03 September 2014

#30 Long Road Back to Georgia


Francis Marion Hensley (1841-1923)

Long Road Back to Georgia

Word rippled through Phillip’s Legion that Gen. Robert E. Lee was coming to inspect the troops. Estimates were that nearly 12,000 horsemen and battalions of horse artillery awaited Lee’s arrival.

Jeb Stuart
Francis Marion (called Marion) Hensley was a 21-year-old private in the cavalry and he was among those awaiting the general on the grounds of John Minor Botts’ farm just outside the town of Culpeper, Virginia on June 8, 1863.

Pvt. Hensley  and his 200 or so Cherokee County, Georgia neighbors who made up Company I/C of Phillip’s Legion had been assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia’s Cavalry Corps back in April. It had seen plenty of action and adventure. They were under the command of the dashing 30-year-old Major General James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart.

Down in the ranks many rumors flew contantly, but one of them was true. That one was that the Army of Northern Virginia’s infantry was scheduled to march north the next day, with Stuart’s horsemen leading the way, scouting and screening the infantry’s advance.

Gen. Wade Hampton

Gettysburg East Cavalry Field1 by Hal Jespersen--Engelsk, Wikipedia

However, the Confederates did not realize that as General Lee inspected his troops, 9,000 Federal cavalrymen lay just across the Rappahannock River preparing to attack the following morning. For Francis Marion Hensley, this was the start of long series of skirmishes and battles leading to Gettysburg, where on 3 July in the East Cavalry Field, Phillip’s Legion, and others would be confronted by the 1st Michigan Cavalry led by Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

Then after a retreat back to Virginia, eventually he and 67 other Confederates would be captured at Milford Station and imprisoned at Point Lookout, Maryland.

Steamer New York at Aiken's Landing, Virginia. Library of Congress

Imprisoned for nearly 10 months, Pvt. Hensley finally was released in a POW exchange on 14 March 1865. He boarded the steamer New York and was exchanged at Aiken’s Landing, Virginia. Three days later he was admitted to the Jackson Hospital in Richmond for “gelatio” — apparently a term for freezing or extreme chill. He was there for a week.

His last army record notes he was furloughed on 24 March 1865 for 60 days. That was about two weeks before General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant on 9 April 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. The official records and family story about this ancestor having been "with Lee at the surrender" conflicted, but are understandable now in light of the dates and events.

From Richmond, Private Hensley walked home to Georgia — about 550 miles. The former cavalryman of Phillip's Legion finally arrived home -- horseless and “looking like a scarecrow” shortly before his 24th birthday.