Monday, September 17, 2012

Captain Hart's Company South Carolina Horse Artillery: James B. Dyer, my 2nd cousin 4x removed

Artist's sketch of the Washington Battery Guidon

Captain Hart's Company of the South Carolina Horse Artillery went by many names during the Civil War.   It was originally organized as the Washington Artillery Volunteers.  It was also referred to as Hampton's Legion Artillery and Stuart's Horse Artillery.  The group was most often referred to by the name of it's second Captain, James Franklin Hart. 

Cover Sheet for James Dyer's Service Record showing the many names of the Hart's Battery

The Company's first Captain was Stephen Dill Lee (no relation to Marse Robert).  Lee was promoted on November 8, 1861.   Following Lee's promotion, the command of the unit went to James F. Hart.  Hart would remain attached to the unit for the majority of the war.   He was severely injured in the action at Burgess' Mill near Petersburg, VA in late October of 1864.  This injury would cost him his right leg.  An interesting side note, my Great Great Grandfather, C. C. Wheeler was also injured in this battle, also costing him his right leg.  Despite his injury, Hart was promoted to Major in February of 1865. 

James F. Hart

On June 10, 1861 the Washington Artillery was presented with a "handsome guidon".  This guidon was given to the regiments color bearer, Heinrich Louis Sherfesse.    Sherfesse carried the guidon through 143 engagements during the Civil War.  He also hid it under his jacket to prevent its capture when the battery surrendered at Bennett Place, Durham, North Carolina on April 26, 1865.

Original Guidon for the Hart's Battery located in the Confederate Relic Room, SC Military Museum

James B. Dyer was born in Franklin, Georgia in November of 1826.  He married Millie Powell in Hart, Georgia on September 8, 1855.  Sometime after 1860, James and his family relocated to Seneca, South Carolina.   James enlisted as a Private in Captain Hart's Company, South Carolina Horse Artillery on May 15, 1863.  He was 36 years old.

1st Muster Roll for James B. Dyer
He would participate in the following engagements:

June 9, 1863Brandy Station, VA
June 17, 1863Warrenton, VA
June 19, 1863Middleburg, VA
June 21, 1863Upperville, VA
June 30, 1863Hanover, PA
July 2-3, 1863Attached to III Corps, Gettysburg, PA
July 5, 1863 Williamsport, MD
August 1, 1863Brandy Station, VA
Sept. 11 & 12, 1863Raccoon Ford, VA
October, 1863Jack's Shop, VA
October 9-22, 1863Bristoe Campaign, VA
Nov. - Dec., 1863Mine Run Campaign, VA
May 5-12, 1864The Wilderness Campaign & Yellow Tavern, VA
May 8-21, 1864 Spotsylvania Court House, VA
May 28, 1864Hawe's Shop, VA
June, 1864Trevillian's Station
June 20, 1864York River, VA
June 24, 1864Samaria Church, VA
Jun 1864 - Apr 1865Petersburg Seige, VA
September, 1864McDowell's Farm, VA
October, 1864Armstrong's Mill, VA
October 27, 1864Burgess' Mill, VA
October 28, 1864Hatcher's Run/Dinwiddie Road, VA
March 19-21, 1865Bentonville, NC

Hart's Battery at Brandy Station, VA, June 9, 1863
In the waking moments of June 9, 1863, the members of Hart's Battery awoke to the sound of rapid firing and the sight of Confederate Cavalry pickets scurrying through their camp being closely followed by a small number of Union Cavalry.  The small Union force was easily driven back by pistol fire from men from the battery.  At once, Captain Hart ordered two guns to be deployed on the road in which the Union troops had traveled and withdrawn.  The men in the camp quickly dressed and manned the other guns in the battery.   Within minutes, mounted Federal forces appeared on the road, roughly 200 yards away.  Hart gave the orders to open fire.   The bombardment halted the advancing Federals causing them to dismount and deploy their skirmishers.   The 7th Virginia Cavalry was camped only a half a mile away and came to the aid of the battery.   The combination of fire from the battery and assistance from the 7th Virginia Cavalry allowed all the large arms of the battalion to be safely withdrawn where they could in turn assist the Cavalry.   About 10:00am, two regiments of Union Cavalry appeared on the batteries left flank.  Hart ordered his men to fire with shot and shrapnel shell.  This tore gaps in the advancing Federal Forces but didn't completely halt them.   When the Federal forces came within range, Hart's men switched to canister.

Canister is extremely brutal.   It basically turns a cannon into a large shotgun.  Appropriate canister range is approximately 200 yards.

Tin casing and canister shot.  (each shot is roughly the size of a plum)

Artist's sketch of canister shot enclosed in tin

The canister shot caused severe carnage, but the Federal forces kept coming.  Double canister was ordered.   This too tore into the advancing Federals, but didn't stop them.   Men were blown into oblivion to the left and right of the Union troops, yet they marched forward toward the battery.   The men at the rear of the batteries defenses were now being overtaken by Federal troops.  The men at the front, now turned their guns and started firing into the Federal troops.  With the Cavalry arriving and the steadfastness of Hart's Battery, the Union forces were soon beaten back from their advancing positions.

All was not at ease.  Confederate and Union Cavalry forces started appearing out of nowhere.  Hart's battery would spend the remainder of the day punishing Union Cavalry troops with shot, shell and canister until they withdrew from what had become the largest Cavalry battle of the Civil War.

James B. Dyer was paroled at Greensboro, North Carolina on May 1, 1865.

Muster Roll showing James Dyer's parole
He died in Oconee, South Carolina in 1905.   He was 79 years old.  His burial location is not known at the time of this blog entry. 

Here's my relation to James:

James B. Dyer (1826 - 1905)
is your 2nd cousin 4x removed
Martin Dyer (1808 - 1872)
Father of James B.
Malvina Lavonia Wheeler (1760 - 1820)
Mother of Martin
William Wheeler (1725 - 1780)
Father of Malvina Lavonia
Benjamin Wheeler (1755 - 1830)
Son of William
Benjamin Franklin Wheeler (1803 - 1883)
Son of Benjamin
Christopher Columbus Wheeler (1842 - 1912)
Son of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Elliott Wheeler (1883 - 1951)
Son of Christopher Columbus
Phebe Teresa Wheeler Lewis (1918 - 1977)
Daughter of Benjamin Elliott
Joyce Elaine Lewis (1948 - )
Daughter of Phebe Teresa
Chip Stokes
You are the son of Joyce


  1. Thank you for sharing this, James B Dyar (1826 - 1905)is my 2nd great grandfather. My great grandmother is Rhoda Ann Dyar.

  2. You're mighty welcome. I'm glad you found and have enjoyed my blog.

  3. My late husband's great-great grandfather was James Franklin Hart. This is a very interesting blog. Thanks.

    Nancy Young Hart (Beaumont, Texas)