John M. P. Clark revisited


John M. P. Clark
John M. P. Clark has been on my mind the past few days. I have discovered quite a bit about him through my research, but only just realized I have never published nor polished those findings.

John was born 20 August 1835 in Virginia, and his life was long and full of objects of interest. As a Mason, judge/magistrate, and a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives (1893-1895, 1901-1902) his life was one of public service. However, my interest in his life brings me to his experiences as a Civil War veteran.

John enlisted in the Confederate 61st Tennessee regiment, Company H out of Claiborne County, Tennessee. His unit was assigned to General John C. Vaughn's Brigade, and remained there throughout the rest of the war.

This regiment participated in the Seige of Vicksburg in Mississippi, and the skirmishes leading up that battle. The Union advanced on Champion Hill and Big Black River Bridge, culminating in the capture of over 29,000 of the Confederate forces. As a last ditch effort, Lt. General John C. Pemberton headed his remaining into the fort at Vicksburg to avoid capture and defeat.

Pemberton, trying to please Jefferson Davis, who insisted that Vicksburg and Port Hudson must be held, and to please Johnston, who thought both places worthless militarily, had been caught in the middle, a victim of a convoluted command system and his own indecisiveness. Too dispirited to think clearly, he chose to back his bedraggled army into Vicksburg rather than evacuate the city and head north where he might have escaped to campaign again. When he chose to take his army into Vicksburg, Pemberton sealed the fate of his troops and the city he had been determined to defend.
— Vicksburg, The Campaign that Opened the Mississippi, Michael B. Ballard

John Clark on Civil War POW roster
As the events of the Vicksburg siege unfolded, it becomes a horrible story of war--fighting and bloodshed during the middle of summer in the American South, insufficient rations and starvation, disease and sickness, where all while his comrades and commanding officers are either beside him in prison, or being starved out within the fort itself. My ancestor John was captured on July 4th, 1863, in circumstances so awful that I cannot begin to imagine them. Even though he was liberated the next day, all of the hardship leading up to that moment made it undeniable torture.

What went through his mind during this experience? Was he afraid for his life? Did the hunger become so powerful that the thought no longer crossed his mind? Did he suffer from malaria, dysentery, or scurvy like so many others in his ranks? How did this experience change him?

How did his perception of himself change when he actually survived it?

The battle ended with Pemberton's surrender on July 4th, 1863. John's life was spared, largely because General Grant didn't anticipate any of the men so damaged from their experience to continue fighting against them. But the 61st Tennessee regiment was reorganized to become mounted infantry and fought in the Knoxville campaign, action in the Valley of Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia where it was disbanded.

John M. P. Clark headstone
Knowing this history and putting it into a fuller perspective, I can appreciate the sacrifice and story that existed for this man beneath being a politician or a Freemason. The Civil War takes on a new dimension when your ancestors are a part of it. The economics and politics finder deeper context as a good man goes to war to defend his home and family--not to mention the land on which they sat. Anyone who assumes that the heartbeat of the Confederacy was pure racism simply doesn't know history well enough. They don't understand the pain these men endured during the Civil War, and how pointless slavery had to seem during starvation, or watching your home go up in flames.

John Clark lived a long life, dying at the age of 77. He married 3 times and had a small army of children.

He won some. He lost some. He was an average man who was forever changed by extraordinary circumstances that came to define him.

I hope I get to meet him some day.