Pvt. William Washington Durr


So. Cross


C.S.A. Private, Co. E, 13th Mississippi Infantry, 06/23/1861 - 12/11/1862



William Washington Durr (b. Feb. 7, 1844) was the third oldest child born to Emanuel Alexander Durr, Sr. (b. Nov. 26, 1806, Raleigh, Wake Co. NC) and Elizabeth Harlow Griffith (b. Jan. 17, 1822, Charleston, Colleton Co. SC). He along with his brothers and sisters (Thomas Jefferson Durr, b. Feb. 24, 1841; Emanuel Acass Durr, b. Feb. 7, 1844; Sarah Ann Matilda Durr, b. July 24, 1846; Emanuel Alexander Durr, Jr., b. June 11, 1849; Robert Durr, b. Nov. 25, 1851; Barbara Elizabeth Durr, b. July 27, 1852; Laura Clara Durr, b. May 21, 1853; James Bascomb Durr, b. Feb. 20, 1856; Ida Carry Durr, b. Feb. 28, 1862) were all born in Marion, Lauderdale County, Mississippi.

His mother, Elizabeth Harlow Griffith Durr, was the younger sister of Samuel Acass Griffith (b. 1805 in Colleton District, SC) and was therefore the aunt of Colonel John Griffith, Benjamin H. Griffith, Samuel Arthur Griffith, and M.E.R. Griffith. William Washington Durr no doubt played with his Griffith cousins who also lived nearby in Lauderdale County, MS prior to their departure to Sebastian County, AR sometime before 1860.

His CSA service records indicate that William Washington Durr enlisted at Alamutcha, Lauderale County, MS on June 23, 1861 as a Private in Captain P.H. Bozeman’s Company, Mississippi Volunteers for a period of 12 months. The first record indicates that he was 17 years old at the time of the actual muster-in roll taken at Union City, TN on July 4, 1861 (muster-in to date of May 15, 1861). The comment “traveling to place of rendezvous 339 miles” is on his service card listing him as a Private in (Old) Company A, 13th Reg’t Mississippi Volunteers. Another card states that he was enlisted by Captain Eckford at Union City, TN on June 13, 1861 as a Private in (Old) Company A, 13th Reg’t Mississippi Volunteers. This unit subsequently became (New) Co. E, 13th Regiment Mississippi Infantry during reorganization ca. April 26, 1862.

With the exception of a single document indicating that he was admitted to the General Hospital at Orange Court House, VA on Mar. 25, 1862, Pvt. Durr was apparently continuously present during his service in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. His CSA service records indicate that he was indeed present at the following battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia as described below.

His first battle was at First Manassas on July 21, 1861 when the 13th Mississippi Infantry was within the 6th Brigade (commanded by then Colonel Jubal A. Early) of the Confederate Army of the Potomac under overall command of General P.G.T. Beauregard. Then Colonel William Barksdale commanded the 13th Mississippi Infantry at this time. Early’s Brigade arrived on the field of battle during the final Confederate attack on Chinn Ridge that afternoon, this after receiving orders from General Beauregard to march towards the sound of active fighting. Pvt. William Washington Durr and his comrades in the 13th Mississippi Infantry were baptized in battle that day along with thousands of Federal and Confederate soldiers. The 13th Mississippi Infantry joined the rest of Early’s Brigade and Elzey’s Brigade in sweeping the surprised Federals of the 2nd Vermont, 3rd Maine, 4th Maine, and 5th Maine Infantries off Chinn Ridge and across Young’s Branch as the Federal rout began in earnest. Pvt. Durr may have witnessed the triumphant General Beauregard riding among Early’s and Elzey’s Brigades and shouting “The day is ours! The day is ours!”

Pvt. Durr next saw action at the battle of Ball’s Bluff (Leesburg), VA on Oct. 21-22, 1861. At that time, Colonel William Barksdale’s 13th Mississippi Infantry was under the overall command of Colonel Nathan “Shanks” Evans, one of the Confederate heroes of First Manassas and helping to garrison the town of Leesburg, VA near the Potomac River. Evans’ command, consisting of the 13th Mississippi, 17th Mississippi, 18th Mississippi, 8th Virginia Infantries, 3 companies of Virginia cavalry, and 1st Company of Richmond Howitzers made up the 7th Brigade of General P.G.T. Beauregard’s I Corps of the Confederate Army of the Potomac. Colonel Evans cornered a Federal force under the overall command of General Charles P. Stone (consisting of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, 20th Massachusetts Infantry, 1st California Infantry, and 42nd New York Infantry) against the Potomac River near Leesburg. The trapped Federals had the steep cliffs of Ball’s Bluff against their backs as they faced the oncoming Confederates. Pvt. Durr and the 13th Mississippi Infantry had been left behind by Colonel Evans to protect his rear from the brigade of Federal Brigadier General Willis Gorman as the rest of his brigade assaulted the panicky Yankees during the afternoon of Oct. 21. Large numbers of the Federal soldiers were shot in the back, fell, or drowned in the swift Potomac as they tumbled down the steep slopes of Ball’s Bluff that day; a total of 869 Federals were killed/wounded/missing while Confederate casualties were only 155 k/w/m. For days afterwards, bodies of Federal soldiers were found floating downstream from Ball’s Bluff and disconcerting local fishermen, not to mention President Abraham Lincoln. The next day, on Oct. 22, 1862, Colonel Barksdale took his 13th Mississippi soldiers, including Pvt. W.W. Durr, and audaciously attacked Federal troops under Brigadier General Willis Gorman including the 34th New York, 2nd New York, and the 1st Minnesota infantries. Although outnumbered and suffering 7 total casualties, Barksdale’s 13th Mississippi succeeded in making General Stone withdraw Gorman’s forces back across the Potomac River.

Pvt. William Washington Durr next saw action at the battle of Seven Pines, VA on May 31-June 1, 1862. This time, the 13th Mississippi Infantry was in the brigade of Brigadier General Richard Griffith (no apparent relation to Pvt. Durr’s Lauderdale County, MS cousins) along with the 18th and 21st Mississippi Infantries and the 1st Company of McCarthy’s Richmond Howitzers. Griffith’s Brigade was within the Division of Brigadier General Lafayette McLaws under the command of Major General John B. Magruder. This time Pvt. Durr and the 13th Mississippi fought within the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under overall command of first General Joseph E. Johnston until wounded, then under soon-to-be-famous General Robert E. Lee. This battle was literally fought on the outskirts of the Confederate Capitol at Richmond, VA. General Magruder’s reserve forces, including Griffith’s Brigade and Colonel Barksdale’s 13th Mississippi Infantry faced Federal General Fitz John Porter and his V Corps across the Chickahominy River while most of the fighting took place south and east of their position at Seven Pines and Fair Oaks Station. Pvt. Durr and his fellow Mississippians saw relatively little action at this time.

As the famous Seven Days Battles began under the new leadership of General Robert E. Lee, Pvt. Durr and the 13th Mississippi Infantry as part of General Magruder’s reserve forces, were positioned outside of Richmond, VA near the town of Old Tavern. Here they remained until June 29, 1862 when they advanced east, parallel to the Richmond & York River Railroad lines. They advanced slowly, along with a naval siege cannon (32-pounder Brooke rifle cannon) mounted on a railroad flatcar and protected by a casemate of railroad iron; this locomotive-pushed heavy gun was nicknamed the “Land Merrimack” and outranged any Federal guns it faced that day. Magruder’s Division, along with Colonel Barksdale’s 13th Mississippi Infantry, came under Federal artillery fire near Orchard Station, about two miles from Savage Station, that morning -- Pvt. Durr was present when his Brigade commander, General Richard Griffith, was mortally wounded by a random Federal projective. Brigade command now devolved upon the 13th Mississippi’s Colonel William Barksdale; his brigade consisted of his old unit, the 13th Mississippi, and the 17th, 18th, and 21st Mississippi Regiments -- the nucleus of the soon to be famous Barksdale’s Brigade. That afternoon the battle of Savage’s Station began in earnest, Barksdale’s Mississippians against the Vermonters (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th Vermont Infantries) commanded by Brigadier General W.T.H. Brooks in thick woods south of the Williamsburg Road. Pvt. William W. Durr and his Mississippi comrades inflicted heavy casualties on their Yankee foes that afternoon -- 439 casualties for the Federal Vermont brigade -- in large part due to the Rebel use of “buck and ball” in the short-range fighting between trees and brush. After 4 hours of combat, the battle of Savage’s Station ended about 9:00 p.m. with total Federal casualties of 1,038 versus 473 total for Magruder’s Division.

Pvt. Durr and the 13th Mississippi Infantry were present during the climactic battle of Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862. The Federal artillery, cannons aligned wheel hub-to-hub by Colonel Henry J. Hunt atop Malvern Hill, were supported by brigades under the command of Brigadier Generals Morell, Couch, and Sykes which were deployed in the front of the guns. In addition, naval guns aboard the U.S.S. Mahaska and U.S.S. Galena in the nearby James River were available for even more firepower -- a total of about 250 cannons were available to the 80,000 man Yankee army that day. Major General George B. McClellan was aboard the Galena during the battle, not with his beleaguered soldiers. Encouraged by their frontal assault tactics at the battle of Gaines Mill earlier on June 27, General Robert E. Lee once again directed his army to attack uphill against the strong Federal position; this time without a victory for the price paid by his men. Pvt. William W. Durr and the 13th Mississippi were part of Colonel Barksdale’s assault against the entrenched Federals and lost approximately 1/3 of their brigade in the effort. Total Confederate casualties that day were 869 dead, 4,241 wounded, and 540 missing -- second only to Gaines Mill. As fog lifted the next morning, thousands of dead and wounded Rebels littered the slopes below the Federal position; as one Federal said, “...enough were alive and moving to give the field a singular crawling effect.” The Federal armies under General McClellan were then allowed to retreat in peace and the Battles of the Seven Days were over; total casualties for the 13th Mississippi Infantry during those battles were relatively light, 135 total -- Pvt. William W. Durr no doubt felt very fortunate to not be among them.

The 13th Mississippi Infantry was not so fortunate during their next major battle at Sharpsburg (Antietam), MD on Sept. 14, 1862. On this, the bloodiest single day in American military history, now Brigadier General William Barksdale had just marched his brigade, including Pvt. William W. Durr and the 13th Mississippi Infantry, for 14 hours from Harper’s Ferry, VA to Sharpsburg, MD. Only receiving a brief rest, Barksdale’s Brigade was directed to the sounds of fighting in the West Woods. The Federal 2nd Division under Major General Edwin V. Sumner and Brigadier General John Sedgwick were advancing that way in close-formation, without skirmishers or flankers; they were marching essentially “without their antennae out” and courting disaster. At about 9:00 a.m., the Confederate brigades of Generals Barksdale and Early crashed headlong into the left-flank of the shocked Yankees in the West Woods; by 9:30 a.m. the rout was on as the Confederate brigades of Manning, Semme, G.T. Anderson, and Ransom enveloped the poorly-led Federals. In approximately 20 minutes, a force of 5,000 Federal soldiers had over 2,200 killed and wounded. Barksdale’s Mississippians and Pvt. Durr pursued the fleeing Federals towards the Hagerstown Pike where they were soon stopped by Federal artillery fire. The 13th Mississippi Infantry suffered 31% casualties that day out of the 202 men engaged. Once again, Pvt. William Washington Durr survived unscathed but his time was running out.

The battle of Fredericksburg, VA on Dec. 11-13, 1862 proved to be Pvt. Durr’s last. On Dec. 11, Colonel J.W. Carter’s 13th Mississippi Infantry, as part of General William Barksdale’s Brigade, was in Major General Lafayette McLaw’s Division and Lieutenant-General James Longstreet’s First Corps. General Robert E. Lee had deployed McLaw’s Division along that portion of his line to guard against Federal crossings of the Rappahannock River opposite the streets of Fredericksburg proper. On Dec. 11, 1862 the brigade of General William Barksdale was on duty when Major General General Ambrose E. Burnside ordered his Federal soldiers to cross the Rappahannock River and establish a firm bridgehead for the crossing of his Army of the Potomac. The Federal regiments ordered to secure this foothold on Confederate soil were the 7th Michigan, 19th Massachusetts, and 20th Massachusetts infantries. General Barksdale deployed his forces, including the 13th Mississippi, in streets and houses to counter the Federal crossing; sharpshooters were stationed in basements and windows to snipe at the exposed Yankee bridge-builders as well. Private Durr and the 13th Mississippi Infantry took position along Caroline Street directly opposite the Federal pontoon-bridge building site near the intersection of Hawke Street with the Rappahannock River. This deployment took place sometime after 5:00 a.m. and put the 13th Mississippi Infantry under heavy Federal artillery fire until about 4:00 p.m. It is thought that Pvt. William Washington Durr may have been killed sometime during this artillery barrage from Federal batteries across the Rappahannock since his CSA records do not indicate he was one of the sharpshooters sent from the 13th Mississippi to hamper the actual Federal crossing. It is also possible that he was killed after 4:00 p.m. when Colonel Carter deployed the 13th Mississippi against the Yankee forces in street-to-street fighting that ranged up and down Princess Anne Street until 6:00 p.m. -- his records are not clear. The final notation on Pvt. Durr’s CSA service records reads, “A true patriot and a brave and uncomplaining soldier”.

The burial site of Pvt. William Washington Durr, Co. E, 13th Mississippi Infantry, CSA is not currently known to any of his relatives who helped write this account.

- by (1) Kenneth Elburn Byrd, Indianapolis, IN
(2) Frances Reid, Orange, TX
March 1, 1998

(1)

(2)




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