One Man’s Opinion

Dick Nicholas

Volume 8, Number 5
May 2000

No major battles occurred in Charlottesville or Albemarle County, and except for a couple of raids, the tumult of the Civil War never seriously disturbed this area. Nonetheless, this part of Virginia played a major role in the Confederate war effort. Among other things, Charlottesville was an important railroad junction for the critical east-west Virginia Central line that ran from the Shenandoah Valley to Richmond via Gordonville, and the equally vital Orange and Alexandria Railroad that extended from Northern Virginia south through Charlottesville, and on to Lynchburg. Charlottesville was also the home of a major Confederate hospital that treated at least 22,700 patients from 1861 to 1865. However, perhaps the most significant contribution made by the community and neighboring counties was the number of men it supplied to the ranks of the Confederate armies, and especially to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Ervin L. Jordan estimates that Albemarle County, the town of Charlottesville, and the University of Virginia alone supplied approximately 3,000 men, comprising almost 30 companies, from a total white population of about 15,500 in 1860. The latter number included the 500–600 students enrolled at the University of Virginia.

Mr. Jefferson’s university was a fertile source of recruits, and by the end of 1861, at least 515 of the young men in attendance that year joined the armies in the field. There were approximately 9,000 matriculates entered on the university rolls between 1825 and 1865, and it is calculated from the records that not less than 27% of that number—about 2,481—took an active part in the hostilities. Of these, about 1,300 served as officers. From the latter group, 26 became generals, and another 98 served as colonels. Sadly, 20%, or approximately 500 alumni died in the conflict. The names of the alumni casualties are commemorated on two bronze tablets on the walls of the Rotunda.

The earliest militia unit in the area to form during this era was the Monticello Guards that was organized in Charlottesville on May 5, 1857. Two years later another Charlottesville company identified as the Albemarle Rifles was also created. By late 1860 war clouds were appearing and two student companies began training: the Sons of Liberty and the Southern Guard. Two well-known names appear on the rolls of the Southern Gard—2nd Sergeant William J. Pegram, destined to become a colonel and an outstanding artillerist, and 1st Corporal R. E. Lee, Jr., later a captain in his father’s army.

Collectively, the four companies were identified as the Charlottesville and University Battalion. The first military action engaged in by the unit was a joint venture in April of 1861 to capture the firearms and ammunition stored at the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, the ad hoc battalion returned to Charlottesville. The Southern Guard and Sons of Liberty were disbanded a few weeks later. The faculty and other authorities decided that there was too much good officer material in these two units for them to be taken into the Virginia forces as individual units. Most of the members soon volunteered for service in other organizations in Virginia or in their home states.

A third company was later formed in the summer of 1861, largely from the University of Virginia, and volunteered for service with “Wise’s Legion” in Western Virginia. But, by the end of the year, this group was also disbanded.

The largest and most well-known Civil War military organization from the area was the 19th Regiment of Virginia Volunteers. It was organized at Manassas Junction in May 1861, and consisted of ten companies from Albemarle, Nelson, and Amherst counties. The nucleus of the regiment appears to have been the two companies from Albemarle County that had previously been identified as components of the “Charlottesville and University Battalion.” Thus the Monticello Guard and the Albemarle Rifles became the regiment’s veteran units.

The regiment was accepted into Confederate States service on July 1, 1861, and consisted of the following companies, all of which had been enlisted for one year: Co. A—Monticello Guard; Co. B—Albemarle Rifles; Co. C—Scottsville Guard; Co. D—Howardsville Grays; Co. E—Piedmont Guards (Stony Point); Co. F—Montgomery Guard (Albemarle); Co. G—Nelson Grays; Co. H—Southern Rights Guard (Amherst Co.); Co. I—Amherst Rifle Grays; Co. K—Blue Ridge Rifles (Albemarle), and eleven musicians who had performed prior to the war as the “Charlottesville Silver Cornet Band.” The ten companies averaged about eighty-three men each, and seven of the units originated in Albemarle County.

Three men officially commanded the 19th during the war. The first was Colonel Philip St. George Cocke. His tenure as commander lasted only three weeks in June of 1861, and he was succeeded by Colonel John Bowie Strange, a native of Fluvanna, who had trained many of the men in hi s military academy at Bloomfield in Albemarle County, then later in Charlottesville. Strange was remained in command until he was killed at Boonesboro, Maryland, on September 14, 1862. Colonel Henry Gantt of Scottsville assumed leadership of the regiment after the death of Strange, and although severely wounded at Gettysburg, remained in command for the rest of the war.

The 19th Virginia participated in ten major battles and numerous skirmishes including the 1st Battle of Manassas, the Peninsula campaign and Seven Day’s Battles east of Richmond, South Mountain, Gettysburg, Yellow Tavern, and Cold Harbor. Without doubt, the unit’s most famous action was at Gettysburg. Assigned to Richard Garnett’s Brigade in Pickett’s Division, the men from Albemarle and surrounding counties charged up Cemetery Hill on the afternoon on July 3, 1863. When the battle was over, the regiment had lost nearly sixty percent of its ranks, and Colonel Gantt had been severely wounded. The regiment would never again be the same, and the survivors would undergo a long period of rest and reorganization.

The regiment’s end came on April 6, 1865, at Sailor’s Creek. Hopelessly outnumbered and surrounded by General George Custer’s Division, the remnants of the regiment surrendered. Only twenty-nine men of the 19th were present for the final roll call.

There were dozens of other Confederate units from Albemarle and surrounding counties. Some of the other larger and more colorful companies were Carrington’s Charlottesville Artillery, Sturdivant’s Battery, the Albemarle Artillery, Company H of the Rivanna Guards, White Hall guards, Albemarle Light Horse, Company D of the Border Guard, Scottsville Greys, Jackson Avengers, and the Albemarle Rangers.

The 19th and other Albemarle/Charlottesville Civil War companies were composed of farmers, lawyers, mechanics, carpenters, and many other walks of life, and from all levels of society, rich and poor, yeoman and aristocrat. Many of their descendants still live in this community. And for some of us, the inscription on the monument in the University Cemetery says it best: “Fate denied them victory but clothed them with glorious immortality.”

The regimental battle flag of the 19th Virginia still exists in the care of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Like many of the flags in their collection, this one is in poor shape and badly in need of care and restoration. Our Roundtable and others in our community are contributing funds to the Museum to restore and preserve the flag of the 19th Virginia. Your support will be welcomed to help save this small piece of Charlottesville and Albemarle’s history.