This is another post in the series “Tales From the Tombstone.“
James Jay Archer the lifelong bachelor born at Stafford near Havre de Grace in northeastern Maryland on December 19, 1817 came from a military family.
The apple did not fall too far from the tree.
Although, educated for the law in which he attended Princeton University, Bacon College in Kentucky, and then finally University of Maryland where he passed the bar, he felt the call of the military.
He volunteered for service in the Mexican-American War, fought a duel in Texas following the war, (where the future “Stonewall” Jackson served as his second) and then after a few years practicing law in Maryland, joined the regular army.
While in service of the U.S. Army with the 9th Infantry, Archer saw extensive service in the Pacific Northwest. While stationed at Fort Walla Walla in May of 1861, the Marylander resigned his commission and cast his lot with the Confederacy.
His first service with the Confederacy was with the 5th Texas in which he commanded as a colonel. Promoted to brigadier general on June 3, 1862 to replace the fallen Robert Hatton, Archer found himself in command of Tennesseans.
This began a long association with the Army of Northern Virginia, in which the Marylander, according to Ezra Warner, “he took part with great distinction in every battle” beginning as a regimental commander and continuing through brigade command.
On the first day of fighting, Archer’s Brigade, consisting of two Alabama units and three Tennessee commands, found themselves fighting for Union cavalry to the east of Gettysburg. After a few hours combat, Union reinforcements arrived in the form of the First Corps under Major General John F. Reynolds. Archer’s men were pushed back through Willougby Run where Archer was found in a thicket and taken prisoner by a soldier of the famous Iron Brigade.
Escorted behind the lines, Archer encountered Major General Abner Doubleday, an old acquaintance and the acting commander of the First Corps; Reynolds had been killed and some evidence suggest a soldier in Archer’s command had fired the round. But, who killed Reynolds remains controversial to this day.
Doubleday, whose acquaintance with Archer has not been fully established, but existed before the war, greeted the captive rebel with the following lines; “Good morning Archer! How are you? I am glad to see you!”
The surly Archer’s response, at the title of this post in part reads, was “Well, I am not glad to see you, by a damn sight!” With that the Marylander, the first Confederate general captured from the Army of Northern Virginia since Lee took command, headed toward imprisonment. First contained at Fort Delaware he was sent to Johnson’s Island, Ohio.
While in captivity, Archer’s health deteriorated, he had suffered illnesses throughout the first years of the war. He sometimes had to command the brigade from an ambulance, but the unpredictable weather of the Great Lakes did nothing to help.
But, Archer busied himself with promoting a plan to the Confederate War Department in which the confined Confederates would overthrow the prison guards and with assistance from the department bring the men back to the South. The plan though never went beyond the initial planning stages.
Approximately a year after being captured at Gettysburg, Archer was transferred back to Fort Delaware to be among the 600 Confederate officers that would be sent to Sullivan’s Island outside Charleston, South Carolina. The scheme was to place the Confederate officers under the guns of their own forces in retaliation for Confederates doing the same to Union officer prisoners.
Archer though was exchanged in the summer of 1864 and returned to await further orders. In early August he received orders to report to the Army of Tennessee to command a brigade. But ten days later, the orders were rescinded and Archer was sent back to command his former brigade in the trenches of Petersburg.
Unfortunately, Archer never regained his full health. Following service in a few of the actions associated with the Siege of Petersburg, Archer’s health collapsed and he died on October 24, 1864 in Richmond, Virginia.
The Marylander’s remains still lie in his adopted cause’s capital, one of many former general officers buried at Hollywood Cemetery. He was 46 at the time of his death.