December 19

This Day in History

Civil War

Dec 19, 1817:

Confederate General James Archer is born

On this day in 1817, Confederate General James Archer is born in Harford County, Maryland.

Archer received his education at Princeton University before serving with the Maryland volunteers during the Mexican War (1846-48). He earned a brevet promotion (an honorary promotion usually given for battlefield heroism) to major for bravery at the Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexico City campaign. After the war, he practiced law before joining the U.S. Army in 1855. Archer served in the Pacific Northwest, and when the Civil War broke out, he joined General John Bell Hood's Texas Brigade in the Confederate army.

Archer fought with the Army of Northern Virginia throughout the war. He earned a promotion to brigadier general for his performance at the Battle of Seven Pines, Virginia, in June 1862, and his brigade played a key role during the Seven Days Battles in Virginia later that month. He was ill during the army's invasion of Maryland in September 1862, so he relinquished his command for the Battle of Antietam.

In 1863, Archer marched north to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as part of Henry Heth's division in A.P. Hill's corps. This placed him in the middle of battle's initial action on July 1. Archer led an attack on the center of the Union line on Seminary Ridge that was so successful he and his men were cut off from the rest of the Confederates. He was captured, the first Confederate general from the Army of Northern Virginia to be captured since Robert E. Lee assumed command in June 1862. Coincidentally, Archer's old friend, General Abner Doubleday, commanded the Union force that captured Archer. When he saw Archer being led to the rear, he rode up and extended a handshake and said he was happy to see his friend. Archer reportedly retorted, "Well, I'm not glad to see you by a damned sight!"

Archer was held at prisons in Ohio and Delaware for more than a year before he was exchanged in August 1864. After his release, he received orders to return to his former brigade, which was now serving as part of Hood's Army of Tennessee in Atlanta. Prison life, however, had compromised Archer's health and his orders were changed. He was sent instead to the trenches around Petersburg, Virginia. His health continued to deteriorate and he died there on October 24, 1864, at age 46.

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