The surrender of Confederates holed up at Cumberland Gap to Union forces on Sept. 9, 1863, opened the way for a federal advance on Knoxville, Tenn. Most of the 2,300 rebel soldiers surrendered, including Hiram Rathbone, would be headed to the North to suffer their fates as prisoners of war. Rathbone, a private in Company A of the 62nd North Carolina Infantry, had originally enlisted in the 25th North Carolina Infantry in the spring of 1861, though illness interrupted his service in early 1862. He returned to the army that summer with the 62nd and wound up in East Tennessee. After he fell into enemy hands at Cumberland Gap, Rathbone and many of his comrades landed in Camp Douglas outside Chicago. He was one of the fortunate men who survived their prison ordeal. Rathbone returned to his home in Haywood County, N.C., after the war, and settled into life as a farmer and miller. He died at age 96 in 1926. He outlived his wife and two of three of his children.
The blue-tinted collar and epaulettes on the jacket and stripe on the trousers of this patriotic Southerner indicates his service in the Confederate infantry. He is armed with a D-Guard Bowie knife and a single-shot pistol. Both weapons are tucked into his double billet belt with roller buckles, a popular style of the period. A tin drum canteen with a blue cover and leather strap is slung across his shoulder. Completing the picture is a small Confederate national flag protruding from the upturned brim of his hat.
The name of this Confederate soldier brandishing an 1851 Colt Navy revolver is not known, though his battle shirt offers a clue to his identity. The dark plastron, or ornamental front, secured by brass buttons and trim on the collar and front pocket, suggest an origin of the Virginia Piedmont. He may have served in one of the many militia companies formed in this region in the weeks following the bombardment of Fort Sumter.
Confederate forces led by Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn advanced on Union-occupied Corinth, Miss., during the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 3, 1862. Among the ranks was John William Rhea of the 6th Texas Cavalry. Born and raised in Tennessee, Rhea had moved to McKinney, Texas, with his family in the late 1850s. When war divided the country in 1861, Rhea and an older brother, William, enlisted in Company D of the 6th as privates. Rhea posed for his portrait about this time, brandishing a D-Guard Bowie knife with a blade that is mottled and discolored, perhaps the result of crude forging. William received a promotion to company captain in May 1862, and he appointed his younger brother first sergeant. Five months later at Corinth, the Rhea brothers and the 6th dismounted and fought as infantry. They marched into battle with the rest of Van Dorn’s men and pushed the federals back to their inner line of defenses. Fighting continued the next day, Oct. 4, during which Confederate fortunes were reversed by powerful Union counterattacks. During the action, Rhea suffered a wound in the chest and fell into enemy hands. Brother William was also wounded but escaped capture. Rhea’s wound proved mortal and he died the same day. His wife, Veronica, and two sons survived him. His youngest, two-year-old John William Rhea II, carried forth the name of his father.
On June 30, 1862, at the Battle of Glendale, Va., Gen. James L. Kemper’s brigade of Virginians overran enemy pickets. Kemper reported what happened next, “The men seemed to be possessed of the idea that they were upon the enemy’s main line, and in an instant the whole brigade charged forward in double-quick time and with loud cheers.” The cheering attracted the attention of Union artillery, and before the day was over the brigade was driven back with heavy losses—414 casualties in five regiments. Among the killed was Pvt. Edmond R. Brown of the 11th Virginia Infantry. A Campbell County farmer prior to his enlistment in June 1861, he joined the Southern Guards, which became Company B of the 11th. During the Peninsula Campaign on May 31, 1862, Brown suffered a wound during the Battle of Seven Pines. A month later, he was killed in action at Glendale. He was about 24 years old and unmarried. His family cemetery does not include a grave for him. He likely rests with his comrades at Glendale.
The long list of casualties from the storm of musket and artillery fire that devastated Confederate Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett’s division at the Battle of Gettysburg included Zachariah Angel Blanton. A tobacconist from Cumberland County, Va., Blanton enlisted as a sergeant in the Farmville Guards less than two weeks after the bombardment of Fort Sumter. He sat for this portrait wearing a cap with the metal letters FG, and armed with a Model 1816 conversion musket. The Guards became Company F of the 18th Virginia Infantry. Before the end of his first year in uniform, Blanton traded his sergeant’s chevrons for the insignia of a first lieutenant. In 1862, he advanced to captain and company commander. Blanton fought in this capacity at Gettysburg. During Pickett’s Charge, he suffered a gunshot wound that caused massive damage to the right side of his face—a significant section of his upper jaw was destroyed and his tongue severely injured. Captured on the field of battle, he spent the next 10 months as a prisoner of war at Johnson’s Island, Ohio, and elsewhere. Blanton was exchanged in mid-1864, and retired from the service on account of his wounds. He returned to his occupation, married in 1868, and started a family that grew to include three children. He died in 1893.
The fur gauntlets, muffler and greatcoat worn by this federal indicates that he is prepared for harsh winter conditions.