VIDEO: Dennis Frye – Leaders of the 2nd Virginia Infantry TRT: 5:08
Well, who led this regiment? Who was in charge of the second infantry? Who were these people and what kind of experience did they have? Now, there’s kind of a myth associated with the Civil War that many of these men who initially joined the army – the confederate army and led the confederate army – were novices, that they had virtually no experience. They certainly had never fought in the Civil War before, but they didn’t have any kind of military background or military experience. Well, that’s not true, especially not true in the case of the 2nd Virginia infantry. The 2nd infantry was led by men who had military experience. As an example, the colonel of the regiment James Walkinshaw Allen. Colonel Allen, born Shenandoah County, 31-years-old in 1861, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute. In fact, not only was he a graduate of the military institute, but he later became a professor who taught at VMI. He taught with Jackson, who was also at VMI. So, Jackson and Allen knew each other. They were friends. They had been on the faculty together at VMI. Jackson taught physics; Colonel Allen taught mathematics and so there was an almost immediate bond and trust between Jackson and Colonel Allen when the war breaks out. They start to serve together as part of the 1st Virginia brigade with Allen in command of the 2nd Virginia infantry. Allen was a very interesting person. As a young man, he had actually lost an eye through an accident, but it didn’t stunt his growth. By the time he was a teen at VMI he was six-foot-three inches tall. He would tower over the world. Six-foot-three was a very, very large man by 1861 terms. He was very careful in who he selected to lead this regiment. For example, his second in command Lieutenant Colonel Francis Lackland. Lackland was from Charlestown. Lackland was 30 years old. Lackland also was a VMI graduate. He had graduated in the same class in 1849. As his commander, Colonel James Allen. So, another VMI boy, two VMI grads in charge of the 2nd Virginia infantry. Then, we come to who will become the major of the regiment: Lawson Botts. Now Lawson Botts is not a graduate of VMI but he does have experience. He has military experience. For example, Lawson Botts helps organize the militia that will surround and suppress John Brown during the famous John Brown raid in Harper’s Ferry in 1859, and, in fact, this was such a successful effort by Lawson Botts that Botts will organize his own militia company in November of 1859, shortly after John Brown had been found guilty and that militia company Botts will train and drill from November of 1859, up to the outbreak of the war in April of 1861. So, he has experience. He hasn’t fought to any great extent, but he has experience with a trained militia company and so Lawson Botts becomes the major of the 2nd Virginia infantry. Even to the ranks of the captains, some of the men who are going to be commanding the companies – John W. Rowan – company A, the Charlestown company and Mexican war veteran. Another Mexican war veteran would be the commander or company B the Hamtramck guard – Vincent Moore Butler. Another Mexican war veteran would be the commander of company C (which was from Clarke County, known as the Nelson guard) William Nelson. Another Mexican war veteran was in command of the Floyd guard – George W. Chambers, the mayor of Harper’s Ferry, commanding the Floyd guard company K, also a Mexican war veteran. So, you can see that the leadership of this regiment, not only had the technical learning experience that they received through the benefit of the Virginia Military Institute, but many of these men who are leading troops, potentially leading troops or about to lead troops into battle have already experienced battle themselves and are veterans, true veterans of a fight. So, the 2nd Virginia infantry leadership is well qualified, understands war, and is ready to fight; and, more important, they are able to teach these young men who have joined the ranks how to fight.