Tuesday, October 26, 2010

McLean's Own Confederate General

Last Saturday I decided to explore the old graveyard at the Lewinsville Presbyterian Church when I was out running errands.  I had read about a grave of particular interest on the Historical Marker Database -- the cemetery is the final resting place of Confederate Brigadier General William Whann Mackall.  In 2009, the Laura Ratcliffe Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy ("UDC") installed a commemorative marker in front of the grave.  General Mackall is buried next to his wife, Aminta, who was the sister of Confederate General Moxley Sorrell.  General Sorrell served as General James Longstreet's chief of staff during the war.

William W. Mackall's gravestone and marker.  The gravestone notes: "Brave. Gentle. Modest. Distinguished in the Florida and Mexican Wars and in the War Between the States."  The U.S. flag must in commemoration of Mackall's earlier Federal service!

UDC marker at the Mackall burial plot.  For text of marker and more information, see the Historical Marker Database entry.

Mackall was born in Georgetown, D.C. on January 13, 1817 and grew up in Cecil County, Maryland.  His father eventually moved to Fairfax County in the 1840s and settled on an estate in Langley.  Mackall attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating eighth in his class in 1837.  Mackall's early duty included service in the war against the Seminole Indians in Florida.  During the Mexican War (1846-48), Mackall led a battery of horse artillery and earned brevet commissions as captain and major for his performance at Monterrey, Contreras, and Churubusco.  When the Civil War broke out, Mackall was serving as Assistant Adjutant General in the Department of the Pacific.  The War Department planned to make him lieutenant colonel, but Mackall, who was of Southern sympathies, resigned from the U.S. Army and headed to Richmond.
Brigadier General William W. Mackall (courtesy of findagrave.com)

General Joseph E. Johnston, one of the highest-ranking Confederate officers at the start of the war, was Mackall's long-time friend. Johnston exclaimed that he would give his right arm if the Confederate Army would send Mackall to him as major general. Instead, Mackall was commissioned a lieutenant colonel and assigned as chief of staff to General Albert Sydney Johnston in the Western Theater.  General P.G.T. Beauregard recommended that Mackall be promoted to major general, but the Confederate Government awarded him with a brigadier's commission and sent him to the staff of General Leonidas Polk.
"The Gun-Boat 'Carondelet' Running the Rebel Batteries at Island No. 10," Harper's Weekly, April 26, 1862 (courtesy of sonofthesouth.net)

In March 1862, Mackall replaced General John McCown as commander of the Confederate defenses at Island No. 10 on the Mississippi, which was the focus of an active Union military campaign.  At the start of April, Union ironclads overwhelmed the Confederate batteries, and the Federal Army under General John Pope was able to cut off the Confederate's escape route. On April 8, Mackall surrendered Island No. 10. He was sent to Fort Warren prison in Boston and was set free as part of a prisoner exchange in July 1862.  President Jefferson Davis never seems to have forgiven Mackall for the loss of Island No. 10, which was an obvious blow to the Confederacy early in the war.

Returning to service after his release, in December 1862 Mackall was made the temporary commander of the District of the Gulf until a replacement was found.  (The UDC marker makes much more of this service than appears merited.)  In April 1863, Mackall was sent back to the front to serve as chief of staff to stubborn and vindictive Braxton Bragg, commander of the Army of Tennessee.  (Interestingly enough, the UDC marker neglects to mention Bragg by name.)  Mackall helped to manage the infighting surrounding Bragg after the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, but even Mackall had seen enough. He tendered his resignation and soon took a brigade command under Joe Johnston in Enterprise, Mississippi.  This assignment gave the men plenty of time to complain about the object of their scorn, President Davis.

Johnston was made commander of the Army of Tennessee in late 1863 after the fall of Chattanooga.  Not surprisingly, he selected Mackall as his chief of staff.  The two served together throughout the Atlanta Campaign in 1864.  Davis replaced Johnston with General John B. Hood in July 1864.  Mackall would soon follow Johnston.  When Bragg was visiting Hood's headquarters, Mackall refused to shake his hand.  This prompted Hood to ask for Mackall's resignation.  Mackall willingly obliged and headed to Macon, Georgia, where he stayed at his brother-in-law's home.  Mackall sought new orders, but his requests went unheeded until he was placed in command of the Confederate post at Macon.  He and three other generals surrendered the city to Federals on April 20, 1865.

Following the Civil War, Mackall briefly lived in Baltimore, then spent the remainder of his days at the family estate in Langley, where he died on August 19, 1891.

No comments: