RIDDLED BY DEATH, INJURY AND CAPTURE, NOT ONE GREY RETURNED AFTER THE WAR
BY ERROL CASTENS
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – When the Sons of Confederate Veterans remember Confederate dead on Sunday in Oxford, some of those honored will be the University Greys, one of several companies that University of Mississippi students joined to support the Confederacy.
These students were so excited by the prospect of war that they defied professors, their chancellor and even their president to prepare for it. In the end, they became one of the most devastated units of the Civil War.
According to Ole Miss professor of history emeritus Dr. David Sansing, the young men who made up the University Greys began military drills in February 1861 – often at the expense of classroom attendance – and shipped out to Corinth on May 1 of that year, becoming Company A of the 11th Mississippi Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
Even Confederate President Jefferson Davis opposed the formation of such student militias.
"Sending young boys off to war, Davis said, was like grinding the seed corn of the republic,’" Sansing wrote in "The University of Mississippi: A Sesquicentennial History."
The boy soldiers soon tasted the reality of war at the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas). Within two years they had fought at Sevenpines, Gaines’ Mill, Fraser’s Farm, Malvern Hill, Second Manassas (Bull Run) and Sharpsburg (Antietam).
Source: University of Mississippi
It was at Gettysburg that Company A had its most fateful encounter. Under Gen. James Longstreet, the nephew of the university’s second president, 31 of them charged a supposedly collapsing Union line, only to be riddled by artillery fire.
Gettysburg National Military Park’s narrative about the University Greys quotes contemporary sources calling them "impulsive and undisciplined" but exceptionally brave.
"The new soldiers were slow to follow military discipline but were always ready to be in the front’ of a battle," the narrative states. Both impulse and courage played a role in their fate.
"Of the 394
Sansing, quoting a Union general who witnessed the carnage, wrote, "The death angel alone could produce such a field."
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