Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sacrificing for the Cause - John C.C. Sanders

One of the exciting things about learning new historical information is being introduced to the personalities one encounters along the way. I had certainly heard of General John C.C. Sanders, but knew few details of the man's pre-war or wartime experiences. Doing just a little research produced some remarkable findings which show his commitment to the cause for which he was fighting.

John Caldwell Calhoun Sanders was born on April 4, 1840, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was named for the great states' rights and proslavery South Carolina politician (above). This is not all that surprising as thousands of sons during this time period were named for famous military and political personalities. In addition, Sanders' father, Charles P. Sanders, was a native South Carolinian, who likely held Calhoun in veneration.

The 1850 census give a little more detail into the Sanders family. At that time they lived in the Eutaw District of Greene County, Alabama. John's father, Charles, is listed as a thirty-seven year old physician, who owned $1000 in real estate. John's mother, Elizabeth Ann is listed as thirty-one and also a South Carolina native. The family must have moved to Alabama just a few years before John was born as older brother Matthew L., who was listed as 14 years old, had been born in their home state, while another older brother, William H (12) and John (10) were both born in Alabama. Also included in the family were younger sisters, Arabella F. (7), and Martha L. (5). All of the Sanders children were shown as attending school. I was unable to find Charles P. Sanders in the 1850 slave schedules.

The Sanders family prospered the the following decade. In 1860, Charles was listed as "Doctor & Planter." He had increased his wealth in real estate to $15,300 and personal property to $30,000, of which included 25 slaves. The slaves consisted of eleven males ranging in age from sixty to one year old, and fourteen females that were from fifty-five to one year old. All of the slaves are listed as black, except for a one year old female that was described as mulatto. The Sanders' family workforce lived in six slave houses.

By 1860, apparently son Matthew no longer lived in the household, and William, now twenty-one was listed as a doctor, like his father. John is listed as nineteen and as a "Col.[lege] Student." Arabella was now sixteen. Perhaps Martha did not live, as the only other children are listed as initals and hers does not fit. The other children were: H.A. Sanders, a fourteen year old girl; E.A. Sanders, a seven year old girl, and C.P. Sanders, a two year old girl.

John must have been a promising student as he was attending the University of Alabama when the war started. Although his parents objected to his decision to withdraw from school and join up, John would not miss the chance to serve his new nation and headed back to Greene County, where he helped raise Company C of the 11th Alabama Infantry. His experience as a University of Alabama cadet and winning personality helped him gain the captaincy of the company. He was only 21 years old.

The 11th was quickly forwarded to the seat of war in Virginia and barely missed participating in the Battle of First Manassas. The regiment was included in the brigade of Cadmus M. Wilcox and fought some difficult battles in the Peninsula Campaign. John was grievously wounded in the leg during the Battle of Glendale (Frayser's Farm). A fast recovery brought John back in time to fight more, and as the brigade's senior captain, he led the 11th in battle at Second Manassas and Antietam, where he was wounded in the face.

John was soon made colonel of the 11th; at only twenty-two years old. The 11th fought at Salem Church during the Chancellorsville Campaign, and at Gettysburg. On July 2, 1863, Sanders was shot in the knee.

When Wilcox was promoted to division command, the brigade was placed under Sanders's command for a time. But then when General Abner Perrin took command of the brigade, Sanders was back in charge of the 11th. After a particularly difficult fight at the Wilderness, however, Perrin was killed at Spotsylvania on May 12, 1864. Sanders once again assumed command of the brigade. He officially was promoted on June 7 to brigadier general. Sanders was only twenty-four years old. As fighting devolved to Petersburg, Sanders's brigade fought in several battles south of the important rail junction city. On July 30, Sanders's brigade was one of the principal units that successfully counterattacked against the Union forces at the Battle of the Crater.

Sanders's brigade was moved north of the James River to fight at Second Deep Bottom in mid-August. The mobile brigade was quickly moved back south of Petersburg where it fought at the Battle of Globe Tavern (above photograph), also known as Weldon Railroad, on August 21. During the Confederate attempt to regain its lost ground Sanders's brigade, now fighting with Mahone's division, attacked. In the fight John Caldwell Calhoun Sanders was shot through both thighs. The wound severed his femoral arteries and he quickly bled to death. He was only twenty-four. Sanders was laid to rest in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

Today, the quiet fields around where Globe Tavern once stood and a fierce battle once raged only grow crops or sit empty. Fortunately, no longer do muskets crack and artillery boom. Only the sounds of an occasional passing car, cranky crows, and sometimes, rumbling railroad freight cars disturb the peace. It is here though that we should remember those who lost their lives, both Union and Confederate. After all they were all Americans.  

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