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JH Chamberlayne

JH Chamberlayne

Confederate (CSV)


John Hampden Chamberlayne


(1838 - 1882)

Home State: Virginia

Education: University of Virginia, Class of 1858

Command Billet: Aide de Camp

Branch of Service: Artillery

Unit: A. P. Hill's Light Division

Before Sharpsburg

He was well educated at private schools in Richmond, and entered the University of Virginia in 1855, where he was a fraternity man and member of the Jefferson Literary Society. He graduated with an MA degree in 1858. He then briefly taught at his old prep school, the Hanover Academy, and studied law. In March 1860 he passed the bar and began to practice law in Richmond.
Soon after the War began in Spring 1861, he enlisted as Private in Company F of the 21st Virginia Infantry regiment. The company had been formed as militia in Richmond in 1859 by fellow lawyer R. Milton Carey, so in it Ham was among friends. The company operated in defense of Richmond through the summer, then in the mountains of Western Virginia through the rest of the year without seeing action.

In 1862 he transferred, as Sergeant, to the Purcell Artillery: an elite outfit soon to be commanded by "Willie" Pegram, another former Company F soldier. In June of that year he was commissioned Lieutenant and appointed Assistant Adjutant General on the staff of Colonel R.L. Walker in command of the Corps Artillery, but from the Seven Days (25 June-1 July) through Maryland Campaigns (5-21 September 62) he was detached to General A.P. Hill's staff as Aide-de-Camp.

On the Campaign

After the battle he wrote his mother:

Shepherdstown Sept 19th [1862]

Dear Mother

I write very hurriedly on paper taken at Harpers Ferry. Since my letters from Fredk City I have been through a variety of wonderful events; we marched from Fredk to Wmsport, to Martinsburg, where I, with 3 of the Gen's escort chased 30 Yankee pickets 2 miles; then we took Harpers Ferry: 46 splendid guns, 12000 prisoners; marched back to Maryland to Sharpsburg, where on the 17th inst we had an enormous battle all day, repulsed the enemy with great slaughter & then last night returned into Va.

I have had a multiple of adventures but time fails me now. I worked very hard at Harpers Ferry; all night once to get batteries on an "impracticable" mountain, then fought them at daylight for 1hr 35min when a white flag was raised. Gen Hill then did me the honor to send me in first to the enemy. I rode in, found Gen White the comdr, received & conducted him to Gen Hill. Since writing to you I have been often, perhaps always, dirty, tired, hungry but always in supreme health and spirits.

Col. Walker was sent down with trophies. I send this by James Cowardin. None of my personal friends except Gen W.E. Starke have been killed lately. He was killed 17th, Gen Sam. Garland 15th, both great losses.

Write whenever you can. I must go to sleep; in 50 hours I have slept 6. Quantities of love to Sr, Ht, Edd, & to Harvie & his, Hexalls, Grattans & all friends. Phil Jones is unhurt.

Address merely care Maj Gen A.P. Hill.
Don't we make history fast.
Don't know where we will go next.

Yours most affectionately,

J.H. Chamberlayne

My horse was hit at Harpers Ferry, not the Gray; so I got me a fine Yank, with a magnificent pistol a saddle & divers things.

The rest of the War

After fighting at Frederickburg and Chancellorsville, he was captured in combat at Gettysburg in July 1863 and imprisoned at Johnson's Island, Ohio, and Point Lookout, Maryland. Released in 1864, he was promoted to Captain and commanded an artillery battery in the Army of Northern Virginia from July til War's end in April 1865, fighting in the Wilderness, at Gaines' Mill, and Petersburg.

After the War

After the war he tried to make a living by farming in Louisa County, Virginia, but could not make a go of it after 18 months "of hard work and extreme poverty, spent in the hopeless effort to extract from the none too generous soil of a small farm a living for his mother and one of his brothers and himself." In 1867 he suffered a complete breakdown, needing a year to recuperate.

He briefly worked as a clerk for the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad in Radford, then took a job on the Petersburg Index newspaper in early 1869. This was the beginning of a career in journaliam which would carry him through the rest of his life.

In his last years he was active politically, being opposed to General William Mahone's Readjuster movement, and served a term in the Virginia legislature. In 1873 he married Mary Walker Gibson, minister's daughter, and was editor of the Norfolk Virginian. In 1876 he came home to Richmond, founding The State, an evening newspaper, which he owned and edited until his death in 1882.

References & notes

Most of the biographical detail, along with quotes and photograph above, are from a collection of Chamberlayne's wartime letters published1 in 1932 by his son. Additional service information from material accompanying the collection of his papers at the Virginia Historical Society and from Krick2.


06/02/1838; Richmond, VA


02/18/1882; Richmond, VA; burial in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, VA


1   Chamberlayne, John Hampden, and Churchill Gibson Chamberlayne, ed., Ham Chamberlayne - Virginian. Letters and Papers of an Artillery Officer in the War for Southern Independence, 1861-1865, Richmond: Press of the Dietz Printing Co., 1932  [AotW citation 602]

2   Krick, Robert E.L., Staff Officers in Gray; A Biographical Register of the Staff Officers in the Army of Northern Virginia, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003, pg. 94  [AotW citation 603]