Thursday, September 29, 2022

Ole Miss Musings: "Oxford's Many Buried Treasures"

 
St. Peter’s Cemetery. Photo courtesy of John Cofield

What an appropriate time to write about some of Oxford’s greatest…the Fourth of July! Thanks to local historian, Starke Miller, who provided this writer with his abbreviated 1 hour and 15-minute tour of St. Peter’s (City) Cemetery, stories forgotten or never publicized are now being brought back to life. Walking through the cemetery is a trip through American history…right here in our backyard!
HottyToddy.com: Starke, let’s focus on seven outstanding citizens of Oxford for this piece. Where do we start?
Starke Miller: AB Longstreet, second Chancellor of Ole Miss (1849-56) who was from GA and the President of Emory prior to coming here. He was the uncle of Gen. James Longstreet of Civil War fame that included Gettysburg.
 
HottyToddy.com: The Longstreet name is synonymous with Oxford. (The Chancellor is buried in Section 1 of the Cemetery, SW quadrant.)What else can you highlight?
Starke Miller: He was also a pastor who had a very famous son in law…LQC Lamar. During the Great War, he sent bibles/tracts to the Confederate troops. He passed in 1870 at age 80 after late in life becoming President of USC (South Carolina).
 
HottyToddy.com: Wow! What a way to start this historical journey. Is there another Chancellor buried here who you would like to highlight?
Starke Miller: Alfred Hume was the most beloved Chancellor ever. Having served in the position on three different occasions, it was this Chancellor who spared Ole Miss from consolidating with MSU (MS A&M then) and being relocated to Jackson.
 
HottyToddy.com: I know a little about Chancellor Hume as his granddaughter was valedictorian of my HS class in Nashville.
Starke Miller: Hume was a Vanderbilt alum and was famous for the construction of many buildings on campus, his favorite being Fulton Chapel. His father was the dean of Nashville’s public education, and he was known as “Little Allie” as the Chancellor was about 5 feet three.Ole Miss was referred to as Hume’s Presbyterian University during
his tenure. He died on Christmas Day 1950.
 
HottyToddy.com: What a beginning! Can we pivot to Oxford history?
 
Starke Miller: (Walking only a few feet away from where the Chancellors are laid to rest) Here is the grave of Herman Wohleben, a blacksmith on South Lamar and German immigrant. Herman arrived in Oxford in 1857, just in time for the war.
 
HottyToddy.com: What is his claim to fame and fortune?
Starke Miller: While serving in the Confederacy’s First Calvary, Wohleben participated in a raid into Holly Springs where he confiscated hundreds and hundreds of Yankee $20 bills. Following the war, he purchased about half of the square.
 
HottyToddy.com: Sounds like a local version of Captain Butler of Clark Gable fame.
Starke Miller: He also set up his four son-in-laws in business after the war with his newfound wealth. Wounded at the Battle of Franklin, Wohleben also fought at Shiloh. There is one story that describes his loading down three mules with the sheaves of the twenties during the Holly Springs assault.
 
HottyToddy.com: Three mules for sister Sarah it wasn’t apparently. Where do we go next?
Starke Miller: Claudius Wistar Sears who taught at Ole Miss for 25 years after the war lost a leg in Nashville when a cannon ball went through his horse, Billy. He was devastated over the death of his horse moreso than his own injury. He had reached the rank of General at the time of the tragedy.
 
HottyToddy.com: I recall you telling me on our recent trip to Franklin
that Sears was a West Point grad.
Starke Miller: He was there at the same time as Sherman and Longstreet. He died in 1891 reaching the age of 74. 
 
HottyToddy.com: This is really starting to get quite interesting.
Starke Miller: Let’s shift gears to some Ole Miss history by visiting the gravesite of James P. Stockard. (We are now in Section 2 of the cemetery). Stockard along with James D. Martin had a famous dorm named in their honor.
 
HottyToddy.com: What prompted this?
Starke Miller: It was these two gentlemen along with their wives (both named Sarah) who provided the land that Ole Miss rests on today. They were engaged in land speculation and farming. Stockard died in 1860 at the very youthful age of 43. (Martin is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery in Holly Springs).
 
HottyToddy.com: Starke, how can this tour get much more fascinating?
Starke Miller: You’ve only barely heard the tip of the iceberg. Want to hear about Dr. Thomas Dudley Isom? He left this world in 1902 after having worked in the first general goods store on the now Oxford Square. It was in a log cabin. He actually named the town hoping that one day it would be home to a university similar to Oxford, England.
 
HottyToddy.com: What a visionary! What else can you tell us?
Starke Miller: Following the Battle of Shiloh, Isom was the lead surgeon of 9 at the University Hospital who tended to the wounded troops. He was a practicing physician in Oxford for many years. His daughter, Sarah McGee Isom, was the first UM female Professor and had a woman’s dorm named in her honor.
 
HottyToddy.com: This has been incredible, but surely there is one
lady, we can include in this interview.
Starke Miller: Maud Morrow Brown (1877-1968) was in the Ole Miss class of 1897 and served on the first yearbook staff. She was instrumental in dedicating the annual to the University Greys as her father was a Civil War vet. Her father R.O.B. Morrow who was from
Atlanta joined the Confederacy at age 14 in 1863.  
 
HottyToddy.com: This is an individual one could talk to for days and find out so much history.
 
Starke Miller: Speaking of history, Maud was a historian for Ole Miss and in 1940 published the history of the Greys which took her 12 years to author. She also wrote the history of First Presbyterian Church and the history of Lafayette County during the Civil War. An interesting story about her occurred during WWI when she was substitute teaching at Ole Miss. Upon arrival at her classroom, several male students were in tears. She asked why. They responded the war had just ended and they would be denied the opportunity to serve.

If this doesn’t wet your appetite about the history that is contained in our city cemetery, probably nothing will. Starke pointed out a grave dating back to the Revolutionary War; another from the War of 1812 and yet another to the Spanish-American War. He has two tours, the longer one consuming 2 and 1/2 hours. Anyone wanting to be overwhelmed with local history should email Starke at coach1159@aol.com. You’ll be glad you did. My head is still spinning from just round one.


Steve VassalloSteve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.
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