Category Archives: Military Service

Joseph John Benn – Civil War Service and Notes

The Source for this information is James Thomas Benn IV, of Farmville, VA. It was completed as part of his application for membership into the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It was provided to the author on January 25, 2016, via email communication.


Joseph John Benn - (c) 1885

Joseph John Benn – (c) 1885

Joseph John Benn was born 15 April 1829 in Gaston, North Carolina.  On 11 April 1862, in Norfolk, Virginia, this North Carolina farmer mustered into the 41st Virginia Infantry, 2nd Company E from the State Militia where he collected a $50 bounty.  2nd Company E was known as Captain Lauren’s “Confederate Grays” under Mahone’s Brigade in the Longstreet Corp.  In March and April of 1862 he drilled in Norfolk.  On 10 May 1862, he and the rest of his division boarded trains for Petersburg when Norfolk was abandoned to Union Forces.

J.J. Benn, as he was known, spent most of May 1862 in the hospital at General Camp Winder in Richmond.  On 23 May 1862 he was transferred back to his regiment at Petersburg from whence he fought at Malvern Hill and Seven Pines.  He was back in the hospital from 15 September 1862 until 13 October 1862 suffering from chronic diarrhea as was the bane of many a soldier.  On 20 October 1862 he was furloughed to Gaston, North Carolina to recuperate.

He returned to duty in January of 1863 and wintered at United States Ford on the Rappahannock, 16 miles west of Fredericksburg.  At the time, the 41st Virginia Infantry listed 305 men present.  The 41st was with Army of Northern Virginia at Chancellorsville.  On 26 June 1863, his unit passed the Mason-Dixon line.  They arrived at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on 2 July 1863, at the northern end of Seminary Ridge.

J.J. Benn went on to fight in the Bristoe and Mine Run Campaigns, the Wilderness, and Cold Harbor.  On 22 June 1864, he was with Mahone at the Jerusalem Plank Road Battle near Petersburg. The July 30 battle of the Crater made Mahone a famous General and brought with it recognition and prestige to all the regiments involved including the 41st Virginia.

J.J. Benn was taken prisoner 27 Oct 1864 at Boydton Plank Road Battle for control of the Weldon Railroad.  He was transferred from City Point in Hopewell to Point Lookout Maryland and exchanged 17 January 1965 at Boulware’s Warf on the James River.  On 6 February 1865 he was at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run.  During the battle of Sayler’s Creek, Mohone’s division escaped capture and moved to the north side of the Appomattox River acting as rear guard.  On 7 April 1865 the 41st fired the last shots of the war at Cumberland Church.

On 9 April 1865, Joseph John Benn was paroled at Appomattox with one package of clothing and a blanket.  Of the 305 men present in 1863, only 10 officers and 98 other men remained of the 41st Virginia Infantry.

After the war he made his home near what is now Vultare, North Carolina where he was an agent for the Raleigh Gaston Railroad.  His first child, a daughter was born nine months after he returned from the war on 20 January 1866.  Joseph John Benn died 18 May 1912.



Joseph John Benn

Born April 15, 1829; died May 18, 1912 at 83 years of age

Enlisted 11 Apr 62 from the state militia in Norfolk VA at 33 years old. $50 bounty due

Listed as a farmer from Gaston, NC.

After the war was an agent for the Raleigh Gaston Railroad

He and his wife had their home near what is now Vultare, NC

Captain Lauren’s “Confederate Grays” under Mahone’s Brigade under Longstreet’s Corps

March and April 1862 drilled in Norfolk

May 10th – 41st boarded trains for Petersburg when Norfolk was abandoned

10 May 62 General Hospital camp Winder Richmond VA

23 May 62 – transferred to Petersburg

Malvern Hill and Seven Pines

Gen Hospital Richmond VA 15 Sep 62 – 13 Oct 62

20 Oct 62 furloughed to Gaston NC for Chronic diarrhea

Jan 63 – Oct 64 listed as present

Wintered at United States Ford on the Rappahannock 16 miles west of Fredericksburg

41st had 305 men present

3 miles from Chancellorsville – fought there

May 7th camped near Fredericksbirg

June 22 in Charles Town (now WV)

June 26th past the Mason-Dixon Line

July 1st, left camp at Fayetteville PA to Gettysburg

Arrived July 2nd at the northern end of Seminary Ridge

Mahone’s Brigade scarcely used July 2nd and 3rd

Fought in the Bristoe and Mine Run Campaigns

May 4th left winter camp at Madison Run Station

May 6th battle of the Wilderness

May9th arrived at Spotsylvania

June 3rd at Cold Harbor

June 22nd Jerusalem Plank Road

July 30th battle of the Crater “made Mahone a famous general and brought with it recognition and prestige to all the regiments involved.

Taken prisoner 27 Oct 64 Weldon RR – Boydton Plank Road at Hatcher’s Run

31 Oct 64 transferred from City Point to Pt. Lookout MD

17 Jan 65 exchanged at Boulware’s Warf James River, VA

26 Jan 65 at Camp Lee Richmond VA

February 6th, second battle of Hatcher’s run

Mahone commanded an elite division of which the 41st was part.

April 6th – During the battle of Sayler’s creek, Mahone’s division escaped capture and moved to the north side of the Appomattox river acting as rear guard.

April 7th – fired last shots at Cumberland Church

9 Apr 65 Paroled at Appomattox w/ 1 package of clothing and a blanket along with 10 officers and 98 other men

First child, a daughter Mariah Ann Benn, born nine months later on Jan. 20, 1866

Marked Men: The Tattoos of New York Irishmen, 1863

Really interesting article and well-researched. The subject of Civil War soldiers bearing tattoos is something I’d like to know more about. Seems quite incongruous to me….

Irish in the American Civil War

The enlistment records of many Irish recruits during the Civil War provide detail on age, height, hair/eye colour and complexion. Although informative, this data still leaves us without a picture of life experience, or any insight into character. One exception was those men who enlisted in the Union navy. The marks and scars they acquired during their lifetime were recorded on enlistment, providing us with a unique opportunity to garner more detail about both their appearance and their personalities. Perhaps most fascinating of all are those marks that the Irishmen had chosen for themselves- their tattoos. 

A German Stowaway at Ellis Island. Although taken in 1911 this gives an idea of the types of tattoos prevalent (New York Public Library) A German Stowaway at Ellis Island. Although taken in 1911 this gives an idea of the types of tattoos prevalent (New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Digital ID: 418057)

I have recently examined the enlistment records of the New York Naval Rendezvous for July 1863 to create a database of those Irishmen who enlisted during that…

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Civil War Christmas, 1862

From the diary of William Ellis Jones, II, of Crenshaw’s Battery, Pegram’s Battalion, Hill’s “Light Division”, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Thursday, December 25, 1862
Christmas Morn broke very threatening, but cleared off beautifully and warm. The boys started at seven o’clock to go on picket, after which the camp was dull and lonesome. During the morning we were called up and paid off until the 31st of October; $119.10, for clothes and wages. After dark the boys of ours and other batteries enjoyed themselves by having a battle with lighted port-fires, which presented a handsome pyrotechnic display.

Friday, December 26, 1862
Christmas has come and gone, and I sincerely hope I will never spend another in the army.

William, my great-great-great-grandfather, would endure two more Christmases in the Confederate Army. He was wounded at Spotsylvania in 1864, but miraculously survived the War, despite seeing hot action in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, including Gaines Mill, in May/June of 1862, Second Battle of Mananas in August of 1862, the Battle of Sharpsburg, September, 1862, the Battle of the “Crater”, in Petersburg, July, 1864, Vicksburg, Second Battle of Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and finally was present at the Fall of Richmond, in April, 1865.

Reading Between the Lines – Civil War Diary

COVER1862For months now I have been parsing through William Ellis Jones, II’s Civil War diary, plucking details, context, and hidden subtext from his scribbles. While the diary has been previously used by many Civil War scholars and is quoted in a countless list of books and articles about the 1862 Peninsular and Shenandoah marches and battles, no one to date had done a comprehensive study of the whole text.

Despite my lack of academic pedigree or publishing chops, I have the advantage over most of those scholars in that I’ve spent eight years studying William Ellis Jones, II’s family history. Having those details – knowing who, where, and what he came from – has given me a really precise lens through which to examine the intent and implications of the diary’s author.

That lens has allowed me to pluck meaning from seemingly benign statements. For instance; in August of 1862, William and his battery witness the advance of the whole of Jackson’s Army marching brigade after brigade into the Shenandoah Valley. He describes the endless lines of soldiers as “stretched out to the crack of doom.” This statement appears on its face to be a simple description of a very large, ominous looking advance of troops, until you dig deeper and discover why William chose to enclose the description in quotes.

“…stretched out to the crack of doom.” is a quote taken from the speech of a Mr. Stanton, published in the “Proceedings of the General Anti-slavery Convention” from the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, published in London in 1841. (Page 479.)

Mr. Stanton used the phrase in reference to the United States’ desire to extend and legalize institutionalized slavery not only within her own borders, but to use the nation’s growing international strength and influence to extend industrialized slavery into Mexico, Latin America, South America, and beyond. Today the idea that such an expansion of slavery was ever conceived seems preposterous to us, but a study of the antebellum, pro-slavery coalition operating inside and on the periphery of the United States Congress prior to the Civil War shows us that this kind of international expansion of slavery was exactly what the proto-Confederates intended. This was to become a central component of the United States foreign policy; if southerners could manage to wrest a majority in the House and Senate.

The idea that William read this speech, was familiar enough with it to quote from it, and had a firm conceptual grasp of the idea that the massive army he was watching (and serving in) represented a real physical manifestation of the policy that Mr. Stanton warned against in 1841, is simply amazing to me. He was just twenty-four years old, and had been born and reared in a city (Richmond, Virginia), whose very foundations were laid by the hands of slaves.

William in no way celebrated the idea of slavery in the use of this quote. Rather, I believe, he carefully selected it to record his true feelings about what was happening, while remaining just ambiguous enough for self-preservation (should his diary fall into the hands of one of his commanders.)

The diary is dotted with examples like this one; statements that show us the veiled concerns and conflicted loyalties of a less than enthusiastic confederate soldier.

When viewed from this perspective, it becomes clear why William chose to never write or publish any of his own words about the War, and why he chose to rear his sons with social and political leanings that were anything but in keeping with the spirit of glorification of the “Lost Cause”.

More to come.

Another Reader Challenge – Wanted: Reunion Photos of Crenshaw’s Battery, Pegram’s Artillery, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia

William Ellis Jones at his home on "Shrubbery Hill", in Richmond, Virginial"

This is the only photo I know of, of William Ellis Jones, II, outside his home in Richmond, Virginia, a townhouse he dubbed “Shrubbery Hill”. Do you have another, better image. Please share?

I have exactly one photograph of my great-great-grandfather, William Ellis Jones, II, and that photograph is not good. I am seeking any existing photos of the many civil war veteran’s reunion images captured between 1880 and 1910, featuring members of Ellet’s Company, Crenshaw’s Battery, Pegram’s Battalion, A.P. Hill’s Regiment, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia (gosh that’s a mouthful of southern Confederate pomp and organization!)

At the moment I am about to take up Draft #2 of the “Book”, and after many months of letting the thing lie quietly, I realize I still have many gaps to fill in the story of William Ellis Jones, II, my great-great grandfather. Among the many lacking “things” is a reasonably accurate physical description – an image – of the man who exists in history and now exists in my head, but who is lacking a countenance equal to his spirit. I would really love to find a good photograph of William Ellis Jones, II, of Richmond, who served the whole of the War in Ellet’s Company, Pegram’s Battery.

William Ellis Jones (1899 – 1951) Poet & Playwright

William Ellis Jones and his young son Thomas Ellis Jones

William Ellis Jones and his young son Thomas Ellis Jones

William Ellis Jones (1899 – 1951)
William was born at “Summerfield” on August 7, 1899. We’ve already learned a great deal about his parents (F. Ellis Jones and Addie Gray Bowles) and his grandparents’, their lives and their deaths; therefore I’ll begin his story as best I can, opening with the few details of his life that I know of as fact.

William enlisted in the US Army on October 3, 1918 – precisely eleven days before his mother died from the Spanish flu. He was just nineteen years old. The Army records indicate that he was in good health, of fair complexion with blue eyes and light colored hair, and that he was five feet, five inches tall. He was honorably discharged from the Army on December 9, 1918, having served just two months. (World War I was just concluded and the Army didn’t require his services any longer.)

We know that his occupation was listed as a “student” on his enlistment record, but neither he or my father left a record that indicates where or when he attended college. That he did attend and graduate college is relative certainty, as he was earning his living as a school teacher by 1923. Though it’s not recorded by anyone as far as I can determine, my father told me that his father taught high school English, which makes sense.

I know that his grandfather’s business, William Ellis Jones & Sons, ceased to exist under that imprint in 1919, after almost fifty continuous years of publishing under “Jones” in one form or another.

On October 20, 1923, he married Dora Georgia Thomas of Chesterfield County, Virginia. She was just fifteen years old, and she was one of his high school students. The specific school she attended and where William taught her are not recorded, although family lore indicates that she attended, and he was teaching at one of the Chesterfield County schools when they met.

Their first child, Dora Ellis Jones, was born January 11, 1925 in Pulaski, Virginia. William was teaching in Pulaski at the time. Their second child, Thomas Ellis Jones, was born May 1, 1930 in Richmond, Virginia. Their third child, Georgia Ellis Jones, was born April 7, 1933 in Richmond, Virginia. At the time of the births of his last two children, it appears that William was trying his hand at making a living as a writer, but he may also have been teaching in Richmond to supplement his income.

William apparently began his first draft of the family history that eventually became The Baby Book in 1930, if not before. He did not conclude it until 1936 or possibly later. He wrote a good portion of the document from New York City, where he was working as a stockbroker up until late 1935 or 1936. In addition to his “day job”, William also worked consistently on writing plays; usually one or three act comedies that he had some success in getting published. From 1932 to 1948, he had at least twenty-eight plays published by at least ten different publishers.

At some point prior to 1935, William and Dora’s oldest child, Dora Ellis, became gravely ill. It’s not recorded exactly what her ailment was, but it was debilitating. The physicians who attended her advised her parents to remove her from the northern climate and pollution of New York City in order to improve her condition. William tried to organize his small family and his smaller finances in order to make a move to Florida, but for unknown reasons their plans to relocate south were delayed. Dora’s condition worsened as the weeks passed, and before William could get the family moved out of New York, his daughter died on June 3, 1935. She was just ten years old.

The death of his little daughter Dora Ellis was absolutely crushing.

It’s at this crucial moment in this little family’s history where facts, family lore, and supposition conflate into a sad and very confusing story.

Before we go forward, however, we need to go back.
William’s Grandfather was a successful man of excellent reputation who owned two very nice homes and a thriving business. The printing business continued to function – under his imprint – for eight years after his death. We know that F. Ellis involvement in the business ceased after his death in 1910, but his 1/3 interest in the business would have passed to his wife, Addie Gray, and then after her death, to her only son William. Addie Gray died in 1918 – precisely when we see “William Ellis Jones & Sons” cease to exist.

The way I see this scenario played out is that William Ellis Jones (1838 – 1910) left his printing business in shared partnership to all three of his sons. No one of them could force a buyout of the other unless all three “partners” agreed. When F. Ellis Jones died in 1910, his share passed to Addie Gray, and she – needing an income to support herself and her son – refused to be bought out. The properties in Richmond and at Dumbarton were probably willed in the same fashion; giving life rights of occupancy to any one heir or all three, but preventing the disposal of the property without the agreement of all three in unison.

The other two Jones brothers, Fairfax and Thomas, probably wanted to buy out their deceased brother’s portion, but they could not coerce his wife Addie Gray to move. She would have continued to draw an income from the business for eight years after her husband’s passing, and continued to have a life right to the house(s) as long as she lived. Upon her death this same right would have passed to young William.

When Addie Gray died, Fairfax Courtney Jones and Thomas Grayson Jones made their move. William, their nephew, was just nineteen years old and had just enlisted in the Army – fearing he would be sent to Europe – and still reeling from the death of his mother, his grandmother, and Aunt “Deitz”. He had never worked in the printing company and had no sense of its value. Nor did he probably even understand the papers that were put in front of him by his uncles, or just how small the check they gave him was.

William goes from being a fairly well-to-do teenager who floats between two homes and has access to everything he needs – to a young man who is scraping by from job to job, borrowing money from his grandfather’s old friends (this he admitted in The Baby Book!) and within fifteen years of his Mother’s death is so destitute that he cannot pull together enough cash to save his daughter’s life.

I propose that William was swindled out of a substantial portion of his inheritance by his uncles (who, interestingly, he barely mentions in The Baby Book.)  I further propose that any money or investments he still had remaining by 1929 were completely wiped out in the Stock Market Crash. I believe that’s why he was in New York in 1935 – trying desperately to win back his lost money. If this is the case it was a desperate maneuver, as he had no natural talent or training in that arena. If that is what he was attempting – he failed miserably – in truly tragic ways.

William probably blamed himself for taking the family to New York where Dora contracted her illness, and for getting them into such financial straits that they could not leave when they needed to.

Mr. Hyde – or Dr. Jekyll?
This is where the story gets really confusing, and why police officers seldom believe eye-witness accounts of accidents and crimes. Two people standing side by side on the same street corner will recall the same event with vastly diverging details – and they both claim that their story is the absolute fact of what happened.

After Dora’s death, William had two living children remaining. The oldest, Thomas Ellis, was five years old when his sister died. His younger sister Georgia was barely two. Neither of them would have retained enough memories of the actual events surrounding her death to be able to offer any precise information on the matter, or to say with certainty what either of their parents’ emotional state was in the aftermath.

What’s more interesting though, is that Thomas Ellis Jones, his son and the older of the two, recalled almost nothing of the event – and was reluctant to even discuss the subject – only saying that it was something his father “never got over.” Georgia, on the other hand, did discuss the loss of her sister (a sister she never knew) with her children and grandchildren. And she went even further and explained the death of this girl as the reason that her own childhood was miserable.

Thomas, when asked about his father, would light up like a Christmas tree and start recounting vivid, happy memories. He had so many stories – each one more grandiose than the next – that I truly suspect the voracity of any of them. I do know that he worshipped his father and believed him to be a nearly genius writer. (Except for the single poem that is quoted in Chapter I of the book, Stumbling in the Shadow of Giants, I have seen little of his work that would qualify as genius, but I am a hard critic, and I have not seen much of his work beyond his plays.) Thomas spoke glowingly of William Ellis Jones. I think he truly believed his childhood was happy, and that he was adored by his father.

His one negative word in regard to his father had to do with alcohol. He said that his father drank too much, and that the disease ran in the family. This was given to me with gravity when I was well past thirty years old, when I offhandedly mentioned on a call that I was going “out to the bar” with friends later that evening. It was a figure of speech in the company I kept at the time, and probably did not mean the same thing to me as it implied to him. I heard the concern in his voice and I filed the information away for future reference.

Twenty-years later I tracked down the children of Georgia Ellis Jones. Georgia passed away in 2007, and so she could not be interviewed, but Georgia’s daughter, who had nursed both her mother and her grandmother (William Ellis Jones wife, Dora Thomas) through their last days, was more than willing to share. She did not know William Ellis Jones either. She heard of him only through the recounting of her mother and her grandmother. The picture she painted for me was one I had not been prepared for, given the glowing words Thomas always laid down when he talked about the man.

I will not go into absolute specifics, but in essentials the story is as counter to what Thomas reported as any could be. The only points the two positions agree on is that William Ellis Jones did drink too much. From Georgia’s perspective this over-indulgence manifested itself in blind drunken rages in which he beat his wife and his daughter within an inch of their lives. I was told that when these fights occurred, Thomas (her brother) would lock himself in the bathroom or in his bedroom – with a book. Or he’d simply leave the house if he could get away without getting involved. She said that afterward both he and his father acted as if nothing had ever happened, and it was never talked about.

One specific that I do think is worth mentioning; Georgia told her daughters that William blamed Georgia for Dora Ellis’s death, and when he would get depressed and drunk, he’d tell her that it was her fault and he wished that she had died and not Dora…

…All this begs the question – how much pain and loss can one person endure before he breaks?

William knew profound loss; the loss of every blood relation he had in a very short span of time, at a very formative period in his life. He lost both his father and his much beloved grandfather at ten years old, his adored Aunt “Deitz” at sixteen, his mother at seventeen, and finally his grandmother at nineteen. That is too much for one young person to endure. But then he lost his place in society, his financial security, and finally his little daughter. It was just too much.

He was a shattered man. He had no tether to anything substantial whatsoever. He was just running.

From the point of Dora’s death onward, the family story is one of constant movement. First, they relocate to Miami Florida; the plan to get to a warmer climate finally coming together some months after Dora had already passed. They stay in Florida until about 1939, then they return to Virginia. William taught school in Clarksville, Virginia; then back to Pulaski; then in Richmond; then in Wytheville. By 1951 the family was in Bristol, Virginia, and Thomas Ellis, his son, was in the Air Force hoping not to get sent overseas to Korea.

On July 29, 1951, William sat down in his favorite easy chair with a glass of Kentucky Bourbon, a book, and a piece of dark chocolate. He died with the drink in one hand, the book in the other, and the chocolate still melting on his tongue.
Or so my father said.

Whatever the case, I like this version of his passing. It seems as good a way to slip over to the other side as any way I can think of. William’s pain finally saw an end; and a peaceful end at that.

Unfortunately he still had two living children who carried the seeds of his pain with them….

To learn more about William Ellis Jones, his life and his descendants, see the forthcoming book Stumbling in the Shadow of Giants, by C.H. Jones.


Richard Evan Jones (1839 – 1897)

Alabama Confederate FlagRichard Evan Jones (1839 – 1897) – Brother of Lewis Evan Jones Jr.  / Son of Lewis Evan Jones
Like his older brother Lewis, Richard Jones (1839 – 1897), also gave up the struggles of Wales for an entirely new challenge in America in 1843. He and his brother lived together for a while in St. Louis, but after the elder removed to Nebraska, the younger Richard relocated to warmer climes on the Gulf Coast at Alabama. Just like his father and his brother, Richard pursued a career in printing and publishing, interrupted only by service on the Confederate side during the Civil War. He maintained a lifelong, active interest in politics and civic concerns.[17]

Both men had large families and their descendants throughout the Deep South, Midwest, and beyond, now number in the many hundreds.


[17] A Merioneth Family of Printers in Wales and the U.S.A.,  By Dr. Lewis Lloyd, The Journal of the Merioneth Historical and Records Society, Vol. XII (iv), 1997

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