From The Civil War: Two Brothers Who Gave Their All: A Scrapbook, by Thomas Locke Mayfield
Columbus and William Sykes were both sons of Dr. George Augustus Sykes who had moved to Aberdeen, Mississippi with other Sykes family members from Alabama before the Civil War. When the war started both brothers joined the Mississippi 47th Regiment. By the end of the war both brothers had died.
When I started five years ago researching my Mother’s family history, the sykes became the main focus. I had learned early on from my Mother that my great, great grandfather was Richard sykes who married Martha Ann Sykes. In that first year of work on my family history I started learning about the two Sykes brothers who had died in the Civil War. The research I did on the brothers ending up tracing the son of Dr. William Sykes, the Reverend James Murdock Sykes family to China before nineteen hundred. Later when the family returned to the United States, they lived in different areas of the country which made locating them difficult to trace.
I ended my search in 2011 finding the living descendents of Dr. William Sykes only son, Reverend Murdock Sykes in Oklahoma. This trail led to finding what had happened to Reverend Sykes’ wife Anna and her daughter Jean.
What I learned about Anna and Jean helped make the story of these two Sykes brothers who died in the Civil War the most important chapter for me in the book on the history of the Sykes’ family that Lanier and I have been working on for almost five years. The Sykes book with the very hard work of Lanier Bogen will be released in it’s time and it will be well worth the wait by all of us, Thanks, Lanier for all your hard work.
Now I hope you enjoy this Scrapbook of the Sykes Brothers that I had so much joy researching and putting into book form to share with you.
Note: A special thanks to the Loewen family for all there help with the story of Reverend James Murdock Sykes.
The Early History Of The Sykes Family
The Sykes came from Yorkshire, England many years before the American Revolutionary War. The first sykes in the U.S. Is believed to have been Benjamin Sykes whio died in America in 1800. His descendants settled near Hicks Ford now Emporia in Greenvill Co., VA. Later most of the family moved west around 1834. They lives a while in Decatur, Alabama. Some family members stayed in Alabama but after a few years most of them moved to Mississippi into the rich prarie lands of Monroe and Lowndes Counties. By 1842 most had moved to Mississippi where they established residences in Columbus and Aberdeen.
Copy of a Memorial Letter by Colonel Columbus Sykes to the Infant Children of his Brother, Dr. William E. Sykes.
Dated November 28, 1864.:
Your father, William Edmunds Sykes, the second child of George augustus and Mary Edmunds Sykes, was born on the 28th day of January, 1835, near Decatur, Ala.
He completes with distinction the literary course at Lagrange College, Alabama, in 1853.
The grand old institution of learning – which so many of the best men of the South fondly claim as their alma Mater – was destroyed last summer, by the ruthless hand of the invader.
Little did I think when he left it so young and happy – that eleven years afterward, I would bring his mangled body along the road, which winds beneath the shadow of the everlasting hills – upon the summit of which rest its charred and blackened remnants: – little did we think in our college days – as we two together gazed from its lofty observatory upon the widespread, teeming valley below – and mused and wondered that coming years would develop – that far away in the dim vista, loomed the darkly tinted pictures of one, a solitary mourner, marching by the other’s lifeless side.
As I stood all alone and looked up to the mountain’s crest, recalling many a familiar spot and its associated incident, evoking from memories of the past – many a scene that had long lain undisturbed, – and then turned my eyes upon him who slept so calmly in his shroud – the crushing anguish that fell upon my heart, seemed almost enough to still its pulsations forever.
Ah! Too well I remember the gala crowd that flocked to its spacious halls on the Commencement day; the pale brow of the anxious student; the quiet, earnest face of the now angel mother, as she listened to the musical voice of her boy, echoing along its corridors.
The oration is finished, the diploma awarded, – then for home, for home.
The student and the mother have, we believe, met again in the spirit world, whose shadowless light plays around them with a halo and glory as refulgent and enduring as the throne from which it radiates.
Your father, after his graduation – wasted but little time in his idleness or in the usual frivolities of young men of his age; but in the ensuing autumn began the study of medicine at the University of Virginia – and the next year received a diploma from the University of Pennsylvania, the oldest and perhaps the most widely celebrated medical institution on the continent.
He was married in Columbus on the 21st day of June, 1860, to sweet Augusta Murdock, as lovely as a flower as was ever transplanted from a northern to a southern clime. Twelve short months passed away in domestic quietude and happiness; but thie tranquility was doomed to an early termination. The angry clouds which had long dimmed the political horizon, grew darker and darker in their vengeful fury. The fierce fiends of a merciless war, such as the world had never witnessed, had left their dark caverns and were marshalling their cohorts for the conflict. The gallant sons of the South – were called upon to leave house and home, wife and child, in order to vindicate the elementary principles of free government – and to repel the vandal invader from their soil.
Scarce had the first clarion note of the tocsin died away, ere your father responded to the call. He was offered and accepted the position of surgeon in the army, and was ordered to report in June, 1861 at Corinth, Miss.; but this position, though honorable in rank, he resigned after a few weeks – declaring that he was not willing “to shield himself from danger behind a sick man’s couch”.
His ardent spirit longed to mingle with patriot comrades in the field – to rush with them upon the serried ranks of the enemy – to hear the wild battle shout of the Southrons fighting for all that the heart holds dear. He volunteered at once as a private in Capt. Abert’s company of Cavalry, Major Barksdale’s battalion. In May, 1862, he was commisioned Adjutant of the 43rd Miss. Regiment of Infantry, of Aberdeen. He was emphatically always at his post; never was a line of battle formed, or the regiment ordered to advance, that he did not move with it – save when, at last – it passed over his prostrate and bleeding form.
I cannot in this communication give you even a partial account of his heroic endurance and his gallantry during his entire conenction with the service, or do justice to his merits as an officer and a soldier. Some future day, when you and I have grown older – and the independence for which he fought has been established – I may recount to you many interesting rememberances of him who has gone.
The great campaign of North Western Georgia – which, commencing with the first blooming of the roses of Spring, and continuing until the early frosts of winter, fell upon the sleeping soldier – was drawing toward its clsoe. The army, by a bold and successful movement, had been transferred from the Chattahoochee to the banks of the Tennessee.
The heroes of one hundred and seventy days constant fighting were drawn up in battle array before Decatur; the magnificent line with its starry banners floating, was formed in an open field – and there confronted the enemy’s frowning batteries. “Battalion, Forward”, rang along the ranks; – the steady, responsive tramp of the true and brave, was heard. “Halt”. Motionless as marble images they stood; thickly fell around them the booming, bursting shells: – and then – ah! today rises before me the crushing scene,– my noble brother fell.
The illusory hope flashed quick as thought – he is only wounded, surely he will not die! In a few seconds, I reached him and supported his drooping head upon my breast. The first glance convinced me – that his doom was as inexorably fixed as the decrees of eternity. The last, the very last, faintest, dimmest spark of hope was extinguisher. His comrades bore him as gently as they could to a house near by – once owned by his father – and laid him on an improvised couch.
Though suffering excruciating agony, he calmly surveyed his wound and pronounced it inevitably mortal; and then with a courage that was sublime in its exhibition, he prepared for the last struggle with the great monster – Death. I have seen the brave, the cowardly – the good, the wicked – die; but never have I seen one who went so composedly, so rationally to the grave. Not a tear bedewed his cheek – not a murmur escaped his lips. He received the fatal wound at three o’clock int he afternoon of Oct. 26, 1864 – and at ten o’clock the next morning – his spotless, untarnished spirit winged its tireless flight tothat other world – where morning revilles and evening tattoos are sounded on Angels harps.
He left messages to all the loved ones at home. Among them were the following: “Tell Augusta, I loved her to the last, though that she well knows, – and I wish her ambrotype buried with me”.
“Tell my little boy – never to use profane language – never to drink intoxicating liquors, or use tobacco in any form – and never to visit improper places.” These were the last words faintly breathed from his dying lips – the last message from a devoted father to his eldest born, his only son – whom he remembered, even while the cold waters of death were swelling high around him. It comes to him consecrated with the majesty and solemnity of the grave – and contains, in few words – a compendium of moral philosophy – worthy to be engraved forever upon his heart. The father’s finger points the way – he invites his son to follow.
My only myh precious brother – farewell. I have followed you from the cradle to the grave; have knelt by your couch and closed your eyes in death. Together in boyhood’s happy home we have played; in manhood’s strength, stood side by side; amid the battle’s roar each to the other looked; each from the battlefield, the other’s helpless body has borne.
Alas! no more, when foremen assail, will that noble, loving brother be near.
Your affectionate and only Uncle,
Statement by Eugene Lanier Sykes
In early January, 1865 – Wm. Granville Sykes – then less than twenty years of age – was on furlough in Aberdeen. Also his first cousin, Col. Columbus Sykes, was here – spending a few weeks, after bringing the remains of his brother, Dr. William Edmunds Sykes, to columbus for Internment.
Dr. Sykes had been killed in battle near Decatur, Alabama – on the plantation upon which he was born, January 28th – 1835.
It was while here that Colonel Sykes wrote the memorial letter to the two infant children of his deceased brother; a letter – which in both sentiment and in beauty of expression – has no equal.
Colonel Sykes and Granville Sykes left Aberdeen horseback going northward to join their troops.
They met them in what was then Itawamba County – but now the Eastern part of Prentiss County.
General Lowrey In command, desiring to spend the night with relatives a few miles distant, placed Colonel Sykes – the ranking officer – in command of the troops until his return – and left for the Blue Mountain.
Soon afterward, the troops encamped for the night, at Marietta, Itawamba county. Three officers from Monroe County – Col. Sykes of Aberdeen and Capt. William Owen and Lieut. H.G. Perry of the Cotton Gin vicinity – tented together near a very large, decayed, old tree.
Sometime before say (January 5th – 1865) the immense tree fell – killing all three.
That day the remains of Col. Sykes, Capt. Owen and Lieut. Perry were all taken by “Gran”. (later Dr. W.G. Sykes) – alone in an ambulance through the county to Cotton Gin, Monroe County. There the bodies of Capt. Owen and Lieut. Perry were left. They were interred in the Old Greenbrier Cemetery near Amory.
At Cotton Gin, the Tombigee river was crossed by ferry. Before daylight, Cousin Gran saw two men approaching on horseback; he having sent a messenger from Cotton Gin to Aberdeen to notify his uncle – that he was coming with the body.
They were my grandfather, Dr. George Augustus Sykes – and my father, Major Augustus Sykes – who had gone out to meet him.
The next day Uncle “Lum” was buried in Odd Fellows Cemetary, Aberdeen – the funeral services having been conducted in the parlor of “The Old Homestead”.
On the day following, my father and mother (Georgia Augusta Sykes) were married at exactly the same place in the parlor of “The Old Homestead”.
My mother was in a black dress, on account of the recent death of her mother and two brothers.
No wonder – those now living, feel so much sentiment about the place.
Col. Columbus Sykes and Dr. William Edmunds Sykes were uncles of the later born Eugene Lanier Sykes of Aberdeen – his sister, Mrs. Edward P. Peacock Sr. Of Clarksdale, and his cousin, Mrs. W.T. Michie of Memphis.