G.A.R. PORTRAIT OF WILMON BLACKMAR- MEDAL OF HONOR – PROMOTED TO CAPTAIN ON THE BATTLEFIELD BY CUSTER AT FIVE FORKS OF STONEWALL JACKSON

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Item Code: 945-585

Blackmar was awarded the Medal of Honor 18 October 1897, “for most distinguished gallantry in action, near Five Forks, Va., Apl. 1, 1865.” His citation reads: “At a critical stage in the battle, without orders, led a successful advance upon the enemy.” Blackmar served in the 15th PA and 1st WV Cavalry from 1862 to 1865 and at the time of the battle was a second lieutenant on Col. Henry Capehart’s brigade staff in Custer’s cavalry division. Seeing a Union line falling back, he reportedly leapt his horse over a ditch, rallied the line, and led them forward. Custer is reputed to have simply clapped him on the shoulder with a “Well done, Captain!” and along with Capehart recommended his promotion, which followed in May. The battle marked the end of Lee’s stand at Petersburg by giving Union troops control of the Southside Railroad, a vital supply line, which forced Lee’s withdrawal and led to his eventual surrender at Appomattox.

Born in 1841, Blackmar was in school when the war broke out and reportedly agreed not to enlist until he turned twenty-one. In 1862 he returned from Massachusetts to his native Pennsylvania to enlist at Philadelphia August 22, mustering into Co. K of the 15th PA Cavalry August 30 as private. The regiment was active, and even before being formally organized some 250 of its men took part in the Antietam Campaign, during which he was reportedly promoted to corporal. The regiment was subsequently transferred to the western theatre, some companies on headquarters duty and others on scouts, expeditions, and raids. Blackmar was with them in the Stones River campaign, where they lost 11 killed, including two of their majors, 50 wounded and 11 missing in a fierce little fight at Wilkinson’s Crossroads, and was promoted to sergeant 1 March 1863 and first sergeant 5 May 1863., He later listed 22 engagements in his wartime service record.

He was apparently well-regarded for he was discharged for promotion in March 1864, gaining a commission as second lieutenant in the 1st West Virginia Cavalry, serving in the Department of West Virginia and then in the Army of the Shenandoah. He spent much of his subsequent service on brigade staff as provost marshal and acting adjutant general, but in April 1865 was posted as aide to Col. Capehart, commanding the 3rd Brigade of Custer’s 3rd Cavalry Division at Five Forks.After the war he returned to school, obtained a law degree from Harvard and after retiring from practice served on various boards and as Judge Advocate General on the military staffs of four Massachusetts governors. He was active in the G.A.R. from pretty much from the start, joining the John A. Andrew Post 115 in 1867 and being a charter member and first Commander of Edward W. Kinsley Post 113 in 1868. He was elected Jr. Vice-Department Commander of Massachusetts in 1900, Sr. Vice in 1901 and Dept. Commander in 1902, and G.A.R. Commander in Chief by unanimous vote in August 1904.

This portrait is dated 1904 and was certainly taken just before his election as Commander-in-Chief. On his lapel he prominently displays his G.A.R. membership badge bearing  a miniature shoulder strap in the middle position of a past officer and the two stars of a Department Commander. He served as Commander-in-Chief from his election until his death in July 1905 in Idaho while on an official tour of the G.A.R. northwest departments. Blackmar’s identification is secured by various published images. It is also worth noting this nicely framed portrait actually came out of his estate in Massachusetts, which was auctioned October 1995.  [sr] [PH:m]

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