LT. LEWIS A. ROBERT 39th ALABAMA, WITH A CONFEDERATE FIRST NATIONAL FLAG RIBBON ON HIS CHEST: “ATTENTIVE & EFFICIENT. NONE BETTER.” POW KENTUCKY; WIA CHICKAMAUGA AND RESACA; KIA BENTONVILLE, MARCH 1865, EX-BILL TURNER

$3,500.00 SOLD

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Item Code: 1138-1822

Lewis Robert wore his patriotism not on his sleeve, but on his chest. This great pair of 6th plate ambrotypes shows him before and after joining the army. Shown in uniform at right, he has pinned a small Confederate First National Flag to his breast, fully in keeping with his newspaper advertisements to raise a company to drive back, “the ruthless Yankee invader” and avoid the “actual subjugation of your country.”

Census records indicate he was born about 1842 in Georgia, the birthplace of his mother and most of his siblings. His father was a physician, born in Kentucky, and moved with the family to Pike County, Alabama, shortly before 1850, judging from the birthdates and birthplaces of his siblings. The image at left shows him in civilian clothes, in accord with the son of an upper middle-class physician: he is neatly groomed and wears a black coat, open to show a double-breasted vest, white shirt bosom and black bowtie.  At right he appears in uniform: a nine-button frock coat with collar piping outlining a false button hole and a placket on his cuff with three buttons. He appears to wear white gloves. His cap rests beside him, showing the crown piped, likely in the same color as his coat, and with a wreath on the front, appearing to contain two letters that are indistinct.

The photographer lightly gilt the buttons, the hat wreath and some of the piping. He may have thinly washed the flag, but it clearly shows the red, white and red stripes with a small blue canton and white stars. Often called bible flags by collectors, from their postwar storage place and use a bookmark, these small, homemade patriotic flags sometimes appear in photographs or as artifacts, mounted on a stick as a parade flag or hung as a banner with the cross stick looped over or suspended from a button or pin in the manner of a cockade. The image glass bears a tape label in old ink reading “Lewis Robert.” Bill Turner’s notes indicate the image came out of Alabama.

Given his service record and very public dedication to the Confederate cause, he likely saw early service in an Alabama militia company, but we first pick him up as a member of Hilliard’s Legion in early 1862. This was a composite force of three battalions of infantry, along with an artillery and cavalry battalion recruited in Spring 1862. Robert had enlisted at Montgomery “for the war” on March 15 and placed his advertisement for volunteers in a Pike County newspaper as early as March 26, judging from the date at its bottom. His name appears below that of Edward L. McIntyre, leading us to conclude McIntyre was the aspiring Captain and Robert would be a Lieutenant if they could recruit enough men to constitute a company, which would in turn elect them as its officers. This is borne out by McIntyre’s appearance shortly thereafter as a company commander in Hilliard’s 2nd Battalion of Infantry.

Robert, however, does not seem to have succeeded in gaining an officer’s post in the company. Instead, we find him transferring as a private on May 26 from Hilliard’s Legion into Company A of the 39th Alabama Infantry, a company with a number of Pike County men in it, where he remained an enlisted man for a time, but by September 1862 is recorded as 2nd Lieutenant.

Organized at Opelika, Alabama, in May 1862, the regiment served in Gardner’s Brigade of the Army of Mississippi until November and then Gardner’s and Deas’s Brigade in the Army of Tennessee to the end of the war. In Fall 1862 they took part in the Kentucky Campaign, without serious fighting, but Robert is listed among men captured in the campaign, paroled, and declared exchanged on 11 January 1863, which puts him back in the company after Murfreesboro, but for the move back to the Chattanooga line. He is promoted to 1st Lieutenant by August and was very well regarded. An August report on the regiment’s officers found him, “attentive & efficient. None better.” In that post he took in the Battle of Chickamauga, where he was wounded on September 20, the regiment losing 14 officers and men killed and another 82 wounded, with only 310 enlisted men in the ranks during the battle.

Robert was hospitalized from the wound, but directed to return to duty February 12, 1864, and that Spring took part in the fight against Sherman in the Atlanta Campaign, being wounded again at Resaca in May. As with his wound at Chickamauga it was serious enough to be hospitalized or furloughed and he is reported absent sick as late as September. Whether he was back for the fighting at Nashville in December is not recorded, but he was back in the company for the Campaign of the Carolinas and the effort to stop Sherman. It may have suited his dedication to the cause that he did not outlive it. He was killed in action in the regiment’s last fight, at Bentonville, NC, on 19 March 1865, little more than a month before the end of the war for his comrades: they surrendered on April 26 with fewer than 90 men in the ranks.

Regimental Adjutant Henry B. Tompkins had penned an obituary on April 7 from the regiment’s camp at Smithfield, NC. Addressed to the Daily Sun of Columbus Georgia, it was perhaps intended for the notice of Robert’s relatives, but remains in his service file and was likely never sent.

Obituary

To the memory of First Lieut. Louis A. Robert Co. “A” 39th Ala. Regt. Infy. Who was killed at the battle of Bentonville N.C. on the 19th day of March 1865.

Young, talented and brave; generous, manly, and honest; he, too, has fallen a sacrifice to a cause he labored, ever faithfully to uphold. Having been in the Army from the very inception of the Revolution, he was severely wounded at Chickamauga, and again at Resaca, before his superb gallantry exposed him to the last fatal bullet at Bentonville.

He has passed, onward, from amongst us; loved, honored, lamented. May the recollections of his his character remain with us; may the mantle of his virtues fall upon us. Living ever zealous in the discharge of duty- Dead, let his name be inscribed among the noblest of the noble martyrs of his country’s cause-

“For how can a man die better

Than when striving against fearful odds,

Than when fighting for the ashes of his fathers,

And the temples of his Gods.”

39th Ala.

 

It is perhaps somewhat fitting that in spelling his first name as “Louis,” the obituary would fit the old saw about a soldier’s fate being killed in battle and having his name spelled wrong in the newspapers. Robert shows up in various records as Robert, Roberts, Lewis and Louis. He seems not to have cared too much about it. He signs one pay document as Louis even though another receipt is made out for Lewis. His newspaper advertisement, however, clearly shows him as Lewis Robert, which agrees with the family label on the image. This preference may have been reinforced by the unfortunate possibility of misreading “Louis A.” as “Louisa,” which actually occurs in the fair copy of the 1860 census, where the census taker’s handwriting was a bit unclear and the copyist helpfully corrected his gender to female. An additional twist to the fate of a dedicated soldier.

The images are nicely cased in double thermoplastic case with raised floral motifs and come from the collection of the late Bill Turner, noted Virginia collector and dealer.  [sr] [ph:M]

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