Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The "Old Man": James Stewart Commander of Battery B, 4th U S Artillery

James Stewart was born in Edinburgh, Scotland May 18, 1826.  He trained as a printer in Leith before immigrating to the United States in 1844.  Stewart enlisted as a private in the United States Army October 29, 1851.  

                                             James Stewart

The brown haired, blue eyed Stewart stood 5 foot 6 1/2 inches tall, a short, stocky man by all accounts. He advanced steadily through the ranks of the peace time army, when promotions were notoriously slow and by the time he assumed command of Battery B, 4th U S Artillery on the bloody battlefield of Antietam, September 17, 1862 he was a 2nd Lieutenant.

Stewart commanded Battery B 4th U. S. throughout the remainder of the Civil War leading it to distinction on such fields as Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania Court House and Weldon Railroad.  He was breveted twice for gallant and meritorious service, the first time to Captain on August 1, 1864 for action at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House and a second time to Major on August 18, 1864 following the Battle of Weldon Railroad.

Stewart remained in the army after the Civil War.  On July 28, 1866 he was promoted to Captain and assigned to the 18th U S Infantry.  He served with this unit until his retirement  March 20, 1879.  After retiring Stewart lived in Carthage and Cincinnati, Ohio where he was a instructor for the Ohio Military Institute.  He died April 19, 1905 and was buried in Section 1, grave 736-WS, at Arlington National Cemetery, on Easter Sunday, April 23, 1905.

Stewart's Headstone Arlington National Cemetery
photo courtesy of Christine & Perry Whittaker

James Stewart's headstone at Arlington is one of two known headstones depicting the emblem of the Iron Brigade Association, the other being the headstone of Brigadier General John Gibbon.  The emblem on the headstones recognizes the Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin regiments of the Iron Brigade centered around the crossed cannons of Battery B.  The association purchased both headstones to honor Gibbon and Stewart.  Gibbon commanded the Iron Brigade from May to November 1862, training it and turning it into one of the most respected and feared fighting units in the Army of the Potomac.  Battery B was attached to the Iron Brigade throughout much of the Civil War, many recruits that filled the ranks of Battery B in December 1861, came from the Wisconsin and Indiana Regiments in the Iron Brigade.   

Little is known about James Stewart the man.  Those who knew him said he was a strict, fair disciplinarian as a military officer who was fond of battle and alcoholic spirits.  He reportedly set high standards for himself and his men.  

But there is more to the story.  In a letter written by Stewart to James Gould in 1893 he recounts his wounding at Antietam:  "About ten minutes after being placed in command I was struck by a mini ball breaking my waist belt plate and knocking me down.  On getting up I found my sword belt broken in two.  The shock was trouble for some time, but I knew if I should allow it to be known that I was wounded that someone else would be put in command of the battery.  I suffered a great deal and had to use a catheter for many a year and sometimes especially when I catch cold the old pains will come back.  General Gibbon does not know to this day that I was wounded in the battle.  To when the battle was over, in place of looking over the field and making notes I had to lie flat on my back and obtain all the relief I possibly could until the surgeon came and helped me out of the pain."

It says a lot about the measure of a man who would silently endure and suffer from a wound for the remainder of his life because on that fateful day in September 1862 he did not want to loose command of an artillery battery.

Further reading:  Giants in their Tall Black Hats Essays on the Iron Brigade