A container that likely held whiskey reveals the story of Joseph Newman Stone, a musician from an musical family in Natchez, Mississippi, that sent five sons to the Confederate army and received them back to carve out post-bellum careers. Joseph, shown here, chose groceries and liquor. His memory is kept alive by a namesake descendant, playing piano in Joseph’s historic Natchez home.
The father, Dr. Charles Henry Stone, was a Northerner, born in New Jersey in 1806, who became a medical doctor. Moving to Natchez to practice he there met and in 1833 married Mary Giddings Newman, the granddaughter of Samuel Brooks, the first mayor of Natchez. Charles was 27, Mary was 22. They would have a family of nine children, three daughters and six sons. In order of birth, the first five sons were Henry born in 1837; Joseph, 1838; Charles, 1841; Garnett, 1844, and Nolan, 1846.
Choosing the Rebel cause was not a foregone conclusion for Joseph and his brothers. The City of Natchez, along with Vicksburg, its up-river Mississippi town, both had voted against secession. Confronted with Union naval forces early in the Civil War, Natchez surrendered without a shot fired, sparing its mansion homes. The rest of the South bristled when news came that townsfolk had thrown a fancy dress ball for the occupying Yankee officers.
By that time most of the Stone boys had joined the Confederates. Henry, a physician like his father, was assistant surgeon aboard the CSS Tuscaloosa. Joseph, shown here upon enlistment, and Charles both would see service as buglers in the 1st Confederate Infantry, and later the 32nd Alabama and Buck’s Mississippi Cavalry. Garnett served in the 1st Confederate and 10th Mississippi regiments, and Nolan later served as a bugler with the 1st Confederate Engineers.
At first the war seems to have been taken as something of a lark by the brothers. Charles Stone, shown here, wrote his father from camp in December, 1861: “Dear Father: Joe and I are still nursing the even tenor of our ways, enjoying good health and fine spirits, and relying upon Providence for a renewal of hostilities here, in which case we anticipate more fun. Don’t laugh when I call it fun, for this kind of scientific fighting is nothing in the world but fun. ’Tis for all the world like rolling tenpins. True enough it is sometimes attended with unpleasant consequences, but that only makes it the more interesting.”
The consequences could indeed be unpleasant, death and ghastly wounds were all around in the heat of combat. Music played a large part in the war and the field music of buglers like the Stones was not only necessary for the telling of time and duties in camp but also guided the actions of troops in battle, as illustrated here. As a result buglers often were singled out by the enemy as strategic targets. Despite Charles’ jocular tone, theirs was particularly dangerous duty.
Joseph was the first to be wounded, likely at the battle of Chickamauga, one of the bloodiest battles of the war, in which Confederate forces suffered 2,312 killed and 14,874 wounded. While recovering from a gunshot wound, Joseph was a patient from September to November at Ross Hospital in Mobile, Alabama, His battle jacket, name printed inside, is shown here Garnett was the next to be hospitalized, likely for severe asthma. He subsequently was discharged and is said to have died young. The youngest Stone, Nolan, a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute, left to join the Confederate engineers as a musician. Nolan is said to have suffered unspecified war wounds in 1865 and died from them two years later.
When the war was over the Stone boys returned to Natchez. One author has suggested: “Of the brothers Joseph Newman Stone seems to have flourished the most in the postwar years.” He married into a prominent Natchez family. His bride was Theodora Summerel Britton, a New York-born daughter of noted Sea Captain William Britton. She had come to Natchez soon after the Civil War to join two brothers who were prominent in banking there. Theodora has been described as “one of the purest spirits that ever blessed this earth.” When they wed in December 1872, Joseph was 34, Theodora, 30. They would have five children, one of whom died in childhood.
By the time of their nuptials, Joseph was established in his grocery and liquor business. He returned to a post-bellum Natchez that had emerged with its buildings and infrastructure unscathed but its economy in a shambles much like the rest of the South. River traffic that had been the commercial lifeblood of the city had dwindled to a trickle. Assessing the situation, Joseph judged that, given the need to eat, the grocery trade was a potentially prosperous one. He also recognized that with the returning soldiers alcoholic consumption was rising sharply in Natchez and liquor would be a desirable lead item.
He was right on both counts and prospered. It allowed Joseph to buy and renovate the house shown above. Earlier it had been an exclusive men’s billard’s club. Joseph made it a home for Theodora and his growing family. A photograph of the dwelling show Joseph wearing a hat standing behind his white horse held by a black groom. Standing on the porch, from left are Ruth Britton, Theodora’s sister, and Mary Stone, Joseph’s mother. Seated on the steps is Theodora, flanked by her daughters on the left and son on the right. The three women in aprons on the lawn were servants and not identified. Joseph had the wealth and living space to accommodate them all.
Meanwhile, Charles, the premier musician in the family, was pursing his own career as a concert violinist. After training abroad in London, Leipsig and Paris, he was reported in Natchez newspapers as giving a concert in Paris and having performed before crowned heads in Europe. He also performed in the U.S., reported appearing before a sellout crowd in Houston, Texas. In Paris Charles met a widow from South Carolina and they married.
Joseph Stone had limited time to enjoy his new home and family. Whether it was residual effects of his Civil War wound or another cause, in August 1886 he died. He was only 47 0r 48 years old. After fourteen years of marriage Theodora was now widowed, alone in caring for four children ranging in age from seven to twelve. She never remarried. Joseph was buried in the Natchez City Cemetery. His gravestone is shown here along with a detail of the inscription.
The house Joseph bought and renovated is on the National Register of Historical places, still owned by the Stone family. A great-grandson, Joseph Britton Stone, in 1999 updated the dwelling and opened it as a bed & breakfast featuring period furniture. The house is shown here as it looks today. Many evenings Joseph’s namesake, who is said to have performed at Carnegie Hall, gives classical piano concerts for guests. In Natchez the Stone family’s musical beat goes on.
Notes: The principal source of information and illustrations fo this post was an online article entitled “Mississippi Musicians: The Stone Brothers of Natchez,” by Nancy Dearing Rossbacher for a site entitled North South Traders Civil War, Vol. 33, No. 4, 2008