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Nearly 150 years ago, a group of Confederate soldiers from Grayson and Carroll counties fought and shed their blood far from home on a battlefield in Georgia.
The pivotal Confederate victory at Chickamauga is commemorated today with monuments to the states that had fighters at the battle — but not Virginia.
The Virginia legislature in 1895 authorized a monument to the state's troops at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, but never funded it.
Descendants of local Civil War veterans with the 63rd and 54th Virginia Infantry regiments are working to correct that oversight.
James Christman, a Grayson County resident, is part of the non-profit 63rd Virginia/54th Virginia Infantry Descendants Association, which is raising $250,000 to build a granite and bronze monument at the historic battlefield site in Georgia. They hope to have the monument in place by the battle's 150th anniversary in 2013.
(It also will honor members of another related Virginia unit, the Nottoway Artillery.)
Christman can cite 30 ancestors from the Baywood community who served in the 63rd Infantry. To him — and other descendants — the matter is personal.
These were the only two infantry regiments from Virginia in the Army of Tennessee. The regiments were made up of men from Carroll, Grayson, Floyd, Montgomery, Washington, Smyth, Wythe and Pulaski.
A visit to the Chicamauga battlefield inspired the effort, Christman said. "I looked at all the monuments on the battlefield and there was no marker for the 54th or the 63rd regiment," he told the Chattanooga Free Press newspaper last year. "When I got home, I got to thinking about it. Other states had markers but Virginia didn't."
Since then, Christman and the association have been getting the bureaucratic red tape out of the way —becoming a non-profit, setting up a website, having the monument designed — before launching the fundraising campaign.
“The men of these regiments were shoulder to shoulder for two years during some of the most intense fighting of the war,” Christman writes on the group's website. “It is only proper based on these facts that their descendants band together to honor them.”
Christman told The Gazette that the group started out by contacting the National Park Service, which manages the Chicamauga site, about the logistics of placing a monument there.
Next, they enlisted the help of Del. Bill Carrico (R-Grayson County), who successfully introduced House Joint Resolution 275 in the Virginia General Assembly last year. The legislation recognizes the descendants' group “as Virginia's agent to fund and erect a monument” in memory of the state's Confederate soldiers at the battle.
With the state legislature on their side, Christman said the group then solicited designs from sculptors and awarded a contract to Ron Tunison, who sketched out a 16-foot-tall granite monument topped with two life-size bronze statues of Confederate soldiers — one for each infantry regiment.
They also developed a budget of a quarter-million dollars.
Christman is hopeful about raising the money over the next two years. There has been a lot of interest, and he hopes that translates into donations.
“We should be able to do it. We're right here in the heart of their descendants,” he notes. Most of the infantry soldiers are buried within a few miles of Galax.
A History of the 63rd and 54th Virginia Infantry Regiments
The 63rd Virginia Infantry Regiment was mustered into service in March and April of 1862 to assist the efforts of the Confederate Army. It was made up of men from Carroll, Grayson, Montgomery, Washington, Smyth and Wythe counties.
There were also men that came from Sullivan County, Tenn., and Monroe County, W.Va., that were assigned to this regiment.
There was also a company from Floyd County known as "The Floyd Blues" who were mustered into service in July of 1861 with the 50th Infantry. They were transferred into the 63rd Virginia Infantry with the induction of the regiment.
The 63rd was active throughout Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky before becoming part of the Army of Tennessee in August 1863. This is where they remained until the end of the Civil War.
The 54th Virginia Infantry Regiment was mustered into service on Sept. 5, 1861. It was made up of men from Carroll, Floyd, Montgomery and Pulaski counties, along with the Roanoke Guards. This regiment served throughout Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia for their first two years of service before becoming part of the Army of Tennessee in August 1863.
Like the 63rd, this is where they stayed until the end of the Civil War.
The two regiments' first action with the Army of Tennessee was at Chicamauga in Georgia. The 63rd Regiment was in General Kelly's Brigade (a colonel at the time) and the 54th Regiment was in Colonel Trigg's Brigade.
During the action on Snodgrass Hill during the battle, the regiments were arrayed side by side. This action was considered a major Confederate victory.
After the battle at Chicamauga, the 63rd and the 54th regiments were reassigned with the 58th and 60th North Carolina regiments as part of General Reynolds' Brigade, where they stayed for the duration of the Civil War.
This brigade was part of General Patrick Cleburne's Division, with which these local soldiers participated in most of their major engagements with until the end of the Civil War.
Because of the losses of both the 63rd and 54th regiments, they were combined to form the 54th Virginia Infantry Battalion on April 9, 1865.
Fighting For Their Ancestors
Jim Ogden, historian at the Chicamauga park, told the Chattanooga Free Press last year that troops from 29 states were involved in Civil War action in or around Chattanooga, Tenn., and Chickamauga. Most states have monuments, but not Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine or West Virginia, he said.
Adding a new monument will be a challenge, Ogden told the newspaper. He's had different groups approach him about building monuments nearly each of his 28 years at the park, and all have failed to meet National Park Service guidelines, he said.
"Most groups find that their ideas are not possible,” Ogden said, but Christman's group "has certainly gone at this point further than other groups have.”
The park service guidelines say only states can build the monuments, which has disqualified most past efforts, but the local group has the backing of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Ogden told the Chattanooga Free Press that the group has work to do, but could get it done by the anniversary. "They've got some time, but they're also going to have to do a fair amount of their homework and groundwork. It's not an impossibility at this point."
Christman said the fundraising will begin in earnest this year, with the descendants' group selling items, soliciting donations from business and individuals, raffling off a Civil War print and generally making people aware of the effort through appearances at local events.
They're also raising money through memberships to the group. Anyone who is a descendant of a soldier of either regiment can apply online and pay a one-time membership fee of $50.
Applicants should provide their ancestor's name and which regiment they fought in.
Actually, anyone — descendant or not — is free to donate, Christman said, and will be listed on the website under the “Friends of the Monument” section.
The group found local corporate sponsors to pay for its website, so all the donations can be put toward the monument. Christman said he thanked the sponsors: Hilltop Fire & Rescue, Blue Ridge Tire & Auto, Southern Showcase Housing, Longview Golf Course, MC Imaging, Duke's Printing, A-1 Paving, Tolbert & Tolbert Attorneys At Law, Mountaintop Taxidermy, Spring Valley Graphics, Ballard Realty & Insurance, The Diner in West Galax, Kyle Realty, Bob Welsh Computers, Galyean's Garage and County Line Restaurant.
• Those who wish to donate or join the group can visit the website, www.63rdand54thvainf.com, or send donations and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope to this address: 63rd VA Inf/54th VA Inf, P.O. Box 1741, Galax, VA 24333. For more information, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.