A Moment of Honor for a Confederate Gunner in Michigan.
by Gordon Thorsby
After the Civil War, soldiers on both sides moved to the north and south. Life took them places and it was not unusual. In the case of Private Thomas Ryan, a veteran of the Virginia Light Artillery, Company A, 13th Battalion, CSA., his ending is more recent.
Thomas Ryan was born in Shenandoah County, Virginia on April 24, 1842. The Confederate Army conscripted all white men in the South and they had already conscripted his three half-brothers. The government also accepted substitutes based on qualifications that allowed Ryan to be the substitute for a James B Sclater on March 17, 1863. There is no known information as to the circumstances regarding the substitution. Upon being enlisted in Pulaski, VA at the age of twenty, Tom was detailed as a teamster bringing along the necessary supplies for the battery.
The 13th Artillery Battery A was organized in Spring, 1862 with six companies. The battery’s initial assignments were contained to what is now West Virginia and eastern Tennessee. For a period of time, Walker's Battery belonged to McLaughlin’s Battalion.
Ryan’s greatest memory must no doubt have been when the sections of Company A were placed in two salients along the Jerusalem Plank Road line at Petersburg. Just after sunrise, on July 30, 1864, Tom would have witnessed and been deeply involved in the mine explosion, its blast ascending 300 feet and the assault by Union troops into the crater. Many from the 13th Virginia Battery A in the line were manning Coehorn mortars. Ryan may have been on the line or well off the line retrieving supplies for the artillerists. What is documented is that Lt. Walker and the crews worked their guns feverishly when the dirt returned to earth and the waves of blue crossed no man’s land. The battery could not rotate their fire into the crater but they could deliver deadly canister to reinforcing troops. It is without a doubt, a most bloody and merciless battle, possibly the worst of the entire war.
Fast forward 148 years. In April 2012, the Michigan Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, a Michigan heritage organization, received a request by the Michigan Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, specifically the Thomas Ryan Chapter. That request was “to provide a color guard at a ceremony to honor Private Thomas Ryan. People worried there might be potential blowback from individuals or groups in the state. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War became involved and upon consideration, voted unanimously to back the event. The official statement was, “we believed that if our ancestors who wore the Blue and/or were members of the GAR could shake hands with their former foes; we should commemorate the service of a Confederate soldier.” His contribution to the community after the war was significant.
On a warm, beautiful Sunday morning. June 10, 2012, in a Southern Cross of Honor presentation was performed with fifteen Civil War heritage organizations from far and wide attending along with about one-hundred people at a small cemetery. Lying on the edge of a cornfield, a strong breeze kept the unit and national colors waving proudly as dignitaries spoke words for those from the past. The ceremony included the Pledge of Allegiance, songs from the War, remarks regarding the Southern Day of Decoration, a military salute, the placing of the Confederate Iron Cross at Ryan’s grave and a floral tribute of wildflowers. There is no greater action that we can do than to take time to remember him and all of our veterans who sacrificed so much for their country.”
At Appomattox, it is reported that the battery accounted for only 3 officers and 24 men. It is not known if Tom was in the role call. It is probable since Lynchburg is a few miles west of Appomattox. For southern soldiers, there was no muster out and no train ride home. For Ryan, the end of the war was a step forward to take an oath of allegiance after two years of fighting. Tom took that oath in Lynchburg on April 13th and continued finding a way home in any way he possibly could. For Tom, it was a 140 mile walk to his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Woodstock but it was for a new start. He moved to Michigan by 1874.
Today, Thomas Ryan’s ten year-old headstone (with the Southern Cross upon it) is located in the quiet graveyard beside the Easton Church of Christ in the very small town of New Haven, MI. It is a small, peaceful, quiet graveyard with a slight breeze coming off of the open field when last visited. On one day in 2012, Thomas Ryan was welcomed by everyone in attendance. He was also welcomed by other Union Civil War Veterans who rest there today.
Greene, A. Wilson, A Campaign of Giants, University of North Carolina Press, 2018.
Knight, Charles R., Valley Thunder, The Battle of New Market, Savas Beatie, 2018.
https://suvcw.org/mollus/journal/2012, VOL. 69, No. 3 150th Anniversary Issue FALL 2012.
Special note of thanks to Len, Thomas, Sons of Civil War Veterans.