Times Past, Pausing to Remember


At Gettysburg, he was MAJOR Dearing, in command of a battalion of eighteen guns in the reserve artillery of Longstreet's corps. He reached the battlefield of Gettysburg with Pickett's division, and took part in the tremendous artillery duel which followed on the third day.

James Dearing came from an illustrious family, probably more so than he ever knew. He was the 13th great grandson of Robert III, King of Scotland, and therefore also a direct descendant of Robert I "the Bruce" and all his forebears. Those include Henry I, King of England, William the Conqueror, and ultimately, back to Charlemagne. It is estimated that 60 to 70% of Americans have Charlemagne as a granddaddy, but when James Dearing was alive, that was not so well known.

It was known that James was a great grandson of Col. Charles Lynch, of revolutionary fame, who, through his summary way of treating the Tories, gave his name to what is now known as "lynch law." He commonly held trials in his front yard of those suspected of sympathy for the King's army, and if found guilty, which they usually were, Lynch had them whipped on the spot.

James was not given to such autocratic methods, and his commanders admired him and promoted him quickly. General George Pickett wrote about him, "He is a young officer of daring and coolness combined, the very man for the service upon which he is going, a good disciplinarian, and at the same time generally beloved by his men. I am not saying too much in his absence in assuring you that General Longstreet would strongly endorse his claims to promotion had he the opportunity."

At Gettysburg, Major Dearing was one of the many officers whose guns roared in the greatest artillery barrage ever to take place on the North American continent.

The Confederates had 102 guns strung out in a long line facing the Union position about a mile across the upward sloping landscape. A signal was given about 1:10 in the afternoon, and the cannonade continued fire until about 2:55. One historian estimates that the number of projectiles launched at the Union center to have been over eleven thousand.*

Major Dearing's battalion was in top condition, having just arrived on the field and not yet engaged. It consisted of 12 Napoleons and six rifled guns, including two 20-pounders. It was assigned to the best position of all, where it could fire upon the most important target, that famous clump of trees near the Union center.

The dismal failure of the whole enterprise has many explanations, and the weight of words written about those reasons would sink the proverbial battleship. One man, a Prussian visitor with the Confederate forces described the cannonade in a single word. Captain Scheibert said it was a "Pulververschwendung." This translates to "waste of powder."

Major James Dearing had done his best at Gettysburg and shares no blame for Lee's defeat there. He continued to do his best, which was good enough to earn him promotions, and at war's end, he was a Brigadier General. At war's end...well, almost. He was mortally wounded in a remarkable encounter with Brig. Gen. Theodore Read, of the United States army. The two generals met on the 5th of April at High Bridge on the Appomattox, at the head of their forces, and a duel with pistols ensued. General Read was instantly killed, but General Dearing lingered for a few days after the surrender of General Lee, when he died in the old City hotel at Lynchburg.

James Dearing has the distinction of being the last Confederate General to die of war wounds. He was two days shy of his 25th birthday.


*George R. Stewart, "Pickett's Charge." Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1959. This is an excellent book, carefully researched and so well written the reader is drawn along, reluctant to stop until the very end.

Cousins in the Civil War