Planter, Legislator, Judge
Frank Alexander Montgomery was born in Adams County, Mississippi on January 7, 1830. His paternal grandfather, Alexander Montgomery, was one of the first pioneers to settle in Jefferson County, Mississippi, and his maternal grandfather, Colonel Cato West, served as governor of the state. When Montgomery was orphaned at a young age, he inherited slaves and a cotton plantation in Jefferson County. He attended Oakland College (later Alcorn State University) for five years before moving north to study at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania for an additional year. He returned to Mississippi and married Charlotte Clark. With the onset of the Civil War, Montgomery joined the First Mississippi Cavalry and eventually became a lieutenant colonel in General Frank C. Armstrong’s brigade. He was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1879 and served three consecutive terms.
When he was seventy years old, Montgomery wrote Reminiscences of a Mississippian in Peace and War (1901) to capture the antebellum South as he remembered it and pay tribute to his fellow cavalrymen from the Civil War. He begins Reminiscences with nostalgic impressions of his Mississippi childhood. In addition to providing sketches of his early school days, southern politics, plantation life, and religion, Montgomery recounts his experience of attending a northern college. His year at Allegheny enabled him to compare the social customs of the North and South and to reflect on his position as a slave-owning southerner.
Montgomery devotes the majority of his narrative to describing his wartime experiences with the First Mississippi Cavalry. As a lieutenant colonel, Montgomery fought in battles throughout Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee and was court-martialed for his failures at Coldwater Bottom and Old Lamar. According to Montgomery, General Jackson believed that he had been negligent of duty during these two battles, because in each instance the Union army had successfully evaded Montgomery’s scouts. However, the court found neither charge substantial enough for conviction, and Montgomery continued to serve with the First Mississippi Cavalry until the war’s end.
Montgomery also describes Reconstruction and expresses his dismay at the increasing rights of African Americans. He closes his narrative with an account of his transition from farming to law, his flood relief work as a member of the Mississippi legislature in 1882, and his one-term appointment as a circuit court judge in 1895.
In 1901 Frank Montgomery wrote an autobiography. It is called “Reminiscences of a Mississippian in Peace and War.” This book (300+ pages) is about his life and times in Mississippi from 1830-1900. The index includes many Jefferson County, MS names. It is very interesting reading.