The War Years
by Cliff Huntington
Official Civil War Records show that Maurice joined the 63rd Regiment of Georgia
Volunteers, a combined unit of the Oglethorpe Artillery, the Thirteenth Infantry
Battalion, and some other newly formed companies. This merger came about in
December, 1862 and the 63rd Regiment's first assignment was to garrison the
coast defense batteries at Thunderbolt and Rosedew Island near Savannah. This
puts Maurice in service officially just past his eighteenth birthday, but
from an unpublished manuscript we find that he was a member of a group that
joined in pursuit of the Andrews raiders at the Calhoun train station in April,
1862. He may also have been a member of Company I which was organized in Gordon
county in September, 1862 prior to his enlistment in the 63rd. For all practical
purposes, he was involved in some capacity before his eighteenth birthday.
Legend has Maurice serving as a scout which is bolstered by the following
statement found in the opening chapter of Stories of the Cherokee Hills.
"When the great war came on I went into it, hot-headed, unthinking,
a mere boy, bubbling over with enthusiasm for the South and its cause.
Fortune so directed that I was to be a mountaineer even in military life,
and for many months I served as a scout in the rugged, billowy region of
North Georgia, North Alabama, and East Tennessee." In supplying his
friend and biographer, William M. Baskerville, with autobiographical notes,
he makes a number of statements concerning his war exploits. "I was
with the 63rd Ga. regiment stationed at Thunderbolt near Savannah."
"I was a scout in 1864." "I surrendered with Gen Wofford's
command at Kingston, Ga. May 1865."
Putting the pieces together has been a daunting task for biographers. The
best rendition of Maurice's service to the Confederacy in my opinion, is
that put forth in The Literary Career of Maurice Thompson by Otis
T. Wheeler. Wheeler is one of several biographers having studied and published
material about Maurice Thompson and the only one I believe was able to
penetrate his exterior and gives us a look at the man himself. Much of
this article is a paraphrase of portions of Wheeler's excellent biography.
The year 1863 passed quietly with Maurice stationed at Thunderbolt with
the 63rd. The pace picked up considerably in early May of 1864 when Sherman
launched his campaign against Atlanta. The 63rd was hurriedly dispatched
under General H. W. Mercer to Dalton, Georgia as reinforcement for Joseph
E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee which was positioned between Sherman and
Atlanta. Maurice's regiment saw action in the Atlanta campaign at the battle
of Resaca on May 14 and 15 and his regiment distinguished itself during
the battle of Kennesaw Mountain from June 19 to June 24. Shortly after
the evacuation of Atlanta, the 63rd became a part of General John B. Hood's
force and made advances into southern Tennessee in an attempt to divert
Sherman. The ploy proved unsuccessful and the battle worn and beat up unit
soon joined similar units in the spring of 1865, forming the First Georgia
Regiment under General Johnston, which immediately dispatched for the Carolinas.
Maurice was not with the 1st Georgia Regiment in the Carolina campaign
during early 1865.
It has been reported many times that Maurice was wounded during his service,
but never once does he mention a wounding, only, in a letter to his friend
Paul Hamilton Hayne the following, "When I was in the army, I was
actually discharged for lung tuberculosis. I had hemorrages. The doctors
begged me to die, but I took a notion to do no such thing. I went back
to the army at the end of 60 days and served to the close of the war."
But, brother Will states in his essay Deep in the Okefinokee Swamp
the following, "His health had been wrecked by more than four years'
severe service in the Confederate armies, and a wound in the right lung,
still unhealed, caused him so much distress that his hope of life was clouded...His
courage was devoted to the struggle for life, and mine to selfishly helping
the soft air, sunlight and balsam of pines to give him back to me."
Maurice evidently was separated from the army because of his health and
couldn't be reinstated back into regular service. He took the next best
option upon recovery and joined an irregular outfit by the name of the
North Georgia Scouts, one of several operating in the lawless area of north
Georgia at this time. He mentions this unit headed by a "Jim Polk
Edmondson" in his poem The Ballad of a Little Fun. The unit
itself cannot be identified officially by either Union or Confederate records,
but the leader is surely the infamous Major Thomas Polk Edmonson as identified
by Union dispatches. Edmonson was killed in early April of 1865 by a Federal
expedition commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Werner W. Bjerg at Hogans Ford
and Maurice probably was involved in that skirmish. A month later Maurice
would surrender at Kingston, Georgia. His parole pass was dated May 12,
1865 and signed by Lt. Col. Bjerg. Brother Will would surrender with Lee
and both soon worked their way back to a once happy home, now blackened
and leveled, a casualty of Sherman's march on Atlanta.
George Schumacher puts it well, "It was now that the awful tragedy
struck him with its fullest force. He had engaged in a lost cause; he was
a young man just on the threshold of life but there was little promise
for his immediate future; his mother was gray and bent with years; his
father broken, helpless, poor; himself wounded and sick! Thompson spoke
the truth when he said of the South: `I gave her all--I could no more.'
Little wonder that he added, `I closed my eyes and longed to die.' But
he did not. Destiny had much in store for him."