John William Jones: The “Fighting Parson” Remembers The War

The Confederate Monument at the Louisa County Courthouse. Photo via waymarking.com

Emerging Civil War welcomes guest author Christopher Martin.

Events of recent years have drawn attention to the many Confederate monuments across the county. Immense debate and controversy surrounds many of them, with many people curious of the memory of the Civil War that these monuments were meant to dedicate. Interestingly, newspapers and archives offer a vivid picture of at least one episode of the commemoration of one such memorial, as well as the intent of those who dedicated it, and the interest of the community.

On August 17, 1905, between four and five thousand people, many of them Confederate veterans, gathered on the site of the future courthouse in Louisa County, Virginia, to attend the unveiling and dedication of the new Confederate Monument.[1]  The monument, which remains to this day, features a five foot tall bronze figure of a Confederate soldier at rest, set into a large, granite stone, and sitting atop six tiers of granite blocks. The inscription reads: “IN MEMORY OF THE COURAGE, PATRIOTISM AND DEVOTION OF THE CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS OF LOUISA COUNTY 1861 – 1865.” Though the war had ended more than forty years earlier, the size of the crowd attested to the continuing strong interest and pride of the local people in its Confederate background. However, many people may have also been attracted to the proceedings on account of its speaker: John William Jones, who newspapers called the “Fighting Parson.”

Jones was a skilled and popular orator and historian of the Confederacy. In his speech that day, Jones briefly outlined the larger campaigns and battles of the Army of Northern Virginia before detailing the history of the 13th Virginia (his own regiment) as well, including the names of officers and changes of command. He identified the 13th’s participation in J.E.B. Stuart’s occupation of the heights near Washington in the fall of 1861, and the speed with which they redeployed in full view of Federal soldiers: “Their shot and shell were beginning to fall unpleasantly near our train, when J.A. Walker, who then commanded our regiment, called out in his stentorian voice, ‘It’s all right, boys! The Foot Cavalry is mounted at last, and I meant to try out the speed of our iron horse.’ . . . This was the first time, so far as I know, that the epithet ‘Foot Cavalry’ was ever publicly applied to infantry, and I believe that this designation in which Jackson’s whole corps afterward rejoiced, originated with the 13th Virginia.”[2]Jones employed his knowledge to shed luster on the soldiers from Louisa County.

John William Jones as he appeared in 1874. Image from his book, Christ in the Camp

As the portly old  chaplain approached the half-way mark in his address, he followed the relatively dry, factual information on Louisa’s military history with a seemingly endless stream of tales that seem, today, somewhat incredible for their purpose of enshrining a specific kind of memory of the War. Jones told the story of Sergeant Trainum, the regiment’s color bearer during Jubal Early’s 1864 Valley Campaign. Trainum found himself surrounded by Federal soldiers during the Third Battle of Winchester, who demanded his surrender. He replied, “The Flag of the 13th can never be surrendered!”[3] According to Jones, Trainum tore the flag from its staff, wrapped it around himself, and began fighting the Federals with the flag staff. Jones stated they procured the flag from Trainum, but only after they had “hacked him with their sabres into insensibility and left him for dead on the field.”[4]

Later, Jones recalled his visit to the front lines during the siege of Petersburg, in February 1865. As he peered, apprehensively, through a port-hole in the breastworks, a sudden gust of wind took off his hat, and blew it into the space between enemy lines. He had just purchased the hat with his entire savings (over $250), and he morosely turned to begin soliciting his comrades for a spare hat. Just then, a young man, George Haner, “stepped up at said: ‘Chaplain, I’ll get your hat.'”[5] Jones strongly protested, and felt he succeeded in persuading Haney to let the hat alone. Nevertheless, Haner found the chaplain in a bomb shelter later on, and presented him with the hat. Jones asked him if the Federal troops shot at him: “Yes, they made it very lively for me,” said the brave fellow, as he held up his right arm . . . and showed me several bullet holes in his sleeve. . . . He added: “I reckon they would have gotten me anyway, for I was determined to persevere until I had secured the hat, and several of their sharpshooters had my range, but I called out: ‘Stop your foolishness, Yanks, I am doing no harm! I am trying to get the Chaplain’s hat.’ One of them replied: ‘Well, Jonny Reb, we will not shoot at you again if you will hurry and get the hat before the next relief comes.’ I did hurry, and here is your hat.”

Jones saved his most moving story for last, telling his audience of the Trice brothers. The  five of them, D.A. (called “Tap”), Robert, Monroe, Addison and John, served together in the Louisa Blues. Addison was discharged for a physical disability, but soon joined the 56th Virginia Infantry instead, and was wounded at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in 1861. He not only refused to go to the hospital, but he was even seen leading the charge on the enemy’s works, “using his musket as a crutch, and fell dead upon the works pierced by a dozen bullets.”[6]

Several months later, at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, Tap Trice could not locate his regiment (the 13th) after bringing prisoners to the rear, and so he instead approached an officer of the 56th, saying: “I can’t find my regiment and I want you to put me in the file that my brother Ad would occupy if he were here today.”[7] Tap got his wish, and was wounded five times but survived the battle.

Meanwhile, John Trice was also badly wounded at Gaines’ Mill, and both Robert and Monroe were killed. Through a mix-up of information, Mrs. Trice later received word that all five of her son’s had been killed. According to Jones, she dealt with the grief patriotically, saying: “They were noble boys, and all the world to me. I do not know how I can get along without them. But I rejoice that they fell at the post of duty, and my chief regret in losing my five boys is that I have not five more to put in their places to serve my country.”Jones’s injected a high degree of romanticism into his stories, to the point that they might test the limits of belief to modern readers.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway, therefore, is how strongly Jones felt about reinforcing Confederate patriotism, and perhaps also his audience’s appetite for it. Indeed, he insisted that “the story of what Louisa did during the War is incomplete without a narration of her women – God bless them – accomplished.”[8] Jones confessed he did not have the time to detail their contributions in full, but stressed the importance of their support: “They buckled on our armor and smiled through their tears, sent us to the front. They followed us with their prayers. They fed the hungry. They nursed the sick and wounded, encouraged the aged and weak, and drove the skulker to the front. . . . The daughters of the women of Louisa who served so faithfully during the War seem worthy of the noble lineage, and give evidence of it in this beautiful monument which they have erected in honor of our fallen heroes.”[9] Jones was careful to not just acknowledge the role of Southern women in the War, but also to describe them as an integral part of the enduring Confederate heritage.

Jones’s speech offers evidence not only of the enduring Confederate patriotism in the early 20th century, but also the romantic nature of the memories which Southerners preserved as part of their heritage. Indeed, Jones closed his speech with an appeal that his audience not only continue to preserve the Confederate heritage, but also be inspired by its memory: “I leave with these young people this last earnest word: Be worthy of your proud heritage of principle, and of glory, and while true to our common country, never forget the heroic deeds of your fathers, or the bright example of your mothers in those old days of ’61-’65!” The enduring pride in the Confederacy becomes easier to understand when we look at the example of its proponents like John William Jones, who helped to preserve and promote a romantic, patriotic memory of the Confederacy and commemorate its memorials.

To be continued with a biography of John William Jones…

Christopher Martin holds BA degrees in Theology and History from Christendom College, 2007; an MA in History from National University, 2012; and a PhD in History from CGU, 2018. He has taught History and Ideologies in Literature for House of Gold Academy and Our Lady of Joy Academy in Oceanside, California, since 2013. Dr. Martin’s research interests include the Lost Cause, the Federalists & Anti-Federalists, and the Impact of Wars and Depressions Upon the American Social Mind. He presents at conferences and currently lives in Alpine, California, with his wife and three sons.  

Sources:

[1] “A Triple Event in Old Louisa,” The Times Dispatch (Richmond, VA), August 18, 1905, page 1.

[2] John William Jones, “What Louisa did in the ‘War Between the States,’ Address by Dr. J. William Jones, August 17, 1905, Louisa, Virginia,” page 11, in “Additional Louisa County Items [manuscript], 1787-1905,” Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia.

[3] Jones, “What Louisa did,” page 14.

[4] Jones, “What Louisa did,” page 14

[5] Jones, “What Louisa did,” page 15.

[6] Jones, “What Louisa did,”  page 17

[7] Jones, “What Louisa did,” page 17.

[8] Jones, “What Louisa did,” Page 18.

[9] Jones, “What Louisa did,” Page 18.

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6 Responses to John William Jones: The “Fighting Parson” Remembers The War

  1. Robert Rainey says:

    Excellent insight into the Southern psyche of the time.

  2. Interesting post. Thanks for writing. Jones’s “Christ in the Camp” is a must read for those interested in Christianity during the war and how the South became the Bible Belt.

  3. Ted Romans says:

    John William Jones appears to be a very insightful interpreter of the Old South’s mental state after the end of the War. How would one characterize this man’s writings and views? Could he be seen as an advocate for a particular position? Could he be seen as a defender of a Cause and the millions who adhered to this point of view? Or could he be seen as a propagandist?

    • C Paul Martin says:

      Put simply, Jones was one of the ringleaders of the Lost Cause, both socially and historically. His social activities ranged from dedicating Confederate monuments to leading the charge to eliminate “Northern” histories of the War from Southern schools. Meanwhile, his activities as a historian did much to generate the material for future defenders of the South, such as Douglass Southall Freeman.

  4. Robert Rainey says:

    The victor always writes history, slanted to their views. Had Hitler won WW II, they would have portrayed themselves as being in the right. The majority of Southerners were fighting for, what they believed, as their constitutional right, as did our founding fathers. When the Declaration of Independence was presented to the congress, several states refused to sign on unless they were assured that should their people decide to leave the compact, they could do so.

    • Thomas Place says:

      I agree with Mr Rainey . Those who wish to tear down these monuments are no historians but radicals in their eir own confused cause .

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