Eight-tenths of a mile down a dead-end Arkansas gravel road, at that dead end, past two neglected old cattle guards and in the back pasture is not where you’d expect to find a hero, much less a monument to him and his men. But, alas! There he is, lying in all of his humble glory. There are no official monuments to this man, or to the men he led into combat, save this one, an upright white stone with a point at the top, which reads, simply:
“SAMUEL S. TAYLOR
27 ARK. INF.
SEPT 2 1839
APR 18 1920”
Yet, this simple slab of Columbus, Mississippi marble could tell so much to those who would care to listen. Those who would open their hearts to those echoes across time. If you’ll allow me to be corny and cliché for a moment, I’ve had the humble, yet proud, honor of conducting a number of grave marker dedications for a number of Confederate Veterans in my home region of Southwest Missouri. I say all this to say that I have a favorite saying that I give often: “Cemeteries are museums to those that are buried, there”. I know…I know…corny as all “get-out” but I hope, at least, one person develops the understanding that I have come to know: that these places, where most of our earthly remains will end up, hold key history (in our particular case, Southern History) if we simply care to look and listen.
As previously mentioned, my humble, yet very rewarding, attempts at preserving some semblance of Southern history takes place in Southwest Missouri. Here, it’s a little bit different than most places and presents its own unique challenges. Mainly, that through a mass exodus of Antebellum Missourians and a postwar influx of true Midwesterners (mostly Ohioans, Indianans and Illinoisans), these ties to the South have been buried, ignored and forgotten.
Facing these unique challenges (and the even more daunting challenges that we all currently face with the unrelenting, destructive assaults on our shared history and heritage)often has me looking for inspiration. And, like so many, I’m sure, that often has me looking back at where I tie into this story. And, why it matters…
That tie-in is about three hours southeast of me in the little “map dot” of Oxford, Arkansas (yes, arguably the “Oxford” where Jethro Bodine received his education). Oxford is in Northern Izard County which is in the Eastern part of the Arkansas Ozarks. That is where my dear, late maternal grandma’s family came from. And, in Oxford Cemetery, you’ll find my Great-Great-Great Grandfather George Washington Gibson awaiting Resurrection Morning. I think his genes got me into this mess of defending the long-forgotten Confederate dead and becoming an outcast in today’s society, even the so-called, “historical community”, due to my defense of their good names, their honor and their motivations. But…also like many…I wouldn’t have it any other way. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do something.
“G.W.”, as he’s come to be known in our family (in my attempt to make him seem like a close relative rather than a distant ancestor, of course), is my connection to the Tennessee-born Captain Taylor. “G.W.” was a Private in what eventually became Captain Taylor’s Company. They served together for three years of misery untold and seemed to have remained lifelong friends. They both lived and are buried within almost exactly ten miles from one another (Sam moving slightly over a county line sometime prior to 1880) and they both signed affidavits attesting to each other’s honorable service when Arkansas was finally able and willing to award Confederate pensions to those who qualified and were in need.
My forefathers (and, by extension, myself) seem to have benefited greatly from company-level officers who led from the front with courage and conviction and cared for their men. My Grandpa Archie’s captain was awarded the Silver Star for almost single-handedly taking out four German machine gun nests that were giving his men all that they could handle. According to other stories about him, he was selfless with his men and had a sense of forgiveness and humor. The kind of guy that you would lay down your life for.
Captain Taylor was no different. He, too, was “a very kind-hearted and popular officer among his men”[i] according to Historian Silas Turnbo, (who extensively documented the folk history of the pioneers of the early Ozarks and deserves further exploration, in his own right). During the war Mr. Turnbo was a private under Taylor’s command and affectionately mentions his commander multiple times throughout his History of the Twenty-Seventh Arkansas Confederate Infantry. Captain Taylor openly fraternized with the enlisted men and “was one of the leading souls in singing” during religious services including a massive revival that occurred at Camden, Arkansas in October of 1864.[ii] Most notably, as with any history of warfare, however, was the good Captain’s combat record. At the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, on the stormy morning of April 30th, 1864, Turnbo recorded that, during the intense fighting:
Almost every one of the color guard was hit. When our color bearer fell, the flag dropped into the mud and water. But it was down only an instant when the brave and fearless Captain Sam S. Taylor, of our company, snatched it up, and, stepping in front of our depleted line, waved it over his head and encouraged us to “hold steady, boys.” He seemed to defy the shower of deadly missiles that the Federals were sending into our shattered and diminishing ranks…On getting into the timber we took position behind logs and trees which afforded protection from the enemy’s deadly fire. Captain Taylor held the colors and carried them into the timber, and was there relieved of them by one of the men. Captain Taylor’s act in picking up the colors when he did under such a withering fire and encouraging us in that carnival of death was the bravest act I ever saw performed by an officer on the battlefield. I have thought of that noble man and that noble deed many times. [iii]
Americans in later wars would be awarded Silver Stars or Distinguished Service Crosses for such gallant behavior. After his death, Captain Taylor received a headstone furnished freely by the very government whose invasion he fought to defend his nascent republic from. Surely, that long-forgotten spirit of reconciliation stands for something (or, did, rather). And, sure, for those few care to who pick up Turnbo’s book, he’s been immortalized in a few sentences. During his lifetime, however, and unlike other Americans, save those of his own stripe, he received far less than he truly deserved: crushing military defeat followed by a harsh occupation complete with disenfranchisement and poverty. His life’s details are sketchy but typical of his kind, I’m sure, he no doubt met these challenges with the quiet, humble pride of a defeated people. Through what little details are known about his postwar life, he seems to have the very embodiment of the Post-bellum struggles of the Southern people. A lifelong farmer, by 1910 he had been appointed postmaster of his community which would’ve been a position of trust and dignity among his neighbors.[iv] But by the summer of 1913, he applied for a Confederate Pension which had recently been funded by the State of Arkansas. In order to qualify, the veteran (or, his widow) had to be disabled, have less than five-hundred dollars in real or personal property and make less than one hundred and fifty dollars a year from all sources of income.[v] To put it bluntly, adjusting for 2020 inflation, this was less than ten thousand dollars in personal property and less than four thousand dollars annual income.[vi]
This man, who had essentially led his county in three years of armed conflict, died practically penniless on April 18th, 1920. His family was so poor that he went without a headstone until 1939 when the United States Government gave him one and restored his dignity as an American Veteran. His story, one of a simple, common man showing leadership abilities and rising to the needs of the hour, in desperate times, is as American as “apple pie”. And yet, this current wave of Marxist iconoclasm wishes to completely destroy, not only everything Captain Taylor and others stood for, but the very idea that they even existed in the first place. Not to be cliché, yet again, but that won’t happen as long as we all do our part to keep alive the stories of our own “Captain Taylors”.
Maybe, it’s in the genes but I have a very deep attachment to Captain Taylor and his unsung legacy. For my money, he’s right up there with Patrick Cleburne and Bedford Forrest in my pantheon of Confederate heroes. I visit when I’m down seeing “G.W.” and those loose cattle guards have become legendary among those that have made the pilgrimage, with me. I guess this monument to this brave man, who encouraged, guided protected and led my ancestor through Hell-on-Earth, will have to do. Mirroring S.C. Turnbo, I, too, “have thought of that noble man and that noble deed many times”[vii]. You know, on second thought, maybe the dead-end of an old, forgotten dirt road is about as fitting as it possibly could be…
[i] History of the Twenty-Seventh Arkansas Confederate Infantry, by S. C. Turnbo and Desmond Walls. Allen, Arkansas Research, 1993, p. 95.
[ii] Ibid p. 116.
[iii] Ibid p. 105
[iv] “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRVD-9Z7V?cc=1727033&wc=QZZW-66Z%3A133642401%2C137083101%2C133870901%2C1589089168 : 24 June 2017), Arkansas > Fulton > Cleveland > ED 17 > image 14 of 16; citing NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
[v] “Arkansas Confederate Pensions, 1901-1929,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939J-TNSJ-NR?cc=1837922&wc=M617-P3N%3A164386501 : 2 December 2019), Taylor, James, L – Thomas, J, G > image 340 of 1352; Citing Arkansas State Auditor, History Commission, Little Rock.
[vi] “The Inflation Calculator”, Westegg, https://westegg.com/inflation/. Accessed July 8th ,2020.
[vii] History of the Twenty-Seventh Arkansas Confederate Infantry, by S. C. Turnbo and Desmond Walls. Allen, Arkansas Research, 1993, p. 105.