Monday, January 17, 2011

Military Monday: James Monroe Purser, Civil War Confederate Soldier

The first couple of episodes of PBS's new season of "American Experience" have focused on the Civil War (I'm watching the one on Robert E. Lee right now). That has me thinking of my own Civil War ancestors and how they contributed to both sides of that defining event in our country's history.

The soldier that fascinates me lately is one James Monroe Purser. Known as "Jim," he was born in Georgia on June 10, 1843, to Richard William Purser, of North Carolina, and Elizabeth Scott Bentley Purser, of Tallapoosa, Georgia. He had four brothers and one sister. When Jim was a child, his family moved to Alabama, where they farmed. His father died sometime between the 1850 and 1860 US censuses.

On February 4, 1862, at at Murphee's Crossroads in Blount County, Alabama, Jim enlisted in the Confederate army to fight the Union in the Civil War. His brothers, Richard and Moses, also enlisted and fought in the war. Jim was promoted from Private to 2nd Corporal in the 28th Alabama Infantry, Company B, but his service in the Confederate army wasn't without its trials and tribulations. As you can see in the army documents, below, Jim became ill within just a couple of months of enlisting, and ended up in the hospital at Shelby Springs, Alabama, for a time. Shortly after that, he somehow managed to lose his "gun and accoutrements" somewhere near Tupelo, Mississippi.  

Jim's most serious trial, however, came during a defining battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Chattanooga in Tennessee. From the end of September through October 1863, General Braxton Bragg’s focus was on cutting off supplies to the Union army. On October 17, Major General Ulysses S. Grant took over the Western armies and moved to reinforce Chattanooga and establish a new supply line for the Union. When Major General William Tecumseh Sherman arrived with his divisions in mid-November, the Union began its offensive at Chattanooga.
Battle of Chattanooga as reported in Harper's Weekly
On November 23 and November 24, Union forces captured Orchard Knob and Lookout Mountain. On November 25, Union soldiers assaulted and captured the Confederate position on Missionary Ridge. Thousands of men were captured or died on both sides during these three bloody days, but the Union army held Chattanooga, which became the supply and logistics base for Sherman’s 1864 Atlanta Campaign.

A scene at Rock Island, painted by fellow prisoner, John F. Gisch
Jim and his brother, Richard, were both captured during the Battle of Chattanooga at Missionary Ridge in November 1863. They were confined at Rock Island Prison, Illinois, on December 5, 1863.

Rock Island hadn't even been completed when it started taking in more than 5,000 Confederate prisoners that December.
The water supply and drainage were sub par, creating a sanitation problem; the temperature was well below zero degrees; and a smallpox epidemic sickened thousands and killed more than 600 within three months. During the Civil War, more than 12,000 men were imprisoned at Rock Island, and nearly 2,000 prisoners died there.

Both Jim and Richard Purser lived through their imprisonment, and were released in March 1865 as part of a P.O.W. exchange program with the Union army. All three Purser brothers who fought in the war lived for several decades after the war, raising families and, hopefully, enjoying their lives.

Inscription reads: "Beloved One, Farewell"
James Monroe Purser returned to Alabama and married Nancy Susan Hodge in 1866. They had eight children (including my great great grandmother, Francis Georgia Ann Purser), most of whom lived to adulthood. They moved to Texas sometime between 1870 and 1880, and Nancy died there in 1883. Jim married Sarah Jane Sykes in 1886 and had five more children with her. They moved from Texas to Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma) sometime after 1900, and Jim died in Non, Hughes County, Oklahoma on January 29, 1914, at the age of 70.

James Monroe Purser was buried at Non Cemetery in Non, Oklahoma.


  1. Thank you so much for all of this wonderful information. My husband is James Monroe Purser's great-grandson. I was researching his family history for our daughters and luckily your blog came up. I can not tell you how happy it makes me to find this information. Once again, thank you!

    Catherine Purser

  2. Hi Catherine. I'm so happy you found me! I have more documents, and am more than happy to share. Feel free to email me at I also called the Rock Island Prison museum to see if I could find more info there, but no luck. I'd love to find out more about him. Have you ever seen any pictures of him?

    I hope to hear from you again!

    Cheers, -wendy