Cpl. A.B. Ellis and Kershaw’s Brigade

Archibald B. Ellis

Archibald B. Ellis … my Great-Great Grandfather who lived to the age of 84, was born in Hodges, SC in 1842.  Early in his life, he was faced with the decision to defend a popular cause that would ultimately prove indefensible both militarily and morally.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected and South Carolina voted to secede in late 1860, Arch Ellis was 18 years old and living in Cokesbury in the Old Abbeville District.  When war broke out between the North and the South a few months later, he was among the first wave of his generation to volunteer for Confederate service.

Let me say this right up front.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that my ancestor was a racist.  95% of white America at the time was racist.  But, like so many young men of modest means and upbringing in the antebellum South, he owned no slaves and he viewed the situation as simply a question of honor and served through a sense of duty.

Records show that he enlisted as a Private on April 17, 1861, only five days after the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor by forces under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard.

He was a member of Company F, 2nd South Carolina Infantry, a part of the brigade made famous by General Joseph E. Kershaw.

General Joseph Kershaw

Kershaw’s Brigade was to become one of the elite units in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Not only did the soldiers of the brigade establish a first-rate combat record, but the history of the units that compose the brigade is the longest of the war, having come into existence before Ft. Sumter and still being active weeks after Lee’s surrender at Appomatox.

After taking part in the Battle of 1st Manassas in July, his unit was inactive until the following May.  At some point during this lull in the action, Arch was appointed to serve as a musician perhaps as a drummer, or a bugler.  They went back into combat during the fierce fighting outside Richmond known as The Seven Days Battles.  He sustained a minor wound of some kind during the fighting in which there were a large number of casualties at both Savage Station and finally on the last day at Malvern Hill.

While not involved in Lee’s triumph at the Battle of 2nd Manassas, Kershaw’s Brigade re-joined him as he marched north and crossed the  Potomac, helping to capture Harper’s Ferry prior to the terrible conflict on September 12, 1862 near the tiny Maryland town of Sharpsburg on Antietam Creek.

Dunker church at Antietam (now & then)

At some point that morning as the fighting raged in and around the West Woods and the famous Dunker Church, Arch received another, more serious wound.

His recovery took place after Lee had retreated back into Virginia following the bloody stalemate of what those in the north call the Battle of Antietam, where more Americans died than on any other single day in history.

The Battle of Fredericksburg took place in December 1862 and was a particularly decisive Confederate victory that saw the Union forces of Ambrose Burnside decimated as they tried tragically to advance up the long slope toward a ridgeline known as Marye’s Heights, where Kershaw’s Brigade and the rest of The Army of Northern Virginia lay behind the protection of the stone wall and the sunken road.

Afterwards, Lee’s army remained  inactive through the winter of 1862 and did not move again until late May of 1863, when a strong advance of Union forces under General Joe Hooker forced Lee into a bold maneuver near the crossroads known as Chancellorsville.

Kershaw’s Brigade did not march with “Stonewall” Jackson on his famous flanking move that routed the Federal forces that afternoon and fateful evening, but was involved with the action that took place in and around Salem Church the next day.

After the stunning victory at Chancellorsville, the army remained in camp for nearly a month before Lee resumed the offensive by pushing north into Pennsylvania where the armies clashed in a little college town called Gettysburg.  Here Kershaw’s Brigade was involved in some of the hottest fighting of the entire three-day battle in the sector now known as “The Wheat Field”.

About 4:00 p.m. of July 2, 1863 the soldiers of Kershaw’s Brigade leaped a stone wall and headed toward their destiny. They made an unsuccessful attempt to silence the cannon along the Wheatfield Road before continuing straight across the Rose Farm to the Stony Hill and ultimately attempting to advance up the slope of Little Round Top.

Carnage at Rose Farm after 2nd day of Gettysburg

While suffering a staggering 650 casualties that day, General James Longstreet described the actions of his corps, which included Kershaw’s Brigade as the best four hours of fighting during the war.

The records don’t show specifically what part Pvt. Archibald B. Ellis personally played during the Battle of Gettysburg, but they do indicate that just a few weeks later, on August 31, 1863, he was promoted to the rank of 1st Corporal and once again the following March to the rank of 2nd Corporal.

That September, the brigade followed Longstreet as they were detached from Lee’s army to join General Braxton Bragg in Tennessee where they played an important  part in the smashing victory at Chickamauga in September, before slowly making their way back to Virginia in time for the spring 1864 Wilderness Campaign which followed on the heels of the appointment of  U.S. Grant to supreme command on all Union Forces.  A series of extremely bloody engagements took place at Spotsylvania Courthouse and the North Anna River, culminating in the futile slaughter at Cold Harbor.

By mid-June of 1864, as both sides settled into the protracted siege in the trenches of Petersburg, Lee had detached General Jubal Early to the Shenandoah Valley in an attempt to re-create the “Stonewall” tactical masterpiece in the Valley two years before and draw Union troops away.  He sent Kershaw’s Brigade as a part of this effort.

Confederate POWs at Point Lookout prison in Maryland

In October of 1864, Early’s forces met those of General Phillip Sheridan at The Battle of Cedar Creek where, following a see-saw affair, over 1,200 Confederate soldiers were captured, including my Great-Great Grandfather Archibald B. Ellis, who was destined to spend the final months of the war as a prisoner in the camp at Point Lookout on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.  He was paroled on March 28, 1865, only a few days before Lee surrendered at Appomatox and less than a month before Joseph Johnston with his tattered army including the 2nd South Carolina and the remnants of Kershaw’s Brigade stopped fighting on April 26, 1865 at Durham Station in North Carolina.

A.B. and Sally Riley Ellis circa 1920

Archibald B. Ellis came back home from the war and later married Sally Riley.  They had a family and he survived and appears to have thrived during and after Reconstruction, living well into the 20th century.  He  died in Greenwood, SC in 1926 while living with his son, my Great Grandfather, James Ellis.

A brief entry in the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) Book of Recollections Vol. 7, pg 41 offers this quote by A.B.Ellis …

“I was born February 1842 near Hodges and was living in the Old Abbeville district when the war started.  I offered my services, enlisting in Company F, Second S.C.V., under Captain Perryman on April 17, 1861.  It wasn’t very long before I was chosen as one of the musicians of my company.  I hate to recall the awful struggle, but when honor was at stake we could not let the yankees go by unnoticed. I am eighty-four years old, living with my son in Greenwood.  At some other time I will give you an account of some of the battles … “

Sadly, THAT’S IT!

When asked to add his memories for posterity, that’s all he had to say.  This modest man with so much to tell would die very shortly and if he ever provided a more detailed account of his long and distinguished service during the Civil War, I have not been able to find it …

… at least not yet.


NOTE:  Thanks to historian and author Mac Wyckoff for his wonderfully detailed accounts of the history of the 2nd SC Infantry and Kershaw’s Brigade from which my chronology and some of the details of this account are drawn.

About Judson

Late bloomer ... aspiring writer and musician.
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15 Responses to Cpl. A.B. Ellis and Kershaw’s Brigade

  1. lesliepaints says:

    Hi Judson. Great write on your Great Great Grandfather. I have just started reading historical novels and jump around with it quite a bit so have not read much on the civil war period. What interests me most is that you have taken time to find out more about the times around the civil war that a member of your family played a significant role in. I like your informative manner of writing. Good post.

  2. Judson says:

    Leslie —

    Thanks for visiting. I am a genealogy and history nut, so this sort of thing is my true passion.

    If you are interested, “Unto This Hour” by Tom Wicker is a really good novel about both the soldiers and the civilians caught up in the Civil War during the Battle of 2nd Manassas (also called Bull Run).

    Also, “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara is considered a classic.


  3. brohammas says:

    I truly appreciated the last line of the first paragraph.

    • Judson says:

      As a southerner by heritage and by choice, this is an issue that I struggle with constantly. I believe that it was tragic that we fought a long and bloody war over sectional issues and states rights and that the right most vehemently argued was the right to own other human beings. While I deeply respect my ancestors for being willing to fight and die for a cause they believed in at the time, I don’t think that given benefit of a modern perspective, they would support the same cause today.


  4. lesliepaints says:

    Hi Judson! Love the conversation with brohammas. You and I are reading some of our past. I just throw this out for thought. We may not do the exact same things as we did during the days of slave trade, but I am reading about repetitions of greed dictating where peoples go to fight what battles and for what outcome. It seems we always say we are doing it for their good. I’m not so sure why we do what we do when it comes to warring. Guess I’ll have to read some MORE! …I say that with a smile 🙂

    • Judson says:

      Leslie —

      Throughout history, the old men and the rich men have sent the young men and the poor men out to fight and die. Greed usually does play a big part in it.

      I doubt very much that the average Confederate soldier owned slaves nor did he care very much about the specific sectional issues that sparked the war.

      The average young man in those days simply saw a situation in which his “rights” were threatened and his “honor” was questioned.

      That is all it takes to start a fight, whether you are in a bar, or on a battlefield.


  5. brohammas says:

    Now while modern readers will surely miss the nuances and tone of a particular time, we would be fools to think people from history were not as smart or wise as we. Some moral issues are infinate and you will rarely hear a black person use the “can’t judge the past by today’s standard” in ref to slavery. Why? Because most black people would look at the civil war through the perspective of a slave and in that light there is no defense, modern or historic, of that state right.
    In regards to poor southerners view of slavery, one need only look at how black people were treated post war.
    If hostility was simply against medling Yanks, why did so many black folk swing from trees?

    • Judson says:

      Brohammas, I totally agree with what you’re saying. Racism was, and sadly still is endmic to the entire country. There is no way one can rationalize that slavery, or the defense of slavery was ever morally correct.

      But, in 1860, owning slaves was a legal “right” according to the Constitution and given that fact, I do think that you have to allow for the perspective of the era in which people were living. I hope we can admit that people do frequently become more enlightened in their attitudes and more liberal in their judgement as circumstances change. Slavery was abolished, the Constitution was amended and today only a very few people even attempt to justify the attitudes that were prevalent in 1860.

      A certain percentage will always cling to the past, whether it is the white person who still insists that black people are inferior despite all evidence to the contrary, or the black person who is continues to live in universal suspicion of the general motivations of white society even though it took an enormous number of white votes to elect Barak Obama to the Presidency.

      The vast majority of the white population of this country, north and south was openly racist in the 19th century. It’s a documented fact that the Emancipation Proclamation was not at all popular with the soldiers fighting to perserve the Union. Only the fanatical abolitionists of New England supported the concept of black equality in that era.

      I guess, all I’m trying to say is history documents that people DO change given the opportunity and that our attitudes largely reflect the enviroment we are exposed to as we grow up and the beliefs of those who raise us.


  6. brohammas says:

    You are completely right, people, and society, do change. We agree.
    I am oft suspicious, some would say too much so, of the attempts that some, or many, make to say that historical figures were not wrong because of the prevailing moral attitudes of that day.
    That is what I am arguing against, yes most all whites were racist in the 1860’s… and that was wrong then too.

    (good stuff here, by the way. Well done)

  7. James W. "Buddy" Bell says:

    Hey Judson,
    You are not going to beleive this, but I live in your GG Grandfather’s house and have so for the past twenty five years. My wife and I bought the house in 1987. I love Civil War history and I am obsessed with genealogy. Soon after buying the house, I researched the past owners and found that Archibald B. Ellis, a confederate soldier owned the house and was thrilled. He lived in this house sixty five years of his life. I also researched his ancestry. I have visited his and his wife’s grave many times over the years in Hodges to pay my respect and tribute to a person I feel was a hero. In the hall downstairs, on the wall, I have a caligraphy written, short biography about him. I never have seen the picture of him until seeing your artical. I have printed it and it will go on the wall. I have Ellis ancestry which is the same line as Archibalds, but a few generations before he was born. This was another unusual coincidence about living here. As why Archibald B. Ellis fought as a Confederate soldier, I think he did as 90 per cent of all Confederate soldiers, they fought in fear of having their homeland invaded. The other 10 per cent, politicians and the wealthy, fought for slavery.

    • Judson says:

      This is amazing!! I would love to learn more! I have worked for many years to get to the point where I am now. My goal is to eventually write a novel around the life of A. B. Ellis. I would so much love to meet you or at least begin a coorespondnece via e-mail to extend what I know to this point. What ever you’ve learned, please pass it on!

      — Judson

  8. Pingback: My Blog … 2010 in review | Footprints in the Sand …

  9. Judson says:

    After much thought, I have written this song recounting the experiences of AB Ellis during the war … https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kBbtCFPKOdY&list=PLZ4NYTuAWHSFrmTlzHUrdKWnPHCud7Q1X&index=5

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