Gloucester & The Civil War

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Gloucester County & The Civil War 1861 ~ 1865
by J. Edward Thornton

     Ludwell Lee Montague writes in his book, "Gloucester County in the Civil War":

     "1861 war comes to Virginia.  The approach of war came when South Carolina seceded from the Union on the 20th of December, 1860.  Secession had been threatened before and its constitutionality had been debated at length, but it was clearly understood in Gloucester that the secession of South Carolina meant imminent danger of war.  On the 7th of January 1861, before any other state had seceded, a public meeting was held at the Court House to raise money to buy arms for the militia."

     Despite this realization that war would be the likely consequence, the prevailing sentiment in Gloucester favored the immediate secession of Virginia.  John Tyler Seawell was elected to represent this view at the convention to be held in Richmond to determine Virginia's course. 

     It was in these circumstances that a new volunteer company was organized in Gloucester.  The familiar name of the company was the "Gloucester Redshirts."  Its more formal name was the "Botetourt Guards,"  which revived the name of Gloucester artillery companies which had served in the Revolution and The War of 1812.  The purposes of this company were not martial display or social entertainment.  It was formed to fight.

     Thus, as seven southern states seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America and as tension mounted regarding the U.S. garrison in Fort Sumter at the entrance to Charleston harbor, five volunteer companies were drilling in Gloucester and drilling in grim earnest.

     On the 4th of April 1861, the convention in Richmond voted two to one against secession.  But on the 12th the Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter, and on the 15th, President Lincoln called on Virginia to furnish its quota of volunteers to suppress the rebellion in the South.  Forced to fight on one side or the other, Virginia seceded.

     Gloucester County, with a white population of only 5,000 in 1860, sent nearly a thousand of her sons into the military service of the Confederacy.  That number must have included nearly every able-bodied white man in the county. 

     The names of most of these who went to war from Gloucester are recorded in the "muster roll" compiled in 1916 and preserved in the records of the Circuit Court.  That roll, however, intentionally omits the names of an uncertain number of men judged to be deserters.  Most of those men had volunteered to defend Gloucester, in May of 1861, but had refused to march to Richmond when their homes were abandoned to the enemy, in May 1862.

     For that one year Gloucester was defended.  Thereafter the county was a no man's land between a Federal garrison at Gloucester Point and a Confederate outpost at Buena Vista (Cologne) in King and Queen County.  Communication with Richmond was normally open and a considerable traffic passed back and forth.  But the journey took three days by wagon road through King and Queen.  (Previously it had been a half-day trip by steamer on the York River and railroad from West Point.)  At the same time the people of Gloucester were subject to frequent visitations  by Federal gunboats and cavalry.  These Federal incursions had a military purpose, but from the point of view of the inhabitants, they were simply pillaging expeditions.  Almost every barn and mill in the county was burned to the ground and almost all the horses and livestock were carried off, not to mention more personal valuables.

     Gloucester gave to the Confederate Army one Major General, William B. Taliaferro of "Dunham Massie", two Colonels, Powhatan R. Page of "The Shipyard" and William T. Robins of "Level Green"; and ten other Field Officers.  Of these, one Colonel (Page), one Lieutenant (Fielding Lewis Taylor) and three Majors (John W. Puller, John Eels and Patrick Henry Fitzhugh were killed in battle.) 

     Gloucester gave also to the Confederate Navy four officers including Thomas Jefferson Page of "Shelley", Captain of the once famous CSS Stonewall.

     Most of those listed in the muster roll were the officers and men of the eight companies recruited entirely or principally in Gloucester County.  They were:  Company A, 4th Virginia Heavy Artillery (later the 34th Virginia Infantry); Companies A, B, E and F, 26th Virginia Infantry; Companies C and D, 24th Virginia Cavalry.  In addition, at least nine Gloucester men served in the Richmond Howitzers and eight in the 9th Virginia Cavalry.   The remainder, a considerable number, were scattered as individuals among a variety of other units.

     The first six of the eight companies identified above spent the first year of the war in garrison at Gloucester Point.  The artillery was the first to be committed to battle;  it distinguished itself at Seven Pines on the 30th of May 1862.  Thereafter the Cavalry Company served with the Army of Northern Virginia in all of its campaigns,  but the other five companies spent two more years in garrison at Richmond and Charleston.

     "The 26th Virginia Infantry was never seriously engaged until the last year of the war, but it distinguished itself for steadfastness in the face of disaster.  It saved Petersburg by its stubborn defense of Battery 16 on the 17th of June 1864, against overwhelming odds.  On the 30th of July it held the shoulder of the Federal breakthrough at the Crater for five desperate hours, until the front was restored by a counterattack.  On the 6th of April  1865,  it broke out of the Federal encircle at Sayler's Creek to march all the way to Appomattox".

Gloucester County in the Civil War, Ludwell Lee Montague, Page 1.

     The Monument at Gloucester Court House lists the names of 132 Gloucester men who gave their lives for the lost cause.  A photograph of the monument and 40 of the survivors at its dedication is shown below.  A similar photograph with the men wearing their hats is presented in Caroline Baytop Sinclair's book, "Gloucester's Past in Pictures" (Pages 70 and 71) available in most libraries.

      Many Soldiers serving in the Confederate Army-Navy from Gloucester enlisted at Rowe's store, (Ben Rowe) established in 1860, one of the oldest store sites in Guinea.  George Ash bought out Rowe's interest in 1927 (Glo-Quips, Nov. 13, 1997, in an article - Frank Ash store - Achilles).  Also volunteers enlisted at Gloucester Point and King and Queen County. 

     H. E. Howard, Inc., Lynchburg, VA,  has published The Virginia Regimental Histories Series which is found in most libraries:  These two listed below give information on campaigns, battles and personnel (roster), etc.

26th Virginia Infantry

Example:  Smith, William: age 37, farmer.  enl.  4/20/61 at Rowe's store into Co. F.  Detailed as
         overseer 7/61-8/61.  Detailed by engineer 1/62-2/62.  Transferred to Co. C 6/62 as
         Sgt. Major.  No subsequent record.

Note: The above soldier was my paternal great-grandfather, who lived on Guinea Road (Rt. 216 at Smith's Corner) between Hayes Store and Bena.

5th Virginia Cavalry

Example:  Smith, Richard Mitchell: Pvt., Co. E, b. King and Queen County, 1/18/36.  Enlisted King &
         Queen C. H. (Carlton's Store) 6/7/61, age 25, Farmer; died Camp Gloucester Hospital; 8/21/61
         buried Locust Grove Cemetery, King & Queen Co.  Left widow.
Note: The above soldier was my maternal great-grandfather.

     During their first year at Gloucester Point there was no action for the men of the 26th Virginia Infantry.  Their main mission was to support the Naval Battery at Gloucester Point, to defend Gloucester County from invading forces and to support Colonel Bohannon in the defense of Mathews County.

     There were several alarms but nothing materialized.  None the less there was a real danger to the men at Gloucester Point: disease.  Many of the healthy young farm boys had never before seen so many men in one place.  Sergeant Fleet wrote to his father, "All the non-commission officers except myself and one corporal are sick, most of them with chills and fevers.  Nearly 200 in the whole camp are out."  By August 1862, measles, mumps, malaria, and typhoid fever had reduced the 1500 to 250 fit for duty. 

The editing staff appreciates Ed Thornton's contribution to this issue.  He responded to our request for information about life in Gloucester County during the Civil War.  The various items offered by Ed show his interest in our history and his pride in the contributions made by his own family.  He is a resident of Richmond, VA, but he manages to attend most of our Genealogical Society meetings.

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Last Updated  Friday, 30 January 2004 06:20 PM