Tuesday, February 17, 2015

John Echols: Noble Leader

Brigadier General John Echols

       John Echols was born on March 20, 1823 in Lynchburg, Virginia. He attended the Virginia Military Institute, but earned his degree at Washington College in Lexington, Virginia (which would become Washington and Lee University following the war). He then studied law at Harvard and began a law practice in Union, Virginia (now West Virginia). 
       Echols was a huge man for the time, standing six feet, four inches in height and weighing over 260 pounds. Despite his imposing size, he was a likable person and gallant officer. Prior to the war, he served one term in the Virginia House of Delegates. Following Virginia's secession, Echols became lieutenant colonel of the 27th Virginia Infantry Regiment. He commanded the regiment at the Battle of Manassas. The unit was part of the famed Stonewall Brigade there. Following the battle, he was promoted to colonel of the regiment. Stonewall Jackson described Echols as a "noble leader." 
        At the disastrous Battle of Kernstown, Echols led his regiment as they repulsed two charges by the Federal troops. At the height of the assault, Echols was shot through the shoulder, the bullet entering his arm and fracturing the humerus. Although he was out of action for several weeks, he would luckily not lose the arm. Following the battle, Echols was promoted to brigadier general. 
       He was back in command of a brigade by the fall of 1862. He was placed in command of the Department of Southwestern Virginia, yet resigned his command before serving a month. Echols seems to have suffered from ill health and was unable to return to command until the summer of 1863. His next action was at the Battle of Droop Mountain where he commanded 1,200 troops against 5,000 Federals. Though vastly outnumbered, he held his position for over an hour before withdrawing. He had been defeated, but his reputation wasn't affected in the least. 
       His brigade was placed under Major General John C. Breckinridge's command at the Battle of New Market (which became famous because of the service there of the V.M.I. Cadets). Echols brigade helped Breckinridge secure a victory. Soon after the battle, he again was forced to relinquish his command because of "neuralgia of the heart." The disease causes severe pains in the chest. 
       Echols returned to duty as the commander of the District of Southwest Virginia in August of 1864. He defeated a Federal force at the Battle of Saltville in October of that year. When he learned of Lee's retreat from Petersburg and Richmond, he gathered a force of 7,000 men and marched to meet Lee. He learned of Lee's surrender while moving to meet him. Echols then moved his command to join Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina. When Johnston surrendered, Echols fled with the Confederate government in an attempt to escape the country without being forced to surrender. He was captured at Augusta, Georgia. 

A post-war image of John Echols

       Echols eventually settled in Staunton (pronounced Stanton), Virginia (having spent almost all the war in the Shenandoah Valley). He would see work as a banker, run a railroad, and serve on the board at Washington and Lee University. Despite years of health problems, Echols would live until 1896, dying of kidney disease in Stuanton, Virginia. He was 73 years old. He rests today in Thornrose Cemetery in that city. 

Jerry and I at the grave of John Echols (Echols rests just to my right about even with the second block up)

A variant of the first image of John Echols


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