The title of this blog, Opera Cum Fidelitate, is the motto of Georgia Military College, my Alma Mater. The center piece of campus is the Old Capital Building, which was the seat of the state government prior to the Civil War. My time there always made me feel connected to history. Service With Faithfulness could also be the motto of my family, so I thought it was an appropriate title for a blog that explores the history of my ancestors.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Olustee Sharp Shooter: Covington Cribbs

Covington Cribbs was the brother of Solomon Brannick Cribbs, my fourth great grandfather. He was born around 1829, and died on June 30th, 1900. He was a native of Hamilton County, Florida, which is pretty much the ancestral homeland of my mother’s family, from the early 1800s up until the present day. He was wounded at Olustee, the only significant engagement between Union and Confederate forces in the North Florida area during the war and the site of childhood field trips for any North Florida native. He went on to be wounded again in Virginia, and to suffer frostbite that left him scarred. After the war he resumed his life as a farmer, and when he was too old to perform manual labor, filed for a Confederate Pension from the State of Florida in 1899. When he died the next year, his widow Mary Ann filed to have the pension continued in her name, so that she would be supported in her old age.

At the commencement of the war, Covington was living in Hamilton County with Mary Ann and their child. He intended to join the Confederate Army and fight in the “Hamilton Blues,” an outfit being assembled by Captain Henry Stewart of the 2nd Florida Infantry. On the way up to Virginia, Captain Stewart granted Covington ten days leave so that he could take his wife and child to stay with her brother in Calhoun County, Georgia. I like to think of this as a benevolent gesture by his Commander.

Covington set out with a wagon, but soon things went sideways. It rained. Anyone from the South knows the kind of rain that I am picturing, the one that turns all of the dirt roads to muck. It is no surprise then, that Covington's wagon would break down, and it did. I can imagine him, with his wife and crying baby, soaked to the bone, stranded on a remote dirt road surrounded by tall pines and saw palmettos. I don’t know how long they were stuck there, but the delay was long enough for his ten-day pass to expire before they had reached their destination.

Now he was stranded in Georgia without any papers. Was he panicking about being accused of being a deserter? Maybe he was just mad that he was missing the war!

He was quickly conscripted into a Georgia unit, and was mustered into Captain S. A. Townsley’s Company of the 64th Georgia Infantry Regiment. Ironically, this unit was being raised for the defense of North Florida! He was mustered into the outfit at Macon, Georgia, and they immediately marched south. Covington had set off from Florida to fight in Virginia, but was now headed back home as a member of a Georgia outfit to defend his Florida home.

Lithographic Print of the Battle of Olustee By Kurz and Alison [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. It is largely inaccurate as the artist knew little about the battle. The Olustee battlefield was much more heavily wooded than the picture depicts, and neither side fought from behind fortifications.
In Florida, the 64th served under Colonel John W. Evans at the Battle of Olustee. During this battle, Covington served as a sharpshooter. While he was fighting, probably lying on his stomach taking aimed shots, a Union cannonball blew the top off of a pine tree. The crown of this tree came crashing down on Covington’s left leg, knocking his left hip out of joint and splitting his left femur. He managed to hobble his way to the rear of the lines, using a pair of muskets as makeshift crutches. A fellow soldier would later testify to having seen Covington hobbling off of the field of battle this way. At the Battle of Olustee, the 64th suffered 107 casualties out of 800 soldiers, including 17 killed, 88 wounded, and 2 missing.

The day after the battle, Covington was sent to the hospital at Monticello. Soon after, he was granted a hearing before the Board of Physicians at Lake City and was granted a wounded furlough. A young man named George Mills gave Covington a lift home to Hamilton County, which was just on the far side of the Suwanee River from Lake City.

After only a month at home, Covington’s wounded furlough had expired. He set out to rejoin his unit at Camp Finnigan, which was a large camp just west of Jacksonville. Today, the site is near the intersection of I-10 and I-295 on the city’s west side. Later, Covington said this, “The Board advised me not to go, as my wound could excuse me from duty if I cared to avail myself of the opportunity.” I can’t help but feel pride as I read that, knowing that he went anyway.

The 64th marched north to Virginia, where it served under several commanders and fought in many engagements. Late in the war, Covington was wounded again in the left leg, just above the ankle, this time by an exploding shell. Finally, while serving picket duty during the Siege of Petersburg, Covington suffered such severe frostbite that he was hospitalized for the rest of the war.

In regards to the injuries that he incurred during the war, Covington said this, “[I was] wounded on my left hip and knee and at Petersburg, Virginia, received a wound on my left foot about the 18th of July, 1864, and in November or December in the State of Virginia while on picket duty was exposed to cold and became truly disabled and was sent to the hospital and remained there until the surrender of the Confederate army.”

A doctor named C. W. Tompkins examined Covington for the purposes of his pension application and testified to the following, “[I found] scars on both shoulders and both elbows said to have been caused by having been frozen in Virginia while serving in Confederate service and which has left him unable to straighten either arm and with very little strength in shoulders. Also, find scar and injury to femur just above knee joint said to have been caused by gunshot wound, also hip was thrown out of joint by tree trop (cut off by cannon ball) falling on it while on duty as sharp shooter. Also scar on head on left parietal (?) bone, which has caused deafness in left ear with [cottonball?] discharge especially in wintertime. All causing complete disability to perform manual labor.”

When I read the different sources and my mind fills in the blanks about this ancestor, I picture a hard man. In many ways he had to be, and he had probably already acquired that grit before the war, growing up on that unforgiving southern frontier. He answered the call of his homeland, but God intervened through rain and a broken down wagon. His feet were set back upon the path to Florida, where he was wounded confronting the enemy at the gates of his home. He didn’t malinger, nor even accept the out that he could have legitimately taken, given to him by his wound. He went north with his comrades to Virginia, were he fought for the rest of the war, until he finally succumbed to the brutality of the elements. Frostbite is a fitting enemy to defeat a Florida boy.

The majority of the information for this post was gathered from the Florida Memory Confederate Pension Application Database. Covington's pension documents can be viewed here: