TRAGEDY AT DUCK HILL STATION, COLLISION OF THE JAMES BROWN & THE A. M. WEST
By Norman L. Ezell, P. O. Box 186, Duck Hill, MS. 38925-0186 (September 1990)
Used with permission of the Author
In the early hours on the 19th of October of 1862 there occurred a tragic train wreck at Duck Hill, causing considerable loss of life to some Confederate troops. About 2:30 A. M. on a Sunday morning a speeding northbound train of the Mississippi Central Railroad, pulled by the engine A. M. West and a southbound train pulled by the engine James Brown met head-on at Duck Hill. Some thirty-four men lost their life. This was the first head-on wreck on the Mississippi Central and the South’s worse loss of life in a train accident to that time.
The story is related in the auto-biography by Reverend Daniel Thatcher Lake (1828-1891), an early Texas Methodist Minister, and a just-discharged Confederate soldier from Paterson’s Company, Whitfield’s Legion, who personally experienced the accident.
*After Price’s and Van Dorn’s defeat at Corinth, the sick and stores were removed to Lauderdale Springs, farther south. Here I met with Colonel Whitfield, who at my request, had me discharged from the hospital service. In order to reach my company, which was then camped at Holly Springs, I had to go by way of Meridian and Jackson, then up the Central Mississippi Railroad (Mississippi Central Railroad). While enroute to Holly Springs, I narrowly escaped being crushed to death in a railroad collision, near Duck Hill Station, south of Grenada. The coaches being crowded, I and Mr. Silvey of Red River County, had taken a seat on the platform between two passenger coaches. The train making a short stop at Canton, and without any thought of danger or accident, I proposed to go to the rear and get a seat in another car. When we vacated our position, two others took our places and were later killed in the accident. The up (north-bound) train was behind and was running at fearful rate to reach the station before the down (south-bound) train left. As we came around a considerable curve into straight road in full view of Duck Hill Station, there was a fearful crash, resulting in the destruction of two engines, several cars, and the death of thirty-two men. About forty others were wounded, bruised and mangled…some mortally, some seriously and others only slightly.
We remained at the wreck from 2:30 A.M. until 4:00 P.M. We buried the dead, mostly Arkansas and Texas volunteers, in one long pit grave, wide enough to lay the men crosswise…with only their blankets for coffins. I have been on the battlefield, seen men torn and mangled with ball and shell, but never have I seen such a heartrending scene as this. From that day to this, I have never felt safe on a railroad car.*
An article in The Memphis Daily Appeal of October 20, 1862, gave some more details. Some of the soldiers names and units were in error, however.
Peter Kirby was conductor on the down (southbound) train with eleven cars drawn by the engine James Brown. The up (northbound) train with twelve cars was pulled by the engine A. M. West, with a Mr. Shelton conductor. The southbound train had stopped at Duck Hill for a time and was traveling slowly as it began its trip south. As it reached a point about one-half mile south of the station, the speeding A. M. West rounded the long sweeping curve and its feeble lantern rushed at the plodding James Brown. The engineer of the southbound train saw the approaching train, quickly blasted the signal to stop, while reversing the large drive wheels, and leaped from the straining engine just before the impact. The engineer and the conductor of the northbound train also saw the impending crash and jumped from their engine.
Only one man on the south train was killed and a few others slightly injured. The engine was completely wrecked and the tender was driven into the car in its rear, which was destroyed, The damage to the balance of this train was comparatively slight.
The northbound train, however, fared much worse. Its engine penetrated the wreckage of the southern train and its tender was piled on top along with many track rails. Two flat cars that were behind the tender loaded with soldiers were completely demolished and many of the men killed instantly. The following baggage car and the first passenger car were piled on top of the wreckage. The balance of the train consisting of five passenger coaches, one sleeping car, and two platform cars were all, more or less, damages, but none of them left the track.
There were thirty-four or thirty-five killed, according to reports at the time, and forty to fifty injured, several quite seriously. The severely injured were taken to Canton, Mississippi, for medical attention, except one man who was carried to Grenada with injury to arm. It later became necessary to amputate the arm.
The two platform cars in front of the northbound train were crowded as were the platforms of all passenger coaches, with Rebel soldiers, who were on their way to various regiments, or were homebound, and were unable to get seats inside the coaches. Nearly all of these were killed or injured. One man was killed when he was thrown from a platform car in the rear of the train. None of the regular civilian passengers were killed or injured, except for slight bruises here and there.
Those verified as killed were:
ALSUP, Pvt. J. J.- Company B, 4th Missouri Infantry, 4th Regiment formed in April 1862, with men from Springfield, Greene County, Missouri, and surrounding area.
ANDERSON, Pvt. Augustus – Company D, 53rd Tennessee Infantry (from Giles County, Tennessee).
ARNOLD, Pvt. H. – 5th Missouri Cavalry. Formed in Lafayette County, Missouri, late spring of 1862.
BOWEN, Pvt. R. H. – 1st Missouri State Guard, Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Division. Formed in summer of 1861.
BUCK, William P. – Company H, 23rd Arkansas Infantry (from Arkadelphia, Clark County, Arkansas).
CLARKE, Pvt. W. A. – Pointe Coupee’ Louisiana Artillery Battery, Pointe Coupee’, West Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
CONGER, Cpl. Benjamin N. – Company G, Black Hawk (Carroll County) Rifles, 22nd Mississippi Infantry.
COYLE, (Coil), Pvt. A. J. – Company K, 19th (Dockery’s), Arkansas Infantry. Company K was formed in Columbia County, Arkansas.
FURR, Pvt. Silvester – Company N (?), 27th Texas Calvary.
KYLE, Pvt. George R. – Company C, 6th Texas Cavalry. He enlisted September 10, 1861, in Dallas, Texas.
LOTT, Pvt. Washington – 1st Missouri State Guard, 2nd Division.
McDONALD, Pvt. James – Company E, 1st Missouri Cavalry.
MEALOR, Pvt. Edward G. – Company D, 1st Arkansas Infantry Battalion.
MERRITT, Pvt. Samuel L. – Company H, 19th (Dockery’s) Arkansas Infantry. Company formed in Ouchita (now Nevada) County, Arkansas.
MORGAN, Pvt. D. S. – Captain Tweedy’s Company I, formed at Ozark, Franklin County, Arkansas.
MOSELEY, Pvt. John H. – Company H, 20th Arkansas Infantry. Company H formed at Warren, Bradley County, Arkansas.
NORMAN, Sgt. Asberry – Company F. 3rd Arkansas Cavalry. Company formed at Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas.
REYNOLDS, Pvt. William – Company C, 21st Arkansas Infantry. Company C formed at Clarksville, Johnson County, Arkansas.
ROGERS, Pvt. J. S. – Company K, 20th Arkansas Infantry. Company K formed in Lafayette County, Arkansas.
SPIVEY, Pvt. Joseph R. – Company G. 6th Texas Cavalry. He enlisted September 17, 1861, in Dallas, Texas.
THOMPSON, Pvt. J. H. – Company G, 15th (Josey’s) Arkansas Infantry. Company G formed at West Point, White County, Arkansas.
THOMPSON, Pvt. John M. – Company I, 3rd Arkansas Cavalry. Company I formed at Portland, Conway County, Arkansas.
TOWNSEND, Pvt. S. H. – Company A, 1st Arkansas Infantry Battalion.
THRAILKILL, Pvt. Clifford – From near French Camp, in Atalla County, Mississippi.
TRIGG, Cpl. Benjamin F. – Company D. 53rd Tennessee Infantry. The 53rd Regiment was formed at Fort Donelson, Tennessee during January, 1862. Company D formed in Giles County, Tennessee.
TRUSSELL, Pvt. Silas W. – Bledsoe’s Missouri Battery.
WELLS, Pvt. Robert – Company B, 25th Mississippi Infantry. Said to be from Holmes County, Mississippi.
WEST, Ewing – Teamster, CSA
Two white soldiers, three black men traveling with the soldiers, and the black fireman on one of the engines, were not identified and remain unknown.
One soldier listed as killed by the newspaper, was Thomas W. Youngblood from Company G, the 38th Mississippi Infantry, but his records later indicates that he was held in Camp Chase, Ohio, as a P. O. W. in 1864. This causes some uncertainly about the exact number killed…thirty-four, or thirty-five.
The men were wrapped in their blankets and laid into the prepared trench. The services were attended by hundreds of mourners. A prayer was offered, and as the grave was solemnly refilled, strangers sang a hymn for men they would never know.
A complete list of the wounded is not available, but some of the forty to fifty injured men are listed below. The names and units could not be further verified.
ABRAMS, W. H. – 4th Missouri Cavalry, seriously.
BARNES, J. W. – Company F, 3rd Texas, slightly.
BARNETT, R. L. – 3rd Texas Cavalry, seriously.
CARN, J. A. – 1st Arkansas, left arm off.
COOK, S. – Company A, 38th Mississippi, slightly.
FAULKNER, M. – Company A, 1st Arkansas, seriously.
GERARD, – 1st Texas Legion, slightly.
HARDIN, J. W. - 23rd Mississippi, slightly.
HENDERSON, J. P. – 3rd Arkansas Cavalry, arm fractured.
IVES, J. – 2nd Texas Regiment, seriously.
KELLY, W. – Company C, 21st Arkansas, seriously.
NOVAL, Lieut. – 1st Texas Legion, seriously.
PERRYMAN, – Company A, 37th Alabama, slightly.
POLK, W. H. – Company G, Alabama, seriously.
ROBERTS, W. – Company F, 1st Arkansas Battalion, slightly.
REYNOLDS, Wm. – 42nd Tennessee, shoulder dislocated.
SIMPSON, J. A. – 1st Arkansas Battalion, slight back injury.
STANLEY, J. M. – company F, 37th Alabama, slightly.
STEVENS, W. W. – 1st Arkansas Cavalry, shoulder dislocated.
TAGGETT, L. C. – Company F, 15th Arkansas, slightly.
TIDWELL, J. – Company K, 37th Alabama, slightly.
WALSER, – Company C, 35th Mississippi, slightly.
The train was under the military command of Col. Horace H. Miller of Vicksburg, who was with the 20th Mississippi Infantry Regiment. Immense praise was later bestowed on the medical personnel, officers and employees of railroads, the local doctors who were on the scene early, doctors from surrounding communities who rushed to assist, and the citizens of Duck Hill, for their invaluable assistance to the dying and injured men.
Superintendent Jones of the Memphis and Ohio Railroad happened to be in Grenada at the time, and promptly offered the use of one of his engines. Shortly thereafter a train from the Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad was accompanied to the scene by their Superintendent Livermore with offers of assistance. President Goodman of the Mississippi Central was likewise quick to respond coming personally to supervise and direct operations. Within thirty hours a temporary track had been laid around the wreck and the much needed road reopened to trains.
The Confederate soldiers killed in this tragic collision, as mentioned, were buried in a common grave in a beautiful grove of oak trees on the west side of what is now State Highway 404 just to the left after crossing over the railroad heading east (northerly direction). The old road passed about fifty yards west of the present highways junction in front of the old hotel, Lawrimore House, crossed the railroad, made a sharp turn along the north railroad R.O.W., then a sharp left back onto present site of State Highway 404. The grove of trees were on what is now the Duck Hill Industrial and the adjacent property along the left (west) side of that curve.
The one exception to the burial was that of Clifford Thrailkill of French Camp. He was seen and recognized by H. E. Hearn’s carriage driver. W. T. Daniels, Grand Secretary of the Mississippi Masonic Grand Lodge of F. and A. M. of M. took charge of his body and carried it to Grenada for burial the next day, October 20th.
For 127 years those valiant soldiers of a bygone day lay in an unmarked, and virtually unknown grave. In late 1989 efforts were begun to confirm positive identifications and to obtain headstones to mark their final rest. Research efforts and labor were performed by members of Stanford’s Mississippi Battery, a re-enactment group based upon the original Stanford’s unit which organized in Grenada, Mississippi, in 1861 and enlisted many members from the Duck Hill area. John E. Johnson of Jackson was the managing member of the group on this project. Through joint efforts, the soldiers names and units were verified, corrected and the headstones secured through the Veterans Administration. On Sunday July 28, 1990, a group from the Stanford’s Battery camped in Duck Hill and erected the headstones at the junction of State Highway 404 and the I.C.R.R. tracks. The positive location of the graves were not known, but the preponderance of evidence and information indicated the site to be near that selected for the memorial cemetery. The formal dedication was held in Duck Hill on Saturday September 8, 1990.
The train’s steam engine A. M. West was named for Absalom M. West, a Holmes County planter. The railroad town of West in Holmes County was named for him. In 1858 when the town was founded, he was then Superintendent of the Mississippi Central Railroad. He had been elected to the State legislature as a Whig in 1847, and afterwards to the State senate. He was opposed to secession, but after Mississippi left the Union, he was made Brigadier General of State troops, Quartermaster General, Paymaster General, and Commissary General. In 1864 he became president of the Mississippi Central Railroad. His great task was to rebuild the road after the war’s destructive years. In 1880 he was the National party nominee for vice president of the United States and the Anti-Monopoly Party in 1884. He had moved to Holly Springs after the war, where he died. It is not know for whom the other engine, the James Brown was named. Milton Brown was the founding President of the Mississippi Central & Tennessee Railroad in January, 1854.
During the work on the memorial cemetery in 1990, it was discovered that the bell from one of the engines had survived and remained in the Duck Hill community. The large bell has been in the family of Ben Franklin Alldred since the wreck. Mr. Alldread’s grandfather, Ben Bennett had acquired the bell soon after the wreck and it was placed in use by the family as a dinner bell on their farm. It thus served two generations. The bell is a bronze (brass and tin mixture) casting and marked ALLAIRE WORKS. It is 12 inches high with a 15.25 inch bell diameter, and weighs 80 pounds. Ben Alldread graciously loaned the bell for display at the Duck Hill Bank during the dedication of the memorial.
Duck Hill has been able to fulfil an obligation to these gallant men, who no longer lie in an unmarked grave. Their young lives were required by their country, not unlike many before and many since. A soldier can only ask that his life not be sacrificed in vain, nor that he be forgotten. Perhaps this has been achieved. We can ease no pain for the men, or fill any void for their grieving families, but we do honor their memory.
NATIONAL ARCHIVES, WASHINGTON, DC. CIVIL WAR COMPANY MUSTER ROLL
J. J. Alsup, Pvt. Co. B. 4th Reg’t. Missouri Infantry. He enlisted and was enrolled Feb. 11, 1862 by William Nicks, (one muster roll says Feb 6th), at West Plaines, Howell County, Missouri for a period of 12 months. One muster rolls says age 21, another says age 24, Nativity: Tennessee, Occupation: Farmer. He was sent to Camp Ingram, June 5, 1862. Engaged South Fork White River. Sent to Hospital at Enterprise, Miss. Killed by accident on R. R. on his return to his command. He was killed October 18, 1862 by the cars near Duck Hill. (Note article says accident occurred on October 19th).
The J. J. Alsup mentioned in this article was James J. Alsup, son of Joseph and Barbara Alsup of Benton Co, Tennessee and Stoddard Co, Missouri. James J. Alsup was married on September 3, 1857 in Benton Co, Tennessee to Elizabeth Cherry, (daughter of Robert Daniel Cherry and Manerva Brewer). James J. and his wife Elizabeth moved to Howell Co, Missouri with his parents. The parents later moved to Stoddard Co, MO, and remained the rest of their life. After her husband joined the war, Elizabeth and her children returned to Benton Co, TN. She appeared on the 1890 Civil War Widows pension roll of Benton Co. TN. James J. and Elizabeth had 3 children, Barbara Manerva Alsup, (August 18, 1858-March 18, 1928), Mary Jane, 1860, not found after 1860 census, and Joseph Bonley “Joe Teep” Alsup, (January 30, 1862-August 6, 1935). Barbara Manerva married (1) Henry Franklin Campbell, 1877, and George Allen DeBoun, 1889, both marriages in Stoddard Co, MO. Joe Teep married Maranda Arabella “Mary” Alsup, 1880 in Benton Co, TN. a daughter of Dr. Elijah Alsup and Catherine Buchanan.