The story of Edwin Francis Jemison: Louisiana’s Most Famous Boy Soldier

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His face is haunting.  He stares out expressionless from a photograph that has been used in countless books about the Civil War.  One could project any feeling you want to in his gaze.  Some say he looks resigned.  Others see fear in his eyes or a touch of sadness.  He looks like a little boy playing soldier; way too young to have seen the horror of war.  Very few know his name or his connection to Monroe. 

            For many, many years, the young man was misidentified as Jennison of the Georgia regiment.  The problem was, no service record could be found for him.  Several years later, his true name was found:  Edwin Francis Jemison.  Edwin was born in Milledgeville, GA on December 1, 1844.  His parents were Robert and Sarah.  By the 1850 census, the family could be found in Jackson Parish and by the 1860 census, they had moved to Monroe, LA.  Edwin’s father Robert started out in the community as a farmer, then rose in prominence to be a lawyer, a city council member and newspaper editor.  Then war broke out.

            Edwin, like all boys his age, was anxious to “lick the Yankees”.  Even though he was too young, he ran off to join the Louisiana troops in New Orleans.  In May, 1861, Edwin enlisted in the 2nd Louisiana Infantry, Company C known as the Pelican Greys.  The unit was made up mainly out of men from Ouachita Parish.  He was immediately sent to Virginia to train.  Service records show him present until November and December of 1861 when he was reported sick in hospital in Williamsburg.  He is then present for all rolls until the notation, “Killed in Action July 1, 1862”.  This boy was only about seventeen.  What happened?  The exact cause of death would not been known to his family until 1906.  All they knew was that he had fallen at the battle of Malvern Hill.

            In 1906, while walking the streets of Atlanta, GA, Edwin’s brother Robert, Jr. joined a crowd listening to a Confederate veteran recounting the horrors he had seen at the battle of Malvern Hill.  One horror he could not get out of his mind was the death of a young soldier by cannonball: 

“I turned suddenly at the terrible concussion and saw that man standing headless, with bayonet drawn as at the charge, his blood spurting high in the air from the jugular vein, and it seemed an hour to me before he reared and fell, still holding on to his gun.  To me it was one of the most horrible sights of the period.  I went back and looked at him after the fight to assure myself that it was not a dream of frenzy in those exciting moments.  He was there as I had seen him fall, and more than 40 years have passed with that picture forever Impressed on my memory.”

            After careful questioning by Robert, it was decided that what he was describing was the death of his brother, seventeen year old Private Edwin Francis Jemison. 

            Two markers can be found in the Jemison family plot at Memory Hill Cemetery in Macon, GA.  One is an original marker placed by the family.  The second is a newer marker with his photo and military service engraved upon it.  It is believed by some though, that these are just cenotaphs.  Edwin may still lie buried in an unmarked spot where he fell at Malvern Hill.

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