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Confederate 4th Virginia Cavalry POW Grouping

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Item No. AR3364MF Categories , Tag


Outstanding small group of items pertaining to the Shirley brothers of the 4th Virginia Cavalry. Both John and James Shirley would muster with Company A of the 4th Virginia Cavalry during the spring of 1861. It appears that both brothers would however serve briefly with the regiment. James would be discharged late in October for a disability. John was home sick shortly after enlisting. At some point it appears that John was also discharged for a disability although the exact date is unknown. During the summer of 1864 as Federal forces approached Petersburg, all able bodied men within the city were conscripted to work in the trenches surrounding the city including both James and John. The two brothers were later captured and taken prisoner in June, 1864 in front of Petersburg. Presumably on either the 16th or 17th of June when Union forces captured several of the entrenchments during the early stages of the siege. The two brothers would be imprisoned at Point Lookout as “citizen prisoners” by mid July, 1864. On July 13th John writes to his mother from Point Lookout with news that James is sick. 8 days later James would die of disease while imprisoned at Point Lookout and John would be moved to Elmira Prison in New York leaving his brothers remains behind. It would appear John would remain a prisoner until the end of the war but his exact date of release is unknown. Included in the group is a small pocket bible dated 1861 and given to James by a Union soldier presumably while imprisoned. Inside the front cover is an inscription by James reading “James Shirleys Book. Presented to him by a Union soldier”. Another inscription inside the book reads “James D. Shirleys Book. Presented to him by a Union soldier. Gainesville, Prince William County, Virginia”. The two back covers are inscribed similarly with several names scribbled on the pages by James. There is a name of “George Swern Alexandria, Virginia” written in the back of the book which may have been the soldier that actually presented to bible to James. I’m not sure of the spelling of the last name however. Also included are two letters written by John. One written on July 13, 1864 from Point Lookout Prison to his mother writing to let her know that James is very sick and requesting money for the purchase of clothing. The second letter is dated July 29, 1864 from Elmira Prison to his mother again to let her know his new location and the news of James death. A rather sad letter as John is quite distraught over his brothers death. John has signed this letter “John R. Shirley Citizen prisoner”. John mentions that he has clipped some hair from James to bring home should he ever return. There is a Virginia coat button included as well which I would tend to think was cut off the coat of James however there is no documentation as to it’s original origin. This does come with a small amount of research on the two brothers. This would make a great research project. One of many sad stories related to the war.

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