel of the 12th Ala Cav. The earlier mentions of him as Major Pointer may have been in reference to a brevet rank.
Still officially listed as Lieutenant Pointer, he was on leave as of January 31, 1864. It is quite possible that he had been given a furlough to go home and procure a mount. His records show he was drawing rations and fodder for two horses, and the old clipping inside the cabinet of his 1860 photo says “his beautiful mare received a ball in the nostril” in the engagement at Maryville. Horses were the property of their riders, not the government, and it was customary to send them home on furlough if one’s horse was disabled or killed.
The Atlanta Campaign of 1864, as written up in the OR, only has one mention of the young officer. He is still delivering dispatches as of July 10 that year, and I could find no official mention in his records from NARA that give his date of promotion. One of his obituaries says he was promoted late in the war for gallantry in action. It will be the Campaign in the Carolinas, where we read of him as Colonel Pointer of the 12th Ala Cavalry, Hagan’s Brigade of Allen’s Division, Wheeler’s Cavalry Corps.
Horses and the wherewithal to feed them was a problem in December,1864, in South Carolina near Hardeeville. On Christmas Day, Colonel Pointer reported “with his regiment,” to General R.H. Anderson, who wrote that the colonel had no wagons to subsist his animals, and some of his horses had died from eating bad rice. For the young lieutenant colonel, the war ended sooner than he expected. In January,1865, he is mentioned in another of Anderson’s brief dispatches, where he reported that the enemy had halted at a certain place. Then he was wounded in February near Aiken, South Carolina, apparently badly enough to be sent home.
The last we hear of him is in Wheeler’s final report, dated April 15,1865. In it the general says that Colonel Pointer “is still disabled from wounds.”
Pointer’s own records state that he surrendered at Holly Springs, Mississippi, on April 23rd, 1865, and was paroled on the 9th of June. Family legend says he refused to take the oath to the US, and it is known that he traveled abroad, perhaps not returning until 1870.
On October 19th,1865, he married Willie Mayer, daughter of Adrian Mayer, who owned a good deal more slaves in 1860 than the Pointers did. A possible photo of her exists, but the identification is tentative at best. One post-war photo of the colonel exists, showing him rather gaunt, as if taken not long after the war, but other indications would date it to around 1870. Two of the couple’s three daughters appear in tintypes, two of Mary C., and one of Lily. No known photos of Sussie exist.
Like so many, the Pointers and Martha Wynne, Marcellus’ sister, along with her three daughters, moved to Dallas around 1875. (Martha’s husband Joel remained in Arkansas with his daughter Margaret by his second marriage, and her husband and first cousin, Captain Jesse W. Wynne, of the 3rd Texas Cavalry.) The 1870 census shows Marcellus at his father’s home in Como, Miss., while Willie and their daughters were in Holly Springs at her parents’ home. Just to confuse the issue even more, Marcellus was counted twice in 1880, both in Dallas and in Holly Springs.
The ex-Confederate had a number of failed businesses in Dallas, investing in railroads that went bankrupt, among other things. In 1894, Mary Cornelia died of tuberculosis, her one-month-old baby buried with her in the same coffin. They had been living in Amarillo, where she was Mrs. Joe B. Sledge. (Sledge, a Holly Springs native, later married Julia Valette McGehee of Como, Panola County, Mississippi.)
When ex-Confederate General Joe Wheeler was given the assignment to command the cavalry during America’s war with Spain, he tried to secure an appointment for his old friend and aide, but it went nowhere. In recommending him for the rank of brigadier general, Wheeler wrote, according to one of Pointer’s obits, “no finer cavalry officer could be found in America.”
Had Pointer’s refusal to take the oath come back to haunt him? When Wheeler died, three years before Pointer, the colonel could not be located, thus did not attend the funeral.
Marcellus Pointer’s own sad end came on July 10, 1909, in the Atlantic Hotel at Oliver and New Bowery in New York City. He had less than fifty cents in his pocket, and had pawned a medal given to him for bravery during the war. He had been loaned eight dollars for the medal, which he had pawned a few days before his death. He died of chronic kidney disease, although the obits agreed that it had been “apoplexy” or stroke. A trunk by his bedside contained letters, which identified him, and many were from Wheeler to Dr. Pointer, telling of the bravery of his son while an aide to Wheeler in the Civil War.
The local Confederate Veterans made plans to bury the colonel in New York until they received word from Philip Pointer of Como, the colonel’s nephew(not brother as the obits style him). Philip instructed them to ship the body to Memphis for burial, where it was laid to rest at Elmwood Cemetery, next to Obedience Torian Pointer, the colonel’s mother. Neither he nor his mother had a gravestone until Zee Porter, a descendant of the colonel’s brother Samuel R., had them put up. Willie Pointer was living with her daughter and son-in-law in Bowie County, Texas in 1909, when she filed a Confederate widow’s pension claim, which was accepted. The 1910 census shows her there, but after that, the trail goes cold.
Marcellus Pointer was a natural cavalry leader, but not a businessman or a planter. The death of his daughter, Mary Cornelia in 1894, may have been the final blow from which he could not recover, but certainly long before that, it was obvious to those around him that he had failed to live up to his potential in the post-war years. Mosby, the Gray Ghost of Virginia, had been a lawyer before the war, and was a success at it in peacetime. Some bitter ex-Confederates left the country, never to return, but if the family legend of Pointer’s exile is true, even that did not work out. The move to Texas in the 1870s saw many ruined Southerners recoup their losses, but not Marcellus Pointer. His last years were spent in New York City, where he would try to sell railroad bonds, then finally withdraw into his room in a cheap hotel on the Bowery. He went to his grave an Unreconstructed Rebel, and that should be his epitaph.
(Editor’s Note: Terry Baker, of Nashville, has had numerous articles published in historical journals and papers. Bobby Mitchell sent this on to The South Reporter.)
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