3rd Alabama Infantry Regiment

"The Glorious Third" Alabama's first volunteers

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3rd Alabama Regiment: The Mobilians

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Many in the 3d Alabama were, as it once was common to say, “to the manor born.”  This was especially true of two militias from Mobile: The Cadets and the Rifles. These were the oldest local militias and the pride of the city.  Their captains: Robert Sands of the Cadets and Lewis Woodruff of the Rifles were the senior captains of the regiment, and when the command structure was penciled in in Montgomery, the Cadets and Rifles were placed on the right flanks of their respective battalions, meaning they occupied the “positions of honor.” (all positions in a regiment’s battle line were assigned by the seniority of the captains, spreading them out in a logical manner) The Cadets were designated Company A; the Rifles: Company K.  Likewise, the remaining two Mobile militias were split: The Gulf City Guards under Hartwell, and the Washington Light Infantry, captained by Archibald Gracie.  

Gracie, 27,  was not only the youngest of these four, but also by far the youngest captain in the regiment. As a graduate of West Point, however,  his abilities were not in question, nor were his loyalties. A Northerner who had married a Richmond girl, after his active duty commitment was fulfilled, he settled in Mobile to work for the Gracie family interests, and wound up as captain of one of the local militias. His allegiance to the south split his family, his parents never spoke to him again. (Gracie mansion is  still in use as the Mayor’s residence in Manhattan).

Robert Sands at 36, Lewis Woodruff at 45, and William Hartwell at 41 were almost too old for this game. The role of a Civil War captain (captains and lieutenants were known as officers “of the line”) would be a vigorous one, and by the next Spring, promotion or disability  (or lack of  popularity) would readjust company commands throughout both armies.  For the time being, though, these “old men” served as the necessary father figures to hundreds of exuberant spirits. In a culture where age inferred respect and rank conferred authority, the Mobile captains still had their hands full controlling their respective commands. It would be fair to say the young gentlemen in their charge knew their business: marching, drilling, maneuvers and marksmanship. It is also fair to say they  thought––with the perquisite bravery of course––little more  would be necessary. These Mobilians were young men of independence––highly educated, many of them––traveled and cultured. A number were lawyers, physicians or merchants well established in their professions.  The younger set were clerks, university students or “gentlemen of leisure,” with the standing and wherewithal to belong to socially advantageous organizations, i.e. militias, Mardi Gras crews and the like.  What’s more, in the highly social setting  that Mobile was then and is still today––they were expected to belong.

Expectations are at the mercy of many things. The Cadets, The Rifles, The Guards, and The Infantry, all elected their members and their officers––in a manner not unlike modern day college fraternities. Because a militia company had to conform to certain size restrictions, each organization had a waiting list for membership. As vacancies occurred, prospective members were proposed and elected, or returned to the wait-list. Wealth was probably not a factor in their deliberations, but character certainly was. Each group had a democratic sprinkling of those men from humbler circumstances, their expenses covered by others as necessary.  In the Cadets there was William Hartman, better known as “Zou” – 37 year old Alsatian––hired to be drum major to the regiment; and Daniel Wheeler, a 31 year old seaman; The Rifles included carpenter James Daily; in the G.C.G.’s Edward Couch, 19, was a brick layer by trade and son of a minister; William Comegys was a harbor pilot. Amongst the Washington Light Infantry was Edward Byard, a young seaman, and John Gilmore, a printer. Thomas McDonald was listed as “laborer” on the 1860 census.

But these were the exceptions.  The Gulf City Guards also included Private Ed Dargan, son of a confederate congressman;  Privates John and Simon Bagby, sons of the former Governor; the Rifles (Co K), had Private Howard Evans in their ranks. His sister Augusta Evans, was one of the most widely read authors in the country, famous for “Beaulah” and “St. Elmo.” Ten Cadet privates of Mess “Number Five” had the panache (or audacity) to throw a dinner party shortly after their arrival at Norfolk, in May of 1861. One of them, James Deas Nott, had recently returned from Heidelberg, interrupting his surgical studies. Dinner was catered at 2 PM, wine was served until 6 PM, when the hosts excused themselves to attend dress parade. Private Edward Waterhouse and Sergeant  Bruno Ynestra, were jewellers; Thomas Emanuel, Harry Toulmin, Henry Sengstacks, Henry Goldthwaite, John Innerarity, James Broun, Nick Weeks, all represented “old” Mobile families.

The following quote may be descriptive of all departures, the New Orleans Picayune ran a piece on the Gulf City Guards on 4-28-61:  “This is a fine and gallant company, of the flower of Mobile. Verily has Mobile contributed 400 of her best and most chivalrous youth in the four companies that have gone North…at 5 o’clock, the Guards moved from the armory, and marched up Royal to Dauphin, and down Dauphin to the steamer ‘Selma’, on board of which boat they took passage…”

On the passage upriver to Montgomery and the subsequent rail trip north to Lynchburg and Norfolk, were 600 pounds of gold,  property of the Mobile Cadets and under the guard of 2LT Charles Forsyth, son of the prominent editor of the Mobile Register.  With an uncertain economy facing the seceding states, this gold made the Mobile Cadets very welcome in Norfolk.

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3rd Alabama Musters In

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Sgt. John K. Hoyt Mobile Rifles Co K, 3rd Alabama Regt.

Sgt. John K. Hoyt
Mobile Rifles
Co K, 3rd Alabama Regt.

The twelve-month volunteers of the 3d Alabama Regiment got their first reality check when they were mustered into the service of the Confederate Army at Lynchburg, May 4, 1861. Since some of the original militia men had enlisted as early as April 15, it came as a bit of a shock to learn their service had been essentially “gratis” to this point.

In Montgomery, on April 27, ten militias companies were combined to form the 3d Alabama Infantry Regiment. Election of regimental officers followed. Behind the scene, the machinations of Private Henry Hotze and 2LT Charles Forsyth of the Mobile Cadets insured a politic outcome: Jones Withers, a West Pointer (and current Mayor of Mobile) was elected Colonel, thus satisfying the honors deemed necessary to the largest bloc of men: the four Mobile militias; next elected was LTC Tennent Lomax, of Montgomery, who became the true guiding spirit of the regiment; and Cullen Battle of Tuskegee, was elected Major, thus giving the rural militias their due.

The next day they started north: distributed over three trains. On April 30, The Mobile Rifles (Co K) became the first “allied” troops to arrive in Virginia.  All the more impressive to the citizens of Lynchburg: they arrived in uniform, and, more importantly, they arrived armed––a distinction not universal at this early stage of a volunteer army. Also, these volunteers were not a rabble. They marched from Lynchburg depot to the old fair grounds outside of town as a unit––not as gawking sightseers. These were troops who knew drill. The older Alabama militias had been in existence for 20 years or more and had competed against each other for statewide honors. In 1860 they were formally organized as the Alabama Volunteer Corps (AVC) and numbered at that time more than 8000 troops. The Governor presented each commissioned officer with a Navy Colt revolver. The 3d Alabama’s senior officers were veterans of the Mexican War: Jones Withers had led the First Alabama Regiment; Tennent Lomax had been captain of a company of Georgia volunteers. They knew war. The rest were more than ready to learn.

So, May 4th, marked a true turning point in their lives. There was grumbling over the date of their service to be sure. Some were not even allowed to muster, as the Confederate States Army companies were expected to conform to a maximum size of 113 officers and men. But those left off the rolls this day, while perhaps temporarily abashed, were assured attrition and vacancies would occur. They did of course, rapidly.

They spent less than a week in Lynchburg. Drilling and marching––weather permitting–– under the eyes of Lomax and Battle. But they were also quite the curiosity and many young women and older gentlemen (the local boys had already departed for Richmond) came to visit the camp.  A sergeant of the Mobile Rifles, John Hoyt, may have been the most fortunate of men: he was in the right spot at the right time when a carriage drove up. Inside he saw two of the most beautiful young women he had ever seen (chaperoned by their mother). He wrote:  “I made a dive for the carriage, helped them out, and in so doing took hold of a couple of pair of hands that set my heart to dancing [and] obtained a view of four ankles any one of which was enough to turn a man’s head.”

These two were daughters of Colonel Langhorne. Hoyt escorted the party around the camp, allowed a friend to take the arm of one of the sisters, while he made himself agreeable to the other: “[I] commenced a desperate flirtation with her immediately.”  For his attentions, the next morning a large basket of fruits, pickles, cakes and ham arrived, with a note. When the girls next visited the camp they brought their father who invited them out to their home. And the sisters invited the sergeant to sing in the choir at St. Paul’s on Sunday, as all the baritones were off to war. The sergeant concluded his letter home: “Taking all things in consideration, I am having a most glorious time. Camp life agrees with me splendidly.”

All good things come to an end; the weather changed: it began to rain incessantly; they received orders for Norfolk, and in the pre-dawn hours of May 8th, they struck their tents and headed down to the depot.

Written by boothma

June 16, 2011 at 2:24 am