All Her Hopes

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2011-2012, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the December 2011 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

The phrase “fratricidal war” has been used to describe the Civil War as a way of conveying how that war figuratively pitted brother against brother. In many cases it wasn’t just figurative, but literal. However, not all brothers fought on opposite sides in the Civil War, and one such example are the Moungers. John and Thomas Mounger were members of the 9th Georgia Volunteer Infantry, which was part of the Army of Northern Virginia. The regiment’s colonel was their father, also named John. On July 18, 1863, in the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, son John sent the following letter to his mother.

“Dear Mother,
I wrote you a few days ago concerning the death of our dear father, he was killed on the 2nd of July about one hour by sun. He was buried in a family grave yard 1/2 mile below Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on the Chambers and Baltimore Turnpike. Capt. Sutlive had a good coffin made for him and we put him away as well as could be expected. I have the dimensions of his coffin so when we get a chance to move him we can get a box for him without any trouble. Pa died very easy Tom says, I was not with him when he died. I was detailed and sent off after cattle some three or four days before the fight. Tom took good care of dear dear Pa until he died, but he only lived a few minutes after he was shot, He was shot with a minie ball through the right breast and a grape shot from cannon through the bowels. Dear Mother we tried to carry him to Virginia before we buried him but it was impossible as the Yankeys were all around us and we could not get across the river without being captured, Dear Mother let us all try and meet him in Heaven, Tom & myself will try and be better boys. Tom kept the stars on his coat and a lock of his hair.”

Detail from a map of the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg showing where the 9th Georgia (9 GA) was engaged

The person who wrote this heartfelt letter was not one of the celebrities of the Civil War. He was simply one of the multitude of soldiers who was doing in obscurity what he saw as his duty. Whenever I read that letter, I imagine John Mounger scrambling along with the Army of Northern Virginia on its retreat from Gettysburg, trying to find some time to gather his emotions about the loss of his father, and attempting to put those feelings into words in a letter to his mother.

The author of that letter survived his father by less than a year. He was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness when he was shot in the head with a minie ball while directing the fire of his company. His brother Tom continued the charge and reached the Union line only to be shot in the neck and dying a few minutes later. The third brother, Terrell Mounger of the 14th Georgia, had been killed at Chancellorsville as he led a charge against a Union position.

No matter what opinion a person has of the Confederate cause, no one can dispute that the matriarch of the Mounger family did not deserve to suffer the loss of her husband and all her sons. Lucie Mounger lived the horrors of war in the devastating way that only a grieving wife and mother can. For her there were no homecomings, no joyous reunions. Life’s twilight was not warmed by family, but was lived in the cold shadow of the daily realization that the war had consumed her loved ones. A note in a newspaper about the deaths of brothers John and Tom Mounger conveyed the human and personal cost of war in a clear and plaintive way. “The two latter are sons of Col. Mounger of the 9th who died at Gettysburg. Another son was killed at Chancellorsville, thus destroying the whole of this family, and leaving an aged lady to mourn over the death of all her hopes.”

Letter from a Georgia newspaper describing war preparations by units in southern Georgia
The letter, dated May 23, 1861, mentions a unit called the Brooks Rifles that is commanded by Captain Mounger. The letter ends with the warning “if old Abe or any of his hirelings should attempt to invade our shores they will be swept off like the Egyptian flies before the winds of the Sahara.”