When Robert E. Lee received permission from President Davis to reinforce his army for the march into Pennsylvania, Lee, badly in need of extra cavalry to spearhead the army as it crossed the Potomac, requested the services of Brig. Gen. Albert Jenkins, leader of a brigade of independent cavalry "raiders" from West Virginia.
Jenkins was thirty-two years old, "about 5 foot 10 inches high, well-formed and of good physique; dark hair, blue eyes, and heavy brown beard; pleasing countenance, kind affable manners, fluent and winning in conversation; quick, subtle, and argumentative in debate," according to a Southern newspaper correspondent in 1863. He was a Southern aristocrat--a slaveowner, planter, and politician before the war, a man whose way of life embodied the spirit of the Old South. His father, already rich from a career operating a fleet of sailing vessels on the James River, had moved in 1825 to farthest-west Virginia--in Cabell County, along the Ohio River--and had acquired an estate of 4,441 acres extending seven miles along the river front and up into the neighboring hills. Naming his home "Green Bottom," he had turned it into the finest plantation in the county. Albert, born in 1830, received a privileged country gentleman's upbringing at Green Bottom, leaving to study at a series of schools which culminated in a two-year course of law at Harvard. After completing his education in 1850, he opened a law practice in Charleston, Virginia.
During the following decade of intense national debate over slavery, Jenkins developed an active interest in politics. He was chosen as a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in 1856, and that same year was elected to Congress. He served until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he resigned his seat and offered his services to the Confederacy. Although he had no military training or experience, he was among those whose social standing and habits of leadership alone were enough to recommend them for an officer's commission in the Confederate army; he was elected captain of the "Border Rangers," the first company of cavalry formed in Cabell County.
After skirmishing and raiding with his company in the backwater theater of western Virginia during the first few months of the war, he was made lieutenant colonel of the 8th Virginia Cavalry in early 1862, but left the regiment in February to go to Richmond as a representative in the First Regular Confederate Congress. He quickly tired of the committees and bureaucracy in the capital, so he got himself commissioned brigadier general on August 5, 1862, and headed back to western Virginia to lead a brigade of cavalry. Within two weeks of his return, he led his men on a 500-mile raid through Western Virginia and Ohio, an exploit which made him wildly popular back home.
In the summer of 1863, after President Davis's go-ahead for the invasion of the North, Lee attached Jenkins and his men to Lieut. Gen. Richard Ewell's Second Corps, leading the advance of the army into Pennsylvania. Jenkins and his mountain horsemen had been good enough at guerrilla tactics in their home counties, but outside their element, working in cooperation with infantry in Lee's large, well-organized army, problems arose immediately. Ewell attached Jenkins to Maj. Gen. Robert Rodes's division, which engaged an unsuspecting enemy garrison at Martinsburg, Virginia at the start of the campaign. Somehow Jenkins either misinterpreted his instructions or simply ignored them--he neglected to occupy key river crossings and allowed the enemy to slip away. Rodes was frustrated and angry at Jenkins's failure at Martinsburg, and things got no better as the army moved north. In the advance into Pennsylvania, "irregularities" (horse-stealing, violence to property, and fraud) in Jenkins's brigade's behavior was mentioned in Rodes's reports. The last straw occurred when Jenkins and his men rode into Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on June 15, a few miles in advance of Rodes's infantry division. Before he could confiscate any property, Jenkins was startled by a bugle signaling the approach of an enemy force from the north. Jenkins, without even trying to determine the enemy's strength, immediately galloped away with his men to the safety provided by Rodes, back down the road in Maryland. As it turned out, the Union force approaching from the north had been a 13-man detachment of Yankee troopers scouting the approach of the Confederate army. As Rodes wrote with unconcealed fury in his report, "The result was that most of the property in that place which would have been of service to the troops, such as boots, hats, leather, etc., was removed or concealed before it was occupied." At that point, Ewell, seeing the strain that the unreliable Jenkins was putting on Rodes, unburdened Rodes by agreeing to give orders to Jenkins himself.
Two weeks later, Ewell's Second Corps approached Gettysburg, Jenkins's men were straggling badly--preferring the life of "home guards" and guerrillas, they were disappearing and going home. It was becoming apparent that Jenkins was more a liability to the Army of Northern Virginia than a reinforcement.
| On July 1, rather than being in the cavalry's proper place scouting in
the vanguard of the Ewell's infantry column as it approached Gettysburg that
morning, Jenkins's horsemen brought up the rear, apparently as a result of an
oversight by Ewell, who had forgotten to notify them of the corps's move. They
were thus among the last in the Second Corps to know that battle had been
joined with the Army of the Potomac that day. About 5 o'clock P.M., just as
the fighting was ending for the day, Jenkins crossed Rock Creek ahead of his
men and surveyed the debris of the battlefield north of town. Having rejoined
the army, Jenkins ordered his men to dismount and rest. They spent the night
in the fields along the Harrisburg Road two miles north of town.|
During the morning hours of July 2, Jenkins was summoned to Lee's tent on Seminary Ridge. His task would be the important one of guarding Ewell's (and the army's) open left flank east of town, a task at the moment being performed by two infantry brigades--Gordon's and Smith's--which, when relieved, could take part in Ewell's grand assault, planned to coincide with Longstreet's. Jenkins rode back to his command, and soon the 1,200-man brigade moved south. They had just crossed Rock Creek when Jenkins, for unknown reasons, stopped the column and gave orders to move into the nearby woods. There, his men huddled in the trees for hours waiting to play their role in an attack that had, unbeknownst to Jenkins, been postponed until late afternoon. Yet there was Jenkins, hiding miles from his true destination on Ewell's left flank . . . for reasons only he knew. After a while, when no attack came, Jenkins rode forward a short way to Blocher's Knoll where Barlow's division had been crushed by Gordon the day before. On the treeless mound he took out his fieldglasses and began to survey the Union positions on the hills south of town, about 2_ miles away. An army staff officer rode up with a map and began to trace for Jenkins the route to the position he was meant to occupy, when puffs of white smoke appeared on the enemy-held hills, followed by the whine of shells, then the blinding light and deafening crash of explosions on the knoll. Jenkins and his horse fell to the ground, the horse killed, the general's head and face covered with blood from a shrapnel wound. Jenkins was carried to the rear, and his part in the battle was over. His brigade never reached their assigned position. Ewell's Second Corps's left flank remained guarded by infantry--infantry subtracted from the desperate assault on Culp's Hill that evening, an assault which failed, barely.
On July 3 Jenkins was replaced by his senior officer, Colonel M.J. Ferguson, and the brigade's performance immediately improved. However, they were embarrassed by a final gaffe: they were forced to withdraw prematurely from the cavalry battle because they had only been issued ten bullets each.
Jenkins was taken back to West Virginia, where he recovered and took up command of his irregular raiders again that fall. The next May, his arm was shattered by a musket ball at the battle of Cloyd's Mountain, and Jenkins died after his arm was amputated, on May 21, 1864.
For further reading:
Dickinson, Jack L. Eighth Virginia Cavalry. Lynchburg, 1986
_____. Jenkins of Greenbottom: A Civil War Saga. Charleston,WV, 1988
Geiger, Joe. Civil War in Cabell County, West Virginia. Charleston, WV, 1991
Shevchuck, Paul M. "The Wounding of Albert Jenkins, July 2, 1863." Gettysburg Magazine 3, Jul 1990