Carlos Jones: The Legend and the Truth
by Peter L. Walczyk
Carlos R. Jones was born near Heathsville in Northumberland County,
VA in 1845. Located on the Western Shore of Virginia just south of the
Potomac River, it was known as Northern Neck. Not much is known about his
childhood except that he was the youngest one of the three sons born to
Lindsey and Margaret Rogers Jones. His father was a farmer and his mother
During the next 135 years a legend evolved about Carlos and how he came to find Smith's Island. Carlos R. Jones was supposed to have escaped from Point Lookout, a Northern prison camp during the Civil War only 16 miles from Smith's Island. Tawes Jones of Crisfield, Carlos R. Jones' grandson, retells his grandfather's tale. "My grandmother Hester told me about it when I was a small boy," he said. "Grandpa had some kind of spell and fell out of line when they were out marching. Later, they thought he was dead. When he came to, he crawled down to the shore where he found a little canoe on the shore."
His brother Edward Jones of Ewell concurs. "It was an Indian canoe. He paddled from Point Lookout over to Smith's Island where the Fog's Point Lighthouse was, near Cager's Straights."
On July 20, 1863 a prisoner of war camp was proposed on the site of
an old resort that the U. S. government had bought. It was to hold 10,000
prisoners. It was located on both the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River
in Maryland, just over the state line and north of Northumberland Co. VA.
A Union military hospital had already been built there. It was officially
In a inspection report on November 13, 1863, the Associate Secretary
of the U. S. Sanitary Commission noted the conditions of the prison. Although
he describes prison life from a Union view, the horrendous conditions under
which the prisoners lived can be seen. What clothes they had were filthy
and falling apart, and three men shared one blanket. Although the food
There were some times when the prisoners were marched out side the compound. On Sundays they were taken out so that the guards could inspect the compound. In reality they stole what the prisoners had been sent from home. Groups of men were sent out on work details around the camp and on rare occasions they were allowed to bathe in the Chesapeake Bay. It was possible during one of these occasions that he could have passed out, been left for dead, came to and escaped.
On the north shore of the Potomac River, where the prison camp once stood, was erected a Federal Monument with twelve bronze plates to note the 3,384 prisoners who had died while imprisoned there. There among the dead listed is one C. D. Jones.
Carlos R. Jones, his older brother James and many other young men enlisted in the 40th Virginia Infantry, Company F on May 26, 1861 for one year's service. Included with them was Walter W. Marsh and his brother James, a neighbor of the Jones. The regiment was officially organized on May 30, 1861 and accepted into Confederate service on July 1. They were armed with either percussion or old flintlock muskets. During the six months before winter set in the 40th Virginia Infantry did not see much action except for a few skirmishers and for the most part time passed with nothing more interesting than drills and camp life.
During this time though, there were some problems among the officers of the regiment. They had openly charged that one Major Taliaferro was incapable of carrying out the duties of a Major and they were unwilling to go to the field with him. The officers wrote two letters to him asking for his resignation and they even wrote the Secretary of War pleading their case. No action was taken against Major Taliaferro but by the spring of 1862 he was their Major no more.
At the end of October 1861, the 40th crossed the Potomac River but on December 19th they received ordered to return to Northumberland. They arrived there on December 30th and were greeted by the shouts and cheers of their families and friends. They stayed in Northern Neck until mid March when they marched to Fredericksburg.
When it came time for re-enlistment in March 1862, most everyone gladly did so. But, by April discontent and turmoil arose within the 40th Virginia Infantry for a new conscription law came into effect. That meant that all the men who thought they had re-enlisted for another year or two of service were drafted to serve for the duration of the war. As a result of this law the first six months of 1862 show the heaviest period of desertion with 66 men AWOL. The latter half of that year showed slightly less with 43 men deserting. At that time deserters were counted differently than today. Men often came and went days or even months without their superiors knowing so deserters were counted as those who had left and never returned and these were counted as such by payroll musters, muster rolls, company returns or regimental returns.
It was late May when General Lee began his plans to leave Richmond and
the 40th was called from their peaceful base at Fredericksburg to Richmond
where the Confederate forces had started to fall back. What occurred next
was a series of battles in which the 40th saw their first serious encounters
with many casualties. As Lee fled with the Union following the action heated
Carlos R. Jones was 16 years old when he first enlisted in March of
1861, in the 40th Virginia Infantry, Company F, to fight for the Confederacy.
His brother, James was 21. For July and August, September and October and
November and December 1861 he was noted on the Company Muster Rolls as
present with a note stating "Name appears in column rec'd. payment as
His service record clearly shows what really happened. It is difficult
to know exactly whether Carlos R. Jones deserted due to the lack of a good
system of noting men who were absent without leave, but it is a fact that
he went AWOL sometime between April 30, and August 15, 1862. His brother
James was noted as deserted on August 31, 1862. Since families and friends
How, why or when he came to Smith's Island can only be speculation. It is possible that after the battles near Richmond he went home with the friends and relatives who had come looking for their dead and wounded and arrived on Smith's Island shortly after. Surely Carlos had a least heard about Smith's Island for it is only 18 miles by water from Reedsville VA in Northern Neck. Many of the inhabitants of Northern Neck had moved there and many of the island people had gone to live there. Walter W. Marsh, who had enlisted with him had many Marsh cousins living on the island. Smith's Island has a lot of little creeks and guts that he could have hid in if anyone had come looking for deserters and there were others with war stories who came to this island at about the same time.
Carlos was 17 in 1862. And there is no public record of him being there
including that of his marriage to Hester Messick. The first record of him
living on the island was on November 27, 1866 when their first child, Annie,
was born. Carlos was 21 and Hester was 17. Taking the ages of Carlos and
Hester into account, they were probably married in 1864 about 11/2 years
Carlos R. Jones lived a very productive life on Smith's Island. He first
tried farming but due the erosion of the land on the island he had to take
to the water to feed his family. He then became a oyster man and eventually
the Captain of the Maggie Dora, a two masted bug eye which was a smaller
version of a schooner that could go into shallower water for oysters that
On his tombstone is inscribed "To that land where there is no more stormy clouds to rise." He is still remembered on Smith's Island today.
No matter how significant or insignificant the contribution to history
he makes, Carlos Jones is still a contributor. But both the life and the
legend that surrounded Carlos Jones show how precarious life was for a
young soldier during the Civil War, and how, no matter what difficulties
there were, these difficulties play a part in a history, whether it's the
history of the world or the history of a community. Deserters and draft
dodgers are frowned upon today. It is not known what the general society
thought of them in the 1860s and it is not understood what was on Carlos
Jones' mind at the time. Today, only the barest facts can be found: He
was a young boy of 16 when he enlisted and a young man of 17 when he deserted.
He was old before his
NOTE: This was originally a term paper done by my son Peter in the Fall
of 1997. Carlos Jones' identity has always been somewhat of a mystery.
Some have said that he was the C. D. Jones listed on the monument. Others
have said he was really one John Black. To date more information has been
found. Although the Carlos Jones of Northumberland County VA detailed
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