SIXTH PLATE AMBROTYPE OF DAVID A. BISSETT, VMI AND 13th VA CAVALRY, WOUNDED AND CAPTURED, LIEUTENANT IN 1864

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David Aloysius Bissett was born in Petersburg, VA, in 1842 and entered the Virginia Military Institute in July 1860 as a member of the Class of 1864. He is shown here in a 6th plate ambrotype wearing his forage cap and VMI dress coat, opened to reveal his white shirt and black cravat, resting his hand on the shoulder of an equally young companion in a civilian coat, who also wears a military cap. This must have been taken not long after he joined VMI (perhaps his companion had not yet had time to acquire a jacket,) for Bissett resigned in March 1862 to join the Confederate army, enlisting for “three years or the war” as a private in Co. E of the 13th VA Cavalry. Some records give his enlistment date at August 31 and others as March 12. The August date might be his official muster in. A second image of him, in his Confederate uniform, is apparently still held by the family but is shown in the digital collections of VMI.

Company E of the 13th Cavalry was largely recruited from his hometown of Petersburg and took their nickname of the “Cockade Cavalry” from that city. The regiment served first in the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia under Chambliss before joining the Army of Northern Virginia and being placed under W.H.F. (“Rooney”) Lee. Bissett is listed as present on all their muster rolls covering Fredericksburg, raids on Dumfries and Fairfax Station, Rappahannock Bridge, Beverly Ford, contesting Stoneman’s raid, the battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Brandy Station, where Lee was wounded and Chambliss again took command. They fought at Upperville, Hanover, and in the July 3 cavalry battle at Gettysburg, where they carried 298 men into action.

Bissett was wounded and captured at Front Royal during Lee’s retreat after Gettysburg. Meade tried to cut off the Confederate army as it moved south in the Shenandoah Valley by forcing Manassas Gap on July 23, a battle also known as Wapping Heights. Confederates held off Union Third Corps troops until the army had passed Front Royal the next day, where Bissett is listed as captured on July 24. He remained in captivity until he was paroled for exchange on March 17, 1864, at City Point. He is listed as present in the company from May 1864 to the surrender at Appomattox with the exception of a month in the hospital, from 1/31/65 to 2/27/65. This puts him with the regiment during the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, North Anna, Haw’s Shop, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg.

Bissett had been proposed for adjutant of the regiment in September, which was disapproved, but he was elected lieutenant of Company E on 9/17/64 and appointed “Junior Second Lieutenant” on 10/24/64. The regiment saw more action at Jones Farm and the Vaughan Road as part of Beale’s brigade. (Chambliss had been killed in August.) When they surrendered at Appomattox just 10 officers and 78 enlisted men were on the rolls. Bissett is listed as a paroled prisoner of war at Richmond on April 17, 1865.

Bissett returned to Petersburg and took up civil engineering, living with his parents in the 1870 census. In 1871, however, he married a girl from Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and moved there to raise a family, having seven children, five of whom survived to adulthood. He continued to pursue civil engineering, and by some records farming as well, but was serving as county sheriff by 1884. He died of Bright’s Disease in 1885 in Baltimore, where he had perhaps gone for medical attention.

The ambrotype is matted, framed, and glassed in an excellent condition thermoplastic case with floral motifs. This is a very strong image of an identified wartime VMI cadet and Confederate soldier with a good service record in the cavalry.    [sr]

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