Major James Dearing at Gettysburg

Tom Elmore

1st Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Jan 16, 2015
Born on April 25, 1840 in Campbell County, Virginia, James Dearing attended the Hanover Academy before entering the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1858 with the Class of 1862. However, he resigned on April 22, 1861, when Virginia seceded, just before his class was to be graduated, one year early. Dearing left with an outstanding academic record but held a reputation for recklessness that led to demerits. Appointed captain of the Lynchburg Artillery in April 1862, he took command of the 38th Virginia Artillery Battalion before the end of the year and was promoted to major in May 1863. Moving northward into Pennsylvania, he was nearly captured while scouring the countryside for horses. On July 2, not content to remain with his battalion, he rode forward to the battlefield on his conspicuous white stallion. A soldier of the 1st Massachusetts, on skirmish duty with his regiment west of the Emmitsburg road, recalled seeing a lone officer on a white horse riding back and forth in front of the woods on Warfield ridge. Although this officer's identity has never been established, it does suggest a brash act, and Dearing just happened to be in the vicinity. He offered his services to Colonel E. Porter Alexander, who placed him over the batteries of Woolfolk and Jordan. Captain Fred Colston, on Alexander's staff, recalled Dearing ordering Federal prisoners to tear down fences to enable the guns to move unimpeded to the Emmitsburg road once the Peach Orchard was secured.

Major Dearing afterwards returned to bring up his own battalion, consisting of four batteries under Captains Robert M. Stribling, Miles C. Macon, William H. Caskie and Joseph G. Blount. Early the next morning, July 3, he moved his batteries up under cover of a rise just west of the Emmitsburg road to support the infantry charge to be made that same afternoon by Pickett's division. The position happened to be within the vision of General Robert E. Lee on Seminary Ridge. Sometime during the forenoon, Lee called out: "My friend! This way if you please," and when Dearing rode up, said, "Ah! Major, excuse me; I thought you might be some countryman who had missed his way. Let me say to you and to these young officers, that I am an old reconnoitering officer and have always found it best to go afoot, and not expose oneself needlessly." Embarrassed, although not for long, Dearing rode off.

During the cannonade, Dearing had his battalion fire by battery. At one point he grabbed the battalion's flag and rode back and forth along the length of his artillery line, which ended when his courier's horse was killed, "much to the delight of the men," Captain Stribling later recalled, "who did not desire any more special attention than they were then receiving from the enemy's guns."

About 2:45 p.m., moments before Pickett's men advanced, Dearing accompanied his caissons to the rear at high speed, passing through the 8th Virginia regiment of Garnett's brigade. He called out to Colonel Eppa Hunton, "For God's sake, wait till I get some ammunition and I will drive every Yankee from the heights." It was too late. Although Hunton later recalled Dearing as "one of the bravest and best of artillery officers," his batteries had fired away nearly all their ammunition and could not support the infantry attack. However, they remained in position, under enemy fire, for another hour.

Despite his youthful exuberance, Dearing's boldness and energy were evidently appreciated, and his reputation remained intact. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1864 and was given command of a cavalry brigade. Slated to become a general, although never confirmed in that rank, he took a shot in his lungs in close quarters fighting during the Battle of High Bridge on April 6, 1865. He died on April 22, just three days shy of his 25th birthday.

-Article by Robert H. Moore II, America's Civil War, January 2000, pp. 12-18.
-The Richmond Fayette, Hampden, Thomas and Blount's Lynchburg Artillery, by Robert H. Moore II, The Virginia Regimental Histories Series, Lynchburg: H. E. Howard, 1991.
-Wikipedia article on James Dearing.
-Compiled Service Records of James Dearing, Fold3.
-A Little Fifer's War Diary, by C. W. Bardeen, Syracuse, NY: self-published, 1910.
-Reminiscences of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, by Capt. Frederick W. Colston, James Mercer Garnett Papers, Manuscripts Collection, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.
-Gunner With Stonewall, Reminiscences of William Thomas Poague, ed. by Monroe F. Cockrell, Jackson, TN: McCowat-Mercer Press, Inc., 1957, pp. 73-74.
-April 1898 letter of Capt. R. M. Stribling, Confederate Veteran magazine, vol. 9 (1901), pp. 215-216.
-Postwar response of Brigadier General Eppa Hunton, Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, ed. by Janet B. Hewett, Noah Andre Trudeau and Bryce A. Suderow, Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1995, vol. 27 (serial nos. 43-44), vol. 5, p. 310.
Jun 7, 2021
I have to honestly say that while his boldness was obviously appreciated by high command, he doesn't sound like someone I'd want for my commanding officer if I was in the ranks.


Annual Winner
Mar 7, 2009
Sadsburyville, PA
He is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in Lynchburg, VA not too far from Gen. Jubal Early.