James Edward Poindexter, Captain, CSA

1839 - 1911


James Edward Poindexter is perhaps one of the more outstanding examples of the Poindexters who served in the Civil War. The total count of the clan who fought may never be known. The great majority still lived in or retained their loyalties to the South and particularly Virginia and North Carolina, yet there were Poindexters of Indiana and other Northern states who also served nobly. For the purposes of this sketch, however, we will look at James Edward.

Born in 1839 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, he was perhaps the epitome, of the Southern gentleman Eldest son of good family, well educated, and highly articulate, he likes many of his forebears chose a scholarly and religious vocation. He attended the University of Virginia, where he matriculated in Ancient Languages, Modern Languages, and Mathematics. Subsequently he attended the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Alexandria, with a view of becoming a minister. Later writings would appear to reveal a man of great moral conviction, which would contribute to his future renown as a man of the cloth. In that light, it should not appear too contradictory that he also answered a less secular calling, when the first guns were fired at Fort Sumter. As a true son of Virginia he laid aside his religious studies to answer the Confederate call to arms.

In June of 1861, twenty-two year old 2nd Lieutenant James Edward Poindexter was commissioned into H. Company of the newly formed 38th Virginia infantry. By December he was promoted to First Lieutenant, and one may assume that he bore the increased responsibility with wisdom and fortitude. In March of 1862 he was joined by his younger brother, Private William R. Poindexter.

The 38th VA spilled their fist blood at Williamsburg, where they suffered eight wounded and two taken prisoner. Perhaps the mental images of that battle sent James Edward to the pages of a pocket Bible, such as many soldiers carried. Yet three weeks later at the battle of Seven Pines, the war would begin for them in earnest.

At Seven Pines, the 38th suffered fearful casualties, fifteen killed, eighty-six wounded, and two taken prisoner. First Lieutenant James Edward Poindexter was promptly promoted to Captain on 31 May 1862, via the wounding of his own company commander. Yet in that same days fighting, he also became a casualty, suffering a broken thigh. In battle, there would be no ready help, no gentle hand to offer comfort, no soft voice to speak of solace. James Edward would lay amongst the other shattered, bloody rubble of combat until the fight was over, and stretcher-bearers could find him.

An agonizing and potentially dangerous wound like that could have cashiered him permanently from service, but within two weeks, by mid-June, he is listed back with H. Company. One can only imagine the sheer, bone-grinding torment that the least motion caused, let alone the wonderful torture of being moved over rutted dirt roads in a hard-wheeled Army ambulance. To willingly bear such suffering, the newly-minted Captain must have found himself unable and unwilling to bear being parted from his duties, his patriotic obligations, his boys. Concerns for self retreated before the greater needs he saw before him. The 38th next fought at Malvern Hill, on July I suffering ten killed, seventy-four wounded, and six men listed as missing. What part H. Company's painfully injured captain could have played is unknown. But his conduct would suggest that he remained as close to the fighting as possible, and did all he, could to see that his men received proper leadership.

Regrettably but logically, James Edward broken body proved unable to match the valiant spirit it housed, and on July 15, two weeks after Malvern Hill, he was again listed Absent With Wounds. The brave captain went home to mend, and could there have honorably ended his military service. His younger brother William also suffered though it was bugs, not bullets, which laid the youngster low in the fall of that year. Will finally went home on a twenty-day furlough.

Perhaps there the two brothers spoke of the comrades they left behind. Young Will could have filled James in on how "the boys" fared, in the months since James was wounded, and the talk would have been warm and wistful. Although surrounded by the comforts of home, they could not forget their comrades who continued to fight. Will would be first to return, but just over a year after his wound, young Captain James Edward Poindexter was back with H. Company. The 38th Virginia now came under the command of General George Pickett.

In late June of 1863, the Confederates launched a massive push into the Northern states. General Robert E. Lee's strategy was to make the war so unpopular on the Northern home fronts, that those people would clamor to Washington for a speedy end to the fighting. A chance of fate, and a few hundred sets of bare feet, turned the Army of Northern Virginia towards a store of shoes said to be housed in a Pennsylvania crossroads town called Gettysburg. Coming up the other side of the mountains to intercept them marched General Meade and the Army of the Potomac.

Pickett's Division came last in the line of march, those sultry final days of June. Therefore the 38th Virginia and the young captain of H. Company missed the bloodletting of the 1st and 2nd days of July, missed the gallant defense of Buford and the desperate struggle for Little Round Top. When at last Pickett's men took the field, the battered but not beaten Confederate army had wind for one last assault. General Pickett's division, with the support of others, would lead. On that day, no less than eight Poindexter kinsmen faced the field, and probably more, yet we will stay with the 38th Virginia.

History gives us the tale of that immortal charge, of the majestic sweep of ordered ranks and forward-tilting flags, which continued ahead despite brutal cannonade, and then small-arms fire, and then canister hurled at near point-blank range. Flags fell and were picked up, stained again and again with the blood of their bearers, and a battered old hat on General Lewis Armistead's high-held sword beckoned them ever on. The bloody tide crested at an angled stonewall, where the battle's fury reached immortal crescendo. And then finally, the grey tide receded leaving the tom and battered detritus of war upon the trampled grass in its wake. Among the wounded painfully struggled James Edward's little brother Will. He would make the long, rain-soaked retreat to Virginia, and there recover to rejoin the 38th Will would survive the war, but would watch the crumbling of the Confederacy without his brother's companionship. Among the missing on that bloody July 3 was Captain James Edward Poindexter, a wounded prisoner in Union hands at the stone wall at Gettysburg.

Three days after Gettysburg, he is listed as confined at Fort McHenry, Maryland. The next day his captors sent him to Fort Delaware, and from there to Johnson Island at Sandusky, Ohio. James Edward would remain imprisoned there for two long years, until being transferred in February of 1865 to Point Lookout, Maryland for exchange. The war ended two months later.

James Edward Poindexter gracefully returned to his old life, resuming his religious studies. For a time he was also a teacher, and then became an Episcopal deacon. In June of 1871 he at last was ordained an Episcopal minister, serving churches in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. He married Katherine Gordon Wallace in 1883, and was blessed with a son and daughter, and grandchildren to follow. The old soldier proved to be as able and dedicated in peace as he had been in battle.

Yet the ideals which once led him to war remained evident forty-five years after the hopes of the Confederacy were dashed upon Gettysburg's stone wall. In 1909, the Reverend James Edward Poindexter delivered an address to the Lee Camp, Confederate Veterans at Richmond, Virginia. The occasion was a dedication ceremony, which marked the unveiling of a portrait of General Lewis Armistead, fallen hero of Gettysburg. Reverend Poindexter said of Armistead, ". . . He waited only for a fit opportunity to prove himself the hero he was, to write his name high on the roll of fame and win the plaudits of the world". Perhaps not the world would appreciate James Edward Poindexter, but surely Virginia must recognize the mettle of the man, and the nobility of spirit which led him to faithful service, both martial and pastoral, beyond care for his mortal self Reverend James Edward Poindexter died in 1911 in Richmond, Virginia.


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