One Man’s Opinion

Dick Nicholas

Volume 8, Number 10
October 2000

In the summer of 1861, the sharp blast of the bugle, the shrill squeal of the fife, and the long roll of the drum called the sons of Virginia to arms. The hour had come for them to defend the Old Dominion against the Yankee invaders. Virginians saw the outbreak of war between the North and the South as the second American Revolution. They passionately believed that Virginia had played a key role in forming the Union, and that she had an absolute right to leave it whenever she chose. The war was to be the culmination of generations of social, cultural, economic, and constitutional conflicts going back to the very beginning of the country. It is my belief that the conflicts and divisions between the two regions were so deep and long-standing, that a war was necessary to resolve the issues.

The men who answered Virginia’s first bugle call, who gathered around the new country’s flag, and who tried to march in step to the fife and drum were all volunteers. They rushed to join new military companies in their home counties with their neighbors, friends, and relatives. Much like our modern-day sports teams, they gave their companies intimidating, valorous, and dauntless names that reflected their fierce determination, local color, and deep pride. Some of the more colorful appellations were: Spartans, Guards, Defenders, Rangers, Avengers, Invincibles, Rough and Readys, Minute Men, Fire Eaters, Muddy Toes, Lancers, Tigers, Rescuers, and so on. One of my favorites though, were the young men from Wise County in Western Virginia who called themselves the Wise Yankee Catchers.

When the Confederacy mustered the volunteer companies into the army, they were assigned to regiments which were composed of ten companies. The army then discarded for organizational purposes, the fancy company names, and proceeded to identify the units by letters of the alphabet. Thus, the Lincoln Hunters of Gloucester County ended up as Company E in the 26th Virginia Infantry Regiment. And, the famous local company from Charlottesville known as the Monticello Guard, was assigned to the 19th Virginia Regiment as Company A.

Each company in a given regiment received its letter designation according to the date when its officers were commissioned. The company whose officers were commissioned first became Company A; the company whose officers were commissioned second became Company B, and so on. The Confederacy gave each regiment a number, and regiments became the backbone of the army. Most the Virginia regiments were destined to become part of the legendary fighting force known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

In contrast to the standards used to designate the infantry companies, Confederate artillery units were organized into batteries, and commonly identified by the name of the of its commanding officer, or the benefactor who had initially provided the funds to purchase the armament and equipment for the unit. In addition, multiple names were not uncommon, and the battery sometimes adopted the name of the local geographical unit and political subdivision from which the majority of its men were recruited. A good example of the use of multiple names to identify an artillery company is the Albemarle Everett Artillery.

In the summer of 1861 Dr. Charles Denny Everett, a wealthy physician who lived at “Belmont” near Keswick, and who was a fervent supporter of the Confederacy, promoted the formation of a local artillery company. He purchased most of the guns, horses, uniforms, and other paraphernalia to equip the unit. Thus, the battery was initially called the Albemarle Everett Artillery. Further confusing matters, artillery batteries were also frequently named after the commanding officer. In this case, William H. Southall was named the first captain, and the unit was sometimes referred to as Southall’s Albemarle Everett Battery”! When Southall failed to be reelected as captain in April 1862, Lt. James Walter Wyatt, another native of Albemarle, was elected captain, and the unit then became known as Wyatt’s Battery. After Wyatt was killed at Cold Harbor in June of 1864, Lt. Charles Johnston assumed leadership of the company.

Until after the disastrous lesson at Malvern Hill in 1862, the Confederate artillery was not organized into battalions. The companies or batteries, comprised of 4 to 6 guns, were commissioned independently a battalion or a regiment, and were usually assigned to brigades or divisions. After the 1862 reorganization, batteries were normally grouped into battalions composed of 4 or more companies. At Gettysburg, for example, Wyatt’s Albemarle Battery was assigned to Major William T. Poague’s Battalion, and many of the accounts of Wyatt’s men are found in the battalion records, rather than in battery accounts.

Charlottesville and Albemarle County supplied as many as 21 companies of local me to Confederate service. Considering that there were only about 12,000 white citizens in the county at that time, it was a remarkable contribution. Some of the units were the Sons of Liberty, the Southern Guards, Albemarle Rangers, Albemarle Jackson Avengers, Albemarle Light Horse, Sturdivant’s Battery, Carrington’s Battery, White Hall Guards, etc. However, Albemarle’s major contribution to the Confederate military was the 19th Virginia Regiment. This regiment was composed of ten companies in all, each averaging about 83 men. Its members, actually from three counties (Albemarle, Nelson, and Amherst), included units from five local communities which supplied the bulk of the manpower—Charlottesville, Scottsville, Howardsville, Stony Point, and Hillsboro. The 19th Regiment also included what was known as the Charlottesville Silver Cornet Band which provided much musical inspiration to the fighting men.

The 19th Virginia survived ten major battles and numerous skirmishes. The regiment’s worst day was at Gettysburg where nearly sixty percent of the men were lost in the bloody repulse on July 3, 1863. Although the regiment continued to function as a unit, the numbers dwindled steadily, and by the time of their surrender on April 6, 1865, at Sailor’s Creek, only twenty-nine men answered the final roll call.

Many descendants of the men in the units from this area still reside in our midst. The muster rolls list names like Anderson, Woods, Scott, Maupin, Brown, Johnson, Shifflett, Via, Taylor, Moon, and Wingfield, just to name a few. All these men stepped forward to do what they believed to be their duty.