Festival to highlight book about six Civil War letters

Published 11:30 am Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Little was known about Samuel and Caroline Townsend who had been charter members of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. They died and were buried alongside two other family members in the church cemetery. In 1936, a descendant of the family bequeathed $30,000 to the church. 

Nothing more was known until two years ago when St. Alban’s received word from Sherry Johnson, a descendant of Caroline Johnson Townsend.

Her family had in their possession six Civil War letters written between the Townsend and Johnson families.  They were eager to share the letters with the church in hopes that their ancestor’s tragic story would be known, said Rebecca Drake, and on Saturday during St. Alban’s Fall Festival, “Owl Roost Plantation, Bovina Mississippi: The Civil War Letters of Samuel & Caroline Townsend” will be dedicated.

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Drake, a historian and freelance writer from Raymond, is the author of this collection of Civil War letters. In addition to five other Civil War Books, Drake wrote “Lift High the Cross: The History of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church” in 2012, which was the catalyst for Sherry Johnson contacting the church and sharing the family letters.

“This is a powerful story. It’s a war story that makes one shudder and a love story that makes one weep,” Drake said.

After receiving the packet of letters and reading the correspondence, Drake knew she had to preserve the letters for two reasons.

“I had to save the history first for the church and secondly for Mississippi,” she said.

All except one letter is dated 1863. In one letter, Townsend writes to her father, William Gale Johnson, graphically describing the vile and senseless atrocities inflicted by the Union soldiers when they overtook Owl Roost Plantation.

“They tore our barn nearly to pieces, took nearly all our corn and fodder, shot all our milk cows but two in the little lot before the house, ran the bayonets into the pigs, and killed the calves,” Johnson writes in a letter dated June 30, 1863.

In addition to the six letters, Drake has added footnotes referencing historical facts surrounding the context of the letters and the time period in which they were written.

Historical drawings and family photographs are included also, one of which is an original photograph of Owl Roost Plantation, which is used on the cover of the book.

The book dedication is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m., Rev. Billie Abraham said, and the Champion Hill Missionary Baptist Church Gospel Choir and the Lewis Family Singers will perform.

Abraham is the Rector of St. Alban’s.

Mary Ruth Jones, Edward Shelnut and James Anderson will present the letters as part of the dedication service, Abraham said, and a reception will follow including a family Bible and an art display, which can be viewed in the parish hall.

The fall festival continues Sunday with church services at 8:30 and 11 a.m. with dinner on the grounds following the final service.

The cost is $10 and includes fried catfish and all the trimmings.

The Episcopal Church Women’s group will also be selling frozen dinners, jams and jellies.

For more information, call 601-594-0066 or email bilabraham@aol.com.

About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

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