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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Alexander Hart, 5th Louisiana, One Southern Soldier Who Did Return Home

by Gordon Thorsby

Alexander Hart (1839-1911), was on the surface not unique when he was named a lieutenant in the Fifth Louisiana Zouave Infantry in May 1861,1074 men strong. For a number of officers and men of the Fifth, they did have something uniquely in common with one another and not for America in general. They were of the Jewish faith and fighting for Louisiana and the Confederacy. That made Hart unusual. At the time, Hart worshipped at the Shangarai Chasset congregation, a New Orleans Synagogue.


The Fifth had little fighting until August 1862, when it saw its first and heavy action at Second Manassas as part of the Louisiana Brigade. At Sharpsburg, Hart was wounded probably in the West Woods in the early part of the fighting on September 17th. Hart was back with the regiment soon after and in January 1863, he was promoted to Major after casualties in the upper ranks of the regiment required new officers. At Chancellorsville, Lt. Col. Menger was wounded, and now Major Alexander Hart took command of the regiment.


He led the regiment at Second Winchester in June. At Gettysburg, the Louisiana Brigade slammed into Barlow’s flank at Blocher’s Knoll (Barlow Knoll). Recorded by Lt. R. Stark Jackson in the Louisiana Brigade, they “…arrived at Gettysburg at 3 P.M., formed line of battle. I could see Rodes on our right driving the Yankees before him like sheep-it was the prettiest sight I ever saw." On July 2, Hart led the 5th Louisiana in a charge up East Cemetery Hill where he took a minie ball through the hand from fire of the 107th Ohio Infantry, Captain Thomas Briscoe, a fellow member of his congregation took command of the regiment with Hart put out of action. The Fifth lost 67 of the196 that went into the fight, over 30 percent.

Rappahannock Fight (by Alfred Waud)


On Nov. 7 at Rappahannock Station, the entire Louisiana Brigade was on the wrong side of the river when two brigades were overrun by Federal units of the VI Corps. The Brigade was overrun in the rare night attack with 1600 taken prisoners and those that survived escaped by swimming the river. Of the 1200 men of the Louisiana Brigade, 699 were captured. Of 122 men from the 5th Louisiana, only 1 captain answered roll call the next day. Hart was absent from the army nursing the Gettysburg wound. He received a certification as “unfit for duty” and continued on to command the regiment.


In March 1864, the 5th Louisiana was reconstituted when 500 men were exchanged, and the regiment prepared to fight again. It was in July. In March, that Alexander Hart received the following orders:


Provost Marshal’s office, Richmond, July 4th, 1864


Major Alex'r Hart, 5th La. Reg’t will take command of a detachment of 250 men [remnant soldiers not part of the 5th LA] of said corps and such commissioned officers as may report to him for duty. He will take said detachment to Staunton, Va., by rail and thence, with all dispatch, to said command, wherever it may be, reporting to Lt. Gen’l J.A. Early.


These men joined Hart and the 5th went down the valley for Early’s Shenandoah Campaign.

His journal read on September 17 near Winchester:


"Marched at sunrise towards Winchester. Reached [] town at 2 P.M. Rested one hour. Formed in line of battle. Commenced to advance. Skirmished hourly. The enemy retreated slowly followed [] continually. 9 P.M. opposite Winchester. Ordered to halt. The Yankees continued to retreat. Order’d to rest and cook rations. Casualties very few. Captured a Lt. Col. And some dirty non-coms. Officers and men. Find that we have been engaged with the 6th Army (Yankee) Corps. The Yankee force estimated at 60,000, commanded by Gen’l Sheridan."


At Winchester and now part of General John B. Gordon’s Division, the brigade was in heavy fighting near Winchester fending off Union forces when Jackson recorded:

"...and all the enemy's advances were repulsed by our infantry and artillery with great slaughter. The enemy massed his cavalry at 1 p. m. to turn our left, but was repulsed in his attack. He renewed it at 4 p. m. and got in the rear of the left, when the whole line gave way and we retreated."


We don’t know when or where Hart made this entry, (Sept. 19). It might have been when recovering from wounds in Ft. Delaware.


Moved at 4 A.M. towards Winchester. When within three miles of town, heard heavy firing and about 10 A.M., met the enemy. Fought in our front with success, but about 4 P.M. the left of the army giving way in confusion, compelled Gordon Div. To follow rapidly, after which the troops rallyed twice, but broke at last into complete rout. Captured about 5 o’clock. My horse wounded in three places. Died in [] of Winchester this night.

Hart (right) was wounded and captured at Winchester. Initially treated in the town, he was transferred by "painful" wagon transport to Martinsburg (VA now WVA app. 25 miles.)

After being exchanged and returning to Richmond, Hart recorded in his journal, "Order’d to report to command, but examined by a surgeon who pronounced me unfit for duty.” He boarded the train from Richmond to proceed to Charlotte, NC on April 2nd as the Army of Northern Virginia was falling back through the capital. The war ended in April for the 5th Louisiana at Appomattox where it surrendered with one officer and 18 men.


Alexander Hart returned home to his loved ones where many from the regiment could not.


After his parole on May 30, he recorded, "started to see my fiancée and all the folks. All glad to see me. Leonna cried some. Staid in Richmond, having a good time generally, during months of November, December. "


Alexander Hart married his fiancée, Leonora Levy, (mentioned in his journal entry dated November 30, 1864, as "Leonna") in Richmond, Virginia, 1866. Hart settled after the war in Staunton, Virginia,


Note: Other officers from his congregation included Lieutenant L.S. Lipman, who died in battle May 1863, and Captain David Cohen Labatt.



Sources:

"Alexander Hart Diary," Typescript courtesy American Jewish Archives ©2022 Jewish-American History Documentation Foundation Lathrup Village, MI.


The Last Battle of Winchester, by Patchan, Scott C., Savas Beatie, 2013.


Meade and Lee at Rappahannock Station, by Hunt, Jeffrey William, Savas Beatie, 2021.


"The Gettysburg Campaign Lieutenant Eyewitness Account", edited by Merle E. Reed, author Lt. R. Stark Jackson, 1863.


Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, 1027 Series I Volume XLIII-I Serial 90 - Shenandoah Valley Campaign Part I.





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