This week’s prompt is misfortune. While we had many ancestors who experienced various misfortunes, I was a bit stumped on who to choose. Then I saw the story sitting on top of my pile of papers waiting for more research of Col. Waddy Thompson James. The name caught my eye as we have a few ancestors with this unusual name of Waddy. After more research on this fellow, I found his story to be so worth sharing!
Waddy Thompson James was the son of Catlett James and Elizabeth Thompson. Catlett James was the brother of my third great-grandmother, Phoebe Byrd James. To state the relationship more simply, Waddy would be my first cousin, 4 times removed. I usually do not research every cousin, which would be a gargantuan task, but Waddy’s story gives insight into the era in which many of our ancestors lived. Waddy was the grandson of Dr. Jennings Thompson and of Spencer James and a direct descendent of the Braxtons of Virginia. (Carter Braxton signed the Declaration of Independence.)
Waddy was born on 12 August 1836 in Franklin County, Virginia. His father, Catlett James, owned a very large farm in the Southwestern area of Franklin County and this is where Waddy grew up with six sisters and a brother, Bryant, who became a physician. Waddy was lucky to be able to get an education and attend The Story Creek Academy. Waddy married at about age 22 to Mary Jane Warren on 26 October of 1858. They established a farm and in 1860, according to the Federal Census, this was no small farm. The real estate value of Waddy’s and Mary Jane’s farm was $4000 and their personal estate value was $6465.
Now this doesn’t sound like much today but looking at a good many of the neighbors in his area, the average real estate values ranged from $150 to $1500. So Waddy indeed had one of the largest farms – only 2 others were slightly more valuable than his out of about 50 households. His father, Catlett James, also had a value of $4000 for real estate and $12,405 for personal estate. Now this was just before the Civil War and the value of the slaves was counted in the personal estate. After the war, Waddy’s personal estate dropped to $1200 but his farm real estate was valued more than in 1860 coming in at $5000.
When the Civil War started, Waddy organized Company B of the 57th Infantry called the Franklin Sharpshooters and made up of men from Franklin County, Virginia. He enlisted June 15 1861 at Young’s Store and was made first a Captain, then a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Confederate Army. During the War, he served with the CSA 57th Virginia Volunteers and commanded the Regiment in the absence of Col. Elisaha Keen of Pittsylvania County. About a year later, Waddy was injured in the Battle of Malvern Hill in July of 1862.
The report of Lieut. Col. Waddy T. James on the battle of Malvern Hill was found in the Civil War Records of Franklin County as documented in the sources below. I was lucky to find a report written in his own words!
July 14, 1862
“Our regiment was drawn up in line of battle along a string of fence about 9 o’clock on the morning of July 1 near the battle-field of this memorable day. We were ordered to lie down to prevent being so much exposed to the shell of the enemy, that was flying over our heads in every direction all the time we remained in the position. Four men were slightly wounded during this part of the engagement. The left company…was posted beyond a small swamp from the balance of the regiment and were compelled to move lower down during the evening to get out of range of the shell, which at this time began to fall pretty thick and uncomfortably near.
At or about 6 p.m. orders passed down the line for our regiment to charge the enemy’s batteries, when the whole line were on their feet and started off with a defiant shout and at a run through a pine thicket, which had been literally torn to pieces by the artillery of the enemy and in direct range of their guns. Here we confidently expected to begin an engagement, but found the enemy still a long way off and posted in a very advantageous position but on we sped, nothing daunted, and under partial cover of a hill, but really exposed to a galling fire, we were brought to a halt and formed, when our commanding colonel, E.R. Keen, gave the word to charge. ”
The report goes on to describe their charge which did experience some success but one Captain had his arm nearly shot off and another Captain was instantly killed, which caused great confusion and orders were given to fall back. A second charged yielded partial success but the odds were too great against them. Waddy was also injured in this battle. According to his pension application, his injuries were caused by concussion of a shell, leaving his left arm damaged. He was unable to do manual labor after this and qualified for a pension due to his disability in 1903.
On July 23 of 1862, Waddy’s injuries forced him to offer his resignation. In his own words, “I have the honor to tender my resignation as Lieut. Colonel of 57th Virginia Volunteers on account of physical imbecility; and because of the deplorable situation of my family and affairs generally at home. My father is aged–weak and almost an invalid–rapidly declining–and is now unable to attend to business, so that I feel called upon being the only son — to return to his assistance. Besides my family is wholly unprotected and in a lamentable state of health. And apart from this–it is my firm conviction that I will not be able to discharge the duties (can’t read) upon me as Lieut. Colonel for a long time. And believing that it will be promoting the interest of the Southern Cause I most respectfully ask that my resignation may be received.”
By 1870, after the war, he was living in Brown Hill, Franklin County, Virginia on his large farm and had some hired help. In 1880, Waddy and his wife were still on the farm and managing with help from servants and farm laborers. Waddy was about 44 years old. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1874 to 1878 and served in the Virginia Senate from 1879 to 1882 as the representative from Franklin County. He was the Senator from his district for January 1874-1875 and again 1877-1878. He also belonged to various military organizations in the years after the Civil War.
Mary Jane, his wife, died in 1889 and by 1900, Waddy lived with his sister, Mrs. Phebe Wall and her husband William Wall in Auburn, Montgomery County VA. By 1910, he was living with a niece and family, Thomas and Tillie Carter, in the town of Bassett, Virginia and Waddy was listed as age 73, a boarder and having his “own income”. The picture below of Waddy states he was wounded at Seven Pines (Battle of Malvern Hill) and that he was once the official Inspector of legal stills in Franklin County – an unusual job! The picture was taken about 1880 or 1890 (hard to read).
Now comes the misfortune. Here was a distinguished Confederate soldier who lived through the War, served his country in the political arena, and managed his farm despite his war injuries. And how did he die? Very ironically, he was killed by a train on May 13, 1926 in Bassett, Virginia at age 89!
A newspaper, The Henry Bulletin, carried his obituary which was four columns long. “Funeral Services was held at the James Cemetery, six miles north-west of Henry (Franklin County), on a Sunday afternoon. A large crowd of relatives and friends were present at the memorial exercises which were conducted by his pastor, Rev. G F. Poteat, pastor of the Henry Baptist Church. The active pall bearers were six of his great -nephews…Although Col. James had no children, he left a number of nephews and nieces, descendants of his brothers and sisters…” There were also 17 honorary pall bearers consisting of friends, family and fellow veterans.
So ends the story of Colonel Waddy Thompson James, an admirable man!
Portrait from Wall Dairy Farm, Blacksburg VA. Taken by Lesli Wall, 2006, Waddy Thompson James.
Cemetery Records of Franklin County, Virginia (1986), p. 367.
The Henry Bulletin, Fri., May 21, 1926, p. 4, cols. 1-4.
Civil War Records of Franklin County, Virginia, 1861-1865, First Edition, Transcribed by Beverly Merritt, July 6, 2007, p. 20, p. 191.
Find A Grave, findagrave.com, Memorial 59763185, citing James Cemetery, Henry, Franklin County, Virginia, USA, Col. Waddy Thompson James.
Google Images, Battle of Malvern Hill, Harper’s Weekly, July 26, 1862.
United States Federal Census records for Waddy Thompson James, 1850,1860,1870,1880, 1900, 1910; Ancestry.com.
Virginia, Compiled Marriages for Select Counties, 1851-1929, database on-line, Provo UT, Ancestry.com 2000.