Richard Griffith, an officer in the Mexican War and a Confederate general, was born on 11 January 1814 near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Ohio University in 1837 and moved to Vicksburg, where he was employed as a teacher in a private school. Griffith remained there until the Mexican War, when he enlisted in the 1st Mississippi Rifles. Elected first lieutenant, Griffith became the regimental adjutant and forged a close bond with his commanding officer, Jefferson Davis.
After returning from Mexico, Griffith worked as a banker in Jackson, became a US marshal, and subsequently served two terms as state treasurer. He was present when Mississippi passed the ordnance of secession and soon thereafter recruited the Raymond Fencibles, a company that eventually became part of the 12th Mississippi Infantry. Griffith was elected colonel of the regiment, which was assigned to duty in Virginia. He was promoted to brigadier general on 2 November 1861 and placed in charge of a brigade of four Mississippi regiments. The promotion was directly related to machinations by Davis, who created a vacancy for Griffith by transferring Charles Clark, the previous brigade commander, to the western theater. By the spring of 1862 Griffith’s brigade consisted of the 1st Louisiana Battalion; the 13th, 18th, and 21st Mississippi Regiments; and one battery, with a combined effective strength of 2,534 men.
In the opening stages of the Peninsula Campaign Griffith’s command engaged in minor skirmishing and remained in reserve at Seven Pines. During the Seven Days’ Battles, which resulted in Union forces under George McClellan being driven from the Virginia Peninsula, Griffith’s brigade served in John B. Magruder’s division. On 29 June 1862 Magruder advanced as part of a general Confederate movement. As he extended his lines to the left, Union artillery opened fire from long range as the Battle of Savage’s Station began. A portion of a Federal artillery shell tore through Griffith’s inner thigh, causing profuse bleeding. He fell from his horse into the arms of a colonel and was borne to the rear. William Barksdale took command of Griffith’s brigade and led it into its first significant combat.
Davis found the mortally wounded Griffith, attempted to console him, and arranged for his transportation to Richmond, where he died later that night. His funeral the next day was attended by Davis, members of the Confederate cabinet, and hundreds of other mourners.
- Harold A. Cross, They Sleep beneath the Mockingbird: Mississippi Burial Sites and Biographies of Confederate Generals (1994)
- Charles E. Hooker, Confederate Military History: Mississippi, ed. Clement A. Evans (1899)
- Ezra Warner, Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders (1959)