Confederate general Peter Burwell Starke was born in 1815 in Brunswick County, Virginia. He moved to Bolivar County in the early 1840s and became a planter, running unsuccessfully for Congress as a Whig in 1846 but serving several terms in the state legislature in the 1850s. When war erupted, he was a state senator representing Bolivar, Issaquena, and Washington Counties, a post he retained until early 1862. His secessionist sentiments were clearly displayed in February 1860, when he sent resolutions to Virginia requesting that his native state join South Carolina and Mississippi in convention with an eye to adopting measures necessary for the “protection and perpetuation” of “African Slavery.”
Starke was commissioned colonel of the 28th Mississippi Cavalry Regiment on 24 February 1862. His command operated near Vicksburg until it shifted to the upper portion of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, where it skirmished with a Federal expedition under Alvin P. Hovey that advanced toward Grenada in late 1862. The following January his regiment combined with two other Mississippi units to form a brigade under Brig. Gen. George Cosby. The troopers participated in a movement into Tennessee led by Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn. Cosby’s command returned to Mississippi and guarded an approach to Vicksburg via Mechanicsburg. After Vicksburg fell, Starke’s cavalry helped screen Joseph E. Johnston’s army as it retreated from Jackson. As part of a division under Brig. Gen. William H. Jackson, Starke operated in the vicinity of Clinton in late July, then helped turn back and harassed a Federal column moving toward Canton in mid-October. Starke won praise from his superiors when he sparred regularly with a force under Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman that cut through the interior of the state to Meridian in February 1864.
Starke served as a brigade commander from December 1863 until he was superseded by the arrival of Brig. Gen. Frank C. Armstrong on 6 April 1864. Returning to his regimental command, he and his men participated in the Atlanta Campaign. They particularly distinguished themselves at New Hope Church on 28 May, when they briefly captured several guns of an Iowa battery. Starke won promotion to brigadier general on 4 November 1864, and his cavalry clashed repeatedly with Federal horsemen during John Bell Hood’s ill-fated Tennessee Campaign. Starke’s command and others under Nathan Bedford Forrest protected the rear guard of the shattered Army of Tennessee as it retreated following the Battle of Nashville. On 18 February 1865 Forrest selected Starke to lead one of three Mississippi cavalry brigades under Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers. After organizing his brigade at Columbus, Starke attempted to intercept the Union forces led by Brig. Gen. James H. Wilson that routed Forrest at Selma in early April. Starke signed a parole at Gainesville, Alabama, on 12 May. His older brother, William Edward Starke, was a Confederate division commander killed at Antietam.
After the war Starke served as a member of the board of Mississippi levee commissioners from 1866 to 1872 and was sheriff of Bolivar County for one term. Starke returned to Virginia in 1873, where he lived near his boyhood home in Lawrenceville until his death on 13 July 1888.
- Edwin C. Bearss, in The Confederate General, ed. William C. Harris (1991)
- Charles E. Hooker, Confederate Military History: Mississippi, ed. Clement A. Evans (1899)
- New York Times (24 February 1860)