General Gabriel Colvin Wharton

Thomas' Legion
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Brigadier General Gabriel Colvin Wharton
(July 23,1824 - May 11, 1906)

Gabriel C. Wharton.jpg
Confederate General Gabriel C. Wharton

Gabriel C. Wharton.jpg
Brigadier General Gabriel Colvin Wharton's Display, photographed by the writer

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Civil War Coat Duster

(Left) Brigadier General Gabriel Colvin Wharton's Coat Duster at the Texas Civil War Museum. Photographed by the writer, all photos courtesy Texas Civil War Museum*.

Gabriel C. Wharton, VMI Class of 1847

General Gabriel C. Wharton
General Gabriel C. Wharton.jpg
(Courtesy VMI)

Biographical Information
  • Early Life
    Gabriel Colvin Wharton, born July 23, 1824, Culpeper, Virginia.
  • VMI record
    Enrolled at VMI on September 1, 1845; was graduated on July 5, 1847, standing 2nd in a class of 12 (distinguished graduate).
  • Marriage
    Married Nannie Radford in 1863. One son, William.
  • Pre-Civil War
    Civil Engineer in west (Arizona and elsewhere).
  • Civil War
    Colonel, 51st Virginia Infantry Regiment; served in Floyd's western Virginia campaign; appointed Brigadier General Sept. 1863; commanded brigade guarding railroads in southwestern Virginia; fought at New Market, Cold Harbor, and in Valley Campaign.
  • Post-war
    Civil Engineer in southwestern Virginia; instrumental in building railroad in New River Valley; died May 11, 1906, at Radford, Virginia; buried Radford.

Brigadier General Gabriel Colvin Wharton was elected major of the Forty-fifth Virginia Infantry Regiment in July 1861. This was one of the regiments organized by General Floyd in southwest Virginia. A month later he became colonel of the Fifty-first regiment, which he led through the Western Virginia campaign of General Floyd during the summer and fall of 1861. Accompanying Floyd to Kentucky early in 1862, he was assigned at Fort Donelson to the command of a brigade composed of his own and the Fifty-sixth Virginia regiment. In his report of the battle, General Pillow particularly commended the gallantry of Colonel Wharton and his brigade, who, after being under fire or fighting in the ditches four days, advanced and drove the enemy from their front on February 15th. On the next day, surrender having been decided upon, a considerable part of Floyd's command was brought away in safety, and Wharton rendered valuable service in preserving the government stores at Nashville. Subsequently, returning to southwest Virginia, he defeated a Federal regiment at Princeton, May 17, 1862, and in September participated in Loring's occupation of the Kanawha valley, as commander of the Third Brigade of the Army of Western Virginia. Subsequently, he was in command at the Narrows of New River with his own and Echols' Brigade, until February 1863, when he was stationed in the area of Abingdon, Virginia. When Gen. Sam Jones was ordered in July to send troops to Lee's army, Wharton was detached, and Jones sent word to Lee, "He is an admirable officer, has commanded a brigade for eighteen months, Let him command my troops until I come." He was stationed at Winchester, and was temporarily in charge of the Valley District. Soon afterward he was promoted brigadier-general and in August returned to his former station on the Virginia & Tennessee railroad. He was later transferred to General Longstreet's command in East Tennessee, until April 1864, when he was ordered to report to General Breckinridge. In command of his brigade of veterans he took a conspicuous part in the defeat of General Sigel at New Market, and served with honor in the Confederate lines at Cold Harbor. Returning toward the southwest for the defense of Lynchburg, he took part in the pursuit of Hunter down the valley and the expedition through Maryland to Washington. During the Shenandoah Valley, he commanded a division comprising the infantry brigades of the old army of Western Virginia. After suffering severely during the valley battles of 1864, the division was badly cut up in the fight at Waynesboro, March 2, 1865. After the close of the war General Wharton lived at Radford.

For a portion of the Valley Campaigns of 1864, General Wharton was Thomas Legion's division commander. When Thomas' Legion received Special Order 267 ordering its return to western North Carolina in December 1864, General Wharton stated to the Thomas Legion that "The patience and cheerful endurance of the toilsome march, brief rests and hard fighting which you and your gallant band ever exhibited has won my hearty commendation and leaves each of your patriotic command a record bright and unsullied." While serving with Wharton in the valley, the Thomas Legion had engaged Generals Sheridan and Custer. Wharton, a VMI graduate in 1847, had gained the respect of the legionaries, with many of the legion's men speaking highly of Wharton in their memoirs.

*The Texas Civil War Museum, located in Fort Worth, is the largest Civil War museum west of the Mississippi. The museum hosts a massive collection of Civil War artifacts and, ranging from numerous types of guns to parts from the USS Harriet Lane to a few hundred Antebellum dresses, it is ideal for the entire family. With a professional theater, visitors can even relax in comfort and watch a short video on Texas and the American Civil War.

Sources: Virginia Military Institute; Confederate Military History, Vol. III, pp. 684-685; Vernon H. Crow, Storm in the Mountains: Thomas' Confederate Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers, 102-58; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Texas Civil War Museum.

Recommended Reading: Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade (American Civil War Classics) (412 pages) (University of South Carolina Press). Description: From his looting of farmhouses during the Gettysburg campaign and robbing of fallen Union soldiers as opportunity allowed to his five arrests for infractions of military discipline and numerous unapproved leaves, John O. Casler’s actions during the Civil War made him as much a rogue as a Rebel. Though he was no model soldier, his forthright confessions of his service years in the Army of Northern Virginia stand among the most sought after and cited accounts by a Confederate soldier. First published in 1893 and significantly revised and expanded in 1906, Casler’s Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade recounts the truths of camp life, marches, and combat. Moreover, Casler’s recollections provide an unapologetic view of the effects of the harsh life in Stonewall’s ranks on an average foot soldier and his fellows. Continued below...

A native of Gainesboro, Virginia, with an inherent wanderlust and thirst for adventure, Casler enlisted in June 1861 in what became Company A, 33rd Virginia Infantry, and participated in major campaigns throughout the conflict, including Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Captured in February 1865, he spent the final months of the war as a prisoner at Fort McHenry, Maryland. His postwar narrative recalls the realities of warfare for the private soldier, the moral ambiguities of thievery and survival at the front, and the deliberate cruelties of capture and imprisonment with the vivid detail, straightforward candor, and irreverent flair for storytelling that have earned Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade its place in the first rank of primary literature of the Confederacy. This edition features a new introduction by Robert K. Krick chronicling Casler’s origins and his careers after the war as a writer and organizer of Confederate veterans groups. "A must have for researchers, buffs, and American historians...General "Stonewall" Jackson and his brigade shall forever have a place in the annals of world history."
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Recommended Reading: The Stonewall Brigade, by James I. Robertson (Author) (304 pages) (Louisiana State University Press). Description: Commanded by Thomas J. Jackson and comprised of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th and 33rd Virginia Infantry Regiments, plus the Rockbridge Artillery Battery, the unit was officially Virginia's First Brigade. This changed forever at the Battle of First Manassas when in the face of a seemingly overwhelming Federal attack, General Bee, an adjacent Confederate brigade commander, reportedly said, "Yonder stands Jackson like a stone wall; let's go to his assistance. Rally behind the Virginians!" Continued below.

This book describes the Stonewall Brigade in combat from first mustering to bitter end, when only 210 ragged and footsore soldiers remained of the 6,000 that served through the war. Absolutely a must read for the Civil War buff!


Recommended Reading: Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume 6 (Battles & Leaders of the Civil War) (632 pages) (University of Illinois Press). Description: Sifting carefully through reports from newspapers, magazines, personal memoirs, and letters, Peter Cozzens' Volume 6 brings readers more of the best first-person accounts of marches, encampments, skirmishes, and full-blown battles, as seen by participants on both sides of the conflict. Continued below.

Alongside the experiences of lower-ranking officers and enlisted men are accounts from key personalities including General John Gibbon, General John C. Lee, and seven prominent generals from both sides offering views on "why the Confederacy failed." This volume includes one hundred and twenty illustrations, including sixteen previously uncollected maps of battlefields, troop movements, and fortifications.


Recommended Reading: Rebels and Yankees: Commanders of the Civil War (Hardcover), by William C. Davis (Author), Russ A. Pritchard (Author). Description: Davis and Pritchard have created a wonderful work that is sure to become a hit with anyone who studies the Civil War. This book uses words and a generous amount of pictures and photographs to tell the story of the leaders, both talented and flawed, that held together the two struggling armies in a time of chaos and devastating loss. Continued below...

Although many of the stories have been told in one form or another....Commanders compiles this study in a single book that makes it very easy to compare and contrast the styles and techniques employed by officers of both armies. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.


Recommended Reading: Young Lions: Confederate Cadets at War. Description: "In making soldiers of them," said Confederate president Jefferson Davis regarding the mobilization of his nation’s youths, "we are grinding the seed corn." Yet, the bloody millstones of war ground them--and nowhere more noticeably than at the Confederacy’s de facto "West Points." The legend of the Southern cadets is one of "untrained boys wastefully flung in the path of Yankee armies as the Confederacy came to a turbulent end." The reality, however, is one of highly trained young men who rendered valuable service from the earliest days of the war and, when confronting the enemy on the battlefield, acquitted themselves as well as veteran troops did. Continued below...

The Young Lions: Confederate Cadets at War is the story of the Southern cadets at four major military colleges during the Civil War—the Georgia Military Institute, the South Carolina Military Academy (Columbia’s Arsenal campus and the Citadel in Charleston), the University of Alabama, and the Virginia Military Institute. It is also the story of the Confederate government’s lack of a cohesive policy toward military colleges and its failure to adequately support the institutions that fostered its officer corps. This study is the first thorough examination of the interrelationships and common challenges of the South’s major military colleges, giving a detailed history of these Southern institutions. James Lee Conrad discusses the cadets’ day-to-day lives as well as the academic and military systems of the schools. From the opening of the Virginia Military Institute in 1839, through the struggles of all the schools to remain open during the war, the death of Stonewall Jackson, and the Pyrrhic victory of the Battle of New Market to the burning of the University of Alabama, Conrad reveals the everyday heroism of cadets both on and off the battlefield.

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