By Dr. Terry L. Jones
|One hundred and fifty years
ago, Louisiana's Confederates suffered from high
inflation, enemy attacks, jayhawker raids, and supply
shortages. Nonetheless, the wheels of government
continued to turn, and voters in northwest Louisiana
elected Gen. Henry Gray to Congress on October 17.
Born in South Carolina on January 19, 1816, Gray graduated from modern-day University of South Carolina and moved to Winston County, Miss., in the 1840s. There he practiced law, served several terms as district attorney, and was elected to one term in the state senate. Gray also became friends with future Confederate president Jefferson Davis. After losing a bid for Congress, Gray moved to Bienville Parish in 1851 and became one of North Louisiana's leading attorneys and a legislator.
When the Civil War began, Gray volunteered as a private in a Mississippi regiment, but his old friend Jefferson Davis persuaded him to return to Louisiana to organize a regiment. Gray did so, and his 28th Louisiana was mustered into service at Monroe on May 17, 1862, with him serving as colonel.
After spending several months in northeast Louisiana, Gray's regiment was ordered to Bayou Teche, where it became part of Gen. Alfred Mouton's brigade. While in South Louisiana during the spring of 1863, Gray captured the Union gunboat Diana on the Atchafalaya River, defended Fort Bisland from an enemy attack, and engaged in a fierce fight with the Yankees at Irish Bend. Gray reportedly received a painful wound in the latter battle, but the extent of the wound is not known.
Gray was cool headed and dependable in battle, but he didn't look like a fierce warrior. Staff officer Maj. Silas Grisamore claimed that Gray was neither large nor physically imposing. "When mounted on his famous big horse, Cesar," Grisamore wrote, "the 'boys' used to call him 'baby on a monument.'"
Grisamore also noted that Gray disliked uniforms and normally wore civilian clothing, even in battle. "He . . . always grumbled when he was required to make his appearance in full uniform. . . .It is well known to all his friends that if Col. Gray hated anything in this world worse than a Yankee it was a new suit of fashionable clothes."
Replacing Mouton as brigade commander, Gray helped win the Battle of Mansfield on April 8, 1864, by spearheading the attack that broke the Union lines. All three of his regimental commanders were killed, and Gray was one of the few officers to escape unhurt. When asked whether he was afraid he might be killed, Gray replied that his biggest fear was that the Yankees might shoot his beloved horse, Cesar.
Gray was promoted to brigadier general for his service in the Red River Campaign and took his brigade to south Arkansas to help defend that region. Shortly afterward, Gov. Henry Watkins Allen called for a special election to fill the 5th District's seat after the death of the incumbent.
It has been claimed that Gray was placed on the ballot without his knowledge, but that apparently is not true. On Sept. 27, Gray's aide Felix Poch\'e9 wrote in his diary, "Tonight Genl Gray proposed to send me to the other side of the [Ouachita] river and to busy myself with his candidacy. I willingly agreed. . . ."
Gray won the election by a vote of 1,078 to 233, and two weeks later bade his men farewell and traveled to Richmond, Va. He only served in Congress a few months before the war ended, but one observer wrote, "During his brief congressional service Gray opposed any sort of peace negotiation and voted in favor of every desperation measure proposed."
Returning to Louisiana, Gray was elected to one term in the state senate but then became something of a recluse. His only son had died during the war and his wife a few years later. Major Grisamore claimed the son's death "weighed heavy on the old man's mind and removed from him all the charms of life." Gray died at his daughter's Coushatta home on December 11, 1892, and was buried in the town's Springville Cemetery.
In an obituary, Grisamore wrote: "Gen. Gray was not famous for his expertness as a commander of troops but was brave and fearless as a lion. . . .He was social, kind, careful of his soldiers, attentive to their wants, and possessed of a keen, black eye that could dance when he got his anger aroused. . . .Louisiana has produced many great men, but few have possessed more of the elements of greatness than Henry Gray."
Dr. Terry L. Jones is a professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and has published six books on the American Civil War.