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1865 July 22: Confederate General Thompson’s Farewell Address to His Men

July 23, 2015

When Confederate General M. Jeff Thompson’s¹ men had assembled at Jacksonport, Arkansas, to be paroled, he mounted a barrel and spoke to them, part of which was printed in the July 22, 1865, issue of The Prescott Journal.

Be warned that the “N” word is used several times. The University of Wisconsin-River Falls  does not condone the use of this language but includes it as an accurate reflection of society during the Civil War.

A Speech Worth Reading.

General Jeff. Thomson [sic] made a speech to his soldiers at Jacksonport, Ark., upon surrendering them, which is reported in a St. Louis journal, and is very characteristic of the man.—There are some lively passages which are worth attention :

“Many of the 8,000 men I now see around me, very many of you, have been skulking for the last three years in the swamps, within a few miles of your homes—skulking duty—and during that time have not seen your own children.  I see many faces about me that have not been seen by mortal man for the last three years ;  and what have you been doing all that time ?  Why, you have been lying in the swamps until the moss has grown six inches long on your backs ;  and such men call themselves “chivalrous soldiers.”  A few weeks ago General Reynolds sent a flag of truce to my headquarters, and I sent out to gather up a respectable force to meet those officers, and not one of you responded.  A few days later, when Col. Davis and Capt. Bennett of General Dodge’s staff, bore dispatches to me from that General, I again attempted to call about me enough of you to make a respectable show, and bow many of these brave 8,000 men reported at my call ?  ONE SORE-EYED MAN WITH GREEN GOGGLES !  But you rally like brave and gallant men around Uncle Sam’s commissary stores, and I now hope you will make better citizens than you did soldiers.

*          *          *          *          *          *

“Those of you who had arms, with a very few exceptions, have left them at home, and those who had government horses have failed to report them here.  Now let me say to you, one and all, those of you who have retained your arms, as soon as you get home take them to the nearest military post and deliver them up, or burn them, or get rid of them in some manner, for as sure as there is a God in Heaven, if they are found in your houses, just so sure will your houses be burned to the ground ;  and I hope to God every one of you who keeps good arms or property of any kind in your houses will be hanged, and you will too.

“Now I want you to go home and work hard and take care of your families, work early and late, and get up at night and see if your crops are growing.  Above all things avoid political discussions.  If any man says NIGGER to you, swear that you never knew or saw one in your life.  We have talked about the niggers for forty years and have been out-talked, we have fought four years for the nigger and been d—d badly whipped, and now it is not “your put;” the Yankees have won the nigger, and will do what they please with him ;  and you have no say in the matter, if they want him they will take him, and if they *ay [sic: say] you must keep him you will have to do it and no mistake.  I tell you that you have no say in the matter, and you oughtn’t to have any.  Go home and stay there ;  don’t go anywhere but to mill ;  don’t go to church for the minister will put knots and mischief in your head, and get you into trouble.  Be good citizens, and then those of you who have been good, honest, and brave soldiers have nothing to fear, but I warn those of you who have been nothing but sneaking, cowardly jawhawkers, cut-throats and thieves, that a just retribution awaits you, and I hope to God that the Federal authorities will hang you whenever and wherever they find you, and they will do it sure.

*          *          *          *          *          *

Do not complain if you are not permitted to have a voice in elections and civil affairs.  You have forfeited all such rights, and it now becomes you to submit to such laws and regulations as the Federal authorities may deem proper to enact, and I believe and know that they will do the best they can for you, especially if yon show henseforth [sic] that you now desire to merit their confidence by a strict obedience to the laws where you may reside.  We are conquered, subjugated ;  we have no rights, but must accept such privileges and favors as the Government may see proper to bestow upon us.”

1.  Meriwether Jeff Thompson (1826-1876) was a brigadier general in the Missouri State Guard during the Civil War.  Before the Civil War he moved to St. Joseph, Missouri, where he supervised the construction of the western branch of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad, served as mayor of St. Joseph (1857–60), and presided over the ceremony inaugurating the first ride of the Pony Express on April 3, 1860. Thompson gained national attention in May, 1861, when he cut down the U.S. flag at the St. Joseph post office and threw it down to an angry crowd of southern sympathizers who shredded it to pieces. During the War, he commanded the First Military District of Missouri, which covered the swampy southeastern quarter of the state from St. Louis to the Mississippi River. Thompson’s battalion became known as the “Swamp Rats” for their exploits and he gained renown as the “Swamp Fox of the Confederacy.” Thompson agreed to surrender his command at Chalk Bluff, Arkansas on May 11, 1865, and agreed to have his men assemble at Wittsburg and Jacksonport, Arkansas to lay down their arms and receive their paroles. Thompson’s command was widely dispersed throughout northeast Arkansas, more for reasons of available forage than anything else. About a third of his men refused to surrender and went to Mexico.

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