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The Constantine Rea Historical Society

 

Con Rea Biography: The War Years

A Lauderdale County Web Exclusive
by Bill White

Constantine Rea
 

The War Years Begin

Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.  General George S. Patton

 

Constantine Rea once told a humorous story about having had some trouble crossing a local creek on his first trip to claim his seat in the legislature in 1856, soaking himself and his mount in the cold January waters of Okatibbe Creek. This story, in addition to the public record, fixes the time that Rea first reported to the state capitol to take his seat among the legislators. The incident would have occurred enroute to his first legislative session, from January of 1856 through March of the same year. Between that time and January of 1861 when Rea raised Company F, for the first time, the Mississippi legislature was in session no less than six times. These were tumultuous years. While serving in the legislature, Con Rea, either by his own design or simply by force of his normal personality, was busily making a name for himself.

He was also making friends, powerful and influential friends. Rea, as we know, was a gregarious and loquacious young man. Well liked among his peers, there can be no doubt that Rea had many friends in Jackson. Among them were three exceptional individuals who would make every effort to assist their friend, Rea, in his military career.

O. R. Singleton born in Kentucky, arrived in Canton, Mississippi in 1838, and set up his law practice. Shortly thereafter he was elected to state office and served in the Mississippi House of Representative and Senate. He served in the U. S. House of Representatives for 4 terms before the war, and after serving in the Confederate Congress, was elected to 6 additional terms in the U. S. House during reconstruction and after.

John Jones McCrae was the 21st governor of Mississippi, from 1854 to 1857. He also represented Mississippi in the United States Senate in 1851 and 1852, in the U.S. Congress for two pre-war sessions, and in the Confederate Congress during the War for Southern Independence. He had been preceded as Governor by John J. Pettus who would return to office from 1859-1863.


Former Governor John Jones McRae

Reuben Davis (1813-1890 was a physician who had found politics a more interesting pursuit, after completing his medical degree, he abandon his practice, and studied law. He later became a district attorney (in Aberdeen, Monroe County, Mississippi), a brigadier general of the militia, a supreme court justice, Colonel of the 2nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment during the Mexican War, a member of state legislature and national congress, and Brigadier General in the Confederate service. He was not related to the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, with whom he often disagreed about the prosecution of the War.


Mississippi Governor John Jones Pettus.

It is likely that these men along with Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus (1859-1863) were the source of much of Rea's information and support. That he moved in such high government circles is truly remarkable for the junior legislator from Lauderdale County.

Rea probably learned, perhaps from one or more of these gentlemen late in 1860 about a mission being organized by Governors Andrew B. Moore of Alabama and John J. Pettus of Mississippi to assist incumbent Florida Governor Madison S. Perry and Governor-elect John Milton, both ardent secessionist, in removing Federal forces from their strongholds in Florida.

Rea, always the patriot, had once said that he had "always had a penchant for a military life." and true to form, Rea rose to the occasion. Although, Governor Pettus had ordered only six militia units to the assembly point at Enterprise, Mississippi, seven would report. On learning of the expedition, Con Rea went immediately to Lauderdale County where he raised a company of militia. He also was able to persuade authorities at Marion to release to his company, weapons held by the state against the outbreak of the impending war. He convinced them that the Governor's order to assemble also applied to his militia company, the Lauderdale Rifles, and that the weapons were intended for them, which was, of course, far from the truth.

From the assembly point, Rea wrote Governor Pettus, informing him of his actions, that his Lauderdale Rifles had reported for duty there and, perhaps, exonerating the officials releasing the weapons. The Lauderdale Rifles were apparently "mustered-in" (or commissioned as an official militia unit) at Enterprise along with the other assembled companies and proceeded to Mobile. (For more information on the Pensacola Expedition, see the article "The Pensacola Expedition")

Upon their return from Pensacola, the Lauderdale Rifles and their duly elected Captain, Constantine Rea, were "mustered out" (decommissioned) of the militia and disbanded. Although the Lauderdale Rifles ceased to exist as a militia unit at this point in time, they would return, becoming a viable Confederate unit serving with distinction throughout the war. It was also not the end of Captain Rea's military career.  He was about to re-engineer his Captaincy in the Mississippi militia to a Captaincy in the Confederate Army.

The troops participating in the Pensacola Expedition arrived home on 6 February 1861. The unit having been disbanded, Rea began at once to work on his future military career.

Constantine Rea, following the Pensacola Expedition, began to lobby his government friends and acquaintances for an appointment to the Confederate Army. On 20 May 1961 Rea received his commission as a Captain in the Confederate infantry. He was ordered to report to Richmond, probably for training and assignment. On 1 June 1861 from Marion, Rea wrote to President Jefferson Davis thanking him personally for his appointment before leaving for Richmond.

Rea's first stop in Richmond would have been the offices of the Adjutant and Inspector General of the Confederacy, GEN Samuel Cooper. Cooper was an important figure for many reasons. He had attended the military academy at West Point and had served as Assistant Adjutant and Inspector General for the United States with the rank of Colonel. He resigned his commission on 7 March 1861 and was immediately made Adjutant and Inspector General of the Confederate forces. He was promoted to full General on 31 August 1861 as soon as the grade was created by the congress. He was the senior military officer of the Confederate army and reported directly to President Jefferson Davis. President Davis writing in The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, indicates that Sam Cooper was the first officer to resign a federal commission and enlist in the Confederacy. He was followed closely by such well know personages as GEN Albert S. Johnston, and GEN R. E. Lee. [Davis, 308]

Either GEN Cooper or a member of his immediate staff would have had a conversation with Rea regarding the needs of the army for officers of certain, what we might call today, career tracks in the grade of Captain. Apparently, it turned out that Con Rea's services were needed in the Ordnance Department. He would have trained for a short period of time, probably sitting side by side with another officer already skilled in the field, who would have demonstrated what was to be expected of Rea in his new assignment, before receiving a posting.


Spottswood Hotel,  Richmond, Virginia

It had just opened in April of 1861 a few months before Con Rea stayed there.  It also served as the Post Office of the Confederacy.  It burned on Christmas Day, 1870
.

While in Richmond, he lived at the new Spotswood Hotel. The hotel had open on 1 April 1861. It was located on the corner of 8th and Main streets in the city, not to far from the capitol building. According to the "Richmond Dispatch" of 1 April 1861, the hotel was "...just finished and elegantly furnished, [and] is now open for the accommodation of guests. The location is the best in the city and every effort will be made to please the patrons of the house."

In October of 1861 he received a visit from his son, Richard N. Rea who had joined the Confederate army at the age of 15 and had served with Company A of the 13th Mississippi Infantry Regiment. He had been wounded and discharged for his disability and was on his way home to Marion, Mississippi.

On 23 October 1861, Captain Rea was ordered to report to the Adjutant and Inspector General's Office, this time probably to receive his assignment and be posted to an installation or field unit.

The following month, on 5 November 1861, Con Rea received orders to report to MAJ George M. Clarke, Commanding Officer, Fort Smith, Arkansas for duty as Ordinance Officer in that installation. Fort Smith had, within the previous six months (23 April 1861) been recovered from Federal forces.



Old barracks and cannon at Fort Smith, Arksansas

Shortly thereafter on 30 November 1861, CPT Rea reported to COL James McIntosh, who was by this time Commanding the installation. Rea was assigned as Ordinance Officer and Chief of the Ordinance Department of Benjamin McCulloch's Division garrisoned at Fort Smith. In the terminology of the times he "is assigned to duty as the O.O. of the Div. [Division], and will regard it as his department at Ft. Smith, Ark." The phrase "regard it as his department" it is believed establishes him as the lead or Chief officer in the department.

Rea is mentioned in the record by Col D. H. Cooper as being present at Fort Smith in his new position as Ordinance Officer on 14 December 1861. Reports show that he, on 17 January 1862 continued in the position of Ordinance Officer, Western Division of Confederate Forces under BG Benjamin McCulloch.

BG McCulloch, Rea's commander, was a true Texas hero. He had been a contemporary of Davy Crockett and had known Crockett well. He served with distinction in the Mexican war and in 1849 joined the gold rush to California where he was elected Sheriff of Sacramento County in 1850. When the War for Southern Independence began, he was commissioned as a brigadier general. He was killed at the battle of Elkhorn Tavern (in northeastern Arkansas). Shot by a Federal marksman, he died immediately on the field, 7 March 1862.

On 9 May and 24 May, Rea signed official documents as Captain and Ordinance Officer, Fort Smith, Ark. (although he is not necessarily at Fort Smith during this period of time.) On or about 31 May 1862, according to William Pitt Chambers in his journal, CPT Rea arrived at Vicksburg with Company F, soon to be a member of the 6th Mississippi Battalion. The next official record of Rea is on 15 September 1862, when CPT Rea signs documents at Vicksburg in the following manner: "Capt. & C.S.Inf. late O.O. at Fort Smith. [emphasis added]" Perhaps the word "late" in his title is intended to communicate something to the officials at Fort Smith.

Just how Rea got from his position at Fort Smith to the front lines at Vicksburg is a unique and interesting story in itself and although it isn't part of the military record, it can be determined with some accuracy, from the letters of Con Rea.

Continue to Part 3,  A Tragic End.

Works Cited:

n addition to those works cited below, this article was developed with the research assistance of Mr. Ward Calhoun and The Constantine Rea Historical Society.  Much on Mr. Calhoun's own research and his publications as well as information provided by the Society have gone into this article.  To purchase Mr. Calhoun's publications, please contact the Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History for a list of his works.  Their website can be found at the following link:

The Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History

Baumgartner, Richard A., "William Pitt Chambers Blood and Sacrifice" The Civil War Journal of  a Confederate Soldier." Huntington: Blue Acorn Press, 1994.

Edmiston, Fred W., "Lauderdale, Mississippi's Empire County: Volume 1: The Early Years, 1830-1865." Meridian: Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History, Inc., 2005.

Davis, Jefferson, "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: Volume1"  New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1881.

United States Census Bureau: 1860 U.S. Federal Census.

Content Copyright 2008 W.L.White and The Constantine Rea Historical Society.

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