My Civil War Hero James M. Weart

My Civil War Hero James M. Weart

Please allow me to introduce one of the Civil War ancestors on my father’s side of the family. James Manners Weart is my great uncle and the man upon whom I based my living history re-enactments.

Spencer Stout Weart and his wife, Sarah Garrison, had seven children, the youngest, James Manners Weart, was born on June 3, 1836.

In 1861 James was studying law in Jersey City where his brother, Jacob, had a law office. On April 16, a meeting was called to raise troops, and the muster roll was presented. James M. Weart was the first one to step up and sign his name.  He headed the roll of volunteers to protect the Union and was the first volunteer soldier from New Jersey.  His brother, George Washington Weart, volunteered at the same time. They came home, dreading to tell their parents, expecting their mother to reluctant to have both of them go at once, but she said” “Go: if I were a man, I would follow you to the war”. She became president of the Ladies’ Aid Society which sent boxes of supplies to the soldiers at the front.

The men of Hopewell brought a large flag and erected a flag pole at George Washington’s Headquarters building, where it could be seen for miles. Spencer Weart was to raise the flag on all great occasions during the war, which he did.

The company and regiment were soon raised, and they were sent to Washington for the protection of that city and the archives for the Government. Their trip was by train to Camden and steam canal boats to Washington to avoid the problems that were being experienced in Baltimore at the time.

James’s unit was stationed at Camp Monmouth, located on Meridian Hill north of the Capitol building. On May 12, President Lincoln, accompanied by Secretaries Chase and Steward visited the camp. After training, James’s unit crossed the Potomac and was stationed at Fort Runyon. His unit was held in reserve in Alexandria during First Bull Run.

After serving three months the regiment returned home and there began a call for more troops and, at that time, James enlisted again in a nine months’ regiment, being elected lieutenant in his company.  James was lieutenant on the staff of Gen. A.P. Howe

On July 16th the army finally began to move, but James Weart’s regiment was held in reserve at Alexandria. On July 21 st the First Battle of Bull Run occurred serveral miles away. Retreating soldiers of that unfortunate Union defeat made there way back through the lines at Alexandria.”

The boys had enlisted for three months’ service and their time was up on July 25 when they returned to Washington. They traded their percussion muskets for the Minie muskets that had been issued by New Jersey authorities, and returned by railroad to their home state. On July 31, the Weart brothers were mustered out of the army.”

The Battle of Fredericksburg

That November, James finished his law studies with his brother Jacob in Jersey City, and after passing the Bar, opened a law office at Hoboken. However, it wasn’t long though before things changed again for James. In early August of 1862, Lincoln ordered that 10,000 more New Jersey men be drafted, by lottery, into the Union Army to help fight the Confederates. Enthusiasm for the cause was still high, and many young men, James included, chose to enlist early in order “to escape the stigma of a draft.” James enthusiastically helped with the enlistment of other men and was elected Second Lieutenant.

On September 15th, James was mustered in at Trenton, Company H, 21 st Regiment of New Jersey Nine Month Volunteers. Colonel Gillian Van Houten commanded the regiment. Company H was led by Captain Foster W. Van Kirk and First Lieutenant Richard J. Richards.

The next day the regiment departed for Washington, and on September 18 reached Frederick, Maryland. From there it traveled “to the battle-ground of Antietam, where it joined the Army of the Potomac.” There, James’ regiment became part of the Third Brigade, Second Division, Sixth Corp

The 21st Regiment marched to Hagerstown next, in an unsuccessful attempt to intercept the rebel cavalry, and then remained there for about two weeks. After that they marched to Dam Number Five on the Potomac River, where they were stationed along two miles of the river.

They reached Falmouth, directly cross the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg, by December 10th, 1862. This river formed a line of division between the Northern and Southern forces.

James and his fellow soldiers waited on the north bank of the Rappahannock while pontoon bridges were built across the river at a place that came to be known as Franklin’s Crossing. The next day they crossed the river and moved “into a position to support Wier’s (Maryland) Battery at the Bowling Green (Old Richmond) road, where line of battle was formed and batteries placed in position.” The 21 Regiment remained at this location for four days while the Battle of Fredericksburg raged around them.

On the night of December 15th, in freezing rain, James Weart and his mates in the 21st Regiment re-crossed the Rappahannock and covered the retreat of the remainder of their Division over the pontoon bridges.

Encampment

Lt. Weart and his regiment went into camp near White Oak Church, Stafford County, Virginia, about five miles to the east of Fredericksburg. Weart was transferred to the command of the Ambulance Corps, 3rd Brigade, Second Division, Sixth Corps on December 31. He continued to hold the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, serving under Lieutenant George E. Wood.

The Ambulance Corps was a new unit. Lt. Weart was responsible for all of the approximately 18 ambulances attached to the 3rd Brigade. Wearing special uniforms and imbued with high morale, these non-combantant medics risked their lives to reach the wounded in the midst of battle and evacuate them as quickly as possible to surgeons’ stations and field hospitals.

The entire army marched north along the Rappahannock on January 20 1863, on a mission to cross the river and attack the Confederate flank. But that night the rain began and the roads turned to mud. The army could hardly move. After three days of rain, the entire march was called off and Weart and his fellow soldiers returned to White Oak: Church. This fiasco was labeled “the Mud March.

Shortly after this the army in camp near Fredericksburg received a visit from Abraham Lincoln.

The Battle of Chancellorsville

Later in the spring, Weart’s brigade took part in the Battle of Chancellorsville. They crossed the Rappahannock River on April 26 at Franklin’s Crossing, the same spot below Fredericksburg where they had crossed four months before. New pontoon bridges were built to replace the ones that had been removed after the previous battle.

They remained by the river until the evening of May 2, when they advanced toward the high ground behind Fredericksburg where the Confederates were entrenched. At dawn an attack on Marye’s Heights commenced. The New Jersey troops were part of the Union force coming from the south, which, after fierce fighting, was successful in defeating the Rebels on the Heights. On the Union side there were about eight hundred wounded soldiers. One observer noted, “ … such was the celerity and system with which the ambulances worked, the whole number of wounded were within the hospitals under the care of nurses.”

Lt. Weart and his corps of horse-drawn ambulances were likely in the center of these efforts. “Wounded men poured into hospitals set up in Fredericksburg and around the mansion on Marye’s Heights.” The scene was like ‘the destruction of Jerusalem. However, the soldiers now turned west and began a march towards Chancellorsville, where another part of the battle was raging.

About five miles from Fredericksburg, at Salem Church, there was another fight with Confederate forces before night fell. The brigade halted its advance on Chancellorsville, and James Weart and his Ambulance Corps did what they could. The stretcher bearers with their lamps wandered here and there over the field, and the loaded ambulances rattled dismally over the broken plank road. The pickets were unusually still, for the men of both armies were tired, and went willingly to rest.

By the next morning, May 4th, Confederates reinforcements had arrived and the Union soldiers were surrounded on three sides with the Rappahannock at their backs. In fierce fighting towards evening, a number of James Weart’s companions and Colonel van Houten were killed. After some confusion, the men of Weart’s brigade retreated back to the river and crossed it on pontoon bridges at a place called Banks’ Ford, about 6 miles above Fredericksburg. These bridges were removed again after the Union force had crossed at about 5:00 am on May 5th.

This second attempt to cross the Rappahannock and fight the Confederates had failed worse then the previous effort four months earlier. Several days after the battle, at a place called the United States Ford, Lt. Weart was sent back across the river with his ambulances under a flag of truce to bring wounded soldiers back to the Union hospitals.

At the beginning of June, Weart’s brigade was involved in one last action: the Confederates had marched north leaving a rear guard at Fredericksburg. At Franklin’s crossing (where twice before Weart and his mates had crossed the river to do battle) a skirmish occurred which resulted in the capture of about 250 Confederate soldiers.

But James Weart’s nine month term of service had expired. He traveled with the 21st. Regiment back to New Jersey and arrived at Trenton around June 5. They were reviewed by Governor Joel Parker and given a public dinner by the citizens of their home state. James was mustered out of the army on June 19, 1863.

At the conclusion of that service he returned home, completed his study of the law and was admitted to practice. In 1866, James moved to Iowa, married his sweetheart, Jenny Taylor, and settled with his wife in Independence Iowa where they had four children.  He became very prominent in local and state politics but tragedy struck in November 1874 when James was wounded in a hunting accident, dieing on December 11. At the request of his wife, James’s body was moved from Independence to West Laurel Hill cemetery in Philadelphia. The GAR Post in Hopewell, the Weart’s home town was named for James, lasting until 1931.

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