3rd Alabama Infantry Regiment

"The Glorious Third" Alabama's first volunteers

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George H. Ellison: “The bravest man in my Corps”

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Sometime in late 1864, Major General Ewell, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia’s 2d Corps, heard of a remarkable exploit. He had the soldier involved brought to him––heard the story again––and took him to meet his commanding general, Robert E. Lee. Introducing George Ellison, of Co E of the 3d Alabama Regiment, to Lee, Ewell said: “This is the bravest man in my Corps.” Few who knew the man would disagree.

George Ellison was the eldest son (possibly the adopted son) of Thomas Ellison of Mobile, a “master plasterer” of that city. Before the war, Ellison (then 19) was earning a living as a bricklayer. In April 1861 he volunteered with the Washington Light Guards (Captain Arch Gracie), which, a shortly after became Co E, of the 3d Alabama. The 3rd was the first regiment to reach Virginia from any Confederate state, mustered into service at Lynchburg, May 4, 1861.

After spending a year in garrison at Norfolk, 3d Alabama saw their first action in May ’62 at Drewry’s Bluff (overlooking the James River), repulsing an assault led by the Monitor. Their first battle was three weeks later at Seven Pines. The Third sustained 200 casualties (about 33%) on the morning of June 1, 1862. Ellison was not engaged, his company was held in reserve. He was in line of battle the next month, however, for another bloodbath: Malvern Hill.

The details are unknown, but Corporal George Ellison first came to the notice of his commanders at the Battle of South Mountain, near Boonsboro, Maryland on Sept. 14, 1862. He is mentioned in D.H. Hill’s Official Report. In that action Rodes’ Brigade (of which 3rd Alabama was a part) had to buy time for Lee’s army to coalesce at Sharpsburg. The thin grey line of Rodes’ Brigade (consisting of about 1500 men), held off the advance of McClellan’s right wing for a full day.

The first story directly attributed to Ellison occurred after the Battle of Fredericksburg. He single-handedly brought in 40 prisoners. When asked how he had managed this, he replied: “I surrounded ’em, and captured ’em.”

Over that winter Brigadier Robert Rodes created the first Corps of Sharpshooters in the Army of Northern Virginia, under command of Maj. Eugene Blackford. The new Corps took one man in twelve from each regiment. Those that didn’t measure up were sent back. Maj. Blackford demanded each company forward its best men. Ellison was one of the original 200 sharpshooters. By the Spring, Ellison had been promoted to sergeant. At Chancellorsville 3d Alabama was the vanguard regiment in Jackson’s famous flank march, and the front line of battle in the ensuing rout of the Union’s XI Corps. After the battle, Lee mandated each company in his army select one individual to include on the battle’s Roll of Honor. Ellison was the selection of Co E. Robert Rodes was promoted to Major General.

Two months later, Rodes’ Brigade (now under command of Col. O’Neal) was among the first arriving at Gettysburg. As usual, the sharpshooters were in front as a thin line of skirmishers. Approaching the area now known as Reynold’s Woods, the sharpshooters were advancing on the enemy with the main body of Ramseur’s and Daniel’s brigades firing through them at the Yankees. As related by another sharpshooter, Dick Stinson, a mounted Federal officer making his escape nearly ran down Ellison from behind. Recovering, Ellison yelled for the officer to surrender. The officer yelled over his shoulder: “Only to a General officer!” “Just as you choose,” said Ellison. “It makes no difference to me.” He fired, bringing the man down, “in a mud hole, sadly wounded.”

He was recommended for promotion to 2nd Lieutenant in March of ’64, but was captured at Spotsylvania in May, while probably holding brevet rank. He falsely gave his rank as captain and was thereby included with the other Confederate officers. In August 1864, he was included in the group of officers that became known as the “Immortal 600,” the group used by the Federals as human shields in the bombardment of Charleston. Ellison should have been there but wasn’t. He was one of only two escapees from the group. While on board the POW’s steamer, en route to the port, he took a life preserver and went overboard, floating/swimming eleven miles to shore. Instead of heading home, he returned to his unit. He was back with the army by Sept. 2. (Receiving the pay of a 1SGT on Sept 4).

This is probably when Ewell heard of him. Ellison never did receive his officer’s commission. His official records end in 1864. He was probably in Mobile for the end of the war (he was not a Petersburg for the evacuation or at Appomattox). He surrendered in May of 1865. After the war, he married a girl he had met at Norfolk, early in the war, moved to Texas, lived to a rip old age. He died in Texas, November 9, 1931.

Written by boothma

April 10, 2015 at 10:10 pm