How Much Have We Lost?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Charging a Hill 150 Years Ago Today

My Great Great Grandparents
William Jackson Aylor and Roberta Jane (Bowie) Aylor
Today is July 3.  While I'll be in Fairfax County Circuit Court arguing some motions through lunch, I'll also be thinking about how lucky I am to exist, in part, due to the bravery of my Great Great Grandfather who saw some of the fiercest combat seen on the planet when he was half my age. 

On this day around 2:00 p.m. one hundred and fifty years ago, my Great Great Grandfather, William Jackson Aylor, age 22, charged up Cemetery Ridge into a hailstorm of Union bullets and artillery.  He was lucky to make it out alive.

A cousin, J.R. Bowie, took an oral history from him in 1928 before he passed away on my Grandfather's 18th birthday - January 1, 1929. 

After volunteering for the Confederate Army on his 21st birthday at the Orange Courthouse, he enlisted in Company G of the 7th Virginia Infantry, Kemper's Brigade, Pickett's Division under Captain Andrew Bolen. 

On the first day of Gettysburg, he reported being in Chambersburg "engaged in tearing up a railroad to prevent enemy communication with the north."  They marched to Gettysburg on the second day.  On July 3, 1863, his Division formed the right flank of Pickett's Charge.  My Grandfather said he "went into this charge with sixty rounds of ammunition and says that he fired his carbine until it go so hot that his hands were literally blistered." 

The 7th covered Armistead's right (click on the picture at the right to enlarge it).  Ultimately, Armistead's Brigade was the only one to break the Union lines before Armistead was mortally wounded and Union reinforcements repulsed their effort. 

Although I've done a lot of tough things in my life, I can't even begin to imagine the courage it took to charge across a mile of open field, climbing fences and being shot at by the enemy the entire way.  Over 2,600 of Pickett's men were killed, wounded or captured.  Pickett's Division lost 26 of 40 officers.  Kemper was wounded, captured, rescued, and recaptured during the retreat.  Eleven of Kemper's fifteen regiment commanders were Virginia Military Institute graduates - all eleven were killed or wounded.  It was a deadly day and one that altered the trajectory of the United States of America. 

He enlisted on April 11, 1862 and had quite a career in his three years of service.  Kemper's Brigade marched from Virginia to North Carolina to Pennsylvania and back to Virginia.  He and his cousin John Aylor were the first to walk into a captured fort in Plymouth, North Carolina where he captured the breech loading carbine that he carried into Gettysburg.  He fought in 11 major battles including Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Gaines Mill, Frazier's Farm, Second Manassas, South Mountain, Sharpsburg (Antietam), Marye's Heights, and Drewry's Bluff, until he was captured at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865 about eight days before Appomattox.  He was only wounded once and only slightly.  After being captured, he was sent to a military prison at Point Lookout, Maryland, and eventually released.

The Seventh Virginia Regiment fully formed at Manassas Junction with men from Giles, Madison, Rappahannock, Culpeper, Greene, and Albemarle Counties.  They "sustained 47 casualties at First Manassas, 77 at Williamsburg, 111 at Frayser's Farm, 59 at Second Manassas, and 4 at Fredericksburg. Of the 335 engaged at Gettysburg about forty percent were disabled. They lost 39 men at Drewry's Bluff, and many were captured at Five Forks and Sayler's Creek.  Only 20 officers and men were present at the surrender."  The 7th Regiment's battle flag was captured and is currently on display in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.  Kemper went on to be elected Governor of Virginia from 1874-78. 

He was born on April 11, 1841 in Peola Mills, VA located right on the Madison County-Rappahannock County line about three miles from the trailhead for Old Rag southwest of Sperryville, VA.
After the War, my grandfather returned home to Madison County and married Roberta Jane Bowie on Valentine's Day in 1869.  He had several children including Great Grandmother Eva Mae before moving to Franklin County, Virginia when my Great Grandmother was a toddler.  Pappy (my Grandfather) said his mother told him that they hooked all of the chickens, pots and pans up on a wagon and headed south.  The travelled in style back then. 

Whenever it's time to charge into life's cannons nowadays, whether it's in the courtroom, the State Capitol, or some other battle in life, I always like to think about my Great-Great-Grandfather charging up Cemetery Ridge and the example he set.  Fearless, loyal, and reliable.  Important values by which to live one's life.

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