Dennis Frye – General Background of the 2nd Virginia Infantry

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VIDEO: Dennis Frye – The Origins of the 2nd Virginia Infantry – TRT: 4:08

Well, of course, Stonewall Jackson will become the famous Stonewall Jackson on July 21, 1861, because the men in his ranks will stand upon Henry Hill and stand there like a stone wall. “There stands Jackson – like a stone wall” would declare General Bee, and, Jackson, indeed, with his force, would stand there and, actually, help turn the tide of battle – which was not going well for the confederacy at that moment – turned the tide of battle and, ultimately, helped lead to the great confederate victory of July 21, 1861 on Henry Hill in the battle of First Manassas. But, who were these men that enabled Stonewall Jackson to earn that nickname and who were these men who stood there on Henry Hill like a stone wall? Well, many of these men were from the lower Shenandoah Valley. These were men from Jefferson County, Berkeley County, Clarke County, and Frederick County, Virginia and these men who stood with Jackson there on Henry Hill were many of the same men who had arrived in Harper’s Ferry that third week of April, right after the army and arsenal had been seized, arrived there, drilled there, were trained there by Thomas Jonathan Jackson, while he was the commandant at Harper’s Ferry. So, there was a bond between Jackson and the local boys who had come up out of the lower Shenandoah Valley to join the confederate army. They became the stone wall. Well, who were these people? Well let’s take a look for a moment as to who comprised what became known as the 2nd Virginia infantry. The 1st Virginia brigade was comprised of five Virginia regiments. These five regiments totaled a little under 3,000 men and one of those regiments, known as the 2nd Virginia infantry was principally the lower Shenandoah Valley regiment and, in the 2nd Virginia infantry were 10 companies of men. Now a company at full strength was supposed to be about 100 men. So, theoretically, the 2nd Virginia infantry at full strength was a thousand men. As a regiment, it never equaled a thousand men, not even at the beginning of the war. Most of the companies had anywhere from 400 to 600 men, if that many, or pardon me, most of the companies usually had about 80, 70 to 80 men. The regiment itself may have been between six and 800 men, even at the beginning of the war. So here was the composition of the 2nd Virginia infantry, Company A came from Charlestown and was commanded by Captain John W. Rowan. Company B came from Shepherdstown, known as the Hamtramck Guard and they were commanded by Captain Vincent Butler. Company C came out of Clarke County and they were known as the Nelson Rifles and were commanded by Captain William Nelson. Company D came from Martinsburg from Berkeley County, commanded by Captain John Quincy Adams Nadenbush. Company E came out of of Berkeley County and they were known as the Hedgesville Riflemen and they were commanded by Captain Raleigh Colston. Company F Now, this is our Frederick County Company were known as the Winchester riflemen and they were commanded by Captain William Clark Jr. Company G, we come back to Jefferson County, Company G was known as the Botts’ Greys named after Lawson Botts of Charlestown, but not commanded by Botts. The Botts’ Greys actually were commanded Lawson Botts initially. He soon will be raised to the rank of major but initially at the outbreak of the war, it’s commanded by Captain Botts. Company H, the Letcher Riflemen, named after the governor of Virginia. They come out of tiny little Duffields here in Jefferson County and they will be commanded by James H. L. Hunter. Then, we go back to Clarke County for the Clarke Rifles. They came out of the Berryville area and they will be commanded by Strother H. Bowen. Finally, the final company – the tenth company of the 2nd Virginia infantry: Company K was known as the Floyd Guard, named after former secretary of war, John B. Floyd, and they were based out of Harper’s Ferry. Many of the armorers joined this company in response to John Brown and they were commanded by the mayor of Harper’s Ferry, George W. Chambers. So, 10 companies from the four lower Shenandoah Valley counties all totaled about 800 men who are soon going to do battle on Henry Hill and stand like a stone wall. they began, in a very disciplined, orderly fashion to drill and to execute the rules and the maneuvers of war and they would meet weekly in their companies. They would come into formation in the town square. They had their uniforms and they were different uniforms. For example, the Jefferson Guard were wearing the regular uniform of the United States Army – the standard blue with a Virginia belt buckle. But we had the Hamtramck Guard from Shepherdstown in a very different type uniform, and we had the uniforms coming from Frederick County out of Winchester – The Winchester Riflemen. They were green. So, all and the Bott’s Grays, obviously, were a gray uniform. They had all this different variety of uniforms, because these individual companies had come together had organized. They were armed with good weapons that were provided by the state of Virginia. rifles, rifled muskets or muskets, but they were good, operational weapons; and then, their commanders, their company commanders, their captains had drilled them. So, when the war erupts in 1861, these militiamen, these citizens had already learned the art of war. That didn’t mean they had been fired upon, certainly. They had not seen the enemy, but they were preparing themselves to be the home guard, the home defense for Virginia, and now they were truly called upon to stop an entire army of invaders coming from the north.