Wounding of a Color-Bearer

Having largely missed the action of the Seven Days, Color Sgt. George Daniel Buswell found himself clinging tightly to the regimental flag at Malvern Hill. His regiment, the 33rd Virginia Infantry, had been part of the famed “Stonewall Brigade” under Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson’s command.  These men had been integral to R.E. Lee’s order on June 17th, racing back to the Confederate capital for an attack on the Union army’s rear.

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Rendition of a color bearer by artist Don Troiani (Historical Art Prints)

But the regiment did not arrive as planned. They reached Gaines’ Mill ten days later, only to become delayed and disorganized. In fact, the entire brigade had become disjointed after crossing a swamp there. But the Confederates continued to pursue McClellan’s withdrawing army, moving southward and rebuilding bridges along the way. “The sun shone excessively hot today, and no water could be found fit to drink,” Sgt. Buswell recorded on June 29th. Two days later, he and his regiment finally caught up to the Federals at Malvern Hill.

One of six children, George Buswell was the eldest son of Thomas and Rebecca Spitler. His father had once served as a major-general in the Virginia militia and was a politician in the State Senate.[1] Raised in Page County, Va., George enlisted in Company H in 1862.

He kept a diary for most of the war detailing his experiences daily. On July 1, a Tuesday, he recorded the following entry:

Moved about 6 or 7 am, passed 2 or 3 Yankee hospitals and a great many Yankee prisoners, wagons, &c. Our brigade, now commanded by Col. [William S. H.] Baylor of the 5th Va., was ordered to the front.  We waded 2 small streams, climbed a fence and became engaged about 8 p.m.

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Col. John F. Neff, ca 1862.
A graduate of Virginia Military Institute and later commander of the 33rd Virginia Infantry. He was killed at the battle of Second Manassas a month later.
(Ostendorf/Neff)

Now, with the brigade ordered to the front, he faced the thunder of cannon pounding away at their men. “They enemy gave us the most terrific fire I have ever seen,” wrote their brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Charles Winder, “A continuous stream of shot, shell and balls for two hours.”[2] Fire from the Federal batteries hit thirty-three men of the regiment involved in the action.[3] Under the supervision of Col. John F. Neff and Maj. F.W.M. Holliday, the 33rd Virginia was held in reserve until they were later brought forward with battle ending in darkness. Winder noticed that their officers “particularly attracted my attention by their coolness and untiring efforts to keep the men in position. Their escape from injury is truly providential.” However, Neff reported that he was struck twice by spent balls (although unharmed) and regiment suffered 25% casualties by its end.[4]

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Sgt. George Buswell listed among other wounded in Co. H following the Seven Days Campaign. (Fold3)

Sgt. Buswell was among those that were injured:

About the first round I received a flesh wound in the right arm, near the wrist. I then handed the colors to Benj. E. Coffman, & went off the field under a very heavy shelling; the Yankees using the guns on their gunboats. I stopped at a hospital about 1 1/3 miles from the battlefield & had a Yankee prisoner to dress my wound.

Capt. Michael Shuler recorded in his diary that the company losses were one killed and five wounded.[5] The following day was spent burying their dead and caring for the wounded, including Buswell. He and fellow color-bearer Benjamin Coffman, accompanied by wounded comrades David Hite and Jessie Riley, started off for Savage Station that afternoon. Reaching there by dark, they boarded cars along the Richmond and York River Railroad and reached Richmond at midnight. “Arm pained me very much,” recalled Buswell upon their arrival. Utterly exhausted, he slept that night on the floorboards of the depot.[6]

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Savage’s Station on the Richmond and York River Railroad was the headquarters of Union Third corps in June 1862.
(Virginia Historical Society)

The next day, a remarkable visitor found him: his father. Involved with government business, Thomas Buswell somehow learned of his son’s injury and had been able to locate his whereabouts. The two procured more accommodating lodging for the night and George Buswell ventured off to find more of his wounded friends:

I went to a hospital & found Ambrose Rothgeb, who, alas!, had lost his left hand in the fight of Monday. Hunted for Daniel Brubaker, who had lost his right eye, but could not find him.[7]

Returning sometime later, Buswell would continue to serve with the unit. Pickets were posted after the action Malvern Hill, but the 33rd Virginia was pulled back to Richmond in mid-July. They played no further role in the Seven Days Campaign.

Order of Battle

Army of Northern Virginia – Gen. R. E. Lee
Commanding division – Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson
Winder’s brigade – Brig. Gen. Charles S. Winder
33rd Virginia Infantry

Notes:
[1] Harland R. Jessup, The Painful News I Have to Write: Letters and Diaries of Four Hite Brothers of Page County in the Service of the Confederacy (Baltimore: Butternut and Blue, 1998), 4.

[2] Reidenbaugh, 38.

[3] Bryan K. Burton, Extraordinary Circumstances: The Seven Days Battles (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 354.

[4] Ray A. Neff, Valley of the Shadow (Terre Haute: Rana Publications, 1989), 64-65. According to Reidenbaugh, the regiment numbered 129 men before the fight at Malvern Hill. Four were killed and twenty-nine were wounded at the battle’s conclusion. Col. Neff wrote to his parents in Aug. 1862, “My Regiment is quite small now but is increasing some little. There are still about three hundred and fifty men absent without leave… We never can keep up an army as long as men run off as they have been doing.”

[5] “Complete Diary of Captain Michael Shuler, Page Grays, Co. H, 33rd Va. Inf.,”Geocities, accessed July 7, 2013, http://www.geocities.ws/cenantuaheight/mshulerdiary.html. Reported killed: James H. Alger; wounded: George D. Buswell (in arm), David C. Hite (wrist), Benjamin F. Coffman (side), Jesse W. Riley (hand), and Willis Cubbage (hand).

[6] Likely the receiving and distributing hospital, General Hospital No. 9.

[7] Neither men were members of the 33rd Regiment, but a number of individuals of the same last name were.

Sources:

  • Lowell Reidenbaugh, 33rd Virginia Infantry (Lynchburg: H. E. Howard, Inc., 1987), 37-38.
  • George D. Buswell Diary, July 1 – 3, 1862, in Book 31, RNBP, 10-11.
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One thought on “Wounding of a Color-Bearer

  1. Has the Buswell diary been published as a book or part of a book? I’e also read that Co H (Page Greys) was often the “color company” for the regiment. Would B.F.’s promotion to corporal after Chancellorsville be due to joining the color guard?
    Thanks,
    Dean Franklin “Frank” Coffman, Jr
    great grand nephew of Benjamin Franklin Coffman who was handed the colors by Buswell

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