Tuesday, September 1, 2015

CALCASIEU PARISH CONFEDERATES -- 2nd Lt. Hardy Coward Gill, 1st Louisiana (Nelligan's) Louisiana Infantry

Reminiscences and an Appreciation

[Lake Charles Weekly American Press, July 18, 1924]

By May Kirkwood Wasey

2nd Lt. H.C. Gill
1st La. Inf. Reg't.
A picturesque figure on the horizon of the southwest section of Louisiana is H.C. Gill, for years a leading citizen in the political, church and general activities of Lake Charles and Calcasieu parish.

A commanding silhouette against the sunset of life, is this old soldier: one of those still holding the line of the fast-thinning gray. He stands at attention, as it were, not able to be about awaiting the next command.

Speaking of this one day, he said, “The sweetest words I could hear today wound be the order from my commanding officer to move my baggage into the next country. When that welcome command comes, I’ll leave all this suffering here and go to the land of peace and happiness.” Like another soldier of long ago, he has, “Fought a good fight, and has kept the faith.”

“Uncle Doc” Gill was born in Mississippi, near Brookhaven, the 17th day of February 1844 but, as he says, he couldn’t help that and with his parents, he moved to Louisiana in the 9th month of his first year; “at the very earliest opportunity.”

He claims two native states, anyway, and tells in his peculiarly witty style of his crossing the Mississippi as it was told to him. It seems as they ferried over the river, the nurse girl gave him a piece of beef melt, on which he choked, and it was not until they reached the Louisiana side they were able to bring him back to life. “So, you see,” he concludes, “Louisiana is really my native state, for I started all over here.”

The family settled on Castor Creek, near Leesville, in Vernon parish.

Surprised when I asked him how he spent his time when he was a boy, he said, “Why I picked cotton, picked peas, did everything; I was raised on a farm.”

About the schools of those days there was not much to tell. “They rank about three months in a year. The country was sparsely settled. There were few children to go to school and almost no teachers. And some of the teachers we had didn’t know anything to teach.” But, like most of us, he that stands above all the others in his memory. She must have been an inspiration for he talks yet about her lovely voice and the realistic way she read or told stories to her classes.

He entered Mt. Lebanon college at 14, but left at 17 to join the Confederate army.

After a visit to the old Gill home on the lake front, three years ago, I wrote my note book; “When I am 77, I hope I shall be as jolly and interested in life and folks as is our dear Uncle Doc Gill. We visited him yesterday, the day before his 77th birthday, and he told us of his first visit to Lake Charles, when he was 8.”

“I remember it as if it were yesterday,” he said. “I had  never seen so much water and to me it looked like the [illegible] the Atlantic ocean.” He was visiting Bagdad on the other side of the lake and not being able to read the future, he did not know that he would build his home on the edge of this lake and become a pioneer of a town like Lake Charles.

 His vision of a beautiful residential section along the lake was never realized, and today the commercial interests are edging closer and closer on either side of his wide lawn with the shady trees. Speaking of this, he said, “I fought them all I could.” After all, this was too bad for Lake Charles especially since there were so many miles of river front on which to build warehouses and railroad tracks.

His story of this first journey from Leesville to Bagdad, is something like this: “Mother decided she wanted to see her mother who lived in Bagdad. There were no roads in those days, only a blind trail, so we made the trip down on horseback. Mother and all the children had a horse apiece except me, and I rode behind. I remember how I fussed because I liked a comfortable seat and wanted always to ride behind the one who had a pacing horse. But I had to take turn about with first one and then another, and all the horses didn’t pace. Between home and Bagdad, we only passed one house. We carried our provisions and camped at night along the way.”

The Bear Story

“About half-way down, one day, a black bear crossed the trail just in front of us. Now my big brother was a ferocious fellow and, dare-devil-like, he threw the saddle bags and all the heavy weight from his horse and, with his rope, started off to lasso the bear.

“One of the horses we rode was ‘Old Nance.’ With her, all the young ‘uns on the place, white and black, had learned to plow. Well, when Nance got to the place where the bear crossed the path, she started a rebellion. Brother tried to ride her over, whip her over, or back her across it, but she wouldn’t cross that bear’s track. Finally brother tied her head up, with several thicknesses of sack and started her engine to going round and round. Then reversing her, she went round and round the other way, till she lost her ‘geography’ and as she couldn’t see nor smell, nor hear, she went over. After we got Old Nance on grandmother’s side of the bear path, we were on our way again.”

It was on this visit when he was 8, that he enjoyed his first “excursion on the lake, when Miss Laura Bilbo took us for a ride in a skiff. Her father, Joe Bilbo, lived where Bel’s mill is now.”

Also, he tells of visiting the homes of some of oldest settlers here. One of these was Valentine Moss’ home on the river and he says, “I thought he must be a prince, or something, because he had statues of Jesus and Joseph all around.”

He remembered when they went to the home of Judge Reid, there was a Frenchman named Jean Baptiste La Cox, wrestling with a bear, and that, when asked what he did for a living, he said, Just ‘rassle the bear.”

“However, later, Le Cox built a schooner named John Le Cox,” says Uncle Doc, “and the christening of the craft was a great event in this section. Everybody came from all around. Aunt Babe and Uncile Bill Smart rode in a carriage with two mules. Aunt Babe wore her best silk dress, the only one, I guess, in the country at that time.” Here, he begins to chuckle remembering their son, Tom, and adds, “”Tom rode another mule and somehow or another, Tom got run over before he got home.”

When he went to the Pithon home, he saw Dorice Touchy of whom he says, “I thought she was the prettiest thing that ever made a track in the sand.”

A Fight at Hortman’s Ferry

“We had no prize fights in those days, but there was always a bully in each neighborhood: the strong man, and the men of the different neighborhoods would begin carrying tales of them until finally they would fight.

“All arrangements were made this way for a fight between my grandfather and Martin LeBleu, and they met one day on the high bluff at Hortman’s Ferry. There was a big crowd to see the fight for grandfather’s friends of the west country had gone with him and a crowd from the east country came with LeBleu. They stripped to the waist. LeBleu was bigger than grandfather and I remember that the boys of Big Woods had cut grandfather’s hair off so that LeBleu couldn’t get hold of it, and they had him greased so that he would be hard to hold.

“They fit, and fit and fit and neither one could lick the other, and first thing we know they had rolled down that steep bluff and into the river. The men had to fish them out or they would have drowned.”

I asked him a question of which was the best man was ever settled, and he said. “No, they never fought again.”

His War Record

In 1861, at 17, he came home from Mt. Lebanon college and joined “Red River Rebels” of Rapides parish organized at Alexandria. James C. Wise was elected captain and the company was mustered into service at New Orleans from where it was sent immediately to Virginia to become a unit of the 1st Louisiana Regiment, then stationed at Hampton Roads. “One of the companies of the regiment had become an artillery unit, s0 we filled that vacancy.” He told me, “becoming Company B of the 1st Regiment Louisiana Infantry.

“We enlisted for 12 months only,” he said, “but at the expiration of that time, we reorganized and reenlisted for the war. I had been in a year and was at the turn of 18.

At this reorganization of the troops Mr. Gill was elected junior lieutenant of his company. He was present at the seven days battles around Richmond but was not regularly engaged until the battle of Malvern Hill the last and most severe of the series. After Malvern Hill his company was attached to the corps of the great Stonewall Jackson and served with it through all of the campaigns until the end of the war At the close of the battle of Sharpsburg or Antietam, where his regiment was severely handled, Lieutenant Gill was left in command of the regiment at the age of 18.  He was perhaps the youngest officer who ever commanded a regiment on a field of battle.

He was severely wounded at the battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1862 and again at the battle of the Wilderness May 5, 1864.  He said, “After fighting all over the country I came right back there to Chancellorsville and got shot again.” Here he gives  a graphic account of how his life was saved by Aaron Doyle, who rescued him from the battlefield when the others thought it was no use. He always expresses his gratitude and appreciation of this friend who throughout the war took an especial interest in him, remembering him when he had any provisions and calling him “Ye little fellow.”

Camped at Hampton Roads, on March 8, 1862, he witnessed the naval engagement between the Confederate ironclad Merrimac and the frigates Congress and Cumberland and land batteries at Newport News. On the following day he saw the battle between the Monitor and Merrimac. He missed being in this engagement having volunteered and submitted to an examination as one of the crew of the Merrimac, but was refused on account of his youth.

“Talk about your fireworks” he said, speaking of the battle between the Merrimac and Congress and Cumberland, “We had a real one when one of the ships caught fire and its magazine blew up.”

During the valley campaigns of General Early, he became Captain Gill, of the brigade sharpshooters and while commanding them in the battle of Fisher’s Hill was taken prisoner, and confined at Fort Delaware until the close of the war.

“How did the Yankees treat you?” I asked. “Just kept us tied up there. Didn’t give us much to eat but that was a good thing. I guess. We didn’t make ourselves sick eating.”

When they had released him he returned to Alexandria. He said, “We were given transportation to Alexandria and I hired a pony there and rode home.”

      He found later that he had a twin in the Union Army, in the late Col. J.W. Eggleston, who moved to Lake Charles in 1890. Those two soldiers became close friends at the coincidences of their lives were often discussed over their 10 o’clock cups of coffee.

Col. Eggleston made his home in Shreveport during the last years of his life. The picture of the two was taken when he visited Lake Charles on November 24m 1916 and as Uncle Doc says, “It typifies the burial of the hatchet forever.

These two men were both born on February 17, 1844, Mr. Gill in Mississippi and Col. Eggleston in Phelps, N.Y. Each enlisted in his own state in 1861, and served throughout the war. Both were wounded twice each time on the same day and in the same battle. May 3, 1863 at Chancellorsville and May 5, 1864 in the Battle of the Wilderness. Mr. Gill married December 31, 1867, and Col. Eggleston was married in November of the same year. There were three children in both of their families only Mr. Gill’s were two girls and one boy and Col. Eggleston’s were one girl and two boys.

Immediately upon return home at the close of the war Captain Gill moved from Vernon to Calcasieu, settling at Bagdad on the river above Westlake where he engaged in the mercantile and milling business. He built and operated the first steam tram in Calcasieu parish. Selling this interest, he moved to Lake Charles and for a number of years was engaged in the livery business.

In 1892, Mr. Gill was appointed clerk of the district court to fill the unexpired term of C.D. Welsh, deceased. He held this office for three successive terms and of his work in this capacity it was written in a special edition of that time, “Mr. Gill has made a regular and efficient public officer, always prompt, courteous, accurate.” The same article  went on to say: “He has been for years identified with the progress of the parish and city. His residence on the lake front is not only one of the most tastily arranged and picturesquely surrounded. Mr. Gill has an interesting and intellectual family who enjoys an enviable position in the society of the lake city.”

The Confederate Monument

The following is an address delivered by Mr. Gill at the unveiling of the Confederate Monument at Lake Charles, Louisiana, June 3, 1915, which is characteristic of him:
Mr. Chairman, R.E. Lee Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Comrades, Ladies and my Fellow Citizens:

The Daughters of the Confederacy, having charge of these dedicatory ceremonies, have placed the responsibility upon me of responding on behalf of the veterans, and having closed all avenues of retreat there was nothing left me to do but capitulate.

An occasion of this kind is one of reminiscence. More than fifty years ago the North and South were seriously divided upon a great political and constitutional question. It has always seemed strange to me that the question was not appealed to the Supreme or some diplomatic court, but it was not. Every state in the Union appealed to arms, both sides with equal enthusiasm and patriotism lined up on the question, both sides called their witnesses and the argument was promptly opened at Fort Sumter. When Thomas Overton Moore, governor of this state, called to the colors its citizens, I claim those who responded performed as highly patriotic duty, as any man who responded to the call of Abraham Lincoln.

For more than four years the argument raged with tremendous energy and fury.

Looking backward a half century from the 9th of April last, we catch a vision of Appomattox. On that eventful and historic day two giant characters, two strong men, two great captains met on a patch of nature’s greensward, under an apple tree, in the full fruitage of flower, and without blare of trumpets, without noise, but in the simplicity of greatness, made a covenant honorable to both sides, and closed the argument forever. The commissary wagons were pulled in, refreshments were served and a plug of Brown’s Mule was passed and everybody took a bite, the blue and the gray withdrew to their homes to mend the broken and heal the wounds. How faithfully that covenant has been kept and how well the blue and the gray have wrought, you have but to observe today with what unanimity the hundred million of loyal Americans are standing behind and supporting our chief magistrate and his policies, and not enough Jingoes on the gunwales to rock the boat. Gathered under the shadow of this monument are veterans of the blue and the gray, that squatted on the greensward around the apple tree at Appomattox on the 9th of April, 1865. We have forgiven. Today we send our children to the same schools, we attend the same churches, have extended the right hand of fellowship and would eat chuck together if we had the chance. But we have not forgotten. Would you have us forget? This monument and every Confederate and Union monument in the land answers in one universal chorus — No. We stand for something.

Back in the eighties, when our western frontiers were infested and dominated by a restless, reckless, desperate, lawless, wild and woolly element of daredevil cowboys and rustlers, on one of their carnival occasions at the end of a gun play one of the gang quit the trail and they laid him in the little village cemetery. His friends erected a little modest memorial over his grave. Strolling through the little cemetery, and coming to the plain marble slab, I found this simple inscription: “Bill Boone,” and underneath this unique epitaph, “Bill always done his derndest.” Catching the inspiration of the thought that brought out that inscription I pulled off my hat to that epitaph, and my hat is off to it still.

H.C. Gill in middle age
Search the literature and classics of the world, could you find five words and group them that would give a higher or loftier encomium to human endeavor? If the drapery should be removed from that statue and there should be anything lacking to make it complete and I were called upon to supply it, I would say copy the epitaph in the little village cemetery, and write on that shaft “They always done their derndest.”

And now to this splendid band of women, the R.E. Lee Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, who have been so faithful and worked so hard, consistently, persistently and successfully to this end, and to every donor to the fund that has made this splendid memorial possible, on behalf of these veterans and on behalf of our fallen comrades, whose graves lie in the green bosom of every battlefield from the Rio Grande, and the Round Tops of Gettysburg, I sincerely, reverently and affectionately extend our thanks.

These veterans assembled here have all reached their three score years and ten and better, and in a few more years, at best, will be the lost generation. Their faces are turned toward the sunset of life, and as they move across the stage of action, with warped frames and halting gait, and whitening crowns and visions growing dim, you may catch the faint echo of their receding steps, as they enter upon their last campaign the thin gray line growing shorter and thinner and thinner and thinner as the years go by until they reach the border land and, as the rear guard of the heavy battalions straggle over the line, taps will be sounded, lights extinguished and the thin gray line will fade forever into a memory. The rear guard will cross over the river and mingling with the spirits of their comrades, who have gone on before, together they will lie down to rest under the shade of the trees, on “Fame’s eternal camping ground, the bivouac of the dead.”

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