Mayst purest pleasures ever be thine,
A [something] holy, pure, chaste, divine,
Richest of all treasures I’d wish thee given,
Youth, beauty, happiness – a home in Heaven.
So then-Captain, later Colonel, Kennon McElroy wrote in December, 1861, in an elaborate, decorative hand to “Miss Mary,” just more than two years before he was killed leading his 13th Mississippi Regiment in the attack on Fort Sanders. “Old Chivalry,” the fictional men of the novel call him.
Miss Mary was the pretty, 20-year-old Mary Elizabeth Johnston of Leesburg, Virginia where the 13th Regiment was posted in the fall and winter of 1861. They were camped on the Fairgrounds near her home on Loudon Street.
McElroy, a University of Mississippi graduate and a farmer of Lauderdale Springs, Mississippi, must have cut a romantic figure in his Lauderdale Zouaves uniform of billowing, red pantaloons, embroidered blue jacket and low, white turban hat tilted on the back of his head.
Johnston may have mourned his death at age 23. She outlived him by 47 years. But he was only one of her Mississippi suitors. She also inspired at least two other men of the regiment to write her poems. She kept all three poems in a “remembrance” album passed down to her descendants. The album may have been a gift to her from then-Captain McElroy, who may even have known her before the war.