BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF
GENERAL JOHN SUMMERFIELD GRIFFITH.
In that galaxy of glorious stars, whose effulgence yet lights the memory of the Lost Cause though
its sun has forever set, none shines with a steadier glow than that consecrated to the name and fame of John
S. Griffith. Where paladins seemed to contend in generous emulation for the plaudits of fame, and
individual heroism was the daily rule, it would seem invidious to make distinctions. But we can accord all
the honors, that are so eminently his due, to this gifted son of Texas, without the disparagement of any one.
Unselfish in his characteristics; brave, though sagacious, as becomes a commander; patriotic in all his
impulses; had health been vouchsafed to him, a career of glory and usefulness would have crowned his
efforts with success. As it was, by his consummate address on the hardly-contested field of Oakland, and as
the central figure of the Holly Springs campaign, he gave ample evidence that he possessed, in a preeminent
degree, those lofty, necessary qualities that can only fit a man for command in battle. General
Griffith was more than a dashing cavalryman, for his analytical mind penetrated far beyond the immediate
shock of battle, and took in the salient features of the campaign as a whole. It was he who conceived that
master stroke of policy, and was the most efficient agent of its executionÂ—the Holly Springs Raid. He
saved the army of Pemberton, indubitably, by the movement; and, consequently, delayed the fall of
Vicksburg many months. On the field of Oakland, he performed for the same army duties, of scarce less
vital moment. But we anticipate. John S. Griffith was born in Montgomery county, Maryland, on the 17th
day of June, A. D. 1829. His father, Michael B. Griffith, was the son of Captain Henry Griffith, of the
Revolutionary army, and a lineal descendent of the historical Llewellenap Griffith, of Wales. To the
influence of his pious mother, who was a daughter of General Jeremiah, and Elizabeth Crabb, a beautiful,
cultured, and accomplished lady, whose energy, will, and fortitude were sufficient to surmount the many
obstacles and misfortunes that beset her path amid the vicissitudes of life, the subject of this sketch has ever
attributed whatever success, under Providence, he has achieved. His parents started in life in affluent
circumstances. But forced by some losses in his business (mercantile) Mr. Griffith removed to Jefferson
City, Missouri, in the year 1835; and from the latter place to Portland, Missouri, in 1837. Misfortune
attended all his efforts to improve the long series of losses, until, when reduced to the paltry capital of one
thousand dollars, he removed, April 15th, 1836, to San Augustine county, Texas, with a family of six
children, three of whom were girls.
In common with the pioneers of early Texas colonization, theirs was a lot of hardship and privation.
Flour cost twenty-five dollars per barrel, and bacon fifty cents per pound. In this situation of affairs, which
would have impaired the energies of a man more accustomed to the smiles of success, the father seemed for
a space to despond; but the heroic wife and mother rose superior to the occasion, and her high qualities of
energy and enduranceÂ—and above all, hope eternal, though its realization had been so often deferred, shone
with a noon-tide glow that promised to dispel the lowering clouds of adversity that hovered above the
devoted heads of her little ones. Such a mother! It is wonderful that her heroic son should now recall, with
moistened eye, her unequal struggle in that frontier home! Her example, though subserving its immediate
objects, had a result far more distant and lasting, for it molded in the nature of the boy the admirable
qualities that made John S. Griffith a leader of men. How true is the saying of the great Napoleon, that the
motherÂ’s qualities, good or bad, are always imparted to the son!
This struggle with adversity was accepted without a murmur by young John S., the second son, and,
doubtless, he there learned many practical lessons, which had much to do in forming the character of the
man. He received, chiefly, at home, the rudiments of an English education; and, in 1850, commenced
business as a clerk in a mercantile establishment. In the following year, he set up on his own account as a
merchant, operating wholly on borrowed capital. Thanks to his industry and economy, the business
prospered remarkably; and our young merchant, in December, 1857, was united in marriage to Miss Emily,
daughter of John J. and Mrs. Jane Simpson, of Nacogdoches county, Texas. His business affairs continuing
to prosper, he removed, in the year 1859, to Kaufman county, where he engaged in the raising of live stock
in connection with his mercantile pursuits.
At the sound of the first tocsin of war, in 1861, Capt. John S. Griffith was called to the command of a
volunteer company of cavalry raised at Rockwall, Texas. Captain Griffith tendered the services of his
company to Colonel E. Greer, whose regiment, the Third Texas Cavalry, however, was already full. So
ardent were the Rockwall boys, that their liberal Captain offered Colonel Greer to defray their expenses for
three months out of his own purse, if allowed to become attached to the regiment for that space. Why they
were not allowed to do so, and as many other companies as desired, must always remain a mysteryÂ–seeing
that Gen. Price was being driven out of Missouri by an overwhelming Federal force, and that General
McCulloch, with a few Arkansas militia, was awaiting the arrival of the only two regiments coming to his
assistance, the Third Texas Cavalry and Third Louisiana Infantry. Of course, Colonel Greer had no option
in the premises, as his authority extended no further than the organization and command of his own
regiment. But it is of interest to discover right here, at the inception of the contest, the commencement of
that fatal series of maladministration which contributed more to the wreck of the Confederate cause than the
armies of the invader. The battle of Oak Hills was won through a combination of fortuitous circumstances;
and the South relapsed into fancied security. Had we been beaten there, the result may have aroused the
Southern administrations to a sense of the magnitude of the struggle in which they were actors, or hastened
the final catastrophe; either of which conclusions was preferable to the protracted, often desultory, and
seemingly hopeless manner in which the war was waged on the part of the South.
But Captain Griffith had not long to wait; as soon as Colonel B. Warren Stone commenced the
organization of the gallant old Sixth Texas Cavalry, the Rockwall boys were incorporated in this regiment
as Company B. and was officered as follows:
John S. Griffith, Captain.
Amos Dye, First Lieutenant.
E. P. Chisholm, Second Lieutenant.
James Truett, Third Lieutenant.
F. M. Nixon, Orderly-Sergeant.
M. B. Cannon, Second Sergeant.
A. C. Richardson, Third Sergeant.
F. Chisum, Fourth Sergeant.
A. W. Hedges, First Corporal.
A. Cummins, Second Corporal.
B. L. Williams, Third Corporal.
John R. Briscoe, Fourth Corporal.
John O. Heath, Ensign.
Allen Anrick, Bugler.
Upon the organization of the regiment, Captain Griffith, who was already a popular favorite with his
comrades, was elected Lieutenant-Colonel. The regiment proceeded, as elsewhere stated in these pages, to
Arkansas, and reported for duty to General Ben McCulloch. The service here consisted of foraging,
scouting expeditions, picket duty, etc,: though the gallant Price and his immortal ": Old Guard; were
struggling under the Grizzly Bears against overwhelming odds. Had the Texans been consulted, they
would have sped to the assistance of their struggling Missouri allies. In December, 1861, Colonel McIntosh,
in command of a battalion, each from the Third and Sixth Texas Cavalry, the former commanded by
Lieutenant-Colonel W. P. Lane, and the latter by Lieutenant-Colonel J. S. Griffith, WhitfieldÂ’s (Texas)
Battalion, and YoungÂ’s Regiment, Eleventh Texas Cavalry, and a battalion of First Arkansas Cavalry,
marched to the relief of General Cooper, who was being driven back by superior forces of hostile Indians.
The enemy was encountered on the heights of Chustenahla, and routed (as elsewhere detailed). The
following letter from the gallant and heroic General W. P. Lane will be of interest:
MARSHALL, TEXAS, February 4, 1881.
VICTOR M. ROSE, ESQ.:
My Dear SirÂ—I delayed answering your letter, hoping to find some one more conversant with the
incidents of our fight at Chustenahlah than myself: but failing to find any one who would volunteer to do so,
I will endeavor to present my recollections of the campaign. On Christmas day, 1861, we moved from camp
to attack the Indians, who, we learned, were some ten miles distant. Our force consisted of battallions of
Third, Sixth and Eleventh Texas Cavalry, and Captain BennettÂ’s company, all under command of McIntosh.
My battalion being in advance, I detached Captain D. M. Short, with thirty men, to reconnoitre, and to drive
back a small party that the enemy had sent out to review us. Finally, Captain Short sent me word that the
Indians were posted on the hills in force, and were complacently awaiting our attack. Colonel McIntosh
then placed his force in the following order: Sixth Texas, Lieutenant-Colonel Griffith commanding, on the
right; Third Texas, Lieutenant-Colonel W. P. Lane commanding, in the center; the Eleventh Texas Cavalry,
Colonel Young commanding, together with BennettÂ’s company, on the left. He then ordered me, with the
Third, to charge the hill on horseback. The hill was very steep, and just possible for a horse to ascend. I
replied that I would do so with pleasure; and added, Â‘but if I do not carry the position?Â’ He replied, that, in
that event, he would dispatch the Sixth and Eleventh to my aid. I replied, Â‘All right, but if I do not carry the
position I will be at the bottom before the re-enforcements can arrive.Â’ I gave the order for the men to
dismount and tighten girths. I then informed the boys that when the command to charge was given, the
quicker we got among the Indians the fewer empty saddles we would have. We charged in good style,
carrying the hill, and throwing the Indians into confusion. At the same time, Colonel Griffith, on my right,
and without orders, led his battalion in a gallant charge, and the Eleventh, and Captain BennettÂ’s company,
simultaneously swept around the hill on the left, thus completing the discomfiture of the enemy. Our loss
was small; some eight or ten killed, and eighteen or twenty wounded. In my battalion, Lieutenant Durham
was mortally wounded, and Major G. W. Chilton slightly. The battle effectually broke up the Indians. We
took several hundred prisoners, horses, cattle, sheep, and other property, too numerous to mention.
WALTER P. LANE
When Colonel McIntosh placed the Sixth in position on the right of the line, his instructions to
Colonel Griffith were to await further orders. But Colonel Griffith, seeing the intrepid charge of Lane had
dislodged the Indians, who were retiring across a deep gulch to the right, very correctly decided that the
opportune moment had arrived for striking a decisive blow. Not a moment was to be lost; and, with saber in
the left and revolver in the right hand, he led his command in a dashing charge over a seemingly impassable
ravine, and spurred his horse up its almost precipitous banks, and was the first of the command to engage in
the desperate hand-to-hand encounter that ensued. Emptying his revolver, he borrowed another of one of his
captains, and continued the running fight until it was also emptied, when he had recourse to his saber.
During the melee, Colonel Griffith became separated from his men, and encountered an Indian who was
loading his rifle. The Colonel charged upon him, and the Indian recognizing the absence of fear in his
opponent, seized his gun as a club. It had been the intention of Griffith to run him through with his saber as
he passed him; but now decided to ride him down; and with that purpose reined his horse full upon him, but
the Indian agilely stepped aside, and aimed a tremenduous blow at his opponent, which knocked the plumed
hat of the Colonel to the ground. But simultaneously with the IndianÂ’s blow Griffith dealt him a terrible
stroke with his saber on the side of the head. Lieutenant Vance opportunely came up and dispatched the
Griffith now, after a hasty survey of the field, discovered that the enemy were re-forming their lines
upon an eminence in front; and that his own men were scattered, every one acting on his own hook. The
rally was sounded, and line of battle being formed, when Captain J. W. Throckmorton (since Governor of
Texas) rode up to the Colonel and informed him that Lieutenant Gabe Fitzhugh had fallen. Colonel Griffith
loved his brave young subaltern, and the announcement of his untimely death brought a tear to his eye.
Comrades! he exclaimed to the eager men, Fitzhugh has been killed, and there are his slayers! About
three hundred of the Indians now occupied the rocky eminence in front, and were fully prepared for the
threatened attack.Forward, my brave men! exclaimed the Colonel, as at their head he dashed up the steep,
and among the painted, howling savages, as trusty rifles and repeating pistols were dashing out lives on
every side. The men, animated by the ardor of their commander, and by the recklessness of his bearing,
fought as if the issue depended upon each individualÂ’s exertion. Driven from this position, it was only to
retire a short distance and take up another position; and thus four separate charges brought Griffith and his
gallant rangers into a hand-to-hand contest with the enemy.
At four oÂ’clock in the afternoon Griffith called in his weary men. They had been engaged incessantly
since morning, and were now six miles from the heights of Chustenahlah, where Colonel Lane had so
gallantly opened the ball. The enemy had had enough, and were in full retreat. In returning, Colonel
Griffith gathered up many wagons, teams, ponies, and other live stock, together with many negroes,
women and children, and arrived at camp about night fall. Colonel Griffith soon reported to Colonel McIntosh to
apologize for his disobedience of orders. Said Griffith: Colonel McIntosh, I felt so well assured that you
would have ordered me to do just what I did, had you been present, that I unhesitatingly assumed the
responsibility; and since the merit of the move has been tested by its success, I shall in my official report of
the engagement state that I moved in conformity to your direction. McIntosh replied that success was
vindication; and he further took occasion to compliment the gallantry of Griffith throughout the series of
actions. This compliment coming from a man absolutely a stranger to fear, was no idle frame work of
In the battle of battles, for it was a series of separate encounters, or Chustenahlah, Colonel Griffith
had his horse shot under him, his clothing was perforated by rifle balls, and a tuft of his whiskers shot away;
yet, Saladin-like, as if bearing a talismanic charm, he escaped unhurt, save the blow received with the
clubbed rifle, at the hands of the Indian.
At the reorganization of the regiment, near Corinth, in May 1862, Colonel Griffith, against the
solicitations of many friends, and, possibly, in violence to the promptings of a commendable ambition,
declined to become a candidate for the Colonelcy, and was re-elected to his former position of Lieutenant-
Colonel. Colonel Griffith took this decision in consequence of failing health, and the necessity of his
visiting home for a brief space; it being understood, at the time, that the Lieutenant-Colonel, or Major,
would be detailed to return to Texas on recruiting service.
During General PriceÂ’s retreat from Abbyville, the Federal General, Washburn, at the head of a
considerable force, undertook to intercept the retreat, by marching upon the rear of the Confederate
position, and threatened the trains and wounded of PriceÂ’s corps. Colonel Griffith commanded the Texas
Brigade at the time, and attacked Washburn on the field at Oakland, inflicting a heavy loss on him, and
driving him from the fieldÂ—(ride battle of Oakland). For the daring gallantry displayed on this occasion, he
was the recipient of complimentary letters from Generals Maury, Price, Jackson and others. The result of
the battle at Oakland gave General Price an open road to Grenada, which town he reached in safety, and his
weary men were soon seeking the respite from toil, vigilance, and privation, which they so much needed.
The campaign was now virtually concluded for the winter; and Colonels Broocks and Griffith often
conversed upon the most profitable employment that the cavalry could be assigned to. It was self-evident,
that, as matters now stood, they were only consuming the supplies that should be economized for the
infantry, which was less able to forage independently. They agreed that the Confederate cavalry, of the
Army of the West, should be massed," and moved into the enemyÂ’s lines, where they could repel all
smaller bodies, and escape any force too strong to encounter in battle. Thus was the system of heavy
cavalry-raiding first advocated. Colonel Griffith adopted this conclusion, and sought to apply it practically
to the existing situation of affairs. The Confederate army, beaten in battle, outnumbered by the enemy in
the ratio of five to one, poorly clad, poorly fed, pay in arrears, was discontented, not to say demoralized.
General U. S. Grant confronted them at the head of a force that was puissant; and the coming spring must
inevitably witness another contest against fearful odds, and the army of the West Tennessee again defeated,
driven into Vicksburg, where its doom would be but a question of time. Colonel Griffith became convinced
that of Grant's long line of communication, with his base of supplies at Memphis, the most vulnerable point
wasHolly Springs, at which place immense quantities of army stores had been collected, and a garrison of
about 2,500 men left to guard it. Griffith brooded over this subject, and reviewed it in every conceivable
light. A cavalry corps should be organized; the enemyÂ’s rear entered, and Holly Springs taken, and all the
supplies destroyed; then the railroad should be destroyed as far in the direction of Memphis as possible.
Surely this would draw Grant out of Mississippi, and give the Confederate authorities ample time to devise
some plan for the defense of the country, and to concentrate sufficient forces with which to execute it.
Becoming assured of the feasibility of his project, Colonel Griffith determined to broach the subject to the
Commanding General, Lieutenant-General J. C. Pemberton, although he had no acquaintance with him. To
this end, he drew up the following letter, which many of the field officers of the brigade also signed at his