Mary Ann Norris Welsh, who lives in Ocean Pines, Md., is interested in genealogy. In 1970, while checking birthdates in the family Bible during a reunion at a relative’s home in Eastover, S.C., she found a brief letter, in the form of a memoir, that her great grandfather Jordan Marion Norris (1834-1906) had written about his Civil War experience.
“Jerdan,” as his name was pronounced, enlisted in Company B, 48th Georgia, and was mustered into the Confederate army at Charleston, S.C., in May 1862, and served throughout the entire war. He identified his company commander as Capt. M.R. Hall. His regimental commanders were Col. William Gibson and Lt. Col. Ruben Carswell (information confirmed online at http://www.researchonline.net/gacw/unit99.htm).
Norris cited his involvement in the Seven Days battles around the Richmond area in June and July 1862, and “was taken sick during the fight and was not able to do any service for several weeks.”
Illness among soldiers was an all too common occurrence during the four-year conflict. He was “sent home on furlough” to recover and did not return to his unit until November. However, “My health was good [from that point on] to the end of the war.”
During that time, Norris stated he was engaged in a great many battles. He had the unnerving experience of having three men killed by his side, but “I was never touched by a Yankee bullet!” “Notwithstanding,” he added, “they have had many fair shots at me.”
Norris participated in key Civil War battles, including at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Manassas Gap and Petersburg. At Petersburg, a Lt. Joseph Marrel of Norris’ company was killed, and “I helped carry him from the battlefield after he was shot down and buried him.” He lamented Marrel’s loss, for he was “a brave soldier and a Christian gentleman.”
Norris witnessed that some men, when ordered to the front line during battles, instead went “to the doctors to be excused.” Although this ploy worked for some, for others the doctors “would curse them and say, ‘Go on [back to your unit], there is nothing the matter with you.’” Straggling and desertion by those who refused to fight were major problems for the armies.
Despite the “privations and hardships” soldiers endured, Norris said there were also many amusing things that occurred. While in winter quarters, “We would charge a Cake Wagon and then an Apple Wagon, and in a very short time there would be nothing left but the driver and the wagon.” This anecdote reflected the limited rations men had to endure, especially Southern troops, who often were on a meager diet, resulting from food shortages.
While on the march or engaging in battles, soldiers had little time to sleep, and when they did, conditions were often not conducive. Norris related, “As good a night’s rest as I got while in the war [was when] we marched all day in the rain with the ground covered with snow. When we stopped that night, I spread my blanket on an old brush heap and wrapped it around me with my cartridge box under my head.” The result was, “I slept well all night.”
Dead bodies strewn over a battlefield, while disturbing, also offered an opportunity for some. Norris wrote, “I have seen the battlefield literally covered with dead Yankees and not a vestige of clothing on them — they having been stripped by Negroes and our men.” He was proud to say, however, “I never touched a dead Yankee or wore any of their clothes.”
In a family photograph taken circa 1900, Jordan Norris stands ramrod straight, with white hair and mustache and a white beard that reaches to his chest (not atypical for the time). This photo and his brief memoir sparked an interest on the part of his great-granddaughter to learn more about him.
At the National Archives, Mary Ann Norris Welsh found a regimental history of the 48th Georgia, which expands her knowledge about her great grandfather’s unit. She gladly shares her ancestor’s experience, and his tales of the Civil War.
Bethany Beach resident Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War” (available at Bethany Beach Books or from www.tomryan-civilwar.com). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.