Pulled Pork Turneth Away Wrath By Morgan Gates
History is perhaps the most aptly named subject, for what is it but a collection of stories His -stories and Her-stories all glued to together in a shimmering web of time and place. Some are heroic, others tragic, or romantic, or scary, or funny, but we all have stories. A few of us have stories that will long outlast us, but for most of us our stories will not long survive our demise. Occasionally those of us who like to dumpster dive the past come across one of these discarded gems. I came across a couple of good stories lately while researching the 46th Mississippi Infantry in which my great great grandfather served.
Private Abner James Wilkes served in the 46th Mississippi Infantry alongside F.P. Gates, my ancestor, although in a different company. He was from Blountsville a small community that is today, the town of Prentiss about 75 miles southeast of Vicksburg and about 35 miles from the community of my Great-great grandfather. Some times after the war he wrote a brief account of his wartime experiences. Entitled A Short History of My Life in The Late War Between the North and The South about 1957 it was transcribed. Abner Wilkes was a master of brevity apparently for the account of three years of war including almost every major campaign in the western theater only takes up about twenty typed, double spaced pages. There are however several adventures worth retelling here.
After the fall of Atlanta as the Southern army is moving north toward Tennessee rations are short, it seems they always were among the Confederate Army. Abner and his friend Kit decide to do a bit of foraging. They slipped away from camp one evening and soon located a young pig, killed it dressed it and started back to camp. Here we must pause in our narrative to explain a few nuances of the time and place of this instant. This young pig was not a wild animal but the property of a southern farmer. A valuable commodity destined to stock the famers larder, or be sold for cash to purchase necessities of life. Neither food nor hard currency were as easily come by in those days as they are now. Livestock theft was a serious offence, in fact the infamous Hatfield & McCoy feud was allegedly begun by an incident just such as this. Nor were these two men Sherman’s Bummers, who so liberally liberated the provisions and property of southern civilians during the war. These were southern boys, and they had just committed a serious breach of military regulations, exigencies of the day being what they may. They tried of course to move as carefully as possible back to camp, but stealth is not easily accomplished with 100 or so of pounds of fresh pork slung over your shoulder. Just as they made it back to camp they were caught red handed, literally since this was a fresh kill, by the Brigade Commander General C.W. Sears. Who shouts out “Halt you Johnnies and give account of yourselves” hearing out their story General Sears’ next words must have been both puzzling and terrifying. He told them to return to their camp but to appear at his tent that night at 9 p.m. at which time he intended to have them shot. Their sole consolation was that at least they would die with full bellies. The Confederate army at this time is desperately short of all the necessities of life so the two “dead men walking” eat their final meal on a plate of freshly peeled pine bark. Once properly satiated, the two men discover they still have a good bit of meat left and Wilkes has a bright Idea, he piles another bark plate high with fresh pulled pork, slips over to the General’s tent and sets the still steaming plate on Sear’s table, then quietly retreats to the shadows to watch. The old man turns to see the mouthwatering treat, and partakes with gusto, thus becoming an accessory after the fact. The appointed hour of execution comes and goes without event and Abner Wilkes and his partner in crime will live to fight another day. In his brief memoir, Wilkes sums up the event by stating “so my friends if you ever find yourself about to be shot, just find yourself some fat pork and all will be alright”! But where you might ask is justice for the poor farmer deprived of his property, well we will just write that one off as another sacrifice in the cause of the noble south!
Information for the above article was extracted from a document in the files of the Old Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg MS. The document is a typed copy of a hand-written manuscript written by Abner Wilkes who served in the 46th MS infantry during the Civil War and passed on to his heirs. It was typed in the format in which saw it around 1957, by Retired Rear Admiral Ivan E. Bass.