General John Bowen's Wife in Raymond

By Rebecca Blackwell Drake




In 1862, when the War came to Mississippi, one of the Confederate officers assigned to protect the Big Black River railroad bridge between Edwards and Bovina was Brig. Gen. John S. Bowen, commander of the First Missouri Regiment. Accompanying Bowen to Mississippi was his pregnant wife, Mary Kennerly Bowen of St. Louis. She refused to be separated from her husband. When Bowen left St. Louis to enter the war, Mary was by his side, leaving their two small children, Menard Kennerly (age seven) and Anna, (age two), at the family home to be cared for by Mary’s mother.

General Bowen received his first real taste of war on April 6, 1862, when, during the battle of Shiloh, he had two horses shot from under him and was severely wounded. Mary accompanied him to Memphis where he was hospitalized until early May. Bowen rejoined his regiment at Corinth and was soon ordered to Vicksburg to defend the city from naval attacks.

In September of 1862, while residing with friends in Edwards, Mary gave birth to their third child, John Sydney Bowen. The baby was only nine months old when, during the spring of 1863, Mary carried him with her to visit John at his headquarters near Port Gibson. Corporal Ephraim Anderson, First Missouri Regiment, recalled seeing Mary at the general’s headquarters only hours before the battle of Port Gibson: "The day before the battle I noticed that Mrs. General Bowen, Mrs. Colonel Sentiny and Mrs. Colonel Irwin had passed through the lines, and joined their husbands at the command. I noticed all three at General Bowen’s headquarters, chatting gaily with one another and a group of officers around; their faces were bright and cheerful, and in a reunion with their husbands and friends they seemed perfectly satisfied and happy. But alas! So soon, by the reckless hand of war, was this to be turned into grief and woe and bitter wailing!"

The cheerful and happy days that Mary and the other officer’s wives experienced prior to the battle of Port Gibson would be their last. Word came that General U. S. Grant was threatening Grand Gulf and Port Gibson so Mary and the baby rushed back to Edwards Station for safety.

Although greatly outnumbered during the battle of Port Gibson, General Bowen, commander of the Confederate forces, resisted the Union advance with great courage and determination. In spite of his efforts, Port Gibson fell to the Union on May 1st. Two weeks later, on May 16, General Bowen led his Division in the fight against Grant’s army at Champion Hill. After a hard day of fighting, the Confederates withdrew from the field in defeat. For his brave work at Port Gibson and Champion Hill, Bowen was commissioned major-general on May 25, 1863

During the Siege of Vicksburg, the husbands of Mrs. Sentiny and Mrs. Irwin were killed at the 3rd Louisiana Redan, a Confederate fortification constructed to defend the Jackson Road entrance into Vicksburg. During the close of the siege, General Bowen contracted dysentery, an intestinal disease that killed thousands of soldiers. After the July 4th surrender, Grant offered Bowen protection if he remained in the city but Bowen opted to leave the battlefield by ambulance in the company of his brigade. Father Bannon, chaplain of the First Missouri, drove the ambulance as they made their way toward Raymond, stopping at Edwards just long enough to pick up Mary and the baby. Bowen’s condition worsened and on July 12th, the entourage stopped at the home of John Walton located near Baker’s Creek on what is now known as the Mt. Moriah Road. During the early morning hours of July 13th, the general quietly passed away. Father Bannon conducted a graveside burial in the Walton’s garden and General Bowen was laid to rest in a coffin made by a neighbor, Robert Dickson. After the heat of summer, Bowen’s remains were removed to Bethesda Presbyterian Church Cemetery, just a short distance away,

Grief stricken, Mary decided to make her home in Raymond to be near her husband’s grave which was located approximately six miles west of town. An article written in 1866 by George Harper, owner and editor of the Hinds County Gazette, chronicled Mary’s post-war life in Raymond: "It is scarcely known beyond the boundaries of our village that a female school, capable of imparting a finishing education, is established here. Mrs. Bowen, the principal, is the widow of General Bowen, who made the gallant stand at Port Gibson, against the army that overran this section of the country, and captured Jackson and Vicksburg. Her former home in Missouri is no longer hers, and she has cast her lot for the future among us, for whose defense her husband’s life was sacrificed. And she now asks the citizens of Hinds county such measure of encouragement as will enable her to live and raise her children among us.

"Those who know Mrs. Bowen best consider her as possessing the highest qualifications as a teacher; and her assistants are fully equal to their respective positions in the school. All of them are ladies of refined manners and amiable dispositions. And, Mrs. Ellen Gibbs, the head of the boarding department is too well known in Hinds county to need any recommendation."

The Raymond Female Seminary failed to materialize and Mary finally returned to the family home in St. Louis where she operated a boarding house and raised her four children. Mary Bowen passed away on January 16, 1904. The Carondelet News published her obituary: "Civil War Nurse Dead; Widow of Maj. Gen. John Bowen died Sunday." Although Mary Bowen never received the fame awarded to Julia Grant, Mary Sherman, Mary Logan, and Pattie Pemberton, she was widely recognized as the General’s Wife and, perhaps for Mary that was enough.


Sources: Hinds County Gazette, Feb. 2, 1866 and Carondelet News (St. Louis), Jan. 16, 1904, historic articles courtesy of Sue B. Moore, Longview, Texas; First Missouri Confederate Brigade, by Colonel Ephraim Anderson, edited by Edwin C. Bearss and John Stevens Bowen by Edwin C. Bearss.



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