Friday, August 31, 2012
Private John P. Majors, Co. D: “I Wish the Federal Line Would Wash Right Over Us”
John Pollard Majors (courtesy of Jon Totten)
John Majors was a natural born wanderer who traveled halfway across the continent in order to join the 2nd Kansas Militia in the summer of 1864. Unlike most of the other men of Company D from Indianola Kansas, John migrated to Kansas at the beginning of the War for the specific reason of fighting for his country.
The journey of John Majors began in Wayne County Kentucky, where he was born in 1822. Like many others at the time, John’s family sought the cheap land and freedom of the western frontier and when he was still a child they had migrated up the Mississippi River to Morgan County, Illinois. After John’s father died in the early 1840’s, the family moved once again upriver to Mahaska County Iowa where the Majors family claimed a large land tract in the Scott Township. During a land dispute that erupted between the Major’s and other local citizens, John and his older brother Jacob were taken by a mob to Knoxville Tennessee where they were tarred, feathered and told they must abide by the rules of the land claim association. Undaunted, John returned to Iowa where he met Ezilda Norton and they were married in 1848. The couple traveled by wagon to California during the Gold Rush but returned to Mahaska County after a short time penniless. After the birth of their first two children, John and his wife decided to try California again - this time with John taking over as Postmaster of Visalia. John however grew restless with the start of the Civil War and by the early 1860’s the Majors family had travelled back toward the conflict, settling in Burlington Kansas.
John had a profound desire to protect the Union and when he heard that a Militia had been formed in nearby Shawnee County he traveled north from Burlington and arrived in Topeka in the middle of June, 1864. He enlisted in the 2nd Kansas Militia, Company D under the command of Captain Sterling Miles. John Majors was prepared to give his life for the Union cause but instead received what could be thought of as a much crueler fate.
On the afternoon of 22 October,1864 after the 2nd KSM was defeated at the Battle of Mockbee Farm, John Majors found himself and about 75 other men prisoners under the command of Confederate General Jo Shelby. These men spent an uneasy night next to the Confederate field hospital and were forced to flee the next day along with the Rebel Army as it drove south toward the Arkansas border. The prisoners were forced to run most of their waking hours and many had inadequate shoes or clothing. John and the others were given very little food or water during the march and by 25 October several had already become seriously ill from fatigue and dehydration. John noticed however that the pursuing Federal forces had gotten very near to the rear of the fleeing Confederate Army and his spirits began to lift. “I wish the Federal line would wash right over us; I’d die right here to see it done.” These words were recalled by fellow prisoner Sam Reader and attributed to John Majors. John's wish was not to be however and the men from the 2nd were hurried south faster than ever, listening to the sounds of the Battle of Mine Creek fade off in the distance.
Just after noon on October 28th, John and his comrades straggled into Newtonia Missouri, nearly two hundred miles south from where they had started six days earlier. Although a few had escaped, there were still about 75 men who remained captive and most of these could barely walk. Just as Federal troops once again attacked Shelby’s Division, the General himself appeared and ordered the prisoners to be paroled. Everyone hastily signed an oath saying they would not take up arms against the Confederacy and then without further ado were left to themselves, barely alive but free. A Federal search party found them the next day and it seemed to the prisoners from the 2nd Kansas Militia that their ordeal had come to an end.
John Majors returned to his family in Burlington Kansas by mid November but was never the same man again. He, like most of the others who had survived the long march, was suffering from some type of chronic illness; in John’s case “jaundice and general debility” were the symptoms. It is likely he contracted hepatitis at some point during his captivity and his body began to fail him little by little. He passed away on the evening of 3 April, 1877 at the home of his brother in Stewartsville, Missouri. Much later, John’s wife Ezilda filed for a widows pension but it was refused; the government could find no record of John’s service.
John Majors volunteered for the 2nd Kansas Militia to help preserve the Union which he so dearly loved. Although he suffered and died as a result of it, I believe that deep in his heart he was satisfied with the result of his sacrifice and I hope he shall always be remembered for it.