Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Collections >> First-Person Narratives >> Document Menu >> Summary

James H. Wood
The War; "Stonewall" Jackson, His Campaigns, and Battles, the Regiment as I Saw Them
Cumberland, Md.: Eddy Press Corporation, [1910].

Summary

James Harvey Wood was born February 22, 1842, in Scott County, Virginia, to James O. and Ann Elizabeth (Godsey) Wood. He entered the Virginia Military Institute in July 1860, but trained there for only one year before leaving to serve the Confederacy as drillmaster for the VMI Corps of Cadets stationed in Richmond, Virginia. In March 1862, he enlisted in the Confederate Army, becoming a private in Company D of the 37th Virginia Infantry Regiment. As a member of that regiment—which was often under the command of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson—Wood participated in many historically significant battles of the Civil War, including the Valley Campaign (Virginia), Antietam (Maryland), Fredericksburg (Virginia), Chancellorsville (Virginia), and Gettysburg (Pennsylvania). Over the course of these battles, Wood rose to the rank of Captain. In May 1864, he was captured in combat by Union forces near Spotsylvania Courthouse in Virginia and held as a prisoner of war. He was released from Federal custody in June 1865. After the war, Wood became a lawyer and clerk of the circuit and county courts of Scott County. He was made an honorary graduate of VMI in July 1869 and later served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. In 1901, Wood moved to Washington, D.C. and founded the J.H. Wood Corporation, which provided legal counsel for railroads and other businesses. In 1909, he moved to New York City and became an associate of the New York Urban Real Estate Company. He had four children with his first wife, Laura Lucretia James. After her death, Wood married Mrs. Virginia Elton Rhodes Holmes. He died of complications from high blood pressure in New York on November 12, 1917.

Wood was prompted to write his 1910 narrative, The War; "Stonewall" Jackson, His Campaigns, and Battles, the Regiment as I Saw Them out of a concern that those with first-hand knowledge of the Civil War were beginning to age and pass away. Wood documents his experiences for the historical record, because he feels "it is the duty of the survivors to preserve from oblivion the names and deeds of their dead comrades" (p. iii). Intended to carry out Wood's "duty," The War is a chronologically arranged narrative covering the period from his time at VMI through the end of the war in 1865.

Wood's descriptions of battle tend to focus on factual details such as dates and times, troop deployments, weather, and geography rather than his personal reactions to combat. For example, Wood recounts a morning at the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg by saying: "The plain now occupied by the Federals was still enveloped in dense fog. About 10 o'clock the fog cleared" and the Union troops were suddenly visible "in front of our position at Hamilton's Crossing and extending miles to our left" (p. 105). He then notes that "the force in front of Jackson's corps alone was estimated at not less than 50,000" (p. 105). Because of such descriptions, Wood's narrative often reads more like history than memoir. Still, Wood does sometimes depict the emotional experience of combat, such as when he describes the fearsome fighting at Chancellorsville. "The horribleness of that dark night is indescribable," Wood writes, adding that he and his fellow soldiers could do nothing but lie on the ground "because to arise was to be cut down like grass before the mower's scythe" (p. 122).

Battle is not the only focus of Wood's narrative. He also portrays day-to-day life as a soldier and describes a camaraderie among soldiers that, in some instances, even extends across enemy lines. For example, while Wood's company makes camp on the Rappahannock River in Virginia during the winter of 1862-1863, Union forces are in "such close proximity that a continual battle across the river could have been kept up" (p. 112). But rather than fight, the two sides permit travel between camps for "the exchange of tobacco from the Confederates for coffee from the Federals" (pgs. 112-113). Later in life, Wood relates the story of these exchanges between armies to a former Federal officer who confirms that he had had similar experiences.

At the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Wood is captured, along with a large number of "men and officers, including Generals Johnston and Stuart" (p. 164). Wood's spelling here seems to refer to the famous Confederate Generals Joseph E. Johnston and J.E.B. Stuart, but the Confederate generals captured at Spotsylvania on May 12, 1864, were actually Edward Johnson (not Johnston) and George H. Steuart (not Stuart). Edward Johnson's name is spelled correctly once in Wood's text, in the subheading of Chapter Thirteen, but George H. Steuart's last name is spelled "Stuart" throughout (p. 158, p. 40). In the introduction to a 1984 reprint of The War, Wood's most recent biographer, James I. Robertson, points out that a number of other misspellings and factual errors can be found in the text. For example, Wood provides the wrong date for the 1862 battle of Seven Pines, mistakenly refers to General Robert S. Garnett as General Samuel Garland, and incorrectly reports Jackson's age at the time of his death. Robertson accounts for these errors by saying that Wood was likely writing primarily from his memory of events that took place over forty years prior.

The captured men are held as prisoners of war at Fort Delaware, where living conditions are difficult and "cruelties" are sometimes inflicted by "malignant individual soldiers or persons in petty authority" (p. 177). Rather than dwell on the hardships of prison life, however, Wood focuses on the entertainments the prisoners devise to stay busy, such as debates, plays, and even the organization of a prison "government" (p. 172).

After his release from Federal custody on June 13, 1865, Wood returns to his hometown near Gate City, in Scott County, Virginia, to work on the family farm. He concludes his narrative by explaining that though the South once rebelled against the United States, "today there is no section of the Union in which there is more American blood and American patriotism than in the late Confederate States" (p. 181). Wood thus ends his narrative by claiming a national, American identity for white Southerners, an identity which he argues is in no way at odds with these Southerners' earlier determination to secede from the Union.

Works Consulted: Civil War High Commands, edited by John H. Eicher and David J. Eicher, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001; "Historical Rosters Database: Details for ID 1751," in VMI Archives: Online Rosters Database, online database, (Virginia Military Institute, publication date unknown), http://www.vmi.edu/archives/archiverosters/Details.asp?ID=1751&rform=search (accessed May 8, 2007); Robertson, James I., introduction to The War; "Stonewall" Jackson, His Campaigns, and Battles, the Regiment as I Saw Them by James H. Wood (Gaithersburg, MD: Butternut Press, 1984).

Harry Thomas

Document menu