Sunday, May 11, 2014

Poor Cantey: The Mediocre Brigade Commander

Brigadier General James Cantey

       James Cantey was born in South Carolina in 1818. He graduated from South Carolina College and became an attorney. He also served in the South Carolina state legislature. Cantey fought in the Mexican War and was wounded there. Following the war with Mexico, Cantey moved to Alabama and became a planter in Russell County. 

A photograph of Cantey during his Mexican War days

       He helped raise the 15th Alabama Infantry and became its first colonel. His brigade was sent to Virginia and placed in the brigade of the division of the ever aggressive Isaac Trimble. There he participated in Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign. His best day occurred at the Battle of Cross Keys. There he repulsed the Federal attack and drove them back for a mile before being halted. 
       Cantey was then ordered to Richmond where they joined Robert E. Lee's army in defending the Confederate capital. They saw very little action in the Battle of the Seven Days. Cantey then received orders to return to Alabama. He returned to command a brigade of three Alabama regiment's and one Mississippi regiment. He also obtained a promotion to brigadier general to rank from January 8, 1863. He spent most of his time in the defenses of Mobile. He commanded a division of three brigades in August of 1863, but didn't receive a promotion to major general. During the winter of 1863-1864, his brigade was assigned to the Army of Tennessee in northern Georgia. 
       When Sherman sent Major General James McPherson to flank the Confederate army under Joseph Johnston, the brigade he encountered at Resaca belonged to James Cantey. Cantey had 4,000 defenders against McPherson's entire army of 23,000 men. McPherson became concerned that he was facing a larger force and withdrew. When it was over, Sherman told his close friend McPherson, "Well, Mac, you have missed the opportunity of your life." Had he not been such a close personal friend, Sherman would have sacked him. 
       During the battle, a Georgia soldier noted that Cantey was so nervous that he remained in a bombproof during the entire affair. The soldier called him "poor Cantey." Cantey served with his brigade when his health allowed him. Some state that he should never have attempted to serve in the war because of his feeble health. He missed most of the rest of the war, but arrived in North Carolina in time to surrender his command in 1865. 
       After the war, he returned to Alabama where he became a farmer. He died in Fort Mitchell in 1874 and rests there today in a small family cemetery. Historian Jeffry D. Wert labeled Cantey a mediocre brigade commander. 

Me and Jerry at the grave of James Cantey


  1. Poor Canty, indeed. Maybe he was just in over his head. Sort of dragged along by the Events of the Times. It's a good thing that they faced McPherson and not Sherman for it seems that that ruthless fellow would have decimated that pitiful number. Or do I give Sherman too much credit?

  2. well, Shirley, I guess you have forced me to do a blog on Sherman. Give me a few days to work on it. LOL

    1. I don't normally have strong emotions about dead soldiers I never knew, but Sherman stirs both fear and strong animosity in me!

  3. I think the unidentified Georgian soldier is not a reliable source for historical purposes. Who is this soldier? Did he serve under General Cantey? To base an article on an unidentified source should not be treated as historical fact.

  4. Not to be disagreeable Jim, but if we don't use eyewitness accounts to base our historical judgments, who's should we use?