Dennis Frye – The Esprit de Corps of the 2nd Virginia

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VIDEO: Dennis Frye – The Esprit de Corps of the 2nd Virginia – TRT: 4:23

Dennis Frye

When the 2nd Virginia infantry came together in April and May of 1861, many of these men didn’t know each other. Now, they knew each other within their companies because – remember, their companies have been coming together and drilling and practicing for more than a year now, since the John Brown raid. So, within a company, you knew your brother or your neighbor or the man that was shoulder-to-shoulder beside you. But once you combined the companies, men from Charlestown joining with men from Martinsburg, joining with men from Hedgesville, joining with men from Harper’s Ferry – you put all those disparate groups into one regiment – many of the men didn’t know each other very well. But by June and mid-July of 1861, that had changed. The men of the 2nd Virginia had coalesced into one unit. They knew their neighbors. They still had their company designations, but now, their affiliation was with the regiment: the 2nd infantry. “I am a proud member of the 2nd Virginia infantry, 1st Virginia brigade, Thomas Jonathan Jackson, commanding.” So, I’d like to share with you just a few sentences from my book on the 2nd Virginia infantry, as to what it was like for them in 1861, before they would stand like a stone wall in the battle of First Manassas – the men of the 2nd infantry:

Indeed, the men did know each other well. Two months of marching, drilling, campfire chats had transformed a collection of strangers into a family of friends. Members of this new family – the 2nd Virginia infantry – had discovered through continuous conversations that George Washington dominated the ranks as the regiment’s most popular name. America’s first hero shared his name with 44 of the muster rolls’ surnames. Some had even learned that company B or company G’s George Washington have been born in 1842 on the former president’s 110th birthday. In addition to the Washington name, the regiment proudly claimed Lieutenant Richard Henry Lee of company G. Word had spread that Lee was the grandson of the mover of the Declaration of Independence. The regiment’s fraternity-like spirit also affected relative unknowns, like Benjamin Boyd and John Yates Beall. No one realized, of course, in 1861 that Boyd soon would become famous as father of the confederate spy, Belle-Boyd and that Beall would be hanged in 1865 after being sentenced by federal authorities as a guerrilla and a spy. Two months of war had revealed several anomalies in the regiment. The six-foot-three-inch frame of company I’s William Hannum towered above all others in the 2nd Virginia. On the other hand, all others dwarfed the five-foot stature of company E’s James Blattner the regiment’s shortest member. Although 73 percent of the soldiers in the 2nd infantry ranged between 18 and 30 years of age, Albert Moore and George W. Rutter proved notable exceptions, Moore, a boy 15-years-old in company A (the Charlestown company) enlisted as the regiment’s youngest recruit. Company C’s Rutter occupied the opposite end of the age scale and at age 53, he represented the regiment’s most senior member. Indeed, the men knew each other well.