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Marcus Joseph Wright, 1831-1922
Diary of Brigadier-General Marcus J. Wright, C.S.A.: April 23, 1861 - February 26, 1863
[s.l.: s.n., 193-?].


Marcus J. Wright was born June 5, 1831, in Purdy, Tennessee, to Benjamin and Ann Wright. Wright's grandfather had been a captain in the Revolutionary War, and his father was an officer in the war against the Creek Indians (1813-1814) and later the Mexican-American War. Wright studied law and became a law clerk in Memphis before becoming a lieutenant colonel in the 154th Tennessee Infantry, a group that armed several years before the beginning of the Civil War. His official Confederate service began in April 1861. In 1862, Wright became military governor of Columbus, Kentucky, before being promoted to the rank of brigadier-general later that year. His rank was confirmed by Governor Isham G. Harris of Tennessee on April 22, 1863. Wright led troops in the battles of Belmont and Shiloh, where he was wounded. He went on to fight campaigns in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and in Atlanta and Macon, Georgia, before taking command of the northern Mississippi and western Tennessee regions in December of 1864. Wright surrendered to Union troops in Granada, Mississippi, and was later paroled.

After the war, Wright served as sheriff of Shelby County, Tennessee; practiced law in Memphis; and edited the Columbia, Tennessee, War Journal before becoming the assistant purser of the U.S. Navy yard in Washington, D.C. On July 1, 1876, he was appointed as the agent for the collection of Confederate archives by the U.S. government. Wright held this position until June 1917. Discoveries he made during efforts to preserve the these records helped him write or contribute to many books and articles about Confederate history, including War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (1880-1901), Tennessee in the War, 1861-1865 (1908), and General Officers of the Confederate Army (1911). Wright was married first to Martha Spencer Elcan of Memphis and then to Pauline Womack of Alabama. He died December 27, 1922, in Washington, D.C.

The Diary of Brigadier-General Marcus J. Wright, C.S.A tracks Wright's movements from April 23, 1861, until February 26, 1863. The diary entries themselves are sparse, with only a few lines about Wright's military travels, his participation in major battles, and the numbers of wounded and killed at those battles. Written under the duress of the war, Wright commits only the most essential information to paper, nevertheless creating a useful timeline of the events of these difficult years. Published posthumously, these short entries are supplemented by an unknown editor's detailed footnotes, which provide additional information about Wright's life and explain the intricacies of the military maneuvers that Wright quickly glosses.

Wright begins his diary by describing his engagements in Kentucky. After leading the 154th Senior Regiment of Tennessee Volunteers through the Battle of Belmont, Wright is appointed as military governor of Columbus, Kentucky, by General Polk. He has a short visit from his wife and children before leaving to defend his hometown, Purdy, Tennessee, where his mother and father are buried. After control of Purdy is lost, Wright marches to the Battle of Shiloh, where he is wounded. A short time later, Wright rejoins his regiment, and the retreat from Chattanooga to Kentucky begins. Wright does not see battle again until the Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862, which he calls "one of the fiercest on record" (6).

While near the Cumberland River, Wright recounts an experience that he identifies as "the most unpleasant duty of my military career" (7). Wright is ordered by General Cheatham to bury sixteen so-called "Bushwhackers" who were hanged the night before by James R. Chalmer's Brigade. After crossing the Cumberland Gap, Wright travels by train until he is put in charge of the Post and Camp of Instruction at McMinville, Tennessee. Shortly thereafter, on December 14, 1862, he receives word from Governor Harris that he has been appointed by President Jefferson Davis to the position of Brigadier-General. The Battle of Stone River follows this promotion, and after Stone River, Wright assumes command of Hanson's Brigade and then Donelson's Brigade. The final entry of the diary is dated February 26, when Wright is ordered to Tullahoma, Tennessee, to work on fortifications to prevent Union advance.

Works Consulted: Dictionary of American Biography, Vol.20, New York: Scribner's, 1928-1936; Jones, Terry L., Historical Dictionary of the Civil War, Vol.2, Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2002; Wakelyn, Jon L., Biographical Dictionary of the Confederacy, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1977.

Amanda M. Page

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