A politician and Confederate general, Samuel Jameson Gholson was born on 19 May 1808 in Madison County, Kentucky. He relocated as a youth to Alabama, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1829. The next year he moved to Monroe County, Mississippi, and practiced law in Athens. Gholson served several terms in the state legislature during the 1830s before becoming a member of the US House of Representatives from 1836 to 1838. His congressional service was enlivened by a quarrel with Henry A. Wise of Virginia that would have resulted in a duel between the two men if not for the intervention of John C. Calhoun and other friends. In 1839 Pres. Martin Van Buren appointed Gholson to serve as a federal district judge for Mississippi, a post he held until 1861, when he resigned as a consequence of his support for secession. An ardent Democrat, he served as a member of the state secession convention.
Although he had been a major general in the state militia, Gholson enlisted as a private in the 14th Mississippi Infantry. After being mustered into state service in Aberdeen in April 1861, he was elected captain of a company; he subsequently received promotions to major and colonel. Gholson first saw action at Fort Donelson, where he was wounded on 13 February 1862. Taken prisoner when the garrison surrendered, Gholson was exchanged seven months later. He fought at both Iuka and Corinth, suffering a wound in the left thigh at Corinth that resulted in a long, painful recovery. Gov. John J. Pettus appointed Gholson a major general in the Mississippi state militia in April 1863 and sent him to Northeast Mississippi to organize state troops. Gholson faced criticism from other Confederate officers who resented what they perceived as his interference with their recruitment and supply efforts, but both Nathan Bedford Forrest and Gov. Charles Clark recommended Gholson for a cavalry brigade command in the Confederate Army. In contrast to Forrest’s and Clark’s enthusiasm, Gen. Wirt Adams regarded the command as unreliable and suggested, to no avail, that the troops be dismounted and dispersed among other commands.
Gholson’s brigade fought in central Mississippi, where Gholson was wounded at Jackson on 7 July 1863. When his brigade was transferred to Georgia to reinforce the Army of Tennessee, Gholson remained behind because his health prevented him from returning to field duty. He resumed activity in the fall of 1864 and suffered a wound on 28 December at Egypt that necessitated the amputation of his left arm. He was captured and saw no further field service. He was paroled at Meridian in May 1865.
Gholson was again elected to the Mississippi legislature in 1865 but was removed from office after passage of the Reconstruction Act of 1867. He returned to his law practice in Aberdeen, sought to overthrow the Republican government, and won election to the state legislature in 1878. He died on 16 October 1883 in Aberdeen.
- John H. Eicher and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands (2001)
- Charles E. Hooker, Confederate Military History: Mississippi, ed. Clement A. Evans (1899)
- Dunbar Rowland, Military History of Mississippi, 1803–1898, taken from Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1908)