It becomes my painful duty to report the death of Major Con Rea 46th Miss Regt. The deceased was a brave and gallant officer, a warm and generous hearted man; one who was faithful in the execution of his duty and always sought the post of danger. He died at his home Sept 14 1864 from the effects of a wound received on the north side of the Chattahoochie River on the 9th of July. Major Rea was an officer worthy of distinction.”
These are the words of Colonel William H. Clark, written on September 21st, 1864, “In the line of battle, near Palmetto, GA.” The letter is a short but sweet summary of the character of a Lauderdale County man who couldn’t bear to be away from battle during the Civil War.
Con. Rea, as he went by, was born in Tennessee in 1825, but much of his adult life was spent in Lauderdale County. In the years leading up to the war, he ran a weekly paper called the Lauderdale Republican. A vehement state’s rights advocate, he wrote impassioned editorials that, on at least one occasion, got him into trouble...
In 1855, one of Rea’s editorials so angered a man named William “Bill” Evans, that he was prompted to challenge Rea to a duel, although dueling was illegal by that time.
According to S.W. Calhoun Jr, Records Manager at the Lauderdale County Archives and member of the Constantine Rea Historical Society, when the duel took place, Rea was the quickest, most accurate draw, and hit Evans first. But Evans, apparently a resilient man, didn’t fall. They decided to shoot a second time, only to have the same thing happen again.
On the third and final try, Evans managed to hit Rea in the leg. Luckily, Rea recovered from the pistol wound, and he and Evans became fast friends from then on.
Soon after that event, Rea became a state legislator, and remained in politics until war broke out in 1861. He became the commander of a militia called the Lauderdale Rifles, was sent to Richmond, Va. as a captain, and then transferred to Arkansas as an ordinance officer, a post in which he did not see combat.
But not seeing combat was not what Con. Rea had in mind. He came to Marion and, without permission, raised a company, which he took to the trenches in Vicksburg.
Two years later, in 1863, Rea found himself in Lauderdale County again. He was soon afterwards sent to battle in Georgia,
was promoted to Major and given command of a group of sharpshooters.
On July 9, 1864, Rea was with his sharpshooters, fighting on the Chattahoochie River near Atlanta, when he was severely wounded in his right leg. He was not killed, but the leg had to be amputated.
He was sent back to Meridian to recuperate, but his condition, probably Gangrene, only got worse. On September 14, he died of complications from the wound.
He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Old Marion Cemetery, and in 1877, his wife Margaret was buried alongside him.
Rea’s son, Richard, eventually took command of Company F, the same company Rea had illegally formed in 1863. Richard wrote stories about his family in Confederate Veteran’s Magazine, giving birth to a legend that Con. Rea’s wife and two daughters put out one of the fires that Union General Sherman started in Meridian, saving countless records in the archives.
In April of 2004, a headstone was acquired for Rea from the Veteran’s Administration and placed in the center of the cemetery. Rea descendants from as far off as Colorado and Arizona attended the dedication.
To learn more about Major Constantine Rea, see S.W. Calhoun Jr’s account of his life on video at www.meridianstar.com, part of the History of Meridian series by Ben Lockridge. Calhoun’s biography of Rea, “Constantine Rea and the 46th Regiment, Mississippi Volunteers in The War for Southern Independence”, is available for purchase at the Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History.
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