WONDERFUL HALF PLATE AMBROTYPE OF JOHN W. LEA, THREE TIMES WOUNDED, COLONEL 5th NORTH CAROLINA, AND CUSTER FRIEND, WITH W.R. JONES, C.S. CAPTAIN AND ASST. CHIEF OF ARTILLERY IN TEXAS, AND AS WEST POINT CADETS

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This great image comes from the collection of the late Bill Turner, noted Virginia collector and dealer, and shows Virginian William Rice Jones at right with friend and fellow West Point cadet John Willis Lea of North Carolina at left. The identifications are assured by other identified images of both men and by a period note that came with this image reading, “W.R. Jones & his friend at West Point John W. Lea/ [on reverse] who afterwards became a minister.” The image illustrates the close bonds formed between cadets at the Academy. So, too, does the fact that fellow cadet George Armstrong Custer later served as Lea’s best man, both in full uniform of opposing armies, when Lea was married while on parole and recovering from a wound in Union-occupied Williamsburg in August 1862.

Lea and Jones entered the Academy in 1857 and are shown wearing the USMA furlough uniform, established and changed directly through correspondence between the Academy Superintendent and the Secretary of War. Both men wear officer’s style frock coats without rank insignia and dark trousers. Jones holds his cap down in front of him. Lea is wearing his, but a rain cover conceals any insignia, though a “USMA” in a wreath is shown on the front of Jones’s cap in a companion view of Jones alone that we offer separately. Since cadets did not normally get a furlough until the end of their second year, we would date the image to 1859 or 1860. Neither cadet stayed at West Point to graduate. Lea resigned in December 1860 and Jones in April 1861.

Lea was born September 18, 1838, at Leasburg, N.C., and was appointed to the USMA from Mississippi, where he lived with his mother and family in the household of uncle Willis M. Lea, after the death of his father. At the Academy Lea acquired the nickname of “Gimlet” from his thin frame, something evident in the photo. Secondary sources date his resignation to December 11, 1860, which predates even South Carolina’s official secession. He likely joined the militia immediately after returning home, but his compiled military records only pick him up again with his commission as Captain of Co. I of the 5th Regiment NC State Troops by the Governor on 5/16/61.

The regiment was officially organized and mustered for state service 6/2/61 and taken into CS service 7/15/61. They saw action at First Manassas in July and were posted at Fairfax Station in the Fall. In the Peninsula campaign as part of Early’s brigade in D.H. Hill’s division the regiment suffered heavily at Williamsburg on 5/5/62, losing roughly 300 men, more than half the regiment, in killed, wounded, and missing. Lea was wounded in the leg and captured. At a field hospital the next day he was recognized and greeted warmly by Custer, who aided him with money (and a pair of socks.) Lea reciprocated by writing a note requesting Custer’s good treatment should he ever fall into Confederate hands. Lea was paroled and allowed to recover with the Durfey family in Williamsburg, where he was nursed back to health by daughter Margaret Durfey. The two were married August 18, 1862, while Lea was still on parole. Custer wrote to his sister that he served as best man, in full Union uniform, noting Lea was in a full dress Confederate uniform. Custer reported that he spent two weeks on leave with the couple in Williamsburg though the time may be imprecise: Lea is recorded as paroled and discharged from Fort Wool, at Hampton, and transferred to Aikens Landing on August 26 where he was exchanged, or released to await exchange, on September 9.

Records pick Lea up again in January 1863, when he is listed as present with the 5th N.C., but on “extra duty,” which may relate to the promotion he received soon after, being advanced to Lieutenant Colonel in March, with rank from February 2. Lea suffered his second battle wound at Chancellorsville on May 3- a head wound serious enough to side line him until September or October. He served in the 1864 campaign against Grant, fighting at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor and then accompanying Early to the Shenandoah. Lea had been promoted Colonel of the regiment to date May 12, and was wounded a third time while commanding the regiment at Opequon on September 19, returning to duty once again in January on the Petersburg/Richmond front, and was acting as a brigade commander when paroled at Appomattox.

For a time after the war, he was engaged in the lumber business in Williamsburg with a brother-in-law, but felt a calling to preach, changed his denomination from Methodist to Episcopal, studied at a seminary for three years from 1869, and became an Episcopal minister- hence the detail on the note with the image. His wife died at St. Albans, W.V., in 1883. He died at Shadwell, Va., in 1884, roughly two weeks after remarrying while ill. His new wife then cared for three of his children.

William Rice Jones, Lea’s companion in the image, was two years younger, born in Virginia Nov. 21, 1840, and entered West Point at age 16 though the sponsorship of Congressman William O. Goode, a relative. He summarized his Confederate military career in an 1865 application for amnesty:

“I entered the service of the State Va. on the first day of May 1861 and was continued with recruiting service till July following when I was appointed Cadet in the C.S. Army and ordered to N.C. In October following I was appointed Lt. of Artillery and remained in N.C. till May 1862 when I returned to Va. and was appointed Adjt. Of the 4th Va. Heavy Artillery, with the rank of First Lieut. In October 1862 I was ordered to Texas and remained there till the termination of the war.

When I reached Texas I was continued in various staff capacities till March 1863, when I was assigned to the command of a Heavy Battery at the mouth of the Brazos River, where I remained until November 1863, when I was assigned to the staff of Brig. Genl. J.E. Slaughter as Chief of Artillery. When Gen. Slaughter was Chief of Staff for Maj. Gen. Magruder I was Asst. Chief of Artillery for the latter. I accompanied Genl. Slaughter to the west and remained with him till the 28th Day of May 1865 when I left Brownsville for my home. I was Asst. Insp. Genl. On the staff of Genl. Slaughter and was paroled at Houston Texas July 5th 1865.”

His initial appointment in the CS Army as Cadet was likely due to his age. His service records add a few details. One document lists him as a cadet in the corps of artillery and another in the engineers, likely reflecting service in North Carolina coastal defenses. His promotion to 2nd Lieutenant likely occurred in anticipation of his twenty-first birthday. His assignment to the 4th Va. Heavy Artillery in May 1862 naturally made use of his artillery training at West Point, though their first service was as infantry at the end of the Seven Days Battles and Jones’s file also includes praise for his knowledge of infantry tactics. The regiment was subsequently posted at Chaffin’s Farm on the James River opposite Drewry’s Bluff, where artillery could control a critical bend in the river and block access to Richmond by water.

Jones’ selection by Magruder for duty in Texas also made use of his artillery experience, first in retaking the port of Galveston and then in countering the U.S. blockading fleet and landing parties along the Texas coast. At Galveston on January 1, 1863, Jones seems to be one of three artillery lieutenants praised as behaving, “with remarkable gallantry during the engagement, each of them volunteering to take charge of guns and personally directing the fire after the officers originally in charge of them had been wounded.” His duties immediately after the battle likely involved the placement of guns to dissuade further Union landings. (In typically theatrical gesture, Magruder apparently deployed wood cannon to supplement his real ones.)

Jones was promoted Captain on March 30, 1863, and given command of a company in Bates’ Regiment of Texas Volunteers, later designated the 13th Texas, nominally infantry, but containing all branches of service. They served along the Texas coast from Matagorda to Galveston. Jones’s company, eventually designated (the second) Company F, was one of two companies trained as heavy artillery and posted to defenses at the mouth of the Brazos River at Velasco.

Jones’s transfer to staff duty with Gen. Slaughter at the end of 1863 corresponds to that officer’s arrival in Texas, where he acted in several capacities for Magruder. One was as commander of the East Subdistrict of Texas, at which point Jones seems to have been Slaughter’s Chief of Artillery for the subdistrict and, by his own account, Assistant Chief of Artillery to Magruder while Slaughter was Magruder’s chief of staff. This might be the same duty under a different title, but would seem to indicate his responsibilities expanded to include the entire District of Texas, which a May 1864 document in his file referring to him as “acting chief of artillery” would support.

During the last eight months or so of the war, Slaughter was in charge of the West Subdistrict of Texas. Jones refers to it as “accompanying Slaughtier to the west,” though the district seems to have covered more or less everything south of San Antonio. The field force under Slaughter’s command diminished as the fate of the Confederacy became clear, but fought what many regard as the last battle of the war: Palmito Ranch, fought May 12-13. Jones’s statement that he was Slaughter’s Assistant Inspector General until May 28, 1865, covers the battle, a Confederate victory. Not only were the Confederate troops part of Slaughter’s overall command, Slaughter himself arrived toward the end of the fighting with reinforcements. If Jones was at his side, as seems likely from his position, it perhaps seemed best not to mention it in an application for amnesty, in the same way that manning guns in the attack on Galveston might be better passed over.

While Slaughter and others sought refuge in Mexico as the last Confederate forces dispersed, Jones stayed in Texas to be paroled and return home to Virginia, where he died at age 52 in 1894. He maintained his connections with Texas, however: he took a job managing the Callaghan ranch near San Antonio in the early 1870s and guided its expansion into a sprawling operation.

We show some other identified images of both Lea and Jones superimposed on this one, though the note itself should be sufficient for the identification. This is a super photograph of two young men on the verge of some very active wartime service. The phrasing of the note and presence of another image of Jones in Bill Turner’s collection indicates he acquired them from a branch of the Jones family at the same time.  [sr] [ph:M]

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