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  • Writer's pictureBeth Stenstrom

John Calhoun Pitchford

John Calhoun Pitchford

Rank: Private, 3rd Corps., Army of Northern Virginia

Descendant: James L

ohn Calhoun Pitchford, my great great grandfather, enlisted as a private in the Madison Light Artillery in Canton, Mississippi April 28, 1862 at the age of 28. In June 1863, that battery was assigned to Poague’s Battalion, 3rd Army Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. The battery participated in all major engagements with the battalion until its surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.

During the Battle of the Wilderness, the Madison Light Artillery was commanded by Captain Thomas J Richards. The Military History of Mississippi says the following about that engagement:

“The battery served under Col R L Walker, attached to the 3rd Corps in the campaign of 1864. Walker’s batteries were put in motion, attending the divisions of Heth and Wilcox, down the Plank Road towards the Wilderness, Poague’s battalion in front, early in the morning of May 5. When Heth’s division, in advance, encountered the Federal cavalry, Richard’s (sic) battery was pushed forward and assisted in driving it back to the main body. Poague’s battalion was posted by the artillery chief of the army at the one place near the front where artillery could be used, and one gun of the battalion, being further advanced, was effectively used in the bloody repulse of the attack on Heth and Wilcox that afternoon. Next day, when fresh Federal troops pushed back the weary divisions of Heth and Wilcox, the guns under Poague checked the onslaught and enabled Longstreet’s troops, just arriving on the field, to take a favorable position and drive the enemy back.”

Some 61 years later, John Calhoun Pitchford recalled that bloody engagement in a letter, saying “When (Grant) crossed (the Rapidan) into the woods, he found General Lee there ready to meet him and then the fun began in earnest. No need to describe to you the terrible fight at that place on the 5th and 6th of May”.

Private Pitchford escaped that battle unharmed, but was severely wounded at Cold Harbor one month later, when he says “I was one of the number that was shot out of the ranks at that terrible holocaust”. Hit by four bullets in that battle, he returned to combat duty within two months.

But some old wounds never heal, it seems. At age 91, John C Pitchford wrote about Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, stating that Lee “surrendered where right had succumbed to shameless might”. Less than a year after writing that letter, he died, April 12, 1926, at his home in Madison County, Mississippi.

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