The Civil War

Robert Elder

Robert Elder was married to Nannie E. (Nancy Elizabeth) Foster. They were the parents of Nannie Bob Elder (officially named Sulestell - no wonder she went by a nickname!), who lived with and helped raise dad (R. Terrell) as young child. They lived and farmed in Campbell Co. and in Lynchburg, along with many other Elders.

Robert was the youngest of a large family. He was 7 years younger than his next older sibling, born when his mother was 47. (Was he in fact an illegitimate grandchild?) He and 3 of his brothers served in the Company I of the 42nd Infantry. Richard was about 40 years old when he enlisted in July of 1861. The other 3 brothers enlisted in early March 1862. Richard died 3 days after being wounded in the abdomen at Gettysburg. Lewellen, who was 35 when he enlisted, was injured at Antietam and furloughed after hospitalization in Charlottesville. James, 32 years old, and Robert, 25, managed to stay together. They were captured on the same day in the same action, and imprisoned together.

Service Record:
Enlisted as a Private on 05 March 1862
Enlisted in Company I, 42nd Infantry Regiment Virginia on 05 March 1862.
On rolls on 01 January 1863
POW on 12 May 1864 at Spotsylvania Court House, VA
Promoted to Full Sergeant 4th Class on 12 May 1864
Confined on 18 May 1864 at Point Lookout, MD
Transferred on 30 July 1864 at Elmira, NY
Confined on 02 August 1864 at Elmira, NY
Took Oath of Allegiance on 19 June 1865
Released on 19 June 1865
American Civil War Soldiers

Significant action seen by the 42nd, Campbell Guard from the time of RE's enlistment until his capture:

Antietam (Sharpsburg)

Alan, 23 Jun 2009
The basic story appears to be this:

The 42nd served under Jackson, and participated in essentially essentially every important and/or famous battle in the east (including the defense of Lynchburg in 1864), before surrendering at Appomattox. Elder was part of the unit for a lot of this history, including a period that included the Valley Campaign, Seven Days, Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsvile, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, before finally being captured at Spottsylvania Courthouse. He could have written a book.

The unit was worn out by Antietam. About a quarter of the army lacked shoes, and most of the army had been subsisting for days (during continuing long forced marches) on apples and green corn. The unit suffered extravagantly from straggling on the final March up Harper's Ferry to Antietam. It was on the front lines of the very first engagement at Antietam, and suffered heavy losses in a short period of time due to a stand-up firefight with an attacking Union infantry unit and heavy cannon fire. We were able to locate the spot of the fight precisely, assuming the accuracy of the signage. Like the rest of the division in which it was organized, as a result of the straggling, poor condition and the heavy initial casualties, the unit was essentially knocked out of the fight by 6:30 a.m. It continued to participate in the battle by "supporting" other units, but one sign says that after the initial engagement the entire division could muster only 500 men. One letter says one of the companies in the 42nd took about only about 5 men into the fight, four of which were hit right away, leaving only one member of the company with the unit. A letter from an officer in the 42nd said that he does not remember Antietam very well compared other battles because he was so fatigued that he "did not care whether I lived or died." The stresses of the Antietam campaign came after six months of strenuous campaigning and continuous fighting. I think it difficult to underestimate the extreme physical and mental stress the 42nd suffered in just getting to Antietam. If the condition of the 42nd was representative of the Confederate army as a whole, Lee's strategy and conduct of the battle begins to smell like desperation.

I have nothing to show whether Robert Elder was with the unit at Antietam, or was one of the many stragglers scattered about the countryside with broken down feet, dysentery, or utter fatigue. His later promotion to Sgt. might indicate he was a stalwart, but by the time of his promotion in 1863 there must have been few of the 1862 crowd left, making him pretty senior in the unit. I guess not knowing whether he was actually on the battlefield, and in fact having facts indicating that there was a dang good chance that he spent the day looting orchards or squatting behind some bush somewhere, takes away a little of the romance, but either mental picture is interesting and historic.

This is just one battle, with one relative in one unit. The Civil War is rich, rich material. One would probably end up with a book of material just skimming the surface for all seven of the veterans.


Action of the 42nd on May 12, 1864
After the Battle of the Wilderness, responding to General Ulysses S. Grant's move toward Richmond, Johnson's division entrenched in a large salient known as "the Mule Shoe" near Spotsylvania Court House. Grant's and Meade's advance on Richmond by the left flank was stalled at Spotsylvania Court House by these troops on May 8. There insued a two-week battle comprised of a series of combats along the Spotsylvania front. The Union attack against the "Bloody Angle" at dawn, May 12-13, captured nearly a division of Lee's army and came near to cutting the Confederate army in half. Casualty rates were so high that Johnson's division ceased to exist after that date. The 42nd lost not only its battle flag but also so many men that the strength of the regiment dwindled to that of a company. Confederate counterattacks plugged the gap, and fighting continued unabated for nearly 20 hours in what may well have been the most ferociously sustained combat of the Civil War.

Elmira Prison ("Hellmira")

A stockade was built around an unused Union army training camp to create Elmira Prison in June 1864. The prison contained 35 barracks and was intended to house as many as 5,000 prisoners. By July about 700 Confederate prisoners were being transferred there from Point Lookout, Md., and other overcrowded Federal prisons, and before the end of August they numbered almost 10,000 enlisted men. Of the 12,122 soldiers imprisoned at Elmira, 2,963 died of sickness, exposure and associated causes. This death rate was more than double the average death rate in other Northern prison camps. The camp was officially closed on July 5, 1865.

© 2009 Footie Lund