Postwar Prison Camp for 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment

Postwar Prison Camp for 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment

By John Fox

Pvt John Rigby, Company D, 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment. Died at Elmira [NY] Federal Priosn Camp, May 1865

Pvt John Rigby, Company D, 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment. Died at Elmira [NY] Federal Priosn Camp, May 1865

The war ended for those bedraggled Confederate veterans who surrendered with General R. E. Lee’s at Appomattox Court House 150 years ago. But what about the Rebel soldiers who were locked away in the horrible Union prison camps with names like Elmira, Point Lookout and Fort Delaware to name a few? Well, their war continued as they fought disease, poor weather and inhuman prison guards.

My book Red Clay to Richmond, Trail of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment [2004] details this ugly situation in Appendix A which is titled “From Hell to Home.” Every few days I will post here several paragraphs that outline what happened to some of these 35th Georgians while in Federal hands. This is a story that is disgusting, yet you will not read about it in the mainstream sanitized history books.

As Lee’s army surrendered, some less fortunate soldiers fought for their lives and their humanity in Union prisoner of war camps. For those men who were captured in the closing days of the Petersburg campaign – a new kind of hell on earth awaited them. Others like John Rigby had endured this hell for even longer. Rigby had been captured at the beginning of Grant’s Overland Campaign in May 1864. He endured the harsh New York winter of 1864-65 at Elmira only to succumb to disease less than a month after the Appomattox surrender. Federal officials logged, “One blanket, one vest, one shirt, and one pair of pants,” as his remaining possessions at his death. Rigby had used these few items for protection during the previous winter when the thermometer frequently dropped below zero degrees.

Rigby from Company D out of Troup County had been captured at the Battle of the Wilderness, but he was listed as missing in action on the 35th Georgia Regiment’s muster rolls. A total of 23 of the 35th Georgians had been captured in this fight and all were listed as MIA. Conditions at Elmira were so stark that the prisoners referred to the place as Hellmira because it would have the highest mortality rate [24.3%] of all Union prisons. Ten of these twenty-three Georgia Confederates would die in prison.

Rigby’s wife, Nancy, never knew what had happened to her husband. Since Rigby was the only member of his company captured at the Wilderness, his family never learned of his exact fate. His wife always believed he would come home and she refused to apply for a government veteran’s pension until 1893. She died in 1897. The family buried her at Liberty Cemetery in Bremen, Georgia, with an empty spot next to her grave – for John – should he ever return.

The next post will outline how Rigby’s Georgia descendants honored his memory

 

NOTES
*Above info via Rigby Family records courtesy of Mr. Mark Pollard, McDonough, Ga.
*Elmira death stats comes from Elmira: Death Camp of the North by Michael Horigan, 2002, Stackpole Books, p. 193.

Upcoming Civil War Talk Radio Interview

Upcoming Civil War Talk Radio Interview

6th Pennsylvania Cavalrymen commanded by Colonel Richard Rush. Known as Rush's Lancers

6th Pennsylvania Cavalrymen commanded by Colonel Richard Rush. Known as Rush’s Lancers

John Fox is looking forward to being interviewed on Civil War Talk Radio on Wednesday evening, April 15 at 7 pm by the show’s host Dr. Gerry Prokopowicz. Gerry is Chairman of the History Department at East Carolina University.The show appears on Voice of America and the link is below. They will be discussing “Stuart’s Finest Hour: The Ride Around McClellan, June 1862″ which Fox wrote in 2013. Listen in and follow the dusty 110-mile trail as Stuart’s troopers hope to keep from being shot down by their Union pursuers.

Link for Civil War Talk Radio

Remembering the Battle of Ft. Gregg – The Confederate Alamo

6_photoJohn Fox will give two presentations and lead a battlefield tour for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Gregg which is known as the Confederate Alamo. On Wednesday, April 1 at 12 noon, Fox will speak at the Virginia Historical Society for their Banner Lecture Series. Then the following day, Thursday April 2 he will lead a battlefield tour at the remains of Fort Gregg on Boydton Plank Road in Dinwiddie County at 1:45 pm followed by a 3 pm presentation at Pamplin Historical Park at 6125 Boydton Plank Road. Fox wrote the award winning book The Confederate Alamo

Click here for VHS link for info is   

Click here for Pamplin Park link for info is

 

New Book Now Ready! Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead: An Honor Roll From America’s Greatest Battle by Krick & Ferguson

New Book Now Ready! Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead: An Honor Roll From America’s Greatest Battle by Krick & Ferguson

Hot Off the Press!

Softcover, 8 x 11, 180 pages,    $22.95IMG_20140915_171959_286

Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead: An Honor Roll From America’s Greatest Battle, by historians Robert K. Krick and Chris L. Ferguson, is the most complete technological list to date of the more than 5,000 Southern dead from the bloody Battle of Gettysburg. This roster contains background info on Confederate burials from the fight, but more importantly it lists the dead by name, rank, unit, DOB if known, personal data and burial site. Civil War buffs, Confederate veterans’ relatives, historians and genealogists will find this book to be a valuable research document to have on their coffee table or bookshelf.

Click on Featured Title or Our Books above to Purchase.

Two Angle Valley Press Titles Available as E-Books

stuarts_finest_hourStuart’s Finest Hour: The Ride Around McClellan, June 1862   is ready as an E-Book at  KINDLE ,  NOOK, OR  I-TUNES. The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg’s Ft. Gregg is available in  KINDLE    and    NOOK.  Many thanks to Savas Beatie Historical Publishers for their help making these award-winning books possible!      6_photo

Angle Valley Press 10th Anniversary & Father’s Day Sale – Huge Civil War Book Discounts!

Celebrate the 10th anniversary of Angle Valley Press together with the upcoming Father’s Day. We are steeply discounting almost all of our Civil War books until midnight on Sunday June 22. We want to thank all of our customers for your support since 2004! CLICK ABOVE ON “OUR BOOKS” ICON to see the SPECIALS.

Stuart’s Finest Hour Receives IPPY Book Award

   Winchester Author Receives Award for Civil War Book 
      By Nancy Jones, Angle Valley Press, LLC
     
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   

 John J. Fox’s Stuart’s Finest Hour: The Ride Around McClellan, June 1862  awarded a 2014 IPPY Bronze Medal for Mid-Atlantic’s Best Regional Non-Fiction category.

 

“Utilizing previously unseen primary sources, he has created a deeply researched and smooth-reading narrative that has the sounds of bugles, saber strikes, and thundering hoofs resonating from its pages.” ~ Paul Taylor, Civil War News, January 2014

                                                                                                                                                          

Winchester, VA., May 27, 2014  – The Independent Publisher Book Awards are conducted annually and honor this year’s best independently published titles from all over the world. The IPPYS highlight the best regional titles from North America and Australia/New Zealand.The official IPPY medal ceremony will take place on May 28 in New York City, one day before the opening of the BookExpo America Conference.  

 John Fox’s award-winning title is the first book ever written about the dramatic Great Chickahominy Raid that stuarts_finest_hourmade Confederate cavalry General Jeb Stuart famous. Stuart led 1,200 horsemen on a dangerous three-day reconnaissance mission deep behind Union lines east of Richmond, Virginia in mid-June 1862. The information that Stuart carried back to Richmond gave General Robert E. Lee the confidence to attack the right flank of General George McClellan’s Federal army. The tactical and strategic impact of Stuart’s raid allowed the subsequent Confederate offensive, known as the Seven Days’ Battles, to push the numerically superior Union army away from Richmond. The war lasted almost three more bloody years before Federal troops would have another similar opportunity to capture Richmond.

 Savas Beatie LLC is a leading independent military and general history publishing companythat markets Angle Valley Press titles to museum and park bookstores throughout the country. Their managing director, Theodore P. Savas, noted, “We are pleased this award went to John Fox and Angle Valley Press. He is one of the finest researchers and writers working today in Civil War history, and this award proves it. Stuart’s Finest Hour is an example of his dedication to first class history.”

 ippy_bronzemedal_LR

Angle Valley Press LLC is a Winchester-based history book publisher in business since 2004.

 

John J. Fox is an award-winning Civil War historian who lives in Winchester, Virginia. He is the author or editor of several books and articles about the Civil War including Red Clay to Richmond [2004] and The Confederate Alamo [2010].

 

Confederate Roar at Wilderness on Night of May 7, 1864

Confederate Roar at Wilderness on Night of May 7, 1864

A battlefield roar that invigorated the Confederates echoed along their line in the middle of the Wilderness on the evening of May 7. Most of George Meade’s Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia faced each other behind defense lines deep in the tangled gnarl of the Wilderness woods. Two previous days of grisly fighting had decimated the ranks of both sides and now each commander tried to assess the others intentions. 

Battle of Wilderness

Battle of Wilderness – Orange Plank Road looking east toward Federal Position near Brock Road intersection. Notice density of brush and this photo taken in winter w/out foliage. This image is actual site where Edward Thomas’ Georgia Brigade manned the line early on May 6, 1864

 The defense lines stretched from Orange Turnpike south beyond Orange Plank Road as “the brush fires continued to try to cleanse the battleground of its grisly sites. The acrid smell of wood smoke filled the air. This smoke frequently blotted out sunlight. That night, a spontaneous unforgettable vocal display occurred in the woods of the Wilderness. Far to the south at the right end of Lee’s line a distant noise broke the night air. All along the line men paused to determine its source. The sound soon grew louder. The noise was the shouts of Confederate soldiers. More men joined the roar as it rolled from regiment to regiment along the line from right to left. The sound echoed northward until it reached the far end of Ewell’s corps.” 


“Again the shout arose on the right – again it rushed down upon us from a distance of perhaps two miles – again we caught it and flung it joyously to the left, where it only ceased when the last post had huzzahed. And yet a third time this mighty wave of sound rang along the Confederate lines. The effect was beyond expression. It seemed to fill every heart with new life, to inspire every nerve with might never known before. Men seemed fairly convulsed with the fierce enthusiasm; and I believe that if at that instant the advance of the whole army upon Grant could have been ordered, we would have swept it into the very Rappahannock.”


The armies next tangled at a place called Spotsylvania Court Houseagain –  150 years ago from right now.

 Footnotes: 2nd paragraph from John J. Fox III, Red Clay to Richmond: Trail of the 35th Georgia. (Winchester, 2004. Angle Valley Press, p. 254-256.
3rd paragraph originally found in  - J.F.J. Caldwell, The History of a Brigade of South Carolinians Known As ‘Gregg’s’, and Subsequently As ‘McGowan’s’ Brigade. (Philadelphia, 1866) (Morningside Press reprint 1992, Dayton, Oh. , p.184).

Who is the 35th Georgian on the cover of Red Clay to Richmond?

Who is the 35th Georgian on the cover of Red Clay to Richmond?

Ever since Red Clay to Richmond was released ten years ago, I have been asked many times about the 35th Georgia soldier on the cover. Well, that serious face with haunting eyes belonged to Private John Rigby from Company D, 35th Georgia. Before he enlisted in 1861, he was a sharecropper in Hogansville, Georgia. The bowie knife in the left hand and the bayonet-tipped rifle in the right seemed to foreshadow the tough battlefields he would soon cross as the image was probably taken in Richmond in early spring 1862 before he and his fellow Georgians had officially seen “the elephant” in a full-scale fight.

Rigby would be wounded on June 26, 1862 at the Battle of Mechanicsville at the beginning of the Seven Days’ Battles. Hit in the right thigh and left chest, he suffered a collapsed lung. Once his condition stabilized doctors sent him to convalesce at home in Troup County.  While there his wife, Nancy, nursed him back to health and her heart must have broken again when he left in December to return to the fighting in Virginia. When they parted she would never see her husband again.        

John somehow survived unscathed the heavy fighting of 1863 at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. He no doubt longed for a furlough back to Georgia, but by the winter of 1863-1864 the manpower shortage in the Army of Northern Virginia had reached epic numbers especially with James Longstreet’s corps detached to reinforce Braxton Bragg’s army in Georgia and Tennessee.

March 1864 found Edward Thomas’ Georgia Brigade [14th, 45th, 49th and 35th Georgia regiments] back in winter camp near Orange Court House with the rest of Robert E. Lee’s army. The Georgians had spent the previous three months in the Shenandoah Valley marching and countermarching in bitter cold trying to drive various Federal units away.

Then on May 2, “as if to foreshadow the coming violence of battle a horrendous thunderstorm passed over the Orange Court House area” flattening tents and scattering equipment. Two days later, numerous 35th Georgians attended a prayer meeting, but a courier soon arrived “with orders for the men to strike tents and to cook two days’ rations.” The Georgians departed camp that night around 10 pm. The column passed through Orange CH and then “turned east onto the Orange Plank Road toward Fredericksburg.” The Overland Campaign had begun.

What these Confederates didn’t know was that the Army of the Potomac was on the move from their winter camps around Culpeper. It would be a race to see if the Rebels could move far enough east to block the long blue columns moving across the Rapidan River toward the important crossroads where Wilderness Tavern stood.

Both armies banged into each other on May 5. As the sun began to set, Thomas’ men moved into the murky woods north of the Orange Plank Road and about a half-mile north of the Widow Tapp Farm. The Georgians soon found themselves fighting from three sides due to an attack by four brigades led by James Wadsworth out of the Union Fifth Corps. When all hope seemed lost, a rebel yell suddenly pierced the woods and “a thin line of 5th Alabama Battalion men, scrounged from a prisoner detail, swept onto the scene. They miraculously pushed back Wadworth’s first line. By the time the Union officers restored order to their ranks, it was dark” and another attack could not be mounted in the thick woods of the Wilderness.

Later that night, Thomas’ Georgians quietly pulled out of the area and moved to a position across the Orange Plank Road and just west of the Brock Road intersection. The fighting resumed at daylight on May 6. A strong Union infantry attack led by Winfield Hancock’s Second Corps pushed back the Confederate brigade on the Georgians right flank. Smoke from gunpowder and burning brush floated just above the ground. Then bullets zipped by from three sides again and Southern casualties mounted. Thomas’ panicked men began a chaotic withdrawal by their left flank.

Something struck John Rigby and he fell down as his colleagues swarmed toward the rear. The approaching line of blue-clad infantry soon gathered up Rigby and nearly fifty more 35th Georgians, most of them wounded. These unfortunate men soon found themselves at the notorious Union prison camp at Elmira, New York. Called “Hellmira” by most of the inhabitants, it became “infamous for having the highest prisoner mortality rate of any Northern prison camp.” At least ten of the captured 35th Georgians from the Wilderness fight would not walk out of Elmira alive.

Red Clay to Richmond:Trail of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment by John J. Fox III copyright 2004 Angle Valley Press

This sad list included John Rigby. He died of acute bronchitis on May 4, 1865 nearly a month after the surrender at Appomattox. He is buried at Elmira’s Woodlawn National Cemetery in grave #2756.

Nancy Rigby never learned the fate of her husband – whether he was killed on the battlefield or captured. Forever holding out hope that he would come home she “refused to apply for a government veteran’s pension until 1893.” When she died in 1897 her family buried her at Liberty Cemetery in Bremen, Georgia. Next to her grave stood an empty spot for John.            

All of the above information came out of Red Clay to Richmond to Richmond: Trail of the 35th Georgia published by Angle Valley Press [2004]. I would like to again thank the Pollard and Mullinax families for giving me so much information on their great-great grandfather, John Rigby, and for allowing me to use his image on the cover of the book.

Following the Trail of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment on Book’s Tenth Anniversary

Following the Trail of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment on Book’s Tenth Anniversary

By John Fox

May 2014 will ring in the 10th anniversary of the publication of my first book which details the long bloody road of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War.  It is hard to believe that Red Clay to Richmond: Trail of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment came out ten years ago.  Little did I know that a 1987 visit to a frame shop owned by Columbus, Georgia’s Jack and Dian Stroud would launch my Civil War writing path. The Stroud’s framed a Don Troiani print that I had purchased titled “Show Them the Cold Steel Boys!” which portrayed a wild-eyed Brigadier General Lewis Armistead leading his Virginia Brigade over the stonewall and into the muzzles of Union cannon at Gettysburg. Before I left the shop on that fateful day, Dian showed me a framed original letter that a Confederate relative had written. Imagine my surprise when Dian told me that her Aunt Ruby had two shoe boxes of letters written by Private James Marion Garrett to his widowed Mother. I asked, and almost insisted, that these letters needed to be copied and preserved. With my Army background, a history degree from Washington & Lee University and a love for all things Civil War I convinced myself that I was the person to do this. I must have convinced Dian who then convinced Aunt Ruby because several weeks later Dian called to say that she had the letters at the shop if I wanted to come see them.

Red Clay to Richmond:Trail of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment by John J. Fox III copyright 2004 Angle Valley Press

I raced back to the shop and soon held these letters written by a young eighteen-year-old James Garrett to his Mom. They spanned from 1861 until 1864 and highlighted Garrett’s experience through all the major fighting in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The letters revealed the daily trials and tribulations of a Confederate foot soldier both in combat and in camp – from the euphoric high of finding extra food to the low of lows as Garrett scribbled about the death of a good friend.

Private James Marion Garrett, Company D, 35th Georgia Infantry Regt.

And then in May 1864, after the fiery fighting at The Wilderness, fate caught up with the young Georgian. Early on May 12, two Confederate brigades led by brigadier generals Edward Thomas and Alfred Scales’ rushed through the dense woods on the east side of the now famous Mule Shoe salient to help Brigadier General James Lane’s Brigade. Union fire into both flanks from Second and Ninth Corps units had pinned down Lane’s North Carolinians.  

The sudden arrival of Rebel reinforcements pushed back troops from Union Brigadier General Robert B. Potter’s division assigned to Ambrose Burnsides’ Ninth Corps. Thomas’ excited Georgians, which included the 35th Georgia and Garrett, chased the retreating blue-clad attackers down a steep wooded hill and across a boggy marsh.

The narrative in Red Clay to Richmond noted: “Burnsides’ men slid back behind their entrenchments and watched as the Confederates struggled across the wet march. When the pursuers came within one hundred yards, Federal troops unleashed a torrent of grape, canister and minie balls. This concentrated fire tore huge holes in the Confederate lines. Private James Garrett gasped for breath as he dropped to his knees with a bullet through a lung. Before he completed his fall, another projectile ripped into his hip.”

North Carolinans and Georgians hugged the ground for about two hours as they endured the murderous fire from Burnside’s men. When the Georgians found their right flank turned they hustled “back across the boggy morass and up the steep incline.” The many wounded Southerners remained behind including Garrett.

The 35th Georgia’s sergeant major James P. Johnston noted in a letter to Garrett’s mother that “as soon as night came the ambulance corps found him and carried him to the field hospital.” Garrett hung on in the hospital for three days. A good friend, Sergeant Wilson J. Moore, maintained a bedside vigil and wrote to Mrs. Garrett that her son had left a small pocket book and an ambrotype to be sent home. Moore also noted James’ generosity because he always shared food that the Garrett family had sent from Georgia.   

Chaplain John H. Taylor spent much time at the bedside of James Garrett before the young Georgia soldier died. Taylor wrote Mrs. Garrett a letter describing her son’s faith and resolve during his final hours.

When conversing with him a short time before his death about his

prospects of heaven he exclaimed, ‘Oh how glad my mother will be

to hear I died a Christian.’ It is great consolation indeed to

know that he passed away so well preparing with such bright

prospects of heaven. Let that fact fill your heart with gratitude

to God. I know it is hard to part from our dear children, but if

they depart in Jesus we know our loss is their eternal gain. They

can never come to us but we can go to them. May the God of all

love fill your heart with peace and comfort. And remember that

you have a treasure in heaven which should be an additional

motive to make you think more of that blessed place. We wrapped

him in his blanket and buried him as best as we could under the

circumstances. You may rest assured that all that could be done

was done. Hoping that these lines will be of great comfort to

you, I remain your humble servant.

 A burial detail placed the body of twenty-one-year-old Private James M. Garrett into the ground near the field hospital on May 15, 1864. Several years later, the numerous bodies buried near this spot were removed to Spotsylvania Confederate Cemetery. However, Mrs. Garrett never learned the exact burial location of her son’s body.

Grave of Pvt. James M. Garrett, 35th Georgia at Spotsylvania [VA] Confederate Cemetery

Then in the mid-1990s I talked with Keith Bohannon who was doing some work for the NPS at Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania Military Park. Keith soon located young James Garrett’s grave and he sent me a photo of the headstone. Jack and Dian Stroud, Aunt Ruby, the extended Garrett Family and I all finally had an answer to a more than 130-year family mystery.