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Ole Miss Musings: Local Historian Provides New Disclosures About What Happened In Oxford During 1862 and 1864

Starke Miller leading an Ole Miss at Shiloh group.

Just when you think the Ole Miss/Oxford history has been completely analyzed, something new surfaces. The colorful past of this campus is beyond description. We may never know and understand the complete story, however, we’re getting closer.
HottyToddy.com: Starke, there are 133 individuals named on the monument in the Confederate Cemetery on campus. Is this number even close to being complete?
Starke Miller: Starting around 1900, every written record indicated that over 700 soldiers (Confederate and Union) were actually buried on campus. This number has never been verified, however, I have been focusing on it now for several years.
HottyToddy.com: What were the circumstances surrounding the Union soldiers (estimated at 39) buried in the cemetery?
Starke Miller: In 1862 Union forces in and around Oxford were swelling to somewhere around 80,000 troops. Skirmishes were ongoing. These soldiers were in all likelihood killed, or died from illness, in 1862 and ordered by Grant buried in the far right corner of the cemetery.
HottyToddy.com: Are their remains still there?
Starke Miller: Their bodies were exhumed in 1866 and taken to the US National Cemetery at Corinth.
HottyToddy.com: How was Ole Miss ever designated as a primary hospital before Shiloh?
Starke Miller: In March of 1862, Union troops began arriving at Pittsburgh Landing on the Tennessee River near Corinth. Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus, anticipating a major battle, assigned Thomas Caskey to open a hospital near Corinth. He chose Oxford due to its location on the rail line and the 13 empty, available buildings on campus.
HottyToddy.com: When did sick or wounded Confederates begin arriving on campus?
Starke Miller: Sometime around March 15th (1862) some Confederate soldiers were sent here who were ill with Typhoid Fever. Starting in late March, about 50 per day were arriving from Corinth. Approximately 1,000 Confederates were already in the hospital prior to Shiloh igniting on April 6. Before the battle, only the Chapel and three dorms (all extinct)were utilized. Following the battle, all buildings had to be in operation.
HottyToddy.com: Returning to the cemetery, what records (if any)were maintained regarding burials there?
Starke Miller: Burials began sometime about March 30th with detailed records maintained. With the avalanche of the Battle of Shiloh, record keeping ends.
HottyToddy.com: Is it your belief that there are actually 700 soldiers interred at the cemetery?
Starke Miller: Here is what I do know. Sometime before 1939, Ole Miss historian, Maud M. Brown acquired a list of 70 names that were men who had died on one of twelve of the doctor’s wards. Those men no doubt were buried here. Another list preceded hers in 1924 when Alfred Hume found another list in The Lyceum with another 70 names. Fast forward to 1988 when another Mississippian began researching the National Archives’ service records, developing a list of 220 names.
HottyToddy.com: And to complicate matters more, did not you uncover a University Hospital Book at the National Archives recently?
Starke Miller: Yes I did. This manuscript contains just over 1,000 names that I am currently evaluating and comparing to the aforementioned lists.
HottyToddy.com: Also, did not the Geology Dept. do some investigation on its own?
Starke Miller: In 2002, the Geology Dept. utilized ground penetrating radar that identified 432 grave shafts. However, it is possible that a larger cavity exists directly under the monument that contains some more remains.
HottyToddy.com: Is it your understanding that the University is interested now in replacing the individual grave markers that were removed and subsequently lost some time in the late 1800’s.
Starke Miller: That is correct and I am currently assisting in this endeavor. It may take up to a year to complete this most complex task.
HottyToddy.com: This would be an incredible breakthrough for the history of that era to be finally reconciled to the extent possible.
Starke Miller: As of May 17, 1862, some 3,000 patients were processed through the University hospital. There were probably another one thousand that went through the hospital from May, 17, 1862 to the end of the War in 1865.  Those that died here were buried on campus with probably very few exceptions.
HottyToddy.com: Are there any University Greys here?
Starke Miller: Only one. Chester H. Cook who fought in Virginia and who lost a leg at Gaines Mill in 1862. He died in Oxford at 1865 at age 26 and was buried at the University Confederate Cemetery, perhaps because he was an orphan. Even though he was a member of the Greys, he was not a student.
HottyToddy.com: You mentioned a 1929 federal law that I was unaware.
Starke Miller: Confederate veterans were entitled to some benefits as US veterans and in addition to burial benefits as well which includes the Federal Govt. providing grave markers.
As Starke assists the University in this tremendous endeavor, the results will be of historical value to future generations, not to mention ours. The Chancellor is to be applauded as this 155-year mystery may be closer than ever to being solved as to those who sacrificed their lives for a cause they were willing to die for.

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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