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From Our Past XXII

Capt. Elijah F. Walker and the Civil War

Much has been recorded about the Civil War exploits of Capt. Frank B. Gurley but little has been said about the war experiences of his friend and long time Gurley citizen Captain Elijah Froman Walker. Born on a farm near High Bridge, Kentucky on May 9, 1843, Walker enjoyed an uneventful childhood in rural Kentucky. At the age of fourteen, in 1857, his father, James Buckner Walker, and mother, Lucy Alexander Walker, left their farm and moved to a homestead in the extreme southeast corner of Missouri in Mississippi County. This area of Missouri is called the “Bootheel”. The Walker homestead was located at a small hamlet called Belmont, southeast of Charleston, MO. Belmont is couriously located on the Mississippi River at a point where the boundaries of Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas converge and a area that was close to Mississippi River steamboat traffic. Their move was no doubt influenced by the abundant rich and fertile soil found in the upper Mississippi Delta.

From a print by artist: Stan Strickland
From a print by artist: Stan Strickland

Belmont was not a well known place other than there was a Confederate camp located near there and on November 7, 1861, General U. S. Grant landed Union troops above Belmont and attacked the Confederate Camp. After a small, but hard fought battle, Grant was forced to reboard his boats and go back to Cairo, IL. This was Grant's first Civil War engagement.

1857 and 1858 was a period of time where tensions between the North and South were beginning to escalate, and like most folks throughout the border states, Missouri citizens were forced to eventually take sides with either the United States Government or newly formed Confederate States of America. When war finally broke out in April 1861, most of Southeast Missouri and the Walker family threw their allegiance with the Southern cause.

The state of Missouri was in a precarious situation as it was a blend of the South and Middle West with admiration for the Confederacy and devotions to the Union. Missouri hung in the balance of both. Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson, a Democrat, had been elected in the fall of 1860 and was clearly sympathic to the Confederacy. To resist federal authority in the state, Governer Jackson formed a state milita called the Missouri State Guard. In early 1862, young Elijah Walker joined up and served for a brief time in this Guard, as a Sergeant, 1st Infantry Battalion, 1st Division.

The Missouri Home Guard was later disbanded and reorganized into other units. By August 1862, Lt. Col. William L. Jeffers was recruiting a regiment in Mississippi County for the Confederate Army. He quickly organized several companies for active service. On August 16, 1862, Elijah Walker enlisted as a private in Company E, 8th Missouri Calvary Battalion, 1st Division. CSA. By showing bravery in several earlier skirmishes, Walker was promoted 2nd Lieutenant on October 1, 1862, less than two months after enlisting. In the early days of the Civil War, it was common for Confederate units to elect many of their officers by the troops. It is not known whether Walker was elected by his comrades in Company E or appointed a battlefield commission by higher command. In the Civil War, junior grade officers had a very short life span so men in the field were promoted very quickly. In any event, he would survive the war and achieve the rank of Captain, a title he would be referred to for the rest of his life.

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1st Lt. Elijah F. Walker

The 8th Missouri Calvary Regiment,  formed on December 11, 1862, was commanded by Col. William L. Jeffers and was attached to General John. S. Marmaduke’s Brigade whose command was quite prominent in most of the battles and engagements fought throughout most of Missouri and Arkansas.  After 1862, First Lieutenant Elijah Walker spent all of of his service in Company E of the active 8th Missouri Calvary Regiment.  Unlike the colorful exploits and well documented activities of Captain Frank B. Gurley, Elijah Walker was one of thousands of young Confederate soldiers who simply did his duty and did not keep a daily diary of his specific war activities.  Both Walker and Gurley spent their service careers in the Confederate calvary and both shared similar experiences in battle tactics and hardships.  This is one of the reasons both were such good friends and business partners and both shared several enterprises in Gurley, Alabama.

A great deal of information is available about the Civil War experiences of Brig. General John S. Marmaduke's Brigade and his 8th Missouri Calvary. The map below shows the sites of several battles fought in Missouri with the 8th Missouri Calvary and Lt. Elijah Walker's Company E participated in many of these. As a calvary unit they were very mobile and moved to and from engagements quickly.

Battlefields of Missouri CWSAC Inventory
Battlefields of Missouri CWSAC Inventory

A little known fact about Missouri during the Civil War is the unusually large number of battles and engagements fought within the state. Although there were only a few considered as major battles, the inventory of engagements listed is slightly over 900. Many of these included calvary skirmishes of which the 8th Missouri Calvary Regiment were involved. Missouri also had a large number of guerrilla bands loyal to both the North and South who engaged in some of the most widespread and destructive guerrilla warfare in the Civil War. From these came the likes of renegade raider William C.Quantrill, and famous outlaw brothers Jesse and Frank James and Cole and Bob Younger.

Beside the traditional calvary missions of picketing, scouting, and raiding, the 8th Missouri Calvary was truly a fighting regiment that was trained to, and often did engage the enemy dismounted. The 8th Missouri primarily served as mounted infantry and acted as such on numerous occasions.

One of Lt. Elijah Walker's first engagements was a skirmish at Crooked Creek in Bollinger County, MO where he and his unit assisisted in the capture of two Union artillery pieces and a large quantity of small arms and ammunition. On September 11th, they helped capture the Federal outpost at Bloomfield. Young Elijah Walker got his first taste of war and luckily, Col. William Jeffers entire command escaped with very minimal casualities and losses to the regiment. By December 11th, the 8th Missouri had grown to ten companies and assigned to Marmaduke's Brigade.

During the course of the war, the 8th Missouri Calvary and Elijah Walker's E Company participated in General Marmaduke's two 1863 raids into Missouri and fought in many of the engagements in Arkansas in 1863 and 1864. In the fall of 1864, the 8th Missouri accompanied Major General Sterling Price's in his great raid through Missouri and proved itself to be a steady regiment that was reliable in battle. It led the charge into Hartville, Missouri, captured federal artillery at Bayou Fourche, Arkansas, brought on the battle of Jenkins Ferry, and at the large battle of Pilot Knob, suffered the highest loss of any regiment in Marmaduke's Brigade. Their inventory of battle engagements are too long to list but do include the more familiar sites as Cape Girardeau, MO, Taylor's Creek, AR, Little Rock, AR, Pine Bluff, AR, and Camden, AR. During the 1864 expedition into Missouri, the 8th fought in sixteen locations on sixteen different days. 1st Lt. Elijah Walker fought in most of them and miraculously he escaped these many engagements to survive the war without serious injury. John Sappington Marmaduke

In James E. McGhees book, Campaigning with Marmaduke, Narratives and Roster of the 8th Missouri Calvary Regiment, CSA, he included several passages from diaries written by several participants in the various battles and engagements of the 8th Missouri. Many are quite descriptive and give a brief account of daily events within the regiment. One such paragraph pretty well describes the every day events of war these young men endured. This skirmish took place at the battle at Elkin's Ferry, April 4, 1863.

"On the first morning after our halt, there was a thick drizzle of rain falling. A greater portion of the regiment was detailed as skirmishers. We moved on their pickets before daybreak and drove them (Yankees) back before breakfast. As we passed their fires, the scent of Lincoln coffee smelt so good that some of our boys halted long enough to fill their canteens. We seldom indulged in genuine coffee , only when we captured it from the enemy. On we go and we are thrown along the line and as all old soldiers know, we are not allowed to take any protection. John W-------- and I were thrown together and both of us took trees for protection. The Federal line was in plain view and not over three hundred yards in front, and in front of us was a full battery in full play and when her guns would turn loose, limbs and splinters would fly.

Battle of Elkin's Ferry

Not long had we been there loading and shooting when poor John caught a minie ball through his shoulders. I saw him as he fell but he arose at once to a sitting position. I told him to try to get to the rear. He got to his feet and tried to make the effort but fell full length on the ground.

Some of our infirmary boys carried him back and put him with the dead and wounded but he only lived a few hours. That evening, just before sundown, I helped to lay the noble Spartan side by side with several other soldiers from Company E. No martial cloaks or caskets were there so their worn gray blankets were their winding sheets. But little he'll reck if they let them sleep on, in the graves where loved comrades have laid them".

It was events like this and many others that young Lieutenant Elijah Walker faced throughout those war years. This battle cost the Confederates 1126 killed, wounded, and missing.

Soon after, the brigade was ordered to move south, to a spot in Louisiana on the Mississippi River. They were assigned a mission to capture a Union steamboat. At a place called Ditch Bayou, the brigade stopped and was confronted by twelve to fourteen transport boats loaded with Union soldiers and batteries. The Confederates numbered about two thousand men while the Federals had about three times that many. The 8th Missouri moved back across the bayou and destroyed the only bridge. They formed defensive lines behind some timber while on the other side the Federals lined up in an open cotton field covered with weeds. A rain storm commenced with thunder, lighting, and sheets of rain falling in torrents. A Confederate battery was planted near the bridge and the Federals attacked column after column through the muddy field. When the columns approached the bayou, the Rebels opened up with "a slaughter for a short time as seldom ever witnessed". Soon the Federals begin throwing pontoons over the bayou in an attempt to make a flanking movement around the Rebels. The Confederates were ordered to retreat and slowly fell back through Lake Village and on across Bayou Mason. The Union troops followed them as far as Lake Village then moved back to bury their dead, gathered their wounded, then returned to their boats. The Civil War was full of relatively smaller and unknown engagements like this and the hardships and loses in these skirmishes were as dreadful as many of the bigger and well-known battles.

The 8th Missouri Calvary Regiment continued to fight in numerous engagements in the western theater and sometime in late 1864, 1st Lt. Elijah F. Walker was promoted to Captain and took over command of Company E. Of the approximate 900 troopers that mustered into this regiment on December 11, 1862, only 149 of the original members remained until the end. Elijah Walker was one of them. Unlike many units, the 8th Missouri retained its unit integrity until the final surrender. The 8th Missouri Calvary Regiment was disbanded and paroled at Shreveport, Louisiana on June 7, 1865. Elijah Walker left the service and headed south to pick up the pieces and begin a new life. He was a grown man well beyond his age of twenty-two years.

It is not been documented where Elijah Walker went right after the Civil War nor is it known exactly when he passed through Gurley, Alabama. One document says he came through North Alabama during the war but the facts of this are not known.

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It is assumed he returned to his home in Mississippi County, MO to find his parents and plan for a new future. There is no recorded burial of his mother and father (James Buckner Walker) in Mississippi County Missouri so it is possible they stayed there for the next couple of years then moved elsewhere. It was first thought Elijah Walker moved to Gurley right after the war ended but we are now led to believe he moved here about 1870-71. Elijah became one of Gurley's leading citizens representing Madison County in the state of Alabama Legislature 1888-1889 and two years as County Commissioner. He died on January 13, 1907 at age 64 and is buried in the Gurley cemetery.