Colonel John Griffith was born August 1, 1831 in South Carolina and was the oldest of four brothers who served in the Confederate army. His parents, Samuel Acass “Case” Griffith (b. 1805 in South Carolina) and Barbara Way Davidson Riddlesperger (b. 1806 in South Carolina) had moved first from South Carolina to Lauderdale County, Mississippi and then to Sebastian County, Arkansas before the Civil War. John Griffith’s other siblings were Charity (b. 1833 in South Carolina), Samuel Arthur “Moss” (b. 1837 in South Carolina), Benjamin H. (b. 1840 in Mississippi), Barbara R. (b. 1842 in Mississippi), Mary Harlow (b. 1844 in Mississippi), and major Ellis Ringold (b. 1846 in Mississippi). The Griffiths owned considerable land and slaves in Sebastian County just before the Civil War: over 2000 acres according to Freedmen’s Bureau documents. In 1873, John Griffith married a young widow named Mary Catherine Weaver Weldon (b. 1851 in Arkansas) and became step-father to her son Oscar Weldon (b. 1870 in Texas); John and Catherine also had one daughter, Nancy (Nina) Way (b. 1874 in Texas).
John Griffith first enlisted in the 3rd Arkansas (Gratiot’s) State Infantry, C. S. A. with the rank of captain and commanded Company E in the battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri on August 10, 1861. His younger brother, Benjamin, also in Company E, was slightly wounded at that time. John Griffith became a lieutenant-colonel in the 17th Arkansas (Rector’s) Infantry on December 17, 1861 and was elected colonel of the regiment on April 16, 1862. On September 26, 1863, he was listed as commanding the 11th & 17th (Griffith’s) Consolidated Arkansas Infantry. Colonel Griffith saw action at Elkhorn Tavern, Arkansas; Iuka, Mississippi; Corinth, Mississippi; Port Hudson, Louisiana; Clinton, Mississippi; Bogue Chitto Creek, Mississippi; Franklin, Mississippi; and orchestrated the capture of the Federal tinclad U.S.S. Petrel by Confederate cavalry on the Yazoo River, Mississippi on April 22, 1864. The 11th & 17th Consolidated Arkansas Infantry was ordered to join up with General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s command in April, 1865 and being unable to do so, Colonel John Griffith and his men were surrendered at Citronelle, Alabama by Lieutenant-General Taylor on May 4, 1865. Colonel Griffith was then paroled at Jackson, Mississippi on May 13, 1865.
According to one version of family history, Colonel Griffith returned home to the family plantation in Sebastian County, Arkansas after the war only to find things in ruin and his family absent. Former slaves could only tell him that his family had “gone to Texas.” Archival documents, however, indicate that he found his family living near Richmond, in Sevier County. Arkansas after the Civil War. This area became part of the new county of Little River, formed in 1867.
Colonel John Griffith became involved in organizing armed resistance to Federal militia during reconstruction in and around Sevier and Little River Counties during this time. During this time, the surname Griffith became very familiar to the Federal authorities—notably General B. F. Catterson and Governor Powell Clayton; martial law was declared for Little River County by Governor Clayton in 1868. Shortly after his younger brother, Ben Griffith, was killed by Freedman’s Bureau agents in Clarksville, Red River County, Texas in July of 1868, Colonel John Griffith and the rest of his family left southwestern Arkansas for sanctuary in Texas.
Traveling with a younger brother (M. E. R. Griffith) and two other Confederate veterans (Mat McCrary and Joseph Bishop), Colonel Griffith managed to avoid Federal patrols and made it across the Red River into Texas. One day, Colonel Griffith rode into Comanche and recognized an old, one-eyed mule that belonged to his family. He hid and waited to see who would claim the mule, and was elated to find it was his nephew, S. A. “Bud” Griffith.
Colonel Griffith then lived in Taylor and Kimble Counties, Texas where he was instrumental in the early days of each county’s organization and government. Then, on March 7, 1889, Colonel John Griffith was shot and killed by two brothers, Joab and Mack Brown under unclear circumstances. He is buried with his wife Catherine in the Copperas Cemetery in Kimble County, Texas. On April 24, 1966 the state of Texas dedicated a historical monument to Colonel John Griffith at the Junction Courthouse in Kimble County.
Biographical sketch written by the great-great-nieces and -nephew of Col. John Griffith:
Jessie Jo Caveness—Junction, Texas
Loraine Fleming Ake—Abilene, Texas
Kenneth Elburn Byrd—Indianapolis, Indiana
Rolene Guthrie Stewart—Junction, Texas