COLONEL SIMEON BEAUFORD GIBBONS, 10th VIRGINIA, KILLED AT THE BATTLE OF MCDOWELL, 1862, AS V.M.I. CADET CA. 1852 IN WHITEHURST DAGUERREOTYPE

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Item Code: 1138-1972

This quarter-plate daguerreotype comes from the collection of the late Bill Turner, noted Virginia collector and dealer. It shows a young man standing, about two-thirds length, in cadet jacket with sergeant’s chevrons, arms confidently crossed and with a solemn expression. The uniform and buttons match other VMI images and a modern card in the back of the case reads “Gibbons / VMI.” Bill drew much of his Virginia material from families and direct descendants, likely the source for this identification. The only feasible candidate is Simeon Beauford Gibbons, who graduated in 1852. A “Gibbon” graduated in 1855, but the name clearly ends in an “s” and we would expect an ambrotype by that period. Gibbons had two younger brothers at VMI, but both were certainly too late for daguerreotype portraits (classes of 1863 and 1867) and the tall shirt collar points to an earlier date as well.

Born 25 May 1833 in Page County, Virginia, Gibbons was a member of the Society of Cadets at VMI, a literary organization which encouraged public speaking, declamation, reading and writing. He graduated ranking number 7 of 24 in the class of 1852 and later taught school, but moved to Harrisonburg, Va., to enter the mercantile business about 1855. He maintained his military connections as a member of the Board of Visitors at VMI and an officer in the Virginia militia. He commanded a company at Charlestown in 1859 as part of the security forces guarding John Brown and his men.

In the wake of Fort Sumter and the Virginia Convention’s vote for secession on April 17, 1861, Gibbons’ “Harrison Valley Guards” was accepted into state service at Harrisonburg and ordered to Harpers Ferry on April 18. Sources differ on whether Gibbons was already Colonel of the state’s 4th Regiment of militia, but a Capt. C.A. Sprinkel commanded the company on its way to Harpers Ferry and Gibbons seems to have commanded several companies on their arrival at Harpers Ferry. These then formed the nucleus of the 10th Virginia Volunteers, state troops, who were accepted into the Provisional Army of Virginia on May 17 with Gibbons as Colonel. The regiment was assigned to the Confederate States by a General Order on June 8 and accepted into Confederate service for one year on July 1, 1861. In the meantime it took part in the occupation of Romney and then moved to Winchester in early July.

The regiment was ordered to Manassas Junction July 18, arriving early on July 21, and served in Smith’s brigade (Elzey’s, after Smith was wounded) with part of the regiment on Bald Hill and part on Henry Hill, with casualty numbers differing slightly- either 6 killed and 7 wounded, or 7 killed and 11 wounded. General Johnston did not mention Gibbons in his official report of the battle, but he corrected the error in February 1862: “My attention has been called to the fact that in the enumeration of the officers who distinguished themselves in the battle of Manassas the name of Col. S. B. Gibbons, commanding the Tenth Virginia Regiment, was omitted. This omission was due to unaccountable carelessness, and is a matter of regret and mortification to me. I beg that it may be corrected in my report on file in your office, and the correction published. Colonel Gibbons and his gallant regiment played an important part at a critical time, and injustice to them, even accidentally, is unpardonable. Colonel Elzey, to whose brigade Colonel Gibbons belongs, made honorable mention of him in his report.”

The regiment was posted at Fairfax Station in late July 1861 and seems to have remained there at least to mid-October. In Spring 1862 it was reorganized for Confederate service (the one-year terms being about to expire,) and again taken into Confederate service on April 23 at Conrad’s Store, on Elk Run, in Rockingham County (now Elkton, Va.) This was Jackson’s headquarters at the start of the Valley Campaign and as part of Taliaferro’s brigade the 10th saw action on May 8 in the Battle of McDowell where Jackson engaged Federal forces under Milroy and Schenk in the continuing effort to prevent reinforcements being sent to McClellan in front of Richmond. When Taliaferro’s brigade was called to reinforce the Confederate line against Federal attacks on Sitlngton’s Hill, Gibbons led the regiment forward yelling “Follow the colors!” (or “Stand to the colors” by another account,) and was shot down by two bullets to the forehead. He was not yet 29-years old.

His brother William, serving on his staff, accompanied his body back to Harrisonburg for burial. The regimental chaplain eulogized him:  “As an officer and a soldier few were more competent . . . He commanded the Valley Guards and was fully versed in tactics and in all the minutiae of the soldier’s life. Respectful to his superiors, kind to his subordinates, generous and accommodating to his men, he rendered himself the idol of the regiment he commanded.”

The image is housed in a leatherette case with mat, glass and frame in place. The red facing pad is embossed with a large eagle flourishing a ribbon reading “J.H. Whitehurst Galleries” over floral-scroll bordered list of his business locations. Jesse H. Whitehurst (1819-1875) was a pioneer in southern photography, opening his first Daguerreian gallery in Charleston in 1843, and then returning to his native Virginia to open a chain of galleries including Norfolk, Richmond, Petersburg, and Lynchburg, as well as in Baltimore, New York, and Washington, as noted on the pad. These usually operated as franchises, but Whitehurst and those operating under him were noted for the quality of their work and this is a good example.   [sr] [ph:m]

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