SYLVANUS EDWARDS, 3rd AND 5th VIRGINIA CAVALRY, 1861-1865, JAMES CITY TROOP

$2,500.00 SOLD

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Item Code: 1138-1917

This sixth plate ambrotype from the collection of the late Bill Turner has a nice period inscription in the back of the case: “Presented to Mrs. R. D. Edwards by her son Sylvanus.” A sister seems to have died in 1855, leaving him the only child, so the keepsake photograph must have been especially treasured. The young Edwards is posed seated with an open book in his lap, and rests one arm on a table as if casually leafing through the volume. He is clean-shaven, with neatly combed hair, and wears a dark colored frock coat with lightly gilt buttons, cuff piping, two shoulder straps that would have secured dress epaulets, and two narrow lines of collar piping. The photographer has lightly tinted his cheeks and lips red.

Sylvanus Edwards served in the Virginia cavalry throughout the war. He was just 17 and living with his parents, Horace and Rachel, on their farm in James City, Virginia, when he enrolled in the James City Troop of cavalry on April 1, 1861. He listed himself as “planter,” and mustered for one year’s service in May. This was an independent company, reputedly noted as “gentlemen” by one commander, originally designated as part of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry and then redesignated as the 3rd Virginia Cavalry, and assigned as Company I. The regiment was accepted into Confederate service on July 1. And reorganized for service for the duration of the war in April 1862. The company was transferred to the 5th Virginia Cavalry under Colonel Thomas Rosser on June 25, 1862, and designated Co. H. They served with that regiment for the remainder of the war.

The muster rolls are fragmentary, but Edwards served to the end of the war. He seems to have been absent sick from the July-August 1861 roll through October. He was listed as absent without leave in mid-January 1862, but returned and was counted present on the January-February 1862 roll. He is reported sick again 11/15/63, but is present on rolls from January through April 1864 and is issued clothing in July. He was paroled 5/6/1865 at Westmoreland County, indicating he was among those who broke through U.S. lines at Appomattox, where only two of the regiment’s men remained to formally surrender.

The 3rd Virginia cavalry was as First Manassas, but one of Edwards’ early engagements was on home ground: the 3rd VA Cavalry was involved in the fighting at Williamsburg in May 1862 as part of the Peninsula Campaign. As part of the 5th VA Cavalry, his company saw service in the brigades of W.H.F. Lee, F. Lee, Lomax, and Payne in the Army of Northern Virginia, fighting in the Seven Days' Battles, the Second Bull Run and Maryland campaigns, Fredericksburg, Brandy Station, Upperville, Gettysburg, Bristoe, Mine Run, Wilderness, Cold Harbor, and in Early's the Shenandoah Valley under early. In November 1864 the regiment was consolidated with the 15th VA Cavalry and redesignated the 5th Consolidated Virginia Cavalry, fighting around Petersburg and saw action around Appomattox. It was an extraordinarily active regiment. CWData lists almost 400 points at which it took casualties of some sort.

The image is housed in nice thermoplastic case with raised floral and geometric designs. The facing pad is in place, as are the mat, glass, and frame of the image. There is a little solarization to the open pages of the book and his hands, but wonderful clarity. The background is plain.

Edwards returned to James City after the war and seems to have married about 1865. The couple eventually had one daughter. The 1870 census picks him up as a farmer in Powhatan, James City, living with his wife and young daughter and by 1880 his parents had moved in with them. His subsequent life is yet a bit unclear. Some genealogical sources have confused him with a Samuel S. Edwards of the same area. This is a nice image of an early war soldier who served four full years in the army and was also, apparently, a devoted son.  [SR] [ph:M]

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