Marker placed at Confederate captain’s grave

Published 5:57 pm Tuesday, June 1, 2010

He left Brookhaven in 1861 with 100 men and fought the Yankeeson land and sea, but the Confederate captain never got his honor indeath, lying in an unmarked grave for more than a century.

Recently, Capt. Robert James Bowen’s 116-year companionship withanonymity ended when a veterans’ headstone was erected over hisfinal resting place in Jackson’s notable Greenwood Cemetery onApril 4. Placing the 215-pound marble marker in time forConfederate History Month required time, research and muscle from alocal member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“It’s a part of our history and I think it should beremembered,” said Monticello’s Wilson Farnham, 55. “We shouldremember the past and learn from it.”

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Farnham, a member of the Lincoln County Historical andGenealogical Society, began seeking out local veterans and placingmarkers on their graves in 2001 and has succeeded in procuring 12military headstones so far.

He is planning to research and procure more markers in thefuture for Brookhaven’s Capt. A. Odom Cox, a military commander,railroad agent and county sheriff; and Pharaoh Oatis, a blackservant in the Confederate army.

Being an observer of history and embracing his Confederateheritage, such projects come naturally to Farnham.

“Being in Sons of Confederate Veterans, you just want toresearch a little about the local soldiers,” he said.

Farnham made contact with James Beverly Bowen, of Plano, Texas,who is a direct descendant of the Civil War captain. With genealogyprovided by the descendant, he next turned to the MississippiDepartment of Archives and History to obtain the captain’s militaryrecords, later locating Bowen’s burial site by researching at theLawrence County Public Library.

With all the pieces falling into place, Farnham next turned toGreenwood Cemetery’s historian, Peter Miazza, to locate Bowen’sexact burial site and obtain permission to place the marker fromthe cemetery association. When everything was ready, he applied forthe marker through the Veterans Administration.

Now, the captain can be remembered and properly honored for hisservice.

Capt. Robert James Bowen was born in Lawrence County in 1834 andwas pursuing a military career early in his life. He entered theUnited States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1850 and served aboardthe U.S.S. Portsmouth in the Pacific. He resigned from the Navy in1855 and attended law school, eventually practicing law in LawrenceCounty with his father, Edward L. Bowen, Sr.

When the South seceded and the Civil War began, Bowen was readyto fight for the Confederate States of America. He formed theLawrence Rifles in Brookhaven on May 10, 1861, and was named thecompany’s captain. It was soon designated Company C, 12th Regiment,Mississippi Volunteers.

Bowen led the Lawrence Rifles to Camp Clark in Corinth, and fromthere was ordered to Union City, Tenn., to participate in thecampaign against St. Louis. The rifles didn’t get a chance tocommit to the fight before new orders had them marching forLynchburg, Va., to fight in the First Battle of Manassas, known inthe North as the First Battle of Bull Run. The company didn’t makeit in time for the battle, but fought several engagement againstUnion troops over the next six months.

In February, 1862, petitioned the Confederacy for reassignmentto the navy, feeling his prior naval skills would allow him tobetter serve the South on one of the new iron gunboats being builtin New Orleans. His request was approved, and on April 5 Lt. RobertJames Bowen was assigned to the C.S.S. Louisiana.

The Louisiana fired on Bowen’s first ship – the U.S.S.Portsmouth – but soon the poorly-crafted vessel began breaking downwith Union strength in the area growing. Bowen was ordered toCharleston, S.C., for service aboard the C.S.S. Palmetto State, andthe Louisiana was blown up to keep it out of Union hands.

Bowen served aboard the Palmetto State until early 1865 when theship was wrecked. He and other sailors and marines formed aninfantry unit and fought at Sayler’s Creek on April 6, 1865, in oneof the last engagements before Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered hisArmy of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9,ending the Civil War.

At Sayler’s Creek, Bowen and his comrades engaged Union troopsin savage, hand-to-hand fighting beginning around 5:30 p.m. TheRebels fought off several Union charges and held out in the woodsuntil after dark, but the rest of the Confederate corps was overrunand surrendered. Bowen’s stubborn naval detachment finallysurrendered later that night once it learned it was surrounded andwithout backup.

Bowen was released from captivity on June 18, 1865, and returnedto Brookhaven to resume practicing law. On March 21, 1867, hemarried Virginia Marie Garland in Hinds County.

He died in 1894.