Member Submission: Thomas H Childress

Posted on: 04/16/2011

Today will feature our first post based on a member submission.  Dean Thews of Libertytown, MD was kind enough to send in information on his ancestor, Thomas H. Childress of the 15th Virginia Cavalry.

Thomas Childress came from a family of some means in Albemarle County, Virginia.  When the Civil War came, the 20 year old Thomas wasted no time in enlisting.  Today not only marks the 150th anniversary of his enlistment, but it also marks 150 years since the Virginia state legislature voted to secede from the Union. 

The firing on Fort Sumter and President Lincoln’s subsequent call for volunteers to suppress the rebellion in the states of the deep south gave leverage to calls for succession in the upper south.  Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas all seceded after open hostilities broke out.  Virginia voters still had to approve the legislature’s decision, and they would on May 23, 1861, but it seemed that the Old Dominion State would join the Confederacy. 

Thomas enlisted in Capt. Albert Gantt’s Company of Virginia volunteers which was nicknamed the “Scottsville Guard.”  Eventually this company would form Company C, 19th Virginia Infantry.

By July 1861 the regiment formed part of P.G.T. Beauregard’s army (actually known as the Army of the Potomac) in the vicinity of Manassas Junction.  The regiment fought in the first major battle of the Civil War, First Manassas, and Thomas’ muster roll shows him as present during that time.  That’s no proof that he was on the line July 21, 1861, but it is fascinating to think that he may well have been there.

The war in the east quieted down in the time between First Manassas and the spring of 1862, and Thomas’ regiment would not see any major action in that time.  During this time Thomas contracted pneumonia, a disease that certainly could have meant death.  He was detached from his unit stationed around Yorktown, Virginia and treated first at the Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, and then recovered at place called Camp Winder, also in Richmond.  When we researched Thomas an interesting thing happened.  One  database said he died at Camp Winder from pneumonia.  Here’s why:

Look at “Remarks” and you’ll see what looks like “Died convalescent May 10/62.”  What it actually says is “Disd convalescent May 10/62,” which is an abbreviation for discharged.  So, Thomas made it through his bout with pneumonia alright.  No record survives of Thomas’ service for the rest of the summer of 1862, but his regiment was indeed quite active in the Peninsula Campaign and later the Seven Days battles during that time.

When August came Thomas transferred to a different branch of service, the cavalry.  He became a soldier in Company B, 15th Virginia Cavalry just as the climax of the Northern Virginia Campaign of 1862 was occurring at Second Manassas on August 28th, 1862.  He did not report for duty in that regiment until June 5, 1863, possibly because his condition was weakened from pneumonia and he needed time to recoup.  Not much is known about his service with the regiment until a muster roll dated July 5, 1863:

It lists him as absent since June 17 to find a horse, so Thomas was not present with his regiment during the first part of the Gettysburg Campaign.   During the retreat from Gettysburg, however, his 1928 obituary (shown in its entirety at the end of this post) states that he was wounded by a shell burst at Boonsboro, MD, where a battle occurred July 8, 1863.

Already serving in Thomas’ new unit was his younger brother, John Childress.  We have a theory in the works here that might suggest it was not by accident that Thomas was transferred from the infantry to the same cavalry company as his younger brother, but that’s a separate post.

Cavalry duty meant long hours in the saddle riding, and when you weren’t riding you were either taking care of your horse or on picket duty.  The 15th Virginia Cavalry was attached to the Army of Northern Virginia and took part in famous battles like Yellow Tavern and Trevillian station during the Childress brothers' time in the regiment.  No records survived from this period, so we couldn’t determine whether or not they were involved in these actions.  There is however, information offered in Thomas’ obituary from 1928 that states

“At the battle of Trevilian Station near Louisa C.H. Thomas was injured in the hip and taken to the hospital in Gordonsvile Va. He was soon released on furlough and walked home (as his horse was returned home before him by his comrade in arms J. N. Thomas).”

By November of 1864 attrition had taken its toll in both armies, and consolidation of various depleted commands was necessary.  The 15th formed part of the consolidated 5th Virginia Cavalry, and Thomas was transferred again to a new command.  Not much is know about this period in Thomas’ life either, but the 5th remained active until the close of the war.  Thomas was paroled on May 21st, 1865 and allowed to return home, as seen in his parole slip below.

In the post war years he married Mary Amanda Clark, and became a justice of the peace in Albemarle County.  Mr. Thews sent us a scan of Thomas’ obituary, which gives us an image of what he looked like later in life.  Have a look:

Thank you once again to Mr. Thews, and thank you to all the other Friends of Gettysburg members who have contributed so far.  We look forward to many more posts like this in the future.


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