Thomas Littleberry Cooper
By Fred T. Kimbrell, Jr.
Thomas Littleberry Cooper fought for
the Confederacy in the Civil War. His Confederate Service Records
on file in the National Archives show that he enlisted 22 Feb 1862 in Carthage, Leake Co,
MS in a company formed by Robert J. Hall. This company was called the Leake Rebels
and was given the designation Company F, a unit of the 33rd Mississippi Infantry Regiment.
Thomas was listed as a sergeant when the company was mustered in at Grenada, MS 21 Mar
1862, and he eventually rose to the rank of captain.
The war experience of the 33rd Mississippi was all too typical of most of the soldiers of the Confederacy heroic courage, gallant charges, selfless sacrifice, and tragic loss, all for a cause destined for inevitable defeat. When his sons were growing up, they would ask him to tell them about this experience during the war, wondering "How many men did you kill?" He would always change the subject and never talked about it. Apparently, one of the sons, probably Blucher, Sr., asked H. Clay Sharkey about his father's role in the war. Clay was a Confederate veteran from the 3rd Mississippi Infantry Regiment and the only survivor of four Sharkey brothers. He wrote the following letter, copies of which are still in possession of Sherman and Tom Cooper, Jr., two of Thomas' great-grandsons, and Richard Cooper, descendant of Otho Singleton. Corrections and additional comments are in brackets.
May 29, 1924
My Dear Young Friend
[Jabez L.] Drake and your father raised a company which was formed into the 33rd Mississippi Regiment. Letter of this company was Company F [Leake Rebels]. On organization of this company at Carthage, R. J. Hall was made captain. J.W. Sharkey (Billie my brother) who was Sergeant Major of the 6th Mississippi was elected 1st Lieut. Q. [Jabez L.] Drake 2nd and Thos L. Cooper 3rd Lieut. The 33rd was placed in the brigade of Vielpigre [Villepigue] at Port Hudson and was at the Battle of Shil. [33rd fought at Corinth October 3-4, 1862, but is not shown on official records as being at Shiloh] On the formation of the 33rd, Q. [Jabez L.] Drake was elected Major and your father promoted to 2nd Lieut. of Co. F. After the fall of Port Hudson the 33rd Mississippi was placed in the brigade of W. S. Featherston; Lorings Division at Vicksburg.
Your letter asking of your fathers record in the C. S. Army. In Aug 1861, R. J. Hall with Q.
You and your father's friend,
An action in the campaign for Atlanta, the Battle of Peachtree Creek was a bitter defeat for the 33rd. Official history was written and accounts were written by the participants. A mixture of both is recorded by Dunbar Rowland in his history of Mississippi Units:
At Peachtree Creek, July 20, where the [Featherston's] brigade charged through a difficult field, attempting to break the Federal line which was protected with rail works thrown up as the fight began, the losses of the regiment were severe. General Featherston wrote: "Col. J. L. Drake, the only field officer with the Thirty-third Regiment, a gallant and excellent officer, fell beyond the enemy's first line of works, leading his regiment in the charge and displaying the highest qualities of the true soldier." Among the killed were also Captains Sharkey, Lamkin and D. A. Herring, and Lieutenants Kennedy and A. G. West and Ensign E. F. Leavitt. Capt. Moses Jackson, left in command, reported that the regiment carried the temporary rail works and advanced into a ravine 100 yards beyond, where the fighting was very stubborn. They were on the extreme right of the brigade, and without support on that flank, Wright's Brigade having failed to come forward, and were forced to retreat with the brigade. Casualties, killed, wounded and missing, 15 officers, 144 men. Colonel Wood, commanding the Union brigade attacked, reported: "The Twenty-sixth Wisconsin captured a stand of colors, and the skirmishers of the One Hundred and Thirty-sixth New York, a battle-flag. This brigade buried the bodies of thirty-eight dead found behind and near our advanced line of battle, among whom was Colonel Drake, Thirty-third Mississippi." The Colonel of the Twentieth Connecticut wrote that "wounded officers belonging to the Third, Thirty-third, Fifty-fifth and Forty-fourth Mississippi Regiments, left on the field in front of the Twentieth, remarked that they lost more men during this engagement in killed and wounded than they had before during the war." Colonel Buckingham, of the Twentieth Connecticut, wrote that "during our advance a rebel color bearer in front of the right of my regiment was killed, and a rebel officer, who sprang forward and seized the colors to bear them off was also shot dead but a soldier from the Twenty-sixth Wisconsin succeeded in obtaining the flag." Colonel Winkler, of the Wisconsin Regiment, reported that when the forces in his front gave way, his regiment pursued and "captured the regimental flag of the Thirty-third Mississippi," and that in the fight Colonel Drake and 34 others of the Mississippi Regiment were killed, many wounded and 40 captured.
Mathew Andrew Dunn, Company K, Amite Defenders, 33rd Mississippi, wrote regularly to his wife, Virginia. This excerpt from his letter of 01 Aug 1864, just after the battle, tells of the action:
Our division met with a Serious misfortune on the 20th of July - we charged the Yankees and our Brigade being on the extreme right of the Division we were badly cut to pieces by a Brigade on our right not coming up to Support our flank - over half of our Regt that was engaged was killed and wounded. Our Co was not into it as we were on other duty. Our Regt Suffered worse than any other, being on the flank and was exposed to an enfillading fire. We lost our Col. He charged waving his Sword until he fell. Capt. Jackson commanded during the balance of the engagement. Our colorbearer was killed. Others attempted to get the colors and were wounded. So we lost our colors.
Contemporary Union accounts of the battle confirm the disaster that befell the 33rd. Lt. Col. Frederick C. Winkler, commanding officer of the 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment wrote this letter to his wife July 21st, 1864:
At last I have some good news. We fought the hardest battle and won the greatest victory yesterday of all the campaign, and my regiment covered itself with glory. We were attacked by superior numbers, the forces on our left failed us; we were outflanked, but we whipped the enemy, turned, and pursued him to the position we coveted, got it and held it. We fought the 33rd Mississippi, and virtually annihilated it; we killed the Colonel and thirty-four men, whom we have picked up inside the point we pursued them to, End beyond that our fire must have done them severe damage. The ground was covered with wounded; I had no time to count them, but had three stretchers working all night, carrying them to the rear. We took its flags and six officers' swords. Everybody is speaking the praise of the 26th today. We had a very critical position and everything depended upon holding it; officers and men did bravely. The regiment we fought had nearly four hundred men; I only two hundred and sixty. I lost severely, two captains killed, one wounded, a lieutenant wounded, seven men killed and thirty-four wounded. Upon the whole, our loss is comparatively light; most of the wounds are light, and our success was great. We took a number of prisoners. I am well and unhurt.
Frederick Charles Buerstatte, a soldier in the 26th, also documented the battle with a closer view of the action:
20th July - Today we are engaged in a terrible battle with the Rebs at Peach Tree Creek. At 2:00 o'clock PM, our brigade which was at the left Rank of the corps, joined the 4th Corps in battle line. The enemy attacked at which time we advanced. Our regiment was as always in the forward battle line. We advanced over a small hill and into a valley in which a small creek flowed. Then the Rebs came toward us down the hill in front of us. Now the firing really began. The gunfire exceeded anything I had ever heard before. We loaded and fired as fast as possible. The Rebs came to within 10 paces of us, at which time our musket balls became too thick for them. They turned to the right and retreated up the hill with us behind them. This was a sight which I had never seen before and hope never to see again. The entire field was scattered with dead, wounded and dying. The wounded moaned so much that I could hardly watch. However, we had no time and had to advance up the hill.
There stood a fence behind which we petitioned ourselves. The Rebs tried to advance again but did not succeed, because a battery was placed on the hill behind us which greeted the enemy terribly with cannonballs. After 4 hours of firing, we were finally relieved and went to the second battle line. The firing lasted into the night. At night I helped carry more wounded from the field. We also captured a flag from the 33rd Mississippi Regiment.
21st July - This morning our regiment, after a sleepless night, had to bury the dead Rebs which laid before our regiment. They were all from the 33rd Mississippi Regiment. Our regiment lost 9 dead and 36 wounded. We buried over 50 Rebs, among them Colonel Drake and most of the officers of the 33rd Miss. Regiment. Now we had to clean our guns.
After the fall of Atlanta, The 33rd Mississippi moved on with Hood's Army of Tennessee to middle Tennessee where they met the Union forces of General Schofield. Thomas L. Cooper was in command of Company F of the 33rd regiment in the thickest part of the Battle of Franklin 30 Oct 1864. He was slightly wounded and he and his lieutenant and three privates were the only survivors of the entire company. On 10 Dec 1864 he still had the rank of captain but was listed as commanding the 33rd. The account of lost battles, lost lives, and lost causes went on until the 33rd surrendered with Joseph E. Johnston's forces in 1865.
"Senator Cooper entered public life in 1872, when he issued a declaration and declared himself sheriff of Leake County and swore he would protect all law abiding citizens, be they republican or democrat, and by the aid of Leake's best citizenship and the Ku-klux he restored order over the carpetbag militia of Leake County. Under the declaration he served 18 months. Afterwards he was elected three times by the popular vote of the people and served as sheriff for six years. After his administration as sheriff he was elected twice to represent Leake in the legislature and then Leake and Attala counties made him their senator."
The County Directory for 1872 listed him as sheriff with W.
H. Cooper deputy. He and his brother Otho Singleton Cooper were listed as members of the
Mississippi Infantry 33rd Regiment in the Confederate Veteran Organization, which was to
be named the Soldiers Association of Leake County.
This family story of Thomas Littleberry was contributed by Tom S. Cooper, Jr., M.D.:
I have been asked to recall and write down stories
about Thomas Littleberry Cooper that were told to me by Smythe H. Cooper, my grandfather,
and Thomas J. Cooper, my great-uncle. Its been many years since I heard these
stories as a boy, but I will do my best to remember them and record them as accurately as
I was naturally curious about the Ku Klux Klan and whether Thomas Littleberry participated in that organization. They recalled that he had been a member early on and that though it was all very secretive, some of the members put on their robes in a room at the Cooper house.
After the Civil War the local governments and normally elected offices in Leake Co. were controlled and occupied by carpetbaggers and scalawags. The KKK functioned to take back control of these offices. The sheriff was a Northerner who had taken office without support of the local populace. Thomas Littleberry decided to remove the sheriff and take over that office. It was told to me that Thomas went in the door of the sheriffs office and the carpetbagger went out the window. T. L. Cooper held the position of sheriff of Leake Co. for eight years, "by the moral coercion of the Ku Klux Klan."
During his term as sheriff, he probably became disenchanted with the Klan and actually had at least one documented run in with them. Thomass brother-in-law Billy Mann was short of stature but had the reputation of being gifted with great strength. It was said that he could easily lift and carry a barrel of flour on his back. Billy evidently became one of the local leaders of the KKK. In Leake Co. at that time there was a carpetbagger who was head of the local post office. The KKK became unhappy with him and decided to tar and feather him and run him out of town. Someone secretly went to Thomas Littleberry and warned him about what was soon to take place. Thomas hurried to the postmasters house and placed a table on his front porch. On the table he placed a lantern and two revolvers. When the Klan arrived dressed in their hooded robes, Thomas confronted them. He could tell by the stocky silhouette of their leader that he was facing his brother-in-law, Billy Mann. Thomas told them to all disperse and go home. When they refused his orders and continued to press forward, Thomas Littleberry said, "Ill shoot the first man to set foot on these steps and that means you too, Billy Mann." He sat on the porch all night and by morning the crowd was gone and did not return.
The Carthaginian, the Leake County newspaper, reported about
Thomas on several occasions:
20 Mar 1872 County directory lists T. L. Cooper sheriff, W. H. Cooper deputy sheriff
04 Sep 1872 T. L. Cooper signed a resolution to form a Greeley-Brown Club. [Horace Greeley, the abolitionist, was running for president.]
22 Jan 1873 The Colbert store, recently bought by Sheriff Cooper was damaged in a fire.
19 Apr 1884 T. L. Cooper was elected chairman of Carthage High School Board of Trustees.
03 Sep 1887 Members of the Confederate Veteran Organization - Mississippi Infantry, 33rd Regiment, T. L. Cooper, O. S. Cooper
07 Dec 1888 T. L. Cooper has sold his property here and will make Tate County his home. Capt. Cooper has long been prominent in Leake County affairs.
He did indeed move to Tate County and "immediately identified himself with the best interests of the county. He was widely known and highly esteemed. He was elected senator from Benton and this county and served in the session of 1900-1904."
He died in Looxahoma 27 Dec 1905 and was buried in the Looxahoma Methodist Church Cemetery with Rev. Ahen of Tyro, MS conducting the service.