When you hear of Civil War Generals from Dyer County you normally hear the names of Strahl, Bell and the McCulloch brothers, but there was another native son of Dyer County that was elevated to the rank of Brigadier General and that was John C. Fiser.
Our subject was born, May 4, 1838, at Dyersburg. He was the son of M.D. Fiser one of the first settlers of Dyer County, who had also served as a member of the County Court. M.D. Fiser and his family relocated to Panola County, Mississippi about the time of the Mexican War. Mr. Fiser died in Panola before September of 1852 and left John Rodgers to administer the land that he still owned in Dyer County. Young John then moved in with his uncle a prominent citizen of Mississippi. At age 15 he began clerking at a country store on the banks of the Tallahatchie River.
He left his home in Panola about three years after his father's death and relocated at Memphis. While in this city, he was engaged in the cotton and Mercantile business with the firm of John Doherty, as well as Barnett, Graham & Young. He seemed to be doing well when the war erupted.
Less than ten days after the firing on Fort Sumter, Fiser left Memphis and headed back to Panola. There he helped organize the 17th Mississippi Infantry Regiment and became First Lieutenant of Company H, the "Panola Vindicators." He was then appointed Adjutant of the Regiment at Cornith before they set out for Manassas, Virginia. Here his regiment participated in the First Battle of Bull Run. Shortly after the battle he was promoted to Brigade Adjutant by General W.S. Featherstone.
Later, when the Army of Virginia was reorganized, Fiser was elected Lt. Colonel of his old Regiment. He soon assumed complete command when the regimental commander was severely wounded in a battle near Richmond and so it was Fiser who commanded the unit when it returned to Manassas. Barely over a year since he had first entered battle here as a Lieutenant he was now back on the same ground, but this time leading his fellow Mississippians. He continued in command at Harpers Ferry, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, where he was severely wounded. It was just after Gettysburg that he received his commission as Colonel and followed General Longstreet's command to relieve the Army of Tennessee. By the Time the Regiment reached Knoxville he was placed in charge of a brigade. While mounting the breastworks before Knoxville, he was so severely wounded in his arm that it had to be amputated. Even with this severe wound he would not give up his command until his brigade was safely off the field, though it nearly cost him his life. While recovering from his wounds he was assigned a brigade in South Carolina. He was present at Bentonville, the closing battle of the war for the Army of Tennessee. Here he was singled out for his gallantry by General Joe Johnson. His last assignment was post commander of Savannah when he received his parole at the end of the war. He then set off for home.
Arriving at Augusta, Georgia, he found that a small army of half starved paroled soldiers had descended upon the town that held a stockpile of army stores. In the insuing frenzy, the crowd had begun to plunder homes and businesses and were terrorizing the town. "Comprehending the situation at a glance, he mounted a goods-box and addressed the frenzied mob around him, first with gentle words of remonstrance, appealing to their history as brave men, and to honor the flag they had lately followed, to abandon such unmanly conduct." After much name calling and threats of violence from the crowd, Fizer began to see his words were ineffective. "Immediately the whole aspect of the man changed, and drawing his sword like a flash of light, he demanded to know if there are ten men who are unwilling to disgrace their uniform to follow him." A small band of men stepped foward and at great risk, the general lead a charge against the crowd and scattered them. He was then reinforced by other members of the crowd until he was in command of nearly 100 men, with which he chased the crowd of over 1000 soldiers out of Augusta. In the charge two rioters were killed and many others were wounded in the action. Though offered a reward of money or anything else that might help him on his return home, he refused to accept anything and continued on his journey. With this act he received the undying admiration from the town, which still held him in affection when he died twelve years later.
Fiser returned to Memphis at the end of the war and became a prominent businessman. At his death, his office at 824 Front Street was known as Estes, Fizer & Company. He had changed his name from Fiser to Fizer in 1866, shortly after his marriage. He was active in Democratic politics and prominent in Civic affairs. At one time he acted as Marshal of Ceremonies of a race held at the Grand Memphis Tournament at the Memphis Trotting Park Course. General Fiser Died of intestinal problems at the young age of 37, June 14, 1876. Later that month another young Civil War General, George Custer would die leading the 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn. A regiment that had assembled at Memphis three years earlier before being deployed out west.
Upon Fizer's death, a meeting was held in the parlor of the Peabody Hotel by the Confederate Historical and Relief Association. The committee resolved that a short, if imperfect, memorial be written in the Association records and that the memorial be presented to his wife and published in the city papers. The Memorial began, "Know ye not that a prince has fallen?". Out of respect, the Democratic and Conservative Club adjourned their meeting when they heard the news of the General's death. The Cotton Exchange and the Chamber of Commerce also assembled to pass appropriate measures. The day of the General's funeral, the famous Memphis militia unit known as the Chickasaw Guards assembled in full dress uniform and along with numerous Confederate Veterans, joined the funeral possession. It was said to have been the largest funeral held in Memphis up to that date.
Later the John C. Fizer Camp of the United Confederate Veterans was established at Panola. This event was hosted by Mrs. Cummins the daughter of the late General Fizer. This was celebrated on board the Steamer "Julia" and was attended by the camp members and veterans of the Fizer's old regiment. The moon light was shining on the river and a band played as the vessel got under way. After many patriotic speeches the Color Bearer of the Camp then presented the veterans of the 17th Regiment the original flag that had gone to war with the "Panola Vindicators." This flag had been made by Miss Mary Fiser and Miss Maggie Bradford, and was received by Judge Roane, a former member of the company. It was with this gesture that the evening ended and the deeds of General Fizer were commemorated.
By Earl L. Willoughby, Jr.
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