BENJAMIN KEYS 21st GEORGIA, DIED OF WOUNDS AT GROVETON (SECOND MANASSAS)

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This sixth plate ambrotype was identified from a companion tintype and shows Benjamin F. Keys, Co. G 21st Georgia, seated, with his arms folded at his waist. He wears a gray jacket with standing collar and no facing color, piping or shoulder straps. Three wood buttons are visible on the jacket front and the spacing indicates there may have been five, suggesting a quartermaster issue jacket along the lines of those coming from Charleston or one of the western depots.

Georgia Governor Joseph Brown had continued and strong disagreements with Jefferson Davis and the central Confederate government over the use of Georgia troops. One result was the piecemeal assembly of what became the 21st Georgia in June and July 1861. Two independent companies that made their way to Richmond in 1861 were formed into the 4th Georgia Battalion, which eventually acquired enough other companies to gain regimental status as the 21st Infantry. Benjamin F. Keys enlisted and was mustered into Co. G, the “Dabney Rifles,” on 3/3/1862 in Gordon County, one of the regiment’s recruiting areas. The reason for his late arrival in the unit is not known, but rosters show Allen L. Keys and William Keys had both enlisted in Co. G from Gordon County in July 1861. Genealogical records are incomplete, but it looks like Benjamin may have followed two of his brothers into service.

During his time with the regiment they served in Trimble’s brigade of Ewell’s division and saw action in Jackson’s Valley Campaign, fighting at Winchester, Front Royal, Cross Keys (losing 4 killed and 23 wounded,) and Port Republic, and then, with Jackson’s forces, joined the Army of Northern Virginia on the Peninsula, where they fought in the Seven Days Battles, including Mechanicsville, Malvern Hill, and Gaines Mill, where they were hard hit, losing 20 killed, 80 wounded and 11. In the Second Manassas campaign against Pope they were at Cedar Mountain, took part in the seizure of Manassas Junction, and were engaged at Groveton on Aug. 28 and in the main battle of Second Manassas August 29-30, losing at least 39 killed and 110 wounded out of 242 men on the field, with stated total loss of 76 percent.

Both William and Benjamin Keys are recorded as wounded on August 28, which would be in the fighting at Groveton, or Brawner’s Farm, though their service files simply say Manassas. William recovered and returned to service. Benjamin died ten days later, September 7, at Middleburg.

The image is housed in a leatherette case, with facing pad, glass, mat and frame in place, but with the hinge separated. This comes from a prominent Texas collection and has a modern pencil notation in the back of the case on the identification and its source. The 21st Georgia was a hard-fought unit and there room for some interesting work in developing the story of the Keys family.  [sr] [ph:m]

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