Colonel William Stewart Hawkins
~ 11th Tennessee [Gordon's] Cavalry Battalion ~
Colonel William Stewart Hawkins, commander of the 11th Tennessee Cavalry Battalion, was born on October 2, 1837, in Madison County, Alabama. William lost his father when he was ten years old. He was educated at the University of Nashville and at Bethany College of West Virginia. At the age of 21 he was awarded his degree. From 1858 to the outbreak of the war he studied law under Hon. A.F. Goff and Governor Neill S. Brown at Nashville. He won considerable distinction as a public speaker in advocacy of secession. He became attached to a cavalry unit at the outbreak of the war and in Januaray 1862 won a promotion the the 11th Tennessee Battalion. Lyrics to "The Bonnie White Flag"
He distinguished himself in the Battle of Shiloh. Colonel Hawkins was captured in January 1864 and taken to Camp Chase. He became one of the most respected prisoners at Camp Chase and his men voted him as Governor of their prison organization. He would also help in the hospital with the wounded.
Colonel Hawkins wrote several poems , including "The Bonnie White Flag", while imprisoned at Camp Chase which were published after the war. It was on the following occasion his most famous poem, "The Letter That Came Too Late" was written:
A gallant young Tennessean named DeMovile was dying in the hospital. When Colonel Hawkins learned of it, he began his tender ministration to ease the poor boy's last hours. DeMovile was suffering from internal injuries received at Vicksburg in a gallant attempt to steal the Federal Colors. Soon he learned to love Hawkins and to him he confided his life story. Back yonder in the Blue Grass of Kentucky, he had a sweetheart. The war had kept them apart for a long time, and her letters at last failed to reach him - she was not writing, but he did not know that. As he lay in delirium, his heart, true in death, would impel him to cry aloud for his lost love. "Magdalene, my Magdalene," was his ceaseless and heart-breaking moan. "I want her, O, I want her" he would say...
- At last DeMovile came to realize that she was unfaithful to her troth, and then his death was but a matter of a few short hours. The day after DeMoville died, the long-awaited letter arrived, but it was as well the poor boy died first. "The Letter That Came Too Late" was one of which not only told him of his cruel-hearted sweetheart finding another love - jaded she was - but reproaching him for his faithfulness to the Southern cause.
Colonel Hawkins' room-mate witnessed his inability to sleep and his pen taken to the paper to write...."In every account I read which mentions Colonel Hawkins, there is mentioned nothing but praise and respect for the man. His abilities to Minister, Teach and Govern the men while they were imprisoned helped their lives to become enriched. Any account of Camp Chase should not leave out mention of this great man."
Colonel Hawkins' "The Bonnie White Flag" became quite popular among Southern prisoners. First published in the "Camp Chase Ventilator", the prison's newspaper, it was sung to the tune of "The Bonnie Blue Flag", heard on this page.
Colonel Hawkins was released from Camp Chase at the end of the war. He died on November 6, 1865, a few months over 28 years of age.
Source: "The Men and Women of Camp Chase"; Hilltop Historical Society, Columbus, OH; Paul Clay
Lyrics to "The Letter That Came Too Late"
From: Poetry and Music of the War Between the States
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