Saturday, January 16, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: Fort Macon

 
  Located on Bogue Banks on the North Carolina coast, Fort Fisher was the second fort constructed on this spot. The first was known as Fort Hamilton. Fort Macon was named in honor of Nathaniel Macon, a North Carolina politician who served in both the US House and Senate. The fort was seen as a way to protect the towns of Beaufort and Morehead City. (Blackbeard was known to sail in and out of Beaufort Inlet; Beaufort was captured by the Spanish in 1747 and the British in 1782.)

   Fort Macon was a part of the Third System of US fortifications and designed by Brig. Gen. Simon Bernard, US Army Corps of Engineers. Construction began in 1826 and was finished in 1834, costing $463,790. Because of poor management, the fort was in a sad state of affairs in 1861.

   The fort was under the command of Ordinance Sergeant William Alexander. He and his family were the only ones present on April 14, 1861, when the Beaufort Harbor Guards arrived to seize Fort Macon. By the next day, two other companies of North Carolina volunteers had arrived at the fort. On April 17, a force of sixty-one free and twenty-one slaves, all African-Americans, had arrived at the fort to begin maintenance work. Over the next few weeks, a railroad was laid to the wharf, and thirteen 24-pounder cannons were shipped, and in some way, mounted at the Fort. Various volunteer companies from the eastern portions of the state garrisoned Fort Macon, with Col. Charles C. Tew appointed commander. Then, that summer, Tew was replaced by Maj. William L. DeRossett, then Lt. Col. John L. Bridgers, followed by Col. Moses J. White. Later, the independent companies were mustered into traditional regiments or were designated as members of the 1st North Carolina Artillery.

   Due to the threat of attack, the newly mustered 26th North Carolina Troops was assigned to the fort in September 1861, along with the 7th North Carolina State Troops, the latter staying for a month. This was followed by a company of the 3rd North Carolina Artillery. In early 1862, Federal forces began a campaign that resulted in the capture of Roanoke Island and New Bern. The Federals turned their attention to Fort Macon next. Although hopelessly surrounded, the garrison at Fort Macon refused to surrender. On April 25, 1862, Federals began to bombard the fort, which was hit an estimated 560 times. The fort surrendered the next day.  

   Fort Macon was repaired and garrisoned by Federal soldiers for the rest of the war, including Company G, 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, the last company to leave the fort in June 1865. Following the war, the fort was used as a civil and military prison. It was deactivated in 1877 but garrisoned by state troops during the summer of 1898. In 1903, it was abandoned and sold as surplus military property in 1923. It was acquired by the state of North Carolina in June 1924 for $1, and in 1936, became one of the state’s first state parks. The fort was leased to the US Army in World War II, maned by Coast Artillery troops.

   Fort Macon is still a state park, in an excellent state of preservation, with a fantastic museum and education center. For more information, see Paul Branch’s Fort Macon: A History (1999).

   I last visited the fort in June 2018.

Monday, January 11, 2021

The types of prisoners at Salisbury Prison

   Recently, The Scuppernong Press released a small book, edited by Donna Peeler Poteat, on Salisbury Prison. It is actually a post-war reminiscence of Dr. Adolphus W. Mangum. Born in 1834 in Orange (now Durham) County, North Carolina, Mangum was a graduate of Randolph-Macon College, who was also in the ministry, riding circuit in Hillsborough, and then pastoring a church in Chapel Hill. He was a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. In 1860, he moved to a church in Salisbury. When the war came, Magnum became chaplain of the 6th North Carolina State Troops, but later in 1861, resigned due to poor health. Back in Salisbury, he worked with prisoners at Salisbury.

   Magnum wrote his reminiscences in 1893, and they appeared as two separate articles in the Charlotte Observer in May and June. He provides some interesting information regarding the prison. The site, an old cotton factory, was conveyed to the Confederate States on November 2, 1861, as a prison “for Confederates under sentence of court martial, and those arrested for alleged disloyalty, for deserters from the Federal army and for prisoners of war.” Those are four different groups of men: court martialed Confederates; disloyal Southerners; Federal deserters; and, Federal prisoners of war.[1]

   Court Martialed Confederates: The number of Confederate soldiers court martialed for some infraction of the Articles of War is unknown. One historian estimated the number at 20,000, based upon ledgers that survived the fires in Richmond on the night of April 2, 1865. Many of those found guilty were sentenced to loss of pay, reduced back to the ranks if a non-commissioned officer, company punishment, or if an officer, cashiered from the service. Or punishment could be confinement or hard labor. There were two places where these periods of confinement were conducted: Castle Thunder in Richmond, and Salisbury. There were Confederate soldiers confined at Salisbury. Pvt. Samuel S. Bryant (57th Virginia Infantry) was one such prisoner. Bryant was absent from his command from June 1863 until March 1864. He was tried for desertion, found guilty, and ordered to be confined on bread and water.[2] It is unclear just how many Confederate soldiers were confined at Salisbury over the course of the war. On December 1, 1864, the Adjutant and Inspector General’s office issued an order releasing all of those court martialed and ordering them to return to their regiments. Bryant was one of them, along with 155 others at the Salisbury Prison Camp.[3]

   Disloyal Southerners: While for generations writers portrayed the South as one big happy family, there were many who objected to secession and to the Confederate government. One conservative account places the number of political prisoners, those arrested for being disloyal, at 4,108 civilians.[4] In February 1863, at the bequest of the Confederate Congress, the commandant prepared a list of political prisoners then confined at Salisbury. The list contains 131 names. They included C.C. Sheets, a Winston County, Alabama, law student, suspected of “treasonable conduct”; R.B. Elliott a overseer from Tarboro, North Carolina, suspected of being a spy and “trading with the enemy”; and, George Billingsly, a Claiborne County, Tennessee, blacksmith, charged with “aiding and supplying stock for the enemy at Cumberland Gap.” [5] It is unclear just how many political prisoners passed through the Salisbury prison camp.

   Federal deserters: There were roughly 2,000 Federal deserters confined at the Salisbury prison. Many of them simply walked off picket post and into the Confederate lines. An interesting case is that of Peter and Jacques Sneyers, members of the 35th Massachusetts Infantry (substitutes). They were captured on September 30, 1864, near Petersburg. Both of their Compiled Service Records contain “Memorandum from Prisoner of War Records” and both state that they “joined the Rebel army while a Pris of war at Salisbury, N.C. date not given.” Mangum tells us that “A Col Tucker came there for the purpose of getting recruits from their number for the Confederate army. Only foreigners were allowed to enlist. Nearly eighteen hundred took the oath. . . Some may have taken this step in good faith. . . but the greater number chose it as the only means of escape from their terrible den. They were called ‘galvanized Yankees,” and though most of them made scarcely a show of fighting when the test came, a few stood their ground and fought with true courage.”[6]

   Federal prisoners of war: Mangum tell us that the first prisoners of war arrived on December 9, 1861, numbering 120. An additional 176 arrived on December 26, and 80 more on February 7. “These different installments came from various points – some being captured in Virginia, some on the coast of North Carolina and some by the Army of the west in Kentucky. By the middle of March, 1862, their number aggregated nearly 1,500.” [7] Over the course of the war, a little over 10,000 men were incarcerated. An estimated 4,500 died.[8]

   Mangum talked about many other issues, such as prison escapes, the death of a Confederate surgeon, African-American prisoners brought in during the last months of the war, along with the horrors of the prison itself. He considered his story one of “dark history of this great reservoir of misery and death.”[9] If you would like to read more of Dr. Adolphus W. Mangum’s account, check out the book through The Scuppernong Press:

 

 



[1]  Poteat, Confederate States Military Prison at Salisbury, NC, 3.

[2] Bunch, Military Justice in the Confederate States Army, 8, 70.

[3] Brown, The Salisbury Prison Camp, 259-260.

[4] Neely, Southern Rights, 1.

[5] Brown, The Salisbury Prison Camp, 233.

[6] Poteat, Confederate States Military Prison at Salisbury, NC, 32.

[7] Poteat, Confederate States Military Prison at Salisbury, NC, 5.

[8] Speer, Portals to Hell, 339

[9] Poteat, Confederate States Military Prison, 36.


Saturday, January 09, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: Old Alabama State Capitol

 

While in Montgomery, Alabama, the commissioners from the various Deep South states began to debate just where the permanent capital of the Confederate States of American should be located. Many places were advanced as possibilities, including Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee; Pendleton, South Carolina; Alexandria, Virginia; and Selma, Shelby Spring, Spring Hill, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The later even went as far as to send a delegation to Montgomery to confer with the Confederate commissioners. Tuscaloosa had once been the capital of Alabama, and the old capitol building was still in good repair.

   Alabama has had several capitals. The Territorial Capital (1817-18179) was at St. Stephens on the Tombigbee River. Then in Huntsville, it was in Cahaba, and from 1826 until 1846, in Tuscaloosa. The capital then moved to Montgomery. The capitol building in Tuscaloosa was designed by William Nichols, the state architect, and located on Childress Hill. The Greek Revival and Federal style building had a copper dome, visible to boats on the Black Warrior River. The building had three main wings, and an entrance hallway. One wing housed the Supreme Court, another the state house, and the third, the state senate. Nichols went on to design the University of Alabama campus, much of which was burned by Federal soldiers in 1865. 

  After the capital moved to Montgomery, the building was given to the University, who in turn leased it to the Baptist State Convention which established the Alabama Central Female College. The College appears to have remained open throughout the war, escaping the fire set by Union troops on April 4, 1865.

   On August 22, 1923, a fire, possibly caused by faulty electrical wiring, burned down the old building. Its ruins are now a park in Tuscaloosa. If you are interested in learning more, please check out this site.

   I last visited this site in June 2018.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: The grave of Lewis Powell, alias Paine, Geneva, Florida

 
 The war is full of interesting stories. (All of history is full of interesting stories.)  Cemeteries also provide many bizarre tales of the past. The lovely Geneva Community Cemetery in Geneva, Florida, hosts a part of one such story. The cemetery is well maintained and boasts many graves of veterans of various conflicts. There is some nice tombstone art displayed on some of the graves. However, one of the most unobtrusive markers helps to tell a truly strange story of history. Lewis Powell, a member of the 2nd Florida Infantry and later, of Mosby’s Rangers, is buried in two different places. Of course, stories abound regarding strange partial burials. The two that come to mind are the burial of Stonewall Jackson’s arm at Locust Grove, and the case  of Dan Sickles (US), who lost a leg at Gettysburg and then proceeded to regularly visit the leg at the Army Medical Museum.

Lewis Powell (LOC)

   Lewis Powell was born in Randolph County, Alabama, in 1844. His father was a pastor who moved around, pastoring or starting churches in Georgia and Florida. The Powell family appears to have been living in Hamilton County, North Carolina, when Lewis enlisted on May 30, 1861. He was mustered in as a private in the Hamilton Blues. The Hamilton Blues became Company I, 2nd Florida Infantry. The 2nd Florida Infantry served in the Eastern Theater of the war, in Longstreet’s corps. Powell was wounded at Gettysburg – shot in the right wrist. He was captured and spent time in at the hospital at Pennsylvania College and at Camp Letterman. Later, he served as a nurse at various Federal hospitals in Baltimore, where, on September 7, he escaped.

   Powell did not return to the 2nd Florida. Instead, he joined Mosby’s Rangers, earning the nickname of “Lewis the Terrible.” He participated in a number of engagements through 1864. Around the first of January 1865, Powell made his way to Richmond, then to Alexandria and into Union lines, using the alias, “Lewis Payne.” In Baltimore, he met David P. Parr, a Confederate agent. Powell went on to meet John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and Southern sympathizer. Booth was already planning to kidnap US President Abraham Lincoln and recruited Powell to help. Booth’s plan later changed to assassinating Lincoln. Powell’s role was to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward. On the night of April 14, Powell entered the Seward home in Washington, D.C., and attacked Seward in his bed. Powell was apprehended three days later at the Surratt boarding house and imprisoned, first on the USS Saugus, then at the Washington Arsenal.

   At the ensuing trial, Powell was found guilty and sentenced to death; he was executed with three others on July 7, 1865. The four, along with the body of Booth, were buried at the Washington Arsenal. They were moved in 1867 to another spot within the Arsenal grounds, and then in 1869, President Andrew Johnson agreed to turn the bodies over to the families. What actually happened to Powell’s body is not clear. It is possible it is buried in a mass grave at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C… except for his skull. In 1991, Powell’s skull was discovered at the Smithsonian Institution. It appears Powell’s skull was removed by A.H, Gawler in 1869 or 1870, and then donated to the Army Medical Museum in 1885. It was given to the Smithsonian on May 7, 1898. The Smithsonian found a great-niece, who claimed it, and two years later, his skull was buried next to the grave of his mother, Carolina Patience Powell, at the Geneva Cemetery in Seminole County, Florida.  If you visit the cemetery, you’ll find the marker, pictured here, near the stone dedicated to Powell’s mother. They are both located under a tree in a quiet spot that belies the strange nature of the partial burial here.   


Lewis Powell's grave in Florida.

   The literature surrounding the Lincoln Assassination is vast. For more information on Powell, check out Betty J. Ownsbey’s Alias “Paine”: Lewis Thornton Powell, the Mystery Man of the Lincoln Conspiracy (1993).

   I last visited this site in December 2020.  

Monday, December 21, 2020

Confederate Soldiers, Christmas, and Eggnog.


   Eggnog. That beverage associated with Christmas cheer. You either love it, or you hate it. While it is unrealistic to say that it met with universal acclaim throughout the Old South, eggnog was enjoyed by many and seen as a required treat during the holidays. When the sons of the South joined the army, they brought the tradition of eggnog with them.

   So, what is eggnog? The basis is eggs, some type of whiskey (bourbon, brandy, rum), sugar, and milk or cream. One recipe from King George County, Virginia, goes like this: “beat 12 eggs separately, add to the yokes 1 heaping tablespoon full of sugar to every egg, beating all the time.” When very light stir rapidly in 1 pint of brandy and 1 pint of whiskey… Now stir in half of the well beaten whites, then 3 pints of rich cream or 1 pint of milk and 2 of cream, then stir in lightly the remaining whites. A little nutmeg grated is an improvement. Be careful never to add liquor after cream.”[1]

   That first winter of the war found the Southern forces mostly well provisioned, but not as much as they wanted. A member of the 7th Louisiana Infantry, writing from Camp Carondelet in Virginia, told his mother that Christmas had been dull: “the poor private had to content himself with one drink [of eggnog] around which was given in the morning.” A soldier in the 17th Mississippi Infantry, also in Virginia, recalled having eggnog, but no ladies to enjoy it with. “Several boys a little tight in camp & some have been sent to the guardhouse.” Various generals often sent out regulations against alcohol in camp. Yet according to a member of the 4th South Carolina, there were still ways to acquire “the worst kind of ‘rot skull’” at a price. Stationed at Fort Gaines, a soldier in the 21st Alabama wrote of having two glasses of eggnog before breakfast on December 25. Others undoubtedly followed through the rest of the day. Eggnog first thing in the morning was mentioned by more than one soldier. A member of the 7th Tennessee Infantry wrote that their captain gifted eggnog on Christmas morning. “One-half of the boys very tight by nine o’clock. Another member of the same regiment wrote that they had so many drunk men, a wagon was employed to haul them around.[2]  

   Christmas 1862 was a different affair. The Army of Tennessee was poised to fight the battle of Murfreesboro, while the Army of Northern Virginia had just fought the battle of Fredericksburg, and watched the Federals, expecting them to pick up the contest soon. But even with tensions high, there was still time for gaiety. A ball was hosted by the 1st and 2nd Louisiana in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in the town hall, attended by many officers. The officers of the 20th Tennessee gave their men a barrel of whiskey, while in the 154th Tennessee, “Eggnog was fashionable and Captains, Lieutenants, and Privates was drunk and very troublesome.” Supplies were much harder to come by in Virginia around Fredericksburg. A member of the 5th Alabama wrote of their sutler arriving, and the mess being able to purchase sugar cakes, ginger bread, candy sugar, Confederate coffee, pepper, and butter. “He was to bring us the materials for an Egg Nog—but he sorely disappointed us in that—about the first Christmas ever spent without nog…” The complaint went even further with a member of the 12th Virginia: “Christmas [was] the poorest ever spent, no egg nog, no turkey, no mince pie, nothing to eat or drink but our rations. We all talk of home today and wish to be there.” Soldiers stationed away from Fredericksburg were a little better off. Writing from camp near Dumfries, Virginia, a Texas soldier told his wife that “Every mess had its egg-nog or a first-class substitute for it, the first thing in the morning, and something better than common for dinner.”[3]

   Both principal armies were well encamped during Christmas 1863. It had been a hard year, with the death of Stonewall Jackson and Confederate losses at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga. The Army of Tennessee was north of Atlanta, and the Army of Northern Virginia was in and around Orange Court House. Mentions of eggnog seem to be sparse in the army in Georgia, although there were undoubtedly a few soldiers and officers who were able to enjoy their Christmas concoction. In Virginia, an officer in the 5th Alabama wrote that he was invited by his colonel “to drink eggnog with him & had a very pleasant time indeed.” Yet a member of JEB Stuart’s staff was disappointed. He had promised his friends a bowl of eggnog, “but the spirits did not arrive-- And consequently I passed a quiet and a sober day in my tent.” The same was almost true for an officer in the 1st Louisiana, on picket duty near Raccoon Ford on the Rappahannock River. He had concluded that they would be eggnogless for the evening, and had retired to bed, when they heard “horses hoofs on the crisp snow.” They found a camp servant they had sent to Lynchburg with a demijohn. They beat the eggs, stirred in the sugar, and added the whiskey (no mention of milk or cream). “[W] had one of the most delicious noggs that ever mortal man quaffed. Taking a couple of glasses apiece, we retired to bed—to forget the hardships of a soldier’s life, and dream of a joyful reunion with the dear absent ones far away in the Southland.”[4]

   The last winter of the war, 1864, found the wrecked Army of Tennessee in northern Alabama and the Army of Northern Virginia in the trenches around Petersburg and Richmond. A soldier in the 24th Texas Cavalry, Granburry’s Texas brigade, recalled buying whiskey locally to celebrate the holidays, but made no mention of eggs, cream, or sugar. “[A] wee drop makes an old soldier forget his troubles and hardships for the present” he scribbled in his diary. There was still some eggnog to be had. An officer in the 49th North Carolina, thanks to the people from back home, had eggnog. A member of Poague’s battalion recalled a fine Christmas dinner that included eggnog. A friend had a friend that operated a blockade runner and “obtained many good things.”[5]

   Christmas was hard on the soldiers in the field, as well as on the families back home. So many of those hearthsides would lose loved ones throughout those four years. While many were undeniably happy to be home for Christmas in 1865, many reflected back on all that had been lost. Slowly, the eggnog, which had accompanied so many Southern Christmas celebrations, eventually faded from the menu.  



[1] Smith, Famous old Receipts used a hundred years and more in the kitchens of the North and South, 184.

[2] Rawlings, We Were Marching of Christmas Day, 40, 43, 46.

[3] Rawlings, We Were Marching of Christmas Day, 62, 70, 71; Polley, A Soldier’s Letters to Charming Nellie, 21.

[4] Hubbs, Voices from Company D, 207;  Trout, With Pen & Saber, 218; Rawlings, We Were Marching of Christmas Day, 109.

[5] Rawlings, We Were Marching of Christmas Day, 124; McCaslin, Diary of Captain Henry A. Chambers, 168; Poague, Gunner with Stonewall, 109.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Confederate judge impeached by the US – Tennessee’s West Humphreys

Impeachments of judges and justices don’t really happen all that much in our history. By 1862, only three impeachments had been successful – those of Judge John Pickering (1803), Associate Justice Samuel Chase (1804), and Judge James H. Peck (1830). It was probably with a degree of excitement that the trial of District Judge West H. Humphreys began in the US Senate in 1862.

Established by the Constitution in 1878 and the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Federal judicial system has three tiers – district, circuit, and supreme court. District courts lie (usually) within one state, and the judge for that court usually comes from that state. District courts can only hear cases that deal with federal statutes, the Constitution, or treaties. District court judges are appointed by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and are lifetime appointments. 
 
Many Southern states were divided into more than one district. In Alabama, there was a northern and Southern District. William G. Jones was the judge (appointed by James Buchanan in 1850) of both districts within the state of Alabama. With the creation of the Confederate States of America, Jones resigned his judgeship, effective January 12, 1861, and went on to be appointed a district judge for the Confederate States by Jefferson Davis, serving until the end of the war. It seems that most of the Federal district judges resigned and were later appointed to the same post in the Confederate States by Jefferson Davis: Daniel Ringo (Arkansas); McQueen McIntosh (Florida); John C. Nicoll (Georgia); Theodore H. McCaleb and Henry Boyce (Louisiana – resigned US, neither served as Confederate judges); Samuel J. Gholson (Mississippi); Asa Biggs (North Carolina); Andrew G. Magrath (South Carolina); and James D. Halyburton and John W. Brockenbrough (Virginia). However, Judge William Marvin, Southern District of Florida, and Judge Thomas H. Duval, Texas, did not resign and continued to serve as Federal judges throughout the war years. 
 
Judge West H. Humphreys, Federal judge for both districts in Tennessee, also became a Confederate judge for the state of Tennessee. But it appears that Humphreys missed an important step. He did not actually resign his former job, and the Federal government impeached and convicted him for it.

Humphreys was born in Montgomery County, Tennessee in 1806. His father was a state judge. He attended Transylvania University and then read law. Humphreys was in private practice in Clarksville and Somerville from 1828 until 1839. In 1834, he was a member of the state constitutional convention. He was a member of the General Assembly from 1835 to 1838, Attorney General of Tennessee 1839 to 1851, and reporter for the Tennessee Supreme Court those same years. In 1853, Humphreys was nominated to fill the judge’s seat for the United States District Court for Tennessee by President Franklin Pierce.

On July 25, 1861, Jefferson Davis submitted to the Confederate senate the names of two men to be judges, including West H. Humphreys. Nothing really seems to come of Davis’s nomination of Humphreys. On March 26, 1862, Thomas Bragg again submitted the name of Humphreys to Jefferson Davis to be a district court judge. It appears that the senate confirmed Humphreys on March 29.

Word made its way back to Washington, D.C., that Humphreys had taken the position of a Confederate District Judge. The US House impeached Humphreys and appointed managers on May 7, 1862, to go to the Senate to try Humphreys for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

On May 8, 1862, the notification of Humphrey’s impeachment reached the US Senate. The Senate convened as a jury on May 22, with Vice President Hannibal Hamlin presiding. There were seven articles of impeachment. Those articles included public speaking “to incite revolt and rebellion” in Nashville, Tennessee, December 29, 1860; that in early 1861 Humphreys “together with other evil-minded persons within said State, openly and unlawfully support, advocate, and agree to an act commonly called an ordinance of secession”; in 1862 he “unlawfully, and in conjunction with other persons, organized armed rebellion against the United States and levy war against them”; disregarded his duties as a Federal judge by refusing to hold district court; deprived Andrew Johnson and John Catron of their property; and had William G. “Parson” Brownlow arrested. The Secretary then issued a summons that Humphreys appear before the Senate to answer these charges on June 9. The Senate then moved to postpone the trial until June 26. With that, the court adjourned.

The sergeant-at-arms of the Senate, George T. Brown, made his way to Nashville, but was unable to find Humphreys. (Chicago Tribune, June 14, 1862) The Senate published ads in three Washington, D.C., and one Nashville, Tennessee, newspapers, summoning Humphreys to the US Senate. The House managers presented their case, including a list of witnesses that included Jacob McGavock, William H. Polk, Horace Maynard, and William G. Brownlow. The witnesses were examined, and the articles of impeachment were gone through. Humphreys never made an appearance, and the Senate impeached him. Humphreys was removed from office and was disqualified from ever holding an office under the United States again.

Information on Humphreys for the remainder of the war is kind of sparse. There are a few mentions in Robinson’s Justice in Grey regarding a couple of cases, but Humphreys, like most Confederate judicial personnel, slips out of the pages of history. We do know that Humphreys was indicted for conspiracy against the government of the United States. Humphreys was able to resume his law practice in 1866, and continued to practice until 1882. He died on October 16, 1882, and is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee.

Monday, December 14, 2020

PTSD, General John R. Jones, and Confederate History

Combat changes many men. Confederate General John R. Jones seemed to be one of those men. Born in Rockingham County, Virginia, in 1827, John Robert Jones was a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, and then ran a military school in Urbana, Maryland. When the war came, he raised a company that became a part of the 33rd Virginia Infantry. He was commissioned a captain in June 1861, fought at First Manassas, and then was promoted lieutenant colonel in August of that year. In 1862, when the 33rd Virginia was reorganized, Jones ran for colonel, and he lost. He attempted to regain his old position of lieutenant colonel, and again, he lost. At Jackson’s urging, Jones was promoted over others to brigadier general in June 1862, leading a Virginia brigade in the Seven Days campaign.

Southern Illustrated News, January 16, 1864
A wound in the knee at White Oak Swamp, followed by a bout with typhoid fever, kept Jones from the battle of Second Manassas, but at Sharpsburg, he led Jackson’s old division into battle. Yet Jones seemed to be a different man. Partway through the action, Jones headed to the rear, claiming that the explosion of a nearby shell had disabled him. Then, at the battle of Fredericksburg, while back in command of his brigade, it was rumored that Jones had been found hiding behind a tree during part of the battle. Word eventually made its way to Stonewall Jackson. Charges were preferred, and Jones was tried for cowardice. The officer panel on Jones’s trail included A.P. Hill, Jubal Early, Isaac Trimble, Robert Rodes, Henry Heth, James Archer, and William D. Pender. Jones was found not guilty and was acquitted. At Chancellorsville a couple of weeks later, Jones led his brigade, but, once again headed to the rear, this time due to “the ulcerated condition of one of his legs. Jones was relieved of his command, and a newspaper later reported that Jones had resigned.[1] For some unknown reason, Jones was captured on July 4, 1863, at Smithsburg, Maryland, and imprisoned at Johnson Island, and later at Fort Warren. Was he following along behind the Army of Northern Virginia, or simply traveling? It is really not clear why Jones was in Maryland. He was not released until July 1865.[2]

Jones returned to Harrisonburg, Virginia, sold farm equipment, and was a commissioner in chancery of the county court. He was married twice, divorced once, and had two different African-American families. Jones died in 1901.[3]

Stonewall Jackson, who had nominated Jones for promotion, was troubled and humiliated at the court martial of Jones. Jackson told Tucker Lacy “I have almost lost confidence in man. When I thought I had found just such a man as I needed, and was about to rest satisfied in him, I found something lacking in him. But I suppose it is to teach me to put my trust only in God.”[4]

So how have historians viewed the career of John R. Jones?  Douglas Southall Freeman wrote that he  even hated  to mention John R. Jones’s name in connection with the Army of Northern Virginia. Later, in chronicling the part of Jones’s role at Chancellorsville, Freeman wrote that the general “probably had written himself off the army roster by leaving the field because of an ulcerated leg.”[5]

Joseph L. Harsh held the view that Jones was “clearly wanting in ability.”[6]

Robert E. L. Krick thought Jones “spectacularly awful as a Confederate officer.”[7]

Robert K. Krick wrote that Jones “performed with so little personal poise at Sharpsburg that he came under formal charges.”[8]

John R. Jones’s post-war relationships with African-American women certainly influenced late 19th and early 20th century historians and their treatment of his role in history. However, given the charges of cowardice leveled at him after the Seven Days campaign, his military career came to an ignoble end following the battle of Chancellorsville. It seems very likely that his issues may have been related to
PTSD. One has to ask – what happened to John R. Jones?

If you are interested in Jones’s romantic entanglements, please check out Freedom’s Child: The Life of a Confederate General’s Black Daughter, by Carrie Allen McCray (1998).



[1] Southern Illustrated News, January 16, 1864.

[2] A note in his file from the National Archives concerning his capture states that Jones was “Formally in C.S. Army – now a citizen.”

[3] Davis, Confederate General, 3:206-207.

[4] Quoted in Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenants, 2:500.

[5] Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenants, 2:500n, 665.

[6] Harsh, Sounding the Shallows, 142.

[7] Krick, The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy, 122.

[8] Gallagher,  Antietam: Essays on the 1862 Maryland Campaign, 50.