Confederate Brigadier General John Caldwell Calhoun Sanders
When my Auburn fans are giving me a good ribbing, I like to ask them a trivia question. Which state university provided a Confederate general who gave his life for the Southern cause. Few people have heard of John Caldwell Calhoun Sanders. It may seem I'm desperate to go that far back, but then again, that's the only era that I study.
John Sanders was born on April 4, 1840 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was twenty years old when Alabama seceded and a cadet at the University of Alabama. At the time, he was serving as orderly sergeant of the cadet corps and his commandant called him the best soldier and officer of the group. Despite the fact that his family wished he would stay and finish his education, Sanders withdrew from school and helped raise Company C, 11th Alabama Infantry. Because of his stellar record at the University of Alabama, he was elected captain of the company.
The 11th Alabama would be rushed to Virginia, but failed to arrive in time to fight at First Manassas. After that battle, the 11th would be placed in Cadmus Wilcox's all Alabama brigade. Sanders would see action at the battles of Seven Pines, Gaines' Mill and Frayser's Farm where he was wounded in the leg. The wound was severe enough to keep him out of action for a month.
Because of the attrition in the 11th, Sanders would return to find himself the ranking officer. He would lead the regiment at the Battle of Second Manassas. He was then promoted to Major and led the regiment again at Antietam where he was slightly wounded in the face. After Antietam, Sanders would be promoted to colonel at the age of 22.
He would next lead the regiment at the Battle of Chancellorsville where he received high praise from General Wilcox. At Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, Sanders would be hit in the knee by rifle fire while leading the regiment in an assault on Cemetery Ridge. The wound was serious enough to keep him out of action for five months. When he was able to return to command, he found that Wilcox had been promoted to Major General and he was the senior colonel of the brigade. He would lead the brigade in action during the Mine Run Campaign, but Lee felt he was too young to receive promotion to Brigadier General. The command was given to Abner Perrin.
Sanders returned to command of the 11th Alabama and saw action at the Battle of the Wilderness. At Spotsylvania, when the Federal army overran the "Mule Shoe", Perrin would be killed and Sanders took command of the brigade once again. He helped repulse the Federal onslaught and this time, Lee recommended him for promotion to Brigadier General. He led an impressive attack at the North Anna River and fought at Cold Harbor. His greatest day of the war would come at Petersburg during the Battle of the Crater. He personally led a counterattack that retook the crater. His men would take three Federal battle flags and capture over seven hundred prisoners.
His worst day would come at the Battle of Globe Tavern. Leading his brigade in an attack on foot, he would be shot through the thighs, severing both femoral arteries. He didn't collapse, but ordered his adjutant to take him to the rear. Losing blood rapidly, he would ask to be lain on the ground where he bled to death in a very few minutes. John Sanders was 24 years old.
His men had nothing but praise for the gallant young commander. It was said there were none braver in the Confederate army than General Sanders. Others said he was born to command and possessed the first qualities of a soldier. A Charleston newspaper wrote that none were more beloved and no death more regretted that the young Alabama general.
General Sanders original burial site in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia
His body would be carried back to Richmond and buried in Hollywood Cemetery, the "Arlington of the Confederacy." There is a marker in Hollywood Cemetery to the young general, but the exact location of his grave has been lost to history. There is a marker for him in Greenwood Cemetery, Montgomery, Alabama.
The marker for John Sanders in Greenwood Cemetery, Montgomery, Alabama