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Christmas Eve 1962: A plundering

few weeks ago, I wrote about the first Yankees who came on campus during the Civil War. It was just before Christmas 1862, when the Yankees made their way into “our little postage stamp of native soil.” Grant and Sherman had planned out a campaign through north Mississippi down to Jackson and then to Vicksburg from the east.

Vicksburg was the lynchpin that connected the western part of the Confederacy with a larger, eastern half of the Confederacy. The troops that held Vicksburg also controlled the Mississippi River and Grant wanted to capture the city for the Union forces. The federal forces held New Orleans and the river from there to the Gulf.

They also had control of the Mississippi River from Memphis northward. The capture of Vicksburg was very important to the success of the boys in blue.

While Grant had over 3,000 men in Oxford, Sherman had more than 30,000 stretching from College Hill back to the north near Wyatt on the Tallahatchie River. Confederate Gen. Earl Van Dorn knew that the supply line for the Yankees went up the Mississippi Central Railroad from Oxford and College Hill to the depot at Holly Springs.

With this combined force of nearly 34,000 men, it took a great deal of supplies for the troops to march on. An interruption of the supply line would cause Grant and Sherman to move back into Tennessee so they could be supplied from Columbus, Kentucky.

Van Dorn sent a group of cavalrymen on a raid to Holly Springs on Dec. 21, 1862. When the Rebels surprised the Yankees as they came into town, it became quite evident the supply line was about to be broken and Grant and Sherman would have an army that needs supplies to exist.

In past columns I have written how the two Union generals solved their problem of supplies by having their men go 15 miles on either side of the line of their march and plunder from the countryside whatever they needed.

I have also related in my columns that the Yankees would steal anything that wasn’t tied down. A good example happened that would attest to this fact at the Quarles home in the College Hill community.

Most of the men were off at war so the women were left to fend for themselves. Such a lady was Mrs. Quarles. She moved to be with her sister until the soldiers left her home at College Hill. When she returned home she found her home ransacked by the Yankees who had passed by. But one thing that was taken doesn’t seem to me to be something I would want to carry off.

Mrs. Quarles’ son, James Jones Quarles, was a graduate on the new state university at Oxford. He had been in the Class of 1851 and at the commencement he was presented diploma No. 1. The diploma, signed by Judge Augustus B. Longstreet on July 17, 1851, had been in a frame in her son’s old room. All that remained now was a torn narrow strip from the edge of the diploma stuck in the frame.

In 1927, more than 50 years after the Civil War, James F. Dooley, a member of the Lamar Rifles, advertised in a Chicago newspaper appealing for the return of any item taken by the invading Yankees. In response, he got a letter from a soldier that had been in Oxford.

The Yankee did not have Mr. Dooley’s cherished items but he did have the “Quarles Diploma” and he promptly mailed it back to Oxford.

The soldier related that while in camp near College Hill a great wind or hurricane blew through and his possessions were scattered everywhere.

When he picked up his items he found the diploma and decided to keep it. That’s a likely story and I do not believe his rendition of how he came to be in possession of the diploma, but he did return it even if it was 50 years earlier.

The diploma was given back to the university by the Quarles family and hung in the office of the chancellor for many years.

Jack Mayfield is an Oxford resident and historian. Contact him at jlmayfield@dixie-net.com.