& The Civil War 1861 ~ 1865
by J. Edward
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
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
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
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
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
26th Virginia Infantry
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
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
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
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
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.