Bullets and Bridesmaids

The 1865 wedding of Captain James Slaughter Carpenter (CSA) to Miss Emily Alston Leach of Tuscaloosa might be called a “shotgun wedding,” but not because the groom wasn’t willing.

Captain Carpenter was my first cousin four times removed, born in Bardstown, Kentucky, on January 23, 1840. He joined the Confederate Army in 1861 under General Sidney Johnston, 9th Kentucky Infantry (“The Orphan Brigade”). After the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, he was assigned to duty in the commissary department at Demopolis, Alabama. It was there that he met Emily Leach and the couple planned to marry.

The following details of the event were extracted from a document compiled by Mathew W. Clinton, President of the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Historical Society, dated April 1965, entitled “The Federal Invasion of Tuscaloosa, 1865.”

There was a romantic side to it all, for the romance did not die when war came to the land; in fact it flowered in full bloom all through the dark days. Tuscaloosa was in a romantic state of mind that day for the reason that there was to be a wedding that night in one of the best homes in town.  Miss Emily Leach, daughter of Dr. Sewell J. Leach, was to be married to Captain James S. Carpenter, a gallant young confederate soldier from Kentucky, then on duty at Demopolis.  Invitations had been issued and an elaborate “war time” supper was being prepared. All society was in a state of excitement and anticipation, and for the moment they forgot their many troubles, and there was no fear in the minds of the people, as they prepared their shabby finery for the night’s great event, which was to take place at 8 o’clock.

Dr. Leach’s home was on Fourth Street and only two blocks from the top of the river hill.  There were then several other fine homes in the neighborhood and these were naturally the first places to be visited by the hungry and loot-seeking raiders, who were even then silently drawing nearer and nearer.  Soon after dark, the entire street from one end to the other was filled with the carriages and buggies of the assembled guests.

The wedding ceremony was performed at 8 o’clock by Reverend Phillip Fitts, a relative of the bride.  Young Tom Leach, only a boy soldier, just home from the battle of Nashville, with two old felt hats tied around his partly-frozen feet, a brother of the bride, was present.  He had carried the colors, and having them shot from the staff, he hid the precious colors in his shirt and brought them home.  This Confederate battle flag became the central motif of the decorations, being draped from the central chandelier under which the bride and groom stood as they were being wed.

Captain Carpenter was dressed in his best Confederate uniform, and his attendants, all soldiers on leave or local duty, were uniformed.  The bridesmaids, all dressed in borrowed finery, were: Misses Mary and Laura Matthews, Belle Woodruff, a local beauty, Louella Cochrane, Alice Stafford, Lydia Peck and Mollie Fink of Selma, Alabama. Miss Mary Matthews, who later became Mrs. Force of Selma, and who served that city as postmistress for many years, wrote, in her later years, a most gripping and romantic story of the wedding and it was from this and local stories that the account of this social affair has been documented and can be considered authentic.

Following the ceremony, an elegant dinner, considering the times, was served. The ladies were served first, and as was the custom, the men were left in the dining room for the drinks, such as they were.  The ladies repaired to the parlors where they engaged in singing wartime songs.  As the men drifted in, the couples paired off for dancing, and by nine o’clock happiness reigned supreme with never a thought of trouble.  Suddenly firing was heard in the distance, down towards the bridge, and instantly every face blanched with fear and dread; only too well they knew what it might mean. They knew right then that the war had at last come to Tuscaloosa.  Much excitement was apparent in the street outside, and as much inside.  Valuables were hastily removed and hidden, the men passing their watches to the ladies who placed them in their slippers and beneath their garters, while their capacious bustles were stuffed with other valuables.  A negro slave snatched the confederate flag from the chandelier and stuck it in the kitchen stove, a most thoughtful act.

The street was in an uproar, and the firing was increasing and drawing nearer and soon bullets were heard striking the walls of the house.  The men might have escaped to the deep gulley in the rear, but they chose to remain with the ladies for whatever protection they might afford.  One of them, just out of prison, bemoaned the fact that he would have to return to its horrors.  One fellow hid under the back steps but a vicious dog ran him back indoors.

Dr. and Mrs. Leach remained calm under it all, and comforted their guests as best they could.  The bride and her maids repaired to the upstairs, where they tried to comfort her in her distress.  The men decided to surrender as resistance would have been useless, and would have brought on more serious trouble.  One young lady attempted to leave by the front door and the first soldier to come on the porch fired at her, but Mrs. Leach, who had followed her out, managed to throw the gun up and no one was hurt.  The enemy swarmed in in a short while, first placing all the men under arrest except Dr. Leach, who was an old man and in a low state of health. Following this they demanded food. Mrs. Leach graciously served them what was left, much to the disgust of the negroes.  She apologized that she had no wine to serve them.  Then the looting began, which continued all through the night and they made a clean job of it.  Herding the men together, they prepared to take them across to the camp over the river. Captain Carpenter pleaded for the right to say farewell to his bride, and with a guard he was allowed to go upstairs, where he took a hasty, if tearful, farewell less than an hour after his marriage.  Leaving the room, blinded with tears, he stumbled and fell down the steps, to the amusement of his captors.  He was carried away and across to Newport.  It is said that after reaching camp, Captain Carpenter was recognized by an old school mate, and he persuaded General Croxton to allow him to return to his bride under promise that he would not attempt to escape.  He later returned to the camp and remained a prisoner for several days, being later paroled and allowed his freedom.

At the close of the Civil War, the Carpenters loaded their belongings in a wagon and moved back to Kentucky.  James became a prominent businessman, a general agent for the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company.  He and Emily made their home at 1211 Second Street, in what is now “Old Louisville,” and raised six children. Emily died just one week before their Golden Wedding Anniversary, due to an abdominal tumor and acute uraemia. The Captain died five months later after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. The couple is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, but the story of their war-time wedding lives on in recollections of life in the South in Civil War times.

The photo below was taken by Louisville Courier-Journal photographer Frank Wybrant at the Sixth Reunion of the Orphan Brigade in Bardstown, Kentucky, in 1887. Although James Carpenter’s name is on the roster of attendees, we don’t know whether he appears in the photo. He would have been 47 years old.


2 thoughts on “Bullets and Bridesmaids

  1. Emily Leach Carpenter was my gr aunt 3 times removed. ( At least I think so.) Her brother Edward Faulcon Leach was my gr gr grandfather. We only learned of Emily’s adventurous wedding after we started doing family research. I can only imagine how scared she must’ve been.


  2. Captain James S Carpenters portrait hangs in my parents dining room in a very large, ornate gold frame. My father is James slaughter carpenter, son of Col. James Slaughter carpenter, son of Samuel sydney carpenter, son of this Capt. james slaughter carpenter.
    There was suppsedly a potrait of Emily Leach Carpenter also, but no one on our side knows where it is. Might have gone to the Leach side??
    We would lovevto know its whereabouts.
    We also have the “bosom spoons” the large coin silver serving spoons the servants hid under their breasts from the union looters that fateful evening.


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