The Essex Sharpshooters


The 55th was at the forefront of A.P. Hill’s Division during Jackson’s sweeping flank assault at Chancellorsville in early May 1863. The 55th witnessed the final meeting between Lee and Jackson on the flank march. The 55th was in the Plank Road when a few men of the 55th Co. G and the entire 18th North Carolina mistakenly fired on Jackson’s scouting party. Benjamin Wright, the 55th’s assistant surgeon, was the first to attend the wounded Jackson. As Jackson was discretely moved behind the 55th, Sgt. Tom Fogg of Co. F recognized him and proclaimed, “Great God! It is General Jackson!” Among the dead and wounded in the scouting party were two members of the 55th, detailed as couriers to A.P. Hill. Heth took over command of the Light Division when A.P. Hill was wounded, and Brockenbrough became the brigade commander again. Col. Mallory of the 55th was killed in the same artillery barrage that wounded Hill. The next morning the 55th was decimated in an unsupported frontal attack and became demoralized afterward.

Lee reorganized his army after Jackson’s death. A.P. Hill was now III Corps Commander and Heth was promoted to Division Commander. Brockenbrough remained the 55th’s brigade commander and it was assigned to Heth’s Division. Col. William Christian became the 55th’s commander. During the invasion of Pennsylvania in June-July 1863, Heth’s Division attempted to march into Gettysburg in an effort to acquire shoes and supplies, bumped into elements of the Union army, and touched off that great battle. On July 1, the 55th gave a good account of itself, helping sweep Union forces off Herr’s Ridge. They captured the colors of the 149th Penn. and took many prisoners around the Stone Barn. Idle on July 2, the brigade was on the far left of the line during Pickett’s Charge on July 3, failed to keep up with the advance, and went to ground well short of the Federal line on Cemetery Ridge. Enfilading fire resulted in the brigade retiring sullenly back to Seminary Ridge. Poor brigade leadership resulted in the brigade acting as the army’s rearguard during the retreat back to Virginia.

At Falling Waters on July 14, Union cavalry fell upon the rearguard and routed it, taking the 55th’s colors and prisoners, including Col. Christian. Brockenbrough was eventually replaced by Brig. Gen. Henry Walker, who successfully rallied the brigade, and Maj. Charles Lawson now commanded the 55th.

The 55th was involved in the debacle at Bristoe Station, although they performed well under the circumstances. In November of 1863, Walker’s Brigade and the defensive position of the Army of Northern Virginia stopped Meade’s flanking attempt at Mine Run.