Joseph H. Mason Papers

Joseph H. Mason was born in South Carolina in 1833. He eventually moved to Texas with his wife Mary and their daughter Mary F. Mason worked as wagon wright, a person who fixes and repairs wagons, until he entered Company D, Texas 20th Cavalry in 1862.1The 20th Texas Cavalry was organized during the spring of 1862, and enlisted approximately 850 men in Hill County, Texas. The unit was assigned to Douglas Cooper’s and Richard Gano’s Brigade, Trans-Mississippi Department, and primarily engaged Union Troops in the Indian Territory.

From April to mid-July 1862, the regiment was at Camp McCulloch near Tyler, Texas. While there in July, the regiment was reorganized under the Confederate Conscription Acts — many men over the age of 35 were discharged, and the companies were re-lettered.2 In September, 1862, the 20th Texas Cavalry marched to Arkansas where it fought in numerous skirmishes north of Fayetteville. Among these skirmishes was Cassville, Missouri on September 20, 1862, Elkhorn, Arkansas on October 16, 1862, and Cross Hollows, Arkansas in October of 1862. Mason noted the day before the skirmish at Cassville, “The mornings is Geting verry cool Though no frost yet… we will Soon Be up in Missouri and There will have Plenty of fighting to do to Keep us warm.”3 Camped at Elkhorn, on October 6, 1862 Mason wrote, “[the Federals] are Reported from 12 to 18 Thousand Strong we have not forses sufficient to withstand Them yet The fors commenced fighting on the first and is still going on we have to fall Back and wait Reinforsment we are Looking for general Hinmans [Thomas C. Hindman] Command 18 or 20 Thousand Strong Then we will make the wool fly.”4

About the first of November, the regiment was dismounted and served the remainder of the war as infantry. The 20th Texas Dismounted Cavalry was present at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas on December 7, 1862, and was included in the surrender of the Indian Troops at Doaksville on June 23, 1865.5

The Union army’s advantages of supplies and food helped them support their soldiers through long winters and hot summer. Disorganization and miscommunication were conventional traits associated with the Confederate Army. Mason’s letters to his wife and mother revealed the lack of supplies within the Confederate forces. The Confederate Army was not prepared for extended fighting and often their soldiers were half-clothed, starving, and sick when they went into battle. Mason reported that his regiment was nearly out of flour and that there was no corn or wheat in Arkansas.6

Mason, like other Confederate soldiers, relied on the charity of family members to help sustain them through the war. In his letters home, he requested clothing be sent to him to get him through the cold winter. Soldiers were supposed to be paid every two months in the field, but they were fortunate if they got their pay at four-month intervals (in the Union Army) and authentic instances were recorded where they went six and eight months.7 Payment in the Confederate Army was even slower and less regular. Although they fought on different sides, soldiers in both Union and Confederate camps faced the same problems and held the same concerns for their families in their hearts and minds. All longed for the day when they would return home and as Mason stated, “kiss their babs.”8

Yet many men would never return home. If not killed in combat many soldiers died from complications related to injury and disease. Injury and illness were common in both Union and Confederate camps. Lack of hygiene and medical supplies made it difficult for men to stay healthy on the battlefield. To make matters worse, there were not physical examination guidelines for Rebel soldiers; so men suffering partial deafness, hernias, partial blindness, missing several fingers, and infection were acceptable for active duty.9Mason received several injuries during his service including being kicked by a horse.10 The deficiency of medical training, coupled with rapid infections that occurred from injuries and the inability of medicine to combat illness killed many men. Joseph H. Mason died from pneumonia on December 13, 1862 in a hospital in Camp Roan Arkansas.

Dear Sir I have the paneful duty of droping you a few lines to let you now that J.H. Mason is dead he died the thirteenth of this month he tuck a sick on the seckond of This month with a chill when he died he had the new monia he went to the hospitle an I did not see him any more he was well wated on while he was sick our sergant at the hospital is good Doctor he was burried very deason. he was well like in the company he mad a good officer an a soldier there is a great deal of sickness in camps at This time
Thomas Hardin letter to Mary Mason – Apr. 24, 1863

Mary Mason requested Joseph’s personal effects be sent to her; however, his clothes were issued to other soldiers in need, his pistol sold, and family portrait sent to a family friend. The money earned from these sales was applied to cover his debt. Mary was left with little of his personal items from his time in the war to remember him.

Contributed by the Wichita State University Special Collections and University Archives.

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  1. Joseph Harris Mason, U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009. accessed October 25, 2010
  2. Justin M. Sanders, A Brief History of the CSA 20th Texas Cavalry,
  3. Joseph Mason, Letter to Mary Mason. 18 Sept. 1862. Joseph Mason Papers. MS 87-03. Wichita State University Special Collections and University Archives
  4. Joseph Mason, Letter to Mary Mason. 6 Oct. 1862. Joseph Mason Papers. MS 87-03. Wichita State University Special Collections and University Archives
  5. Confederate Texas Troops, National Parks Service: Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System,
  6. Joseph Mason letter to Mary Mason – Sept. 18, 1862. Joseph Mason Papers. MS 87-03. Wichita State University Special Collections and University Archives
  7. Mark M. Boatner, “Soldier’s Pay in the Civil War” in The Civil War Dictionary,
  8. Joseph Mason letter to Mary Mason – Sept. 29, 1862. Joseph Mason Papers. MS 87-03. Wichita State University Special Collections and University Archives
  9. C. Keith Wilbur, M.D., Civil War Medicine, 1861-1865, Old Saybrook, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 1998, pg 9.
  10. Joseph Mason letter to Mother – July 29, 1862. Joseph Mason Papers. MS 87-03. Wichita State University Special Collections and University Archives