Who would guess that this mustering of volunteers, mobilized from the picturesque Shenandoah Valley, would become so celebrated and legendary? Channeled into five infantry regiments, including the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th and 33rd Virginia, as well as the Rockbridge Artillery, together they would form the body of the “First Brigade.” Each of these regiments would be unique, and in time, each would earn its own nickname. There was the “Innocent Second” because they never looted; “The Harmless Fourth” for their good camp manners; “The Fighting Fifth” for bad camp manners; “The Fighting Twenty-Seventh” for its high casualty rate; and “The Lousy Thirty-third” for its habit of acquiring body lice.
This “First Brigade” was destined to become a pugnacious fighting unit. They would clash at the First Battle of Bull Run where their stand on Henry House Hill would prove decisive in the outcome of the conflict. Here they would earn their second nickname, the “Stonewall Brigade.” Their commander, General Thomas Jackson, would receive a similar moniker.
In 1862 they would carry that fervor back to the Shenandoah Valley to battle in Jackson’s Valley Campaign. They would be heavily engaged at First Kernstown in late March, but by the time the brigade marched off toward McDowell, on May 7, 1862, the unit would number some 3681 combatants, averaging some 736 men per regiment. Jackson’s so-called “Foot Cavalry,’ would prove a formidable force to be reckoned with.
Still, time and injury would severely diminish their numbers. By the end of the Second Bull Run Campaign in August of the same year, however, the brigade would have dwindled to just 635 members, averaging some 127 men per regiment. A couple of the companies would have only two or three attending members. Wounds, disease, and death had taken its toll.
That same year the brigade would battle in the Seven Days Campaign, at Antietam, and Fredericksburg. They would winter in camp outside Fredericksburg, while their enemy, the Army of the Potomac, settled in across the Rappahannock River. During that winter the Army of Northern Virginia, according to John Casler, author of Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade, would welcome a distinguished visitor into their camp. Having already been the guest of the Army of the Potomac, this eminent tourist traveled south to spend time with Robert E. Lee’s Army as well. According to Casler, this sightseer was the son of the famous French statesman and general, who had aided the Colonial Army during the American Revolution, the Marquis de La Fayette.
It was claimed that during his stay La Fayette was greatly impressed with General Thomas Stonewall Jackson, the Second Corps, and especially the Stonewall Brigade. The Marquis was so captivated that, upon returning to France, he determined he would honor the unit by designing and crafting a bronze medallion. One side would feature the profile of Stonewall Jackson, while the second would highlight the battles the brigade had fought in up until that time.
The story would assert that Lafayette created 5,000 of these medals at his own expense. He intended to have each member of the Stonewall Brigade receive a copy of this coin. In late 1864 the medals were placed on a blockade runner commanded by a Captain Lamar of Savanah Georgia. The shipment would land at Wilmington, North Carolina and then be transported by rail to Savanah where they were stowed safely away to keep them from falling into the hands of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Army.
Truth be told, however, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, of American Revolution fame, had just one son. His name was Georges Washington Louis Gilbert de La Fayette. George would die in 1849 making it impossible for him to have visited either northern or southern troops during the winter of 1862-63. If it was not the son of Lafayette that had dropped in on the Confederate army then, the question is, who did?
The confusion on the part of author John Casler is, I believe, easily explained. The Stonewall medallion may have actually been commissioned by another individual, a southern gentleman, whose name, Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar, could easily have been confused with that of the French nobleman. It may be this man’s name, and its similarity to that of another, that caused Casler to misidentify the visitor.
Charles Lamar was a very colorful character, born and raised in Savanah, Georgia. His “general attitude was that a gentleman had the right to do what he pleased even if it was against the law. That philosophy would guide his life.” In 1857 Lamar became interested in a project to reopen the Atlantic Slave trade. The following year he outfitted a slave ship, the Wanderer, and used it to transport 409 blacks from the African Slave Coast to America.
The importation of slaves had been against the law in the United States since 1808, but that did not matter to Charles Lamar. He landed this group of enslaved people on Jekyll Island and was prepared to put them up for sale. “Because of their filed teeth and tattoos, the new slaves, referred to as ‘greenies’, were recognized immediately as Africans.” It was evidence that a ship had recently violated the regulation against the Atlantic slave trade. There had been considerable outrage in the North when rumors of the slave ship and its large cargo were reported. On December 16, 1858, the U. S. Senate passed a resolution asking President Buchanan to share information “in relation to the landing of the barque Wanderer on the coast of Georgia with a load of Africans.”
There were repercussions for Charles’s actions. The following year Lamar was charged with his crime and put on trial. During his prosecution he “challenged one of the witnesses to a duel and bailed out one of the defendants so that he could attend a party.” Lamar was eventually convicted of his crime, fined $500 and placed on 30-day house arrest. The trial, of course, made national headlines.
As Lamar had advocated secession long before it became popular, it was no surprise when he joined the Confederate Army in 1862, forming a mounted rifle unit called the Lamar Rangers. The regiment was assigned to Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and, more specifically, to Stonewall Jackson’s Second Corps. Unquestionably, Charles would have come into contact with both the Stonewall Brigade and General Jackson. When his Rangers were later merged with the 61st Georgia Infantry Lamar resigned his commission and returned to civilian life.
Late in 1863 Charles took some time off from his military duties to represent the State of Georgia in France. While in France he learned about the death of Stonewall Jackson from injuries received at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Lamar was determined to mark Jackson’s demise and celebrate the courage of the Stonewall Brigade. He commissioned a Parisian medalist, Armand Auguste Caque, to create the dies and have a thousand medals stuck. Lamar’s plan was to award a decoration to each of the officers and men who had served in Jackson’s “Stonewall Brigade.” As Caque was the official medalist to the French king, though, it was feared this decoration could give the appearance of a “quasi-official sanction” from the French Government. Creation of this coin might indicate the recognition of the Confederacy by France.
Unfortunately, the medals had not been completed by the time Lamar set out for home. They would not be ready for delivery until much later in 1864, and by that time Savannah, Georgia was in Union hands. As we mentioned earlier, the medallions were delivered to Wilmington, North Carolina via blockade runner. From there they eventually found their way into a family-owned cotton warehouse where they would remain for many years. With the death of Charles Lamar in April of 1865, the location, and even the existence of these medals, was forgotten.
Meanwhile, the Stonewall Brigade would continue on in its journey. At Spotsylvania Courthouse, on May 12, 1864, the Stonewall Brigade would brawl on the left flank of the “Mule Shoe” salient, in an area that would be known as the “Bloody Angle.” Early that morning General Winfield Hancock’s II Corps would launch a massive assault. The fighting would be hand to hand and incredibly bloody. All but 200 men of the Stonewall Brigade were killed, wounded, or were among the 6,000 Confederates soldiers captured. Losses were so severe that the Stonewall Brigade was unofficially dissolved and consolidated into a single regiment.
When the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign began there were only 249 men left in the five regiments that had originally constituted the Stonewall Brigade. Company A of the 33rd Infantry, for example, had just one man remaining, and he was on sick leave. To add potency nine other regiments were added to the brigade to bolster its muscle. William Terry, an original member of the Stonewall Brigade, was appointed as its leader.
The Brigade would fight in all the battles of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign under General John Gordon, from Lynchburg to the gates of Washington and back. At the Third Battle of Winchester, they would arrive on the battlefield at a critical moment, just in time to receive and repulse General Cuvier Grover’s assault. Reflexively they responded with their own counterattack. Though Gordon’s men fought savagely, they would soon be overwhelmed.
The Stonewall Brigade was forced to retreat and had barely reached their new defensive line when Federal cavalry slammed into their left flank. The unit’s commander, General William Terry, was seriously wounded and “the brigade was horribly handled.” The 2nd Virginia lost its battle flag and the brigade most of its men. The First Brigade was, once again, forced to give way. Many would blame them for the Confederate loss at 3rd Winchester.
Following their defeats at 3rd Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek, the Stonewall Brigade returned to Lee’s Army. They served there in the trenches during the Siege of Petersburg and, ultimately, during the Appomattox Campaign. When Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia finally surrendered only 219 of the nearly 6000 men that had served in the brigade during the war were present for the surrender.
The location of the Stonewall Brigade Medallions would lie hidden for nearly thirty years. It was not until 1893, when the old warehouse in which they had been concealed in was being razed, that someone came across a box of these old, corroded medals. The relics were cleaned, polished, and turned over to Mrs. Lamar.
Mrs. Lamar would take upon herself the responsibility of making sure they would get into the hands of the surviving members of the old Stonewall Brigade. By that time, though, it was too late to award them to many of its associates. Most had died during, or in the period following, the war. Those medals that did not find a home were instead donated to the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Confederate Veterans Association. They would sell them for a dollar each with the proceeds used to benefit disabled veterans.
Based on this additional information the mystery over the origin of the Stonewall Medallion has, in all likelihood, been resolved. Casler’s error is easily explained. With the passage of time, however, these medals have taken on a different quality. In addition to honoring veterans they have become a popular collector’s item, receiving a great deal of attention from the numismatic community. These decorations have become highly collectible, with a value that can easily exceed a thousand dollars.
The creation of these pendants was an attempt to honor a specific group of Civil War Veterans. Their creation came at the same time as the introduction of the Kearny Cross and the Medal of Honor in the North. As Memorial Day is fast approaching, we are reminded that each of us should take a moment to remember, not just the members of the Stonewall Brigade, but all those six hundred and twenty thousand plus soldiers that fought and died during the American Civil War. All life is precious, and all veterans who have served their country in time of war deserve to be honored. Be it from combat, accident, starvation, or disease, these men offered up their lives for the doctrines they believed in, and the country they loved. I have always thought that as one of these individuals is remembered so are they all. Have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend.
Casler, John. Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade. Lume Books. London, England. 2016.