Civil War

John Henry Burgess

Grandfather Burgess' father, John Henry Burgess, was called "Capt." though no documentary evidence survives that he was a captain. He was a fairly prosperous farmer whose plantation had been dependent on slaves before the War. He spent his life on the family homestead at Burgess Creek, Henry County, Virginia.

15 July 2009, Alan:
John Burgess sounds like a major family character: slave holder, personal ties to at least one of his slaves and his family, father 17 kids, 2 by a Black cook (before or after war?), shot and killed 3 deserters, rounding up conscripts for the Confederate army, fought with Jackson in early Valley campaign, apparently commanding a company, later with a calvary regiment and, maybe was in Appomatox campaign and possibly even was an Appomatox surrenderee (although I am a sceptic of the latter at this point). Gives all kinds of perspectives to think about the Civil War and race relations, doesn't it?
Service Record:
Enlisted as a Sergeant 1st Class on 08 June 1861
Enlisted in Company A, 42nd Infantry Regiment Virginia on 08 June 1861.
Promoted to Full Lieutenant 1st Class on 15 September 1861
Dropped from the rolls Company A, 42nd Infantry Regiment Virginia on 21 April 1862
American Civil War Soldiers

He served as justice of the peace in Henry Co. for about 2 years, then served in the 10th Cavalry to the end of the war. The earliest document showing this is a entry on a receipt roll for clothing from Dec. 1864.

An account of his service which he wrote for his daughter Elizabeth provides some details of his service in his own words.

In the commencement of the war, I volunteered in Company H [Co. A] commanded bye Capt. S.J. Mullins of the 42nd Virginia Regiment which regiment was commanded bye Col. Jessee Burks, was drilled at Lynchburg and was first called to reinforce Gen. Floid at Sewel Mountain who was holding in check the advance of Gen. Rosencance. General R. E. Lee was in command of our recruiting force which caused Rosencrance to retreat - we were then called to the Valley of Virginia and was under the command of Gen. Stonewall Jackson was in various skirmishes and was in the battle of Hernstown in which our Regiment received the post of honor. [Post of honor: the advanced guard and the position to the right of a battle line are both considered to be a post of honor, as these troops will face the first assault. The post of honor is reserved for the superior troops. (When the shield was carried on the left, the attack would come from the right.)] [Battle of Kernstown, March 23, 1862 was Stonewall Jackson's first battle in the Valley campaign, and his first and only defeat. His 3500 men faced 8500 Union men under Gen. Shields.] I was appointed first lieutenant of our company in the place of Dr. J. W. Smith who was appointed surgeon of our regiment. Our Capt. Mullins falling sick the command of the company fell into my hands which position I held until the reorganization and not being reinstated I was allowed to go home and holding the office Justice of the Peace I was required to arrest deserters from the army and living near the N. C. line and in a neighborhood of mostly union men who have bound deserters, I had to render considerable service and once while on duty at night with three others we came in contact with twelve deserters from Gen Picket’s division. They were fully armed and defied surrender and endeavored to kill me but having my gun cocked which was a double barrel I shot two of them before they could get their guns in positions and the last man I shot I took his gun and shot the third deserter who was endeavouring to shoot me but his gun failing to fire which saved my life. When my office as magistrate expired I was called to the army and I joined the 10th Va Cavalry was in the battles around Petersburg and served until the surrender of Gen. Lee. [The 10th picketed Robert E. Lee's extended lines south of Petersburg during the winter of 1864 - 1865. The regiment fought gallantly in the final battles at Dinwiddie Court House, Five Forks, Amelia Court House, Farmville, and Appomattox Court House. The survivors escaped to Lynchburg where they were disbanded on April 11, 1865.] quoted in theAutobiography of Cherie Burgess Shindell

We get a different perspective in a letter from R.L. Burgess' sister Liz to sister Lottie, in 1919. Though this account is probably less reliable overall, it makes it clear that there were hard feelings over 'Papa's' failure to retain leadership of the company.

About Papa I understand that he was organizer of company A. 42nd. Va. regiment and it seems that Con Mullins was a sort of lazy aspirant who wanted the honor of being Capt. so he electioneered and got himself elected much to the chagrin and regret of the more consistent men who felt that Papa should have the appointment or office altho' he made no fight for the position. Great many did not like to serve under Mullins. It seems that he was seldom on duty so Papa who had been appointed First Lieutenant, always assumed the position and they recognized him always as Capt. tho' he was never officially declared so.
I think Mullins made it rather disagreeable for Papa as I'm sure he never liked him. It seems that he was not a very popular man.

Did he serve at Appomattox?

Footie, 4 Aug, 2009
He signed a POW parole in mid-May '65. I thought all those at Appomattox received paroles right then, in April. All I could find tonight was that the 6th Corp. (who issued the parole) pursued Confederates from Petersburg to Appomattox, and that their last engagement was at Sailors Creek. This fits with him maybe being captured before the end? Maybe you can find more out.
Alan, 5 Aug, 2009
Most Confederate cavalry took off before the surrender, and did not sign paroles at Appomatox. The Howard regimental history for the 10th says the majority of the 10th took off for Lynchburg, and informally disbanded there. I think they did not want to risk losing their horses (which were mostly personally owned), and also did not want to end up in a prison camp. The actual terms let everybody loose, and let Confederates keep their horses, but the cavalry guys who had the mobility to escape didn't know that when they took off. A number of units ended up in Lynchburg, and from letters and such that I have read, the Confederates in Lee's retreat mostly seemed to expect to end up in a prison camp.

In the Burgess genealogy compiled by John Burgess, descendant of one of R.L.'s brothers, we learn of the black John Burgess's relationship to the family. His service in the war is supported by the award of a $25 pension as a result of an application he filed in 1905 as "a person who served as body servant, cook, teamster, etc."

Family tradition is that at the end of war he provided all of his freed slaves with an acre of land. His former slave John and his wife remained at the home place for many years. Each family report on visits back to the home place met with John. Supposedly, when young, John went with John Henry to visit a neighboring plantation and John pointed out a female slave that interested him. John Henry then purchased the slave girl who became John's wife. John accompanied John Henry on his Civil war duty. John is seen in a number of family photos. Though we are now very ashamed that our ancestors supported slavery, it is some comfort to have evidence of kind treatment of slaves.

An interesting sidelight to the above is that John, the faithful slave/servant apparently named his children after his master's family. There was a black man named Robert L. Burgess 6 months younger than Grandfather Burgess, son of a John Burgess, living in Henry Co. in 1900.

© 2009 Footie Lund