Member of the Year
- Jan 16, 2015
Edwin Howard McCaleb, Jr., the subject of this sketch, was born on April 28, 1843. His great-grandfather, William McCaleb, had served as a captain in the South Carolina militia during the Revolutionary War, and was a member of the Constitutional Convention.
E. Howard McCaleb, Jr., as he preferred to be known, entered the University of Mississippi in 1858 with the Class of 1862, and probably remained through late 1860 or early 1861, when he apparently transferred to Oakland College near Lorman, Mississippi. In July 1861, after he had left to join the army, Oakland College’s distinguished president, William L. Breckinridge, wrote a letter of recommendation on behalf of McCaleb, expressing hope that he would eventually return to the school to graduate. Unfortunately the war permanently altered the lives of many students, not to mention institutions of higher learning; Oakland College never reopened its doors.
On March 23, 1861, both McCaleb and his father were mustered in as privates in the “Claiborne Guards” from Claiborne County, which became Company H of the 12th Mississippi Infantry, and later Company K. McCaleb Sr., then 43 years old, remained in service until May 1862. His son fought on, being wounded in the arm at Sharpsburg (Antietam). Before the end of 1862, the younger McCaleb had been promoted to sergeant major, the regiment’s highest ranking non-commissioned officer. He assumed additional duties as acting adjutant beginning on April 1, 1863.
On the early evening of July 2, 1863, the 12th Mississippi moved forward into the Bliss farm orchard in support of the other three regiments of Brig. Gen. Carnot Posey’s brigade. Once darkness covered the field, the latter regiments were ordered back to their original positions behind Seminary Ridge, but the 12th Mississippi remained in place, being tasked with holding the Bliss house and barn, along with the rest of the advanced line between Long Lane to their left, and the skirmishers of Wright’s brigade to their right, which covered the front of Posey’s brigade.
Sergeant Major and Acting Adjutant McCaleb was likely in charge of the skirmish line that night, because he was credited with having captured 60 enemy soldiers without firing a shot. To achieve that number he may have mounted an offensive action to surround and disarm Federal skirmishers in his front, but others simply walked into captivity, not realizing the Bliss buildings were now under Confederate control. One documented case falls into the latter category. At nightfall four men of Company A, 14th Connecticut were ordered out to the picket line, but they unknowingly walked right past the line (unless those pickets had already been captured). Near the Bliss barn they were taken by surprise by men of the 12th Mississippi and relieved of their weapons. Sergeant Henry M. Cooley, Corporal William Jacobs, and Privates James W. French and John Geatley were escorted to the rear, to a holding area for Union prisoners. The 12th Mississippi must have been among the very few Confederate commands that came out ahead at Gettysburg, losing only 13 men in the battle.
On May 2, 1864, McCaleb was officially promoted to adjutant of the regiment and given the rank of first lieutenant, although he had been serving as adjutant for a full year. On August 21, 1864, he was seriously wounded in the back and lung by a minie ball at Weldon Railroad and taken prisoner. At City Point he was put aboard a federal transport that conveyed him to Lincoln hospital in Washington. From there he went to Old Capitol Prison and then to Fort Delaware. Upon being exchanged on March 1, 1865, McCaleb was described as being 5 foot 10 inches tall, with gray eyes, red hair and a fair complexion. Surprisingly his war was not yet over, as he was absorbed into a cavalry company tasked with escorting President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet to Georgia. He surrendered his command on May 21, 1865, reportedly among the last organized companies to surrender east of the Mississippi.
With $180 worth of English sovereigns and Mexican coin in his pocket, McCaleb bought four bales of cotton and sold them in New Orleans at 54 cents a pound, using the handsome profit to support himself while studying law. He was admitted to the bar in January 1866 and began a practice of law in state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Becoming active in politics, he was elected city attorney of New Orleans in 1878, and was involved in several high profile cases. McCaleb married Marie Idealie Wharton-Collens on February 24, 1866; at least seven children were born to them. His date of death could not be determined; he was still living when listed in a 1909 biography.
-National Year Book, by Sons of the American Revolution.
-Historical Catalogue of the University of Mississippi 1849-1909 (Nashville, Tennessee: Marshall & Bruce Company, 1910), p. 139.
-Compiled Service Records of Edwin Howard McCaleb, Jr. and E. H. McCaleb, Sr.
-New Orleans, Louisiana Picayune of June 1, 1902, in Southern Historical Society Papers, vol. 32, p. 335; https://civilwartalk.com/threads/vicksburg-sharpshooters.22762/#post-286786
-Henry S. Stevens, Souvenir of Excursion to Battlefields by Society of the Fourteenth Connecticut Regiment, 1893.
-Claiborne Guards (12th Mississippi), Southern Historical Society Papers, vol. 32, p. 335.
-Busey and Martin, Regimental Strength and Losses at Gettysburg.
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