The 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry
History & Quotes
Members of the 1st Virginia circa 1859 Prior to the War Between The States
Monument to the 1st Virginia 1754-Present
History of the 1st Virginia
The roots of the 1st Virginia as an infantry formation date back as far as the Henrico County Militia of 1680. During its long history this famed unit, "The Old First" has been under the command of such renowned Virginians as George Washington (1754) and Patrick Henry (1775). The 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry of the War Between the States was made up of gentlemen from the city of Richmond and Henrico and Chesterfield Counties for the purpose of the defense of Virginia, "The Old Dominion." Threatened with invasion in the Spring of 1861, it is hardly surprising that the state would look to the then incarnation of this historic regiment and that many men would seek to serve under its distinguished name.
Known as a "gentlemen's regiment" made up of men from some of the "finest families in Virginia", the companies which initially composed the 1st Virginia in April of 1861 had as their core the pre-war militia units of the area. This is not surprising as participation in militia units was popular and common for the gentlemen of Richmond, Virginia, The South and indeed the entire country. Such units not only served social and ceremonial purposes but provided that a ready body of trained men would be on hand who were able to respond in case of emergency, crisis, war or invasion. The famed "minutemen" of Revolutionary War fame were just such a group and indeed the practice dated back to early colonial times.
So who were the men of the First Virginia Infantry? A look through the surnames on the company rosters would indicate that the majority were of British descent (English or Scottish) but that a number of Western European ethnicities were represented including fairly recent arrivals from Ireland and Germany. It may be assumed that members of all the major Protestant denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian) were present. Richmond had a number of Jewish residents and it is known that Jews participated in the 1st Virginia. The majority of those who served in the regiment were under thirty but those over thirty were still well represented. Boys at least as young as 15 served as musicians. In terms of background the soldiers of the 1st Virginia ranged from little education to highly educated and from recent immigrants to old and respected families whose roots went back to Colonial times.
The 1st Virginia Infantry was activated for the defense of Virginia on April 21st, 1861 and is reported to have served initially as "the governor's bodyguard." During 1861 several companies of the 1st Virginia were detached for special service but were never reunited with the parent unit. Those companies which formed the 1st Virginia after that point were:
Company B - "Richmond City Guard" - Served from 1861-1865 as part of the 1st Virginia Infantry.
Company C - "Montgomery Guard" - Organized in 1850. Served from 1861-1865 as part of the 1st Virginia Infantry.
Company D - "Old Dominion Guard" - Served from 1861-1865 in the 1st Virginia Infantry.
Company E - "Washington Volunteers" - This intriguing company was formed from persons who had lived or worked in the vicinity of Washington, D.C. They must have only signed on for one year as the company was mustered out of service on April 26, 1862.
Company G - Captain William H. Gordon's Company - Served in the 1st Virginia Infantry through 1865.
Company H - Richmond Grays No. 2 - Served with the 1st Virginia Infantry through 1865.
Company I - Captain Robert F. Morris' Company - Served with the 1st Virginia Infantry through 1865
Company K - Virginia Rifles - This company was disbanded during 1862.
The regiment was mustered from Virginia state service into Confederate service on June 30th, 1861 and served in most of the battles and campaigns of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. From its first taste of combat at Blackburn's Ford and Manassas in 1861 to participation in Pickett's Charge on the 3rd day of Gettysburg in 1863 and all the way through to Appomattox in 1865 the 1st Virginia amassed an honourable and distinguished record.
From 1861 through 1865 the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry participated in the following battles and engagements:
Blackburn's Ford, VA - July 18, 1861
1st Manassas (Bull Run), VA - July 21, 1861
Yorktown Siege, VA - April-May, 1862
Williamsburg, VA - May 5, 1862
Seven Pines, VA - May 31-June 1, 1862
Seven Days Campaign - June 25-July 1, 1862
Frayser's Farm, VA - June 30, 1862
2nd Manassas (2nd Bull Run), VA - August 28-30, 1862
South Mountain, MD - September 14, 1862
Sharpsburg (Antietam), MD - September 17, 1862
Fredericksburg, VA - December 13, 1862
Suffolk, VA Campaign - April-May, 1863
Gettysburg, PA - July 1-3, 1863
Plymouth, NC - April 17-20, 1864
Drewry's Bluff, VA - May 16, 1864
Howlett House, VA - May 18, 1864
North Anna, VA - May 22-26, 1864
Cold Harbor, VA - June 1-3, 1864
Clay Farm, VA - June 16, 1863
Siege of Petersburg, VA - June 1864-April 1865
Dinwiddie Courthouse., VA - March 31, 1865
Five Forks, VA - April 1, 1865
Saylor's Creek, VA - April 6, 1865
Appomattox Courthouse., VA - April 9, 1865
At the beginning of the War between the States the First Virginia Infantry numbered about 700 men. From 1862 to 1864 the average strength of the regiment was around 170. As the First Virginia was made up of six companies during this period the numbers would indicate an average strength of just under 30 per company. On July 3rd, 1863, at the height of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 1st Virginia took 209 men into Pickett's charge as part of Kemper's Brigade. Only 40 returned unscathed. The recovery of sick and wounded men and the addition of new recruits helped to recover their numbers somewhat but nearly two more years of war took a toll and by the surrender at Appomattox on April 9th,1865 only seventeen soldiers of the 1st Virginia were still present.
Quotes Regarding the 1st Virginia
excited about the attitude of the general government in trying to force
certain measures which the Southern States were unwilling to agree to, and
they determined one after another to withdraw from the Union, which act the
government decided to try to prevent by force of arms.
The younger people of this age (writing in 1913) generally think it was to save our slave property that we resisted, but that was not the question at all. The older heads knew by the tendency of legislation the disposition of the manufacturing and most densely populated section was to oppress our southern people and make them tributary, by furnishing raw goods to their mills at ruinous rates to us, which with equal rights in making the general laws we preferred separation rather than submission; but when we so decided the government concluded to whip us into submission by sending an army into our territory. This act fired the southern spirit and they made ready to resist the invasion."
"Each regiment had a chaplain who looked after the soldiers' spiritual welfare and on the Sabbath day conducted religious services, to which every man was expected to attend. Eminent divines (well known preachers) frequently visited the army and often there were congregations of thousands of attentive hearers. The Southern armies soon became noted for their observance of religious exercises and recognition of divine guidance."
"General Lee was on the side of a road and complimented us by saying he believed we would do anything we were ordered to do. We were very proud to have made the charge under his observation and to have evoked such words of praise from our beloved commander."
"...would turn out every night and listen to the Word and sing with great vim. Often Dick Jordan and I would go out in the silent woods and lift our voices in prayer for God's guidance in these sad times. We saw the ranks thinning day by day, and none knew when his own time would come. We knew we were weak compared to the enemy, and nothing but dependence on the great Leader above would cause us to prevail. Our courage was tried in so many ways that it was most difficult to remain steadfast."
All above quotes from ... Howard Malcolm Walthall, member of Company "D", 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry
"You know I was identified with the First through many bloody vicissitudes. Jollier men in camp, braver soldiers in battle, were not found in the Army of Northern Virginia."
James Kemper, Governor of Virginia, July 17th 1875
" The old First Regiment was with me at Bull Run on the 18th of July, and made the first fight of Bull Run, which drove the Federals and forced them around Sudley Springs. This move on their part was the cause of delay that gave us time to draw our troops down from the Valley, and concentrate for the fight of the 21st. The heavy part of this fight was made by the old First Regiment, so that it can well claim to have done more towards the success of the First Manassas than any one regiment. This too, was their first battle, and I can say that its officers and men did their duties as well, if not better, than any troops whose service came under my observation."
James Longstreet, circa 1883
Battle Flag of the 1st Virginia circa 1863
Music playing is
"Carry Me Back to Old Virginia"
Pages of the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry
Virginia State Flag of 1861