Robert H. Couper and Fraser’s Georgia Battery

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Tom Elmore

Sergeant Major
Member of the Year
Jan 16, 2015

Our story begins in Scotland on March 9, 1759, with the birth of John Couper. He emigrated to the United States, and in 1793, with his partner James Hamilton, purchased Cannon’s Point on the north end of St. Simons, one of Georgia’s barrier islands. With slave labor, John Couper’s plantation grew rich on renowned Sea Island cotton, but he experimented with growing citrus, grapes, date palms (from Persia), mulberry trees (for silk production), sugar cane and olive trees (from France). He also donated four acres to the government for a lighthouse on the south end of the island, which Congress authorized in 1804. In addition to cotton, the island had valuable stands of durable live oak, which was used in construction of warships like the USS Constitution.

John Couper married Rebecca Maxwell. They were said to have been gracious hosts who welcomed people from around the world. From their union came five children, the two eldest being James Hamilton and Anne Sarah, on whom our attention is focused. When John Couper died on March 24, 1850 at the age of 91, James took over his Cannon’s Point Plantation.

James Hamilton Couper was born March 4, 1794. He graduated from Yale College and acquired the Hopeton rice plantation in 1827. Steadily improving that property, he built the Altama mansion around 1858. He also led a survey party that mapped the Georgia-Florida border. With his wife, Caroline Georgina Wylly, they had seven children, including John Lord Couper and Robert Hazelhurst Couper. John, born June 14, 1835, was recognized as a poet and artist, and like his father, he attended Yale. Robert was born in 1841.

Anne Sarah Couper (1797-1866) married John Fraser (1791-1839), another native of Scotland. They would have four children, three girls and one boy, named John Couper Fraser, who was born December 8, 1832 on St. Simons Island.


War Comes:

After the first shots were exchanged at Fort Sumter, Confederate forces on St. Simons Island occupied Fort Brown, west of the lighthouse. In expectation of an attack, the lighthouse was destroyed on September 29, 1861. In February 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered the military evacuation of the island – most of the planter families had already moved inland.

John Lord Couper enlisted at Brunswick, Georgia on August 14, 1861, as a private in Company A, 13th Georgia, the “Glynn (County) Guards.” A notation in the service records state the company drilled as artillery and was in charge of a battery on St. Simons (presumably at Fort Brown). On December 1, he transferred into Company H, 60th Georgia, and was appointed Sergeant Major. His former commander endorsed the transfer by noting his “education, talent and character.” However, on August 24, 1862, he died at Gordonsville, Virginia, where stood a large Confederate hospital.

Robert Hazelhurst Couper was mustered into Company H, 60th Georgia on April 25, 1862, joining his brother. He was promoted to Sergeant Major in October, assuming his late brother’s post, and was elected as the junior 2nd (3rd) Lieutenant in December. On June 16, 1863, while the Gettysburg campaign was already in progress, he transferred into his cousin John C. Fraser’s artillery battery as his 3rd lieutenant. The reason for the late transfer is not known, but Fraser evidently needed a junior officer and was familiar with his cousin’s abilities.

John Couper Fraser enlisted on May 18, 1861 at Savannah, in Captain John P. W. Read’s Company of the 1st Virginia Artillery. He was appointed 2nd Lieutenant on July 1. By March 1862 he was identified as 1st Lieutenant. He was awarded $350 compensation for the loss of his horse in action at Sharpsburg (Antietam). As of February 1863, he was signing the rolls as commanding officer of the company. He was promoted to captain prior to April 30.


At Gettysburg:

Capt. John Couper Fraser’s battery, the Pulaski (Georgia) Artillery, comprised two 3-inch Rifles and two 10-pounder Parrotts, manned by 63 officers and enlisted men. It formed part of Col. Henry C. Cabell’s battalion of the First Corps Artillery, under the overall command of Lt. Gen. Longstreet.

At early dawn on July 2, the artillerymen of Cabell’s battalion arose and found themselves encamped near and just west of Willoughby Run. Crossing the run and ascending a hill, the battalion went into park on the right of the Chambersburg pike. The rising sun illuminated the visible church spires in Gettysburg. The horses were not immediately unhitched, but the men were permitted to eat their breakfast. As the hours passed, the horses were fed. It was early afternoon before orders were received to march, and the battalion accompanied Maj. Gen. McLaws’ infantry. When McLaws reversed direction to avoid detection by the enemy signal station on Little Round Top, Cabell’s batteries were cut off by Maj. Gen. Hood’s division and were compelled to wait until the way was clear, when they had to proceed at a full run to catch up. Col. E. P. Alexander showed the battalion their position on Warfield ridge. The guns unlimbered on the edge of an oak grove to the right of Brig. Gen. Kershaw’s brigade, with Fraser’s battery on the far right resting near the Emmitsburg road. Infantryman John Coxe of the 2nd South Carolina recalled: “Then suddenly we heard Hood’s cannon … open on the right and the furious reply of the Federal guns. Then pretty soon a few sharp bugle notes were heard and then boom! boom! boom! blazed away Cabell’s guns at Federal batteries near the Peach Orchard.”

During the exchange, Lt. Robert H. Couper was wounded, reportedly by a shrapnel (or canister) round fired by a Napoleon in Capt. Nelson Ames’ Battery G, 1st New York Artillery, posted in the Peach Orchard. Couper was taken to a field hospital and was left behind on the retreat, being taken prisoner on July 5. He was present at Camp Letterman General Hospital as of August 10, and was sent to the West’s Buildings Hospital in Baltimore on August 19. He was paroled on February 18, 1865, too late to rejoin the war.

Around 6:45 p.m., shortly after the Peach Orchard had been taken by Brig. Gen. Barksdale’s brigade, a puff of smoke arose from the summit of Little Round Top, announcing a shell that crashed through the woods and exploded along Col. Cabell’s line. Cabell had just moments before left Capt. Fraser’s side when he was informed that Fraser was wounded. He did not believe it, but on returning learned that, indeed, it was true. The single shell had dangerously wounded Fraser and at the same time killed two sergeants and a private, while wounding three or four others in the battery. At that time, four guns of Battery D, 5th U.S. occupied Little Round Top, while Battery L, 1st Ohio was also just going into position on the northern slope and across the Wheatfield road. Fraser was taken to the field hospital on John S. Crawford’s farm, where he died from his wounds on July 11. He was buried under a tree leading from the mansion to the tenant house.

Only two guns of the battery (the Parrotts) remained in action during the remaining daylight hours of July 2, under 2nd Lieutenant W. J. Furlong. The battery lost 15 officers and enlisted men killed and wounded that afternoon, in addition to 15 horses killed or disabled. It sustained so many casualties that Col. Cabell broke up the battery the next day, placing the Rifle section under the command of Capt. Basil C. Manly, while the Parrott section remained in charge of Lt. Furlong. The battery participated in the grand afternoon artillery duel, losing four more men and three more horses before nightfall on July 3.



The remains of Captain John Couper Fraser may have been included as an “unknown” in Box 2-C-Miss, which was interred at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond on August 1872. A stone was erected to his memory in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah, with the inscription, “He died for his country.” His mother, Anne Sarah Couper, died on May 9, 1866 in New Iberia, Louisiana.

The remains of John Lord Couper were brought home from Gordonsville, Virginia and reburied at Christ Church Episcopal Cemetery on St. Simons Island.

James Hamilton Couper passed away on June 3, 1866 and was buried in the same cemetery as his son John.

In 1890, the Cannon’s Point Plantation House that John Couper had completed in 1804 was struck by lightning and burned down. Ruins of the foundation still exist at the Cannon’s Point Preserve, along with fragments of the other plantation buildings, including the slave quarters.

Caroline Georgina Wylly Couper died on December 31, 1897 and was laid to rest in the same cemetery with her husband.

Robert Hazelhurst Couper returned home to resume a vastly altered way of life that bore little resemblance to what had previously existed. He died in 1914 and was also buried in the same cemetery on St. Simons Island, near his brother, mother and father.

-Compiled Service Records of John L. Couper, Robert H. Couper, and John C. Fraser
-John Coxe, The Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate Veteran, vol. 21 (1913).
-Official Report of Col. H. C. Cabell.
-Henry Coalter Cabell, Cabell Family Papers, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond.
-Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg, by John W. and Travis W. Busey, volume 1.
-Lighthouse Museum, St. Simons Island, Georgia.

Painting of Cannon’s Point Plantation House (John Couper’s), by grandson John Lord Couper, circa 1860. On the porch are a man and a woman, perhaps John’s parents, James and Caroline. At far left appear to be two nameless slaves, who toiled endlessly amid the heat, humidity and mosquito swarms on St. Simons Island. All of their lives were about to be irrevocably changed.
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