Essex County History
The 55th Infantry
The 9th Cavalry

55th Infantry Essex, like most Virginia counties, had a long tradition of volunteer militia. "Mustering Days" were a highlight of the year. The decline of the militias through much of the 1800s was changed by the John Brown Raid of October 1859. By March of 1860 the Essex Sharpshooters had formed as a volunteer unit with about 100 men. They could have no idea of the challenges they would meet in the next five years.

After Virginia seceded, units rapidly formed to prepare for her defense. Essex fully committed and nearly every able-bodied, white male served. Local units were initially organized as "Major Ward's Essex and Middlesex Battalion" under the command of Major William N. Ward, a local teacher and Episcopal minister. Eight of these original nine companies would form the nucleus of the 55th Virginia Infantry; their cavalry would be attached to the 9th Virginia Cavalry. Major Ward's core companies were the following:

- Company A, Essex Artillery, enlisted May 21st 1861 under Captain Evan Rice

- Company B, Middlesex Artillery, May 24th 1861, Captain William Fleet

- Company C, Middlesex Southerners, May 24th 1861, Captain Andrew Saunders

- Company D, Essex Davis Rifles, June 17th 1861, Captain Gustavus Garnett Roy

- Company E, Westmoreland Greys, June 24th 1861, Captain J. Bailey Jett

- Company F, Essex Sharpshooters, May 21st 1861, Captain Thomas Burke

- Company G, Essex Grays, June 12th 1861, Captain George Street

- Company H, Middlesex Rifles

- Four companies would be added later from Essex, Middlesex, Lancaster and Fredericksburg

The 55th with the toil of 300 slaves and free African-Americans built Fort Lowry and maintained the defense of the lower Rappahannock from there and its satellite units: Camps Byron, Sullivan, Field and smaller camps in Middlesex. The regiment joined Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and saw its first real action during the Peninsula Campaign in June of 1862. The men of the 55th stayed with Lee through almost all the major battles in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Please see the sources below for a full accounting of the bravery and sacrifice of these men. The dedication on the Confederate monument on Prince Street in Tappahannock reads as follows, " They fought for the principles of State Sovereignty and in defense of their homes."

Virginia counties also formed individual cavalry units soon after Virginia's secession. The Essex Light Dragoons were assigned cavalry duties in support of Fort Lowry. Special orders on December 18th 1861 established the 9th Virginia Cavalry under the command of Col. John E. Johnson. The original companies consisted of the following:

- Company A, Stafford Rangers, established May 6th 1861

- Company B, Caroline Light Dragoons, May 6th 1861

- Company C, Lee's Light Horse (Westmoreland), May 25th 1861

- Company D, Lancaster Cavalry, April 25th 1861

- Company E, Mercer Calvary (Spotsylvania), April 25th 1861

- Company F, Essex Light Dragoons, June 10th 1861

- Company G, Lunenburg Light Dragoons, June 7th 1861

- Company H, Lee's Rangers (King William), June 10th 1861

- Company I, Potomac Cavalry (King George), October 12th 1861

- Company K, Richmond County Cavalry, October 24th 1861

Of the 309 known professions in the regiment, 164 were farmers, 33 doctors, 33 students, 12 lawyers, 12 clerks, 11 mechanics and 10 teachers. The average age was about 26. The 9th Cavalry would be attached to General "JEB" Stuart throughout the war and was continuously engaged in major and minor actions in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. A lasting tribute was paid to the 9th Cavalry by their Federal Cavalry foe H.J. Kilpatrick who wrote that when he knew the 9th was in the front he always put three regiments to fight it because they were the best cavalry regiment in the Confederate service. 37% of the men in the 9th would be killed, wounded or captured but they would remain a strong and active unit until Appomattox. For a full description of their bravery and sacrifice, see the sources below.

Essex County veterans list


1. Settlers, Southerners and Americans: The History of Essex County, Va.. 1985, by James B. Slaughter (available at the Essex County Museum and Historical Society)

2. Essex County Historical Society Bulletin, vol. 19. Tappahannock and Its Role in the War Between the States, by Carrol M. Garnett. November 1981

3. 55th Virginia Infantry, 1989. by: Richard O'Sullivan

4. 9th Virginia Cavalry, 1982. by: Robert K. Krick
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