Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Young Virginian in an Alabama Regiment: Private William S. Blackburn, my 1st cousin 4x removed

3 Inch Ordnance Rifle

William S. Blackburn was only 16 years old at the start of the Civil War.   He is my 1st cousin 4x removed.  William was born in Henrico County, Virginia in 1845.  It appears as though both his parents were deceased by 1860.  He is the youngest relative I've found that served in the Civil War.  In March of 1862, seventeen year old William S. Blackburn searched for a purpose.  On March 23rd, he found one, with an Alabama Artillery Regiment.  

The Jeff Davis Light Artillery Battery was originally organized in Selma, Alabama in May of 1861.  The Unit was originally furnished with eight guns.  By June, the regiment was ordered to Virginia.  In Virginia, they were attached to General Jubal Early's Brigade during their participation in the Battle of Manassas.  The Jeff Davis Light Artillery Battery would remain attached to the Army of Northern Virginia throughout the war. 

It's unclear why William chose to enlist in an Alabama Artillery Regiment.   Early in the War, both the Union and the Confederacy attempted to adhere to the minimum enlistment age of eighteen.  However, boys as young as eight years old were known to serve on both sides. It's my belief that it was easier for William to conceal his young age with a group of Alabama strangers, rather than local Virginia Regiments full of neighbors and friends.  For whatever reason, William S. Blackburn enlisted as a Private in Company B of the Jeff Davis Light Artillery Battery on March 23, 1862, while the Battery was stationed in Rapidan, Virginia.

1st Muster Roll for William

Much like many other Regiments in the Civil War, the Jeff Davis Light Artillery Battery did not have the luxury of being commanded by the same person throughout the war.  Initially the Battery was commanded by Captain James T. Montgomory.  Following the Battle of Manassas, Captain Montgomery resigned and James William Bondurant was elected as the new Captain of the Battery.  

Captain James Bondurant

Bondurant would lead the Jeff Davis Light Artillery Battery for the better part of 1862.  During that time, the Unit participated in several major conflicts including, The Peninsula Campaign and the Battle of Antietam.  On October 2, 1862  Brigadier General William Nelson Pendleton, Robert E. Lee's Chief of Artillery stated:

"Captain Bondurant's Jeff Davis Artillery, an admirable battery that has rendered eminent service, but he is its life; is now absent--sick."

Captain Bondurant never returned to the Unit.  In 1863, the command of the Battery was passed to Captain William J. Reese.  Reese led the Battery during the Battle of Gettysburg, where the Unit fielded 80 active combatants manning four 3 inch rifles. 

View down the barrel of a 3 Inch Ordnance Rifle

A total of 229 rounds were expended by the Battery.  Eight men from the Unit were reported as missing following the 3 day Battle. 

Historical Marker for the Jeff Davis Light Artillery Regiment on the Gettysburg Battlefield

Reese lead the Battery through the battles of the Bristoe and Mine Run Campaigns in October and November of 1863.  During this time, the Unit lost 2 men wounded.  Captain Reese continued to serve as commander of the Jeff Davis Light Artillery in 1864.  The Unit participated in the Battle of the Wilderness on May 7 - 8, 1864. 

For ten days from May 8 - 18 of 1864, the Battery faced it's greatest challenge of the War during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.  On May 18th, during a Union charge, the Battery lost 3 of their guns and half of the men were captured, including Captain Reese and Lieutenant D. E. Bates.  The remaining men were transferred to various Artillery units under the command of Colonel Thomas Henry Carter.

Colonel Thomas Henry Carter

Carter had been promoted to Colonel in March of 1864 after being heralded with gallantry for his Units participation in the Battle of Gettysburg, being Robert E. Lee's first cousin certainly didn't hurt him. Carter remained attached to the Army of Northern Virginia through September of 1864, when he replaced General Armistead Long as the Chief of Artillery for General Jubal Early's Shenandoah Valley Campaign. 

Muster Roll showing William was on detached service with Hardaway's Battalion

On May 24, 1864, following the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Private William S. Blackburn was transferred to the Virginia Salem Flying Artillery Battery.  His service records indicate he was on detachment with Hardaway's Battalion.  William would remain attached to the Salem Flying Artillery Battery for the remainder of the War.

Virginia 9th Infantry Regimental Flag

The Salem Flying Artillery Battery was originally organized as Company A, Virginia 9th Infantry Regiment in July of 1861.  The Companies in the 9th Virginia were organized in the Southeastern part of the state with the exception of Companies A and B, which were The Salem Flying Artillery and the Baltimore Artillery.  Most of the Companies in the 9th Virginia had attempted to organize as Artillery Regiments under the command of Col. George W. Richardson and were stationed around the various defenses around the Norfolk and Portsmouth harbors, both as heavy artillery and infantry during the early part of the War.

The Battle of Cold Harbor by by Kurz and Allison, 1888.

William's transfer came just before the bloody Second Battle of Cold Harbor.   The Second Battle of Cold Harbor was fought from May 30 to June 12, 1864 and was a part of General Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign.  The First Battle of Cold Harbor took place in the same area on June 27, 1862.

Battlefield Marker for 1st and 2nd Cold Harbor

On June 3, 1864, Grant made his infamous grand assault along the Cold Harbor front lines.  At Grant's disposal was the II Corps commanded by General Winfield Scott Hancock, the VI Corps commanded by General Horatio G. Wright and the XVIII Corps commanded by General William F. "Baldy" Smith.

Marker at Cold Harbor notating the Confederate Main Line

At 4:30 on the morning of June 3rd, the three Union Corps began to advance toward the Confederate Main Line amidst a coat of heavy fog.   Strong and consistent fire from the Confederate Line caused heavy Union casualties.   Federal soldiers who weren't killed immediately, were pinned down.  The fighting on June 3rd resulted in the most lopsided casualty count since the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862. 

Hardaway's Batteries took position near the Johnson House along the North-South Confederate line.  They were ideally positioned to enfilade the advancing Federals. 

Marker showing the Confederate's advanced position

Their devastating fire was a major factor in repelling the enemy in that general area.  The Salem Flying Artillery reported one casualty from their involvement on June 3.  A Private, Henry Gintzburger, peered over the Confederate rampart and took a minie ball right between the eyes.   He was killed instantly.

After Grant's unsuccessful assault on June 3rd, the Lines were relatively quiet for the next three days.

Marker along the hiking trail at the Cold Harbor Battlefield

As the action died down on the front lines at Cold Harbor, Hardaway's Battalion was withdrawn to the Sydnor House, about three miles south near the Chickahominy River, where they went into camp on June 8, 1864.  The Cold Harbor Campaign had ended for the Salem Flying Artillery.  The unanimous Confederate victory would be the last great victory for the Army of Northern Virginia.   Union casualties numbered 12,737 (1,844 killed, 9,077 wounded, 1,816 captured and missing) to the Confederate's 4,595 (83 killed, 3,380 wounded, 1,132 captured and missing).   Grant commented in his memoirs that this was the only attack of the War that he wish he never ordered.

Sign on the side of the Visitors Center at the Cold Harbor Battlefield

The Salem Flying Artillery went on to participate in the defense of Petersburg and the Appomattox Campaign.  During their participation in the Appomattox Campaign, the Salem Flying Artillery fired one of the final shots of the Civil War.

Historical Maker outside East Hill Cemetery
 William S. Blackburn survived the Civil War and lived at least an additional 5 years.  No record of William can be found after the 1870 Federal Census.  No burial record is known at the time of this entry. 
Here's my relation to William:

William S. Blackburn (1845 - 1870)
is your 1st cousin 4x removed
Mosby S Blackburn (1816 - 1860)
Father of William S.
Josiah Blackburn (1790 - )
Father of Mosby S
Sarah Jane Blackburn (1831 - 1896)
Daughter of Josiah
Samuel Henry Conway Jr. (1868 - 1936)
Son of Sarah Jane
Eunice Maud Conway (1895 - 1981)
Daughter of Samuel Henry
Robert William Lewis (1913 - 1990)
Son of Eunice Maud
Joyce Elaine Lewis (1948 - )
Daughter of Robert William
Chip Stokes
You are the son of Joyce

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