VIDEO: Dennis Frye – The Origins of the 2nd Virginia Infantry – TRT: 4:08.
The 2nd Virginia infantry was not a brand new organization in April, May and June of 1861, not new at all. Every company in the 2nd Virginia infantry – all 10 companies – had been organized as Virginia militia companies prior to the outbreak of the civil war. Now, the oldest company – the one that had been in existence the longest – was Company A, the Charlestown company that Captain Rowan was in command of. This company – the Jefferson Guard – had actually been organized in 1858 and it was the Jefferson Guard who was the first to respond to the John Brown attack on Harper’s Ferry in 1859. But most of the rest of the companies came into existence as a result of the John Brown raid. Now, you need to remember that Virginians considered John Brown, not just a murderer and not just a conspirator with northern abolitionists, but they considered Brown an invader and they expected more invasions by more people like John Brown. So the response to Brown was, not just his execution, but the lasting response was Virginians organizing to defend themselves against future incursions by abolitionists. They didn’t think Brown was the end of it. So numerous of these companies that are going to comprise the 2nd Virginia infantry will be organized in the aftermath of the John Brown raid. Now that’s consequential because you see they were actually organized, trained, equipped, and uniformed through the state of Virginia. These were not just your regular “corn stalk and feather bed” militia who would get together once a year and carry a corn stalk for a rifle or have a straw in their left foot or their right foot to help them march. No, no, no. Once these men came together in the aftermath of John Brown to defend their homes, to defend their firesides, defend their women and children, 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.