Mystery of “Jack” the Brave Confederate Artilleryman

Tom Elmore

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Allen C. Redwood of Company C, 55th Virginia became Sergeant Major of his regiment in March 1863, but six weeks later voluntarily returned to the ranks as a Private. He eventually wrote a compelling narrative of the action on July 3 at Gettysburg, which featured a courageous Confederate artilleryman identified only as “Jack.” Redwood previously saw Jack during the Seven Days’ battles in 1862.

The 55th Virginia, according to Redwood’s account, was posted directly behind the caissons of Jack’s battery, which remains unnamed, but Redwood provides a couple of clues that allow us to examine a couple of possibilities in an effort to determine if (at least) the essence of the story is factual.

Redwood describes an artillery duel that occurred on the morning of July 3 in connection with the contested possession of the Bliss farm buildings. During the exchange a caisson of the battery in front detonated, and burning debris from the blast posed a danger to two adjacent caissons. Redwood writes:

“A man was there close to the burning caisson. Whence he came no one knew; the smoke had concealed his approach. But he was jacketless and bare-armed – an artilleryman evidently – besides, he carried a sponge bucket in his hand. With his back toward us, he was fighting the fire at close quarters; we saw him tear away the blazing tents and throw them behind him. Then with his hollowed palm he bailed the water from his bucket – coolly and carefully, not wasting a cupful – all along the ignited portion of the chest, remaining at his perilous post until the last spark went out in hissing steam. And then our pent-up excitement found vent. Such a cheer burst from our ranks as must have been heard in the Federal line … As he started back up the hill to his gun, the plucky cannoneer turned, acknowledged the tribute with a wave of his free hand and a saucy shake of his head, and I caught a glimpse of his face – it was Jack!”

During the grim retreat back to the Potomac, Redwood stopped at a small cottage in the village of Greencastle, where an elderly woman agreed to make him some coffee. In the meantime, a passing ambulance stopped in front of the gate, and a man jumped down to fill some canteens. Redwood recognized him as “Sam,” a sergeant in the battery that his regiment had supported on July 3. Redwood asked, “How did you fellows make out? Anybody hit that I know?” … “Yes; E---- and Jack, both mortally, I’m afraid. They are out there at the gate. I want to get them over the river if I can, but I’m not sure they can hold out. … Go out and see Jack. I’ll come as soon as I fill these canteens. Try to cheer him up a little if you can – he’s pretty weak with his wound and jolting over this infernal road.”

Jack finally recognized Redwood as revealed by his expressions, but said nothing. All he could manage was a feeble hand clasp. The sergeant reappeared and explained that Jack “has a ball from a case-shot in his brain, and his tongue is paralyzed.” Redwood “tried to say some hopeful words, which were the vainest of lip-service; but the wistful look, when I spoke to him of home, was more than I could bear, and I broke down in the effort. The moment of our parting was at hand … but it was a reluctant farewell, for I knew Jack was journeying toward the river which flows between time and eternity. With a heavy heart I stood looking after them until the ambulance was absorbed in the confused throng and disappeared in the murky twilight.”

We know the 47th Virginia and 55th Virginia constituted the left wing of Brockenbrough’s brigade on July 3, and also that the far left regiment of the brigade in their advance passed through the right portion of the Crenshaw Battery of Pegram’s Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Andrew B. Johnson. According to the battlefield markers, Captain Edward A. Marye’s battery was to the right (south) of Johnson. Therefore, either the 55th Virginia was behind Johnson’s guns, with the 47th behind Marye; or else the 47th was on the far left and the 55th Virginia supported Marye. Examination of the casualty lists for those two batteries should show an individual named Jack or John (the latter sometimes taking the nickname Jack), and another having the initial “E.”

Among the Crenshaw Battery casualties, a Lieutenant Thomas R. Ellett was wounded on July 3 and survived the war. There is also one John A. Mayo, wounded on July 3, but who recovered. It’s a possibility, but the fact that both men lived would be extraordinary, and runs counter to what Sergeant “Sam” expected.

Looking at Marye’s battery, the Fredericksburg Artillery, we find only two listed as killed –Lieutenant John Conway Eustace and Private John Hancock Howison. They both supposedly died on July 3. However, Eustace’s signature is on a July 8 requisition for feed for two horses “in service of Fredburg Arty with wounded from Gettysburg.” So Eustace died afterwards, apparently among the wounded being carried in the wagon train during the retreat.

There is no burial record of Howison on the field at Gettysburg. But his apparent cenotaph has a curious date listed for his death – July 9. Since we cannot expect any confusion over the dates when Gettysburg was fought, it could suggest the date of July 9 was provided to the family by a member of the battery – Sergeant “Sam” perhaps?

We may never know for certain, but the circumstantial evidence is certainly tantalizing. If Jack indeed proves to be John Hancock Howison, he will become more than a nameless statistic and his heroism at Gettysburg will finally be recognized and appreciated. But, in a larger sense, how many unseen acts of valor were performed under similar circumstances? Even Jack was surprised to learn that an appreciative audience had witnessed his performance. It recalls to mind what Admiral Chester Nimitz said in a subsequent war: “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

Sources:
-Peter Cozzens article in Civil War Times Illustrated, August 1998, vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 68-71.
-Compiled Service Record of Allen C. Redwood.
-Charles P. Young, revised by Capt. Thomas Ellett, History of Crenshaw Battery, Southern Historical Society Papers, vol. 31, January-December 1903, p. 283.
-John W. and Travis W. Busey, Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg, 4:1871
-Official Report of E. B. Brunson, commanding Pegram’s battalion.
-Robert K. Krick, The Fredericksburg Artillery, The Virginia Regimental Histories Series, 1986, H. E. Howard, Inc., p. 61.
-https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/24093193/john-hancock-howison
 

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JPK Huson 1863

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Excellent thread, thank you!


We may never know for certain, but the circumstantial evidence is certainly tantalizing. If Jack indeed proves to be John Hancock Howison, he will become more than a nameless statistic and his heroism at Gettysburg will finally be recognized and appreciated. But, in a larger sense, how many unseen acts of valor were performed under similar circumstances
It must number several an hour from 1861 to April, 1865. Terrific when we can acknowledge one- it's a beginning.

Howison's father was also John, mother Nancy, 1850 census has them in Spotsylvania. Ancestry tree states dod as July 18th- but have to say the profile also states his mother died in 1826, his birth was 1844. John Hancock Howison was the son of a bank clerk ( who was taxed as having more money than you'd think, maybe unsurprisingly thrifty- ' Howison ' seems to be Scots, fairly new arrivals as immigrants? ) , family living in Spotsylvania in 1850, then Frederick by 1860.

There's a POW document attached to his name but really, cannot see his name on it- a John ' Harrison ' may have been misinterpreted. Cannot see his Fold 3 record ( 199. bucks for 6 months now, whew ) but listing states he enlisted in Capt. Pollock's Co., Light Artillery (Fredericksburg Artilley), 1861, age 18.
 
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lelliott19

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Very interesting @Tom Elmore . Thanks so much for sharing your research.
I hope that "Jack" is indeed John Hancock Howison and that he is looking down and knows you have ID'd him from Redwood's account and that we are all reading about his courage. :thumbsup:
 



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