The Civil War claimed more Americans than any other conflict involving the United States. This is the story of how James Bailey, a staunch Confederate once in armed revolt against the United States, found himself in Saratoga County.
At about 5 am on August 10, 1861, an attack ordered by United States General Nathaniel Lyon was launched against the Confederates at Wilson’s Creek, near Springfield, Missouri. The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, in which about 5,400 United States troops faced about 12,00 Confederates, was the first major conflict west of the Mississippi River.
Although the Confederates counterattacked three times failing to break through, General Lyon was killed, the first of 35 Union generals killed during the war. By 11 am, the new commanding general, Samuel Sturgis, realized that his men were exhausted and his ammunition low, ordered the United States soldiers to retreat to Springfield. The Confederates did not pursue them.
Joseph M. Bailey was born in Eastern Tennessee in 1841. He moved to Arkansas near the Missouri border. He wanted to go to college, but instead joined Boone County, Arkansas’ Joe Wright Guards and was a witness to the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. His unit never actually got into the fight and he was envious of those who did. At the end of that summer the Joe Wright Guards disbanded and Bailey went on to enlist as a sergeant in the Sixteenth Arkansas Infantry. He served in that unit until the end of the war, except when he was detached as a Confederate guerrilla.
In the Sixteenth, Bailey rose to the rank of regimental color bearer and then to lieutenant, participating in the battles of Pea Ridge (where the death of Confederate General McCulloch turned the battle), Corinth, and extended siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana (part of the Vicksburg Campaign), in the summer of 1863, where the Sixteenth finally surrendered. Most of the Sixteenth’s men were paroled, but the officers, including Bailey, were organized to be sent to a prisoner of war camp. In the process, Bailey escaped, and returned home to the Crooked Creek Valley in Arkansas.
After his return, Bailey was shot in the chest in a skirmish with Federal troops. Although it was thought he would die from his wound, he survived but when the paroled men of the Sixteenth were secretly ordered to reassemble he was still too ill join them. Once he was able, he was made Captain of a company of 50 men on horseback – Confederate guerrillas.
“From September 1863 to October the following year, Bailey served with other men from his community in a running skirmish of continual guerrilla warfare. Bailey chronicled a violent year in which he typically hunted other men, repeatedly killed, continually hid, and narrowly escaped death himself. Occasionally, Bailey witnessed or dispensed acts of mercy, but admitted that such events remained exceptional. His company of 50 proved too large to provision itself so they split into smaller bands. In these reduced groups, Bailey described how military discipline gave way to utilitarianism. Men joined the company and summarily discharged themselves according to their own preference. The only orders consistently followed remained those of the elected officer leading the mission at the moment. However, even this broke down into a bizarre experiment in democracy as Bailey described guerrilla debates over whether or not to execute prisoners. Overwhelmingly, prisoners were executed. This was the hallmark of guerrilla war everywhere.”
Bailey in Saratoga County
Bailey recalled his days as a Confederate in a 1929 Schenectady Gazette article, where it was revealed that he had written a memoir in 1920, Confederate Guerrilla. The memoir is a remarkable document, for reasons Gary Edwards describes:
“Civil War guerrillas existed in a world cloaked in secrecy as they participated in a blood feud of insurgency and counterinsurgency. After the war, most participants typically preserved their anonymity in order to maintain a postwar status quo. Thus, as regular Confederate veterans grew older, they published histories intended to justify their Civil War experience. However, irregular veterans remained more taciturn, in recognition of the danger that their actions could still provoke retribution many years later. For this reason, guerrilla activities often merged into local folklore, leaving scholars with little manuscript evidence from which to draw conclusions.”
In his memoir, Bailey justified his experiences in the war, describing the change from the quiet of his country home to the excitement of being on the way to war. He spoke proudly of the flag he once carried, the flag of their newly proclaimed country, the Confederate States of America, which he and his fellow rebels pledged to defend. (This was not the well known “confederate flag,” which only came to prominence in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, but what is known as the “1st national flag” of the Confederacy, selected – no vote was held – in March 1861 by the Confederate government.)
He also described the battles. Shells flying on all sides; smoke totally obliterating any view of what was happening; summer heat made more intense because of heavy uniforms, thirst, and too few canteens to go around. He saw the dead everywhere; he saw faces “from which the lifeblood had ebbed away, stained…. with blood and dust… evidence that they fell on the firing line.”
Bailey remembered one Union soldier whom he saw dying on the field (a fellow Freemason), a man with what he called the “death pallor on his face.” He could see that the man needed water and so, with great compassion as the man was from the “other” side, he held his own canteen so that the man could drink deeply, maybe the last drink he would ever have.
Edwards describes the memoir in this way:
“Bailey portrayed an intensely personal conflict in which death often proved an intimate and unpredictable affair. In an ironic twist of fate, Bailey received mercy on one occasion due to his membership as a Mason. He later spared the
life of a brother Mason despite the objection of his fellow guerrillas who protested that Masonic brotherhood would not save them if captured. Most of Bailey’s opponents were Arkansas Unionists, many of whom he knew either
personally or by reputation prior to the war. Because the Crooked Creek Valley was both battleground and home, Bailey’s family and friends also played a role in guerrilla strategy.
“On one occasion, four Federal raiders visited Bailey’s parents and a member of the party kicked his mother off the porch and injured her. Bailey testified that he participated in the pursuit of his mother’s attacker who was summarily killed with all but one of his companions. Likewise, a Federal soldier once bragged to Bailey’s girlfriend that they intended to kill her sweetheart. A few days later, Bailey had the unexpected opportunity to ambush the boastful Union officer. Chasing him down from behind, Bailey shot the man off his horse at three feet and secured his ostrich plume hat as a prize. Bailey even identified these men by name. Thus when he killed them and wore their clothing, he not only protected the Confederacy but he preserved his family’s honor in a meaningful and personal manner.”
According to Bailey’s account, United States soldiers pressured his band of bushwackers relentlessly, and by the summer of 1864 he was forced, along with what was left of his men, south of the Arkansas Valley where they rejoined the Sixteenth Arkansas Infantry. He said he later returned home to recruit more men, and spent the final months of the in Arkansas and Texas.
On May 26, 1865, Bailey’s regiment then under Confederate Major General E. Kirby Smith (who has served in the United States military before the war) formerly surrendered near Marshall, Texas. The various regiments were ordered to proceed to Shreveport, Louisana, but none of them did. However, some individual soldiers, Bailey included, went on their own to Shreveport to receive a parole.
It the records of the National Archives is Bailey’s Parole of Honor. By signing that document, Bailey promised “that I will not hereafter serve in the Armies of the Confederate States, or in any military capacity whatever, against the United State of America, or render any aid to the enemies of the latter.”
So, how did he end up in Saratoga County? Bailey eventually joined relatives in Ballston, the Claude Bailey family, who started Fo’Castle Farms in Burnt Hills in 1908.
Illustrations, from above: a chromolithograph of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas in March 1862 by Kurz and Allison; Confederate batteries fire on Union warships during the Battle of Port Hudson (painting by J.O. Davidson); the “1st National Flag” of the Confederacy which was originally presented to the Joe Wright Guards, later regimental colors of the 4th Regiment, Arkansas State Troops, and the regimental colors for the 16th Arkansas Infantry Regiment; .
This essay was written by John Warren and Rick Reynolds. Reynolds has been the Ballston Town Historian since 2004. He is a retired social studies teacher at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Middle school and is the author of the book From Wilderness to Community: The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District.