Introduction | The
Powhatan Troop | Billy Sledd |
Philip St. George Cocke,
Walking in General Longstreet's Shoes | Confederate Wagon Train | General Lee Visits Powhatan
The Other Lee in Powhatan | John Singleton Mosby | Huguenot Springs Hospital
Without question, one of the most famous Civil War units of all armies was our own Powhatan Troop. This unit’s involvement in the war effort was distinguished. Part of their recognition is based on the fact that they never surrendered, during the war or at Appomattox. The formation of the Powhatan Troop followed John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry. Local militias were formed for protection from future potential hostilities to come from the northern states.
The Powhatan Troop was organized by Philip St. George Cocke of Belmead Plantation in Powhatan County. Wealthy and successful, Cocke used his own finances to outfit the troop. A West Point graduate and the son of a brigadier-general of the War of 1812, Cocke aspired to achieve military decoration, as had his father before him.
Well-financed, well-equipped, and anxious for a fight, the troop was offered for service, in March of 1861, to Virginia Governor John Letcher, who instructed them to remain as they were, but to be prepared to move as needed.
Drilling, marching, and camping were the order of the day for the next month, all taking place at St. Luke’s Church on Huguenot Trail (now Route 711). During April, 1861 the troop was called to Richmond, along with the Goochland Light Dragoons, inspiring a comment by an observer that the company was "composed of the very flower of the aristocracy of the James River Valley."
Marching to Richmond, then to Manassas, General P. G. T. Beauregard retained the unit as a body guard. Eventually the troop was combined with other units from various counties of Virginia and participated with distinction at the Battle of First Manassas on July 21, 1861.
The troop saw action in the Valley Campaign, and later on the Peninsula. The unit had the distinct misfortune to participate in the battle of Sharpsburg (or Antietam, as the Union called it) where 23,000 casualties established America’s single bloodiest day, by most accounts the most savage battle of the War.
With war, death is an everyday occurrence. In this war, however, not only did bullets and mortars kill, but disease also spread its devastation, perhaps at a level unequaled in any other period of warfare. During the war, 1,922 men served in the 4th Virginia Cavalry. More than 200 of them lost their lives, either in battle, while imprisoned, or from disease; 137 horses were killed in action.
At Appomattox, only 55 men surrendered; the majority disbanded in Lynchburg and just went home. Rather than return to the surrender proceedings, some of the members of the Powhatan Troop were probably part of the group who did not surrender. As noble as not surrendering may be considered by some, their rationale was more than likely, "The war is over, why go through the exercise?"
The glory days were gone, forever left to be retold at family gatherings and reunions. But the Powhatan Troop was not forgotten. A monument was erected on the Courthouse Green that reads:
Erected to keep in tender remembrance
On another face of the monument the following words bring to awareness the high regard embraced by the citizens of Powhatan of that era:
To honor valor
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