American Story: Burel's Boys


Burel's Boys

Burwell Boykin's sons were Christopher (1823-1905), Alexander (1825-...), Burwell Jr (1828-...), Jesse (1833-...), Solomon (1835-1918), Franklin (1836-...), and Henry Clark (1837-1928). All seven were born in the Mississippi Territory / Choctaw County, Alabama, and raised on the Boykin 'plantation' at Camp Springs. By the time of the 1850 Census, the three eldest were married with children of their own, but still living and working on the family farm for their father.

In 1860, the year of Burwell's sudden death at the hands of an angry slave, the prospect of war was already heavy in the air. In that year the old man's 'quiver-full of straight arrows' were aged 37, 35, 33, 27, 25, 24, and 22 years. Five of these men were to don the grey uniform of the Confederate Armies and go off to fight in the Civil War. Enlisting in 1862, 1863, and 1864, none of them were to return until war's end in 1865.

It is difficult now to comprehend the levels of 'patriotism' that defense of the 'Great Cause' aroused in the Southern States. The 1860 Federal Census reveals some 'reasons' for Alabamans at least. At that time the State's total population was 964,041. Of these, 526,271 were white (including 33,730 major slave holders), and 437,770 were black (including 435,050 slaves).

Modern minds can question whether the white population was convinced of the economic benefits of slavery or terrified of the social consequences of its abolition. But it is clear that the central issue of the Civil War for Alabamans was always about the high number of black slaves relative to free whites.

The turnout of white volunteers in Alabama was extraordinary. In 1861 it was calculated that there were 99,967 males aged between 18 and 45 years and therefore eligible for military service. In 1864 this figure was expanded to a possible 127,467 after boys and older men were deemed fit for military purposes. Of these potential recruits, an estimated 89,678 actually enlisted, or 90% of those considered eligible at the beginning of the war.

Alabamans in the Confederate Armies 1861-1864

Army of Northern Virginia (Lee)       20 Infantry Regiments      27,022
                                                         Smaller Units                     3,000
Armies of the West (Tennessee)     38 Infantry Regiments      39,406
                                                         Cavalry                            14,000
                                                         Smaller Units                     2,500
                                                         Artillery                              3,750
Total enlistments from Alabama                                               89,678

The first of 'Burel's Boys' to join up was Henry Clark. On 15 February 1862 he enlisted at Butler in Choctaw County as a Private in C Company, 40th Alabama Infantry. Shortly afterwards, Franklin followed him into E Company, 40th Alabama Infantry. 

Next to go was Alexander. On 16 April 1862 he enlisted as Private in Captain Marsh's B Company, 56th Alabama Cavalry (Partisan Rangers).

In April of 1863 Solomon enlisted at Mobile, Alabama, as Private in C Company, 38th Alabama Infantry. And in 1864 Christopher signed up to C Company in the 3rd Alabama Infantry Reserves.

The experience of all five Boykins was unlikely to have been pleasant.

The 40th Infantry Regiment (Clark and Frank Boykin) suffered severe losses at Vicksburg in Tennessee, New Hope in Georgia, and Bentonville in North Carolina. By the time of surrender at Yadkin River Bridge, depleted numbers had forced its 'consolidation' with the 19th and 46th regiments to make up just one exhausted and undermanned fighting unit.

Similarly, the 38th Infantry Regiment (Solomon Boykin) endured heavy losses at Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge in 1863, before taking part in the grueling '100 Day Battle' of fighting retreats through northwest Georgia in 1864. "Of the 830 men of the 38th Alabama which left Mobile in the spring of 1863, there were only 80 left" by the time of their surrender on 4 May 1865.

The 56th Cavalry Regiment - Partisan Rangers (Alexander Boykin) operated in north Mississippi  (General Ruggles), north Georgia ("It served on the flank of the army during the Dalton-Atlanta campaign, and it saw arduous duty"), and Tennessee (General Hood); "then it turned and harassed Union General Sherman" and "was in the trenches of Savannah". Initially made up of eleven companies with 600 mounted men, by the time of its surrender at Greensboro in the Carolinas on 26 April 1865, it could muster just 150 men.

After the surrender of the Southern States in 1865 came the gradual parole and return home of Confederate soldiers. It was obvious that there were huge gaps in their ranks. A Census in 1866 counted the names for Alabama.

   8,957 soldiers killed in battle
 13,534 who died of disease and wounds
   2,629 men disabled for life
 25,122 total casualties

It was a small miracle that all five of 'Burel's Boys' survived the conflict. We cannot be sure of their condition at the end, but it appears that in Alexander's case his health was affected. He died sometime around 1867 at the age of 40 or 41 years. Christopher seems to have lived long enough to apply for a CSA Pension in 1900. The three who had served the longest, (Clark, Frank, Solomon)  managed to have local and reasonably long lives. Frank was still alive and resident in Choctaw County according to the Federal Census in 1900. Solomon died in 1918, Clark in 1928, and both were buried at Camp Springs Cemetery in Choctaw County.

As we know from modern conflicts, a huge but hidden cost of war is the damage to the minds and emotions of those who survive. Many if not most servicemen return haunted by what they have seen and done. To these psychological wounds might be added the humiliation of defeat.

Let's not beat around the bush here. The Southern States were beaten. The penalty for this was the complete dismantling of the social order for which they had fought. Their suffering and sacrifice had accounted for nought. The slaves, 435,000 of them in Alabama, were now free.

For men who were not completely sane about Race when they left, and rendered much less stable by their wartime experience while they were away, re-adjustment to life in Postwar Alabama was never going to be easy. The option of refusing to accept the result, of devising revisionist measures to counteract the change, was one way to ease their inner distress. 


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