Wednesday, April 24, 2013
A General and a Gentleman
By Bob Hurst
I enjoy reading about Confederate generals. Well, actually, I enjoy reading about anything Confederate, but especially the generals. I enjoy reading about their lives and learning about their character and accomplishments in their non-military endeavors.
There are some Confederate generals, of course, who seem larger-than-life and almost mythical. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart and Nathan Bedford Forrest come quickly to mind. Much is known about these magnificent men because much has been written about them.
There were Confederate generals who were so highly regarded by their states that their statues stand in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. Wade Hampton, Joe Wheeler, Edmund Kirby Smith and the redoubtable R.E. Lee are represented in the Hall.
Many other splendid Confederate generals such as Patrick Cleburne, Jubal Early, Albert Sidney Johnston, Richard Ewell, John Hunt Morgan, William Hardee, George Pickett, and Pierre Beauregard are all widely known for their exploits during the War.
Some Confederate generals have even had United States military installations named for them – John Bell Hood, Leonidas Polk, Henry Benning, John B. Gordon, Braxton Bragg, A.P. Hill and, of course, Robert E. Lee are among this group.
While I revere all these magnificent warriors, and enjoy reading about each and every one, what thrills me the most now is to learn of lesser-known Confederate leaders who might not be as famous as the aforementioned but were truly outstanding leaders and, more importantly, outstanding human beings.
This article will be about such an individual – Albert Gallatin Jenkins.
Albert Jenkins was born in November of 1830 into one of the finest families of western Virginia. He was born in Cabell County which is now a part of West Virginia. His father was a wealthy plantation owner. (Note: I will not discuss here how western Virginia was unconstitutionally taken from Virginia by the Lincoln Administration. That will be the topic of a future article.)
Albert was extremely intelligent and graduated from Jefferson College in Pennsylvania at the age of 18 and Harvard Law School at the age of 20. He established a law practice in 1850 but his true love was agriculture and he was very successful at running his own plantation called " Green Bottoms ".
He became active in Democrat politics and was elected to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the election of 1856. He served two terms in the House from March 4, 1857, to March 3, 1861. Realizing that Virginia would undoubtedly secede, he ended his congressional career and returned home to aid the Confederate Cause. He raised a company of mounted partisan rangers (which were nicknamed "Border Rangers") and served as captain of this unit. His ranger unit soon became a part of the 8th Virginia Cavalry with Jenkins serving as colonel of the company.
In the early part of 1862, Colonel Jenkins became a delegate to the First Confederate Congress. (Note: prior sessions of the body had been held as the Confederate Provisional Congress) . On August 1, 1862, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.
General Albert Jenkins was given command of a brigade in General A.P. Hill’s division which he commanded at Gettysburg where he was wounded. During the Gettysburg Campaign his brigade had formed the cavalry screen for General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps. Jenkins’ troops also seized Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, during the Gettysburg Campaign.
Upon his return to duty after recovering from the wounds he had sufferred at Gettysburg, he was assigned to General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry corps and served in the Shenandoah Valley and western Virginia (by then that area had become West Virginia).
In May of 1864 he was appointed Commander of the Department of Western Virginia. Upon receiving information that a large federal force had been dispatched into his area, he led his troops into the field to counter the yankee advance. On May 9 he was severely wounded at the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain. He died twelve days later on May 21, 1864. Ironically, and sadly, this was only nine days after General J.E.B. Stuart had died at the Battle of Yellow Tavern.
This pretty much sums up the military and political careers of Albert Gallatin Jenkins. You might be thinking that he sounds like a successful person and leader but why does Hurst think so highly of him, especially since there were so many Confederates who were successful and good leaders. Well, its all summed up for me by indications of the character of this good man as displayed during a campaign where he led his forces into Ohio in August of 1862, shortly after his promotion to brigadier general.
Brigadier General Jenkins had been given orders by his commander, Major General William Wing Loring, to make a long raid throughout much of the northern section of western Virginia which was intended to put the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad out of commission and also to get Confederate troops to the rear of enemy troops in the area. General Jenkins started the mission with only five hundred troops.
One of his first moves was to make a decision that was controversial but proved to be highly advantageous to the Confederate forces in the area. His scouts had brought him word that Union forces between his location and the target B & O Railroad far outnumbered his own troop strength. The scouts also reported that the federals had stockpiled huge quantities of weapons and supplies at Buckhannon to the north.
General Jenkins decided to go after the weapons rather than the railroad as desired by General Loring. At Buckhannon the Confederates found a huge cache of weapons and supplies – a virtual treasure house of needed items. This cache included 5000 stands of rifles, huge amounts of ordnance and much clothing. The seizure of this stockpile allowed Jenkins to refit his forces with brand new Enfield rifles and other weapons superior to their own and to replace old, worn out boots and clothing with new items. Everything that could not be carried away by the Confederates was destroyed to prevent Union forces from having access to the stockpile.
From Buckhannon the Confederates continued with a series of encounters with federal troops around small towns. All outcomes were favorable for Jenkins’ troops. One of these encounters perfectly identifies, in my opinion, Albert Jenkins for the man he truly was. As the Union commander, Colonel J.C. Rathbone, in the process of surrendering his forces, offered his sword to General Jenkins, Albert Jenkins refused to humble his adversary and told him to keep his sword. General Jenkins then commented that if the fortunes of war changed for him, he would hope for the same treatment from his captors.
Another example of the honor and dignity of Albert Jenkins occurred as his troops approached the town of Ravenswood. A local woman approached General Jenkins and identified one of the yankee prisoners being held by the Confederate forces as a person who had recently mistreated her. Her husband demanded satisfaction. General Jenkins, after discussing the issue with each side, arranged for a fistfight between the husband and the yankee prisoner. He assured both sides that the fight would be fair. The fight was concluded to the satisfaction of all involved and the lady’s honor was upheld.
Shortly after the Ravenswood event, General Jenkins led his troops across the Ohio River and into enemy territory in Ohio. He wrote of this experience: " The excitement of the command as we approached the Ohio shore was intense, and in the anxiety to be the first of their respective companies to reach the soil of those who had invaded us all order was lost and it became almost a universal race as we came into the shoal water. In a short time all [troops] were over, and in a few minutes the command was formed on the crest of a gentle eminence and the banners of the Southern Confederacy floated proudly over the soil of our invaders. As our flag was unfurled in the splendor of an evening sun, cheers upon cheers arose from the men and their enthusiasm was excited to the highest pitch."
Once across the river, General Jenkins addressed the civilian residents of the small Ohio town nearest to where his troops had come ashore to assure them that they would not be harmed by the Confederates. He told them, " Though that mode of warfare had been practiced on ourselves [by the yankees] … we were not barbarians but a civilized people struggling for their liberties, and that we would afford them that exemption from the horrors of a savage warfare which had not been extended to us."
He later wrote that " it was a curious and unexpected thing to hear upon the soil of Ohio shouts go up for Jefferson Davis and the Southern Confederacy."
Unlike beasts of the north such as William T. Sherman, Phil Sheridan, David Hunter, John Turchin, Benjamin Butler and others, Albert Jenkins, a Southern gentleman, posed no threat to the civilian population of the North.
Perhaps the finest tribute to the character, leadership ability and goodness of Albert Gallatin Jenkins came in the after-action report of General William Wing Loring. After detailing that General Jenkins had claimed 40,000 square miles of territory for the Confederacy, captured and paroled 300 federal soldiers and destroyed "immense stores" of enemy supplies, General Loring wrote:
" Crossing the Ohio River twice and prosecuting at least 20 miles of his march through the state
of Ohio, he exhibited as he did elsewhere in his march, a policy of such clemency as won us
many friends, and tended greatly to mitigate the ferocity which had characterized the war in this section."
General Albert Gallatin Jenkins was an intelligent, educated leader of men. More importantly, he was a good man of honor , strong character and integrity – a true Southern gentleman. I am proud that he was another in that long line of outstanding individuals who wore the sacred gray.