Friday, September 25, 2009

Reeves Brothers, Tragedy Of War

Cpl. Isaace Reeves & Sgt. James Reeves
Co. K, 10th Louisiana Infantry

Calcasieu Parish escaped the widespread devastation that many areas of the state and South suffered during the Civil War. Although it escaped physical devastation however, hardly a family in the parish was left untouched by human tragedy. Few families suffered a greater loss than the pioneer Reeves family.

Three sons left for the war in 1861, James, Isaac and John, and only one came back, and he had suffered a terrible wound. The brothers were the sons of George Reeves and Mary Ann Ryan, the sister of Jacob Ryan Jr., who is known as the ''Father of Lake Charles.''

James Reeves was the oldest of the brothers. He was born in 1836 and was a farmer before he enlisted. He was married to Tabitha Harmon and had one son, David George Reeves, who was born in 1858. Isaac and John Reeves were twins born in 1840. They were both single at the time of their enlistment in 1861 and were also farmers.

The brothers joined with other local volunteers to help form the Confederate States Rangers. James was a sergeant, Isaac a corporal and John a private. They were among a 37 man contingent from Calcasieu Parish who left for the war in mid-1861. The contingent was mostly comprised of the sons of pioneer families in the parish, and most all were related in some way.

There were six sets of brothers in the company, an uncle and nephew, and most were related to one another as cousins or through marriage. When their regiment got into heavy combat, the casualty rate took a heavy toll on local families. The last names of the volunteers in Company K are still among the most common in Southwest Louisiana, including LeBleu, Marcantel, Ryan, Pithon, Moss, Kirkman, Bolin, Linscombe, Miller, Morgan, Langley, Hoffpauir, Farque, Foreman, Hargrove, Harrington, Ellender, Courville, Trahan and Buller.

The 10th Louisiana Infantry Regiment was organized and formally sworn into Confederate service on July 22, 1861 at Camp Moore in Tangipahoa. The regiment was assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia and fought in most of the famous battles in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The Calcasieu Parish men served under two of the greatest military figures in American History, General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas J. ''Stonewall'' Jackson. The marching and fighting in the summer of 1862 were both exhausting and extremely bloody.

James, Isaac and John experienced their first taste of combat on July 1, 1862 at the Battle of Malvern Hill near Richmond, Virginia. All three came through unscathed.
The next battle was Cedar Run on August 9, followed by Second Manassas on Aug. 29, 30. At Manassas, the Louisianans ran out of ammunition and threw rocks to stop a Union assault. Again, all three brothers came through safely.

James was wounded in the next battle, the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam) which is known as the bloodiest single day in American History. The 10th Louisiana fought in a cornfield and along the Hagerstown Pike early in the battle. Both sides lost 23,000 men in killed, wounded and missing.

The elder brother recovered from his wound and was given a furlough home. He delivered letters from his comrades to loved ones and brought 1st Lt. Edward A. Seton's sword to Seton's mother in Lake Charles. As if the tragedy of war wasn't enough, James lost his wife Tabitha, who died in childbirth.

After returning to his command, he would fight just one more battle. The Battle of Chancellorsville, fought May 1-3, 1863, has been called Lee's greatest victory of the war. The tactical maneuvers he and Stonewall Jackson used there are still studied at West Point. But for the soldiers who fought there, it was a horrifying nightmare.

Sgt. James Reeves was killed in action and Lt. Seton wrote the following account of his death in a letter dated June 17, 1863 from a hospital in Liberty, Va.:

''Dear Mama, I expect you have been living in great suspense for these last six weeks on account of having heard of my wound and probably of my death for such was reported for I had been taken prisoner after being wounded. Our company stood on the field (to) the last and fought with the Yankees at 30 yards distance. They (his men) did not leave until I told them to go...Poor Jim Reeves was killed at my left and I went to get his rifle to give to F.(Frederick) Sark whose gun would not fire and at that moment I was wounded and when I looked around to give Sark the gun I seen, poor fellow, he was killed also. Those are the fortunes of a poor soldier.''

Also at Chancellorsville, Pvt. John Reeves was severely wounded and lost his eyesight. He spent the rest of the war in a hospital. John's twin, Isaac, also suffered a wound but it did not keep him out of action for long.

The Gettysburg campaign quickly followed. The 10th Louisiana was part of Ewell's Corp that cleared the way for Lee's greatest invasion of the North. The regiment fought and helped win the Battle of Winchester on June 14 and 15, 1863.

The first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, found the regiment 30 miles away and it didn't arrive until sundown after a forced march in the hot sun. The regiment went into battle on the Confederate left flank at Culp's Hill. During the assault the next day, July 2, Isaac Reeves was killed in action.

In just two months time two of the brothers had been killed and the third disabled.
The Reeves family tragedy was a reflection of the loss of other Calcasieu families.

After four years of the most brutal warfare experienced on the North American continent, only two of the 37 local men were left in the ranks at the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse April 9, 1865. Those two were Pvt. Jacob Ellender and Pvt. William Reeves, a cousin to the three brothers.

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