The Death of General John Bowen

Rebecca Blackwell Drake

For the past century Civil War historians have been perplexed over the death site of General John Bowen, one of the heroes of the Vicksburg Campaign. A recently found document has provided the final piece to the puzzle and opened the key to the past.


John Stevens Bowen

On July 11, 1863 an army ambulance left Vicksburg en route to Raymond. The passenger and patient was Confederate General John S. Bowen, a paroled prisoner of war who had fallen desperately ill with dysentery, a bacterial illness that is often fatal.

General Bowen, a Missourian, was a courageous and disciplined commander. During the Vicksburg Campaign, he proved his leadership abilities on the battlefields of Grand Gulf, Port Gibson and Champion Hill. For his efforts, he was commissioned major general. In the eyes of his men, a finer commander could not be found. During the first days of July, when it became apparent that Vicksburg would fall, it was General John Bowen and Col. L. M. Montgomery who worked with General Pemberton to help establish the terms of the surrender. However, on the morning of the 4th of July, Bowen had become conspicuously ill.

Bowen's wife, Mary Kennerly Bowen who was residing in Edwards during the siege, was  summoned. Members of Bowen's staff decided to transport him to Raymond where they hoped he could receive medical attention. During the excruciating heat of summer, the ambulance began the long and arduous journey to Hinds County. Father John Bannon, Catholic priest with the First Missouri Regiment, accompanied the general and his wife on the journey.

As the ambulance got under way, Bowen's illness became progressively worse. It was apparent that he would never make it to Raymond. On the morning of July 12, the ambulance took the lower road between Edwards and Raymond [Mt. Moriah Road] and stopped for help four miles from Edwards at the home of Mr. Morrison. Due to the lack of servants, the overseer suggested they go two miles further down the road to the home of the Walton family, also known as Valley Farm. The Walton's home was located six miles from Raymond near a crossing at Baker's Creek.

Walton House
At the Walton's home, Bowen was removed from the ambulance and taken inside. Father Bannon scribbled an entry in his diary stating, "July 12, Gen. Bowen was too sick to move any further." The night spent at the Walton's house would be his last. General Bowen died the following day. A neighbor and local carpenter, Robert Dickson, was called on to build a wooden coffin. There were no materials to line the coffin and no screws to attach the top. General Bowen was buried in the garden near the house. Father Bannon helped to lower the body into the grave while several neighbors and Mary Bowen stood quietly weeping nearby.

Bowen's body was later exhumed from the Walton's garden and re-interred in the cemetery at Bethesda Presbyterian Church, two miles away. The unmarked grave remained obscured for twenty-four years. In 1887, Mary Bowen returned to Mississippi to help members of the Vicksburg Ladies Confederate Cemetery Association exhume the body for re-interment in Vicksburg's Confederate Cemetery.

Through the years, the story of Gen. Bowen's death and burial in rural Hinds County was all but forgotten. Except for descendants of the Walton family, who loved to reminisce about the 'famous Confederate general' who had been buried in their garden, stories and details of Bowen's death all but vanished.

Around the turn of the century, the Missouri Republican, a popular newspaper from St. Louis, reprinted an article extracted from an 1860s Mississippi newspaper. The article, recounting General Bowen's death in rural Hinds County, had originally been published in the Hinds County Gazette. Recalling the event from memory, the Gazette editor had written: "General Bowen was not killed, as supposed, but died a natural death. He was taken ill with flux either at Vicksburg or near that point, and rather than go into the city and risk the chances of capture and ill treatment by the federal forces, came into the country. He found no shelter at Edwards, and stopped first at the place then owned by Mr. Farrar Morrison, four miles from town, which was in charge of Mr. Joshua Stone, but owing to the scarcity of servants, that gentleman advised him to go to Mrs. Walton's two miles further on. This was about the 26th of June, 1863; on the 1st of July, only three days before the fall of Vicksburg, he breathed his last. His wife and two or three from the neighborhood were the only persons present." The dates stated in the article were incorrect but the directions to the Walton home provided the missing piece of the puzzle needed to solve the mystery of General Bowen's place of death.

General Bowen's family read and saved the reprinted article, placing it in their scrapbook. Eventually, Bowen's daughter donated all of her fathers' Civil War papers to the Missouri Historical Commission, including the personal memoirs contained in the scrapbook. Unknown to historians, who for over half a century had searched for yet failed to find the home where Bowen had died, the clipping from the Hinds County Gazette held the key. The final piece in the puzzle, the discovery of the location of the Walton home, fell into place in 2002, after the 1860s newspaper article was discovered in the Manuscripts Division of the Missouri Archives.

As Paul Harvey would say…. And now you know the end of the story. General Bowen's ambulance never made it to Raymond. It stopped six miles from its destination. In the company of his wife and priest, as well as few neighbors in the area, the general was laid to rest in a lovely garden where the fragrance of summer flowers mingled in the air - and the sounds of fife and drum were but a distant memory.

Postscript: The Walton Home has remained in the family since the Civil War. The remains of the old house are now owned by John Walton, descendant of the Walton family, and his wife Linda, of Raymond. The home and death site of General Bowen was researched and discovered by Rebecca Drake, based on an article by Jno. C. Landis, Chief of Artillery, Missouri Division, C.S. A., published in the Missouri Republican, circa 1880s.

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