One Man’s Opinion

Dick Nicholas

Volume 11, Number 5
May 2003

Albemarle County was the home of numerous Civil War Confederate personages such as R. T. W. Duke, John Marshall Jones, J. Thompson Brown, John Bowie Magruder, Moses Green Peyton, Thomas L. Rosser, John Bowie Strange, Charles Scott Venable, and numerous others. The histories of these men have been justly recorded and their contributions to the Confederacy have been recognized in numerous ways. Sadly missing from this list of Albemarle’s sons is the name of Colonel Henry Gantt of Scottsville. The neglect is typified by the 1963–1964 Civil War issue of The Magazine of Albemarle County History published by the local historical society that filed to even mention the name of Colonel Gantt!

Henry Gantt was probably born on his parents’ 784-acre farm near North Garden in 1831. The Gantts were a Maryland family, but Henry’s grandfather (Henry Wright Gantt) had moved to Northwestern Virginia (now West Virginia) in the late 18th century, and from there moved to Albemarle County in 1813. An extraordinary highlight in the family’s history is the fact that Henry Wright Gantt won a princely $40,000 in the Maryland lottery in 1821. With this legacy, the family was obviously on sound financial footing for the next couple of generations which allowed them to gain a substantial position in the community.

In 1835 Henry’s father, Dr. John Weems Gantt, sold the North Garden place known as “Solitude” to Joseph Sutherland and purchased about 800 acres on the James River just upstream from Scottsville. He would later buy an additional 1,000 acres adjoining the latter property.

Henry was the oldest son among the 10 children of John Weems Gantt and his wife Pattie Burke Eppes. A young 16 or 17, he enrolled at Virginia Military Institute in 1848 and graduated three years later in 1851. Not an outstanding student, he ranked 23 out of 29.

Sometime in the late 1850s he enlisted in the local militia company known as the Scottsville Guard, and with his military training at V.M.I. he apparently assumed a leadership role, probably as captain of the unit. Virginia seceded from the Union on Wednesday April 17, and local militia units from all over the state were quickly mobilized. The Scottsville Register for Saturday April 20 gives a stirring account of event that week: “A telegraphic dispatch was received by Captain Gantt on Wednesday evening last [April 17] requesting him to have his company in Charlottesville by 9 o’clock that night. A messenger was immediately dispatched to Capt. G four miles in the country. In not more than two hours fifty members of the Scottsville Guard were parading our streets, muskets in hand and knapsacks on back, ready and anxious to respond to the call. We are personally acquainted with every officer and every member of the Scottsville Guard, and feel warranted in asserting that a braver and better set of men never graced a military corps.” The Register went on to extol the virtues of the commanding officer by stating that: “No captain of any company in Virginia commands more respect and high esteem than does Capt. Henry Gantt.” In addition to being captain of the Scottsville Guard, Henry Gantt is also said to have organized and equipped the unit.

The timing and sequence of events involving the organization and incorporation of some of the Albemarle military units into the Confederacy are somewhat muddled. For example, Albert W. Gantt, Henry’s half brother, was enlisted on April 17 by Major Henry Gantt to be Captain of Company C (Scottsville Guard), but Henry was not officially commissioned major until May 17. Apparently the Scottsville Guard and the Howardsville grays were somehow consolidated as a pseudo-battalion prior to April 17 and Henry Gantt then became a de facto major in charge of the two units. Regardless, the Scottsville Guard was incorporated officially into the 19th Virginia Infantry Regiment as Company C on April 17, whereas the Howardsville Grays was not mustered as Company D until April 19.

The 19th Virginia, composed of men primarily from Albemarle, Nelson, and Amherst counties, participated in the First Battle of Manassas and in the spring of 1862 moved with the rest of the army east of Richmond where it was heavily involved in the Peninsula campaign. Gantt was promoted to lieutenant colonel on April 29, 1862, and was highly commended by General Pickett for his leadership role during the battles.

He was apparently wounded in the hip on August 30 during the Second Battle of Manassas and may not have been with the regiment on the Maryland campaign. Colonel John Bowie Strange, the regimental commander, was killed at Turner’s Gap on South Mountain on September 14, and Gantt was promoted to colonel as his replacement. However, he apparently did not assume actual command until November, probably because of his wounds at Second Manassas.

Gantt led the 19th Virginia on July 3, 1863, in the fateful charge by Pickett’s Division up Cemetery Hill. He was severely wounded in the face, all his teeth were shot out, and he was carried off the field by one of his men. Remarkably, seven days later he was admitted to the Confederate Hospital in Charlottesville, and a few days later he was transferred to the hospital in Scottsville near his home and family.

His wounds were severe and he probably did not return to active duty until the fall of 1864 when he was assigned to inspection duties along the Richmond-Petersburg front. Moreover, he continued to spend considerable time in hospitals during the winter and spring of 1865 and it is unlikely that he ever returned to duty with the 19th Virginia before war’s end.

The badly wounded Henry Gantt returned home at the cessation of hostilities and attempted to get on with his life. His father, who had died in 1860, left him a 550-acre farm on the hills above Scottsville called “Valmont.” It was an historic property, being the site of the first courthouse and seat of government in Albemarle County.

In addition to overcoming his physical problems he, like others in the community, had to cope with the economic devastation of the economy and his neglected farm. It would be a struggle for the next two decades of his remaining life to survive. The saga of Henry Gantt’s financial distress would fill a voluminous ledger book. In the end, he died insolvent and left his financial woes to his beleaguered wife.

Colonel Henry Gantt died October 4, 1884, as a result to bleeding associated with his Gettysburg facial wound. He is most likely buried at his home “Valmont,” where a solitary granite stone set flush with the ground and nearly lost in the middle of a present-day pasture reads: “Henry Gantt, Colonel Company C, 19th Virginia Regiment Confederate Volunteers.”

Though neglected in modern history, his old comrades in Albemarle honored his memory by naming their local chapter “Henry Gantt Camp No. 75 of Confederate Veterans of Scottsville,” and his name was placed on the central obelisk of the Scottsville Confederate Cemetery. The old veterans had wanted to move his body from his grave at “Valmont” to the cemetery, but there is no evidence that this was ever done.

Henry Gantt must have been a man of remarkable strength and discipline to endure not only his war injuries, but also the postwar hardships and struggle to survive. We can only imagine what he and his generation might have accomplished had not the Civil War intervened in the prime of their lives.