LOUISIANA IN THE CIVIL WAR
The goal of Civil War Louisiana is to provide an online resource of information and links to our great state's involvement in the war. Topics expected to be commonly covered are: Battles fought in Louisiana, battles that Louisianians participated in, unit histories, rosters, uniforms and equipment of Louisiana soldiers, personalities to include not only the leadership of the state and armies but the common soldier, flags and resources to research/read on the state's role in the war.
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Friday, June 29, 2012
Captain Alfred Clarke
Captain Alfred G. Clarke, CSA
My family has known little about my great grandfather, Alfred Clarke, other than that he was killed at Spanish Fort, Alabama, in one of the last battles of the Civil War – and that it was a disaster for his family. Recently, after visiting libraries and cemeteries in Louisiana, I have been able to fit some new data together with that contained in a small handful of family papers. Louisianians in the Western Confederacy, by Stuart Salling, added a rich context to our understanding of Alfred Clarke’s civil war service and death.
Alfred Clarke enlisted in Captain W. Barrow’s company of the 11th Louisiana Volunteer Infantry in 1861. At the time he was about 34 and living with his wife, Mary E. (Smith) Clarke, and children in Baton Rouge. He was one of 150 men selected to form Austin’s Battalion of Sharpshooters, in Adams’, later Gibson’s, Louisiana Brigade, and took part in the battles of Belmont, Shiloh and Farmington. In mid-1862 he was appointed Ordnance Sergeant. After taking part in the battles of Munfordville, Perryville, Murfreesboro, Jackson and Chickamauga, he was promoted to 2d Lieutenant in October 1863 and assigned to the 13th-20th Consolidated Regiment and fought with them at Missionary Ridge. In 1864 he was appointed Brigade Provost Marshall, promoted to 1st Lieutenant, and took part in battles at Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain, New Hope Church, Peach Tree Creek, Atlanta, Jonesboro, Franklin, Nashville, “and all the skirmishes of the Sherman Campaign, falling at last at Spanish Fort, the last engagement in which the Brigade participated,” according to a handwritten statement of Clarke’s military record by Captain John McGrath of the 13th Louisiana Infantry, which fits closely with official records.
The situation faced by the Louisiana Brigade and other Confederate troops at Spanish Fort, Alabama, at the end of March and early April 1865 was desperate, much like the fate of the Confederacy as a whole. Some 4,150 Confederates at Spanish Fort, Fort Huger, and nearby Blakely defended the port city of Mobile on the eastern side of Mobile Bay, while some 45,000 troops under Major General Edward R.S. Canby approached by land from the south and from the northeast. Brigadier General Randall L. Gibson commanded the units defending Spanish Fort, which consisted of artillery emplacements facing Mobile Bay, about 1,500 infantry, and some incomplete earthworks intended to defend against the Union approach by land. Alfred Clarke, commanding the Louisiana Brigade Provost Guard as Provost Marshall, was newly promoted to Captain and given additional duties as commandant of the Fort.
On April 8 the Union succeeded in silencing the Confederate batteries, using 90 artillery guns and fire from the Union fleet. A Union breakthrough on the northern flank of Spanish Fort caused Gibson to pull Louisiana regiments under Colonel Francis Campbell out of their positions facing east and to counterattack, which halted the breakthrough. Captain Alfred Clarke was reported killed, leading his men at the head of the counterattack. Under covering fire by skirmishers, most of the defenders of Spanish Fort were then able to evacuate, using a small path covered with planks and moss and hidden by high grasses, through the marsh to Fort Huger. From there some went to Blakely, and the rest, including the Louisiana Brigade, took boats to Mobile provided by the Confederate commander in Mobile, Major General Dabny Maury.
The next day, April 9, General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia. Six hours later, in the last major battle of the Civil War, Fort Blakely was overwhelmed by Union forces and the garrison was captured. Remaining Confederate forces under Maury withdrew from Mobile on April 12, allowing Union forces to enter without destroying the city.
On May 12, while his Louisiana Brigade was being paroled at Meridian, Mississippi, Brigadier General Randall Gibson wrote the following letter of condolence for Captain John McGrath to take to Alfred Clarke’s wife and family.
“I feel it is my duty to claim the privilege of expressing my deep sympathy with the family of Lieut. A. G. Clarke Provost Marshall of the Brigade who was killed while leading his command, in the most gallant manner, at Spanish Fort.
“I have no words which will adequately convey my sense of his worth as a soldier. He was indeed an extraordinary man. Who was more zealous? Who could have been more attentive? Who ever exhibited under hard trials more steady fortitude, more unflinching courage? What ever deterred him from performing promptly his whole duty and of exacting from his subordinates the most implicit obedience? In rain, in sunshine, in our prosperous days, in crushing disasters – he was ever the same brave, devoted, high-minded, prompt, soldier patriot. Would that there were more men like him in our unhappy land.
“Let us not forget Clarke. Let us tell his wife & children that we all admired & loved him.
“As his commanding officer, I can say he has left a rich legacy to his family – in the good services he rendered the Country -- & in his [word unclear] character as a soldier & a man. Please take this note to them.
“Yours very truly,
R.L. Gibson Brig Genl.”
Although Confederate sources, including my family, all understood that Alfred Clarke died during the battle at Spanish Fort, we now know from Union records that they found him seriously injured but alive when they captured the Fort. They shipped him to the U.S. Army General Hospital in New Orleans on April 11, where he died of his wounds on April 23. Like others from both sides who died in U.S. hospitals in New Orleans, Alfred Clarke was initially buried in Chalmette Cemetery. That cemetery includes him in a list of Confederate soldiers who were later disinterred and reburied in “other cemeteries in New Orleans.” It is possible, but I have not been able to confirm, that his remains were reburied at the Confederate Memorial in Greenwood Cemetery.
We know even less about what happened to his family. A letter from Alfred to his wife of January 1863 refers to her letter, which we do not have, reporting that she had to “skedaddle” out of Baton Rouge when the Yankees arrived there in 1862. By January 1865, when Alfred applied for leave to visit his family, they were living along the Amite River in Livingston Parish. We have no further information about Mary, or two of the children listed in the 1860 Census, Lilian L. and Alfred C., and it is possible that they did not survive the war or its aftermath. In the Census of 1870, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Clarke appears as a member of John McGrath’s household in Baton Rouge, age 12, “attending school.” My grandfather, Edwin Gilding Clarke, does not appear in the Census until 1880, where he (and not Lizzie) is listed as a member of John McGrath’s household and a “nephew,” age 18.
Edwin G. Clarke married Florine Grayson Chambliss, daughter of Confederate Captain William R. Chambliss, of Company D, 4th Louisiana Cavalry, in 1905. Their only child, Edwin Lee Clarke, must have inherited some of the military aptitude of his distinguished Civil War grandfathers. Graduating from West Point in 1938, like Alfred Clarke he became an infantry officer and was an expert marksman, participating in Army rifle teams before World War II, and spending the entire war away from his family. In a most unlikely coincidence with the duties of Alfred Clarke, as a Lieutenant Colonel, Edwin L. Clarke served as Provost Marshall of the XX Corps (of Patton’s 3rd Army) throughout the invasion of France and Germany, and received a Bronze Star and other decorations. Perhaps, as Brigadier General Gibson expressed in his condolence letter, Alfred Clarke really did leave a legacy to his family, and to his country.
Henry Lee Clarke, May 5, 2012